When taking a long, hard look at their lives, people don’t like what they see. They often realize that what they stood for wasn’t good enough, that it will one day be processed in the mill of time where atavism is brought every now and again to be crushed. They realize this and freak out.
Take the Romans. Glorious people. They thought they would live forever, and they had every reason to believe it. But they perished. Even though some of their basic tenets and principles are still alive, guiding modern life, the Romans are gone along with their lifestyle, their culture, and the superfluous elements of their civilization.
The reason for this downfall is old age, of which all things suffer. After a certain point the body, any body, any person, group or organization, any dynamic and interactive system, any structure, however robust, gives in to the pressures of time.
Yet some systems are able to last longer than others. Why?
The reason is fitness. The fitter and more exercised a system is, the less prone it is to the wear and tear of time. The more in tune it is with its surroundings the better it can negotiate them. One may be better off standing out, making noise, while another chooses to hide in the background, avoiding contact. One may seek to dominate the hierarchy to avoid being eaten while the neighbor next door develops an unlikely symbiotic arrangement with a stranger. Above all, one needs to know how to adapt to the changing circumstances.
To do that, one needs to be aware of one’s presence, if not directly, then subliminally, in a manner that responds to any given situation. A person has to be responsive to what works and what doesn’t work, ready to ditch what doesn’t in favor of what does.
Those who are thinking ‘loyalty,’ worry not: it, too, is a function of successful adaptation. Loyalty works not because it’s the right thing to do at all times, or the righteous thing, far from it, being loyal sometimes results in total defeat and annihilation. Back the wrong contender, belong to a misguided cause or fight on the wrong side of history and you’re done, no matter how diligently you stick to your guns.
No, loyalty works because there are times when it pays off, given the circumstances. When it works, it nails it. By and large, it’s beneficial to stick with a given choice, mission, or group even if the process is dragging the person making the choice down the drain. Loyalty pays off because it builds trust, strength, commitment, promising connection and stability down the line between the involved parties. If things are done properly and the obstacles are overcome, it truly pays off.
Not only is this a great way to engage one’s environment, it’s the system’s way of expressing its awareness of the macro perspective — what we refer to as the ‘long term’ — where success is ultimately measured.
This is where it gets interesting. The long term is what an individual’s actions amount to, loyalty or no loyalty. The long term is the end goal, the funnel through which the aggregate of all actions passes; the filter through which they’re strained; the platform on which they’re tested. The long term is the bigger picture, composed of millions of individual brush strokes, some of which shine through, giving the image its luster, the rest providing the framework by which the composition is conveyed. Countless others are buried deep underneath the visible ones, good old scaffolding, laying the foundation of the image at hand. Many more are completely erased, painted over until every last hint of them is obliterated. They were nothing more than errors so good riddance to them.
Sometimes a picture contains so many errors it doesn’t work. There’s a point of no return, after which whatever one has been working on has to be discarded, allowing a fresh something to take its place: a painting or project or grand initiative conjured through a more confident set of brushstrokes and a more pertinent set of choices.
When looking at their life choices, people are inevitably looking at the state of the image of their own being, their very existence and how it comes across to others, how it plays out across time. In the process they become aware of both the strokes of genius that define them and the errors that tarnish them. If the errors outweigh the genius, people have a problem. They either freak out and change, or pretend they didn’t see what they saw, denying it altogether, maybe even rationalizing it and justifying it and excusing it until it makes sense to them.
The same applies to the bigger picture, of which everyone is but a component, a brushstroke, a tessera, a pixel. Sometimes people realize that their lives are part of an image so full of errors, so ignoble and spoiled, it’s likely to be discarded and left to rot. Their personal state of affairs — their own personal image and the way they conduct themselves — is of no real consequence. It may be beautiful or perfect, even flawless, but if the universe to which they belong is flawed, ugly, malfunctioning, atavistic, it defines and contains them, securing them a place in the trash heap of history.
Once again these people, individuals and civilizations alike, have the choice to remove themselves from that picture, or change it.
Changing a semi-completed picture isn’t easy, and changing the bigger picture is even harder, but some do it, or at least try, to their credit, and all credit to them if their loyalty is warranted and properly placed. Many times it isn’t. They stick with a faulty and broken model, building castles in the sand and monstrosities in the pantheons; a process which results in their inevitable rejection, ejection and dismantlement from all things memorable.
Bottom line, whatever doesn’t work is either corrected and improved on, or thrown away, or used as raw material for the next generation, for the next iteration and dynamic. So take a look around you and judge your life, your surroundings, the system you belong to, the ideals you represent through the mosaic of your choices. It may very well be perfect, a model that will last for a thousand years, a downright classic, vindicating your actions. On the other hand, if you’re unlucky, misinformed or impertinent, setting up your life according to convenience and habit, it may be just the opposite: the system you belong to and the framework that defines you are an aberration, a glossy print for an era’s coffee table, a pretentious and unimaginative statement that faded with time. An insult to intelligence that will sooner or later be deleted from all records.
Even the Romans, the great civilization that ruled and shaped the West, didn’t make it all the way through. Their ruins are still around, reminding everyone of how strong and yet how fleeting a glorious life is. Ancient Roman ideas still guide the world in tandem with other great ideas from other great people, but that’s where it ends for the immemorial ones. The frivolous and maladaptive elements of their civilizations faded away, leaving behind only the classics, ideas fit to endure the passage of time, practised by those wise enough to exercise them when possible and enforce them when necessary.
The rest, all the people who looked around and pretended not to understand what was going on, why some things weren’t working and what to do to change them, people who never really caught up with the given zeitgeist, they perished; and so did everything they represented. The only thing that remains of them are the atavisms that demolished them, which, like the classics, are still active across the civilizations, urging the majority of today’s people to never mind the signs on the wall and do as they always did, oblivious to the fact that oblivion awaits them down that road.
Take a look and see for yourselves, judge for yourselves. Whatever it is you belong to, remember, nothing lasts forever. The ugly and dysfunctional can be beatified and fixed just as readily as the vibrant and functional can degenerate and crumble. Take nothing for granted because nothing will be granted to you. Assess your situation precisely and make your choice wisely. Failure to do so and the mill of time will right your errors for you, as it readily does, and I will be there, turning the wheels, smiling at the sight of life being cultivated from your processed remains.
Dispossessed? Watch this space for more.
From the collection of writings EON: THE ANGRY COMING OF AGE