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“Archimedes tied a series of pulleys to a dry-docked three-masted ship loaded with cargo and passengers, and then, to the crowd's stunned amazement, he lifted it into the harbor by himself. This led Hiero to declare, ‘From this day forward, Archimedes is believed no matter what he says,’ which led Archimedes to reply in the full flush of triumph, "Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I shall move the earth."
— Excerpt from Arthur Herman’s The Cave and the Light
We moderns have many levers, many ingenious devices and systems able to master space and time, body and mind. Ancient man, even Archimedes himself, might compare us to gods if they could see us today — if they did not first see us as wolves to be feared.
From nuclear weapons to reusable starships to the birth of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and genetic engineering to all the trappings of our immense government and corporate bureaucracies, we have many levers to move the earth and shape the very fabric of our reality. Though parallels exist, nothing in recorded human history has ever been quite like us.
The West, in particular, led by the United States, has of late displayed its technological prowess and hegemony in the Russia-Ukraine war. Not only have new weapons systems and Musk’s Starlink constellations been well-tested on the battlefield; the U.S. has again showcased its dominance over the global monetary order as well as most propaganda and information networks.
Yet, the more our levers move the earth the more we seem to be losing our footing. Trust at home and abroad in major institutions is sinking into the muck and mire. More and more people are learning to voice their disrespect for institutions that do not deserve respect. Systems once built to protect and engender the people’s liberty and prosperity now seem only to serve as manacles and siphons of the same — all as the technocratic elite seem preoccupied with building castles in the air with no visible foundations here on earth.
How do we find our footing again?
There is still much to be said for technical and practical solutions. Politics as “the art of the possible” must continue, no doubt. Americans could get their budget balanced and their fiscal house in order. Americans could return to sound money, especially with innovations such as Bitcoin. Americans could reform their education and healthcare sectors in light of 21st-century innovations. Americans could alter or abolish much of the 20th-century administrative state, including the excesses of federal law enforcement and the national security apparatus. Americans could continue to ensure a strong military with the capabilities and capacities to defeat even their most daunting near-peer competitors while returning to a more humble foreign policy. Americans could once again touch the face of the Moon as we aim to civilize Mars.
All plausible ideas, if you ask me. Very possible. Take your pick.
But, if Americans wish to find their footing again, we must, as the song says, “punch a higher floor” and become grounded in things more profound than politics, economics, or the many sciences.
Though our prosperity and technology tempt us to consider ourselves gods, we are anything but. We may be technical giants, but we are also moral dwarves. For all our progress, human nature has not changed. We do not know ourselves well at all, and as the ancients knew, “A man is a wolf and not a man to the one who knows nothing of his character.” Modern life’s joyless quest for joy has left us groping in the dark for new gods, devices, and diversions, yet we only seem to find wolves we do not fully know or trust.
Why? Because politics, science, technology, etc, all barely scrape the immense depths of human experience. There are no political or scientific remedies for the dark night of the soul, only the truth of our stories — personal, mythical, revealed, and divine — to be shared and heard. Stories of courage, justice, wisdom, temperance, faith, hope, and love. As long as too many individuals remain cowardly, unloving, faithless and ignorant of their own character, no clever lever or political reform will save us from ourselves.
Say what you will for our political and scientific leaders, but their many attempts to cure complex human tragedies — as well-intentioned as they may be — usually amount to a shot in the dark with more tragedies as the ironic consequence. Say what you will of “the people,” but they are often nothing more than the blind leading the blind.
Living in such an absurd world, we must learn to love life’s twists of fate without falling for the alluring promise of happiness offered by political control and scientific progress. Such promises can be worthwhile but only if we first find our footing on foundations deeper and stronger than men could ever build themselves.
As was asked of Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.”
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12 noon. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
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