Saturday, March 26, 2011

What is Civilization Without Culture and Art?

I'll be headed for Venice, Florida tomorrow morning for a week of (hopefully fruitful) photography. Going to try to get as much wildlife in as I can stand. Who knows what else? Stay tuned for stories and pics next week. In the meantime, I'm starting a short story, the teaser for which, is below. 
It is inspired by the recent and increasing push to de-fund and minimize art education in the United States. Most close to home and recently for me is the closure of the Pennsylvania Academy of Music. My son is a piano student there. Here is a quick bit from our local Fox affiliate station. The young man in the video is my son. 


Lat. 40° 9'12.23"N Lon. 76°19'22.79"W
Northern American Prefecture, Piedmont Lowland Section, July, 2096 C.E.

From the private diary of Professor Cazen Pézure:

16 July, 2096 C.E. -

It seems fitting that I am here this morning. My service in the Geologic Survey has brought me full circle. I find it difficult to believe that this rocky and barren area on which I stand was some of the most fertile farmland on Earth just over 100 years ago. Useless to ask how things could have changed in such a short time because they really didn't. Our studies show that the tipping point was reached well before the glaciers began receding and the solar flares did their damage. It was the changes in the oceans' salinity that had doomed this place, a good 25 years earlier. None of that matters now, save for the lessons learned/guidelines for our academics. Move forward is all we can do.

But here I stand, over what was my great grandfather's home and property. "Property". What a word. The Northern Prefectures may let you have some parcel, but nothing you can put to use, and certainly nothing you can grow anything on. It's not worth the time outside anyway. Too much UV exposure.

My great grandfather was a musician. That sounds hollow now (ironic description?). It seems bizarre that a person could be given money and have a life that revolved around something as trivial as music. He was honored, even. Today, he would be a useless man, something of a drain on the collective society. There is a basic unfairness in that thought. We preach that all life is to be honored, despite our recent past, yet we don't tolerate people who cannot or will not work towards the rebuilding. We're told that ours is the generation that will bring civilization back to life.

Civilization. Bring it to life? We don't know what that is. My father was told to breed for breeding's sake. No wife, just breeding stock for repopulation. 20 women per man. Quite a ratio. Marriage hasn't been allowed by the Bureau of Nations since 2044 C.E., although that hasn't stopped people from secretly choosing life partners. The BON felt marriage was not beneficial and that it only created more factions among humanity, with those being married having greater allowances and privileges than those who were not. So it has worked well for its practical purpose of selective breeding. They say that one day we will begin to utilize smaller units of society, and even government, like when this place was the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Penn's Woods. Heh. Woods.

Field notes: Professor Cazen Pezure, 16 July, 2096 C.E.

Piedmont Lowlands Survey ahead of schedule. Camp One staff are healthy. Food and water supplies are depleted at expected levels. Dr. Millet reports normal radiation levels, and slightly high ozone levels, but within tolerances. Dupree and Ravchenko completed assessment of area biological fitness. See their reports, attached.

Geophysical surveys have confirmed previous satellite assessments. Soil samples collected and prepped for lab analysis. All samples field tested for contamination with negative results.

Archaeological advance team reports will be sent separately. However, it is worth noting here that there are a higher number of standing structures than we have documented in previous surveys. Approximately 80% of hardened structures remain. Only about half of the homes and farms remain. Full reports and analysis to follow from Meechum in three days.

From the private diary of Professor Cazen Pézure:

Location:  (Former) Indian Echo Caverns

19 July, 2096 C.E. -

I'm just awake from a brief nap, and lying in my favorite new place to get away from the stress of the day. These caves were once a tourist attraction, but that ended long ago. Very few people have ventured in in the last 30 years. Pools of water, rich in calcium carbonate, glimmer in the persistent light of my lantern. The water drip next to my ear is a D. Actually, it is a quarter tone above the D above middle C on a piano keyboard. I know this as surely as I know what the color Blue looks like. It plops out the note every 18.2 seconds. That part I had to measure with my chronometer. But the note is as basic to me as breathing, and as essential. As a child, my fits of acting out and tantrums were quelled only by the social worker's tapping on pans and drinking glasses. She learned very quickly that I could be pacified by sounds. Other forms of discipline did not work. They simply caused me to withdraw. But the sounds were like a soft blanket, wrapping me and calming me. Neither of us knew why, nor cared, as long as it worked.

