Nothing new under the sun

To help keep myself sane in this time of dissolution and decay, I am refamiliarizing myself with history via The Atlas of World History, a marvelous cartographic coffee table book.

History is an excellent cure for cultural myopia: an excellent antidote to odious American exceptionalism. But history is both a cure and a curse.

A cure because it reminds me that our species has often dealt with changes in climate and environment. So the current environmental crisis, although quite dire, is not the first ecological challenge that our species has faced. The current crisis is certainly more severe, but we are resilient monkeys.

A curse because history shows that, despite our amazing advances in technology and understanding, civilization has not progressed much since the agricultural revolution. We are always at war. And we are always a hairs-breadth away from barbarism and the collapse of civil society.

At times, civilization only seems to be a collective agreement — or delusion. So long as we have access to clean water, food, and a modicum of security, we agree to behave civilly and to respect our neighbors and our neighborhoods. But take away these basics and soon after the demons of starvation and disease and slaughter are soon to return.

Witness Zimbabwe.

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