A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X





A TREK of circumstances that kicks up a dust of details -- a vast and dirty movement that is powdered with particulars --

The gossip of men and women, and the yells of brats -- whether dinner is ever going to be ready, or not -- young couples in their nightly sneaks -- and what the hell has become of the grease for the wheels? -- who's got a match?

It's a wagon train that feels out across a prairie.

A drink of water -- a chaw of tobacco -- just where to borrow a cupful of flour -- and yet, even though at its time any of these wants comes first, there is something behind all --

The hope for Californian gold.

The wagon train feels out across the prairie. It traces a path that other wagon trains make more dis- [266/267] tinct -- and the so rolls a movement that to this day can be seen the ruts of its wheels.

But behind the visions of gold, and the imagined feel of nuggets, there is something else --

The gold plays out. A dominant motive turns to something else. Now a social growth feels out. Its material of people, who otherwise would have been stationary, has been moved to the west.

The first, faint structures in an embryonic organism are of cartilage. They are replaced by bone.

The paths across prairies turn to lines of steel.

Or that once upon a time, purposefully, to stimulate future developments, gold was strewn in California -- and that there had been control upon the depositions, so that only enough to stimulate a development, and not enough to destroy a financial system had been strewn --

That in other parts of this earth, in far back times, there had been purposeful plantings of the little, yellow slugs that would -- when their time should come -- bring about other extensions of social growths.

But the word purposeful, and the word providential, are usurped words. They are of the language of theologians, and are meant to express an idea of a presiding being, ruling existence, superior to it, and not of it, or not implicit to it. I'd rather go on using these words, denying their ownership by any special cult, than to coin new words. With no necessity for thinking of an external designer and controller, I can think of design and control and providence and purpose and preparation for future uses, if I can think not loosely of Nature, but of a Nature, as an organic whole. Every being, except for its dependence upon environment, is God to its parts.

It is upon the northern parts of this earth that the civilizations that have persisted have grown up, [267/268] then extending themselves colonially southward. History, like South America and Africa, tapers southward. There are no ruins of temples, pyramids, obelisks, in Australia, Argentina, South Africa. Preponderantly peninsulas are southward droops. As if by design, or as if concordantly with an accentuation if lands and peoples in the north, the sun shines about a week longer in the north, each year, than in the south. The coldness in the less important Antarctic regions is more intense than in the Arctic, and here there is vegetation like the grasses and flowers of the Arctic, in the summer time. Life withers southward. Musk oxen, bears, wolves, foxes, lemmings in the Far North -- but there are only amphibious mammals in the Antarctic. Fields of Arctic poppies in the Arctic summer time -- but summer in the Antarctic is grey with straggling lichens. If this earth be top-shaped as some of the geodesists think, it is a bloom that is stemmed with desolation.

There are no deposits of coal in the southern parts that compare with deposits in the northern parts. The greatest abundance of oil supplies is north of the equator. It looks like organic preparation, if formative times, before human life appeared upon this earth, for civilisations that would grow up in the north. For ages, peoples of this earth were ignorant of the uses of coal and oil, upon which their later developments would depend.

But so conventionalised are the thoughts of most persons, upon this subject, that if, for instance, my expression is that gold was strewn in California in preparation for future uses, there must be either a visualisation of an aggrandised man, who walked about, slinging nuggets, or a denial that, except in the mind of a man, there can be purpose, or control, or design, or providence --

But the making of a lung in an embryonic being [268/269] that can not breathe -- but it will breathe. This making of a lung is a preparation for future uses. Or the depositions of tissues that are muscles that are not, but that will be, used. Mechanical foresight, or preparation for future uses, pervades every embryonic being. There is a fortune teller in every womb.

Still, not altogether only theological have been speculations upon the existence of purpose, or design, control, or guidance in "Nature." There are philosophical doctrines known as orthogenesis and entelechy. Again we are in a situation that we have noted. If there be orthogenesis, or guidance from within -- within what? Heretofore, this doctrine has provided no outlines within which to think. All that is required for thinkableness, instead of bafflement, is to give up attempted notions upon Nature, as Universality, and conceive of one thinkable-sized existence, of shape that is representable in thought, and conceive of an organic orthogenesis within that.

In the organic sense, there is, in the Arctic regions, no great need for water. Though the coldness is not so intense here as it is commonly supposed to be, the climate nevertheless prevents much colonisation. I have never read of a deluge in the Arctic. Thunderstorms are very uncommon. Some explorers have never seen a thunderstorm in the Arctic regions. And at the same time there are oppressively warm, or almost tropical, summer days in the Arctic. Instead of the enormous falls of snow, of common supposition, the fall of snow, in the Far North, is "very light" (Stefansson). It looks like organically economic neglect of a part that cannot be used. Where, as reliefs, thunderstorms are not needed, there are, except as vagaries, no thunderstorms, though the summertime conditions in places of need and no need are much alike. See Heilprin's account of his experiences in Greenland -- sum- [269/270] mer days so nearly tropical that pitch melted from the seams of his ship.

