The leaves are out, the flowers blossoming, spring has not only sprung, its coils are stretched and it’s bloomin’ bouncing like a budding summer’s day. It’s all glorious and we should be enjoying it and though I’m loath to poop a party, I still feel we shouldn’t forget that it’s Springtime, at least the notion of it, that directly led to one of the most dangerous ideas, if not THE most dangerous idea, to affect humanity. Rebirth. The word itself is a paradox and an oxymoron and shouldn’t, by rights even exist. It is a meme that has survived centuries, has barely evolved, and remains the basis of all sorts of mystical thinking. Even though, empirically, nothing, ever, gets reborn. Thousands of years of human history and there’s not a jot of confirmable evidence that something dead can come to life again. Religions are founded on the concept, wars fought in their names, millions of lives lost in the fighting, and not a soul knowingly returned. All we know is life starts and ends but the idea that we might come back, or live on elsewhere, in some other sphere, is so attractive we’ve been unable to shake the rebirth meme; however enlightened we think we are.
The idea of Rebirth seems to come from early man’s fundamental misunderstanding of nature. Trees lose their leaves and plants bear no fruit in the Winter. They die. And then each Spring they come back to life. But, of course, trees don’t die in the winter. They undergo “dormancy”, when everything slows down: metabolism, energy consumption, growth. They don’t need food so they have no use for leaves that require energy to maintain. Abscisic Acid is produced in the tip of each stem that connects to a leaf and the leaf falls off. We can’t blame early man, even if his wife did for being premature. He knew nothing of acids or metabolism and didn’t even have a decent labcoat. He did, however, have a lot to fear, especially death. It’s easy enough to think of plants as dead in Winter and alive again in Spring. And if plants can die and come back to life, why not humans? It’s no coincidence that the day celebrating Christ’s Resurrection is not a fixed date like Christmas. It’s more laden with rebirth symbolism and each year changes depending on the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.
Rebirth is the thing for Spring. Although we may, centuries from now, still be classed as “early man”, I’d like to think we’ve come on a little since assigning gods to everything we don’t understand and witches to duckweed. We know, now, hibernation and death are very different things. And yet there is a moment in a David Blaine TV show when he is talking to some New York cops. He finds a “dead” fly on the ground, picks up the lifeless body and holds it in his hand. After a few moments the fly starts to move, then walk and then flies off. The cops are agog. There is a palpable delight that such a thing could happen. It is Lazarus in miniature, a return from the dead. It’s also, I imagine, an appliance of science: a refrigerator. Of course I don’t know exactly how Blaine did it. If I did I couldn’t tell you because, as a member of the Magic Circle, I have sworn to keep magical secrets. But conceptually we know flies go into suspended animation when their temperature drops; it’s why flies start appearing from nowhere when warm weather returns after hibernating through the winter. So, I suppose it’s just possible Blaine could have cooled down the fly, dropped it on the street, picked it up when the cameras were rolling and, from the heat of his hands, reanimated the fly. Of course I don’t know this, it could have been a miracle, or some fancy trickery, but the effect itself bought into our deepest fears and greatest hopes, that death is not forever and life could be. Maybe it’s our egos that insist we are too grand, too elevated, too important, that it would be too great a loss, if our deaths were permanent. And as soon as we allow ourselves the possibility of one tiny non-empirically provable concept, we have Frankenstein’s Monster, we plunge into the murky waters of magical thinking, of miracles and religious credo.
So embedded is the magical concept of rebirth, the most influential cultural turning point in modern history was named after it: the Renaissance. The flowering of lost classicism was subliminally used to perpetuate the “not dead forever” notion. Whether it’s ghosts or reincarnation, Heaven, Limbo or Hell, an eternity for the soul has, no doubt, also brought some comfort to millions who would not go gently into that good night. The hope of being reborn has an aspirational allure for anybody contemplating their own mortality or not ready to face the loss of one they loved. Eternal life, even if it involves remerging followed by placenta every now and again, what’s not to like? Well, for one: False Hope, one of the more depressing falsies we’ve come up with. History tells us that when it’s curtains, when it’s time to shuffle off the mortal coil, when you kick the bucket, it stays kicked, shuffled, drawn. But belief in rebirth, life after death, the beyond, the “other side”, the immortal realm, just encourages the living to accept their lot. Why rise up? Why change the world? All we have to do is be good and die and we’ll come back as something much better. It is the way religious and societal hegemonies maintain their hierarchies; keep their one-percenters at the top. Rebirth, born again, life eternal, it is snake oil for the masses, it is the suppression of the poor, it is the dream of the putupon, it is the squalid deaths of billions wanting something better, and it all starts with Spring. But the flowers are out, the blossoms are lovely, go out and enjoy