CONCERNING A TREE
Mr. Gerard Keane was kneeling down in front of the medium-sized Christmas tree he had recently erected and decked-out with coloured lights and silver balls, as tradition required. His wife had taken the children for a walk in the snow and he had promised them that the tree would be fully decked-out by the time they returned. The only other occupant of their sitting room was Joseph Gill, a bachelor, who sat in one of its three comfortable armchairs as sole witness to the proceedings. Now that his next-door neighbour had completed the job, however, he noticed a look of puzzlement on the man's face and inquired of him, in a leisurely way, as to the source of this emotion. For he was slightly puzzled, himself, by its presence there. Surely self-satisfaction or pride would have been more appropriate?
"Ah well, since you ask, I'll confess it to you," said Mr. Keane, turning fully towards his guest. "We perceive before us a Christmas tree, no doubt a fairly typical one for a room this size. This is my tree, my family's tree, and I'm really quite pleased with it. But, you know ..." and here his face tensed slightly as he sought to convey his puzzlement more clearly ... "much as I've set up such a tree for a number of years now, and much as I can recall my father having set up a similar one when I was a boy and decked it out in a like manner, I've never been able to understand what it's all about, just why, I mean, we bother to set up Christmas trees at all. My father would say that it was to decorate a room in accordance with Christmas tradition, and when my children ask me, I've replied that it's to bring a little extra light into the house. Clever young Richard has seen reason to doubt the validity of this reply, on one or two occasions, by insisting that there's enough light in it already. Which, of course, is true. So, to save face, I've then copied my father by referring the tree to tradition. But, unlike me, who was usually content with some explanation ... no matter how vague, clever little Richard has to ask: 'Why has it become tradition?' and I, short of a suitable answer, have to shake my shoulders in a gesture of ignorance and retort 'It just has'. After which neither of us are satisfied, and we long for a more substantial explanation. Unfortunately, my wife can't provide one. Nor can my little daughter. So we call it quits and change the subject. This year, however, Richard might have an explanation of his own. For he's sure to be dissatisfied with the same old story and may not even wish to be confronted with my ignorance again. If only I could think of something more cogent to tell him!"
Poor Mr. Keane looked quite disappointed with himself, though he had no reason, thought Gill, to be particularly ashamed of what was, after all, a fairly general failing throughout Christendom at this time of year. How many other people could have offered their children anything more concrete to go on? He, Joseph Gill, had never received a convincing explanation as a child either, but at least he'd had the good fortune to work out a pretty convincing one for himself in recent years, and, seeing that Gerard Keane looked no less puzzled now than previously, he thought it might not be inappropriate to divulge it to him, as a means to offering some enlightenment. So he leant back in the leather armchair and, to Mr. Keane's obvious surprise, proceeded to reveal what he considered to be the truth. (Doubtless Gerard would be sceptical at first, like most ordinary blokes when confronted by something original or profound. Yet such scepticism was but a temporary barrier to enlightenment.)
"Because man isn't an end in himself but a means to a higher end, namely the attainment of salvation in the heavenly Beyond, it follows that he must one day be overcome, to use a Nietzschean-type expression, in the interests of evolutionary progress. Above man will come, after the next civilization, the post-human life forms of the transcendental millennium, which will be derived from him as, in the first case, brains artificially supported and sustained in communal contexts, and, in the second case, following the removal or transcendence of the old brain, new brains artificially supported and sustained in more intensely communal contexts. These two life forms, the Supermen and Superbeings respectively, are beyond us in evolutionary development, and because we aren't simply creatures of the present, like animals, but capable of projecting our minds backwards or forwards in time, we intimate of this future millennial stage of evolution by placing coloured lights and/or silver balls on a Christmas tree every year which, whether or not we're consciously aware of the fact, symbolize the life forms in question."
Mr. Keane's astonishment at hearing this constrained him to silence for several seconds, before he could bring himself to articulate an incredulous response. "You mean to tell me that men will one day cease to exist, as we know them, and instead become so many brains hanging on a tree?" he well-nigh exclaimed.
"Only the 'tree' will be an artificial one," Gill said, "and the brains won't so much hang as be supported. There'll be thousands of these tree-like supports all over the planet, which will be maintained and supervised by specially-qualified men, who'll function as technicians. There's no other way to Heaven than via a post-human millennium."
Mr. Keane scratched his head in manifest perplexity and turned towards the Christmas tree. There were at least fifty fairy lights in six different colours on it, and almost as many silver balls. There were also some strands of tinsel and, right at the top, a plastic angel with a star-tipped wand in its tiny hand. Having glanced over all this, he turned back to his guest and asked: "Could it be that I'm intimating of both the Supermen and Superbeings simultaneously, then?"
