Today, a mutant with a message. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this series
about the machines that make our civilization run, and
the people whose ingenuity created them.
I've just read the oddest book,
Mutant Message Down Under. You'll find it in
the fiction section of the bookstore. The author, Marlo
Morgan, is some sort of health professional -- an MD or a
chiropractor? I don't know. The book claims to be a
documentary with certain facts altered so as to preserve
The story tells how Morgan, when she takes a public
health job in Australia, is drawn to a group of
half-breed aborigine youth. She leads them into creating
a small manufacturing enterprise.
One day she's called to another city to receive an award
from some aborigines. They turn out to be a tribe who
call themselves the Real People. They hand her a native
wrap-around garment, then burn all she brought with her:
clothes, money, credit cards. Next, they take her off on
a four-month walkabout in the Australian bush.
It all sounds like a bad dream. But her curiosity is
stronger than her terror. As the band travels with almost
no possessions, as they eat only what the land offers
(leaves, lizards, insects, and one kangaroo), their
purpose unfolds. They believe they're the last true
aborigines. They concede their world has passed to the
white invaders whom they call the Mutants. From now on
they'll be celibate. Since Morgan looks like a receptive
Mutant, they mean to teach her to be civilized so that
knowledge won't die with them. This harsh journey is to
be her education in the essential business of being
really human. She'll be their last message to us.
As she travels with the Real People she finds intense
spirituality. They live in constant contact with The
Oneness, their God. Each morning they rise to sing thanks
in advance for what they ask the day to bring: food, art,
play. They're in tune with everything around them. They
find water in the desert, make food from almost anything
organic. They live without a shred of meanness or
When they come upon the grave of a Mutant, a white man,
they stop to repair the broken cross over it. "Why?" asks
Morgan. It's to express their grief over this unfinished
human. After all, he had to've died because he was so
deaf to The Oneness that he couldn't even hear where to
find water and food.
Morgan knows enough pharmacology to see their medicine as
an uncanny use of natural quinine, aspirin, and
antibiotics. And they never let mind and body separate.
They're appalled that we Mutants try to treat mind and
body as distinct from one another.
So did all this really happen? In the end, it doesn't
matter, for it expresses a truth that crops up among
African natives, the forest nomads of Brazil, northern
Aleuts, and monastic orders.
This is a brief not against technology but against our
attachment to technology. It's a brief for openness to
ourselves. It's a brief against all that stunts our own
humanity -- anger, greed, obsession -- noise and failing
to listen. And whether Morgan's story sprang from
experience or imagination, it left me with a deep craving
to achieve that same healing unity -- within myself.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where
we're interested in the way inventive minds work.