Passage #97: 11 May 2011

Donut Shop at the End of the Universe

What will they make of us? The archaeologists, I mean.

When all is said and done -- whether by asteroid, supervolcano or global pandemic -- and the remnants of our civilization have been buried in ash and overgrown by vines, their embedded traditions long forgotten by any who might have survived, how will those future observers ever make sense of us?

It's hard to imagine that anyone so removed (both literally and figuratively unplugged) from our culture would be able to understand our lives any more than we are now able to understand the daily joys and sorrows of an Assyrian chickpea farmer. Sure, we can read the Epic of Gilgamesh, but do we feel the Epic of Gilgamesh? As good a story as it may be, it is in many ways just a scaffold for a tradition to which we no longer have access. And even if our future archaeologists could flake away the residues of time and finally view, say, an episode of American Idol -- a ritual that embodies so many of the pressures of living in a media-saturated age -- would it be meaningful to them, living as they surely will be with their own set of values and assumptions, vastly different from ours?

Probably not, but but we cannot stop them from trying (we'll be dead, for one thing). So then, let them start with what we've built and see if they can't piece our story together. Undoubtedly, they will find our urns of plastic, our aerosol frescoes and our diesel-powered adzes. They will find our quarries, middens and sites of extraction (near and dear to the heart of any archaeologist). All around our cities, they will find temples and shrines to the well-established deities: Jesus, Vishnu, Ronald McDonald... For we were a spiritual people, clearly.

And most of these puzzle pieces will fit; if only by virtue of their sheer ubiquity, they will begin to make sense. But what to make of these other, rarer monuments: this parabolic shield, that anthropomorphic feline and -- most puzzling of all -- those enormous toroids, looming gloriously over the crossroads? Are they remnants of some marginalized cult? Commemorations of some great leader or historic event? What is a roadium? They may never know.

We will visit these future historic sites and more. Monuments rising high. Pits dug deep.

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