The Cycle of Civilization

Ours will not be the last human civilization. This presumed fact is both optimistic and pessimistic and should inspire equal parts dread and hope.


On the down side, inherent in the idea is that our civilization will, in fact, end. At some point, the world and cultures we have created will cease to be and very likely be forgotten for all time. How this will occur is a mystery, as is when, but there are many potential ends awaiting us or our descendents. We might, for example, simply fade away — no catastrophe, no great revelation, just the irresistible force of time’s arrow withering the body of our civilization as surely as it withers all things. Even mountains crumble under its power; what makes us believe we can outlast it? In this possible end, we are obscured by our own descendents. Like the dinosaurs becoming the birds, one day what we are will have evolved out of existence and a new thing will stand in our place, only a vague semblance of us. Of course, the end for our civilization might come hard and fast, instigated by an apocalyptic event like an asteroid collision or mega-eruption. In this case, the change and challenges wrought by this catastrophe would be too much for our civilization to accommodate or adapt to and collapse would come like a bleak dawn. Not so long ago, it was not difficult to imagine doom by our own hands, by the very tools that have made our civilization possible. We have built weapons of war that dwarf all weapons ever created put together. Even our plowshares have the potential to destroy us as we manipulate forces we do not fully comprehend and unleash them in hopes of enriching our lives and expanding our civilization.


No matter what the end, two things are near certainties: it will come, and some people will survive. Perhaps they will live in fortified bunkers beneath the surface of the earth. Perhaps they will be the people far removed from civilization as we know it now. Perhaps it will be a tiny, isolated population or perhaps a smattering of enclaves will endure the world over, none large enough to continue civilization alone. A force that could completely wipe out the human race is almost incomprehensible. Even the great mass extinctions of the past took centuries or millenia to do their grim work, so though our civilization is surely doomed our species will very likely thrive.


And herein lies the hope. Human are by their nature social and creative. Those two aspects virtually guarantee that even the smallest viable population eeking out an existence in the post-apocalyptic wilderness will create culture. With that culture will come diversity of ideas and expansion. With diversity of ideas and expansion will come trade. Just as our ancestors did after the apocalyptic era of the ice age, at the end of the next apocalyptic age our survivors will create civilization anew. Perhaps they will not be forced to start from scratch as our ancestors did; perhaps some remnant of knowledge will remain so they have a leg up. Perhaps we will be wise enough now to leave our descendents knowledge and skills they can access to make the rise to civilization easier and faster. Or perhaps it will take many more thousands of years than it did our ancestors. Perhaps our descendents will have genetic memory of the collapse of civilization and fear concrete towers and weapons that rend the sky and purposefully avoid building a civilization of their own. Even so, no such fear could last forever or infect all future people. Inevitably, one tribe or nation would rise to prominence and civilization would rise again. It is even possible that human civilization will not be reborn on Earth but another world. Should our civilization last long enough and reach high enough, we may spread among the worlds of our solar system or beyond and be reborn there.


Whatever civilization rises from the ashes of our own, it, too, is doomed. Its own end will loom before it, and also the rise of the civilization that follows it. How long can this cycle last? How many deaths and rebirths can human civilization endure before it either reaches Nirvana or is consumed into the Void? What would the civilization with no end look like? Or the one with no hope?


Finally, one other question emerges: are we truly the first? Our civilization has existed ten thousand years, from the first walled towns of the Middle East, through the millenia long lives of Egypt and China, through to the relatively short lived but unquestionably powerful modern Western civilization we have. A continuous line of people and knowledge can be traced from the first sowed fields to the Mars rovers. I presume above, and our anthropologists and archeologists and historians believe too, that we are the first such human civilization on earth. This, despite somewhere on the order of one hundred thousand years — ten lifetimes of our civilization — of mist shrouded time of human existence. If some civilization had risen before ours took root in the Levant, would we know of it? Would its artifacts or structures survive the grinding force of the glacial advance and retreat? Would we have any genetic memory of its language, art or religion? And if not, how can we know we are the first?

