I am not an accredited scientist.
In fact, I only just graduated from college. And although the pomp and circumstance has barely dissipated and I’m still getting checks in the mail, I’m already thinking of what the undergraduate experience has brought me: a tolerance for $2 wine, certainly, as well as a toolkit of $2 words. Mostly, however, these four years of liberal arts schooling have thoroughly complicated all of life’s simple experiences. Things which once came easily to me — a willingness to watch hours of television, for example — are now so rife with “implications” and “problematics” that I can barely enjoy a half hour of Friends without feeling the compulsion to read four chapters of Foucault’s The History of Sexuality afterwards. Tourism too has become impossible, since photography is now an act of “othering” and knick-knack shopping a frivolity. Shopping is repulsive. The political nature of junk food has made all dietary indulgences feel criminal. Going to the movies? Not unless I can stifle the chorus of furies whispering pull-quotes from Marxist media texts into my ears. Even the natural world has become tainted with the self conscious venom of the Academy.
I originally came to Los Angeles, my collegiate home for the last four years, because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. School is out, forever, and I still live an hour from the sea, from its sunlit waves and its great smog-torn sunsets. Yet, I feel that going out there to bid my adieu is completely pedestrian, irrevocably trite.
I may never manage to recover from this injection of awareness. The way things are looking, I might just be some vegetarian for the rest of my life. Of course, I’m being glib; being an educated citizen sounds alright to me. I am frustrated, though, really, with the impatience instilled in me by my education. I can’t sit and look at the tides coming in without automatically getting anxious about the fact that I find them boring. It’s impossible to fight. After two minutes, I’m already restless; an unfortunate side effect of my postmodern education is that I now find nature totally banal. What good is the pastoral, right? No way you can have an intelligent discussion with it.
I am aware of how insane it is to brush off 1,340 million cubic kilometers of water like this. It isn’t right that 70 percent of the Earthern surface could be ruined by four years of colloquia, Derrida, et-cetera. The main thrust of my post-college summer, then, is going to be toward a great deprogramming of my own mind.
The clincher, though (and what will send me into a self-destructive postmodern frenzy), is that we all come from the sea. The incredibly unlikely development of life on this planet is the result of a fortunate jumbling together of key elements: liquid water, carbon, amino acids and time. Earth is just close enough to a burning star that its water remained consistently liquid long enough to form the primordial soup from whence we came. Although there is some postulation that life could derive from a different combination of substances (ammonia, for example, and silicon), water and carbon happen to be the simplest and most conducive to the great genealogy of planet Earth.
This is to say that all of the creatures on Earth were, at one point along the evolutionary line, aquatic. In a manner of speaking, so were humans. The first circulatory systems only pumped salt water through primitive veins; our own blood retains a percentage of salinity similar to that of the sea. Those organisms that still hang around in the ocean made an evolutionary choice (or whatever) to stay that way, while the rest of us loped onto land and developed esoteric physiology, like limbs and hair. Since the evolutionary track is long and vague, there were million-year periods during which creatures that would or could not hack it on dry land returned to the sea; whales, for instance, are evolved from hoofed land carnivores which readapted to marine life about 50 million years ago. Yet, somewhere along the line there was a cut-off. After millennia of evolutionary futzing around, a point was reached at which the division between the critters of land and sea became set in stone. The point, if you will, of no return. We Homo Sapiens renounced the sea 200,000 years ago and began our path toward stone tools, language, and, eventually, college. We can do pretty much anything now (read books, develop theories, build houses, and have governments) but we cannot comfortably live in the ocean. It was our choice, you know?
Perhaps it is this fact that introduces “problematics” into my appreciation of Mother Sea. The classically trite feeling of insignificance garnered by proximity to the ocean — the very same feeling my college years have robbed from me — is perhaps not a dorky appreciation of the natural world but rather a deep human resentment of some long lost evolutionary choice.
And if that is really the case, it looks like graduate school for me.