Our modern western culture has lost its connection to the past, the rapid development of technology, and the global conflict during the world wars has drawn a bright line between ‘before’ and ‘now’. Since time immemorial, individuals and cultures felt a direct connection -or a line of succession, to history and historical personalities.
The extremely rapid acceleration of knowledge during the 100 years between 1880 and 1980 caused this break. Humanity went from the infancy of technology, that was Steam and the Telegraph, to an insanity that was global computer communication, Television, Space Travel, and Nuclear War. Punctuating that century like great drum beats were the intensely destructive World Wars, which ripped apart the societies of Europe and shook the foundations of western culture to its core. While Europe was reeling from those double shocks, a country that was barely into its adolescence was pushing forward with youthful strength and vigor.
Our culture changed while no one was looking, events were too large to be understood at the time, and even now: some 30 years from the close of that century the dust is still settling, and it isn’t yet apparent just how much has really changed. Like a rubber-band that has been stretched too fast and too far, western culture has broken and the link between the ancient world and current has irrevocably snapped.
We lose more than we realize by divorcing our current ideals and motives from the words of the past. Instead of maintaining the anchor to those writers of wisdom that stretch back into dim mists of time, we choose to throw off that link as if it were a chain to useless ideas. Far from useless those ideas and ideals have been a stabilizing connection to a store of built-up concepts and philosophy that shaped the world, built up brick by brick by mortals into a foundation of wisdom and reserve.
Before the century of destruction and change, it was not uncommon for any reasonably educated person to have read Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Solomon, Plato, Socrates and have an understanding that history was a continuum. That civilization was a line that stretched back into time, and that they were still walking on that same road of thought as had their philosophical ancestors stretching back to the beginnings of what would eventually become western culture.
This isn’t unique to western culture, other societies and cultures get their identities from their own founders and traditions, these links have also suffered from the rapid advances and the pressure to be more ‘American’ or just modern ‘Consumer’. I think of a song called ‘Amerika’ by the German band Rammstein. It depicts people from all over the world and from every culture eating pizza from a delivery box and watching the moon landings on a TV, all while wearing american t-shirts and sneakers. Are we destined to all become mindless consumers and destroyers?
We have lost our connection to a common past and have jumped the divide and abandoned historical ideas as dusty, old, and not relevant to the modern world, while we are driven to distraction by small screens and short text messages. We have forgotten who we are, and why we are here.
It’s time to realize that we are just little pups who have run away from mother into the wild woods and are unprepared and so very young.
Minerva or Athena (Depictions of Wisdom) were said to have a small pet Owl, also symbolizing wisdom. Owls can see in the night, they have large unblinking eyes and seem to stare into your soul. They are also quiet and grave looking, which makes them a perfect symbol for wisdom. I propose that we desire to be small owls, not yet ready to fly from the nest, but eager to be wise. Wisdom is its own reward, and can be equally bestowed on kings and servants alike. Be an owl and not a serpent, for both are intelligent, but the owl is wise, yet the serpent is cunning. The aged owl devours the cunning snake.
“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” -Hegel