Can Civilization As We Know It Find Another Route?

Of course it will. But this begs another question: Why should civilization which, following the very nature of creation is subject to the laws of evolution and decay, be...

Of course it will. But this begs another question: Why should civilization which, following the very nature of creation is subject to the laws of evolution and decay, be preserved in a static state in perpetuity?

Movement is at the very heart of life. Civilization has always found another route and will continue to do so as long as intelligent life exists. Whether we find the route convenient is the question. Change is one of the foundational features of creation. Our choice is to be perceptive and supple enough to embrace it or so brittle that we break when it appears.

I am reminded of when we lived in Israel. One weekend we made a road trip into the Negev desert and visited an archaeological site called Mamshit (and before we go too far, it’s pronounced Mamsheet). This was one of a string of cities across the desert built to protect the overland trade route and offer shelter to the caravans. The most famous of these cities is Petra, which needs no introduction.

These cities were prosperous and their raison d’etre secure, and remained so until the much more efficient sea route was discovered. Virtually overnight they found themselves out of business and presented with three unequal choices: remain where they were until they starved, abandon the city and move on, or stay and find another means of survival. Well, against all odds, Mamshit opted for the third. They stayed. And how did they reinvent themselves?

In the middle of the desert, they went into agriculture and, not finding sufficient challenge in this choice, decided to grow grapes — which require a lot of water. Of course, it does rain there, but only for a short period of time in the winter, followed by months of dry, gruelling heat. They built cisterns to collect and store the water when it came, and berms around the grapes to keep the water from running off.

The fact that I am recounting this amazing example of working WITH history rather than being ruled by tradition is sufficient witness to the success of the Nabataean people. And so the process if civilization continues. And we will do it again. It doesn’t mean that the human race won’t suffer incalculable loss, but we, collectively, seem to be dogmatically resisting change, as we always have.

We have all walked in the forest and looked in wonder at the majesty of the great old trees enclosing and defining the environment yet unaware of the tiny seedlings that we casually tread under our feet — seedlings that have more latent energy in their fragile and seemingly insignificant stage of growth than the towering and tired old guard we are so mesmerized with.

We were once in a talk by Ervin Laszlo who, at the time, was the rector of the Vienna Academy for the Study of the Future. He was talking about systems and how they function. All systems — social, molecular or what have you — have common features. There are component parts, they function together for a common purpose, they reproduce, and they are sustained by an external source of energy. Everything functions like clockwork.

Now, if the external source of energy were to be suddenly increased, one would think that the system would function all the better. But that’s not what happens. The new energy throws the entire system into a short but significant period of chaos in which the component parts break apart, each one going its own way, becoming subject to ills previously not conceived.

To the little parts, it must seem like their entire world is disintegrating and their very existence is at an end. But, in the overall scheme of things, this is just a short period. Before long, the parts galvanize back into a system once again but inevitably on a higher lever, one capable of receiving and benefiting from the new energy.

How many times have we seen this process unfold. Moses brought the Hebrews, not only to a new land, but to a new identity while the glory of Egypt began a slow but inexorable decline. What could possibly have embodied more power, stability and refinement than the stupendous machine of Rome? It took, however, the outward form of a simple carpenter to revolutionize, demolish, reinvent and reconstruct all that was known.

Muhammad, a merchant, raised disunited, warring and barbarous tribes to a level of culture the fruits of which we still benefit from, including our system of numbers, science and philosophy, providing, after the vain and politically fruitless attempts of the Crusades, the seeds that ultimately resulted in the Renaissance in Europe.

So I ask, when we look around, when we see the news, does it not seem somehow familiar? And if it does, is it possible that a result can happen without a cause?

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