17 December 2005

Life is Fragile

Non-political post

Life is fragile. I am moved by any reminder that the "affairs of men" will eventually wash away and all that will be left is what there was before us (caveat: unless we destroy it all first. I hang on to the vaguely comforting notion that we are the fragile ones and Gaia will eventually generate new life everywhere we've left a niche.)

Our sense of self-importance is always over-estimated (although that's to be expected, since we're the ones doing the reporting).

I was reminded of Shelley's Ozymandias. I'm copying it below, in the event you haven't read it recently:


I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

A second poem (ok, song lyrics) that never fails to move me is the final verse of Sting's All This Time:

The teachers told us, the Romans built this place
They built a wall and a temple, an edge of the empire
Garrison town,
They lived and they died, they prayed to their gods
But the stone gods did not make a sound
And their empire crumbled, 'til all that was left
Were the stones the workmen found

I imagine that we won't leave much behind. We've already used most of our resources up, and so our civilisation will likely not double in age. That is, if we've been keeping oral and written histories for 5000 years, we'll probably will be back to stone age technology in another 5000, if we survive at all. Depending on your personal makeup, that might be depressing or it might simply be humbling.

I hope it's the latter, because we have a lot of work to do.


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