Wednesday, August 12, 2009

House Odors and the End of the Human Race

I'm not really sure where the essay below came from. I think it may have been written by Butler. But I found it on my computer so thought I'd post it even though it's kind of dry and boring.

House Odors and the End of the Human Race

Sometimes I walk into a house and the first thing I notice is the smell. Not always a bad smell. Maybe it is scented candles or cooking chicken. Or Lysol. Or maybe the nose wrinkles up at bit at something. The inefficiently cleaned cat litter box.

Whatever it is, within 30 minutes, I don’t notice it at all! My sense of smell has normalized the new smell completely. It’s amazing how adaptable we humans are.

Three weeks ago, Roxie the Rottweiler bounded into my life, 100 pounds of muscle, poop, pee; chewing, licking, and crashing through furniture like a playful bulldozer. I thought to myself, “Holy crap! My life is going to be disrupted forever!”

Yesterday, I got home from work and hardly noticed her. Our new routines had become, well, routine. It’s amazing how adaptable we humans are.

Working in the drug and alcohol treatment field, I often see the most bizarre and dysfunctional family relationships. And it is hard to believe, but these families really think it is normal – whatever normal is – or maybe they admit to having just a tiny little problem.

As a recovering alcoholic, I remember and can understand how it got that way. My Dad was an alcoholic too and in his worst drinking days, I remember seeing him drink my stepmother’s perfume! That was really bizarre!!! And when I tasted my first beer, I knew I would never ever be anything like him.

But it is a very gradual descent into insanity and each small change is hardly noticeable and my mantra was: “Well, if I ever get that bad, I’ll stop.” I was still saying that and thinking my life was reasonably normal when I was hiding my rum bottles in the trash, routinely throwing up every morning, and driving down the expressway with my right hand covering my right eye because if I opened both eyes, it was hard to drive because I was seeing double. It’s amazing I didn’t kill someone. But I truly believed that I was basically all right. It’s amazing how adaptable we humans are.

I figure that regardless of whether it is God’s creation or evolution, adapting to change is the primary technique of survival, and human beings are masters of it. That’s why our species has diversified and we can populate and thrive in all climates from the Himalayas to the Sahara. We have multiplied and inherited the Earth. Sort of like viruses, cockroaches, rodents and other highly adaptable life forms.

But over time, we also become comfortable accepting other things as routine – like cruelty, greed, and violence. Television helps, not to mention the Internet.

Growing up with Father Knows Best, Archie Bunker, Leave it to Beaver, The Jeffersons…I would have been shocked if I had turned on the tube and suddenly saw some of the reality TV and police dramas today. Even America’s Funniest Home Videos, where we laugh at kids falling off bicycles. Now we carry cel phones with cameras in hopes of catching something awful and posting it on Utube. Remember the cell phone video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging?

But I watched it. Several times actually.

At 63, I find myself so jaded about everything that nothing shocks me any more. I’m a man of the world. I am, like Jimi Hendrix, “experienced.” I can crack jokes about anything.

I’m not sure all that kind of evolutionary adaptation is much of an achievement. Like drug addiction, we crave more and more of it. Hey! A mushroom cloud! Where’s the cell phone?

It would be nice if there was a way to go back and find innocence again. But how does one go about doing that? And if I could, would I want to? I’m afraid it might be boring? It’s amazing how adaptable we humans are, but would I really be able to give up watching the 6:00 o’clock news?

Maybe the evolutionary skill of adaptation only works on facing challenges. Maybe it is harder to adapt to simple peaceful existence.

Just thinking…

Maybe Nero fiddled while Rome burned because his nose had become so accustomed to smoke he didn’t notice it anymore.


  1. I think we who are jaded and cynical rediscover our innocence with our children or grandchildren. As we experience the world through their eyes, we re-engage with our own inner child, full of wonder and hope. And in that moment we are happy.

  2. Hello Mark

    this is a very serious and thoughtful post that Butler has written. I think it says a lot about the word blase.

