Two weeks ago, as regular readers will recall, we discussed The Great Reset by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret, the rest of the really rather dreary literature of planetary preaching in which that volume fills an overfamiliar role, and the usually disastrous consequences that follow when the clueless rich set out to tell the rest of us what the future ought to be. It may seem like a substantial leap from that subject to a collection of six bomb-damaged granite slabs in rural northeast Georgia, but the connection is there.
The Georgia Guidestones, to give the slabs their proper name, were a monument erected on a hilltop near Elberton, Georgia in 1979 and 1980, and were blown up by persons unknown last month. They were planned and paid for by an anonymous group acting through an individual who called himself R.C Christian, which he himself admitted was a pseudonym. He told local officials and businesses that he wanted a structure that would survive an impending catastrophe.
Following his instructions, a local firm carved the stones out of Elbert County’s abundant granite and put up the structure. It had various astronomical features—a hole drilled in the central slab that pointed to the Pole Star, for example—but what has attracted most attention to the Guidestones are the inscriptions in eight languages on the four main slabs. They proclaim the following commandments:
- Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
- Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.
- Unite humanity with a living new language.
- Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason.
- Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
- Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
- Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
- Balance personal rights with social duties.
- Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite.
- Be not a cancer on the Earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature.
Despite the efforts to maintain secrecy around the project, a little sleuthing on the part of investigative journalists has shown that the principal figure in the raising of the Guidestones was an Iowa surgeon named Herbert H. Kersten. A lifelong (though not very orthodox) Roman Catholic, Kersten was born in 1920 and spent most of his life in Fort Dodge, IA, where he raised a family, practiced in a clinic founded by his father, joined the Rotary Club, and was active in the Republican party. He died in 2005 after a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. His obituary in the Des Moines Register talked about his passionate interest in environmental and world population issues.
These details, however, only surfaced after Kersten’s death. Before the Guidestones were even set up, the idea of persons unknown handing down their own set of commandments to the future attracted a lot of attention. On the positive side, this brought tourists to a corner of the United States that could definitely use some additional income—around 20,000 visitors a year on average. On the other side of the balance, the Guidestones quickly became the focus of a flurry of conspiracy theories and fundamentalist Christian denunciations; some writers and speakers referring to the edicts on the stones as “the ten commandments of the Antichrist.”
It’s hardly my place to tell Christians what to believe about the Antichrist, granted, but I have to admit if the Antichrist were to show up in person and proclaim some commandments, I’d expect to see much more in favor of sexual depravity and the other six deadly sins and a good deal less about truth, beauty, and love. The ten precepts on the Guidestones sound a lot more like what you would expect from an educated twentieth century American with a bee in his bonnet about overpopulation and environmental causes—a man, that is, very like Herbert H. Kersten.
It does not sound, in particular, like anything you would see from the Rosicrucian scene. That’s at issue here because the pseudonym used by Kersten looks a lot like the name of Christian Rosenkreutz (“Christian Rosycross”), the legendary founder of the Rosicrucians, which is often abbreviated C.R.C. That detail led one faction of conspiracy theorists to insist that the stones had been erected by evil Rosicrucians for some sinister purpose. As it happens, like a lot of American occultists, I’ve been initiated in several Rosicrucian orders and I know the literature well, and I’ve never seen anything like the text of the Guidestones anywhere in Rosicrucian literature. Quite the contrary: if Rosicrucians had written the thing, it would gently recommend prayer, meditation, and reverence toward the Supreme Being, rather than handing down preachments about world languages and government officials.
That said, I’m not at all surprised that the Guidestones attracted the instant hostility of so many ordinary Americans, and that one or more of those Americans took their hostility to the point of setting off a bomb. Let’s start by taking another look at the precepts on the stones, with an eye toward their context rather than their content. Who is being addressed with these commandments? And who is addressing them?
If you know your way around twentieth century postapocalyptic science fiction you’ll have no trouble figuring out these details. One of the most persistent tropes in that genre is the notion that people in a postcollapse America will think that their precollapse ancestors were gods. You can find this notion in full spate in one of the first and greatest works in the genre, Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1937 short story “By The Waters of Babylon,” which imagines a bold young man, the son of a tribal priest, making his way down the Hudson (“Ou-dis-son”) River to the legendary Place of the Gods, which is of course Manhattan.
