“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” from Ozymandias by Shelley
In attending a function alone the other day, I sat quietly and listened to the conversation by which I was surrounded. I”ll not say where I was, but it was reminiscent of Indiana Jones in the Well of Souls, except all the vipers could talk. As I sat there, munching on my salad, I heard talk of church and children. But most of all I heard fifty egos proclaiming their own greatness, and another hundred envious of the fifty. The whole thing was terribly boring. Put all the voices together and there weren’t ten original thoughts between them. More than anything, it made me sad.
All that hubris got me thinking about Ozymandias. It’s a poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley in the 1800’s about the Egyptian king, Ramesses II. I’ll not transcribe it, as anyone can look it up online, but it’s about human arrogance. His ancient kingdom swallowed by the sand, Ramesses’ monuments survived the centuries to deliver this message: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” The poem was a warning from Shelley that we should remember life’s transient nature. Ozymandias was long gone, and centuries later all that remained were a few stones, a sneer, and an arrogant statement.
“There is nothing new under the sun,” so says the good book. Those who do not accept scripture as the Word of God might do well to accept it as a historical record, because it provides insights into the things that repeatedly lead to the destruction of civilization. Man’s life is vain and temporary, Ecclesiastes tells us. That is certainly as true now as it was around 300 BC when the scribe put pen to paper. The foolish and the wise, the rich and the poor all perish in the span of a hundred years. A hundred years after that they’ll be lucky if anyone remembers their name or anything about them. For those that do remember, would one like being seen with a sneer proclaiming one’s own greatness? Or would one rather warn them like Shelley? I’d rather warn them.
At that function the other day I was reminded of how homogenized we’ve all become. Political arguments can be made as to whether or not the country has succumbed to socialism, but we’ve certainly become socialists in our behavior: Mega churches where everyone ingests the same sermons, federally controlled schools where students ingest the same curriculum, and corporate farms that mass produce food that we all literally ingest after purchasing it from indistinguishably similar grocery stores. Dwindling are the small shops, small farms, and small churches of old. As the capacity for supply has grown, the supply chain has become more endangered. Look to the disaster that was twentieth century communism. The stores where they bought their scraps of food and clothing might look familiar. Their huge empty warehouses might closely resemble a Wal-Mart. They were built with the intention of providing a better life for the people. Their capacity was never the problem, but stocking the shelves became difficult in a homogenized society. Rather than feeding the masses, the communists succeeded in starving millions in the name of equality. Men that began careers writing about the corruption of monarchies ended up installing themselves as absolute monarchs by another name: Premier, or Chairman, or Great Leader. Most of those tyrants started dirt poor with the goal of providing food for their neighbors. Strange how that quest often leads to complete power and millions murdered in the pursuit of utopia.
It is the individual who does great things. Societies that start buying into the lie that everyone is the same are not far from ruin. True, all men are created equal. All men die equally too, but the space in between is rarely equal. What we do with our time, the only real currency of life, varies from person to person. It is incumbent on us all to use the time we have wisely and in pursuit of the truth. It is that pursuit of the truth that leads me to keep writing every week. Thanks for tagging along.