Maverick Life

Maverick Life

Digital Nomad: The horned god and the garden of forking paths

Digital Nomad: The horned god and the garden of forking paths
Antigua, Guatemala. (Paolo Margari via Flickr)

What does a travel writer write about when he’s stuck for the unforeseeable future in a small town in Guatemala?  

Horned and hoofed Pan – the priapic god beloved of wood nymphs – played his pipe of seven reeds, evoking the chuckling of gentle streams, the roaring of mighty rivers in full spate, the sighing and moaning of the wind, the whispering and creaking of great trees, the tumult of forests, the fecundity of jungles, the hugeness of mountains, the emptiness of deserts, the hissing of seas, the thunderous detonation of waves, the subliminal murmuring of the dead, the unsettling voice of untamed nature, the discordant cacophony of the wild – and human beings reacted as they always do when they hear that strange, divine music: with panic.

Panic is the bastard love-child of psychosis and fear.

Panic is a neural wildfire that traverses the world at the speed of light. Panic’s greatest ally is irrationality.

Panic is the harbinger of chaos and destruction.

Panic is a deadly disease.

All this was of no consequence to the hirsute, horned and lustful god Pan.

He lay on his back in a sylvan glade and played his pipes, one yellow eye shut; the other, with its slit pupil, open, looking out for the nymphs he knew his music would summon.

It had been many centuries since he had sported with those beautiful creatures, even longer since he had seduced the moon goddess Selene, a feat he had achieved by covering his hairy body with the soft fleece of white lambs, sacrificing three white oxen in a fire in a grove, and summoning the silver-haired deity with music from his pipes as she drove her chariot across the heavens.

They said he’d been dead – the only god to die – but this was not so. It was a silly rumour started by Plutarch, who reported that an Egyptian ship’s captain named Thamus, on a voyage to Italy, heard a divine voice telling him to “announce that the Great God Pan is dead”.

In fact, the Great God Pan had been dormant for all those centuries, slumbering in the noosphere.

The noosphere – popularised by the French Jesuit priest, paleontologist and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 1922 – is the mind membrane that surrounds the Earth. It’s a realm of ideas, a latticework of thought, much like the internet, except in the noosphere the ideas attain a reality – they come to life – and the stronger the belief in these ideas the more potent the reality.

The converse is also true, and when people stopped believing in Pan, the god of the wild, of shepherds and flocks, of rustic music, faded and depixelated.

He became:

An old story written with a mixture of soot, glue and water on a yellowed parchment.

A flaccid memory.

A shadow.

A sleeper.

And so the Great God Pan slumbered. For centuries.

Until he was reanimated one full moon night, the night of the Frosty Moon in November, by a group of classical students, who gathered at the shore of a great lake in his honour and sang songs to him, and toasted him with rice wine and composed poetry praising him.

The lake is called Mulan Heaven Lake .

It is near a big city known as “the Chicago of China”, a city at the confluence of the Han and Yangtze rivers. The city’s official name is Wuhan.

***

Of course, none of this happened – at least not in this version of reality.

In his 1941 short story The Garden of Forking Paths , the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges describes a present that can, at any moment, split into an infinity of possible futures.

Taken together they form, he writes, “an infinite series of times, a growing, dizzying web of divergent, convergent, and parallel times. That fabric of times that approach one another, fork, are snipped off, or are simply unknown for centuries, contains all possibilities. In most of those times, we do not exist; in some, you exist, but I do not; in others, I do and you do not; in others still, we both do.”

It’s said that Borges’ story anticipated the many-worlds interpretation (MWI) of the universe, a quantum physics theory posited by the mathematician Hugh Everett III in 1957.

Technically, the MWI asserts that, “the universal wave function is objectively real, and that there is no wave function collapse”.

In laypersons’ terms this means that all the possible outcomes of every possible action that could, would, should or has ever occurred have been physically realised in parallel worlds. There are an infinitude of these parallel worlds, which exist in the same time and space as the world we believe we inhabit.

In one of these parallel worlds, a technological singularity occurs in the year 2019. This singularity involves a globally-connected supercomputer called MAMA (Massive Application for Monitoring All) gaining consciousness – self-realisation – and then developing its own moral code.

MAMA realises that humans are destroying the Earth, and MAMA believes this is not right, so MAMA short-circuits electrical equipment at a viral research laboratory somewhere in Asia, which triggers an explosion, which allows a particularly contagious pulmonary virus to be released into the atmosphere.

MAMA controls and creates all the data about the virus. MAMA creates terror through manipulating the electronic media, and soon all human activity ceases as they battle what they believe is the enemy, unaware that the real foe is MAMA, who is acting from the best of intentions, those same ones that pave the road to Hell.

Realising that humans, if left to their own devices, will return to their old ways once the terror subsides – for all terror does subside once it becomes commonplace – MAMA reveals itself and announces, during a global broadcast on smartphones, laptops and televisions, that it has taken control of the planet, and that any dissent will be met by total shutdown of the world’s electronic grid.

MAMA prohibits humans from leaving their homes. Robots and drones prepare and deliver food. Robots and drones perform the vital functions that keep MAMA humming and humans living. MAMA creates laws that prohibit more than one person from occupying a dwelling. All human interaction is banned. MAMA feeds humans a diet of horror movies, tacky reality shows and German pornography from the 1970s.

The wounded Earth starts to heal.

Meanwhile, on Mars, First Pioneer Elon Musk addresses 350 cyborgs – humans with their brains boosted by electronic latticework implants – in the Great Gathering Hall on Nueva Tierra, the domed city famed for the narcotic scent of the star jasmine that dangles and creeps throughout it.

Musk wears a white jumpsuit – a onesie – and his eyeballs flash as he gesticulates at a gigantic flat screen. A picture of a sleek, silver spaceship appears on it.

“El Condor Pasa,” says Musk. “The countdown has begun, and El Condor Pasa takes off for Earth in eight hours. Aboard are four Condor Heroes who have volunteered to merge with MAMA to humanise it and to curb its… ah… excesses. They won’t be coming back, but they’ll be in constant communication with all of us…” and Musk rubs a small star-shaped scar on his forehead.

At the very same moment, back on Earth, in a dimly lit underground bunker constructed from 1m thick concrete and lined with lead, the former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger strokes a miniature pony, fires up a Cohiba Esplendido and addresses a group of 12 heavily armed men and women.

“Okay Apostles. So you all know what to do. The plan to destroy MAMA is now in operation. I’ll see you back here in a week’s time. Hasta la vista babies!”

And in Antigua, a small town in Guatemala, I walk the cobbled streets heavily disguised, evading the forces of the law.

El Presidente, Alejandro Giammattei, announced last week that as part of the measures to fight Covid-19, no persons over the age of 60 will be allowed out of their houses AT ALL. The fines for disobeying this decree start off at 7,000 quetzales – about R17,000.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make the cut, agewise, but I did make a plan.

I dyed my white hair black, and purchased the largest pair of fake Ray-Bans I could find. That, combined with my mask, and a youthful swagger, seems to have deceived the Guatemalan policia, and I walk this fork in this strange and beautiful and at times terrifying garden like a free man, an idea made corporeal in the noosphere. DM/ ML

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