The Ancestral Pueblo of the American Southwest are among the longest lived cultures known to exist. Dating back more than 3,000 years, this is a people who built cities in cliffs, farmed the deserts, and paved roads upon wastelands. Their world was ruled by matriarchs, and their peoples rooted in an ancient faith. Walking their ruins and hearing their stories awakens a somber reverence in me, a reverence for a rich culture and heritage of which precious little remains.
But it is not their towering halls nor technological innovations which have appeared in our western histories. Rather, this ancient people is remembered as savage, even inhumane. Among the hundreds of ruins which cover the American southwest, some have been found littered with gnawed bones and scraps of digested, human flesh. It is for their alleged cannibalism, still a subject of great debate, that the Ancestral Pueblo are known. Perhaps it is for this reason that they are more commonly called the Anasazi — the Navajo word for “ancient enemy.” In spite of their miraculous inventions and beautiful cityscapes, history judged them only by the bones of their past, and remembers them only for their flaws.
Enemies of the Future
As I walk the streets of Boston, or the mountains of Colorado Springs, I often wonder how future archeologists will paint our civilization. They may unearth the Washington Monument or uncover what remains of the archives, but I doubt these ruins will overshadow the mass graves of Syria, nor the desolation of the east.
Rather, they will build exhibits describing a hellscape — a world of broken promises; a world of broken men.
The bones of our people will tell this same story. Those who sort the refuse of our future will find the corpses of the obese alongside those of the malnourished. They will discover these remains belong to the same period, to the same world, and wonder what kind of civilization could permit such gross inequality. And even with the advantage of hindsight, I doubt they will know the true horrors of a nation which leaves hundreds of tons of food to rot, while millions of her children starve.
When they dig into our earth they will find seas of plastic and islands of styrofoam. They will excavate rocks made of petroleum and fossils filled with beads. They will find pockets of deadly radiation and pools of unlivable muck. They will discover rivers run dry and wells run sick. When faced with such cataclysm, how could they not see us with either pity or disgust? While the optimists among them may think us unfortunate sojourners in a filthy, polluted world, the pessimists will surely imagine a culture of greedy, self obsessed, and ultimately suicidal primates, who discarded their futures and condemned their children.
Now, it would be unfair to say that there is no beauty in our world, or in our species. Humanity has grown far from her roots and built a civilization beyond her brutish origin. However, those who come after will waste no time considering our beauty when faced with our most intimate failures.
The Statue of Liberty is meaningless when unearthed in a world of chains. No remnant of our iphones will overshadow the sickly corpses of the children enslaved to build them. And were any books to survive, Atlas Shrugged and Mein Kampf will surely be held above Gatsby or Smith as the manifestos of our kind.
For all our progress, I fear the future will treat us as an anasazi. A people so immoral, so unethical, so detestable that they slaughtered so many and fed so few. They won’t judge us for our achievements, nor for our intentions. They will judge us as we should be judged: for the world we leave behind.