I am just back from a fantastic trip through Turkey. First thanks to my son, Tom, who filled in for me while I was traveling. I have invited him to continue as a permanent guest.
The pejorative sense of “turkey the bird” is absolutely not justified by any reference to Turkey the country. Admittedly short on the history of the region before I left, I was continually stunned by the richness of the civilizations that dwelled there over 6-7000 years or more. The first evidence of human habitation dates from around 20,000 BCE, and by 10,000 BCE settlements existing on agricultural production spread throughout Anatolia. Ephesus, the jewel of the ancient, but ruined, cities is mind-boggling in both the scope and the grandeur that must have exuded from it during its peak. The early great cities and monuments were largely situated along the coast adjacent to harbors that eventually silted up and destroyed their prosperity. We went along the coast on a small ship for several days and were dazzled by the deep blue, almost turquoise, color of the sea and by its clarity as well.
Although I was on a break from serious thinking about sustainability, I could not help but think about it. Many of the successive regimes that constitute the history of the region lasted for periods longer than the time the United States has been around. None, in spite of their relatively advanced culture and even engineering prowess, were able to last. Regimes fell before advancing armies and the devastation of plague and other natural enemies. Successive conquerers fought under the banner of largely religious “truths,” believing that they were the chosen messengers of the gods or, later, of God. Turkey is particularly interesting in this regard having played an important role in paganism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham is said to come from the region. One could explain the demise of these various empires and polities on a lack of understanding of the whole system they were embedded within. Cultural beliefs of invincibility destabilized the systems and caused regime changes, one after another.
It is much the same today. Our cultural beliefs about the ability of technology to cope with upsets to the global life support system and our mistaken sense of what makes us a special species are potentially threatening to propel us toward the same fate that befell those ancient civilizations. Many of the failures then were due to peace treaties that were broken, even thought the parties recognized the importance of maintaining proper relationships with their neighbors. Although their early science was beginning to give them a sense of the world, it remained a mysterious concept. Today we know much more about that world, but still neglect our relationships with it. We know that victories on the battlefield have preserved cultures only for short periods, but act as if such power can preserve our nation forever. Although we know infinitely more than the ancient Hittites or Assyrians, I wonder if we have learned enough to create a resilient system that can produce flourishing for all life on the Planet. After being mostly out of range of TV or the Web for about three weeks, my sense upon returning home was that we have not, and, worse, we seem to be losing whatever understanding of what it takes to govern the very complex system we live within.
(The photo is of “Alexander’s” sarcophagus in the Istanbul Archeological Museum. One of the largest ever discovered, it depicts Alexander in the frieze, but its actual ownership is unknown.)

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