Dr. Boli, finding other histories inadequate, has long contemplated writing his own history of the world from the beginning to the present day. Whether such a project could ever be worth the effort it would require, however, is a question he has so far been unable to answer. If the publication of this first chapter attracts enough interest, perhaps the project will be worth continuing.
CHAPTER 1.—FROM THE CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE TO THE DAWN OF CIVILIZATION.
IN THE BEGINNING, according to science, there was the One, and from it all things were created. This account differs so little from that given in the first chapter of John’s Gospel that we may consider the two versions fundamentally interchangeable, allowing for some poetic license on both sides.
At a certain point in time—in fact, at the very first certain point of time in the history of time—this primordial unity gave birth to multiplicity with a tremendous racket. There is some disagreement as to why this event occurred: theologians believe it happened because God willed it; scientists believe it happened for no reason at all; and Dr. Boli, whose opinion must be allowed to count for something in his own book, believes it was the result of deliberate sabotage. The matter thus set loose in the previously tidy universe busily set about forming itself into galaxies, stars, planets, and other detritus, so that today there is little hope of ever getting the place cleaned up. This should be a valuable lesson for us all on the tragic consequences of slovenly habits.
Very roughly ten billion years after the moment of creation, our own solar system was constructed in the suburbs of one of the middle-sized galaxies, the Sioux Falls or Omaha of the universe, and our own planet was set aside to provide a small area of mixed-income housing.
In the beginning our planet was a frankly unattractive place, with no landscaping to speak of and very few of the amenities living beings usually look for in a neighborhood. It took some time to attract any residents at all, and we must candidly admit that the first inhabitants were not beings of the highest class. They were a hardy lot, however, and made up in ambition what they lacked in refinement. Soon they and their descendants had covered the earth, in the process shaping it to their liking (whether with the permission of the landlord or in defiance of him it is no longer possible to determine) and adding some color to the place.
As yet these primitive Earthlings still maintained a firm hold on their cellular independence. At some point, however, a kind of communist revolution took place, and creatures appeared made up of individual cells organized into a cooperative whole. It is important to remember that these cellular communes even now are in the minority, and that most creatures on earth have clung tenaciously to their unicellular liberty. Single-celled organisms, however, or even more primitive beings, write no histories, so we shall have little more to do with this silent majority until its members erupt into our multicellular affairs in the forms of various diseases.
At first most of these multicellular organisms inhabited the water, but eventually some of them were induced by competition—a force that did not sit well with their communist ideals—to colonize the land as well. These colonial enterprises came about in stages, as plants, insects, vertebrates, and other creatures discovered one by one the advantages of life in the open air. One suspects that there may have been a fair amount of marketing involved, since more than one kind of creature, after spending enough time on the land to form a fair opinion of the place, has decided to retreat to the water again. If we could speak the language of whales, we might find that they believed they had been duped, and still harbored some resentment against the salesman who had persuaded them to abandon the aquatic life for so many years before they finally came to their senses.
On land, as in the water, food was the first requirement for any creature. The industrious plants devoted their lives to manufacturing their own food from sunlight and a few unclaimed minerals they found lying about. Most other forms of life resorted to the simpler expedient of theft, so that today the entire economy of life on earth rests upon the ability, and more important the willingness, of the plants to produce much more than they need for themselves. It would take only a single vegetable demagogue with a talent for persuasion to upset the whole balance of our existence.
Most of the rest of the history of life on earth is a dreary and repetitive tale of one creature eating another and then being eaten by a third; there are only so many times one can hear the story without beginning to find it a bit familiar, even if the names of the principal characters in the drama have been changed. To be sure, there were highlights. For quite some time, the earth was producing dinosaurs; and any planet that can produce a lizard the size of an apartment complex can reasonably claim to have accomplished something. There are also butterflies, for which no apology is needed. There was also a definite trend toward the development of greater and greater intelligence in the creatures that inhabited the earth, but it cannot be said that the uses to which that intelligence was put were morally commendable. In general, the less said about the long period from the colonization of the land to the appearance of the first primates, the better. Indeed, it could easily be argued that it would be best to skip over the period from the first primates to the present as well; but then the rest of the pages in this book would be blank, which would doubtless prove a disappointment to purchasers who had expected to find words on them. The historian must keep the realities of the market in view.
The early primates differed from the animals around them mostly in that their descendants were destined to be later primates. As for the later primates, they began to show some traits that we recognize as typically human, such as random outbursts of violence and the ability to sit for hours picking specks off themselves. Clearly it was only a matter of time before such advanced creatures dominated the earth.
These later primates made several failed attempts at producing a human being until they finally got it right. There were, for example, various species of Australopithecus, which failed because they were in the wrong genus. There was Homo erectus, which got the genus right and succeeded in the upright-posture department, but apparently exhausted itself in the process. There was Neanderthal man, Homo neanderthalis, which possessed a large brain, a keen intelligence, and a peaceful disposition, and was disqualified by these obvious flaws. Not until the appearance of Homo sapiens did the primates produce a species with the exact traits needed to fit it for an advanced civilization: that peculiar combination of an ability to reason adequately with a willingness to abandon reason most of the time that makes civilization possible.
Civilization was not a thing that happened all at once. Older historians divided human development into three distinct stages: savagery, barbarism, and civilization. Modern scholars reject that division as unnecessarily complex. We now understand that barbarism and civilization are merely savagery on a larger and larger scale.
Although it puts him out of step with current thought, however, Dr. Boli still finds the old threefold division useful, as giving shape to a narrative that would otherwise be confusingly formless.
In the first stage, therefore, which we shall persist in calling savagery, human beings gathered in small groups for the purpose of killing each other two or three at a time. In the second stage, the barbaric stage, we gathered in large tribes for the purpose of killing each other by the dozens or hundreds. In the last stage, civilization, we gather in large nations and empires for the purpose of killing each other by the thousands or hundreds of thousands.
History properly begins at the civilization stage, and it is therefore with our first groping toward civilization that we shall begin the next chapter.