He was of course alluding to the fact that there were silver balls as well as fairy lights on his tree, and Joseph Gill quickly cottoned-on to the apparent incongruity of the situation, allowing himself the ironic luxury of some mild amusement at his neighbour's expense. "That could well be," he smilingly replied. "Though whether you choose to equate the silver balls with Supermen or, alternatively, their superbeingful successors ... doesn't really matter. If you want to intimate of only the first phase of the post-human millennium, you may as well remove the silver balls and leave the fairy lights to symbolize the Supermen. Alternatively, you could skip the first phase and have the silver balls symbolizing the second phase of millennial time, that of our projected Superbeings. Or, assuming you prefer to leave things as they are, you could intimate of both phases at once - an intimation which, despite its illogicality from an evolutionary standpoint, is no less pertinent to the Christmas spirit. Myself, I'd prefer to concentrate on the Superbeings and thus intimate of the millennial phase immediately preceding transcendence."
Mr. Keane chuckled and, pointing to the toy angel, said: "For which, presumably, the fairy at the top of the tree would be an appropriate symbol?"
"Yes, it's towards the angel that evolution must go when transcendence eventually occurs. For it symbolizes the heavenly goal and is accordingly positioned on the topmost branch, as at the culmination of superbeingful evolution from which pure spirit will duly emerge in supra-atomic blessedness. The angel's tiny wand points in the direction, as it were, of the heavenly Beyond, and its tip symbolizes pure spirit."
Mr. Keane was visibly excited by now, and marvelled to think that he had been in the dark about this, metaphorically speaking, all along! "So pure spirit would escape from matter," he commented, "leaving behind it the shattered remnants of a new-brain collectivization. If one imagines all these fairy lights smashed to smithereens ... one would presumably have a symbol for the effects of transcendence."
Joseph Gill winced slightly and took a sharp breath. "Not a very pleasant symbol, considering the mess they'd make!" he averred. "And hardly one that I'd like you to implement, either before or after Christmas. For it would approximate to a diabolical situation, the kind of situation that could arise were pure spirit to break free of brain matter and leave a subatomic context of cursed proton-proton reaction in its heavenly wake! At Christmas, we prefer to concentrate on the blessed, even if this means that we can only symbolize what precedes transcendence and thus, in effect, the ultimate Last Judgement."
"So these fairy lights are to stand for new brains?" Mr. Keane mused.
"Yes. And when they're lit up, as at present, they could be regarded as symbolizing the hypermeditation which Superbeings will be engaged in experiencing."
"And what if they're intended to intimate of the preceding, or superhuman, phase of the post-human millennium?" Mr. Keane asked, becoming purposely difficult.
"Well, in that event, their use will symbolize the LSD trip, or equivalent hallucinogenic commitment, which each Superman will be experiencing."
Mr. Keane looked slightly puzzled again and scratched his head to prove it. "You say 'each Superman'. Does that mean each light can symbolize a different Superman, then?"
"Oh, absolutely!" Gill replied. "The Supermen would be in the plural on any given support/sustain system, because each one is an individual by dint of the fact that he retains the totality of his brain and is therefore capable of a degree of egocentric consciousness. With the surgical removal of the old brain, however, the ensuing new-brain collectivizations would each constitute a single entity, since post-visionary, and so there would be one Superbeing to each support/sustain system - indeed, the support/sustain system would be an integral part of the Superbeing, just as, in an antithetical context, trunk and branches are an integral part of a tree. In fact, they are the tree. Thus you can regard these fairy lights as designed to symbolize either a collection of individual Supermen, artificially supported and sustained, or the principal part of a Superbeing - namely, the collectivized new-brains. This latter viewpoint would, of course, be closer to Heaven, since appertaining to a higher phase of the post-human millennium."
Mr. Keane thought a moment while looking at his Christmas tree, then said: "I tend to regard the lights as individual entities, presumably because they're not all that close together or I'm insufficiently evolved to see them as symbolizing the principal part of a Superbeing. I'll just have to settle for an intimation of the lower or first phase of what you call the post-human millennium, I think."
"Well, that's still a lot better than not knowing that a Christmas tree intimates of anything at all," his neighbour declared, smiling. "At least you're now looking up towards the future in expectation of better things to come. The Supermen won't attain to transcendence, but at least they're in a line of ascent leading directly to what will - namely the Superbeings."
Mr. Keane smiled delightedly, like a child who had just received a knowledge of something that had hitherto escaped its understanding. Now at last he could inform his inquisitive son of the truth about Christmas trees! He was no longer a hapless ignoramus.
