Tower of Babel [Part 1] Genesis 11
Now the entire earth was of one language and uniform words
These days, as a layperson’s mind meanders randomly through the famed biblical episode of the destruction of the Tower of Babel, as told in Bereishit, Genesis Chapter 11, the narrative easily passes as a metaphor for the state of our global community.
It begins like this: Now the entire earth was of one language and uniform words.
The language may have been Adamic (of divine origin) or simply Chaldaic, the language of the people who lived within the kingdom of Babylon, in ancient Mesopotamia.
We, too, have one collective language. It is called English. Many more people on the planet may be native speakers of Mandarin or Spanish but, from the medina of Marrakech to the favela of Rio de Janeiro to Namche Bazaar in Khumbu and from Airbnb to hotels scattered around the world, English is the common thread that links all people.
Over the past decades, English has risen from below the murky depths of a myriad of industries to become the new lingua franca.
Broken, it might be. Spoken with various accents and in varying proficiency, it might be.
Far from unifying, English is nonetheless the go-to language for all people who aspire, for reasons best known to them, to reach out and communicate with persons from another land, be that to enhance their business ventures, to keep up with the social media surge or to entice a prospective buyer.
Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly
Tepees, cabins, huts and shacks have steadily been replaced by dwellings of concrete. Wherever allowed, houses are replaced by apartment blocks. Elsewhere, apartment blocks are superseded by towers.
Our rivers are dammed. Our air is polluted.
Our fields and forests have been leased or sold to contractors who burn, log or mine them. That is if they have not yet become streets and highways that twist and turn towards the vanishing line of the horizon.
Collectively, through our compulsion to consume more and more of everything, we have all had a hand in constructing this communal, dysfunctional reality.
Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens
In this current era, our constructed ‘city’ is not vertical.
From the towering spires of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres to the world’s once tallest buildings, each has had the ephemeral glory of having ‘its top in the heavens.’
However, despite all manner of architectural feats, our ‘city’ is still not a massive tower that reaches upward beyond the clouds. Instead, our web of humanity spreads horizontally ‘upon the face of the entire earth’.
And let us make ourselves a name
The name we have created for ourselves is Consumers.
As people sharing one common culture, as one big family, we have a typical diet called Junk.
Beyond cellular damage induced by unhealthy foods, we also stock a horde of common illnesses and diseases most of which are caused by a seemingly airborne epidemic to life called Stress - more formerly known as Emotional Injury.
Mind meandering back to 1797 when the British began to import opium from India into China forcibly.
It has been estimated that some forty years later the number of Chinese opium addicts had already reached between 6 million and 12 million.
And now, every year in the U.S. alone, some 20,000 deaths are reported involving prescription opioid pain relievers.
However invisibly, across aeons as across our streets, humanity has always been as interconnected as the residents of the epic towering Tour of Babel.
Back to our current era, monotasking might well be the healthy habit that would cap our ill-health, but our shared cultural addiction to multitasking has wiped that option out of our awareness.
We are pushed onwards by the conviction that what we have, no matter how much it might be, is not enough.
We deserve more.
We deserve better.
We believe that ‘more and better’ will be granted us when we ‘turn the page’, ‘start fresh’ or clear the next hurdle.
Popcorn rocks our brain
We do our best to stay awake.
When we jog, walk the dog, sit on a bus, in a park or lie on the sand, we do so with music or podcasts flooding our eardrums.
When we shower, brush our teeth, do the dishes, drive home, share a meal with our loved ones or appear to be relaxing on the sofa, we let ourselves get sucked in by the flurry of unsolicited thoughts.
These emotions and thoughts pop inside our mind with the relentlessness of popcorn popping on a loop – some say to the tune of roughly one thought per second. Others estimate 60.000 per day.
We are proud of our busy minds and relatively few are those who are serious about attempting to bridle its randomness.
Imitate thy neighbor
Though scattered across rural areas, towns, cities and mega-cities across the globe, the internet keeps us linked, almost knitted together. Thus, we form one large tribe within which everyone admires of the other.
Circa 1830, Charles Caleb Colton, English cleric, best known for his eccentricities, did say that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. Oscar Wilde concurred a few decades later but he added, ‘ ... that mediocrity can pay to greatness.’
That little sting notwithstanding, and despite everyone thinking themselves unique, men of all ages like tend to their chins and groom their hair as their next-door neighbours do - always according to the cyclic vagaries of fashion. Women like conformity, too, but for them, long hair has been enduring and facial hair has never been a real option.
Though convinced of their individuality, Men and women of all ages cannot resist the appeal of also dressing like their neighbours. It is most willingly that they wear the same ready-to-wear, disposable clothes.
Athleisure, fashion clothing designed for athletic activities but worn in just about every other setting has consolidated its rightful space in our collective wardrobe.
From tribal-inspired to mock-cheerful, colourful designs abound. And, thankfully, although continuously tweaked for wearer-comfort, denim and sneakers live on as an unbeatable combo.
We love continuity
Broadly, it can be said that, though more and more of our work is done sitting down, we think, work, love, fight and play in the same ways as people have been doing it centuries before us. It is just that our ‘modern’ ways are a lot more chaotic – a lot more self-indulgent.
Beyond that, not much is new under our sun.
One people and one language
And the Lord said, "Lo! [they are] one people and they all have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do."
One language. One culture. 7 billion brains puling as one equals one colossal melting pot best kept at room temperature.
Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do?”
Surely, planning for progress and [personal] profit would have been foremost in the minds of more than Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, William Henry Vanderbilt, Andrew W. Mellon and Henry Ford back in the days when ‘all seemed possible’, even time-travelling to the moon.
Ordinary citizens planned as well. They have never stopped imagining, anticipating or hoping for the moment when their god, having added comfort upon comfort, would finally hear their prayers to align them on the Path of Happiness, keeping them pinned there ad vitam æternam.
If Homo Sapiens means Wise Man
We are steadfast and Control is our middle name. We refuse the notion of simply being, of letting the moment just be as it is.
The thoughts that we breathe by ourselves; the conviction that, not only we ‘are’ our body but that we are in control of our body; that we ‘are’ our mind; that we manage our environment are as relevant to humanity today as it was in bygone eras.
That is, once the god of the Torah, Old Testament, got superseded by science and the illusion of personal autonomy.
Flying in the face of all evidence, the steady mainstream belief is that 'outer' transformation towards a better version of ourselves will reap the rewards that we seek.
'Inner' transformation is often considered diversionary. Anyway, who would have time for that, right?
So, when all our qualities are tallied, it would seem that Carl Linnaeus was right when, in 1758, he labelled our species, Homo Sapiens – Wise Man, in English.
[This mind-meander meandering a little too much is cont'd in Part 2]
© 2018 Carole Claude Saint-Clair