Monday, Sept. 22, 2003, 9:36 PM

When plastic ruled the Earth

I had this friend in college who believed that the only reason for the existence of Human Beings was to invent plastic. No, really.

It started off as one of those philosophical discussions that always takes place late at night when everyone involved should be studying for some test or another, as evidenced by the massive tomes lying around the room with titles such as "Pharmacotherapy" or author names like "Faulkner" emblazoned upon their spine. One of those late-night rants that inevitably turns to alcohol or reading Dr. Suess books by candlelight. So there we were, the lot of us, numbered eight or so, sitting in the living room of the lodge we called home, when the subject of religion floats to the surface like a week old corpse in a bog. One of those subjects that is innately interesting and too ugly to examine up close. The kind of thing that most people keep hidden, and when revealed, usually smells bad to everyone else in the immediate vicinity.

I remember distinctly, for no particular reason, that the song "Take the Skinheads bowling" by Camper Van Beethoven was wafting into the room from the stereo next to my bed when Sarah looks up from her book and asks the members of the room how many of us believe in God. That was the match that lit the fuse for an interesting and bizarre conversation.

Now, most of you have participated in, if not provoked, such conversations in your life. I don't remember many of the particulars from that powwow, but I remember explaining to Mike ( who went by the non de plume of Eddy Strychnine or Max Schrek) that it was impossible for him to claim to be a Nihilist, because to proclaim such a belief is to believe in the thing itself, and that defeats the point of being a Nihilist. There was Owen, the self proclaimed Solipsist, and Sarah the Born Again Christian, one silent Jewish girl, Seth, the Pagan (Ironic for the reason that he was named after the third son of Adam and Eve) myself and another agnostic, and then there was Brian.

Brian studied Kenpo. Brian played with swords. Brian played video games. Brian played role-playing games. Brian was a computer science major. Brian believed that people existed for the sole and arbitrary reason of inventing plastic. Yes, that's right, hundreds of millions of years of evolution, or a few thousands years of creationism all culminated in man heating rubber, Vulcanizing it if you will, and creating plastic. From there we humans created petroleum based and polymer infused plastics. Plastics that survived in outer space, plastic that outlasted cosmic radiation, plastic that kept our foods fresh and composed the garbage can that held the rotten foods from the plastic wrapped container that wasn't wrapped tight enough. The plastic that makes the bumpers dent-resistant, links cans of aluminum soda together before killing dolphins and trapping fish, stores the music of your musical compact discs, the plastic that composed much of the case of the computer you are using at this very moment to read this, the plastic polymers that make our carpets and pants stain-resistant and flame retardant, and the same plastic of which most rosary beads are composed. Why, I bet that the Romans would have loved to make plastic crosses that could be hosed off and reused with plastic zip-ties to hold the arm and ankles of the hapless victims in place.

Yes, Brian believed that man existed to create plastic. When asked what our cause is now that plastic has been invented and loosed into the Universe he responded that we were now "coasting," - his way of saying that it didn't really matter at this point. We could be killed by a random event, like a meteor strike, or fall prey to so cataclysmic war or all succumb to a terrible virulent virus. When I pointed out that the extinction of people would mean the extinction of the development of plastic it did not phase him at all. Apparently, in a very Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy kind of way, it didn't matter that people would no longer be around, in fact, it didn't even matter if plastic was eradicated from the Universe, because the creation of such had been achieved. It was the master plan, and it was fulfilled.

Sound strange? I thought so, at first. Then Brian began to pick apart the other religions. Is the reason that the world was created was so that God could create man in his image, cast him out, allow him to redeem himself or be forgiven and then to be saved during the rapture? Was it that the warrior was to die, blade in hand, to join his comrades at the banquet table awaiting Ragnarok? Is it to worship the spirits of the Earth and trees and sky and sun? Are all of these things beyond our control? If so, than how foolish is it to believe that our mission was the creation of plastic?

Crazy? I'm no longer sure. Entertaining, definitely. No less bizarre than thinking about the fact that our brains, chunks of flesh shaped like coral with the consistency of Jello Jigglers, is engaged in a process of self-discovery whereby they direct the bodies that they control, some of them being scientists, to dissect itself and its own brethren in an attempt to understand how it works.

We are nothing more than the evolution of slime mold. You, yes you, are comprised of exactly the same organic schtuff that grows at the bottom of your shower curtain. You are complex fatty acids that believe that there are more things in heaven and Earth than the need to feed and reproduce, or invent plastic.

So enjoy coasting along and stop every once in a while to think about how plastic affects your life.