I recently finished reading How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. It is a book that covers the role of the Irish in preserving the heritage of Western civilization during the period of barbarian unrest between the fall of Rome and rise of the Middle Ages. It is a fascinatingly well-written and engaging book that I would highly recommend. I found lots of food for thought throughout the book, but the last section of the last chapter was especially thought-provoking. In it, Cahill takes a look at our modern world through the lens of history, and gifts us with a few of his thoughts. I can't say that I agree 100% with his spin on things, but his thoughts are definitely worth the thinking.
'As we, the people of the First World, The Romans of the twentieth century, look out across our Earth, we see some signs for hope, many more for despair. Technology proceeds apace, delivering the marvels that knit our world together - the conquering of diseases that plagued every age but ours and the consequent lowering of mortality rates, revolutions in crop yields that continue to feed expanding populations, the contemplated 'information highway' that will soon enable all of us to retrieve information and communicate with one another in ways so instant and complete that they would dazzle those who built the Roman roads, the first great information system.
But that road system became impassable rubble, as the empire was overwhelmed by population explosions beyond it borders. So will ours. Rome's demise instructs us in what inevitably happens then impoverished and rapidly expanding populations, whose ways and values are only dimly understood, press up against rich and ordered society. More than a billion people in our world today survive on less than $370 a year, while Americans, who constitute five percent of the world's population, purchase fifty percent of its cocaine. If the world's population, which has doubled in our lifetime, doubles again by the middle of the next century, how could anyone hope to escape the catastrophic consequences - the wrath to come? But we turn our backs on such unpleasantness and contemplate the happier prospects of our technological dreams.
What will be lost, and what saved, of our civilization probably lies beyond our powers to decide. No human group has ever figured out how to design its future. The future may be germinating today not in a boardroom in London or an office in Washington or a bank in Tokyo, but in some antic outpost or other - a kindly British orphanage in the grim foothills of Peru, a house for the dying in a back street of Calcutta run by a fiercely single-minded Albanian nun, an easygoing French medical team at the starving edge of the Sahel, a mission to Somalia by Irish social workers who remember their own Great Hunger, a nursery program to assist convict-mothers at a great New York prison - in some unheralded corner where a great-hearted human being is being committed to loving outcasts in an extraordinary way.
Perhaps history is always divided into Romans and Catholics - or, better, catholics. The Romans are the rich and powerful who run things their way and must always accrue more because they instinctively believe that there will never be enough to go around; the catholics, as their name implies, are universalists who instinctively believe that all humanity makes one family, that every human being is an equal child of God, and that God will provide. The twenty-first century, prophesied Malraux, will be spiritual or it will not be. If our civilization is to be saved - forget about our civilization, which, as Patrick would say, may pass "in a moment like a cloud or smoke that is scattered by the wind" - if we are to be saved, it will not be by Romans but by saints.'