Today I would like to talk to you about colours. But first I want to ask you a question. When does your hurricane season
I have often wondered how we would lead our lives if our bodies were fundamentally different from how they are. We would not consider this alteration unusual because we would have grown up with it. It would be no cause for wonder or alarm. We would probably be as unsatisfied with our bodies as we are, even if we had superhuman powers. I imagine that Superman himself is thoroughly bored with his many superpowers, just as a bird feels no thrill at being able to swoop and glide through the air, just as a Galapagos tortoise is unexcited at the thought of spending one hundred and fifty years eating the spiny pads of the prickly pear. Boredom is not quite the same as dissatisfaction, for it is possible to be both content and bored. But boredom and dissatisfaction have the same consequence, and that is lust. Boredom generates lust because the neutral state of thoughtless man is one of sexual arousal. This is commonly accepted. Dissatisfaction generates a lust for satisfaction, either directly or indirectly, by feedbacking-ing on itself and creating a deeper dissatisfaction which eventually finds expression in self-destruction. It strikes me that the act of sexual congress would be intolerably unpleasant if it was not for lust. From a biological point of view, lust masks disgust. It is what compels monkeys to mount each other, when otherwise one monkey would never consider going near another monkey's bottom. But lust is also what drives Superman to fight crime and to combat intergalactic menaces such as General Zod, who in turn had a lust for pure power over the puny, pathetic people of the planet. Perhaps pleasure propels progress, and purity is a peripheral, pedestrian pollutant. Pleasure is a pleasant price to pay.
I wonder how human society would have evolved if our moods expressed themselves by changing the colour of our skin. To a certain extent we already possess this ability. Or rather, our blood possess this ability. We have no control over our blood. It is blood. We flush our skin with blood when we are angry. We engorge our lips and sexual organs with blood when we are desirous. We spit blood when we are frustrated. Blood retreats when we are scared. But blood does not move and pool and well up when we feel ennui or boredom, or unease, or when we are mildly annoyed at having been insulted by a passer-by. Rather than simply turning red with anger or white with fright, what would it be like if we could assume a wide range of subtle hues, like a chameleon or an alligator? We would no longer have to rely upon facial expressions and words in order to communicate. We would communicate with colours. The flip side of this is we would reveal our subtlest feelings to the world, even though we might not want to. What if our skin became Pantone 294 when we wanted to go to the toilet? I do not want the world to know that I feel the urge to urinate. For the majority of people I withhold that information because I do not want them to know about my intimate bodily processes. And for a very small number of people I withhold that information because I want it to be a surprise when it happens.
Professional poker players understand this, and mask the physical manifestation of their emotions and feelings. They practice in front of the mirror. Fleas bite them, and they do not react. They soil themselves invisibly. Air traffic controllers similarly cannot afford to break into a nervous sweat, or involuntarily punch the air with glee. They certainly cannot afford to urinate, and instead they learn to control their bladders, and to sweat through the soles of their feet. Actors have an even harder task, in that it is not enough for them to simply mask their feelings; they must express feelings which they do not feel. In my alternative world actors would have to master the art of changing their colour at will. Perhaps they could use several layers of wipe-clean makeup in order to change colour, swapping emotions as actors in the real world swap clothes.
This alternative human society would be even more conscious of colour than us. People would pay extra-special care when choosing clothes. Stewardesses and receptionists would wear clothes of a shade that expresses a general pleasantness. Entertainers would wear clothes that express manic excitement. Businessmen would wear clothes that express no emotion at all, and which would presumably be the neutral colour of that person's skin. Businessmen would therefore not wear black or grey suits, they would wear skin-coloured suits, because businessmen need to control their emotions in order to function in the world of business. If it is the case that naturally-coloured skin is unemotional, it might be that nudity would have less of an impact, or that we would concentrate more on a body's shape, or that adult film stars would have to modulate their colour just as male adult film stars in our world must learn to sustain an erection. It is a difficult task to sustain an erection, especially if one is surrounded by a film crew, or participating in a general election. Perhaps soldiers in this alternative society could camouflage themselves by thinking of whatever emotion causes skin to turn a swirling, random mixture of green and brown.
Our attitude towards colours would change. Our society associates turnips with blandness and uniformity, and with low-budget institutional food. At least when I was a child, the turnip was redolent of school dinners. In the event of a Communist takeover, turnips would become the staple diet. But suppose it was the case that turnips were the colour of love? Valentines cards would not feature stylised representations of hearts. They would instead feature stylised representations of turnips. And given that turnips are easier to buy and store than human hearts, it is likely that we would not send cards at all; we would send turnips, perhaps with a message carved into them. Or more practically we would tie a label to the turnip with a piece of string. And we would probably post miniature turnips made of plastic, because even turnips can go off in the post. Perhaps we would send chocolate turnips, by which I mean chocolates shaped like turnips. In a world where turnips were the vegetables of lust, perhaps pornography would make greater use of turnips than it does already. I will leave the details to your imagination. But first I must go onto the Internet to find out if turnips are vegetables or something else. I must think faster, and cram more thoughts into my sentences. It is good that I can type eighty words per minute. I wish I could dictate straight from my mind into the computer, because I think more than eighty thoughts in a minute, although it is also true that a single word can express several thoughts. The more ideas I have, the lower the quality, but it is easier to digest a large number of low-quality ideas than it is to digest one large idea, and it does not tax the kidneys so much. Mush. Mushy peas. Ed Muskie. Kidneys, purple. The Death of Klinghoffer.
There might be an issue whereby the colour of sickness or anger is present in a natural object that we nonetheless cannot avoid. If it was the case that the sight of water or of the sky made us want to flee, we would die. In our world, green is the colour of sickness and decay. But it is also the colour of grass. We find sickness and decay unpleasant, but conversely we find grass pleasant, indeed also erotic even too. Who amongst us has not fantasised about rolling naked in green grass, on a summer's day? If the grass was snot - which is also green, at least in comics - we would avoid it, but I believe that colour alone is of limited value as a means of determining our emotional response to our surroundings. Clearly we perceive grass as more than just the colour green. On the other hand, if we communicated with colours, and if colours played a much greater role in our lives, it might be the case that we would find grass to be unpleasant, just as we find the sound of a crying baby to be unelephant even though a sound cannot hurt us unless it is extremely loud. A crying baby cannot hurt us either. Some people find that clashing colours can bring on a migraine, and a migraine is painful, although we have to bear in mind the difference between vivid colours - which do not by themselves project light - and extreme luminosity, such as that of a computer monitor or a lightbulb. Nixon is no longer in China. As I write these words, he is in Brazil.
It is not the quality of light that causes physical pain. It is the strength of light. It is the strength that blinds and flays. And it is not the quality of an idea that pushes the world off its axis, it is the strength of an idea.