A Long View of History

A Short Break from US Politics to Think about Something a Bit Longer Term.

I seem to have run into a slew of reading and viewing of late about lost civilizations. I have “visited” these places before, but my recent engagements have left me with a new thought line that rather connects them all.

First, Let’s Review the Terrain
  • Peru, where an impressive civilization that left us Machu Pichu, once ruled a powerful empire.
  • Ancient Egypt, the remains of which some estimate we have uncovered only about 5%.
  • Angor Watt was the largest complex ever built at that time of history. It was completely lost in the jungle until explorers stumbled across it.
  • The Incas ruled much of the Southern half of the Americas. We are still discovering massive complexes of buildings both ceremonial and practical.
  • The Vikings were the terror of much of Europe for generations but we know remarkably little about how they lived and worked. How did a comparatively small band of farmers and sailors become such a strategic power?
  • The Mongols led initially by Genghis Khan, at one time ruled the largest empire on Earth. They pioneered important innovations in military strategy and tactics, in governance, in communications, and in law.
  • The Greeks and Romans are best known of this list to us in the West, but even here, much is lost. In fact, much of the period after the fall of the Roman Empire is referred to as the Dark Ages. In effect, Western civilization, lost all of the learning of that earlier period (although Muslim scholars in Spain saved much of it), a loss that largely continued until the Renaissance. We lost a thousand years of progress. Where would we be today if we were advanced by another 1,000 years? Just imagine.
  • There were periods of high culture in the Arab past and certainly with the Persians. Remember Alexander the Great and the Macedonians? The Assyrians? And many others.
What Do They All Have in Common? 

Three things:

  1. They all were remarkable powers, the most powerful in the world in their time. And yet, they all ran their course and died. Seems to be a universal judgement of history. Societies of unmatched power, reach, and accomplishment all died. Just like people, they had a life cycle.
  2. They not only died out, they disappeared. They were swallowed up by time. Many were swallowed up by nature – overgrown by forest or jungle, buried under sand, slipped into the ocean. It really is remarkable to contemplate. Societies and civilizations that spanned hundreds, even thousands of years, that dominated much of the known world just disappeared. It was not really that sudden but disappear they did. They were lost to history in some cases, lost even from sight or consciousness of the rest of the world for others.
  3. The third connection is perhaps the most important. As a species we have been spectacularly incapable of effectively recording what we have learn, passing it on to those that follow us. On the other end, we are not all that good at receiving what little is passed to us. It seems we put the knowledge offered to us on shelves rather than asking “What happened to them that we can learn from? What did they do right that we can extend?”
Any Lessons Learned?

We now have unprecedented and almost limitless capacity to record, transmit, and store information, in all sorts of media. We have a chance to ask those earlier questions, perhaps dig out the lessons, share and apply them. Will we?

Sometimes I imagine that the successors to humanity, or an alien race lands here 10,000 years from now and looking at our ruins, come to some interesting conclusions. Apparently, we worshipped at the House of Amazon. There were temples called Starbucks everywhere for the faithful to stop in. And apparently our civilization’s past time was something called cat videos.

Perhaps somewhere a group of smart people is thinking about all this, maybe even working on solutions. Wouldn’t that be something? Do the homework on what came before us. Work diligently to leave a better trail than some form of breadcrumbs for others to find. Nice idea.

Now back to politics. 70 days until the election. In the meantime, see you on Friday. We will be talking about the Republican Convention and show, which yes, I will watch (may I be in your thoughts and prayers).

                Bill Clontz

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