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Slaves of our times?

December 13, 2009

“‘It’s not about that; I left biology because I wanted to be a blacksmith. Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated by those men hammering iron, composing a foreign music, showering sparks all around, dipping the iron in water, creating clouds of vapor. I was an unhappy biologist because my dream was to make rigid metal take on new forms. And one day a guardian arrived.’

‘A guardian?’

‘Let’s say upon seeing these ants doing exactly what they’re programmed to do, you exclaim, ‘How wonderful!’ The guards are genetically programmed to sacrifice themselves for the queen, the workers carry foliage ten times their weight, the engineers dig tunnels that withstand storms and floods. They enter into mortal combat, suffer for the community, and they never ask, ‘What are we doing here?’

“Men try to imitate the perfect society that ants have, and I as a biologist was playing my part, until one day someone asked me this question:

“‘Are you happy with what you do?’

“I said, ‘Of course I am, I help my fellow people.’

“‘And is this enough?’

“I didn’t know if it was enough, but I told him he seemed an arrogant and self-centered person.

“He replied, ‘That could be. But all you’ll achieve in life is the continuance of what man has done since the beginning of time – maintaining organization.’

“‘But the world has progressed,’ I rebuked. He asked if I was familiar with history – of course I was. He asked another question: is it not true that for thousands of years we have been capable of erecting tall buildings such as the pyramids? Were we not capable of worshipping gods, of weaving, of making fire, of finding lovers and spouses, of sending written messages? Of course we were. But, even though we’ve reorganized society to replace captive slaves with salaried slaves, all of our advancements have happened in the arena of science. Human beings still live with the same questions that their ancestors lived with. In other words, we haven’t evolved at all. From that moment on, I understood that a person who asked me such questions was sent from above, an angel, a guardian.”


“What I saw in the warehouse was a woman saying, ‘You are capable, do what the Great Mother teaches: trust in love, and miracles will happen.’ And the crowd agreed, but it wouldn’t last long because we were living in a time when slavery was the only form of finding happiness. Free will requires immense responsibility, it requires work, and it brings anguish and suffering.”

-Translated from Paulo Coelho, A bruxa de Portobello


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