The alternations that are known as the seasons are beneficial. They have come about accidentally, or they have been worked out by Automatic Design, or by all-pervasive intelligence, or by equilibration, if that word be preferred to the word "intelligence." It looks as if more complexly a problem was solved. It is commonly thought that only brains solve problems, or, rather, approximate to solutions: but every living things carries a weapon, or a tool, presumably not with its brains, but with intelligence that pervades all substances -- so then with the intelligence of its body -- solved a problem. It looks as if more complexly a problem was solved, as I say, though in anything like a real, or final, sense, no problem ever has been solved. By the varying of incidence of the sun, alternations of fruitfulness and rest could be brought about in the north and the south, but that left rhythms small in the tropics. It looks as if here, intelligently, were brought about the changes that are known as the dry season and the rainy season. I have never read a satisfactory explanation of this alternation, in conventional, meteorological terms.

In the April rains there is evidence, or might be, if we could have a rational idea as to what we mean by evidence, of design, and an automatically intelligent provision and control. Something is controlling the motions of the planets, according to all appearances that we take appearances of control. Accepting this, I am only amplifying. Rains, of a gentle and frequent kind that is most beneficial to young plants, or best adapted to them, fall in April. Conventional biology is too one-sided. It treats of adaptation of plants to rain. We see also the adaptation of rains to plants. But there must be either the conventionally theological, or [270/271] the organic, view, to see this reciprocity. If one prefers to think of a kind and loving deity, who is sending the April rains, he will have to consider -- or, rather, will be faced by -- records of other rains, which are of the loving kindness of slaughter and desolation and woe.

There is some, unknown condition that ameliorates the climate of Great Britain, as if this centre of colony-sporing were prepared for by an automatic purposefulness, and protected from the rigours of the same latitudes in the west. Once upon a time, one of the wisemen's most definite concepts was the Gulf Stream. They wrote about its "absolute demarcation" from surrounding waters. They were as sure of the Gulf Stream as they are to-day that the stars are trillions of miles away. Lately so much has been written upon the inconceivability of the Gulf Stream having effect upon climate farther from its source than somewhere around Cape Hatteras, that I shall not go into the subject.(1) Something is especially warming Great Britain, and it cannot be thought to be the Gulf Stream. It may be an organically providential amelioration. It may play out, when the functioning period of Great Britain passes away. I am not much given to prophecy, but I'll take this chance -- that if England loses India, we may expect hard winters in England.

Our acceptance is that nations work together, or operate against one another functionally, or as guided by the murderous supervisions of a whole Organism. Or, apologizing again, I call such organized slaughter, super-metabolism. So enormous is the subject of human history, as affected by its partners in a whole, that I shall reserve it for treatment some other time. Monistically -- though some other time I shall pluralistically take another view, as well -- the acceptance is that human beings have not existed as individuals any [271/272] more than have cells in an animal organism existences of their own. Still, one must consider that there is something of individuality, or contrariness in every cell. This view of submergence is now so widespread that it is expressed by writers in may fields of thought. But they lack the concept of a whole, trying to think of a social organism as a whole, though clearly every social quasi-organism has relations with other social quasi-organisms, and is dependent enormously, or vitally, upon environment. Other thinkers, or more than doubtful thinkers, say that they think of the unthinkable Absolute as the whole.

I have a notion that, for ages, as a factor in an automatic plan, the Australian part of our existence's nucleus, this earth, was reserved. If this be not easy to think, it is equally hard to think why Australia, in its fertile parts, was not colonised by Asiatics. There was relative isolation. But it was not geographical isolation: the distance between Cape York, Australia, and New Guinea is only 100 miles. There was an approximation to isolation so extreme that one type of animal life grew up and prevailed. This gap was jumped by the marsupials of Australia. Then the question is -- why, if not obediently to an inhibition, was it not jumped the other way? Of course we can have no absolute expressions, but just when the dingoes and the wild cattle of Queensland first arrived in Australia is still considered debatable.

There were civilizations in the Americas, but they were civilizations that could not resist the relatively late-appearing Europeans. Long before, there had been other civilizations in Central America, but they had disappeared, or they had been removed. The extinction of them is, by archaeologists, considered as mysterious, as is the extinction of the dinosaurs, by the paleontologists -- or as, by cells of a later period, might [272/273] be considered the designed and the scheduled, or purposeful, extinction of cartilage cells in an embryo.

