To fly or not to fly

Have you ever wanted to fly to work? Without a helicopter, without a plane, without whatever it is Joby is building? Occasionally, I find myself resenting some of the physical laws of the universe. Gravity is usually the prime offender, as well as time. Several days ago I was irritated at gravity, wondering why it had to be such an immutable law. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend the afternoon flying about the clouds, startling migrating Canadian geese and alarming United Airlines pilots? I know I do.

That got me wondering about the motivation of the architects of the tower of Babel. If you aren’t familiar with the story (or your history–depending on your perspective), long before most of the earth was settled, humans got together on the plain of Shinar (I think this is somewhere around modern-day Iran or Iraq) and decided to build a tower that would reach the heavens. I imagine they were grumpy about their place in life and wanted to have it out with God. You know how the story ends. If you don’t, go read Genesis. Regardless of your philosophy, you’ll find it an interesting read.

And, of course, if you truly want to understand literature, from PG Wodehouse on back through the great Russians, Dickens, Thackeray, etc., all the way through Shakespeare, you have to read the Bible. This is a bit of a rabbit trail-aside, but I’m astonished at the lack of biblical literacy in today’s college kids, particularly those who want to write or wish to have any sort of career in literature, writing for entertainment, journalism, you name it. You cannot read Hamlet properly without understanding the Bible. A deep understanding of the Marvel universe will not help you.

Anyway, back to the tower of Babel builders. A displeasure with the laws of the universe is my integration back to those frustrated central planners. I imagine I might have been building alongside them. Perish the thought.

Tower of Babel

The tower of Babel was the world’s first public works project. Mentioned in the 11th chapter of Genesis, I’m a little surprised the builders didn’t float a bond first to fund it. A little percentage added onto your property tax over the next forty years. Evil as they were, mankind’s evil hadn’t progressed that far yet.

I’ve been wondering about the tower of Babel lately, wondering how many other times in history that impulse rose to gain the heights in order to grasp at God’s power (whether there was any belief in deity or not). I suppose any great work, if devoid of the proper humility one should have and subject to an acknowledgement of God, contains an inherent Babelian quality.

Everything from personal endeavors to nation-building or the like (the EU, with all of its oddities, springs to mind).

In some ways, the internet kind of reminds me of the tower of Babel. It isn’t strictly architectural in the traditional sense, but it does bear some resemblance in terms of size, as well as its potential for both hubris and evil. The internet is something like a massive, shared brain stretching around the planet. A dreadfully and imperfectly shared brain, of course, or a collection of millions of brains messily and partially glommed together into a paranoid and schizophrenic communal cyborg. A pool of bacteria, swarming and crawling around and over each other, sharing, stealing, whispering, fighting, reproducing, influencing each other, leaving bits of thought and graffiti in different places, even while the pool itself becomes more and more homogenous with each passing day.

This is Babel. For in it is a pride of being caused by the enlargement of self. I think, I am, I shall be, because I am part of the pool and, therefore, more than my self. The pack. I am subsumed by the communal id, whether I realize it, or want it, or not. And, subsequently, the homogenous mess can only devolve into grasping for more than each individual part could ever grasp for on its own.

The sum of the parts, brick by brick, bacteria by bacteria, mind by mind, becomes larger and higher, reaching up through the atmosphere.

Towers tend to fall, though. That’s the second law of thermodynamics at work, which is equally happy to work on both a material and spiritual level. Height comes before a fall. Pride comes before a fall.

These days, I’m fascinated by the devolution of the so-called lords of free speech on the internet: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and the like. The genesis of the internet, years, ago, was generally heralded in the context of the first amendment. Unregulated, unfettered, the neon speed lanes of the information superhighway would be built, one by zero by one by zero, in honor and defense of free speech. And how long did that last? Any tower of Babel worth its salt, I’m afraid, needs a foundation welded from iron, and the recent clamping down on free speech reflects the brutally honest truth of those iron foundations.