Sunday, March 9, 2008

94; It starts with an earthquake...

My apocalyptic visions as a child were perhaps abnormal. I think I got the idea from frequenting museums. If the world was going to end what knowledge did I want to have at my disposal?

There were other sources that lead to this notion, of course. I had read "The Giver" and "Fahrenheit 451". I envisioned a ceremony where we were all getting onto a spaceship and could only bring a few (the number varied depending on how lenient I was feeling towards humanity that day) things on board. What would you bring?

I always tried to think of things other people would forget. Why worry about the Mona Lisa? Someone, probably a lot of people, have thought of it. No need to bring a copy of War and Peace: 2,000 other people thought of it already.

According to some versions of the vision there were only four or five of us getting on the ship who were responsible for all of humanity's culture. I would be in charge of picking something like one hundred pieces of art, or books, or pieces of music. The decision had to be made on the spot, and my choices were broadcast to the earth's population below the launch platform, who listened intently to make sure I didn't forget anything (no consulting allowed). It always played out that I forgot some masterpiece that a white-haired man with glasses had dedicated his life to. Naturally I felt bad for him, and the fact that his life's work was going to be destroyed, likely by hostile aliens.

What, in another scenario, would you do if you couldn't bring artifacts? The actual songs, poems, scientific achievements, architectural wonders, all were lost. With only your memory to rely on what would you dedicate your mental space to remembering? Would you remember song lyrics, or novels? Scientific equations or Euclidean proofs? And how would you pass on the information, by writing or speaking? What about visual achievements?

No matter how bleak my recurrent apocalyptic visions got they were always, at heart, optimistic. If you're bothering to save something, after all, then you must have a purpose in mind for it. The artifacts, the knowledge were going to be passed on to someone. The human race had a future yet.

This brings me to the collector's mania. If one chooses to dedicate their time, money, and life to collection they usually have one of two views in mind. The first view is that they are collecting things of monetary value, and so they will, at a later date, sell these things and their investment will turn a profit. The other form of collector is the type who collects things with the design to pass them on.

Personally, as someone who collects books and music, I think I'm still working under the end of the world assumption. My library of albums and classic literature is to serve more of a database function than as something I intend to sell. I suppose it could be viewed as something to pass on to my children, should I ever be unfortunate enough to procreate, but they'll have to fight me for it.

Here's a question to wrap up these musings on materialism: If you realized your house was on fire, what one thing would you take with you? A sentimental object, or one of great worth? Your hard drive? I once knew a woman who actually had to make that decision. The choice? Her dirty laundry basket. All her favorite clothes.

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