Monday, December 10, 2018

civilizational collapse and the prophecy of Michael Crichton

From this article (h/t Bill Keezer for the heads-up):

Eric Cline, professor of ancient history at the George Washington University, believes the [late Bronze Age] collapse was caused not by a single factor but all of the above. Cline called it "the perfect storm" in his YouTube lecture. In the published summary of his book 1177 BC on Amazon, the précis puts it this way. "The end was brought about by multiple interconnected failures, ranging from invasion and revolt to earthquakes, drought, and the cutting of international trade routes. Bringing to life the vibrant multicultural world of these great civilizations, [Cline] draws a sweeping panorama of the empires and globalized peoples of the Late Bronze Age and shows that it was their very interdependence that hastened their dramatic collapse and ushered in a dark age that lasted centuries."

Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park was about the unknowable, but reliably chaotic, consequences of tinkering with forces we don't fully understand. This is a message Crichton had flogged in other books like The Andromeda Strain and Prey: Nature's a steel-toed bitch, so don't mess with her. In the sequel to Jurassic Park, titled The Lost World, Crichton's message is somewhat different: through the character Ian Malcolm, who is effectively the voice of Crichton himself, we hear the argument that species become more robust when they're allowed to evolve in isolated pockets. This separateness permits actual diversity: it's by not putting one's eggs in a single basket that collective survival and flourishing are assured. Interconnection, meanwhile, always eventually leads to massive collapse because it actively steamrollers diversity.*

I've had my disagreements with elements of the so-called HBD movement (human biodiversity), but the above is one of HBD's fundamental tenets, and overall, I agree with it. This plays into discussion of immigration today: unlimited immigration and forced integration don't guarantee a "diversity is our strength" outcome. Note that Crichton's argument doesn't oppose diversity per se; if anything, it affirms that diversity can ensure a positive outcome for a species—but it must be a true diversity, not a melting-pot one. More pluribus, less unum.

Crichton published The Lost World way back in 1995. If you haven't read it, you might want to. It's not as good as Jurassic Park, but it provides markedly different insights from those of the first book, and as I submit here, its message is relevant today.

*Long-time readers may recall that, years ago, when I was in my writing-about-religious-issues phase, I often used the phrase "steamrollering diversity," or something like it, when talking about the difference between convergent and divergent religious pluralism. Convergent pluralism is the pluralism of theologian-philosopher John Hick: all paths converge on the same summit of the mountain; religions all share a common essence. Divergent pluralism, the pluralism of people like Raimondo Panikkar or S. Mark Heim, is more the idea that every path leads up to its own mountaintop, and that ultimate reality is fractured and incommensurate. This discussion has applications in politics today: liberals tend to be more like John Hick in advocating the notion of a "common humanity," whereas conservatives, at least these days, seem more intent on emphasizing what they'd call "true diversity" by noting our various differences, and further noting that those differences matter because they're constitutive of who we are. The liberal irony is that its vision of "multiculturalism" is ultimately a heedless relativism that squashes any real diversity into a bland, milquetoast oneness that ignores details and denies humanity's true richness, a richness that is inherent in humanity's multivocality, not its univocality. While I'm not, religiously speaking, totally in the divergent camp, I do have sympathies toward it. John Hick's convergent camp has more intuitive appeal to me, but again, that's me speaking religiously, not politically. I haven't worked out the philosophical tangles for either the religious or the philosophical dimension of this discussion.

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