The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.
-L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between.
In 1956, anthropologist Horace Miner published an article entitled Body Ritual Among the Nacirema. The article purportedly described the habits of an exotic tribe with bizarre habits. The tribe lived ‘in the territory between the Canadian Creel the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles. Little is known of their origin, although tradition states that they came from the east….’ The women of the tribe were known to bake their heads in small ovens for over an hour a day; medicine men would drill large holes in the teeth of the tribes people, filling it with sacred materials.
The more astute of you may have guessed that Horace Miner was actually satirizing the everyday living habits of North Americans (for those of you who haven’t caught on, spell ‘Nacirema’ backwards).
We tend to take the most bizarre aspects of modern life for granted. David Foster Wallace, in his speech at Kenyon College in 2005, likened our inability to disassociate ourselves from the mundane with fish swimming in water. We are creatures so immersed in our everyday lives that we are unable to see how strange our everyday lives may seem from an outsiders’ perspective.
I’m from Singapore (or Eropagnis, to take a leaf from Horace Miner’s playbook), and there are certain courtship behaviors that we engage in that, on closer inspection, seem both bizarre and outlandish. And perhaps this holds true for any other urban population with a high level of Internet penetration.
Imagine that we were visited by aliens a thousand years into the future, and their only mode of reference for how we behaved as was from our courtship rituals online. How strange a people would the Tenretni tribe seem to them; look at those cave painting emojis they had, or those strange acronyms they used. Were they losing their faculty for language, perhaps? Was the global warming of their planet cooking their brains?
An excerpt of their report back to their higher authorities may sound something like this:
“The young people of the Tenretni tribe have highly developed thumbs and ill-developed vocal cords, due to the eccentricity of their courtship rituals. Instead of expressing honest interest in a face-to-face interaction with a member of the opposite sex, the Tenretni resort to a shamanistic medium of magical devices, known ‘senohptrams’ which are home to a number of powerful enchantments, falling under the umbrella of ‘gnitad sppa’.
Instead of expressing explicit sexual interest in a member of the opposite sex, the male members of the tribe resort to coded language known as ‘xilfteN dna llihc’, which had the literal meaning of idling and watch moving stories on their magic screens, but figuratively meant to engage in coitus. We believe this to be a face-saving gesture, for the males of the species are possessed of an uncommonly large ego, and their social standing among other male peers is in correlation to their abundance of meaningless, highly temporary sexual relations.
It is entirely plausible that the males of the tribe were highly irrational in their courtship rituals, for they engage in an irrational acceleration of the courtship process. Upon receiving a sign of reciprocal attraction on gnitad sppa, the male disrupts all further sense of attraction in his potential partner with the magical letters ‘dtf’. Apparently, it was not uncommon for them to send images of their phallus to prospective partners, perhaps in mimicry of the now-extinct bird on their planet, known as the peacock.
This is indicative of a deep seated, collective level of masochism within the Tenretni’s collective psyche.
Strangely enough, for a tribe that seems to avoid honest expressions of sexuality, the Tenretni people have an obsession with it. The titular god of the tribe has several commandments. The most important, known as Rule 34, stated that every occurring phenomena must be accompanied by a nude or sexual image.
Irrationality is not the sole confines of the male members of the tribe. A large proportion of the female members seemed obsessed with garnering social status on an esoteric religion known as margatsnI. It seems that they were completely incapable of eating, showering, engaging in strenuous physical activity, or even performing their day to day ablutions without displays of exhibitionism, a ritual known as ‘eifles’. This was to engage in a complex, socio-cultural system of accumulating followers, or strangers who did not seem to have known the individual, but who aspired to their lifestyle of vapidity. We believe that they engaged in this activity to enhance perceptions of their social standing, and hence their attractiveness to the males of the tribe with abundant resources.
The most important symbol of the margatsnI religion was the #, which apparently denoted the sacred values of close-mindedness and narrow thinking. We believe that the sacred animal of the religion was the hamster, a small rodent with a short lifespan and the tendency to engage in repetitive, meaningless behavior.”
It’s strange, how us humans behave. Think of a city. The city you live in perhaps. Marvel at the fact that, at no point of time in human history, have there been so many millions of us packed into one single, dense geographic location. And then look at the Internet, which promises a leap in the speed of communication that’s not been seen since the invention of the telegram.
And then ask yourself, why is it that we have become even more isolated than before?