The End of the Era of Orphanage

I am prone to say that there is a bigger issue at stake in something like life logging. As Carl Sagan pointed out in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, we’re all orphans abandoned at the doorstep of time. Ten thousand generations of humans have inhabited this planet and the most tenacious genealogist can perhaps recount seven of those generations. Indeed, your great grandchildren won’t even know your name. I recall one of Andy Rooney’s commentaries on 60 Minutes where he wandered through a number of old cemeteries, grown over, fences falling, headstones cracked and weathered to illegibility. It was obviously a very elegiac piece. He ended it by saying that we ought to make an indelible record of every person who’s ever lived. And we ought to. There was a time when we had to be pragmatic and pragmatism necessitated a massive forgetting. The realm of what’s pragmatic has grown. Time to stop forgetting.

I watch all the animals that scamper about the city and it is horrible that they lead such anonymous lives. They live beautifully without making an impression, they fall ill and there is no aid, they die without a thought from their fellows and their corpses are left where they fall. Once I saw a documentary in which a paleoanthropologist pulled a hominid skull out of a drawer and held it next to the skull of a saber-toothed tiger so that the two fangs of the tiger skull straddled the occipital bun of the human and lined up perfectly with two small holes in the back of the little human’s skull. Of those ten thousand generations, perhaps the majority were the lives of humans led as animals: noble, but uncelebrated lives of struggle leading to unmourned graves. Every one of those lives were ones of immense drama, and every one necessary to carry us down to the place we find ourselves today, and yet nearly to a one, utterly gone. And despite all our advancements, the lives of almost everyone alive today are not one iota less anonymous. In life, a titan; in death, dust.

Sometimes I am prone to a great man theory of history: that we masses are indebted for all of our modern day prosperity on an incredibly small number of geniuses without whom none of it would be possible. We common folk are parasites upon their achievements. But then I consider this world into which we are born. We just found it as it was, fully build. Massive buildings, sprawling cities whose assessed value runs to the trillions of dollars, public works projects the scale of which is baffling. I am dependent for my protection from the elements upon a building. Where this building came from, I have no idea. I have no idea who built it. I have no idea who first wanted it and commissioned its construction. I have no idea when the presumably original utility basement was remodeled into a living space. I have no idea how it was handed down and eventually would up with it’s present owner. As Graham Robb points out in The Discovery of France, even what we take to be untrammeled nature has already been drained, logged and contoured by generations so forgotten that we can no longer detect their impact. Countless trillions of person-hours have gone into making the world what it is, almost all of them completely forgotten. We just found the world as it is and don’t even consider it. It is Newton’s old, “If I have seen so far, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” There is a grandeur in the accumulated accomplishment of all the forgotten people who have carried the species down through the ages to deposit us were we have found ourselves. They should get their names etched in the base of their great accomplishment. Perhaps life logging will result in a certain solipsism, but in other sectors, perhaps it will chip away at a solipsism from which we already suffer.

But then, but then …

Atheism is more than just one belief about the nonexistence of the gods. It is a habit of mind. Once one has ceased to believe in god, one has only started to be an atheist. One must then purge one’s self of the thoughts that grow out of god. The need for eternity, the sole valuation of the eternal, the denigration of all things transient — in other words, the denigration of all things — is the most pernicious of such habits. There is obviously something to secularization thesis. Sometimes I think that this rage for permanence is just a bastion of my former Christianity. The insistence on the illusion of eternity is part of the myth of humanity as standing somehow opposed to and outside of nature. But we are as much animals and artifacts of nature now as ever. Perhaps we should live our lives like Buddhist sand mandala: exercises in the transient, in the timely. Coming to terms with becoming, evolution, development, decay and passing is how one is to be in harmony with the world, is it not?

Advertisements

One thought on “The End of the Era of Orphanage

  1. Pingback: Through the Google Looking Glass | Marching Under Banners

Comments are closed.