Saturday, April 5, 2008

Herodotus, Tibet, China

Last night I dreamed that I was lassoed to a Bengal tiger and he (it was definitely a male) was pulling me through a jungle. Oddly he wasn't interested in devouring me or hurting me he just wanted me to get out of the jungle as quickly as possible. When we came to a wall (I know, bizarre) he stopped and turned into something else entirely. I don't remember what but he was some sort of humanoid and very kind. And then he evaporated. I stared at the wall and woke up. It was 3 a.m.

Ryszard Kapuscinski
So, this morning I was reading Travels with Herodotus (thank you, Showwei for recommending this wonderful Polish author)...and when I read this passage I gasped. So, without any permission whatsoever from the publisher I'm putting it here.

"The Chinese built the Great Wall to defend against invasions by the restless and expansionist nomadic tribes of Mongolia. These tribes, in great armies, hordes, legions, emerged fro the Mongolian steppes, from the Altai mountains and the Gobi desert, and attacked the Chinese, constantly menacing their nation, sowing terror with the threat of slaughter and enslavement.

But the Great Wall was only a metaphor - a symbol and a sign, the coat of arms and the escutcheon of what had been a nation of walls for millennia. The Great Wall demarcated the empire's northern borders; but walls were also erected between warring principalities, between regions and even neighborhoods....

That is how the world's energy is wasted. In complete irrationality! Complete futility! For the Great Wall - and it is gigantic, a wall-fortress, stretching for thousands of kilometers through uninhabited mountains and wilderness, an object of pride and, as I have mentioned, one of the wonders of the world - is also proof of a kind of human weakness, of an aberration, of a horrifying mistake; it is evidence of a historical inability of people in this part of the planet to communicate, to confer and jointly determine how best to deploy enormous reserves of human energy and intellect.

In these part, the idea of coming together was but a chimera: The very first reflex in the face of potential trouble was to build a wall. To shut oneself in, fence oneself off. Because whatever comes from without, from over there, can only be a threat, an omen of misfortune, a harbinger of evil - perhaps the most genuine evil there is."

hmmm. Tibet and China today. The Israelis building a wall to keep the Palestinians out. The U.S. building a wall to keep the Mexicans out. And on and on. Now if only I can figure out what walls I'm building and why.

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