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- It took Khufu twenty-three years to build his Great Pyramid at Giza, where some eleven hundred stone blocks, each weighing about two and a half tons, had to be quarried, moved, and set in place every day during the annual building season, roughly four months long. Few commentators on these facts can resist noting that this achievement is an amazing testimonial to the pharaohs iron control over the workers of Egypt. I submit, on the contrary, that pharaoh Khufu needed to exercise no more control over his workers at Giza than pharaoh Bill Gates exercises over his workers at Microsoft. I submit that Egyptian workers, relatively speaking, got as much out of building Khufu's pyramid as Microsoft workers will get out of building Bill Gates's pyramid (which will surely dwarf Khufu's a hundred times over, though it will not, of course, be built of stone).
- No special control is needed to make people into pyramid builders-if they see themselves as having no choice but to build Pyramids. They'll build whatever they're told to build, whether it's pyramids, parking garages, or computer programs.
- Karl Marx recognized that workers without a choice are workers in chains. But his idea of breaking chains was for us to depose the pharaohs and then build the pyramids for ourselves, as if building pyramids is something we just can't stop doing, we love it so much.
- The meme is as strong today among us as it was among the stone-draggers of ancient Egypt: Civilization must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance. We're making the world uninhabitable to our own species and rushing headlong toward extinction, but Civilization must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance.
- This meme wasn't lethal to pharaonic Egypt or to Han China or to medieval Europe, but it's lethal to us. It's literally us or that meme. One of us has to go-and soon.
- But ...
- But ...
- But ... But surely, Mr. Quinn, you re not suggesting we go back to living in caves and catching dinner on the end of a spear?
- I've never suggested such a thing or come anywhere close to suggesting such a thing. Given the realities of our situation, going back to the hunting-gathering life is as silly an idea as sprouting wings and flying off to heaven. We can walk away from the pyramid, but we can't melt away into the jungle. The Mayan solution is utterly gone for us, for the simple reason that the jungle itself is gone and there are six billion of us. Forget about going back. There is no back. Back is gone.
- But we can still walk away from the pyramid.
- Having walked away from the pyramid we can't melt into the jungle, what on earth can we do? Here's how the gorilla sage of Ishmael answered that question: "You pride yourselves on being inventive, don't you? Well, invent." Not surprisingly, his pupil shrugged this off as a nonanswer--and I'm sure most readers did the same. They did this because in our meme about civilization there's another meme that is implicit: Civilization is humanity's ULTIMATE invention and can never be surpassed. That's precisely why it must be carried forward at any cost, because there cannot possibly be any invention beyond it. If we were to abandon civilization (gulp!), then we'd be finished!
- If there's going to be any future for us, our first invention must be a meme-killer. We must destroy in ourselves and in the people around us the meme proclaiming civilization to be an unsurpassable invention. It is, after all, just a meme--just a notion peculiar to our culture. It isn't a law of physics, it's just something we've been taught to believe that our parents were taught to believe-as were their parents and their parents and their parents and their parents all the way back to Giza and Ur and Mohenio-Daro and Knossos and beyond.
- Since there's no better meme-killer than another meme, try this one on for size:
- Something BETTER than civilization is waiting for us.
- Something much better--unless you're one of those rare individuals who just loves dragging stones.
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