My mind concocts a lot of pointless hypotheticals, and lately these thoughts have been imbued with unusually florid details. Last night I was in a supermarket with a series of hot and salad bars and a cafeteria section off to one side, and imagined what things would look like if everyone suddenly lost not only their knowledge of manners and the geneal rules of order, but all concept of such things. I mean a complete and collective frontal-lobe failure. It would be a jovial yet gruesome (to an observer retaining his own standards of proper behavior) scene. People shoveling everything from carrot sticks to macaroni salad to beef stew into their mouths using their hands. Folks just grabbing what they wanted and casually bypassing the registers en route to the parking lot, perhaps soiling themselves along the way. Noisy copulation in the aisles, people braining each other with coconuts in an effort to secure the last Milky Way bar in the place. It would be Bluto Blutarsky meets Phineas Gage, co-hosting a live broadcast of Wild Kingdom: The Urban Edition.
So I slept on that, and this morning awoke with a better idea.
I found myself picturing a world in which everything was the same as it is save for our requirement for food. We would still somehow grow and develop at the same rate, in the same way and to the same proportions, but we’d be able to gain nourishment in some radically different but physically feasible way–carbon fixation, I guess. We’d be chemoautotrophs or something. Anyway, the biological aspects aren’t important. What is interesting to think about are the lifestyle implications. “A man’s got to eat,” is a common refrain among those who grudgingly keep jobs they despise because they have hungry mouths to feed–their own and, often, those of family members. But what if this weren’t true? At some fundamental level, don’t people work just so they can eat and keep doing other things, even those people with the means to collect all sorts of wonderful toys?
Maybe these considerations sprang to mind because the warming weather in the Front Range has given rise to increasing numbers of people standing on corners with cardboard signs that read HUNGRY, NEED HELP, EVERY LITTLE BIT COUNTS. I don’t aim to trivialize their plight, even though I know that food equals liquor to a lot of these folks, but I can’t help but wonder if there wouldn’t be a lot more homeless people if nourishment simply were not an issue. I’m not convinced this would be the case, because frankly, sufficient amounts of food is not the greatest problem facing transients in any U.S. community and especially in a place like Boulder, Colorado. Food is available at churches, food banks, and shelters, and a lot of local restaurants give away food at closing time rather than toss it (and there’s one sub shop that reportedly even makes people sandwiches if they need them). More often, it’s finding someplace warm, dry, and out of the reach of harm or the cops that poses the greatest problems, often against the backdrop of wherewithal riddled by mental illness, chronic intoxication or both.
But still: Imagine if we were the same people living the same basic way of life, but didn’t need to eat. I guess it’s fair to assume that we’d still need water, but that other beverages were useless or even poisonous, including booze. What then? Staying with the low end of the SES spectrum for now, I wonder how the complexion of homelessness would change. Would there be more homeless people? I suppose people would still treasure nice dwellings, but the impetus to provide for others would have to lapse in some ways, leading to lassitude and the spread of increasingly itenerary ways. Also, homeless people would no longer be begging for food or alcohol, so what would they do? Hold up signs that read, “NEED SUPER BOWL TIX” or I’M BROKE & SO IS MY PLASMA TV”?
We would also have to find more ways to occupy our leisure time, so much of which is centered on the inevitable need to eat. Downtowns and shopping malls everywhere would look radically different, as half or more of these places are devoted to comestibles in some way. Litter would be scarce, farms nonexistent. In the absence of predation, animals would be unlikely to kill each other and would probably just stay out of each other’s way.
It’s possible that technology would advance much more rapidly, with so much energy available to devote to areas divorced from basic human sustenance. We’re easily bored, though, so it’s likely that whatever space is devoted to food production and consumption in the world we know would go toward things like amusement parks in its food-free counterpart. Instead of Six Flags over Georgia, we’d have Six Hundred Banners over Kansbraska, with roller coasters the size of Rhode Island carrying giddy, screaming hordes on rides lasting 40 hours at a time. (I haven’t decided yet if we’d need to urinate, but defecation is off the table.) Chances are fairly decent that people would copulate more often, both for purposes of producing more kids (why not?) and in order to kill time between endless video games and ten-hour-long movies.
As boring and sterile a vista as this may appear, keep in mind that we wouldn’t know what we’re missing, any more than we now feel deprived because we don’t have multiple sex organs sprouting out of various locations on our bodies that are in need of stimulation every five minutes. Even if some of us act as if we do.