“We’re going to change the world. If my theory is correct, this will change everything. This will ruffle feathers, don’t you think anything else. You ask Galileo, you ask Darwin. This is going to cause an uproar.” – Jim Penman
You’ve probably seen a picture of Jim Penman’s face on the sides of his trucks. There are thousands of them driving around the country, mowing your lawns, fixing your antennas, washing your dogs. In the picture Jim has a thick beard and he’s wearing a bucket hat. He’s always smiling.
I’m sitting across from Jim at his training centre in a sprawling complex in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges. He started his business, Jim’s Mowing, back in 1982. He’s aged a bit since then, and he’s lost the beard, but as he tells me about his plans for world domination, he’s still smiling.
The story of Jim’s rise to fame and fortune is already a matter of public record: cash-strapped uni student begins a lawn mowing business to help pay his tuition. With an initial budget of $24, business grows to become a gardening leviathan. With over 3000 franchisees throughout Australia, New Zealand and the UK, Jim’s Group provides 35 different services from Jim’s Bookkeeping to Jim’s Bath Resurfacing. At 60, he’s still heavily involved in the running of the business, which generates an estimated annual revenue of $320 million.
What most people don’t know is that Jim never wanted to be a businessman. He started mowing lawns to raise cash to fund his research for a PhD in History at La Trobe University. The uni wouldn’t give him any money because, according to Jim, his ideas were “too radical, too wild.”
Jim’s research is concerned with the rise and fall of human civilisations. He tries to explain why certain historical events have happened to certain peoples at certain points in time. To do this, he conducts experiments on populations of rats and guinea pigs, messes with their diets and their family units, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll be doing the same to humans.
Jim’s been giving money, so far over $1 million, to a team of scientists at La Trobe, to continue the research the university turned its back on three decades ago.
To put it simply, Jim has a theory that the big shifts in society (wars, revolutions, influence of religion etc.) are explainable by changes in brain and hormone activity. As an example, Jim cites WWI. According to Jim, the Great War was brought about by widespread hormonal change in the Austro-Germanic people of the 1880’s, which made them more aggressive and warlike. In this way Jim can explain why Rome rose and fell, why Stalin was able to stay in power for so long and why the West is in a really bad state.
Just how he identifies these hormonal changes so many years later, and without any physical evidence, only Jim knows, but he thinks that by studying these patterns he can predict the future, and is developing a drug to change it.
Jim’s ideas are based on a scientific stream called epigenetics. Epigenetics studies the changes in genes which are not programmed into the DNA sequence. In practical terms, if a scientist (or a gardener-cum-scientist) was able to identify the link between particular genes and behaviours they could alter people’s behaviour by modifying the genes. Jim sees it as the final frontier of scientific study. “For years people thought that genes were just genes, they didn’t realise they could be switched on and off.” And he has big plans for humanity once the drug has been developed.
“Why haven’t we been visited by intelligent aliens?” He asks me a little later. “Why is that? There must be trillions of Earth-like planets across the universe, why hasn’t some race gone and spread into space? And I think that one of the more plausible reasons is that when any civilisation rises past a certain stage of technology, it becomes easier and easier to destroy itself.”
A lot of his initial testing has focussed on developing treatments for alcohol addiction, drug addiction, overeating and other kinds of psychological problems. Jim thinks that a drug could be ready by as early as next year.
But Jim wants to change more than that. He wants to change people’s personalities, change how they think and act, how they see the world. He believes that Jim’s drug can make people more focussed, more hard working, more intelligent and creative. Basically, better humans. “It could be something as simple as a nasal spray, it could be a treatment, a drug, a pill you swallow,” he says. “There are implications that this could raise IQ.”
Jim envisions a society where everyone’s chemical and hormonal deficiencies have been corrected, making them completely functional members of society. “Imagine if the average person is what used to be considered extremely capable, if not a genius…We could make ancient Athens look like a stodgy small town. We’ve never had any human society ever that has lived up to human potential.”
Jim thinks that the world needs this drug. He’s crunched the numbers and he has a pretty bleak outlook for this planet if he can’t get his nasal spray out. In the next few years Jim predicts that the West will continue its economic and moral decline, with China taking over the reins as the big world power, followed by a few thousand years of hegemony from a unified body of African states.
By the year 4000 Jim envisions the world as a Mad Max style apocalyptic wasteland comprising of “poor peasant farmers where women are mutilated by cliterodectomy, and this kind of garbage, which is really what the human race is headed for—poverty-stricken peasants.” And Jim is doing everything in his power to stop that happening. A large percentage of the profits that he takes from Jim’s Mowing go into a foundation that will continue his research and—if his theories are proven correct—save the world.
Of course, Jim is wary of the potential dangers of developing his wonder drug. He worries that it may be so powerful that it could actually bring about the apocalypse. “Technology would explode because people would become far more creative and capable by a factor of hundreds of times over. Now whether that would end up destroying the human race, or we would end up spreading out across the universe I don’t know.”
Jim’s theories have informed many elements of his personal life. Strangely, his scientific study brought him closer to God. “My theory showed me the value of Christian beliefs such as the focus on chastity and a strong family life.” Though they are no longer members, Jim and his family were part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church. Jim calls it as an “excellent church for building character and self-discipline.” He now describes himself as an “evangelical Christian.”
