The slide I personally took, in 1967, of this brilliant, iconic piece of masonry disappeared in 1972 when my wife, Anita, and I moved from England to Canada, where I was born. Eighty choice slides from my two month South America trip somehow didn’t come with us or in our separately-shipped trunks. But that’s another story.
My topic is not about lost slides; it’s about lost ways of thinking, speaking, listening and doing. There is as much, likely more, human creativity, intelligence and “spirituality” in this one stone from the wall of Inca Roca than in the bloated speeches of today’s politicians and works of some popular writers.
Manual dexterity is, today, disrespected. Those artisans who work with their hands in our first world are losing their jobs to robots, offshore workers and offshore workers running offshore robots.
Reading per se never was difficult for me. But, reading a whole book? Resisted that like crazy. Aunts used to give me books and encourage me to read. My parents never pushed, ostensibly quite content with my progress in the world of a pre-teen. Then someone gave me a book called The Treasure Hunt of the S-18. It was about a submarine searching for sunken treasure. I was 12, I think. I braved it. I read it three times, then went on to the Hardy Boys etc. A few years ago I ordered a used version of “S-18″ on the web and read it a fourth time, for old times’ sake. In the world of literature it doesn’t rank, but it got me past the intimidation of something thick. It’s in my collection until someone throws it out after I’m gone.
I read an excellent and sensitive wordpress blog today at knowthesphere that praised the wisdom of ancient cultures over the knowledge-inundated, wisdom-starved modern world. The blog was titled Birds of Wisdom and the quote below is from the blog:
Ancient wisdom–in a way–is much more advanced than our own contemporary knowledge that we place so highly on a pedestal.
The blog reminded me of a fellow named Wade Davis, an ethno-botanist who studied with the legendary Harvard botanist and traveler, Richard Evans Schultes. Davis is now a resident explorer at National Geographic. He lived among the natives of Columbian and Equadorian Amazonas who retain the ability, long lost among modern humans, to communicate with the plants in the forest. Talk about ancient wisdom! The remarkable book his South American adventures produced is called One River. He later went to Haiti on behalf of Schultes to investigate the medical wizardry involved in the creation of a zombie. He describes his deep respect for the wisdom and ancient power of the Voudoun tradition in a book, The Serpent and the Rainbow one of several he has written. The zombie phenomenon turns out to be much more complex and sophisticated than mere biochemistry.
Wade Davis delivered the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Canada’s public broadcaster) distinguished annual Massey Lectures in 2009. There are five lectures in each series delivered by the same author. The Massey Lectures are produced by the CBC’s wonderful nightly Ideas program. You can listen to a podcast of the first of Davis’ lectures from this CBC website link and the series is available in book form or on iTunes. All five podcasts are no longer on the CBC site. I was particularly moved and impressed by his second Massey Lecture, called The Wayfinders, about the amazing set of natural knowledge that the Polynesian navigators used to guide their boats from one remote, tiny island to another remote, tiny island. Polynesians had been brilliantly finding their way throughout the Pacific islands for a long, long time before the Spanish arrived, hugging the shoreline.
I could go on… The quickest way to whet your appetite is to listen to his rapid-fire TED talk. The downside of that is that it only scratches the surface of his deep love for the ancient and his peripatetic research.
In their 1991 groundbreaking work The Good Society, authors and researchers led by Robert Bellah concluded that without institutions modern society might as well padlock the door and wait for the end. Regardless of how diligent, generous or capable an individual may be, without the ability to strengthen and enhance our institutions all historic societal gains will be lost and people will become adrift from one another.
The writers made a case for our institutions being the “patterned way we live together,” and concluded with what should have been obvious to all of us: “We live through institutions.” Granted those things that have held us together in the past – places of worship, governments, media organizations, educational institutions, and even democracy itself – can, like us, lose their way and contribute to an overall dulling of the senses. Yet since life without such essentials is impossible, our only real alternative…