Symmetries of Destruction

by Yule Heibel on April 12, 2003

There is an awful symmetry between cultural iconoclasts and destroyers of nature. Briony Penn asserts that wilderness is the basis of evolution, that it provides a blueprint for the species, and that the loss of wilderness threatens our physical survival. But large-scale loss of human historical artifacts threatens the survival of cultural memory. At points, the artifact and the natural might even enter a symbiotic relationship: pyramids, or the giant Buddhas recently destroyed by the Taliban. Massive looting, left to run out of control by the US invading army, has destroyed the Iraqi National Museum. The looters took away a priceless heritage, and American troops, aside from one half-hour lunchtime intervention, did nothing to stop them. As the museum’s archaeologist noted, “A country’s identity, its value and civilization resides in its history. If a country’s civilization is looted, as ours has been, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation.”

As endangered habitats are razed and replaced by garbage and concrete, and as human historical artifacts are destroyed, we have to wonder what manufactured Mickey Mouse fantasy will overwrite their message. We’re not supposed to feel deeply anymore — it’s not rational. Not in the midst of forests hundreds of years old, nor in the midst of human artifacts with meanings that extend past the most recent phenomena of consumer culture. If we felt deeply, we’d stop functioning like cogs in a machine, or bits in the flow of “information.” If we felt deeply we might feel differently, and that, multiplied by millions, would be an unmanageable situation indeed.

Eric Blumrich has a new animation out. The strongest aspect of it is Martin Luther King’s message: I ain’t gonna study war no more. It’s very hard to feel peaceful sometimes, but it’s the last bulwark against barbarism.

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