Posted by : Sherri Cornelius Friday, June 19, 2009

Vincenzo came up with a philosophical question for me that ties in nicely with the book I'm reading right now, In the Courts of the Sun, about the going back in time and the Maya and 2012, remember? A rise and fall to rival the Roman Empire. (The review pretty much mirrors how I feel about it, in case you were wondering.)

Vince asked,

If you could choose to live in the ascent or descent of a civilization, which would you choose and why?

How about a plateau? I think that's where the U.S. is right now. But if I have to choose ascent or descent, then it's an easy choice: ascent. You'd likely have new technologies, conquest, discovery. You'd probably have plenty of resources to spread around. I like the fresh, the open, the adventurous.The feeling that anything's possible.

It's true that rapid advance can be reckless. And when a civilization ascends it's on the backs of people, so that's a downer. But there's oppression in any culture, is there not? Always a pecking order, and somebody's got to be on the bottom. And people tend to be more brutal when they have a lot to lose. An individual might not know they're in the ascent or descent of anything, so you almost have to look at the broad overview. An individual might not feel that sense of adventure in a rising civilization, nor the chaos of a falling one, because they have nothing to compare it to. Yeah, a lot can happen in a person's lifetime, but I'm assuming major changes taking place over hundreds of years.

I've really oversimplified here. What else should I consider? Discuss!

{ 7 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I think the most important thing is the average happiness of the average person. Happiness is often caused by hope for the future, which as you state, is there during the ascent. Individuals can be happy in the face of social adversity or decay if there is hope for the individual.

    I think it's easy to distinguish which state you're in: ascent or descent. History tells us what happened before and our hope and prospects for the future tell us where we are going. I look at the world my parents grew up in and compare to my own and then I look at what I think the world will be like for the next generation. (I'm pissing my pants right now.) You're funny. I see your example as the ebb and flow that every society experiences over time, not necessarily the ascent or descent of the civilization itself. Take Oklahoma for example. We have been in a state of decay since about the early 80s, as far as I can remember. The roads were terrible, very little new commercial building, schools lagged behind the rest of the nation. That decay caused a backlash, we got tired of it, and we're now working harder than ever to solve those problems, and it's actually working. We're now going through a big revitalization. Ebb and flow.

    I think an obvious avenue to explore for any civilization to determine directional state would be archictecture/infrastructure. Is it constantly improving? Is it getting worse? Or is it simply remaining unchanged? In the 1970s, the western culture was still introducing "the world's tallest ______." That's not happening anymore. Right now, I'm not even sure what the world's tallest _______ is. Is it still the CN Tower? Or did that comm. tower in Russia eventually surpass it? Was something built in Dubai to rival it? If so, I would not be surprised. I'm sure that could be settled with a quick Google search, but my point remains the same. It's no longer common knowledge. When I grew up, I was always being told about the tallest this and the tallest that. What's happened to that sense of bragging about ourselves? Maybe, during the descent, culture loses the ability to brag about itself as it's got nothing left to brag about. Now that is a scary thought. Are we on the way out as a civilization? I'd like to think that we are like water, and though we may change over time, we'll never be gone.

  2. Well, since we can't really know if we're on the ascent or decline (some people think they know but plenty of folks can be wrong). But I'd like to live when I can believe we're ascending. I'll settle for the perception if not the fact.

    And I, for one, believe the perception may be the most important, if not the only factor in all this.

  3. Good points on why you'd like to live in the ascent of a civilization - I agree with you wholeheartedly. I never really stopped to think that *someone* needs to be at the bottom of the pecking order, but am glad it's not me.

    Here's a few more reasons..

    * No reminiscing over the 'Good Ole Days.' If you lived during the descent of a civilization then you'd be constantly reminded of the luxuries you no longer have. Remember the pre-cell phone days? Now nearly all of our population can't imagine life without them. Same thing with the Internet. Yeah, and you know what? The "good ol' days" weren't so perfect. Some things were better, some weren't. We just tend to remember the good things more, I think.

    * Longer life expectancy - just think, soap was a seemingly small discovery that was the biggest factor in increasing the life expectancy at that time. More discoveries = better living (well, ok... that's a generalization) And I'm starting to think that longer life expectancy isn't really that big of a deal. The animal part of my brain tells me to squeeze every minute out of this Earth that I can, but my inner being says it's more about how we live than how long.

    *Hard work is valued. Think about all the robber barons and rags to riches stories from previous generations. Most of the time they were from common stock and made a name for themselves with hard work or cunning ingenuity. You don't have the appreciation for hard work or the concept of where money comes right now and only the affluent families will be minimally impacted in the descent of a civilization.

    I'll have to pick up that book from the library and try to get it read. Don't bother. It's not that incredible. In fact, I've been skipping pages, something I never do. I'm really missing my pre-baby reading time. I've been trying to read Robin Hobbs' Shaman Crossing for the last month. I'm only 300 pages in but it's a good read so far. Plus, it's part of a trilogy.

    Ok, I think I'm done :)

  4. I think plateaus are cool. Unfortunately, most of the time directly around people living anywhere are seen as plateaus whether they are or not. It's only in retrospect we can see whether it actually was or not. That's what I think. It almost doesn't even matter if the plateau is high or low as to how happy we are. It's relative to our surroundings.

    Nothing is so clear as when we see it over our shoulders, eh?

    Still, interesting answer. :) You seem like an interesting person. I'll have to see if I can come up with an interesting question for you. ;) Hardy har har. :)

  5. From a writer's standpoint, I think there are far more interesting stories to be told during a civilization's fall from grace than its ascension. That's not to say there aren't great stories of discovery, expansion, and adventure to be told during the advance, but when set against a backdrop of misery and calamity, the human condition becomes much more poignant. Would The Road have been as successful if set in the 1600s in America with the characters crossing into the unknown? Or Harry Potter have been as good in a world where the culture and lifestyle of wizards was expanding, instead of being threatened with destruction?

    Decline breeds conflict, and conflict breeds stories. :-) I really have nothing to add to that. From a completely fictional perspective, yes, the descent would be better. Very good point.

  6. Ascent is a beautiful thing, in my opinion. Well, let me qualify: I don't think the ascent of the Third Reich was a beautiful thing.I bet the Nazis thought it was great. See? It's all perspective. I think the ascent of freedom is beautiful, and the descent of oppression is beautiful.

    So we're all agreed: living in a civilization on the rise is better, especially if you're one of the ascending. I was actually hoping somebody would tell me differently. (And yes, I'm using the hated comment-within-comment to reply. I need a template more suited to conversation.)

  7. I LOVE the comment-in-comment thing! It makes it sooooo much easier to read when you click on "my comments," than trying to sort out who said what to whom. I'm a little miffed with WIGSF for ceasing that habit.

    See if you have the options - it's in settings, discussion, and then check the "enable nested comments" box if you have it.


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