Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Not Alaric but Totila

In the same vein as my talk of how the riots in London and across the US calls to mind Alaric and his sack of Rome, Victor Davis Hanson, without naming him, invokes the 6th century Gothic leader Totila:
Last week, I mentioned that my local community is struggling with council members calling each other names and alleging serial conflicts of interest, theft of the city’s manhole covers by public employees, and child pornography charges lodged against a policeman. This week? An epidemic of the theft of honorific bronze plaques from the walls of the city’s schools, civic centers, and public buildings — the sort of commemoration for good deeds that are the stuff of civilization. It reminds me of Procopius’s description of post-Roman Italy in the 6th-century AD, when lost Ostrogoth and Visigoth souls drifted amid the great cities of the Old Romans, cannibalizing the ancients’ marble, bronze, and lead clamps, and melting down monuments for lime. What scares me is that the gang bangers, who are prying these plaques off the walls and selling them, for pennies on their original dollars, for scrap, have no idea of the now dead who built and created these buildings and institutions, but so often in extremis will expect to use them. Did the man who built a school or the woman who founded a civic club ever expect that their commemorative citations would end up in a melt-down pile in the local wrecking yard?
Copper wire torn out from agricultural pumps? Manhole covers stolen by their very custodians? Commemorative plaques pried out? We are almost an entire generation of parasites that cannot create anything new and so feed on the capital and labor of the past. Sixth-century Rome to the core, or maybe Dark-Age Greece around 1000 BC where the illiterate and ignorant were wandering beneath the walls of Mycenae or Pylos looking for shelter that they could not build for themselves, and swearing superhuman “gods” must have erected such walls. Who knows, just as the most fertile period of Greek myth-making came out of the oral traditions of the Dark Ages as an impoverished and illiterate age tried to make sense of the monumental traces of a lost civilization, so too soon we may think our forgotten dam builders and water project architects of the last century were Apollo or the Cyclops, as we watch their legacies erode and crumble.
It's nice to think like a great mind, as Victor Davis Hanson is definitely a great mind.

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