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- This Simian World - 4/9 -
A race descended from elephants would have had to build on a large scale. Imagine a crowd of huge, wrinkled, slow-moving elephant-men getting into a vast elephant omnibus.
And would they have ever tried airships?
The elephant is stupid when it comes to learning how to use tools. So are all other species except our own. Isn't it strange? A tool, in the most primitive sense, is any object, lying around, that can obviously be used as an instrument for this or that purpose. Many creatures use objects as /materials/, as birds use twigs for nests. But the step that no animal takes is learning freely to use things as instruments. When an elephant plucks off a branch and swishes his flanks, and thus keeps away insects, he is using a tool. But he does it only by a vague and haphazard association of ideas. If he once became a conscious user of tools he would of course go much further.
We ourselves, who are so good at it now, were slow enough in beginning. Think of the long epochs that passed before it entered our heads.
And all that while the contest for leadership blindly went on, without any species making use of this obvious aid. The lesson to be learned was simple: the reward was the rule of a planet. Yet only one species, our own, has ever had that much brains.
It makes you wonder what other obvious lessons may still be unlearned.
It is not necessarily stupid however, to fail to use tools. To use tools involves using reason, instead of sticking to instinct. Now, sticking to instinct has its disadvantages, but so has using reason. Whichever faculty you use, the other atrophies, and partly deserts you. We are trying to use both. But we still don't know which has the more value.
A sudden vision comes to me of one of the first far-away ape-men who tried to use reason instead of instinct as a guide for his conduct. I imagine him, perched in his tree, torn between those two voices, wailing loudly at night by a river, in his puzzled distress.
My poor far-off brother!
We have been considering which species was on the whole most finely equipped to be rulers, and thereafter achieve a high civilization; but that wasn't the problem. The real problem was which would /do/ it:--a different matter.
To do it there was need of a species that had at least these two qualities: some quenchless desire, to urge them on and on; and also adaptability of a thousand kinds to their environment.
The rhinoceros cares little for adaptability. He slogs through the world. But we! we are experts. Adaptability is what we depend on. We talk of our mastery of nature, which sounds very grand; but the fact is we respectfully adapt ourselves first, to her ways. "We attain no power over nature till we learn natural laws, and our lordship depends on the adroitness with which we learn and conform."
Adroitness however is merely an ability to win; back of it there must be some spur to make us use our adroitness. Why don't we all die or give up when we're sick of the world? Because the love of life is reenforced, in most energized beings, by some longing that pushes them forward, in defeat and in darkness. All creatures wish to live, and to perpetuate their species, of course; but those two wishes alone evidently do not carry any race far. In addition to these, a race, to be great, needs some hunger, some itch, to spur it up the hard path we lately have learned to call evolution. The love of toil in the ants, and of craft in cats, are examples (imaginary or not). What other such lust could exert great driving force?
With us is it curiosity? endless interest in one's environment?
Many animals have some curiosity, but "some" is not enough; and in but few is it one of the master passions. By a master passion, I mean a passion that is really your master: some appetite which habitually, day in, day out, makes its subjects forget fatigue or danger, and sacrifice their ease to its gratification. That is the kind of hold that curiosity has on the monkeys.
Imagine a prehistoric prophet observing these beings, and forecasting what kind of civilizations their descendants would build. Anyone could have foreseen certain parts of the simians' history: could have guessed that their curiosity would unlock for them, one by one, nature's doors, and--idly--bestow on them stray bits of valuable knowledge: could have pictured them spreading inquiringly all over the globe, stumbling on their inventions--and idly passing on and forgetting them.
To have to learn the same thing over and over again wastes the time of a race. But this is continually necessary, with simians, because of their disorder. "Disorder," a prophet would have sighed: "that is one of their handicaps; one that they will never get rid of, whatever it costs. Having so much curiosity makes a race scatter-brained.
"Yes," he would have dismally continued, "it will be a queer mixture: these simians will attain to vast stores of knowledge, in time, that is plain. But after spending centuries groping to discover some art, in after-centuries they will now and then find it's forgotten. How incredible it would seem on other planets to hear of lost arts.
"There is a strong streak of triviality in them, which you don't see in cats. They won't have fine enough characters to concentrate on the things of most weight. They will talk and think far more of trifles than of what is important. Even when they are reasonably civilized, this will be so. Great discoveries sometimes will fail to be heard of, because too much else is; and many will thus disappear, and these men will not know it."
 We did rescue Mendel's from the dust heap; but perhaps it was an exception.
Let me interrupt this lament to say a word for myself and my ancestors. It is easy to blame us as undiscriminating, but we are at least full of zest. And it's well to be interested, eagerly and intensely, in so many things, because there is often no knowing which may turn out important. We don't go around being interested on purpose, hoping to profit by it, but a profit may come. And anyway it is generous of us not to be too self-absorbed. Other creatures go to the other extreme to an amazing extent. They are ridiculously oblivious to what is going on. The smallest ant in the garden will ignore the largest woman who visits it. She is a huge and most dangerous super-mammoth in relation to him, and her tread shakes the earth; but he has no time to be bothered, investigating such-like phenomena. He won't even get out of her way. He has his work to do, hang it.
Birds and squirrels have less of this glorious independence of spirit. They watch you closely--if you move around. But not if you keep still. In other words, they pay no more attention than they can help, even to mammoths.
We of course observe everything, or try to. We could spend our lives looking on. Consider our museums for instance: they are a sign of our breed. It makes us smile to see birds, like the magpie, with a mania for this collecting--but only monkeyish beings could reverence museums as we do, and pile such heterogeneous trifles and quantities in them.
Old furniture, egg-shells, watches, bits of stone. . . . And next door, a "menagerie." Though our victory over all other animals is now aeons old, we still bring home captives and exhibit them caged in our cities. And when a species dies out--or is crowded (by us), off the planet--we even collect the bones of the vanquished and show them like trophies.
Curiosity is a valuable trait. It will make the simians learn many things. But the curiosity of a simian is as excessive as the toil of an ant. Each simian will wish to know more than his head can hold, let alone ever deal with; and those whose minds are active will wish to know everything going. It would stretch a god's skull to accomplish such an ambition, yet simians won't like to think it's beyond their powers. Even small tradesmen and clerks, no matter how thrifty, will be eager to buy costly encyclopedias, or books of all knowledge. Almost every simian family, even the dullest, will think it is due to themselves to keep all knowledge handy.
Their idea of a liberal education will therefore be a great hodge-pod only. He who narrows his field and digs deep will be viewed as an alien. If more than one man in a hundred should thus dare to concentrate, the ruinous effects of being a specialist will be sadly discussed. It may make a man exceptionally useful, they will have to admit; but still they will feel badly, and fear that civilization will suffer.
One of their curious educational ideas--but a natural one--will be shown in the efforts they will make to learn more than one "language." They will set their young to spending a decade or more of their lives in studying duplicate systems--whole systems--of chatter. Those who thus learn several different ways to say the same things, will command much respect, and those who learn many will be looked on with awe--by true simians. And persons without this accomplishment will be looked down on a little, and will actually feel quite apologetic about it themselves.
Consider how enormously complicated a complete language must be, with its long and arbitrary vocabulary, its intricate system of sounds; the many forms that single words may take, especially if they are verbs; the rules of grammar, the sentence structure, the idioms, slang and inflections. Heavens, what a genius for tongues these simians have! Where another race, after the most frightful discord and pains, might have slowly constructed one language before this earth grew cold, this race will create literally hundreds, each
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