"Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not."
~ Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909—1997)
I suppose the recent reports showing that less than 2 out of 5 of America’s young adults (ages 18—24) are capable of locating Iraq on an unlabeled map of the Middle East, shouldn’t be too surprising. However, it should become alarming when the same study shows only 1 out of 4 young adults is able to find either Iran or Israel on the same map, while only slightly more than 1 out of 10 can properly identify Afghanistan.
The results of the study caused John Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society to reason: “I’m not sure how important it is that young adults can find Afghanistan on a map. But … that is symptomatic of the bigger issue, and that’s (U.S. young adults) not having a sense that things around the world really matter that much.”
Indeed the study confirmed John Fahey’s darkest suspicion for a nearly 1 out of 5 respondents said it was "not important" to know where countries in the news are located.
Moreover, earlier studies have shown a full 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks. Meaning, as the report concludes, students "could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees, or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school."
Less than 1 in 5 students attending a four-year college have basic quantitative or qualitative skills. As an example the students were incapable of estimating if their automobile had enough gas to get to the next fuel station.
However, it gets worse; of students attending a two-year college less that 1 in 3 had basic math skills. Thus for over 2/3 of students Algebra I, Algebra II, Trigonometry and counting out change properly will be forever a mystery only to be equaled by the phases of the moon.
Given the above information it is too much to hope that history with its warnings will be learned or heeded.
Now the reasons for this appalling display of ignorance are many and varied and I am sure there are those far more qualified to address the causes than I. That is not the subject of this article.
What I wish to address is the historical perspective of the coming dark ages.
Too often we miss that history is an aggregate of its parts and so we think of history as a linear progression rather that what it really is: that being a cyclical event.
Linear progression was recently expressed in an email to me this way: “No, no no! It’s CAVE man to CLEVER man. And you and I are the peak of evolution — clever man and woman. You and I are so much cleverer than our ancestors.”
We live in a world of cycles. No one disputes the lunar cycles, yearly solar cycle which we divide into spring, summer, fall and winter or even the cycle of life from birth to death. Our ladies during their childbearing years go through a monthly cycle preparing them for reproduction of the species and motherhood. Even empires are not exempt from the historical cycle leading to their demise.
Yet somehow when we think of modern man we think that he is the result of a linear sequence from the primitive state to the latest and greatest modern model.
Maybe history has another lesson.
No matter how you think man came into being there two unassailable facts and these are that civilization appears suddenly, lacking any slow but steady development and furthermore the deeper archeologists dig the more advanced the civilizations become.
Zecharia Sitchin, in his work The Twelfth Planet points out that these facts are elucidated by such eminent and illustrious archeologists as "H. Frankfort (Tell Uqair) [who] called it u2018astonishing.’ Pierre Amiet (Elam) termed it u2018extraordinary.’ A. Parrot (Sumer) described it as u2018a flame which blazed up so suddenly.’ Leo Oppenheim (Ancient Mesopotamia) stressed u2018the astonishingly short period’ within which the civilization had arisen. Joseph Campbell (The Masks of God) summed it up this way: u2018With stunning abruptness . . . there appears in this little Sumerian mud garden . . . the whole cultural syndrome that has since constituted the germinal unit of all the high civilizations of the world.’"
It should not be surprising then that the Mayan calendar begins at approximately the same time (ca. 3000 B.C.) as the emergence of the Egyptian, Sumerian, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the great centers of the Indus Valley civilization, Central America, and other centers worldwide including China and North America.
As I have discussed before something occurred quickly and without warning early during the third millennium B.C. which had the earmarks of a nuclear holocaust, having left little time for the survivors to do anything but take what they could and moved away from many of these early centers of civilization.
Whatever form this catastrophic event took one thing is for certain; the destruction of these great empires and centers of civilization took with it the advanced technical knowledge of the ancient world. In so doing the outlying centers were no longer able to continue without the specialized knowledge of the applied arts and sciences which had emanated from the destroyed support centers.
The loss of these ancient centers can only be described as the first technical dark-age.
So great was the loss that objects, including oral traditions or written records from the period of the 2500 BC found in the 19th century AD, were left unclassified or relegated to the realm of myth until the 20th century when they were finally identified. In some cases modern man has just recently pulled the written information of these ancient people from the clutches of myth and fantasy. In many areas modern man has been stunned by their advancements and accuracy.