Flash Fiction: Murder Ballad

I like Flash Fiction a lot and haven’t written any recently. I also like Murder Ballads. Two great tastes…


I couldn’t tell where the road ended and the driveway started. It was all ruts and weeds and mud leading up to the house. There was a car in front, peeling paint and dented on the bumpers and doors and even roof. Hers, I was sure of it. He was still out there, in his pickup, driving hard or slumped over the wheel with his brains splashed against the inside of the windshield, depending on whether he had stopped to think about what he had done or not.


The front door was still open. My deputy was standing on the porch, leaning over the rail, heaving. Breakfast was all over the meager, unkempt flower beds. Her sister, the one who had found her, was sitting on the steps, oblivious to me as she stared vacantly down the driveway and pulled on a Camel.


When I got out of the car, I put on my hat. Everyone thinks I do it to look cool. it does look cool, but that is not why I do it. A hat that big, you can hide your face — you fear, your disgust, your rage, your tears —  with just a nod of your head. I was going to need that hat.


She was in the living room. And the bedroom.  And the kitchen. A piece of her even ended up on the porch. He really lost it in there. The axe, a big old wood cutting axe like you would expect Paul Bunyan to use, was laying in the black-brown-red pool where most of her was. He dropped it, just let it fall out of his hands. I could tell by the long smear up the shaft from his bloody grip. The monster that had swung it was gone by the time he let it go, for sure.


I looked around a little, mostly for show. I knew the story. Good girl loves a bad boy so much it kills her. It happens a lot down here.


I tell my deputy to man up and fuck off and he does. I ask her sister a few meaningless, stupid questions, the kind that staties and feds like to see answered on reports. I wait for Ed to show up. He’s our coroner. Owns the diner, too. I give him a look that warns him what’s inside and he just shakes his head and pulls the bags out of the back of his van. I leave him to it and get back in the car.


The truck is down on route 75. That was my third guess. I was wrong about the brains on the windshield, though. At least, I was wrong about the “inside” part. He was drunk and high on something harder than grass and jumped out of the cab and pointed his squirrel killer at me so I did what he was asking for and laid him down. Maybe her sister would have gotten some pleasure out of him going to trial and frying, but I don’t think so. In any case, all it would do was make a long, ugly story out of a short, ugly one.


I’ll take tomorrow off, stay home, give Reb a kiss on the cheek and a squeeze on the tit, let her know I love her. It seems the best thing to do after a day like this one.


National Novel READING Month

Up until last night, a feeling of dread had been growing within me, a darkness gathering in my mind as the end of October approached. I was not fearing the ghouls and monsters of Halloween, but of the imminent arrival of National Novel Writing Month.


Last year, I successfully completed the challenge, writing my first completed novel “Daytripper” in those 30 days, based on a shred of an idea and going in a completely different direction than the original concept. It was a good experience, forcing myself to write like that, but the fact is, “Daytripper” still sits in a drawer, unrevised save for a single run through. At 50K words, it is too short for a novel and too long for a novella. There are things in it — plot elements, characters, scenes and ideas — that I love, but it is mostly terrible. I don’t know what to do with it, so I had decided that I would use NaNoWriMo this year to create a fresh draft of “Daytripper” and maybe, just maybe, between the two I could create a novel I felt good about publishing.


The thing about NaNoWriMo is that it is (intentionally) intense and consuming. It eats the month of November. Last year, my wife was wonderfully accommodating as I sequestered myself night after night in my basement office (if one could call a room filled with comics, RPG manuals and video games an “office”). This year, my Novemeber is already half consumed by other activities, from a game convention to a scouting overnight to a wedding anniversary retreat.  As November approached, I tried to calculate how many words I would have to write a day to accommodate all the days I could not be writing, and I despaired.


But the real reason I dreaded the arrival of NaNoWriMo is that I do not know if I want to revise “Daytripper.” I do not know if there is a good enough story in there to make a novel worth my time to write it and your time to read it. That kind of uncertainty is telling, I think. there are other novels I want to write (eventually) that I am certain are worth the time, but I am less certain about my ability to write those novels just yet. Part of the reason for that is I read far fewer novels than I should, and I need to remedy that before I can successfully write one.


So, for me, NaNoWriMo will become NaNoReMo — National Novel READING Month. There are a number of novels, from light YA fare to classics of English Literature, I have always meant to read. So instead of burning all that time writing a terrible novel, I choose to read a few good ones.