Sometimes an article takes less than the time of a nice hot shower and virtually writes itself. Sometimes an article percolates for years. This one has been about eighteen years in the making.
My premise is just this:
We modern people are rather narcissistic in our viewpoint towards the rest of the world and, especially, the distant past.
Take PBS documentaries about past cultures for example. Any item that’s been dug up, anything archaeologists can’t understand (OOPArts=Out of Place Artifacts) are automatically labeled as religious. The ancients were supposedly so “backwards” that they worshiped, well, just about everything. Every animal, everything in nature…especially the things we can’t understand they supposedly bowed down and sacrificed to.
How narcissistic of us!
Or take the pyramids for example. Yeah, that’s right. I said the pyramids. They were built using the Pythagorean Theorem. There’s just one teeny, weeny problem. Construction on the Great Pyramid began somewhere between 2400-2500 B.C. But Pythagoras wasn’t born until 569 B.C.
Do we see the problem here? But supposedly the Egyptians were frog-worshiping idiots all because we modern, scientific, advanced people can’t figure out how those damn pyramids were built. At least, I’ve never heard a theory that sounded at all plausible. It’s incongruous that a culture that used the Golden Mean and Pythagoras Theorem and, I’m told, managed to line up the pyramids perfectly with True North, other ancient pyramidal sites and even possibly Orion’s Belt, this same culture is then reduced to using slave labor to pull and hoist stones into place that somehow fit perfectly.
What we don’t understand, we denigrate. Seems rather narcissistic to me.
Fast-forwarding to the present, here’s another example of our modern, cultural narcissism.
My husband and I are great fans of a young man who’s traveled from Alaska to South America (mostly) by bicycle. Along the way, he’s recorded his journey on YouTube with the eye and soul of an artist. There isn’t one dog between Prudhoe Bay and Peru that he hasn’t befriended.
In one video, he showed the mud homes in a rural Peru village. Just as I said, “Oh those poor people!” my husband exclaimed, “What a wonderful place. They’re so lucky!”
That’s when it hit me: How narcissistic I was! My culture has brainwashed me to think that a “proper” home is a huge McMansion made of paper-and-chalk. Sheetrock. Cold in Winter, hot in Summer. You can punch through it. But it looks pretty.
A house in Peru may be made of, as Sheldon Cooper called it,”particulate soil on a colloidal suspension.” Mud. Humble mud. But it’s cool in Summer and warm in Winter. It’ll last forever. You can pass it down to your children. It’s non-toxic and doesn’t outgas. Plus it blends in beautifully with the color scheme of nature.
Best of all, the people are happy. Just yesterday I was watching a video shot among the poorest hovels and scrap tin huts of the poorest parts of India. But everywhere the camera went, it was met with smiles. Big happy, glittering smiles. Little boys playing cricket in the streets. Little girls whispered and giggled in colorful saris.
Can we say the same here in the Land of Plenty? Goodness no! Everyone rushes through life, eyes downcast, brows furrowed in worry pursuing the almighty dollar.
Just take a look at our television. Sure, there are some shows out there that are funny or attempt to be funny. But by and large, the shows are stressful. TV show after TV show, movie after movie churned out by Hollywood is about emergencies, conflict, fights, wars, tsunamis, alien invasions, killer robots, pandemics. There’s very little comedic relief in modern entertainment to temper the stress of our real lives. They merely add more stress and more horror.
We get off work, eat supper and sit down to relax in front of the television, but it provides only more tension! Old Hollywood did it so much better. There was always a funny Allen Jenkins to balance out a serious James Cagney.
The truth is, without grocery stores, few of us know how to forage or grow food. But our ancestors did. Without doctors, few of us know which herbs to use for healing ourselves. But our ancestors did. They knew how to live, how to survive using nothing but their own two hands and what nature could provide. We only know how to make money to buy everything, hence our furrowed brows. We may be smart, but they were skilled.
From now on, I’m going to keep a closer eye on my own “I’m-such-a-modern-person” narcissism.