Before we all become just a memory in 6.5 billion years from now it might be a good idea ( assuming we haven’t destroyed the planet and ourselves along before its demise) to put our collective memories somewhere other than on Face Book as our collective memories will be our cosmic tombstone.
Everyone we know, and everyone that anyone we know will ever know, will be dead. So it will take a special, lonely kind of madness to consider,and plan for, a future thousands of years beyond the boundaries of our own graves.
The question is will our collective memories be a fitting legacy for a civilization both unfailingly aspirational and perpetually self-sabotaging.
None of us have to go to far back to remember – Two World Wars, (the technological developments of the century are directly connected to these wars, mobile phones and internet, for example) the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Slavery , Apartheid, Rwanda.
Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein, who detailed their century’s technological innovations along with their socioeconomic repercussions, concluding,
“I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.
It’s impossible to know what future iterations of the human race—living, if we have survived, in a radically different world—might find interesting.
At some point there will be no evidence of human civilization on Earth’s surface, but there will be a collection of dead spacecraft from an ancient civilization in Earth’s orbit . For alien archaeologists that might come along before our sun turns into a red giant, these dead spacecraft will be like the Pyramids of Giza, the slabs of Stonehenge: monolithic records of the distant human past.
But who are we to get to speak for Earth?
I would say everyone.
The human capacity for abstract thought and symbolic expression knows no bounds. A time capsule is an object with one foot in the present and the other in the reaches of the distant future.
Its makers must judiciously cull from the artistic, literary, industrial, technological, and scientific output of the world, selecting only the most salient and representative elements.
So who will select – Google, Face Book, Twitter, or the Cloud.
Would you trust any of them.
There, this bobbin, this seed, this magazine, this list of world leaders—this is who we are. This of course would be a folly to allow any of them represent us. Archaeologists, after all, learn a great deal from garbage, from things ancient civilizations didn’t think important enough to preserve.
An orbiting space-time capsule, built with enough storage capacity to contain an uncensored “Fresco of Messages” from every living man, woman, and child on Earth would be the solution. Not that it particularly matters.
Half the joy of a time capsule is the idea, the sheer hubris of conquering time. Like packing a suitcase before a long journey, building a time capsule is a way to parse the horrific randomness of the world and repackage it, sensible and self-contained, to oneself.
So how would we pack this last century of murders by states and non-state actors—death squads, party paramilitaries, guerrillas, terrorists—but mainly by states.
One scholar, R. J. Rummel, has estimated that purposeful state killings of civilians, which he calls democide, have taken the lives of 169 million people in this century. Almost one-fourth of them (38.6 million or 22.8%) were victims of genocide. Others were victims of politicize, mass killing of political groups, indiscriminate state massacres, forced labor and concentration camps, of bombing of civilians, and of starvation imposed and reinforced by the state. The number of victims in this century surpasses the population of all but the five largest states in the world today.
So on a political level, we would have to wrestle with doctrines of realpolitik—the notion that the state is merely a self-interested organization to preserve its political and economic resources—and realize that our most lasting resource is our values.
Material resources, such as oil, are depleted by drawing on them.
But values can be replenished by drawing on them.
If all of this is potentially incomprehensible—gift from ancestors as distant from us as we are from Neolithic cave-painters have changed all of our lives.
While we need an affirmation of hope, what we do not need is empty rhetoric of poverty, inequality, corruption, religion,
It is too late to say “Never again” again. For it has happened again and again and again.