The Thing About Alexandria
It's ok to think we should be farther than we are, but people shouldn't have to die in vain.
In October of 2004, I attended Scott Air Force Base Elementary School in the Mascoutah Community Unit School District Number 19. My best friend was a boy named Max. My favorite food was a double cheeseburger. My best subject was world history. 9/11 was still fresh in the collective conscience of America and John Kerry pushed desperately against the rising tide of neoconservatism in the home stretch of the Presidential election. My most pressing dilemma? Which color to paint the shoebox for a diorama.
Sitting in the room of a now retired Mrs. Fehey (how I remember her name, I do not know) was exhilarating, promising, and, quite simply, fantastic. The joy of learning had not yet been tainted by standardized tests and specialized programs for the academically gifted allowed me to excel in a nurturing environment. Our daily schedule rarely changed and homework could be completed before we even went home for the evening.
Each day would begin with the customary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, doubly important considering that every student in the school was the son or daughter of military members both active and retired. The first lesson, which started promptly at 8:05, was a lengthy, albeit necessary, grammar lesson. The use of commas, it turns out, is a sorely misunderstood art; the use of semicolons, even more so.
After grammar, we would roll into science and the theory of everything and how much we did not know before the excruciating task of solving arithmetic would be presented to the class. Two plus two does, in fact, equal four, but not when it doesn't. Two times two also equals four, but this is always the case. It's only with hindsight and several lengthy debates with my younger brother, a Mechanical Engineering student who studied at Purdue, that this has begun to make any semblance of sense.
Finally, after the painful forty-five-minute lesson and an equally painful worksheet, quiz, or whatever it was we were assigned that day, the last lesson of the day would begin: world history.
On one particularly crisp, fall day, the topic of discussion revolved around a funny library in a strangely named city on a far off continent called Africa. The brain child of Ptolemy I Soter was not respected by the barbaric peoples of yore, nor the mindless swarms of our dystopian present, but it was and always has been missed by scholars the world over. Countless stories and tens of thousands of scrolls with unknown ideas lined the shelves of this ancient wonder, all lost to fires set by invaders who didn't understand the grave consequence of their actions. "Just imagine," Mrs. Fehey would say, "how far we would be if we hadn't lost all of it. Imagine how far humanity would have spread by now had we been able to save the technology hidden in those scrolls." To which I ask, "But is it worth it?"
I think about it more often this is considered sane. The whole, "Where would we be?" question. I believe people are a little too idealistic, citing this advancement and that social progress and the idea that we would have achieved all of this hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago had we been able to keep the Library of Alexandria. But it's all a little optimistic, don't you think? Humans are terrible creatures who don't care about one another as much as they should. Take away roughly fifteen-hundred years of time for our culture to adapt and things look a little grim.
A story game that I loved during my early teens told of a future, a galactic human civilization which waged war on numerous races and in numerous systems for the seemingly benign, yet simply horrific, notion of a greater good. Men and women and children died by the millions in this horrific future because a man played god long enough to fool people into doing his bidding. Had humanity attained space flight during the height of the Inquisition, I have no doubt this would be our current fate.
Thankfully, today is not so dystopian. Though it's still relatively wretched. Today we're fighting a war we thought we had won twice over against both Fascists and Separatists. Today, there is a so-called 'discussion' about the humanity of people who aren't white or straight or male. Today... far right thinkers abhor the progress of their counterparts while simultaneously glorifying Star Trek as a shining example of what civilization should be. Today we struggle to care for children, claiming undue financial burdens, but demand 13-year-olds carry babies to term because of books no one actually reads.
So why should I expect the ones from Egypt over two millennia ago would be of any significance to the selectively blind?