"Of course, the average Christian doesn't equate such a symbol-leaden tree with the post-human millennium," Gill continued, ignoring his host's self-satisfaction, "but, rather, with Heaven, which he doesn't regard as the goal of evolution so much as a world following on behind this one at death. There is no place for a post-human millennium in a typical Christian's account of Christmas trees, even though the symbolism is much more appropriate, in this context, to a millennial stage of evolution than to the heavenly Beyond. It will only be with the coming transcendental civilization that men will look upon the context in question in a way similar to myself, a way which stresses the role of the post-human millennium. For by then they'll have ceased to celebrate Christmas, as we understand it, but be celebrating some equivalent festival, in which the role of the post-human millennium will be formally acknowledged. Whether they'll still refer to this festival in Christian terms ... we can't of course know. But it oughtn't to surprise us if it transpires that they adopt a different name - one, say, associated with the Second Coming - and treat this festival as unique to the transcendental civilization. After all, it will eventually be celebrated on a world-wide basis, in accordance with the global nature of ultimate civilization, and you can't expect people of non-Christian descent - which includes the vast majority of Third World peoples - to switch to celebrating Christmas, as though it pertained to world civilization and should therefore be adopted as the logical successor to whatever analogous festival they or their ancestors traditionally celebrated. As it happens, Christianity is merely one of a number of so-called world religions, so its major festival will have to be superseded by a festival relevant to all peoples ... once the transcendental civilization comes properly to pass. Probably this new festival won't be held on December 25th or 26th, or at a time corresponding to the analogous festivals of other world religions, but at some other, more appropriate time. We shall just have to wait and see or, rather, leave it to posterity to decide for themselves."
Mr. Keane nodded deferentially, though not without a slightly bemused expression on his handsome face. All this futuristic speculation was too new and problematic to be properly intelligible to him. Nevertheless it engendered some fresh curiosity in his fertile mind, which prompted him to ask: "And would people still erect Christmas trees in their homes, like us?"
It was a difficult question to answer and Joseph Gill felt obliged to reflect a moment, before replying: "Yes, I imagine so. Though probably on different terms and with other materials than your own. Like, for example, the use of purely synthetic trees or perhaps even branch-like supports which won't so much resemble a tree as the future collectivized support/sustain systems of the post-human millennium. Perhaps these branch-like supports will have more and smaller lights on them than does your Christmas tree, or perhaps they won't use electric lights at all, but some superior medium of illumination and symbolism. Thus the Christmas tree, as we understand it, would simply be an ancestor of this superior offspring, a sort of symbolic forerunner."
"So you don't think the basic concept will become anachronistic or obsolete, with the advent of the coming civilization?" Mr. Keane deduced in a touchingly deferential tone-of-voice.
Gill gently shook his head. "The post-human millennium will still be ahead of the men of that ultimate civilization and, as such, there's no reason why they shouldn't intimate of it in an analogous manner to us. Christianity would seem to be superior to other world religions to the extent that its chief festival already intimates, if unconsciously, of the post-human millennium in this way. I don't think you'll find anything that corresponds to a Christmas tree in Hinduism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Judaism, Shintoism, or whatever. So while meditation would have to be partly adopted from oriental precedent, there would seem to be no reason why Christmas trees, or something analogous, shouldn't be adopted from Christianity. They serve a purpose, and that purpose must continue to remain valid while men are still struggling towards the post-human millennium rather than actually in it - as more evolved life forms. The Christmas tree serves as a focal-point for reminding people, at Christmas, what life is really all about, i.e. a struggle to evolve towards ultimate divinity and eventually become one with it. This is the highest interpretation one can attach to life, the only interpretation that really justifies our being here in this world at all. Anything less, say sexual or familial interpretations, would simply reduce us to the level of animals rather than elevate us to the status of potential gods. But that plastic angel at the top of your tree leaves one in no doubt as to where evolution is tending and how it will end, irrespective of what worldly or reactionary people may like to imagine, or how deceptive such symbolism can be when foolishly taken at face-value."
It was at this juncture in their conversation, however, that Mr. Keane's wife and children returned from their cold walk, to enter the warm sitting room with vociferous accounts of their impressions of the snowscape without. Young Richard was especially excited by the opportunity of relating to his father what he had done and seen while traversing the snow-clogged paths, while his sister and mother busied themselves with warming their hands over the electric fire. Gill now realized that there was no possibility of his continuing to enlighten his neighbour, so resigned himself, in tactful politeness, to fading into the humble background of inconsequential chatter. Having listened to and humbly commented upon his son's manifold impressions, Mr. Keane drew Richard's attention to the Christmas tree, which was all aglow with the various-coloured lights and their reflections on the silver balls. Richard stared at it in bafflement a few seconds, and then asked: "But, papa, why have you put a toy angel right at the very top?"
"Ah, that would be telling!" replied the wiser father, who cast his still-seated guest an ironic wink.