by Steve Bivans
This past Christmas, my girlfriend and I read a book together, a popular novel by an author I usually like.
The book, in my opinion, wasn’t all that good, but the premise—that the world’s population
was headed for disaster if something radical wasn’t done to curb its exponential growth—was thought provoking nonetheless.
The antagonist’s solution to the problem, was radical, to say the least, but the idea set my mental wheels spinning for a few days. “Is there some other way to slow down and reverse population growth and the damaging effects it has on the Earth?” Now, I’m aware that there are experts who argue that population growth is slowing, and that it will peak out somewhere around 10 billion or so, and then decline. Unfortunately, experts have been predicting peaks for a very long time, and it has yet to happen. However, the new experts might be right. Population might just peak, finally, not because of any new influence, but because we might just be reaching the actual limit the planet can sustain.
I spent several days thinking about all that, and then one day I was on Facebook, wasting time like normal, browsing through my home page feed of the normal kinds of things you find there, mostly negative stuff about how the government sucks (which is true), Monsanto is evil (also true), how it’s all the Republicans’s fault, and how it’s all the Democrats’s fault, or the President’s fault, ad nauseum, when I hit on a positive post by a friend of mine, who I’ll just call ‘Chele.
She had posted a link to “30 Questions you should answer before you die.” You know, it’s the kind of questionnaire that’s supposed to help you find ‘yourself’, the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, your missing socks and cigarette lighter.
Yeah, I know, you probably see this kind of crap on your Facebook feed all the time too. Maybe you even click on them all to actually read them. I don’t, not usually. But for some reason I actually clicked on this one, and began to read. It’s not an exaggeration to say that as a result, I’m writing this blog about why I’m writing a book, to quote, “Save the Earth.”
Because the 30 questions really were questions that everyone should ask themselves before they die, in fact, before they can really live. I won’t list them all here, but there were questions like “How much have you loved?” “What do you love doing that you’re not doing?” But the big one was “If you had to add something to humanity, what would your contribution be?” Ugh. That one hit me in the jewels.
You see, I’m a graduate student, working on a Ph.D., in medieval history, specifically viking military history. Yeah, I know, it sounds more glamorous than it is, and it doesn’t sound that glamorous to begin with. And to answer the question you’re now thinking about liberal arts grad students, “Flip burgers, I reckon.”
Anyway, I’m supposed to be writing my dissertation, instead of ‘saving the Earth,’ and one of these days before too long, I will get back to doing just that (I promise, mom), but something has bothered me for sometime, and that is the nagging question, “Who f’n CARES why the Vikings attacked Paris in 885 A.D.?” What difference does it make in the grand scheme of history? How does that knowledge contribute in any way to the survival and well being of my fellow humans who are still alive today? Hell, how does it contribute to my own?
I still don’t have a compelling answer to that, and that was the problem when I read that damned question above. I mean, I’m a pretty smart guy. I’m in grad school right? I managed to get through under graduate studies with a high grade point average, and passed all my classes and exams in graduate school, got a master’s degree in the process. But what am I doing to make the world a better place? That question was a real kick in the nuts, I won’t lie. But here’s the answer I came up with:
I would like to find practical, positive solutions to the following problems:
- Over population (w/o culling)
- Unchecked greed, corruption and power-mongering, worldwide
- Clean energy, worldwide: break the grip of fossil fuels on the world economy/political system
- Hunger, Poverty and Ignorance
- The poisoning of our food supply by GMO food, chemicals and pesticides.
- Save the Bees.
- Rectify the plight of women worldwide: human trafficking, equal rights, body image/fashion standards
- Stop religious-driven violence; appeal to the moderates to suppress the radicals.
Simple, right? Nooooo pressure there! LOL. All I want to do is save the world.
Yeah, I know, I laughed at myself, so it’s ok if you laugh. You should. Even my girlfriend, who probably believes that I could save it, laughed, until she saw I wasn’t laughing anymore. I was dead serious, and I am. I believe that if we are alive for any reason, it is to make the world a better place than when we came into it. If we’re not doing that, what the hell are we doing? Of course, it’s one thing to say, “I’m going to Save the Earth.” It’s quite another to figure out how to do it.
