“It’s theorized that within a period of forty to fifty years at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the twelfth century BC almost every significant city in the eastern Mediterranean world was destroyed, many of them never to be occupied again.”
Venke paid a lot more attention to the behavior and appearance of the historian delivering the briefing than to the actual content of it. He sounded like he was reading words of the page he hadn’t written himself in an attempt to participate in the masquerade that was the finite game dominating the room. The game of acting like you’ve got your shit together and know what you’re talking about, while hiding the fact that you don’t know shit and are, behind the mask, just a ignorant primate made to be afraid of the dark just like the rest of us.
“It used to be thought that a mysterious so-called ‘Sea People’ invaded the coastal cities of the late Bronze Age and laid waste to them. That explanation has long since fallen into disfavor, with modern theories of general systems collapse holding that societal declines in the face of complex challenges lead to a fragile social structure and eventual collapse. However, given the obvious present day evidence presented to us, we think that…”
He fell silent for a moment, clearly uncomfortable in his own skin. He took a napkin from his pocket and wiped of sweat from his brow.
“We think that the Sea People theory is due for a review… We think this may have happened before, possibly several times, but that the frequency is so low that the last one barely made it into the epoch of recorded history.”
A murmor went through the briefing room. It was occupied with the usual military rabble seated in uncomfortable folding chairs crammed into the space. Officers, mostly older white men, sat with brows furrowed and arms crossed. It was unclear to Venke whether their brows were furrowed in concentration or skepticism, and whether their arms were crossed in defiance or simply in an effort to make minimal body contact with each other.
Venke felt a familiar anger well up in her, pondering the significance of the demographics in the room. She had held a life-long regard for evolution through natural selection as the central organizing principle that not just brings about all the wondrous forms of life about but also matches that life into ecosystems where energy is propagated with efficiency and effectiveness. From an evolutionary viewpoint it made perfect sense to her why this particular room was filled with the stern faces of a group of that certain demographic.
While civilian institutions of democracy had long known and promoted the value of diversity and inclusion, the strength of the selection process at play in deciding who would get to be in a top level emergency briefing like this one left little space for the requisite diversity that this situation demanded. Selection had little to do with those men being the most qualified to make decisions, or their proven superiority in any other regard except one: the cultural factors of this setting had been set in place by old white men, and so it was old white men who were best adapted to this environment. They would be the ones who could get ahead and call the shots mostly because of their subtle advantages in an ecosystem that favored uniformity of thought and action. It had long been known by the Navy that women in fact made much better submariners than men, but fat chance of that ever becoming policy, given that the policy was written by these old grumps.
And now that one-track system was showing its fragility in the face of a rapidly changing wartime ecology. Maybe there was something to be said for the theory general systems collapse as it applies to the Bronze Age Collapse. An army has uniforms and homogenous hierarchies in place because it makes it possible to wrap your too-small-for-comfort primate nervous system around it. But what happens you have an oversimplified control system in place for the sake of being able to wrap your head around it? And especially, what happens when the parameters of the ecosystem changes? How were these uniformed male primates equipped to handle the first adversary in over 3000 years who wasn’t also a group of uniformed male primates? How long before the masquerade of knowing comes to an end?
She focused on her breathing, calming down. This is not a problem to be dealt with inside established boundaries of thinking, even though she considered her view more relevant than the unexamined ones in the room. There was in her mind only one principle that would make sense of this situation. Last night after the autopsy she had picked off her shelf the book that many years earlier she had named as her own personal bible, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, written by another old white man, about an even older white man, one of the greatest. She had found the passage she had returned to time and again.
If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has ever had, I’d give it to Darwin, ahead of Newton and Einstein and everyone else. In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law. But it is not just a wonderful scientific idea. It is a dangerous idea. My admiration for Darwin’s magnificent idea is unbounded, but I, too, cherish many of the ideas and ideals that it seems to challenge, and want to protect them. … The only good way to do this—the only way that has a chance in the long run—is to cut through the smokescreens and look at the idea as unflinchingly, as dispassionately, as possible.
She could find determination if not solace in that intellectual call to arms. A lot of her more ‘spiritual’ friends from academia viewed evolution as this beautiful process of unfolding lotus flower petals. But that process wasn’t a beautiful process if you were to look into the details. In the details were lamprey needle teeth and the smell of rotten flesh and disease, and sweaty old dinosaurs sitting with their arms crossed waiting for her to come up to the front of the room to make sense of all this to them so they could decide what was the best course of action. As meanwhile the asteroid grew bigger on the night sky.
But there was beauty even in that ugliness. A hidden geometry that she could barely perceive the outlines of.
The lotus flower only blooms in the murkiest of waters.
“Dr. Venke Spielbaum will now present to us her findings from the vivisection she and her team performed on the specimen we captured on June 12th. Doctor?”