    They say that after a few years young children have witnessed thousands of murders - on the TV, and somehow become blase to violent death. We see poverty and mental illness and become blase to it. We see domestic violence and violence and aggression between ordinary people around us so often that we become blase to it....But do we really...I wonder. Somewhere in that huge repository of memories we build over a life time we have files of all these disturbing events. We might adapt externally but to find a simple peaceful existence we have to choose to make spite of all the the face of all the above...and it is harder than adapting...

    Happy days

  3. It is amazing what we can get used to. The saddest part about taking problems as normal are the children who haven't so much adapted to that, but who have simply never known life any other way.
    I stopped watching 'funniest' Home Videos decades ago when I counted up the topics one show and realised that every single clip involved injury or embarrassment, whether a person's or an animal's. Rare was the entertainment that didn't involve somebody's hurt. So I decided, that while I may not have much control over tv programming, I'd do what I could and give them one less watcher.
    Thank you, Mark, for your considered post.

  4. We do get jaded, we do try to wake up the inner child while bringing up our kids. I, however, sometimes feel guilty for introducing my kids to innocent fairy tales, arts and music, teaching the beauty of the world. Guilty, because it's not true. The world is violent and ugly. They need to know this and they need to be prepared for it. Will they adapt to that cruel truth or will they fall the victims? I cannot protect them from this cruelty, therefore, we have to let them see the world and humanity for what it is, so they know they need to strive to become better than that.

  5. I never liked the 'video' show as I did not find that laughing at accidents was funny. I also avoid any 'jackass' or other movies because I really do not enjoy them. Many reality shows are painful reminders of the immaturity of junior high and I cannot watch those either. I felt the same way when I was introduced to porn at a younger age. Anything that demeans us as intelligent and sensitive human beings is not my type of entertainment. I really don't think I would EVER get used to it.

  6. Well said. been kinda thinking along those lines myself this week BB.

  7. Thought provoking post, Butler. Tell Mark he's come a long way.

  8. well done, guys!
    I must agree with Jo, while playing with my grandgirls...the world becomes a 'safe' place once again. Yesterday we leafed through a copy of Highlights and read Goofus & Gallant...truly the world would be a better place if we all read a bit of Goofus & Gallant daily, applying what we learn.
    Remember When????

  9. Very thought provoking post. I've found myself thinking some of those same thoughts recently. As a society we have progressed and regressed at the same time.

  10. Great post -- regardless of which one of you guys wrote it. I frequently have very similar thoughts and wonder how we could go forward and backward at the same time???? How much simpler life was then, but would I go back, I don't know, probably not. But I do miss the values that we seem to have lost somewhere along the way and wonder if we'll ever recover any of them??? Probably not. Thanks for the thoughts to ponder.


  11. Well, this proves to me that we need to send out scouts to find Bagman and Dorethea.

    Now I know who almost hit me in Cambridge.

    A 'thinking' post, to be sure but I have a hard day ahead of me and I came here for a little fun. And look what you give me!

    Seriously, you are so right. I seldom watch TV. Our TIVO picks up old shows like Beaver and Lucy - a good snort of the old days at bedtime before I read a book or turn off the lights.

    Sciencegirl, I am with you on Funniest Home Videos. I stopped wathcing that when it first came out because I knew people would harm animals in order to get their video on TV.

    I wonder what happended to commom sense? I read yesterday that some teen set himself on fire becasue he saw someone do it on You Tube. I think he had his girlfriend pour lighter fluid on him. Is there something in the food that makes people do such things or is there a virus going around called stupidity?

    Well, now. I am going to have to put a smile on my face and head out. Bagman? Dorethea? Where are you?

    Oh, and keep your camera handy. You never know when you will capture a 'happening' news photo.

  12. Great post. Very thought provoking. And the comments are just as good.

    All true about becoming adjusted. But remember Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner? Everyone has their Achilles' Heel (except me, of course). Different for each individual but fall into groups. The good ol' days. Were they?

  13. Tried to comment on this yesterday but Blogger for some reasons wouldn't let me. Anyway, great essay! You're being way too hard on your writing abilities. A lot of food for thought. So true...but so human. Anyone examined close up, I suppose, would make no sense to a great majority of others. What makes people so endlessly fascinating...