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Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Islands and the Ocean

Civilization is an island surrounded by a swirling chaotic ocean of barbarism. It is an island that must be maintained by building barriers and levees, by holding back the savage tide and allowing civilization a chance to prosper.

For a time it seemed as if civilization was spreading, that the land was growing and the ocean was shrinking. There are many today that still think that, mistaking the superficial spinoffs of civilization, the bits of borrowed technology and the semblance of parliamentary government now common around the world, for civilization. Instead the tide is coming in, the land is shrinking and the islands are in danger of being swallowed up by the dark tide.

The levees have been torn down, and the islanders instead of fighting the flood, are digging new channels to bring it deeper inland, gleefully celebrating and working toward their own destruction. Though any person could see the difference between solid land and swirling ocean, they insist that the land has become too marshy to stand on and that bringing in the ocean will cure all that. They have taught it to their children, they have set it into law and they have made even the building of levees a crime.

Where the islands of civilization should be cooperating against the dark tide, instead they compete to sell each other out. Each island always busy condemning the other for even the most minimal measures it takes to prevent complete flooding. For the new standard of righteousness is that the moral high ground lies in an absolute willingness to allow yourself, your land and your people to be completely and utterly brought under.

And so the tide rises and the drownings begin. At first it is only a few here and there, bodies floating in the current, ignored or blamed for causing their own demise. Then hundreds and then thousands drown. At first it happens in distant islands, which are naturally blamed for it, because the islands of civilization now believe that the surest way to be flooded and drown, is to fight against the flood. But the dark tide draws nearer and nearer year by year.

The closer the tide reaches, the more determinedly it is ignored. The parties go on as normal. The torrents of water flowing through the streets are celebrated as an improvement. Each island adds New to its name to proclaim its rebirth, and its citizens are taught to look forward to living in a city that is partly underwater. And gladly the citizens of the islands shout, Hurrah, Hurrah, proud that they will live to see the day when the places they have lived are underwater, and are forever altered and eventually inaccessible to them.

The drownings grow steadily worse, and the governments of the island react by issuing informational pamphlets guiding the citizens toward accommodating the tide. Everyone is issued a raft and a life jacket. Some extremists talk of building levees, but are immediately condemned, for if there is one thing that everyone has become convinced of, it is that attempting to stop the flooding will only make it worse.

The wiser minds on the islands formulate a new idea, dividing the tide into two types of water, raging water and calm water. They advise that the islanders must allow only calm water to flood them, which will naturally still the raging waters. It is theorized that the calm waters will soon become solid and turn to stone and earth.

And so attempts are made to stop the raging waters from flooding the islands, while permitting even more water to flow in. Yet to their dismay they soon discover that it is not possible to so easily distinguish and set apart raging waters from moderate waters. Raging waters are often mistaken for moderate, and calm waters when allowed in are quickly turned by the wind into raging waters. For it is not how the water appears at any given moment that matters, but its nature. Water is governed by the winds and the tides, and if water is allowed to flood the land in sufficient quantities, it will matter not whether it is extreme or mild. In the end water is water, and if you permit enough of it in, you will drown.

This is a lesson that the people of the islands are painfully slow to learn. And so they drown. Even when they attempt to resist the flooding, they take half-hearted measures because even these efforts are undone by all the wrong ideas they have been taught about the ocean and the land. Having learned that it is natural for ocean to flow across the land, it is intellectually unnatural for them to work to resist this process. And so they fail. Their measures buy time, delay the coming of the tide, save many lives, but they remain incomplete. All their manifold defensive works remain filled with holes that a strong tide may batter at and sweep away.

No task may be fulfilled, until those who toil at it understand the nature of what they must accomplish in order to fulfill it. They must understand that they build not for a moment, but for the lifetimes of their children and grandchildren as well. They must understand that some water can give life to the land and revive it, but a great deal of water will only destroy it. And most of all they must understand that they must choose between the water and the land, between protecting their homes and their families, and abandoning them to the tide.

That is the nature of the work and its cost. Either the islands will hold or they will drown. For them to hold, many false things must be unlearned, many old things which were put away must be taken up again, and the people must see the dark tide bearing on them or all is truly lost, for if they do not raise up defenses against it, they and theirs, cities, villages, homes and farms will drown, and the spark is civilization will be buried and fizzle out beneath the dark waves.


  1. Anonymous3/1/09

    Islands need better drainage systems, storm and sea walls too. :D

  2. Which is more "moral?" To Kill or To Be Killed? (By "kill" I do not mean to "murder" but to kill one who comes to kill you).

  3. Agreed. Brilliant anology.

    My last comment got lost. Venice is also sinking as tourists and the wakes caused by the mega-cruise ships plowing through the narrow canals are destroying the city's very foundations.

    Sometimes when you have a city or nation that is precious and unusually beautiful you must protect it even if it means keeping tourists out and appearing isolationist, though actually not isolationist but more along the lines of self-defense and preservation.



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