This Independence Day, I found myself thinking about orks. Yes, orks. Specifically, the Warhammer 40,000 version of the beasts (what were once known as ‘Space Orks’) – loud, aggressive, blissfully ignorant, and incredibly, amazingly happy.
If you don’t know much about them, let me give you a brief overview:
Orks, in the 40k-verse, are an asexually reproducing bipedal race that was genetically engineered by somebody in the distant past to be the perfect warrior. They love fighting, they feel relatively little pain, they are partially photosynthetic, they regenerate lost limbs, and the more they fight, the bigger they get. Naturally, whoever created this species was promptly knocked over the head with a tire iron and his or her creations have been running amok for tens of thousands of years. Orks love loud noises, they love going fast (and fervently believe that things go faster when painted red), and enjoy nothing better than killing and pummelling all other creatures, including each other to a limited extent. In a world gone mad with war, the Orks are right at home. They lack any capacity for moral thought or deep introspection, they live for the moment, and they believe so firmly in reincarnation that death seems only distantly problematic. Even if their weapons malfunction (and they often do), or their ‘doctors’ do something awful to them instead of healing them (which is common), or they die a pointless and ignominious death (which is pretty standard), they maintain a positive attitude simply because they are unable to imagine a different attitude to have.
This brings me back to this past weekend, when people all over the city were lighting off explosions deep into the night. While I do like fireworks, there was a kind of obsessive, brutish compulsion surrounding this amateur display that made them more aggravating than celebratory. All the noise with none of the splendor – folks lighting off skyrockets amid apartment complexes and houses that would make it very difficult for even the launcher to full appreciate his handiwork. Then there were the M80s and the cherry bombs – all pop and no flash, and one wonders what the appeal is, exactly. All of this kept going until well past 2am. I found it hard to get to sleep as my city blew itself up around me for no discernible purpose. Had it been Independence Day itself, well, then it would be excusable, but this was the nights of the 5th and 6th. Show’s over, guys – go to sleep.
There is something inherently ‘orky’ about this behavior, and I don’t mean that in the negative sense. These people were deriving joy from destructive forces without bothering to consider the feelings of those around them trying to sleep. While that certainly is inconsiderate, it also belies a certain worldview that will keep them easily entertained and happy. The kind of person who enjoys gunning their motorcycle through a residential neighborhood at 11pm on a Tuesday is not the kind of person who is overly bothered by what others think of them. The kind of person who is excited when things are on fire is not the kind of person to overvalue possessions or to be bogged down with empathy for those suffering around them. Call them callous or selfish, but you can’t deny their sunny outlook on life. They probably sleep very soundly at night.
Depending on who you talk to, the world has one of two major problems: either everybody spends too much time following rules and worrying about the other guy, or everybody spends too much time ignoring the rules and pursuing their own agenda at the expense of the common population. This is civilization Vs barbarism, described in very broad strokes. Society vs the Individual. Truth be told, we need both things to be successful as a culture, as a society, and as a species. We need the Elves to get everything to work as it should, and we need the Orks to break down old conventions, hop on those noisy gyrocopters, and go throw firebombs in the streets to shake things up. You can’t worry about everything and be happy and, by the same token, you can’t screw everybody over and build a better world. If we want to do both things – be happy and build a better world – we need to learn to tap into the ork in each of us on occasion. We also need to find a way to understand when our neighbors do so, too.