The same gimmick appears with dreary predictability in many less competent contributions to the genre. The brutish, skin-clad tribal peoples of the American future, the assumption was, would look at the remains of modern American skyscrapers, recall legends of airplanes and cars, and convince themselves that only gods could have done such great works. It’s an interesting testimony to the collective egotism of our time, and it also reveals an embarrassing ignorance of the common themes of Dark Age cultures.
It’s quite common, after all, for peoples living amid the ruins of an extinct civilization to come to believe that those ruins—so much vaster than anything they themselves can produce—must have been put there by other-than-human entities. It’s not the gods, however, who get credited with such feats. In Anglo-Saxon England, for example, Roman ruins were assigned to the ettins or giants, the enemies of the gods. In archaic ancient Greece, similarly, the Dorian tribes who settled among the ruins of the Mycenean civilization assigned the great stone buildings they saw around them to the Cyclopes, one-eyed giants as powerful as they were wicked. (Big ancient buildings made of very large stones are still called “cyclopean.”)
Understand the language of mythology and you can follow very quickly what was being said here. Storytelling is humanity’s oldest information storage and retrieval technology, and it’s still one of the most effective, having been honed by our hominid ancestors for millennia: if you want knowledge to survive, turn it into a vivid story full of colorful symbols and incidents, tell it to children when they’re of an age to want to hear the same thing countless times, and they’ll be able to repeat it word for word to their own grandchildren most of a lifetime into the future. The requirements of the technology impose certain distortions on the data, but the important information generally gets through.
When a Saxon grandmother told her grandchildren lively tales about the terrible ettins who built mighty halls of stone in the old days, before Thunor smote them with lightning, what was she saying? Her message was as straightforward as it was important: there were people who lived here before us, more powerful than we are today, and more evil. They were the enemies of the gods, and the gods destroyed them. Do not live the way they did.
Some similar message is far more likely to be passed on by our descendants than the one that the popular fiction of the last century imagined. Grant for a moment that modern American society crashes to ruin over the next few centuries, following the usual trajectory of civilizations on their way to history’s compost heap. Grant that the decline and fall has the usual effects: population drops to 5% or so of the precollapse peak, most technology and information resources are lost, literacy becomes a rare skill, and a long and bitter dark age settles over the land. The people of that future time will use storytelling the same way every other illiterate culture has done—it’s apparently hardwired into human brains at this point, after so many generations of evolutionary selection in its favor. What stories will they tell about us?
If you think the stories in question will be the sort of thing that would allow us to preen our egos if we happened to hear them, think again. The people of that age, after all, will mostly be descended (as the people of dark age societies are always mostly descended) from rural populations far from the centers of power and wealth, either in the imperial nation our outside its borders—people who never had the chance to forget how to feed themselves by their own efforts and get by during hard times. They’ll have little reason to remember the good parts of the industrial age at its zenith, and much more reason to remember the bad. So, no, they won’t remember us as gods. They’ll remember us as a evil, powerful, but doomed race of beings who offended the gods, and were destroyed for our sins by some future equivalent of the thunder-weapon of Thunor.
Imagine, with this in mind, an alternate future in which the Georgia Guidestones didn’t get wrecked by a bomb. A millennium from now, the site of the monument is surrounded by cow skulls on poles, warning of the terrible spiritual evil emanating from this place built by the ancient giants. Talk to the tribal priest in the thriving little town that stands where Elberton is today, and he’ll explain to you earnestly that the ancients wrote baleful words on the sides of the stones, words whose meaning no one remembers any more. Even to gaze at the words is to risk falling under a curse; to try to decipher them… He shudders visibly.
A thousand years further on, as some new age of reason gathers strength—those are a common feature in the history of every civilization, after all—the passionately held superstitions of the tribal priest will have given way to more nuanced and reasoned views, but that change won’t necessarily improve our reputation any. Imagine two savants of that future era walking up to the Guidestones and considering them. Ancient English is tolerably well known by the learned in those days, and the two of them have no difficulty reading the inscription. One turns to the other and says, “That didn’t work out very well for them, did it?” The other raises an eyebrow and says, “I’m reminded of one of their proverbs: ‘do as I say, not as I do.’” They share a mordant laugh, and then one gets to work sketching the ruin while the other walks a short distance away and gazes over the landscape, musing over the ironies of history.
