The sound of collapse is all around us. In the U.S. the political system is in a close race with our transportation system to see which one gets declared the winner in a race towards non-functionality. Our physical bridges along with our metaphorically constructed political bridges are in different degrees of collapse. And we, as a nation, are the model of stability. Whole countries are suffering from Gang or Terrorist warfare. The difference between the two is more in the choice of political pretense than in the mode of operation. Terrorists make their would be agenda public. Everyone already knows what the gangs want.
How come? How has it come to this? A worth while examination of that question is provided by a book, The Watchman’s Rattle, by Rebecca D. Costa. Check it out below.
Her thesis, which makes sense to me for a variety of reasons, is simply this: civilizations collapse when the problems facing it are too complex to be solved. As that begins to happen, there is a cultural shift towards a more committed kind of fundamentalism. The failure to find solutions is not understood as the consequence of people not having the cognitive ability to solve it, but rather that the old solutions aren’t working because we aren’t trying them hard enough. Instead of sacrificing one virgin a year, we have to up the ante to three or four, maybe one for each season, or one a month.
She doesn’t stop with that one idea, but in a very readable style she presents other factors that come into play. As soon as I wrap up some of my other reading, I intend to return to her book, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who feels lost trying to understand our current time of travail.
So why does this book connect to me the way it does? Many years ago, teaching at a small school for very bright, talented high school dropouts I pursued two intellectual exercises that provided me with a sad, but I think useful understanding of this world we live in.
The first, was an all night historical search for five years of absolute peace in the Western world. I couldn’t find it. There was always a war or revolution somewhere. As Thoreau says about the news: it stays the same, only the names change, the names of the countries at war, the name of the king being overthrown, the name of the poor soul mugged on his way home.
The second excursion was a letter to Someone in the Year 10,000,000. I know, I know. But I wanted to see if there was any value that I cherished that might still have relevance to whatever kind of creature might be alive here on this planet, at that time. One by one the values, the virtues, any kind of guiding light fell away. The only one I could count on was survival. The commitment to do whatever we could to survive was the only common thread between us. That was it. I knew that the two of us could understand that drive to stay alive as it guided our behavior, no matter how different we were in every other way.
And in an odd way, that drive is what connects me to the book. Everyone I have ever asked to name a year in the far, very far and distant future has named a year between 3,000 and 4,000. No one has mentioned a year further away than that. I don’t know why one or two thousand years seems so far away, but it does reveal something about us that I find interesting.
Despite accepting the theory of Evolution (or some religious variation of it) as a reasonable explanation of how we have come to find ourselves here, in our hearts we believe we have arrived. We never think of ourselves as unfinished prototypes, beta kinds of programs, en route, with luck to some better creatures that may in fact be able to live up to what we call our better natures.
But of course, if the belief in Evolution does not make the trip from cognition to our hearts, ( a trip not often taken by whatever we think we believe) then our behavior will not reflect that belief.
We know that we are works in process, maybe progress, but certainly process. Assuming our history continues to be written, then our time, and us in it, will be on page 420 one day, and a thousand years later, we will be a short paragraph on page 212 of an even larger book. Did I say book? It doesn’t matter. We will be gone, and hopefully the process will continue.
And I will continue this line of wondering and wandering. Meanwhile, find The Watchman’s Rattle. I hear it every day in the evening news.