There are ruins strewn across the length and breadth of this world. Tiwanaku, sitting high and sterile in the fastness of the Bolivian Altiplano protected by its Andean ring of mountains and the highland oxygenless lake filled during the last great glacial melt off. Mohenjo Daro, old – ancient in fact, clouded far back into the unknowing of the distant past. Chichen Itza and the great Giza pyramids. Hor Virap on the Ararat Plain under the great mountain where Noah was said to have waited out the great flood.
The world progresses through 12,000 year cycles, that is what some scientists say. The rise and proliferation and eventual fall; leading to the rebirth, starting as it were from scratch. It is true at least this time, it is well documented that 12,000 years ago something happened – probably a meteor crash in Greenland – which led to the melting of the glaciers and the beginning of the age of humans (another meteor had fallen before, ending the dinosaurs, probably in the Yucatan). The age of humans, walking from Ararat where Noah waited to create the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor – megalithic structures as markers of something they wished not to forget, or perhaps even leftovers from civilizations older before the great flood and the flipping of the poles? Maybe.
There are so many unexplainable things, yes even today. How the Dogon tribes of Mali had star charts showing Sirius B, invisible to the naked eye? How were the ancient Egyptians able to make the pyramids – and who were they in the first place (they were not Arabs, the deep desert Tuaregs claim to be the last remnants of the ancient Egyptians, a people who still use the Phoenician language and have Finnish genes). How did figurines of African and Asian featured people’s end up buried deep in the Tiwanaku plains? Who built the Moi? Megalithic structures that seek to serve as markers in time, stating as grandly as possible “WE WERE HERE”, for the future, after all else falls away. Holding information, such as was imagined, to try and pass down to the future of what went wrong and why.
Were they more advanced than we think, those who lived before the last ice age’s apex 13,500 years ago? Did the Atlantians build a Utopia, that fell into the sea? Don’t be so smug, you who are reading this, because how much of the world you enjoy would you be able to rebuild, if civilization collapsed? Can you construct an internal combustion engine; do you know where the water comes from when you open the tap and where it goes when you flush; can you lay a grid of stable power that will heat your homes? Or will you too return to burning things, taking your niche knowledge of Sirius B and drawing it upon a cave wall until it too becomes legend and lore. For who will last longer, you, or the African farmers who know no technology? And what is more delicate, more passing than a motherboard and a microchip stuffed with data but inaccessible except in the most perfect – most precarious of conditions?
What will be left after this age ends? Our houses will have vanished, that is for sure – especially those out west made of wood and crape paper. Maybe the Library of Congress will have lasted, though the books will be worm-eaten and turned to dust, the pentagon full of slithering snakes as the world warms and the swamp retakes its ancient land which once hosted the beating heart of an empire, which also fell away like so many others.
Fifty years ago MIT published a seminal “Limits to Growth” study wherein they predicted that society would collapse in 2040 (it was widely panned as neo-Malthusian). Recently KPMG released an update, confirming we are right on track. The four factors that determine collapse are 1) political issues, 2) social and cultural issues, 3) environmental issues and 4) economic issues. Of course, those are all the issues that might possibly affect a civilization. Nevertheless, they are all issues we’re struggling with today. We have advanced our ability to hurl insults at each other over cyberspace, but we still burn dead dinosaurs for energy, still dump mined phosphates on our monocrops, and watch in HD as tribal wars return Afghans to starvation and the barbarians rage down streets and into our own sacred houses, lifting high their flags, of whatever they represent. Stupidity, mostly – and it knows no ideology. 2040, completing the end of this 12,000 year cycle remarkably accurately.
There’s so much we don’t know, so much that goes beyond our limited comprehension – though we remain hubristic about human capacity to understand and manage things. The end of the last age, 12,000 years ago had perhaps more to do with meteor crashes and Milankovitchian cycles than Atlantean over-extension, perhaps – or maybe the Atlanteans found better balance than we have; we who have terraformed our world, and not for the better, as the KPMG report says, “The Earth will never be the same; it is being transformed into a new and different planet” from our mining and farming and fishing activities – the sixth great extinction (the 7th probably being humanity). Last time it was an asteroid, maybe this time we do it to ourselves, maybe next cycle we get it right.
It’s somewhat nostalgic, thinking that our age might, just might, be coming to an end. We, who have had the privilege travel, who have walked through the ancient places of our age have perhaps a better sense of the loss. A cave deep in a crevice in the South Caucasus mountains where from the very freshness of history winemakers six millenniums ago distilled the inebriants with which they inspired their imaginations, dreaming of what would come. Ancient footprints hardened into the stone slabs of the cliff walls in the Quebrada of Humahuaca, Argentina – a lone wanderer from the beginning of our time, when the world was epic, immutable. The ruins of Timbuktu, of Palmyra, of Marrakech and Gaza and Urartu; all the rise and fall of civilizations of our age, of which we might be the last.
I have loved all of it, collecting treasures through the written word – Herzl and Gibbon and Tolstoy – because there is nothing like being human. But I am not sanguine about our ability to avoid the arriving ordeal; to be sure our world will go on, after the end turns into a new beginning – the planet will continue to spin and people will continue to write and dream; we are sentient after all. Maybe in the next cycle we will get it right, though my confidence is not great – human nature is, well, part of our nature, and it is born corrupted. Original sin, we Christians call it. A design flaw, perhaps; a ghost in the machine. The marriage of the divine with the terrestrial; the image of God upon the hearts of men an unstable construct prone to glitching. A utopian idea of our creator, gone the way of most utopias – carnage and misery. But is has been grand, the story of our age. Perhaps if more people were to consider it, we might be able to find a solution to preserve it. Of that, also, I am not sanguine.