Over the weekend, I drove to Oakland with Kay, and on the way we listened to one of my favorite podcasts, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. The episode to which we listend was part of a series on the Punic Wars, best known for Hannibal's crossing the Alps with elephants, but more importantly, the wars that pushed Rome from being a regional power to walking the path to its eventual empire. As I was listening, I got to thinking about the fact that, as the roman Republic and later Empire grew in power, it's citizens likly never gave a thought that it would end. Certainly, they would have known about fallen empires and civilizations: Assyria (ironically, as I drove to Taft today, I listened to a podcast on the Assyrian Empire in which Carlin made the same point that I wish to here), Babylon, Alexander's Macedonian Empire, and the Median Empire. However, they likely gave little thought to the fall of their own civilization.
And yet, Roman civilization did fall. Certainly the Medeival Period was not quite the "dark ages" as later historians would label it. In fact, quite a bit happened during the Medeival Period. But, while it might not have been the "dark age", it certainly was a period during which human civilization throughout Europe and the Mediteranean world did take a few steps back in terms of social organization, technology, and civil order.
All of which gets me thinking about our civilization. During childhood, I recall a few rare occasions when someone would comment that the U.S. probably wouldn't be around forever, and would promptly be shouted down or told off by someone insisting that to claim that the U.S. would eventually go the way of the dodo was both delusional and treasonous. Even now, when people seem to be less alarmist upon hearing someone suggest that any nation's days are numbered (including the U.S.), the notion is still treated with distrust at worst and a vague semi-acceptance at best. The default position seems to be that technology will improve, but the world order as we know it today will likely remain more-or-less intact indefinitely. Sure, historians and anthropologists might think otherwise, but really, what do they know.
Of course, the U.S. will eventually fall, and, on a larger scale, western civilization as we know it will fall. This isn't the rantings of a terrorist, nor the doomsday prophecy of a religious nut. The simple fact of the matter is that every civilization rises and falls, and it is the height of arrogance to think that ours will be any different - and as much as people may wish to ignore or deny it, I think that we all know it.
And acknowledging that our civilization will fall leads me to wonder about the cause of its eventual fall. My own suspicion, though it is nothing but suspicion, is that we see the source of the eventual fall in the anti-intellectual tendencies of western societies. As technology becomes more advanced, and our problems become more complicated (global warming, food shortages, shrinking water tables, etc.) and reliant on science for solutions, we as a populace seem to be moving away from science and drifting increasingly towards mysticism: the rise in fundamentalist religious sects, the fact that political parties are increasingly appealing to people's irrational presupossitions rather than facts, the rise of a health care sub-system that appeals to logically falacious arguments and superstition rather than evidence, and so on...it seems that we are alienating ourselves from the very important realities of the world that we have created, and brought about the circumstances under which we will undermine ourselves and put ourselves into a situation where our civilization burns itself out - and probably takes others with it.
But I may very well be wrong, and my reading of this may be more morose than is truly called for.
It could well be that our civilization falls in a conflict - either with another civilization from another part of the world, or from less organized "barbaric" forces (be it losse terrorist organizations or some other loosely affiliated force.). Perhaps our tendency towards factionalism will get the better of us, and the nations that comprise western civilization will have at each other and cause a mutual fall.
But this is all mental masturbation. I can't give a warning, nobody would listen (and I'm not narcisistic enough to think that anyone in a position to do anything reads this blog), and nobody could do anything anyway. No, what I have found about this is a simple fact: I'm okay with the downfall of western civilization. I'm not okay with it in the sense that I am some militant who thinks it should fall. Rather, I accept that the fall of my civilization, a civilization that I very much love despite its shortcomings, is an inevitiability. I don't think that its fall will necessarilly be a good thing (though, in the course of history, perhaps it will be), but it is bound to happen eventually, and I'm alright with that fact. Unless it occurs due to a particular catastrophe, odds are that people will only be peripherally aware that it's even happening, and will go about their business in relative comfort while it occurs around them - and I find that thought oddly comforting.
You know, this was an absolutely useless blog post. Oh well.