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Another Civilisation About to End. Must Be Wednesday.

September 9, 2010 2 comments

On the eve of my departure from Athens, I am haunted not just by the end of another wonderful journey, but the emotions brought up whilst exploring the marvellous temples of ancient Greece.  These were particularly poignant at the Temple of Aphaia on the island of Aegina. 

 Spectacularly placed overlooking the sea, a connection is surmised and often seen with the Parthenon and the Temple of Poseidon on the mainland.  It has been remarked upon that our current civilisation’s claims to greatness would be Shopping.  If so, I wonder what will be left once centuries have passed to compete with the splendour of the Greek temples.  With Aphaia even the myth of her escaping Minos then seen to vanish at the spot where the temple was built, is resonant in the present day – it feels like the story was from last week. 

A civilisations’s rise and consequent decay is seen as the inevitable  part of a cycle in many cultures, much as the body also goes through growth and contraction, eventually going back into the earth from which it came.  The challenge for the spiritual seeker therefore is – paraphrasing Buddha –  to discover ‘that which does not die’. 

Is there a parallel challenge though for civilisation, or are we forever doomed to repeat the endless dance from birth to destruction?  This is an important question, for it looks like we are currently in the final days of our civilisation.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  If you want an easy guide to our end days read ‘The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight’ by Thom Hartmann; if you’re up for a good albeit disconcerting science read try ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond. 

To really put the final nail in though, Jane Jacobs’s  ‘Dark Age Ahead’ is difficult to beat.  Jacobs argues that it is difficult to know what happens in the dark age of a civilisation – think of the vagueness about King Arthur for example – but it is possible to identify five key indicators, any one of which will warn us of an impending dark age.  Our current, global, hi-tech society is displaying all five indicators.  I do not mean to go into these indicators here, but two of them are:  an unanswerability in authorities and a replacement of rational thought by sloppy thinking and superstition. 

A few people seem to be attributed the comment, ‘Civilisation is a good idea; we should try it sometime’, including Gandhi and Bernard Shaw.  This sentiment is echoed by the work of a Russian physicist Nikolai Kardashev in the 1960s.  Kardashev described three types of civilisations, with Type 111 having colonised large parts of its galaxy by tapping into the energy sources of the stars.  A Type l civilisation will remain planetbound for a considerable time, as it has harnessed the energy of its star – the sun in our case – and has created a truly planetary society that uses its resources wisely and is completely free of racial, sectarian and nationalistic nonsense.  With such a Utopia achieved, there is no immediate need to explore the further reaches of Space, as would be characteristic of a Type 11 (Star Trek-like) civilisation. 

Physicists tend to be quite positive about our current situation.  Michio Kaku for example sees the emergence of things like the Internet as evidence of our heading towards a Type 1 scenario.  But physicists tend to be dazzled by technology, and do not read books like ‘Dark Age Ahead’ or ‘Collapse’ where social and environmental degradation are listed quite alarmingly. 

Furthermore, environmentalists and biologists tend not to study psychology where the roots of our malaise can often be found, and it is there, I argue, that the solutions also lie.  (See my blog ‘Freedom, Or Something Just Like It’ for more on this.)

So can we do it?  Can we reach the goal of a Type 1 civilisation before it’s too late?  Because if we can, we may well have transcended the inevitable rise and fall of societies preceding this one, such as the Sumerian, the Greek, the Egyptian, and modern day empires like the British.  Well, the jury is still out, but time is a dwindling commodity and things do not look good.  The good news is that there are indications of a tentative reaching towards a more advanced state, as Michio Kaku and others claim, such as new evolving global economies, the internet and an awareness of global challenges rather than just local.  And the other good news is that change will inevitably be due to the actions of individuals such as you and me, and if each one of us does what we can, no more can be asked.

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