Sunday 24 June 2007

The big picture

He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Individuals are born, live, and die. Societies come into being, pursue their interests, and deconstruct. Civilisations emerge, form their environment, and vanish.

The ever widening circles of mutual flows, from low to high and back to low again, determine the overall stability at their respective scales.

Today there exist three great civilisations, each drawing on thousands of years, each having achieved brilliance, and each managing to survive despite so many catastrophes. In alphabetical order they are China, Europe, and India.

One may ask, "What does it take to make a great civilisation?" - one can equally ask, "What does it take to make a great individual?" - because, although different in scale, the fundamental qualities that Life appreciates need to be there in any case.

We need stability, so we have the chance to strike out on an adventure. We need knowledge and wisdom, so we can identify ignorance and stupidity. We need records of our history, so we can see the importance of the moment. But above all, we need an atmosphere that allows our intellect to range far and wide, and atmosphere that sustains the mind with its manifold particles of the spirit, because without the mind there can be no individual, society, and civilisation.

And here we find one essential difference between Europe and the other two. For all its unpredictable intellect, a strange animal that can fight and obey, rage and love all at once, there was a time in its history when it decided to absorb the mentality of an alien people. That mindset became known as Christianity, an outgrowth of Middle Eastern values which imposed their chains on its host ever since.

Do we really know all about the wealth of our antiquity, "the glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome" as Poe called it? Can we imagine where we would be now if a thousand dark years of Church dominance had not intervened - if the Age of Enlightenment had continued where Rome had left off?

Instead we had to endure one disaster after another driven by a general religion that with its monotheism imposed a spiritual dictatorship that persecuted the search for knowledge, through its yearning for self-flagellation destroyed elegance and beauty, and whose evangelism drove us to conquer not just lands but also the minds of people, their most precious possession. Think of the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the missionaries, the hate towards the human eros.

So here we are today, facing challenges on a global scale, and yet loosing ourselves in Middle Eastern affairs we even invited into our midst, for here to fester. We wage wars trying to convince the victims that our values are better than theirs; we harbour people within our own lands who scorn the millions of volumes of their own culture while at the same time standing in awe before those who cannot show a single sheaf; we permit individuals to harness an entire governance to their fear of their own selves.

We imprison those who wilfully damaged others in pursuit of their own gains, and rightly so. Yet actions on a grand scale, similarly destructive but not even enhancing our selves, are defended and glorified.

The lives of individuals make a society; the society creates a civilisation through its endeavours; the civilisation in all its might relies on its members. It takes wisdom to understand this continuum.

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