Monday, January 23, 2006

Liar, liar, pants on fire!

I don’t know why human parents waste time telling their children to speak the truth. In my experience, human kiddies fib their little heads off as soon as they realise they can get away with it. Telling them that lying is wrong is perhaps more sensible, as it’s easier to catch them out if they feel guilty when they’re doing it.

I remember a little fellow called Emilio, who used to pay us regular visits when the circus was performing in Mexico City. He would offer to shine shoes for a few pesos and flattered his clients outrageously in the hope of a generous tip.

“Oh Senor!” he said to the ringmaster. “You have the moustache of a revolucionario, like Pancho Villa or Zapata.”

The ringmaster – bloated arse that he was – chortled away and handed the little chap a crisp banknote without asking for change.

Noticing that I was barefoot, Emilio put away his shoe-brush and appealed directly to my charitable instincts. “Please spare some pesos for a poor orphan boy, Senor Gorilla,” he pleaded pitifully. “I need money to buy milk for my three little sisters in the colonias.”

Although I suspected him of embellishing the facts to gain sympathy, I handed over a few pesos. I’m not the sort of ape to deny an orphan his due. All the same, I made a few discreet enquiries about his background after he had left. Much to my chagrin, I discovered that the crafty little tyke lived in a fine home with parents who could afford to send him to the American school, which explained his command of English.

The next time he came round, I invited him into my trailer for some lemonade and addressed him as follows:

“Young man, you have deceived me! You are not an orphan, but have worthy parents who attend to all of your needs. Having solicited funds through fraud you must accompany me to the police station. Confess all and the judge may be lenient!”

Emilio grovelled before me in abject contrition. “Please do not take me to the police!” he begged, this time shedding real tears. “Senor Gorilla, they are not like the police in England! They will put beetles in my hair and feed me the chicken’s ass!”

He may well have been exaggerating, but as I had no real desire to go to the police I offered a compromise. “Very well then,” I said. “I will inform your parents instead.”

His mood changed abruptly from despair to sullen resentment. “Why must you cluck like a hen laying an egg?” he inquired testily. “I will give you 50 pesos to be silent.”

I wasn’t going to tolerate cheek like that after I’d spared him from the dungeons of the Aztec capital. “You dare to offer me a bribe!” I thundered, picking up my diary. “I am making an appointment to see your parents next week. If you are wise you will confess to them beforehand. Now away with you!”

I don’t know whether he did confess because I never did visit his parents, but I imagine that I’d taught him a good lesson.

Although the lying human is usually up to no good, it would be simple-minded to suppose that the human talent for deception can never be put to good use. Lies, in fact, are an essential weapon against the merciless despot who cannot be resisted in any other way. A good historical example is the Emperor Caligula. It was quite clear the fellow went completely bonkers when he declared himself a god and made it a capital offence to utter the word “goat” in any context. Let’s suppose that a naive Senator had walked up to Caligula and said:

“Caesar, you’ve been behaving very strangely lately. For the good of the Empire, you should abdicate and get your head examined by one of those Greek doctors.”

This truthful and friendly piece of advice would have resulted in the Senator being chopped into bite-sized morsels by the Emperor’s German bodyguards and fed to the fish in the Tiber. And if Caligula had thought the Senator’s sentiments were widely shared, a massive cull of the Roman nobility would have followed. Telling the truth simply does not work in situations like that.

The correct tactic, which ultimately led to a successful assassination, was to lull the madman into a false sense of security by pretending to worship him. The Senate and People of Rome buttered him up with remarks such as:

“Oh Caesar, we mortals are unworthy to smell your poo!”

“Those gods on Mount Olympus must be so envious of you!”

“That horse of yours was the best Consul Rome ever had!”

As a result of being toadied to like this, Caligula got careless. He allowed himself to be separated from his German goon squad and was hacked to death outside the amphitheatre.

So what should parents be telling their children about lying? I think it should be something like this:

Lying is wrong unless the person you are deceiving is an absolute bounder, in which case it may be a necessary evil, but don’t make a habit of it.

