Sunday, July 12, 2020

Are we headed back to the Middle Ages?

I photographed this petroglyph in a remote canyon on a private ranch near Abiquiu, NM. It was carved over 1000 years ago by the Anasazi, a Navajo word for ‘the ancient ones.   “The Spiral is known as an ancient symbol of evolution. One of the oldest symbols of human spirituality in existence, the spiral has been found carved into cave dwellings, rocks and tombs all over the world. It is said to symbolize the evolution of the universe, the never-ending cycles of growth, change and eternal life as well as the cycles of the seasons.”

As Americans, we view time as a one-way street where things are always getting better: We call this progress. But philosophers and sociologists see things differently, viewing our idea of progress as culture-bound, specific only to the modern western world.

 It turns out our belief in endless progress grew out of the Enlightenment, a reaction against the medieval belief that God’s will determines our destiny. Over time, the notion of progress has replaced the dogma of divine providence and has become itself, like a religion: A fundamental entity like the air we breathe.

Throughout history, most human societies have had a different take on how the world works: they saw history repeating itself, like the annual cycle of our seasons or how day follows night. 

Rather than assuming continual progress, let’s hypothesize that we are repeating the cycle by returning to the Middle Ages. We can find ample evidence to suggest this might be the case.

 In Europe’s history, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century, while the real “dark ages” occurred between 350-550 as the Roman Empire split apart.  As a result of the collapse of centralized authority, cities dwindled as folks fled to the countryside, disease spread, and the economy had major setbacks, all triggering mass migrations.

This may be in our future if polarization and the plague split our nation apart. 

Jose Gouvea writes, “When we talk about the "loss of knowledge" that occurred during the Middle Ages, we must understand that it happened… as a result of Roman decadence, Christian intolerance, and wars. But most of it was because of Christian intolerance.⁠1

Christians mounted vicious assaults against Islam. Toward the end of the 11th century, the Catholic Church began to authorize military expeditions, or Crusades, to expel Muslim “infidels” from the Holy Land.  

Today, what is often forgotten is how Christians went out of their way to pillage and slaughter Jews in settlements they encountered on the way to the crusades. Regrettably, once again, Jews are increasingly under attack around the world.

No one “won” the Crusades; in fact, many thousands of people from both sides lost their lives – much like the endless wars we are fighting in the Middle East today. As in the dark ages, republicans today have begun to equate governing with conquest cloaked in religious morality.

Before invading the Middle East, President Bush, senior, called the operation “a crusade” to “to rid the world of “evil-doers.”  13 years later, his son declared, This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil” before invading the Middle East again. 

We often read about the wholesale burning of books during the Middle Ages. Much of it did not happen but this did: When we invaded Iraq in 2003, we carefully guarded the oil wells but ignored repeated pleas to protect their renowned National Museum, resulting in one of the worst acts of cultural vandalism in modern times. “The scale of the looting was staggering,” but the Bush administration’s response was only that “stuff happens.”⁠2

During the middle ages, folks believed in witchcraft, attempted to exterminate all black cats because they represented the devil, and lived in fear that their children would be stolen and replaced with a demonic “changelings.” Today we have the QAnon conspiracy theory, peddling Trump’s alleged secret plan to expose Washington elites engaged in everything from pedophilia to child sex trafficking.  QAnon continues to gain followers, with no disavowal from  Trump and his supporters who retweet their messages.

And, of course, we have the pandemic, just one of the many commonalities between then and now, but the one presently starring us in the face. Some health experts are predicting that Covid-19 will end up killing half a million of us, largely as a result of political polarization and bumbling mismanagement.

I make these comparisons not to scare people but as a cautionary tale. Even if history does repeat itself, it does not follow that the cycle is shifting right now. But it does mean, quoting George Santayana, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The first step is so simple:

The time has come for all of us to stand up together, acting in unison, to practice all CDC guidelines. If we do so, our actions will quickly bring Covid-19 to its knees. If not, it will bring us to our knees – threatening not only our individual survival but that of our nation.



wfuller said...

I really liked this article. Back when I was young one my teachers in high school taught that America held several assumptions that were our national myths. I can't remember all of them but some of them were: Tomorrow is better than today, there will always be a new frontier to conquer, younger is better than old, newer is better, we are getting better every day in every way, technology and science will improve our lives. I've thought about those over the years along with the enlightenment idea that education and knowledge will make us more enlightened and lift human behavior as we progress to a higher evolved state of being. It is all myth and today as I watch the sunset on the age of enlightenment and as we devolve back into a more primitive way of being and acting I realize that these were merely beliefs. Perhaps we are on the Great Mandella and that life just keeps repeating itself with us fighting the same old battles over and over again. It's hard to accept that fact but as I watch our country abandon it's so-called founding principles with such ease I realize that we are most likely just another empire that arose for a brief moment in history and will fade back into the annals of history; another power come and gone with its democracy and delusions of exceptionalism gone with it.

psychos capes said...

Thanks, I like your analysis