It is astounding that my educators and doctors never brought up the subject of music and my behavior openly. There was nothing illegal about music, nothing preventing people from talking about it. It was highly "discouraged" from being practiced, of course, but only because it had no immediate or tangible benefit. It couldn't help rebuild the world economy, or increase the harvest of crops or fish. Everything is measured by its practicality for the recovery of true civilization. I must address this and explain, hopefully briefly.

We don't live in some terrifying dystopian future from an H.G. Wells novel. It isn't like that at all. Life is just what it is: utilitarian. As I write this diary, I laugh to myself that some anonymous reader of three decades hence will think that there was a terrible nuclear holocaust which caused humankind to nearly vanish from the Earth, only to be saved by a few bedraggled survivors. No such thing occurred. Yes, there have been terrible occurrences, but humans have always lived with terrible occurrences. The World Wars, the genocides, the plagues, the religious revolutions and persecutions, the greed - all of these have been the narrative of human life. It has been one steady, uninterrupted timeline. No history has been lost to our collective knowledge, there are no gaps in which we have no information, at least none more than normal. But that loss is expected because of the usual short-sightedness and apathy of humankind. We're slow to learn when it comes to not repeating mistakes of the past, hence the need for increasingly drastic control over the recent seven or eight decades.

Much of this came about because of the fact that we very nearly did destroy ourselves. The climate change which decimated our environment put so much pressure on the countries of the world that at one point, more than 80% of them were at war. Increased genocide, in the name of saving the elect few, was common. Euthanasia was legitimized and condoned in many nations. Many of those who didn't starve to death or die in the fighting were lost to those programs. The United States of America voluntarily suspended its own Constitution, forming, over a period of four decades, a new government led by a Bureau of Nations, encompassing all of North and South America, with the exception of Argentina and most of the island nations of the Caribbean. The Forties through the Eighties were the most tumultuous era in hundreds of years. So we were taught. I believe they were the worst in human history, at least when it comes to using the ends to justify the means. In my opinion, there are no "ends", only "means", and we are defined by them.

I am on my soapbox again. Although unapologetic, I must stop now, for it does me no good to be bitter about the actions of people long dead. They can teach us nothing. We can only work to not repeat their behavior, their crimes in the name of restoring civilization. It is our bitter, ironic legacy. Let me listen to the drips and sleep.


  1. Interesting start to your short story. I look forward to reading the rest of it when you're done.

  2. Can't wait for the rest of the story. It's heartbreaking to me that they are taking so much funding away from the arts. To me they are just as much of a necessity as oxygen.

  3. First, your son and his school. I'm praying for a miracle by Tuesday. He's a well-spoken, talented young man. And boy do I sound a lot like a mom. I have an inkling that he'll do well no matter what Wednesday morning brings, but what a crime to have the opportunity to pursue his art and education shut down.

    Second, I'm all over this dis-Utopian story. Bring on the rest. I like the voice and the style and you've managed to avoid coming off as foolish or strange in a genre that can easily go the bad side of sci-fi.

  4. Thanks SIAW, Raven, and Nicole. I spoke with the Dean of the school and it looks as if most people have abandoned hope of keeping it going. However, we know there won't be a vacuum for long. My son's instructor spoke with us and said very emphatically that he us still his instructor not matter what.

    As for the story, thanks. I am absolutely thrilled to do this and I'm also determined to keep this away from Sci-fi. The attempt is to simply show one possible continuous near future timeline, but maintain focus on the idea of culture, society, and civilization. Matter of fact, I want to get in touch with you regarding some points of the story, so look for that soon.