End of the World and End of Empire
So the vast majority of us are still here – at least just after 4 PM (Mountain Time) in Phoenix, Arizona on Friday, December 21, 2012. Now I no longer have an excuse not to get out there and “Get a job – dammit” or go back to finishing my “magnum opus.”
The “world” has been predicted to end many times in the past (and it didn’t) and we’ll have many people predicting its cataclysmic, dramatic Hollywood-style apocalyptic ending in the future. After this singular event, how would the world look, sound, feel, taste or be – presuming some of us would have some objective, detached movie theater perspective?
Every day, more than 150,000 people die on earth, and around 7,000 people die in just the U.S. alone. (Every day in the U.S., about 33 people are intentionally killed by others using guns.) Over a span of a year about 57 million human beings die and the world does not end. However for those who die, their specific “worlds” do end. Considering each of us must inhabit one body during our lives on this planet (even if you have multiple personality disorder), our perspective is completely subjective and individual. Therefore each of us must come to terms that the world ends personally upon our deaths, objectively and subjectively, literally and figuratively.
People die for a variety of reasons – old age, disease, accident, natural disaster, suicide, intentional killing by another person, etc. Some of these people may be missed terribly by friends and relatives for significant periods of time as their own small worlds change dramatically with the deaths of these people. (Some survivors happily dance on graves or many times we are just relieved upon hearing that the old “SOB” is finally gone.)
We comfort ourselves with “life goes on,” “the decedent is in a better place,” “time heals all wounds,” and similar phrases even though all of these words might not ring emotionally or factually true. Since there are so many people on earth today and we have a very limited outlook towards ourselves and others, the vast majority of human beings are simply not affected by the deaths of most people. In reality, we cannot function as individuals or a society if we are perpetually affected by tragedies and death. Just to keep our sanity, most of us accept perpetual change, that “this too shall pass” and “life goes on.”
When societies, nations and empires finally collapse, the world for their inhabitants “ends” and something new begins. (Years of finger-pointing and recrimination often follow.) In most cases, these major changes occur over longer periods of time but sometimes the final political, economic, military and social collapse is very clear and it happens very quickly. Other times, living conditions just deteriorate steadily until one day most of the inhabitants realize that the “world” they remember is completely different from the reality surrounding them. We often require dispassionate historians separated by time and place to objectively fix when things die completely.
Iin retrospect, the fall of the Western Roman Empire occurred over a period of two centuries, culminating in its final dissolution on September 4, 476 when the emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed by Odoacer. The Eastern Roman Empire finally ended on May 29, 1453 when the Moslem Ottoman Empire led by Sultan Mehmet II took the city of Constantinople and the last Christian Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI died.
The most recent western empires have been the Spanish, Dutch and British Empires that are now all relegated to the dustbin of history. However each empire played important regional and global roles for at least a century and some aspects of their societies, politics, economics, religions, traditions and culture continue to influence the lives of many people living today within various nations and societies that were once part of their empires.
There are extensive, complicated and fascinating histories of pre-Colombian American empires, along with an impressive litany of empires and dynasties in China and India (subcontinent) that rose, flourished, declined and collapsed with many regional social, political, economic and military consequences for many people within and outside those empires. Many of these empires also lasted several centuries and flourished independently from those in the West. Their long-lasting effects are not always global but culturally some of them still shape various nations and people who current live in those same geographic areas.
The American Empire came into full fruition by 1945 and the U.S. is still the pre-eminent global power militarily, culturally, politically and economically as of 2012. The U.S. was the successor to the British Empire that first expanded globally as a result of the scientific and technological revolution of the early 1800’s.
Discussing the internal machinations and overall well-being of the people living within the United States will be discussed in the future. Also for future posts will be discussions about global climate change, global warming and other environmental factors and human activity that may render the planet completely inhospitable to human life within the next 30 to 100 years.
What humanity has done during the past 50 years is to convert many local and regional matters into global issues for a majority of human beings. Since over half of the 7 billion inhabitants possess, or have access to, advanced technologies and communication systems, and we share many cultural and economic similarities, what occurs in one place is quickly reported around the world.
We have yet to formulate a global sense of community, responsibility or political union for our fellow human beings, but we have effectively merged some major human activities.
Global decision-making powers with respect to the allocation of natural and human resources, public and private organizations, and finite commodities have been concentrated into a smaller group of human beings who live in a few dozen major nations while the overall human population continues to grow. We may be in a desperate race with time between improving ourselves and destroying the only livable place for us in the Universe.
Human nature and intelligence have not changed greatly for hundreds of thousands of years. Over the past 2,000 years, we as a species have become very adept at inventing, making, disseminating, and relying on new technology with exponential growth occurring during the past 200 years. But we still have difficulty anticipating or managing change in most aspects of human endeavors. Human beings, as individuals and operating as societies are full of dichotomies, possessing both cleverness and ineptness, intelligence and stupidity, kindness and cruelty, empathy and callousness, generosity and greed, altruism and selfishness, to name just a few extremes.
