I posted this once before. But in case anyone missed it, here's one householder's reaction to the Watchtower Society's "Peaceful New World" tract.
I’d just settled down with Canetti’s brilliant novel, translated as Auto-da-Fe, to listen to a Saturday midmorning Beethoven concert, when the doorbell went off.
Two bespectacled blonde young Jehovah’s Witness women with red leather bibles had come up the hill in a large vehicle. It was not a white Cadillac (commonly favored by the older missionaries who make the ascent), but rather one of those 10-mpg upholstered rolling boxes, which I understand are called Conversion Vans.
The younger Witness offered a few commiserating words about the sorry state of the contemporary world (war, hurricanes, poor old people), with which I heartily agreed, although I remarked that if there were fewer Americans using less petroleum (nodding to the idling van), the problems would be less severe. We might save so much by ceasing to pursue oil by means of war, that we could afford to fund much-improved eldercare. Natural disasters would be less disastrous if the population were smaller, and if people had the sense not to construct their settlements upon tectonic faults, or right at sea level, in the path of predictable hurricanes.
The pair drew off and conferred quietly, then apparently decided to get down to business. The slightly more senior Witness handed me a brochure, and asked my opinion of the painting on the cover.
I’m certainly happy you have driven up to discuss art, and not to try to save my soul, I said, for this is a strongly anti-theological road you have ventured upon. However, I forgive you your trespasses. Although I prefer books and music (gesturing to the upstairs window, from which Artur Schnabel’s 1937 recording of the Pastorale sonata sounded), I rather like looking at pictures on occasion.
Since I’m not much of an art critic, I’ll have to appraise the work from the social, economic, and environmental perspectives, with which I’m more familiar. Anthropologically speaking, this landscape is almost a perfect picture of paradise, I remarked. Biologists now think that such scenes, showing fertile land, abundant water, and places for secure retreat, like these white houses, tap in to some of the most fundamental sources of well being for the evolving primate. This pleasure humans have retained intact for millions of years, and now we recreate such scenes in art. The one discordant note would be the presence of a large carnivore in the foreground, its teeth mere inches from the child.
“The Bible tells us that the lion shall lie down with the kid,” the younger blond suggests helpfully.
Yes, of course; and so perhaps a small Canadian brown bear might do so as well, or at least with parts of one, I grumble. Let me look more thoroughly at the rest of it.
I examined the work of art carefully, taking my time, making mental notes. It is pleasant to see they still have blacks and Mexican children for agricultural labor, in the new Eden! I finally said. Much of old-style, non-mechanized farm work was sheer drudgery, no part of a paradise! In a post-post-industrial society, where farming once again has some importance, naturally there would arise something resembling the old class structure, divided between landowners and laborers. I can see that the house at the right has an outbuilding; no doubt the slave quarters. Both the nuclear family in the background, and the single mother in the right foreground, appear to have such confidence in their social position, that they can afford to limit their family size to a single child. Since the dark-skinned underclass supplies all the labor, and appears contented and non- revolutionary, the owners don’t require large families, and no doubt practice birth control and perhaps abortion.
The young missionaries back away. The powerful motor of the Conversion Van is still running, as if prudently kept ready for a quick retreat.
Now then, why depict everyone wearing clothing? (I’m still, by the way, in my robe at 10:30, unshaven. Perhaps the waist-tie is a little loose by now.) In Eden, without sin, there should be no need of false modesty about the human body, which is of course said to be constructed in the very image of God’s. Healthy young people always enjoy going about bare, when they can. These people are healthy; none wear glasses. Perhaps they don’t do much reading. The climate here appears to be perfect, either late summer or early autumn; and no doubt the mosquitoes that breed in the shallows, like the bears, have converted to vegetarianism. So the depiction of neo-Adams and neo-Eves as being clothed at all, and clothed after current sex-role fashion at that, seems strange. Also, the fact that the slave woman wears some sort of African hat, when clearly skin color is sufficient to indicate her lowly social status, seems out of keeping with the concept of a new Eden.
VROOM. Their driver, still in the van, seems impatient.
Furthermore, these are colorful, modern-style, lightweight woven clothes, not primitive pelts or ponchos or twisted grasses. This implies either that somewhere beyond the mountains mechanized industry still exists; or that an immense pool of unseen slave labor has arisen to take its place. Now, none of the houses exhibit satellite TV dishes or propane tanks, nor do we see electric lines traverse the landscape. Lack of electric light might explain the absence of any indication of recreational reading. I’d venture to say that all industry, not just textiles, must be far away. Since there are no East Indians among the neo-Edenites, perhaps the clothing still comes from low-wage factories in Asia, where all such people are still employed in less than paradisical working environments.
And yet, unless the slaves are also growing tobacco, marijuana, or opium in addition to apples, flowers, and simple wholesome farmstead produce, it wouldn’t seem they to me that they have any economic product to offer in exchange for low-tech clothing. There are no roads, no rail lines, no jet contrails in the sky, and no docks along the shore; it’s hard to see how even high-value agricultural products, if there are any, could be traded abroad for manufactured goods.
VROOM. The blondes edge closer to the van.
However, I notice that there are no old people whatsoever in the picture. The average age must be around 25. I don’t know that it’s possible to abolish old age, but it might well make society more pleasant by removing from it all the old people, those walking reminders of death. Perhaps this absence of the elderly explains the finery of the young! At age 40, they are herded across the mountains into concentration camps, where with great effort they hand-sew the clothes, and hand-weave the baskets, and pound rocks to make the whitewash so liberally painted over the exteriors of the leisure-class houses.
Also, the houses appear to be wooden. Large swathes of forest appear to have been clear-cut along the mountain hillside. Perhaps, also just out of sight, a chain-gang of blonde and red-headed persons (clearly not represented among the brunette citizens of paradise shown here) labors, felling the trees, and fashioning smooth boards from their wood, using primitive tools. If a few are lost to such wild bears as have not yet seen the error of their ways, it’s no great loss. The mangled Nordic corpses remain out of sight, and so, like the old, don’t obtrude upon everyday Eden.
What a shame, though: they’ve built the settlement just at the shoreline, on what is no doubt a flood plain! Rivers rise, surely even in Eden. Sometimes it takes nothing less than a disaster to remind people to maintain at all times a proper respect for the forces of nature.
SLAM. SLAM. VROOM.
I continue to address the air (where the Conversion Van had been, but is no longer, idling): I do love to look out at a peaceful rural scene with no unnecessary machinery blocking the view. A most pleasant picture, on the whole.
(Name withheld) September 24, 2005