The expression is that Australia and the Americas were reserved, as relative blanks, in which human life upon this earth could shake off, after a fashion, many conventions and traditional hamperings, and start somewhat anew.

Drones appear in a beehive. They are reserved. At first they contribute nothing to the welfare of the hive, but there is a providence that looks after them just so long as they will be of future use. This is automatic foresight and purpose, according to automatic plan, in a beehive, regarded as a whole. The God of the bees is the Hive. There is no necessity to think of an external control, nor of any being, presiding over the bees and directing their affairs.

Reservations besides those in the affairs of bees and men are common. Some trees have buds that are not permitted to develop. These are known as dormants, and are held in reserve, against the possibility of a destructions of the tree's developed leaves. In one way or another, there are reservations in every organism.

We think of inter-mundane isolations that have been maintained, as once the Americas were kept separated from Europe, not by vast and untraversable distances, but by belief in vast and untraversable distances. I have no sense of loneliness in thinking that the inorganic sciences that are, by inertia, holding out for the isolation of this earth, have lost much power over minds. There are dissatisfactions and contempts everywhere.

There may be civilizations in the lands of the stars, or it may be that, in the concavity of the starry shell, vast, habitable regions have been held in reserve for colonization from this earth. Though there is considerable opposition to wars, they are, as at any mov- [273/274] ing picture place, one can see, still popular: but other eliminations of human beings have waned, and it is likely that for a long time birth control will have no more than its present control upon births. The pestilences that used to remove millions are no longer so much heard of. It may be that an organic existence is, by lessening eliminations, preparing a pressure of populations upon this earth that can have relief only in enormous colonising outlets somewhere else. It is as if concordantly, the United States has shut down, as a relief, to superabundances of people in Europe, and as if representing the same purpose or plan, Australia and Canada, as well as the United States, are shutting out Asiatics. It is as if co-operatively with the simultaneous variations of need, aviation is developing, as the means of migratory reliefs --

If there be a nearby land that is a revolving shell of stars --

And if, according to data that I have collected, there be not increasing coldness and attenuation of air, past a zone not far from this earth.

Nineteen hundred and thirty something or another -- maybe nineteen hundred and forty or fifty --

There's a flash in the sky. It is said to be a meteor. There's a glow. That is said to be an aurora borealis --

The time has come.

The slogan comes --

Skyward ho!

The treks to the stars. Flows of adventurers -- and the movietone news -- press agents and interviews -- and somebody about to sail to Lyra reduces living expenses by letting it be known what brand of cigarettes he'll take along --

Caravels with wings -- and covered planes of the sky -- and writers of complaints to the newspapers: this dumping of milk bottles and worse from the expedi- [274/275] tions is an outrage. New comets are watched from this earth -- long trains of voyagers to the stars, when at night they turn on their lights. New constellations appear -- the cities of the lands of the stars.

And then the commonplaceness of it all.

Personally conducted tours to Taurus and Orion. Summer vacations on the brink of Vega. "My father tells of times, when people, before going to the moon, made their wills." "Just the same there was something peaceful about those old skies. It's getting on my nerves, looking up at all those lip stick and soap and bathing suit signs."

Or my own acceptance that there can be no understanding of our existence, if be overlooked the irony of it all --

The aristocratic astronomers -- their alleged rapport with infinitude -- their repeated familiarity with the ultra-remote -- the academic -- the classical --

One looks up and sees, instead, an illuminated representation of a can of spaghetti in tomato sauce, in the sky.

The commonplaceness of it all. Of course the stars are near. Who, but a few old fossils, ever thought otherwise? Does the writer of this book think that he found out anything new? All these notions of his were matters of common knowledge, away back in the times of ancient Greece. [275]

1. Maury was the principal author of the explanation of how the Gulf Stream warmed the British climate; but, soon after, this claim was disputed after measurements were made of its volumes, speeds, and temperatures by Stark and Findlay. Matthew Fontaine Maury. John Leighly, ed. The Physical Geography of the Sea and Its Meteorology. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963, 38-80. Matthew Fontaine Maury. "The physical geography of the sea." British Review Quarterly, 30 (July 1859): 130-52, at 141-4. "The Gulf-stream and climate of England." Notes and Queries, s. 2, 8 (July 16, 1859): 55. A.G. Findlay. "On the supposed influence of the Gulf-stream on the climate of North-West Europe." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1869, Trans., 160-1. Thomas H. Huxley. Physiography. London: Macmillan and Co., 1878, 173-6. Harvey Maitland Watts. "The Gulf Stream myth." Monthly Weather Review, 28 (September 1900): 393-4.

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