Good morning, Animals, and welcome to our first lecture. Can we offer you some puddles to drink? Please settle down, quit flapping, stop bellowing, retract your claws and lower your tails; thank you. Now, before we start edifying you, we’re going to level with you. We’ve been concerned about your performance lately, which has been, well, less than enterprising. You just don’t seem very plugged-in. Of course we understand that you are all anachronisms and that as anachronisms you have been ‘grandfathered in’. We are not expecting you to become astroanimals or anything; but out of concern for your viability, we’d like to help you salvage your sagging careers and regain some relevance. This is an opportunity to hitch your wagon to a star! Humans are stars, having risen through the echelons of Earth to practically transcend it! If you attend our lectures we will not microwave all of you and we can help you get on the same page as us.
We used to be on different pages ourselves, or sometimes not even on a page at all. Our old calendar had only ten pages – ten months, starting with March and ending in December, which left winter just a numberless stretch of days. Since we reformed the calendar, adding January and February, there are no longer any off-calendar days. All days are on-calendar. The calendar reformation is a good example of what is possible – you can reinvent calendars, you can even reinvent yourselves. We hear different ones of you going around saying ‘It is my lot to be a yak’ or ‘It is my lot to be a mudpuppy’ or ‘It is my lot to be a green water dragon’ or ‘It is my lot to be a bagworm’ or ‘It is my lot to be a megabat’. Do you not realize how fatalistic you sound? You sound like turnips! In this series of lectures, we are going to set out some important principles to help you break out of ‘turnip thinking’.
To begin, let’s discuss the power of numbers. As the father of eugenics wrote, ‘Whenever you can, count.’ Larry here will now hand out stickers with this motto on them, for you to post on your burrows and bowers, the sides of your nests, the entrances to your caves. The counting habit is going to help you cultivate the three Rs – rationality, reasonableness and regulation – you with your unregulated ids – and eliminate subjectivity. Subjectivity is like a banshee, nonexistent and therefore easy to eliminate. Sometimes, when you see the emerald and ruby and sapphire sparkles on the snow, it seems like you are rich; sometimes it seems you can’t get along without someone, seems the winter will never end, seems the moon is abnormally big coming over the mountains. But measurement dispenses with all the seeming: the bank account is low, the moon is normal-sized, etc.
Count whenever you can! We use our fingers and toes, but you can use your toes and toes, or pincers or flippers or whatever, and you snakes can make toothmarks in a branch. However you do it, you should start counting everything you see – clods, azaleas, skunks. Plants being stationary are generally easier to count than animals, though stay away from furze because it has no plural. ‘Furze’ is one of those uncountable nouns like ‘information’ or ‘butter’. When you do start counting animals, start by counting strangers – and remember not to look in their eyes, lest they lose countability. Counting strangers is like counting words in a foreign language. If someone writes to us in Kickapoo – ‘Ämănutei wĩpani’ or ‘Măgānăguhanu, nezegwize, ähitci ĩna Wĩza‘kä‘ḁ’ – counting the words comes easy. But if somebody writes to us in English – ‘I need you’ or ‘I don’t need you’ or ‘Let’s get revenge on the old buzzard’ – we can get caught up in the meaning and forget to count. Meaning undermines objectivity.
The words that really matter are the words for numbers – one, two, three, four, five – or yan, tan, tether, mether, pip – or hant, tant, tothery, forthery, fant – but see there, how arbitrary words are! Someday we should replace all our words with numerals. Numerals are absolute, and think of their stamina compared with words. Numerals never run out – you just add one more, one more, one more: sheep four, sheep five, sheep six. You don’t have to come up with a new name for every sheep, just a new sheep for every number, and if sheep seven gets squished, another one can take her place. Names aren’t as transposable, and names can sound like children’s songs, like the village of Nobbin and the hill of Nabbingo. Names are also unnecessarily meaningful, like the old Armenian words for the days of the month. They had a day called Tumultuous and one called Hermit and one called Dispersion, and a day called Beginning, which came right before the day called Beginningless. How today could be Beginningless when yesterday was Beginning is a boggling question dispelled by calling the days Sixteen and Seventeen.