After all, I’m not the first person to attempt to solve those problems I listed above. There’s a lot of very smart people working on them already, have been for a very long time. But where have they gotten? The world seems just as screwed up as it ever was. And I should know, I’m an historian after all.
Yes, we can argue that there are fewer people in poverty, percentage wise, than there was 100 years ago, and that might be true, but the ones that are in poverty, are really in serious shape. There is an ever growing gap between those at the very top of the economic scale and everyone else. There are those who can spin the numbers to say whatever they want them to say, but it’s mostly a bunch of ‘pissin down my back and tellin’ me it’s rainin’.’ Like Mark Twain once said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The numbers aren’t really lying though. The rich are getting richer, and the rest of us are scrapping for what’s left on the floor.
All I see and read, every day it seems, is how the world is messed up, how there’s nothing we can do about it, “That’s just the way it is” has become the cop out answer for every problem the world faces. Hell, I’ve said it so many times, that I can’t count. Negative, negative, negative, blah, blah, blah. I was sick of seeing it. I”m still sick of it. So I turned off the computer for a few days, well, not exactly, I just didn’t get on Facebook (which is a good idea occasionally). And I just sat, thinking, or ‘cogitatin’’ as I like to say. I started writing notes on a legal pad, that’s how I think.
I wrote down all of those problems I listed above, and then tried to think, “What is linking all of these things?” “What drives these problems?” Is it overpopulation? Is it greed? What drives greed? Is it hate? What drives that? Fear? Fear of what? Death? Starvation? Annihilation? So all this stuff was spinning around in my head like a Waring blender full of dog shit and crackers–not my favorite blender drink, by the way. Then I woke up one morning about 2 AM, and decided that I would form my own think tank of smart people, my friends, and we would come up with a way to save the planet, and solve all those damned problems.
A few nights later we had a couple of friends over for dinner, Sharon and Cameron, and I was telling Sharon, who used to practice poverty law (and is super smart and not one of those lawyers that should be at the bottom of the ocean), that I wanted to ‘save the world’, and would she be interested in helping me? Strangely, she didn’t laugh. She knows how I am when I set my mind on something, kind of like a dwarf in a room full of orcses, if you know what I mean. So she says, “sure, let’s do it.” Then she asked if I had ever read Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael?
There comes a moment in the birth of any idea, whether the idea is ‘great’, or just another lame idea, where two things come together in an instant that had not previously slammed into one another. You know, the cliched ‘light bulb’ moment. It was that moment, when Sharon asked me about Quinn, that the idea for Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth began to formulate, or at least it was the seed that led to it. You see, I HAD read Quinn’s stuff, like 15 years ago, or so, and when I read it, it had hit me like a sledge hammer. It does. Most people who’ve read it will tell you the same thing. The thing that hit me, when Sharon brought it up, was that Quinn had been very concerned about over population too, and had figured out why it was happening, if not exactly how to stop it.
So, the next night, after our dinner with Sharon and Cameron, I downloaded Quinn’s first book, Ishmael, onto my Kindle, and read it out loud to Patience, my girlfriend. Her head was blown off too. That’s what his books do. BOOM, there goes the back of your skull. So then I was left with a heightened sense that I needed to DO SOMETHING about the problems on the earth, and I had a starting point. I had the answer to all of those questions because Quinn had already figured it out. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that he had.
The problem, though, if there is one with Quinn’s books, is that they explain how and why the world is the way the world is—and it’s not just about population—but they stop short of telling you what to do about it, just HOW to ‘save the earth.’ Basically, he says that all you need to do, is to ‘think differently.’ And he’s right, sort of. Yes, to save the planet, we do have to change the way we look at it, and ourselves. It’s quite simple really, and the answer to all those nagging, Earth-shattering questions, really is so damned simple it’s comical, as you’ll see if you read Be a Hobbit, or if you read Quinn’s books (which I suggest you do).
But thinking differently is only the FIRST step. The most important one, for certain, but only the first. Then you must DO SOMETHING different. Lots of things. For if you don’t act differently, then nothing really changes. It’s kind of like Gollum hanging onto the Ring, long after he knows it’s evil as hell. There’s nothing ‘precious’ about our Ring either. Far from it.