One such loss is described in the written records from India which speak of a "gem" that would illuminate the body and so reveal the nature of the malady. In China records tell of a "precious mirror that illuminates the bones of the body.” This mirror was rectangular (4 by 5-3/4 feet) and gave off a strange light on both sides. The view of the organs of the body that the mirror gave could not be obstructed by any obstacle.
If man is anything he is resilient and it was not long before those who had survived the great conflagration of the third millennium were again establishing magnificent centers of civilization but in a greatly diminished capacity. They became the founders of the earliest known centers of agriculture in northeastern China, southeastern Asia, northeastern Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.
It is during the time from the catastrophe of the 3rd Millennium until 1100 BC that we see the rise of the most ancient Egyptian civilization along with the Hittites of modern Turkey and central Asia, Sumerians, Chaldeans, Minoans, Mycenaeans and the Phrygians; the culture of Troy and the Trojans.
Achilles bandages the arm of his friend Patroclus.
During this era the ancient poets write of the great personages of antiquity such as Heracles (Roman Hercules) the supposed ruler of Mycenae, Midas the great king of Phrygia; who befriended Silenus, the oldest of the satyrs, causing Dionysus to grant him the power to turn everything he touched into gold. Then there is Achilles the hero of Homer’s Iliad, and Paris of Troy who loved Helen. It is during this epoch of history that King Hammurabi wrote what are thought to be the earliest known examples of written social laws.
It is a time marked by some of the most stunning art and breath-taking architecture which speaks to the human brilliance and love of beauty.
However, this period is also marked by brutal wars with a continuing display of man’s inhumanity to man. All of which culminate with the 10-year Trojan War and the invasion of the Dorians into Greece.
It is after Troy was conquered (ca. 1200 BC) that archeology shows the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean also collapsed. The magnificent cities and palaces of the Myceneans were destroyed or abandoned along with the Hittite civilization.
All this ushered in what is known, by historians, as the Greek dark ages; a period lasting from about 1100 BC to 800 BC.
A technical darkness began to settle over the Mediterranean area as the Greek language ceased to be written. Once beautifully decorated pottery was now adorned with simple dull geometric designs lacking imagination.
People of the Mediterranean ceased to live in large cities and began to gather in small settlements suggesting widespread famine and depopulation. All indications are that international trade came to an abrupt end or at least was substantially reduced.
In time kings began to rule little fiefdoms which gave way to aristocracies as families sought to prove their linage through the bloodlines of those heroes of the Trojan War or the god men of an even earlier period.
With the rediscovery of iron, warfare moved from the expensive cavalry to the cheaper and more numerous infantry. Thus minor warlords were able to amass great armies and establish the empires of the new epoch.
These empires are generally agreed to be the Babylonian empire (625 BC to 538 BC), the empire of the Mede-Persians (559 BC to 333 BC) followed by the Greeks (332 BC to around 100 BC) and finally the Roman Empire (100 BC to 500 AD).
With the fall of Rome, man was once again thrust into an era of ignorance, superstition, and social chaos lasting for nearly 500 years.
History, as cyclical event, suggests that every 1500 to 1600 years there needs to be a cleansing of man’s folly and his admiration of the state and empire. Do these dark ages affect all mankind throughout the world? Probably, but to a greater or lesser degree the further a society is from the epicenter of the empire(s).
It may or may not be significant that the Mayan calendar says the world will end in 2012/13 and just over 1500 years after the fall of Rome. Did they mean the physical world or the end of another of man’s eras? Time will tell.
What is meaningful is that the present empire state with its invasion of rights, the free market and schooling, seems to have given us a leg up on the probability of another Dark Age, in that "most young people were able to locate a port city on a fictitious map, but one-third would have gone in the wrong direction in the event of an evacuation." It is not unexpected then to see history pointing to man’s unnatural lust for empire as having been the wrong direction since the beginning of recorded time.
Tim Case [send him mail] is a 30-year student of the ancient histories who agrees with the first-century stoic Epictetus on this one point: u201COnly the educated are free.u201D