Letters To The Editor,
The Daily Yomiuri,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8055
I agree with Jonah Goldberg’s comments in his syndicated column of February 13, 2008, “Western civilization and other fairy tales.” Namely, quoting historian Hannah Arendt, “in every generation Western civilization is invaded by barbarians - we call them “children”.” Civilization (city-living cultures) is one matter. But common civility is the most fragile and artificial veneer on the surface of our biological barbarism. The most natural urge in the world is to throttle your neighbor and steal his woman and his ox, which shows just how unnatural the common, civilized morality is to our nature. Goldberg writes, “today’s babies aren’t meaningfully different from those born 1,000 or 5,000 years ago.” Absolutely right! It is a common, facetious conceit of ours that we are more “intelligent,” more “advanced” than the ancients. But that conceit obscures the truth that for all our technological accomplishments we are no more intelligent today that the people who built the pyramids, painted cave walls, or fashioned tools of stone and bone. Ancient is not synonymous with primitive. Or better yet, primitive is not synonymous with unsophisticated. Our technology is beyond the imagination of the ancients, but not beyond their capacity.
Being a literate world is an Achilles heel for us because it allows us to forget a lot. We livein ignorance of almost everything, with faith that information is written down somewhere if we need it. Consequently, we live our lives actually knowing less than what people in pre-literate times knew. Even more, in this digital age we are actually losing information faster than at any time in history. So the computer revolution might be called the verge of a new Dark Age rather than an Information Age. Admitting that there is just too much for any one person to know now, and developing narrow fields of expertise to help control information, it can still be said that we look bad in comparison to the ancients.
But I could be wrong.