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When some prehistoric man, wounded and hungry (as he always was), stepped out onto the plain, he could find around him what he needed to survive. He could find plants and animals to eat, and those plants and animals would provide him with just enough energy to find more plants and animals, and when a little energy was left over, he could find some material to shelter him from the elements.
But of course, the animals didn’t lay down and offer themselves to him. The rocks cleaved to the earth; the plants tried to hold fast in the ground. The sad fact is that work was required. Work, stone-cold work, made the difference between life and death. But at least he could do it. And with each hard meal, and with each driving rain or bitter cold snap that he passed warm and dry, prehistoric man gained another day. But only having another day was not enough to satisfy him, not enough to convince him to rest.
As it turned out, underneath this man, above him and all around, lay everything needed to do much more than survive another day. Indeed, there was everything a man needed to build a world beyond his imagination – to build castles, to build farms, and to build ships that could cross oceans. All he had to do was keep working.
And so he did keep working, and so did his descendants. Eventually, man did enough work, experimented with enough of the Earth’s material, to become Historic man. He would eventually even learn to make some of the animals do some of the work for him, and the results of his work were thus multiplied. He was wounded and hungry less often now. Now, man could store up for himself, not just another day or two, but a whole season. But this still was not enough to satisfy him.
Time passed, days and years, on and on, and man and beast toiled away. And then one day, man discovered it wasn’t just animals, and other people, that could work for him. Certain little black rocks, and certain seeping liquids, had secret properties that held the key to an immense expansion of work. For in those little rocks was pressed all the energy of a billion years of life on this planet, a billion years of tiny seeds growing into great forests, falling and growing again, over and over. And, of course, a billion years of the surging bloody energy of beasts, great and small, thrashing and killing. All of that energy pressed and compressed, just waiting for a little fire to spring forth.
And so man brought that fire, and he captured that power, and he unleashed all that Jurassic rage. He made new great metal beasts that thrashed and killed – trains and pounding presses, machine guns and bombers, race cars and mauling tanks. Work, energy, was now measured in revolutions per second, kilotons and megatons. From the earth which at one time seemed to only offer animals and plants, man could now make machines that recorded sounds and images, that compressed libraries of information into tiny pieces of plastic, that could travel all the way to some of those mysterious points of light at which prehistoric man could only shrug. Historic man became Modern man. Modern man was now rarely wounded and hungry, and barring something truly unfortunate, man could now expect many years of life.
Predictably, though, Modern man is still not satisfied, and the work will surely go on. Man is drawn like a magnet to some future when he will finally get to rest. But as far as he has come, it seems there is still a long way to go.Published in