The Ancient Modern

Some Advice for Contemporary Mesopotamians /  Joshua Alan Sturgill

Now, let me explain why Babel really failed. It wasn’t lack of architectural planning. It wasn’t that it was such a bad idea. Babel failed because it didn’t include a balcony. Think about it. What should be up at the top of the tower? Not some secret altar or observatory. Ceremonies get boring and repetitive after awhile, and staring at stars is neither productive, nor good for the eyes. Babel needed a great big enviable balcony. A penthouse view. A lofty void. The kind of architectural feature that would make people look up from below and say:

Damn. I want that. I want to see from there, and I want to be seen from there. I want to be the object of everyone’s envy.

People will look up at that balcony and begin calculating their respective worth and achievement potential. A competitive market for the limited good of the balcony will spontaneously arise. I must have that view, and I’ll do whatever it takes, they’ll say. And they’ll labor with powerful attention for a chance to be in that elite group. “The whole inhabited earth” (as it says in Genesis) will ignore their fields, their souls, their children. They’ll leave their all their relationships to be managed by third-party brokers, who are themselves clamoring for a chance to get to the top.

Not only will they want to visit, they’ll want to own. They’ll want to brand. They’ll want their names in shining letters: “Balcony by _____”or “Presenting the ______ Balcony.” Then, watch them scramble up the winding narrow walkways of Babel, fighting, begging, bargainingall to have the glory of the Balcony even for just 15 minutes!

Now of course, we know all this commotion will get God’s attention, just like last time. There’s God, busy with creation, and He hears all the commercial hubbub. What’s going on down there? He asks. He peers over the clouds, and glances around. But this time, no retribution froths from His righteous lips. No beams of fiery travail flash forth from His mighty fingertips. Nope. Not at all. Why? Because this time, the people aren’t trying to reach Heaven.

They’re only scrambling up so far. Not far enough for God to have to worry about it. They’re only bargaining for a vacuum, an empty space. They’re just trying to get a better view of what they already own. So, you see, this is what Babel needs. A lesser cause, just within reach of just a few folks. This is more reasonable. It will attract all the right attention from the people, and none of the bad attention from God. All the suffering, killing, dreaming and dying won’t ultimately be a problem, because human beings are stimulated to their best potential by competition and adversity.

We don’t want to be gods, we don’t need community or metaphysics or purpose (or, whatever the latest fashionable aspiration may be). We are excited by that balcony. And, of course, the secret is that a balcony is preciselynothing! We’ve saved on building costs and increased revenue at the same time! What’s not to appreciate? We’ve put this nothing up for everyone to see, and everyone wants it. They’ll be so pleased to look up with pride and say:

See that abyss up there? That emptiness is mine!


All poetry and supplementary material: copyright 2019 by Joshua Alan Sturgill

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