[24 May 2012]
I really love Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist. Not least of all for his introduction to that book, the seductively titled “When Ideas Have Sex”. Ridley himself does a really good of explaining the introduction in his 2010 TEDtalk. But the broad strokes of the argument goes something like this.
Sex is really great (well, yeah) for a species, since it allows for an individual draw on the genetic anomalies as such as dominant genetic tradition. Those rare few who seemed to have a natural immunity to HIV (for real, hit Google for this one), need not be isolated and eventually rendered extinct. Instead their genetic material can form part of the greater human genome.
Then Ridley poses a shocking question. One of those questions that are obvious, or should be obvious, but you really have no idea why you’ve never asked it before. Ridley’s question is simply, how is it human beings came to be so successful a species? How successful, you may well ask if you failed to notice homo sapiens sapiens’ domination of the biosphere. Well, as successful as this. Human beings are the only species, the only species…to demonstrate an increase in prosperity even as there’s an increase in population size.
So the question for Ridley is this: is sex a useful metaphor for understanding cultural growth and success? And if so, what’s the cultural analog for sex? Ridley reckons it’s exchange. Because exchange always renders specialization. And specialization always signals the production of technological complexity well beyond the scope of individual capacities.
So that’s how ideas have sex. Through cultural exchange, or to use the economists’ word for it, trade. But I’m going through CLiNT again, this book that I absolutely love. And I’m thinking, what happens when instead of having sex, ideas just make out? Or what if the sex the ideas are having is more of the recreational persuasion than the procreative kind?
What if, as Axl Rose suggested in Use Your Illusion’s “November Rain”, nothing lasts forever?
It’s this impermanence that for me is one of the secret beauties of the comics medium. The idea that great artists will leave. That they will move on. That who knows how long we have them, who knows how long they’ll stay? Reading Dave Gibbons’ panels on “Secret Service” only drives this point home.
There’s a sense of this being the very first time we see Dave Gibbons. Not the “Dave Gibbons we need, but the Dave Gibbons we deserve”, as Christopher Nolan might put it. It’s the Dave Gibbons at play in the high-paced action thriller climes of an Alpine escape from kidnappers, but also, more importantly, the Dave Gibbons of a youth frustrated by the paucity of inner-city London. It’s the Dave Gibbons that made the drawn out human microdramas of Watchmen so arresting.
And here he is now, we’re seeing him for the first time. Again.
So when CLiNT’s publisher Titan contacts me and the first line of the email reads: “Special Offer: Subscribe to CLiNT and save 20%, plus get a free signed Dave Gibbons ‘The Secret Service’ art card. Act now only 200 available…”, I’m thinking, maybe I shouldn’t bother writing this special offer up for Graphic Novelties at all. Maybe I should just keep this on the down-low and FaceBook 199 of my closest friends. Cos that signed Dave Gibbons art card looks pretty good to me.
Just kidding, you guys (as they say on South Park and elsewhere).
The message continues, “To find out more visit Titan’s subscriptions page”.