Friday, August 03, 2007

The Arrogance of the Moderns

John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee character reflects on the arrogance of modernity in the 1973 novel, The Turquoise Lament.

“The idiot idea that we are the biggest, the greatest, the most powerful people who ever walked the earth. Know something? Think this over. I could take you to the high country of Peru, to a quarry area near Sacsahuaman, and show you where a particular block of stone was quarried and dressed, and I could show you that block of stone half a mile away. It was transported there during the time of the Incas. If, on the basis of national emergency, this nation were to be required to devote all its technological skills, all its wealth, and all its people to moving that block back to the quarry, we would try and we would fail, my friend. It weighs twenty thousand tons! Forty million pounds! The only time we ever move that much weight is when we let a vessel as big as the Monterey or the Mariposa slide down the ways at the shipyard, into the harbor! We have no cranes, no engines, no levers to budge that much mass. Do you think the Incas knew something mankind has since forgotten? Bet on it. Knowledge is the most priceless and most perishable substance on earth.’”

“And I have thought it over, many times, and it always makes the back of my neck feel chilly. I’ve vowed that someday I will go look at that block of solid stone in the hope that if I see it once, I will stop thinking about how to move it back to the quarry whenever I wake up in the middle of the night”
(Page 77)