In my continuing efforts to create the illusion that this column has intellectual heft, I once again dare to ask the epistemological question, "What if . . . ?"

What if American Indians had discovered Europe, and not the other way around?

They likely would have landed in 15th-century Spain, in amazingly sturdy canoes. They would have stepped ashore, semi-naked, bearing nothing but subtle gifts of incalculable value: a humility that belied their achievement, an abiding respect for the land, a desire for peace and tranquility, and, above all, no acquisitive designs on the civilizations they visited. Denounced as heretics, they'd have been roasted on spears over a bonfire.

What if the combination of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom made beer?

The heavens would rain beer. The oceans would be full of beer. Sixty-five percent of our bodies would be composed of beer. To filter out toxins, the human liver would have to be the size and shape of a weather balloon, so we would be built like beanbag chairs, with little stubby legs that could not propel us. Plus, we would also be plagued with incapacitating gas. Bloated, flatulent, helpless against predators, unable even to forage for food beyond our immediate grasp, the species would succumb in short order to the implacable forces of natural selection. Rising ascendant as the new "humans" -- the new super-sentient species on the planet -- would be bacteria, which are the only life forms that can grow and prosper in beer. When fully evolved after several million years, these intelligent, one-celled organisms would resemble enormous, hairy, writhing Hostess Twinkies that would navigate around in beer by flapping a giant flagellum. They would, of course, consider themselves a species of great grace and elegance, particularly the females, and would celebrate their beauty in art and song through the centuries.

What if the U.S. Constitution did not include an amendment giving citizens the right to bear arms?

We'd be in terrible trouble, right about now. We wouldn't have a "well regulated Militia," as the amendment specifies. So we couldn't, like, get citizen farmers to band together if English or French frigates arrive, and brigades of musketeers march upon our towns and hamlets. Or something. Actually, I've never figured this out, but it would definitely be bad, I guess.

What if all salaries were suddenly adjusted so they were based entirely on how disgusting the job was?

Jobs in chicken slaughterhouses and such would be highly sought after, filled not by illegal immigrants but by former corporate attorneys and investment bankers willing to do whatever it took to continue living opulently. Their cushy former jobs, requiring expertise but now drawing mere subsistence pay, would remain largely unfilled, resulting in a fundamental change in how this nation does business: The peddling of influence would become obsolete, as would the system of earning capital through the manipulation of money rather than the creation of goods or services. Litigation would be replaced by common-sense conciliation and compromise. A Golden Age of Business would dawn. Meanwhile, those with the most money would continue to rise to the top of society, meaning the typical job one holds before becoming president would not be governor or senator, but something like "deputy assistant sewer-plant operator in charge of sump-pump feces clog clearance."

What if the Rev. Pat Robertson finally went completely bonkers?

He would probably say something even stupider than anything he's said before, such as suggesting that because the citizens of Dover, Pa., voted "intelligent design" proponents off their school board, God might visit a terrible disaster upon the town, and then not answer their prayers for help.

But he's already said that.

Oh, right. Well, next probably will come the naked yodeling in the moonlight.

Okay, what if the universe were controlled by a just God who openly rewarded virtue and punished evil, in this life?

The existence of God would be manifest, and everyone would Believe. People would begin being virtuous in the hope of achieving material success and avoiding misfortune. The cynicism behind this behavior would therefore transform every selfless act into a selfish one, meaning God would begin punishing the virtuous, resulting in a backlash of illicit, greedy,

rapacious activities. The very notions of good and evil would blend and merge and become indistinguishable, throwing all societies into an existential crisis. Only the completely sociopathic -- those driven entirely by self-interest, without any moral compass or compunction -- would be able to navigate this chaos and prosper, and they would rule the world. So things wouldn't be all that different, in the end.

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