Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we're too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.
A professional soldier understands that war means killing people, war means maiming people, war means families left without fathers and mothers. All you have to do is hold your first dying soldier in your arms, and have that terribly futile feeling that his life is flowing out and you can't do anything about it. Then you understand the horror of war. Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar. And still, there are things worth fighting for.
The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple. A good example of a simple technology with profound historical consequences is hay. Nobody knows who invented hay, the idea of cutting grass in the autumn and storing it in large enough quantities to keep horses and cows alive through the winter. All we know is that the technology of hay was unknown to the Roman Empire but was known to every village of medieval Europe. Like many other crucially important technologies, hay emerged anonymously during the so-called Dark Ages. According to the Hay Theory of History, the invention of hay was the decisive event which moved the center of gravity of urban civilization from the Mediterranean basin to Northern and Western Europe. The Roman Empire did not need hay because in a Mediterranean climate the grass grows well enough in winter for animals to graze. North of the Alps, great cities dependent on horses and oxen for motive power could not exist without hay. So it was hay that allowed populations to grow and civilizations to flourish among the forests of Northern Europe. Hay moved the greatness of Rome to Paris and London, and later to Berlin and Moscow and New York.
I was sat at the bottom of the garden a week ago, smoking a reflective cheroot, thinking about this and that - mostly that, and I just happened to glance at the night sky and I marvelled at the millions of stars glistening like pieces of quicksilver thrown carelessly onto black velvet. In awe I watched the waxen moon ride across the zenith of the heavens like an amber chariot towards the void of infinite space wherein the tethered bolts of Jupiter and Mars hang forever in their orbital majesty; and as I looked at all this, I thought, 'I must put a roof on this lavatory.'
Ten years before --- even five --- I had been the same way. I wanted it all and I wanted it fast and no obstacle was big enough to put me off. Since then I have learned that some things were bigger than they looked from a distance, and now I was not so sure anymore just what I was going to get or even what I deserved.
I am a writer, a professional journalist with serious credentials in Crime, Craziness, and Politics. I have mingled with dangerous criminals and attended many trials . . . from Hell's Angels, Black Panthers and Chicano street fighters to Roxanne Pulitzer and even Richard Nixon, back in the good old days before he was run out of the White House for fraud, perjury, graft, and criminal negligence.
One of the few ways I can almost be certain I'll understand something is by sitting down and writing about it. Because by forcing yourself to write about it and putting it down in words, you can't avoid having to come to grips with it. You might be wrong, but you have to think about it very intensely to write about it. So I use writing as a learning tool.