Monday, December 06, 2004

The Human Cost of Big Ideas

Over lunch, Kevin and I were discussing The Librarian, that execrable show that TNT aired last night. After lambasting the hackneyed plot (though the actors did a remarkable job, considering the stilted dialogue and ridiculous story) we got to discussing the Pyramids.

Kevin and I share a fascination with esoteric lore of all sorts, from Theosophy to Astrology and the more outlandish brain droppings of mystics from all over. However, we differ on our views of history. Kevin is a big fan of the Great Pyramids, much in the way that many are: as monuments to something greater than humanity, that spiritual impulse to devote one's life (and as I pointed out, the lives of thousands of slaves and coerced peasants) towards the construction of something representative of the Awe of the Divine.

Being an atheist with a progressive sense of social justice, and in possession of a thoroughly modern world view, I have mixed feelings about the Pyramids. While I do recognise their importance as grand monuments to the Human Spirit, I also cannot fully appreciate them as being worth the sacrifices made to build them. While Kevin argued that the builders of the pyramids were glad to give their lives for something greater, I take a slightly more cynical view: that they were coerced with lies spread by priests into giving up their freedom, and often times their lives, for the aggrandisement of a King who fancied himself semi-divine and thus, beyond mere human concerns like compassion for the less fortunate. Filled with hubris, the Pharaohs decided that they were more important than history and wished to outlive it. Ironically, their pursuit of immortality ensured that something would remain, though the pyramid's have become more an abstract symbol for human achievement, while the names and deeds of those particular kings have become little more than footnotes in history books.

I fully realize these views are the product of my 21st century lifestyle and 20th century upbringing, are contradictory and disregard historicity as well as cultural differences. But, I am vast, and contain multitudes. I don't apologize for being modern, unsympathetic towards those whose religious delusion leads them to coercion of others through lies and trickery, or culturally smug. I'm better than the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Mullahs of Islam and the Preachers of the Moral Majority, all rolled together in one gigantic Frankensteinian ego monster, because I recognise the human cost of their Big Ideas.

So, the Great Pyramids, while fascinating as architectural and cultural objects, were only possible through coercion, lies and the suffering of uncounted thousands. I suspect President Kill Again understands this on some emotional level (with his infamous Thinking Gut, perhaps) but completely misses the bigger picture: that whatever his reasons and motivations may be for waging his wars, be they cultural shifts towards the Radical Right or Military Adventures in Mesopotamia, his actions are made possibly only by the suffering of his fellow human beings and history will remember this fact, above all others.

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