After reading Quinn’s book, which explains WHY things are messed up, I went ‘binge reading.’ I mean, I read like 40 books in about 3 months, maybe more. I swallowed books about population, the environment, global warming, pollution, economics and greed, violence, poverty, famine, and chased them down with numerous web articles and blog posts, and stiff bourbon whiskey. Ugh.
When I was done, I was thoroughly depressed, and not a little hung-over. I won’t lie, reading so much negativity in any span of time probably isn’t the healthiest thing to do. I don’t recommend it, at all. I won’t do it again I can assure you. I was very depressed during the process. “What the hell can one person do against so much greed, avarice, and apathy?” I asked myself. Looking back it reminds me of King Theoden’s exasperation at Helm’s Deep, “The world changes, and all that once was strong now proves unsure. How shall any tower withstand such numbers and such reckless hate?” And I had no answer.
I was at a stopping point. I was Denethor, if you will. I was there, alone in the Tower of Ecthelion, staring into the Palantir. I could see all the evil that Sauron and Saruman were up to. I could see their legions of orcs, trolls, men and Oliphants. I could see the Nazgul on their winged, serpent steeds, and I sank into despair. I was catatonic, frozen. It seemed that the forces of darkness in our world were just too daunting to fend off. How could any one resist, let alone defeat, such overwhelming force. And that’s when I heard, in the distance, the Horn of Helm Hammerhand, and remembered the hobbits.
I had glimpsed in the ‘Palantir’ WHY the world was so screwed up, The One Ring, so to speak. But that left me in despair. “What can one person do, to change all of that?” Cue Beethoven’s 5th. Dun dun dun dun! And then it hit me, it’s all about hobbits and rings and dark lords and ring wraiths and wizards. If a handful of hobbits, with a little help from some men, a wizard, and elf and a dwarf, could save Middle Earth, then a whole bunch of modern hobbits could save OUR EARTH! One person can’t save the Earth, but a whole lot of persons, CAN! I had hit on the most positive solution to the world’s most negative problems. What we needed were a bunch of little, hairy hobbits! Not large armies of Gondoreans and Rohirrim. Just beer drinking, song-singing, riddle-solving, barrel-riding, pipe-weed-smokin’, second-breakfast-eatin’, long-walkin’ hobbits!
You see, Frodo and Sam didn’t walk up to Mordor’s gates and slap Sauron in the face! If they had, things would have turned out differently for Middle Earth indeed! In fact, that’s what Sauron expected his enemies to do. He fully expected that someone like Boromir (who tried) or Gandalf and Aragorn (who refused) would seize the Ring and attempt to use it against him, and that would have been their undoing.
The Ring could be mastered by no one, except Sauron. It was wholly evil and destructive. We have a Ring too, in the modern world, in our culture (all of our culture, East and West), even more destructive than Sauron’s Ring. Trust me when I say we do. We can destroy it—it’s really just as simple as thinking differently. If we do, then we can get to work cleaning up the mess that Sauron, Saruman, the Black Riders and all the nasty orcses have been making of our planet. We don’t have to slap Sauron either. We just have to toss his Ring into the abyss whence it came.
The bulk of Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth, over half, is not about all the negative crap going on in our world. I spend less than a quarter of the book talking about that. You can read more negative stuff if you want; there’s plenty of it out there, trust me. Instead, my little book, is about positive things we can DO about those problems, one hobbit at a time. The world will not be saved by Gandalf, though there are wizards working on some of our problems, and that is a comforting thought to a hobbit like me, and it should be to you too. They’re out there for sure.
It won’t be saved by legions of Boromirs and Aragorns either, though there are plenty of those fighting for us too. There are even some Gimlis and Legolases roaming around as well. But they aren’t the real solution to the Earth’s ills: hobbits are. Lots of hobbits. Millions of hobbits. That is the only way that we can save our Earth. Hobbits are very powerful, just ask Gandalf, who said of Bilbo, “There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.” There is more to us than we think, and definitely more than all the Saurons and Sarumans can imagine!
If you want to know the extent to which you, a hobbit like me, can do to change the world, to ‘Save the Earth,’ then look for my book on Kickstarter in June. Help me polish the book and make it all it can be. Be the first to join the Fellowship of the Ring, sneak in the back door of Mordor, and bring the Dark Towers crashing down! SUBSCRIBE to my mailing list (up on the right of this page) and I’ll make sure to send you a notice, as well as special offers!