There’s no point patronising children by over-simplifying a complex reality.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Patty Hearst Story

I’ve been reading up on the story of Miss Patricia Hearst. For those who can’t remember the 1970s, she was the daughter of a rich man who lived in California. Her happy life as a college student came to a traumatic end when she was abducted by a gang of angry humans, who locked her up in a cupboard. The leader of the gang would let her out, from time to time, to lecture her about various grievances that he blamed on rich people. Being from a wealthy family herself, this made Miss Hearst feel rather self-conscious and somewhat abashed. He would then escort her back to the cupboard in order to mate with her in an unusual upright position. She later claimed that the sex had been forced on her, but she did not complain or resist at the time, perhaps feeling that she was compensating the gang leader for past wrongs he had suffered at the hands of the privileged classes.

Miss Hearst then became a committed member of the gang, participating in its bank robberies and other misdeeds. She was trusted enough to be given an assault rifle, and allowed herself to be photographed carrying it. She denounced her family as parasites who exploited the working masses and profited from their toil. She said that rich Americans were lackeys of imperialism who were feeding the furnaces of the capitalist war-machine with the bodies of innocent workers and peasants. She poured scorn on her former college sweetheart as a pampered little prince who knew even less about satisfying a woman than he did about the counter-dialectic of class struggle. She also complained about the transmission system of the car that her father had given for her 19th birthday. Stung by these criticisms, her family promptly distributed six million dollars worth of groceries to the proletarians and loafers of the San Francisco Bay area.

There is much in this story that would be familiar to wild gorillas. When a male gorilla takes over a harem, driving out the old alpha, the females quickly adapt to the new reality. A few of them may shed half-a-tear for the old male, in appreciation of prior services rendered, but there’s no point dwelling on the past. From now on it’s the new ape who’s calling the shots, so they may as well make the best of it by picking the nits from his fur and letting him sweep them off their feet when they’re in season. He may not have finesse of the old gorilla, but that doesn’t mean he won’t father sturdy infants or kick the shit out of any marauding baboons. “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on” is the ancient motto of the female gorilla.

But there is one important difference: the new male never lectures the females about class struggle or complains about past wrongs suffered at the hands of the ruling alphas. Having gained control of their bodies, he has no particular wish to rule their minds or convert them to his own ideological viewpoint. Gorillas, in fact, are remarkably relaxed about their political differences. As long as the food supply is plentiful and the predators are kept at bay, no one really cares about your position on the French revolution or the Communist Manifesto. These sort of debates are best left to the rainy season, when there’s nothing better to do while sheltering beneath the trees.

Patty Hearst was later caught, tried and convicted, failing to impress the court with a defence of brainwashing. But her sentence was soon commuted by the peanut-farming president, giving her the chance to put her side of the story to a curious public. The gist of her argument was that being cooped up with a bunch of headcases can make you behave in strange ways and say things which turn out to be complete balderdash. “It could have happened to anyone,” she seemed to be saying. Personally I have my doubts about this – a female gorilla would never have made such an ass of herself.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The morning after the night before

The circus I used to work for employed a sensitive young man called Derek as an artwork designer. He was very popular with the female staff, accompanying them on shopping trips when we were touring and helping them pick out stylish clothes and perfumes. Many of the girls found him sexually attractive, but they soon gave up trying to seduce him when they realised he had no interest in coupling with women.

During one Christmas tour, Derek became very friendly with an acrobat called Sally, who had recently joined us. Sally knew he didn’t mate with females, but still used to hug and kiss him in a friendly sort of way, which didn’t seem to bother Derek. So no one took much notice when the two spent many hours chatting and dancing together at the New Year’s Eve party. And when Sally followed Derek back to his trailer that night, it was surely just for a friendly cup of coffee to see in the New Year.

On New Year’s Day, my afternoon nap was interrupted by a knock on the door of my trailer. I was astonished to see that it was Derek, looking rather distraught and begging for a minute of my time. I invited him in and asked him what I could do for him.

“Oh GB!” wailed Derek. “Something quite horrible happened last night and I feel so ashamed to talk about it.”

“I won’t be able to help you if you don’t tell me,” I replied, suppressing a yawn.

Convinced by my logic, Derek proceeded tentatively to the facts: “Someone very close to me took advantage of my friendship. I was feeling a little emotional on New Year’s Eve, as many of us do, and needed someone to hug. But this friend of mine…..she betrayed my trust by despoiling me.”

I suppose I knew what he meant by this, but it’s always best to have things spelled out clearly. “Are you saying that you mounted Sally last night?” I asked.

“Certainly not!” replied Derek in a shocked voice. “She mounted me! I was the passive one and she took advantage!”

