CREATORS AND DESTROYERS: WE ARE ONE PACKAGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #57


Are humans better at creating or destroying?


We are good at both and moreover, a lot of our creations turn out to be destructive.


Ten Medieval Inventions that Changed the World:

  • Mechanical Clock. Timekeeping devices have emerged since the ancient world, but it was not until the Middle Ages that the technology was invented that allowed for mechanical clocks to accurately keep track of time.
  • Printing Press.
  • Gunpowder.
  • Water and Wind Mills. (Note: Ancient civilizations all over the world had invented grinding mills for corn and other grains. The big invention, in this case, was attaching the grinder to rushing water to make it work on its own.)
  • Coffee House. (France, Louis XIV)
  • Eyeglasses. 13th-14th centuries. Also telescopes.
  • Public Library. (Another note: How “public” they were depends on your definition of “public.” I’m not sure peasants or even the middle class were “public” at that point.)
  • Flying Buttress.

Although I’m pretty sure the flying buttress never destroyed anything, gunpowder surely did. We didn’t invent it. Marco Polo imported it. The Chinese invented it in the 9th century but didn’t use it for weapons. They preferred fireworks.

Plastic was an amazing invention. It hasn’t worked out well for the world but who knew what incredible slobs humans could be? On the other hand, coffee houses and libraries remain terrific places to hang out.

The clock showed up in the 13th century. Imagine that! A time-keeping device in the 1200s. Wristwatches took a little longer. The 13th century, mostly noted for the Black Plague that swept the world also forced the invention of the central government. Was that a good thing or a bad one? It was good when they created it because everyone was starving (no peasants to plow the fields).

A central government could build giant granaries and dole out grain so that whoever wasn’t dying of plague might not die of starvation instead. It was a way of keeping a few citizens around when the plague finally left. Incidentally, this also created a middle class. Today’s government doesn’t ideal, but it would be difficult to run a modern world without it. Maybe impossible.

The Egyptians and Romans were very big on government as were the Chinese, Macedonians, Greeks, and probably many other cultures about whom we don’t know enough to make a firm statement. It varied in style, but its centrality was undisputed.

Gutenberg printing press

We invent things. We mismanage the things we invent. We invent something else which is supposed to fix what went awry the first time around … and when that goes awry too, we do some more inventing. When we think we are out of inventions, we aren’t. There is always another genius in the wings.

You could say that humans have invented everything that isn’t animal,  mineral, or vegetable.

In the 1400s, we got the first golf balls and women discovered the “golf weekend.” The first piano — called the Spinet — was invented the same year and soon we were all taking piano lessons. In 1411 they invented the trigger to go with the gun. That opened up the world of warfare which we have turned into a video game. By the 1500s, the Japanese had invented artillery. It took a few more centuries to build much bigger explosives, but we done it.

Modern-style oil-painting showed up in 1420 (or thereabouts) though there were many other kinds of painting long before that.

In 1421 in lovely Florence, someone invented hoisting gear. This probably helped get those flying buttresses up where they belonged. In the middle of that exhausting century — around 1455 (no one is exactly sure of the date), Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press using movable metal type. The printing press was probably a bigger deal than even the cell phone. (NOTE: The Chinese invented movable metal type in the 9th century, but we didn’t learn about it until five centuries later.)

Medieval moldboard plows

The list of inventions is almost endless. We are incredibly inventive. The problem is that we have an ugly habit of turning these inventions into ways to destroy the earth and each other. A lot of people who invented things that went wrong were really sorry about it. Later. When it was a bit late. Like Alfred Nobel who invented dynamite. He was so sorry he also invented major awards. Oh, wait, they’ve been around awhile. Oops, sorry.

The irony is that I don’t think we are intentionally destructive. Of course, this is not counting Trump and his toadies. We think we are protecting something or fighting for god or battling demons and in the course of doing what we think it really a good thing, we destroy so much in our wake.

What are we? Creative? Destructive? We are both, by turns. We create things of great beauty, extraordinary value. Then, we blow them up.


Take a look at a Timeline of historic inventions in Wikipedia. We are creators. We just have no damned discipline.

5 thoughts on “CREATORS AND DESTROYERS: WE ARE ONE PACKAGE – Marilyn Armstrong

    • Yup. We really love explosions. I used to go to the 4th of July celebration along the Charles River in Boston and at the end of the concert, there was the 1812 Overture and they always brought out the local artillery. You don’t just get drums. You get big, long range artillery shooting (blanks I assume). We do love that noise!

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    • I really think our problem is that we invent without thinking about what the long-term results might be. I think much of our destructiveness is the careless use of inventions. We don’t see the implications of what we invent or its dangers over time.

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