Depending upon an individual’s activities, education, experience, learning, achievements, failures, gifts, talents, communications and interactions with others, the loss of that individual through death can be great or very limited to other people. The value we put on individuals is a combination of objective and subjective opinions, observations, biases, prejudices and emotions. We also factor in an individual’s wealth, power, age, sex, and connections to other people. Another consideration is sometimes the manner in which a person dies.
What happens to a human being (and extrapolating to all of humanity) after death on this planet has been a fundamental focus of personal thought and collective religious belief for thousands of years. Some believe we go to another “place” in the Universe, others argue we are recycled as new people or other living creatures on this planet, and some only see that our material cells and atoms are recycled back into the earth itself. Sadly humans have killed each other over such beliefs along with the nature of a supreme being for thousands of years. Whatever happens to us after we die may be completely out of our control and not dependent upon what we believe or do in this life – or it may be completely dependent up one or both of these two factors.
I personally recommend everyone reads and understands “Pascal’s Wager” which was a philosophic argument presented by the 17th Century French Roman Catholic philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal (no family relationship as best I can tell.) We can easily ignore his chosen religion as inconsequential bias (even though I was born and raised in the same tradition and now am a self-described wishy-washy agnostic). Instead we can just consider the essential premise that it’s a 50/50 chance there is a God or not and by extension an afterlife that extends for infinity – the actual make-up of that afterlife also being irrelevant for the sake of analysis. Thus I can rationally bet in favor of such an outcome and the same is a reasonable wager for every human being. (I’m sure many intelligent readers can shoot holes in this rhetoric and drive a tank through the open walls – that’s what the comment section is for.)
I generally ignore the infinite arguments that can be raised by comparing and contrasting various religious dogmas as being principally un-provable personal beliefs that are outside the over-riding wager. (This would include discussing the Torah, the Quran, and the New Testament – a trilogy that constitutes 3 differing, contrasting and complimentary viewpoints of the same God.) One might argue that even if a God does exist, further wagers would be needed even on the issue of a human “soul” or an “afterlife.” I would respond that the latter two are subsumed into the original question over the existence of God.
Some people (even myself at times) when faced with so much human suffering and tragedy in this world wonder if any God exists and might argue that a loving and caring God would not permit such chaos and evil to hurt the creatures made in his image. I’m also not always sure we were made in his image, and we simply make up God or gods in our own images to explain why God is sometimes such a sociopath or psychopath. Others argue there is a secondary god on our planet called the devil, “Lucifer,” or the neighborhood “evil incarnate” that exists separately from (outside) and/or within some or all human beings.
I suspect Pascal’s Wager can be extended to all such dichotomies in a cascading series of bets. It may start to resemble all the casino bets and derivatives human beings have created over the past few decades concerning many human endeavors – particularly our corrupt national and global financial activities. Blaise would have a field day on Wall Street and in Washington DC.
Now that this post has wandered so far off field (and over 2,000 words) into the realm of the ridiculous, I will stop before I die laughing. But that might be the best way to check out of this planet – by laughing so hard that it kills you/us/me.
Thanks to fast fingers and a Dragon program, my posts have become more “stream of conscious” ramblings than ever before. (Not being a former journalist but having a law degree, I’m not very good at editing for brevity.) Technology is making us (me) stupid. Please Joe, stop me before I claim to be the King of Spain as in Nicolai Gogol’s great farcical 1835 short story “Diary of a Madman.”
Again I wish everyone (ex Cella not ex Cathedra) a Merry Christmas and Happy 2013 – trusting all of you devout believers, pagans, atheists, infidels, apostates, heathens, and non-Roman Catholics will come to follow the Holy Trinity, the Magisterium, the infallible Pope, and the one true church under Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. (Dr. “E” you can shoot me now unless you get the joke.)
This holiday season makes this agnostic a bit religious as I’ll probably attend Mass with my spouse and our son for the second time this year – the other time was on April 8th for Easter. I personally believe everyone can find a reason to celebrate this entire season as many different past religious and cultural traditions seems to merge at the end of the modern calendar year – instituted by Julius Ceasar. The more days we can celebrate the better for overall retail sales. (Feel free to indulge in the many post X-mas sales as New Year’s and Epiphany are great excuses for gift-giving.)
Mercifully we now have come to the end of this endless post. Beware TMV readers and editors – I’ll be posting again soon – even if it is only to keep my sanity since I really don’t care about your mental health so long as you’re spending wildly during this season.
Randomly Submitted on 12/21/12 by Marc Pascal, happily ranting from Phoenix, AZ. You can reach me directly (sort of artificially) at: firstname.lastname@example.org. N.B. “Cella” is Latin for basement, cellar or storage room.