“You don’t say, Derek.” I replied. “Nevertheless, the facts are that you had sex with her and she had sex with you. Is this a bad thing?”

“It’s a terrible thing, GB!” wailed Derek. “I’ve been tricked into doing something I didn’t want to…….something against my nature,” he added blushing. “And it’s completely ruined my friendship with Sally. How will I ever be able to face her again? The thought of her gossiping about this with the other girls is simply unbearable.”

I have to admit I was fairly stumped for a reply to this lament. I gave my head a good scratch in the hope of stimulating a few brain cells and then tried to extract myself from the role of counsellor. “I can see you’re very upset about this,” I conceded, “but why in the world would you come to me for advice? How could a gorilla possibly know what a human should do in such a situation?”

“Don’t you see, GB, it’s because you’re not human that I can bear to talk to you about it,” pleaded Derek. “And everyone says you’re such a clever ape who’s always studying human culture. You’re my only hope.”

I suppose I could have told him to write a letter to an Agony Aunt, but I decided to give his problem some further thought, if indeed it could be called a “problem”. I sensed that the significance of the incident that had occurred was all a matter of perspective, which for a twit like Derek might be changed by pouring a pitcher of ice-cold water over his head. So I told him to return at the same time tomorrow.

After Derek had left, the first priority was to finish my nap, so I had a good snooze and woke up feeling refreshed. I was just about to fix myself a snack when another knock came on the door. This time it was Sally, who invited herself in for a chat.

“I think I’ve ruined my friendship with Derek,” she moaned. “I didn’t expect anything to happen when I went to his trailer, but it was New Year’s Eve and we’d had too much to drink. One thing led to another and we ended up in bed – you know how it is GB.”

“I’m beginning to understand,” I sighed. “Give me some time to think about it. Come back and see me tomorrow afternoon.”

By cunning intent, the time I set for this meeting coincided with Derek’s appointment. Next day, I stood outside my trailer door to welcome the guests as they arrived. Derek came first, so I told him to go inside and wait for me. Sally arrived a few minutes later and I went inside with her to join Derek. An extraordinarily awkward silence followed, as the two humans blushed and then avoided eye contact. Derek tried to get up and leave, but I blocked his exit.

“Sit down, Derek!” I ordered. “There is no need for either of you to say anything until I ask you. I have prepared a scientific experiment for you to witness.”

After Derek had returned to his seat, I placed a tall glass on a nearby coffee table, which I had previously filled with pink jelly. Also on the table was a big carrot, which I thrust vigorously inside the glass so that it made a squelching noise. I looked at both my guests, who were wide-eyed with astonishment.

“Would you say that the carrot has just had sex with the glass?” I asked them.

Sally tittered, while Derek pursed his lips and frowned like a fishwife.

“Really GB!” he exclaimed. “I don’t see the point of this vulgar exhibition!”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” I retorted, “but you still haven’t answered my question. Has the carrot just had sex with the glass?”

“Of course not, GB!” said Sally giggling. “A carrot can’t have sex with a glass!”

“Quite so!” I exclaimed. “Carrots and glasses do not have sex because they are mere objects. They are without spirit. What my experiment has proved is that sex is not a physical act. It is something which exists in our minds; it is the significance we choose to attach to certain physical events.”

“I see what you’re getting at, GB,” said Derek. “But I’m not a carrot…. and Sally isn’t a glass,” he added, looking shyly at his female companion.

“True,” I replied. “But does that mean you had sex? I heard a rumour that you did, but I don’t believe it. Everyone knows that you are friends. What happened in the early hours of New Year’s Day, I suggest, was that you embraced and comforted each other as friends.”

“We did go all the way, though,” said Sally softly with her eyes lowered.

“A mere physical detail,” I countered. “It doesn’t mean that you had sex. All that happened was that Sally’s cha-cha cuddled Derek’s dick as an act of friendship.”

They chuckled sheepishly at my interpretation of events.

“The point is that you are free to interpret these events in your own way,” I continued. “If you believe you were behaving as friends, then that is what you were doing. And if you believe you are friends now, then that is what you are.”

My companions looked at each other without discomfort for the first time that afternoon. Sally apologised to Derek and words of reconciliation quickly followed from Derek. The two embraced gently and they thanked me for my efforts on their behalf. I acknowledged their gratitude with a silent bow and ordered them out of my trailer to avoid witnessing any more of the corny scene developing between them.

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