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Invisible Success, Civilizations that Die or Quit and Memes We Live By; Transcript of an Interview with Daniel Quinn

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So think about this: imagine two guys, two guys on an airplane.  One falls out, and then a second later so does the other one.  The first guy splatters on the ground like a ripe tomato, the second lands on his feet and walks away.  It's obvious that the first had something that the first didn't; and what he had is also obvious: a parachute. 

 

So, we've got these two civilizations, two kind of civilizations: ours, and these and extinct, ruined civilizations.  One experiences all sorts of catastrophes and quits.  Another quits after just a few thousand years, a few hundred years in some cases.  And our civilization, facing the same catastrophes, over and over again, terrible catastrophes, never stopping.  It kept on for ten thousand years, and never once did anyone think of quitting.  So just like the parachute, the people of the Maya and the Olmec, they lacked something we have; and what they lacked was a meme. 

 

A meme is a constituent element of culture or of cultural heredity, just the way a gene is a constituent element of biological heredity.  A pelican receives a complete set of the genes that make it a member of the pelican species; it receives this set of genes from it's parents, who received it from their parents, and who received it from their parents, and so on, back through time.  Much the same way, each member of a culture receives a complete set of memes of that culture that are constituent elements of that culture, that they received from their parents, their teachers, their neighbors, the kids they play with, and so on, who received them from their parents, their teachers, their friends, and so on, and who received them from their parents, and on, and so on, and so on, back through time. 

 

Here's an example of one of our memes:"People's behavior needs to be governed by laws."  Here's another: "The planet earth belongs to us.  It's one of our possessions to be used like any other."  I'm not putting these up as something to criticize, just as something that do(sp) represent constituent elements of our cultural heredity, our cultural identity. 

 

To us, this meme, the meme that separated us from the Olmec and the Maya is this: "Civilization is the way humans were meant to live from the beginning of time.  It must be preserved at all cost, whatever the circumstances, no matter what.

 

This kept us going.  We always knew it had to be continued, it had to be continued.  And the Maya and Olmec did not have that meme, and so when things got a way they didn't care for anymore, they could walk away.  And they did walk away.  All of the things that were cited as theories, none of them were the people at the bottom, on whom everyone else depended, the people who did all the work, they said "No more," and walked away.  And they could walk away, because they were surrounded by land that was completely usable for hunter-gatherers.  They went back to living the old way, and left behind the ruins, left behind the edifices and the pyramids.  And the ruling class, who now had no option except to join them -- we couldn't do that.  We couldn't do that, we never had any temptation to do that. 

 

In other words, the end of those civilizations was bottom up.  The beginning of them was top down, but we have -- our civilization's hierarchy is grotesque, with the top ten percent [10%] of our population being millionaires and billionaires, and the bottom twenty percent [20%] living on less than a dollar and a quarter a day [$1.25] for food, clothing, and shelter.  Twenty percent: more than a billion, almost two billion.  But the two billion are not at all tempted to say "Enough!  We're walking away from this."  Where they would walk, I don't know. 

 

But everyone, including everyone in the poor, a hundred years ago, they were the poor, two hundred years ago they were the poor; they didn't walk away either, because they knew:  this is the way people were meant to live, and had to live that way even if it kills them.  And we have to keep on going with this civilization even if it kills us, even if it destroys the planet, we must keep going.

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