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‘Beclouded’
The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant: Summation 1
1968, Simon and Schuster, NY, 115 pages
In an attempt to better fathom Phillip K. Dick’s view of history, it has occurred to this reader, that we shared, in real time, the same general reference set: The Story of Civilization, by Will and Ariel Durant, which Dick quotes from in his letters, and which formed the foundation for my historical world view, and like Dick, served as a book leaf catalog pointing to the primary sources that the marooned postmodern mind yearns for when questions of broader social life loom in the inner eye. What follows is a series of summations and impressions of a book that could not have been published today, except by a rogue writer using a POD platform, for the summations of the previous age, given by two of its most liberal students of the two prior ages [1] now stand as fascist anathema to the liberal mind of today, the center having shifted beyond what used to be the Leftward horizon. For this very reason, Will and Ariel Durant’s view of history’s lessons [that is what Inquiries into the past have taught us less specifically] provide a near mirror to a distant world.
The authors begin respectfully in prologue by way of a probing:
1: hesitations
The historian asks himself sphinx-like, “Have you learned more about human nature than the man in the street can learn without so much as opening a book?”
Or, has the historian just joyed in the recounting of the rise and fall of men and nations, merely journeyed into minutia, masturbated over the unsolvable in his finally crafted mind without risking its gear jamming in the mud of reality?
In other words, they scold their egos, have you forsaken the shamanic role that makes the learned one relevant to the unlearned person of toil, of war, of suffering?
They almost predict the insanity rained downward, inward or upward through the ravaged filter of the speculative fiction writer’s mind—for men such as Dick were the poets of their age, fulfilling the role that the historian had abandoned of the ancient scald.
They finish, self-deprecatingly, with “…only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of hazardous conclusions. We proceed.”
If by chance or design, I suspect that Dick chose well his Charons of the mind.
Notes
-1. They group the ages of man into three:
Hunting
Agriculture
Industry
I disagree, placing herding as a third age opposed, parasitic of and complementary to agriculture, a parallel age if you will, where the view of the hunter is not corrupted by the softness of civilization, though his desire for civilized things will pull him into its orbit and extinguish his intermediate age without industrial issue.
I would add to these three ages the Information age, naming five
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