Jim’s life is a clipped lawn of cold showers, office work, and an almost monastic moderation of his personal habits. His website says, “he has no plans to retire—ever!” He strictly regulates his consumption of his one and only vice, chocolate. Jim also abstains from sex as much as possible. “Limiting sexual behaviour is a very powerful driver of temperamental change.” He nods gravely. “It makes you more driven, hard working, more focussed.”
This seems incongruous when you delve deeper into Jim’s family life. Since starting the business he has fathered ten children to a number of wives. I asked him how his prodigious progeny-production tallied against his dim view of sex. “Societies that have less sex have more children.” He pointed to the reproductive explosion during the Victorian era as an example of this. It’s not all doom and gloom in Jim’s bedroom though. He begrudgingly admits, “I suppose sex has got a point in establishing relationships between husband and wife. Ideally you want to limit it though.”
Jim also wrote a book. It’s called The Hungry Ape—Biology and the Fall of Civilisations and Jim self-published it in 1992. I managed to track a copy down on Amazon, and it makes for some interesting reading. The front cover shows a photo of a gorilla superimposed over a vista of skyscrapers. Amazingly, it didn’t sell many copies.
Reading The Hungry Ape is like stepping back in time. Jim has this idea that different races and ethnic groups have distinct “temperaments” decided by attributes he refers to as “Restraint and Vigour”.
Jim believes that “Restraint is the temperamental basis of civilisation,” and can account for the domination of white European ethnic groups over the past few hundred years. All of the other races have lost out because they lack either Restraint or Vigour, or sometimes both. There are lots of comparisons between black people and baboons, and even more about Jews and rats.
The book reads like a bad piece of propaganda, or a weird eugenics experiment. At best you would call The Hungry Ape the scientific equivalent of racial stereotyping. Here are some of the highlights:
“Jews have traditionally been far more inhibited, more driven by anxiety and insecurity… The key to their success has been high Restraint, which has been linked to their trading skills as well as hard work.”
“Black sexual behaviour is freer, on average, than that of whites. Unemployment is higher and occupational success lower, reflecting, alongside racial oppression, a lack of high-Restraint work ethic and commercial skills. Rates of crime are higher, because of the reduced respect for law and authority in lower-Restraint groups.”
On Aboriginals: “Unsuited in general to the discipline of academic study and of many jobs, they have become a poor-underclass. A high proportion are unemployed and the rest are in menial jobs.”
Jim is concerned with altering the Restraint and Vigour of the ethnic groups that he believes have been dealt a bum hand in the epigenetic stakes. He wants to make the blacks more restrained and the Jews more vigorous, he wants to change the Aborigines personality so they can function more effectively in “our society.”
“Aboriginals [sic] are hunter-gatherers,” he tells me. “Their temperament is suited to that. They don’t work steadily… You need people who can work hard, who can work by the clock… It’s a serious question as to whether they would want to be more like us, or they should be more like us, but if they wanted to be successful in society they would have to change temperament to become more like Europeans.”
To Jim, racism and prejudice are not the reason why many Aboriginals around the country are unemployed, unhealthy and disenfranchised, it’s because of their temperament. “It’s not the prejudice that causes the problem in the temperament, it’s the temperament which causes the prejudice.”
Jim compares the history of the Jews, to prove his point. “They’ve been discriminated against, loathed, persecuted, pogromed [sic], murdered, forced out of home after home… By all logic they should be the most poor, downtrodden people on earth. Are they? No, they’re not. Why? Because Jews are different. They have a certain temperament.”
He’s aware of just how un-PC his ideas are, and how they will be received, if they were ever to gain widespread attention. “People with a left-wing orientation, with a belief that all people have the same temperament, will find it hard if not impossible to grasp this stuff… like trying to hold a blob of jelly in their hands.”
When I asked Jim whether his ideas were racist, he denied it saying, “I find racism particularly disgusting. My wife’s Chinese... If you were a genuine racist you would hate this book. A racist would say that Aboriginals [sic] or blacks are inferior, that they have lower intelligence, whereas I would say not at all, it’s an epigenetic change, it’s not built into the genes at all. It’s changeable.”
There’s no doubt that Jim firmly believes in what he’s doing. He sees himself as a kind of saviour, a misunderstood idealist who wants to make the world a better place. “Our civilisation has achieved a tremendous amount” he says. “I’ve got ten kids and every one of them is still alive, do you know how remarkable that is? Nobody needs to die of hunger anymore. People don’t need to live their life in mindless toil… I’d like to spread the blessings to everybody, and my theories seem to show that that’s possible.”
When we first started our correspondence he sent me the manuscript for his follow-up to The Hungry Ape, which he’s planning to publish sometime next year. He’s played up the scientific angle a little more in this one. Restraint and Vigour have been replaced by the terms “Q” and “Z”, but the basic premise of the theory is the same. Jim’s not sure when his drug will be ready for human consumption. He says it could take a couple of years, or it could take a couple of decades. Whatever the case, he has the dedication and the resources to make something happen.
“I'll be the first person to try it.” Jim grins.
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