I’ve thought for quite some time that the reason why our culture is so fascinated with notions of imminent apocalypse is that so many people in our elite classes are horrified by the thought of scenes like the ones I’ve sketched out above. The chronological snobbery that leads people these days to insist that we’re smarter than their ancestors, for the mere reason that we live after them, has a sting in its tail: our descendants, after all, might reasonably take the same attitude toward us. The thought that we might be judged by the cold eyes of the future according to our actions, not according to our fond self-dramatizations, is a bitter pill to swallow—not least because the world industrial civilization is leaving to the future is a steaming mess, and we will be judged accordingly by those who come after us. Thus the fascination with claims that everyone is going to die, so we don’t have to worry about that.
Nor should the Georgia Guidestones be exempt from the judgments of the future. The text on the stones, after all, is a summary of a particular set of values espoused by a sizable fraction of the American intelligentsia in the twentieth century. Exactly how much good did those values do to keep us from our self-destructive trajectory? For that matter, we’ve become wearily familiar with the ways that rhetoric all too similar to Kersten’s ten postapocalyptic commandments has being used, and is being used now, to defend absurd concentrations of wealth and brutal abuses of power. That’s the kind of rhetoric on the lips of Klaus Schwab and his friends, as they insist the rest of us have to eat bugs and shiver in the dark so that they can dine on filet mignon in well-heated mansions and fly to lavish conferences in private jets.
Thus we circle back to Schwab’s Great Rehash—that is to say, his attempt to insist that the rest of us have to listen reverently to the latest bursts of cerebral flatulence coming from the current iteration of “the best and the brightest.” Schwab and his absurdly overpaid cronies clearly want to be the ones handing down commandments on tables of stone, with the rest of us assigned the role of grunting, primitive tribespeople gazing in awe at the words written by the gods. I frankly doubt they’re capable of realizing that the respect they get from anyone who isn’t angling for cash from them can best be measured in imaginary numbers. I don’t think it has entered their darkest dream just how deeply most people despise them.
With this in mind, I’m not at all surprised that the Guidestones attracted the hostility of so many ordinary Americans. Those ten rules are exactly the sort of vague abstractions that have been used to justify wave after wave of incompetent meddling in economic political affairs by intellectuals who have no clue what they’re doing. “The best and the brightest” used a bevy of such slogans to justify their policies in Vietnam, and the Club of Rome and the World Economic Forum have brandished plenty of similar rhetoric in their turn.
My take, in effect, is that too many Americans encountered the slogans on the Georgia Guidestones and recognized, from long and weary experience, the preachy tone and vacuous content that normally accompanies each new round of corporate-bureacratic attempts to inflict the latest intellectual fads on their lives and communities. They expressed that recognition in languages the elites of our time refuse to speak—the language of conservative religion on the one hand, and the language of conspiracy theory on the other—because that kept the bosses and their flacks out of the conversation. The fact that someone was willing to take the risk of blowing up the Guidestones in the face of the legal penalties offers fair warning that the ongoing impoverishment and immiseration of ordinary Americans at the hands of the current system may have a more potent blowback than the beneficiaries of that system want to face.
That said, the Georgia Guidestones were a tourist draw to a county that needs the income, and of course they also appeal to my Druidical fondness for standing stones. I’d like to suggest, on the off chance that anyone from Elbert County, Georgia is reading this, that the county might seriously want to consider running a GoFundMe campaign to rebuild the Guidestones. This time, however, they might have the people of Elbert County vote on what words, if any, they want engraved on the granite slabs of the new monument.
And if, dear reader, your first reaction to this suggestion is to come up with some snide putdown or other about what will go on the stones if this happens, I have two suggestions for you. The first, to borrow a bit of currently fashionable liberal jargon, is that maybe you should check your privilege, and ask yourself why it’s so important to your emotional life to feel superior to the decent, hardworking folk of Elbert County. The second is that if you really can’t stand the thought that Georgia farmers are going to have a chance to offer some suggestions to the future, maybe you and your friends should raise the money and put up a set of Guidestones yourselves, and engrave whatever you want onto them. After all, you have as much right to address the future as they do: as much, and no more.