I have been called a Luddite. I welcome it. Do you know what a Luddite is? A person who hates newfangled contraptions… Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different. Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country
In our last post we said:
Our posts for the next few weeks will be short and sparse as we are furiously working on a novel (Behind The Locked Door) we hope to have published by year end. To preorder the book comment on this post or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Well, here we are coming out with a post sooner than we thought (although it is sparse) because the “public safety power shutoff” (psps) made it next to impossible to work on our novel. We do hope the psps won’t prevent you from preordering since that will help us determine how many to print.
Who am I to argue with Kurt Vonnegut? The Man Without A Country is great book. At TITM we like it not only because of what Vonnegut has to say, but because it is one of those quick and easy reads, worth reading again and again. I do, however, have one small quibble having to do with Luddites. Or maybe not a quibble but a clarification.
From the beginning of time man has been inflicted with the Pandora Box Complex. What do I mean by that you ask? Simply this, many of us, even those right here at Think in the Morning, are subject to the illusion that somewhere in the past there was a golden age when everything was better before _________ (substitute whatever “newfangled contraption” you wish. For Vonnegut the “newfangled contraption” was the computer that replaced the typewriter.)
First, there was woman (in the form of Eve) who tricked man (in the form of Adam) into eating the forbidden fruit. Woman’s reputation has dwindled ever since right up to the current political environment. If not for woman, man would be perfect. A similar stigma became associated with people of color and ultimately with anyone who is different. A misconception about Cain, a character in another Bible story (Cain and Abel), led to the idea that if not for these “misfits” the human race would be perfect. Because the Bible has so many of these stories disparaging women, people of color, and the devil’s toys such as television and automobiles, religion itself could be considered a newfangled contraption. Some argue that religion takes away from life’s fun that permeated a previous golden age. (See Christopher Hitchens God is Not Great.)
There is no want of newfangled contraptions in today’s modern world—technology for example: Facebook, Instagram, apps of all sorts, online businesses like Amazon and Uber and so on. One result has been to ramp up inequality and divisiveness within society. If we could just go back to an era when we lived in homogeneous tribes everything would be okay. Population growth complicates everything, How about a one-child policy to keep things under control? Government screws up (think Adam Smith and political libertarians), so maybe we should try to get along without it? Art, music, even education–they all lead down the road to perdition. Apparently we’d be better off not thinking, not creating, not knowing. Money is the source of all evil (All?) as everyone knows and then there is spare the rod, spoil the child—ahh, if we could just go back to the good old days of child labor and abuse. Let’s not forget Lord Acton’s prescient observation that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This does bring a certain President to mind. Too bad we can’t return to a time when Presidents were all good like Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
Newfangled contraptions are everywhere. But maybe they aren’t the problem, maybe Vonnegut got it wrong. As Walt Kelly had Pogo say so eloquently: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Or, as yours truly says in his soon to be published book (shameless advertisement):
“We dream about a golden time long ago and a place where everyone lived peacefully and life was easy. I dunno why, but God put a worm at the core of human nature. No such place exists on this earth.” From Behind the Locked Door
As some like to say, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. But maybe you can try. You just might be able to put the genie back into the bottle with a little ingenuity. That’s what the original story and source of the quote tells us according to Quora (see below). But, do we really want to? And will things really return to that mythical golden age? Those are the questions for the Luddites.
What’s the origin of the saying “the genie is out of the bottle”?
The others have correctly stated that the expression comes from a tale in The Thousand and One Nights. Also, as they have explained, the expression means that once you have released whatever bad thing it is, that thing is going to do whatever it is going to do — you can’t stop it anymore; i.e. you have set into motion something irreversible.
But the original tale actually has a point which is the exact opposite of the modern expression’s. You see, a poor fisherman had found this bottle on the beach, and when he removed the stopper, a gigantic genie came out and swore to kill the fisherman. So the fisherman, thinking fast, begged a boon of the genie, namely that the genie would explain to him this one small thing — how on Earth had it fit into that tiny bottle? The genie said that it was really quite simple, but the fisherman insisted that he just couldn’t believe that it could be so. So, to convince the fisherman, the genie transformed itself into smoke and went back into the bottle. Thereupon the fisherman inserted the stopper again.
That is to say, in the original story the moral is that if you’re sufficiently quick-witted, you actually can put the genie right back into the bottle.
The story was much-loved across cultures and travelled a great deal. It reappears, e.g., in the collection of fairy-tales compiled by the Brothers Grimm under the title Der Flaschengeist, “The Ghost in the Bottle”.