Crispijn de Passe the Elder, The Destruction of the Tower of Babel (1612) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
In March I left Facebook. A few days later I found myself thinking of the Tower of Babel, that hubristic exercise of a monoglot city that ended in mutual incomprehension. No less hubristic, might the ventures of our modern People of the Valley be similarly doomed?
Given the possibility of speaking to almost anyone, it seems we prefer to speak only to those who hold our own views. In the rare instance when an opposing view is encountered the result is simply enraged incomprehension.
Far from keeping its promise to “make the world more open and connected”, Facebook has arguably widened divisions. We discover “what’s going on in the world” and confirmed in the outraged self-righteousness of our positions. It is this that we share and express, but only with our caste, our friends and family who, publicly at least, long ago disappeared behind the collective media-induced trauma. Little wonder that staying “connected with friends and family”, long moved into more private channels. There sanity might prevail, but to enter the public realm is to break the connection with any immediate reality, perhaps even the self, and sense every disagreement as the first tremor of social collapse.
How much longer we will stand this remains to be seen. Eventually, I am certain, the delirium of outrage will give way to the desire to actually talk to one another and to find solutions to what appears now intractable. We will probably need a new language in which to do so. Until then, here is the original Tower from Genesis 11, King James Version and, over the next few posts some quotations from actresses, philosophers and legal experts on the importance of privacy, solitude, loneliness, distraction and recreation.
1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
Postscript: I was once told that the ubiquitous phrase “And it came to pass” has a far more sinister meaning in the original. I have now forgotten it. Can any one help with this minor agony?