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9. A Historical Perspective View from the Top of the Pyramid


Soldiers, from the height of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on you...
(Napoleon, addressing his troops before the Battle of the Pyramids, 21 July, 1798)
Description (1994: 12)

Napoleon's exhortation at his troops at that fateful date 200 years ago, relates to the present issue in more than one way. As a side-effect of his ill-fated expedition to Egypt, the stone of Rosette was discovered, one of the most important fortunate archeological accidents that gave modern humanity the keys to the deep history of our civilizations. With this initial discovery began a continuous process of unraveling the secrets of many vanished civilizations that had once dominated the earth in splendor. The stone of Rosette provided the key to the writings of one of the most ancient civiliations of humanity, the Egyptian . ( Description 1994: 13-14). Today, 200 years later, we can with equal validation say that it is now possible for those of us, who have made the effort to learn to see and understand the patterns of our cultural and natural history, to stand at the peak of an immense pyramid of amassed written knowledge in form of books, the collected cultural memory of our civilization, and enjoy the grand panoramic spectacle of looking down on a history of about 5000 years of writing civilizations, about 50,000 to 100,000 years of graphic symbol use , and about 5000 million years history of the planet and its biosphere. And in a very real sense, the technology of writing was instrumental in erecting those Egyptian pyramids , because it was used by the Egyptian rulers and priests to organize their land and its inhabitants for those immense feats of mass organization, and mobilization, of which the construction of the pyramids is only the most spectacular example.

Writing also served to install the pyramidical hierarchical organization of the state, the form of social structure that has taken its origin there and in ancient Mesopotamia, and has by now spread all over the planet, all the while absorbing and often enough destroying, all other social organization forms that were in the way. And to those observers, who enjoy this spectacular view over the history of the universe, the future of humanity on this planet appears more clouded than ever. Looking down from this observation point, we can watch the soldiers and generals of technology getting ready for the battle over humanity's future amidst the impending spectres of world-wide rising tidal waves of eco-destruction and cultural disruption. Let us now focus on the media-technological aspect:

Landow (1992: 29): This ... requires that one first recognize the enormous power of the book, for only after we have made ourselves conscious of the ways it has formed and informed our lives can we seek to pry ourselves free from some of its limitations... Claude Levi-Strauss's explanations of preliterate thought in The Savage Mind and in his treatises on mythology appear in part as attempts to de-center the culture of the book - to show the confinements of our literature culture by getting outside of it, however tenuously and briefly... Baudrillard, Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, McLuhan, and others similarly argue against the future importance of print-based information technology, that ... sound and motion as well as visual information will radically reconfigure our expectations of human nature and human culture...
Derrida... understands that electronic computing and other changes in media have eroded the power of the linear model and the book as related dominant paradigms. "The end of linear writing," Derrida declares, "is indeed the end of the book"... "grammatological writing exemplifies the struggle to break with the investiture of the book"... The problem ... is that "one cannot tamper" with the form of the book "without disturbing everything else"... in Western thought.

In this quotation, George Landow hints at the immense weight of the book-based tradition of western civilization, [397] and at profound impending changes in individual lives and cultural organization with the spread of the "information revolution". And in a very definite sense, the engineers, designers, and financers of our future technologies, be it multimedia and information, or genetic engineering, or other, are the soldiers and generals on whose shoulders rests today the weight of the responsibility in the battle for humanity's future. With the so-called "infomation and multimedia revolution", there is presently a large-scale drive of monumental proportions underway, that transforms the previously (alphabetic-) writing centered cultural memory systems of civilizations into something quite different, and quite unknown by the standards of the last 5000 years of civilization. Most of that movement is technologically and financially driven, and it seems that there is little concern involved for researching the symbolic and mental potential that humanity has developed in the last 50,000 years since Altamira, Lascaux, and Chauvet, before and outside the major civilizations, which constitutes the non-written cultural heritage of humankind.

Goppold (1994: 280): Die Entwicklung der Computer-Programmierung kann als ein globales Phänomen in der geistigen Entwicklung der Spezies Homo Sapiens gesehen werden. Nach Derridas Grammatologie und Vilem Flusser ist hier eine Schwelle überschritten: Der Schritt weg von der kulturellen Fixierung der Menschheit auf sprachabhängige phonetische Codes hin zu nicht sprechbaren, geschriebenen, maschinell fixierten oder graphischen Codes. [398]

The present work is aimed to build a bridge between the future information and multimedia technologies and this human cultural heritage, much of whose legacy has been neglected, or destroyed to the point of almost complete annihilation, in the last 5000 years of unrelenting advance of writing civilization. The present generation may be the witness of the disappearance of the very last indigenous traditions unaffected by civilization. Already more than 100 years ago, Adolf Bastian [399] called out for a concerted effort to save the indigenous cultural heritage of humanity for the future:

Bastian (1881: 181): Man spricht vielfach von einem Aussterben der Naturvölker. Nicht das physische Aussterben, soweit es vorkommt, fällt ins Gewicht, weil ohnedem von dem allmächtigen Geschichtsgang abhängig, der weder zu hemmen, noch abzuwenden ist. Aber das psychische Aussterben, - der Verlust der ethnischen Originalitäten, ehe sie in Literatur und Museen für das Studium gesichert sind - solcher Verlust bedroht unsere künftigen Inductionsrechnungen mit allerlei Fälschungen und könnnte die Möglichkeit selbst einer Menschenwissenschaft in Frage stellen.

Bastian (1881: 180): Eine brennende Zeitfrage allerdings! Es brennt in allen Ecken und Enden der ethnologischen Welt, brennt hell, lichterloh, in vollster Brunst, es brennt ringsum, Gross Feuer! und Niemand regt eine Hand. Die Autopsien der von 1850-1880 periodisch wiederholten Reisen liefern die gewaltsam zwingendsten Ueberzeugungen des in schreckbar steigenden Progressionen fortschreitenden Verderbens. Wenn indess ihnen, als subjectiven Eindrücken nicht zu trauen, so sei auf die Acten des ältesten der ethnologischen Museen verwiesen, mit ihren Belegen in Zahlen und Thatsachen... Wunderbar überraschendste Entdeckungen ruhen im Schosse der Zukunft. Sie sind uns gewiss, wenn wir uns darum mühen wollen, sie sind verloren für immer, wenn jetzt im kritischen Moment des Wendepunktes die Gleichgültigkeit fortdauert.

[397] ->: BIBLIOSPHERE, p. 195, ->: MULTIMEDIA, p. 189
[398] (URL)
[399] ->: ADOLF_BASTIAN, p. 246

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