Tuesday, September 18, 2007

wonders

I got pissed off today when I saw some newspaper publish a list of "seven wonders of Romania", built from the votes that people cast on its website. Besides there being lots more interesting stuff in Romania, like the Communist-built People's House, one of the largest buildings in the world, this whole thing is stupid. It's supposed to be inspired by this idea, but at least that one has worldwide coverage. So, let's start a harsh analysis of all that's wrong with these so-called "wonders", after which I will present my own view of what this world's wonders are.

Chapter 1. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

1.1. Great Piramid of Giza. Cool, impressive, durable. Appropriately called 'Great.' Questionable in utility, though certainly of great social impact. Built by workers using ramps, not by extraterrestrials, not by God. Wonderfully precise construction and alignment.

1.2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Kind of cool, unfortunately they don't exist. There is some controversy over them actually having existed in the past, but anyway, Babylonians were cool. Kind of. As cool as they could afford to be in those ancient times.

1.3. Statue of Zeus at Olympia. Also impressive, also busted.

1.4. Temple of Artemis. Busted.

1.5. Mausoleum of Maussollos. Busted by God by means of an earthquake, trashed by European Crusaders later.

1.6. Colossus of Rhodes. Busted, God, quake.

1.7. Lighthouse of Alexandria. See above.

So the Great Pyramid clearly wins, given the fact that all other six have been destroyed, mostly by nature. So what does this mean? Well, I guess there are earthquakes in Egypt just as there are in the rest of the world, not to mention eroding sand storms. But the Pyramids were simply better engineered than all the other stuff. So this brings me to my point: dude, why call them wonders when they didn't even manage to survive a few millenia? I mean, sure, they were elaborate and cultural and shit, but the pyramids, in their exterior simplicity, as well as their huge scale, simply rule. Besides, all these seven Wonders are so Europe-centric. Well, Europe and some few thousand miles below. This is absolutely wrong. There's no mention of Indian temples, no mention of Chinese stuff, and certainly no mention of South American shrines.
So in this sense, the New Seven Wonders of the World might be seen as a correct initiative. So, here's:

Chapter 2. The New Seven Wonders of the World.

2.1. Chichen Itza. See Great Pyramid, the same also applies here. Too bad they killed people there. There's culture for you. Sure, you can have great mathematics, great astronomy, great engineering, great poetry even. But that doesn't help at all if you kill people and more than 90% of your population is illiterate slaves. (Was that the case? I don't know, it's just for the sake of discussion. But they did sacrifice people.)

2.2. Christ the Redeemer. No comment.

2.3. Great Wall of China. Impressive, useful, great effort, good results, quite durable. Too bad so many people died building it, but those were tough times. Visible from space, just as many other buildings are. Invisible from the Moon.

2.4. Machu Picchu. Cool, ignored until relatively recently by Western historians, just as all of ancient South America, see Chichen Itza.

2.5. Petra, Jordan. Wh'ever. Call me uncultured.

2.6. Roman Colosseum. Oh yeah! :) Quite unimpressive I might say, having visited it. Very famous of course, objectively quite fine architecturally, and of course very durable. The fact that it's a wreck is due to repeated theft, not its construction. So yes, it has its merits. Its purpose however makes me point you to the comments on 2.1. Of course, me being Romanian and thus of Latin descent, I must say I'm quite ashamed of my ancestors. I don't care about their philosophers and poets, in fact Asian philosophy and poetry kicks Europe's butt with indescribable force and depth. I care about the Romans violently conquering everything and amusing themselves with organized bloodshed. I despise the Roman Empire and its heritage.

2.7. Taj Mahal. Correct.

2.8. The Great Pyramid, again :) Yes, I know that makes 8 not seven. Honorary Candidate.

This is already better than the classic Seven Wonders, but misses a point. These are all ancient! I mean sure, they're great, or at least 5 of them are, and of course, newer buildings such as the Eiffel tower were included in the polls. The truth is, modern humans are driven by Capitalism and thus by utility, rather than the desire to build something Great, Really Great, like the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall. There's no point now in employing so many resources. I mean, one really can't compare the Eiffel tower with those ancient Wonders that were build with much lower technology, and that's because it's... small :) Sure, it's nice, it's important, it was pioneering, but it's small. So, these 7-8 wonders are wonderful and even greater than more recent buildings, but they're still ancient. Their relevance today is only historical. Here is my list of modern wonders that really count, stuff that has been shaping our lives since its discovery. Stuff that's been building modern culture.

Chapter 3. The Real Wonders.

3.1. The Flushing Toilet (of course) and Hygene in general. Not invented, but nonetheless made popular, by a guy ironically named Thomas Crapper.

3.2. Medicine. The discovery of bacteria, which is life not mentioned among that created by God in seven days. The discovery of antibiotics, anesthetics, et cetera et cetera et cetera. This did absolutely nothing but double our average life expectancy.

3.3. Freedom of, and from, religion. Freedom of speech and thought. And democracy in general. Imperfect as it all might be, at least it exists in theory, and in practice in some form or another.

3.4. The Integrated Circuit, first imagined by others, but designed to be economically manufacturable by Robert Noyce on Jean Hoerni's planar process. Saying that the influence of the IC on modern society is enormous would be a gross understatement. Every electronic device, computer systems included, the Internet, banking, wtf, the whole economy and all our comfort depends on high-performance integrated circuits.

3.5. The Internet. I can now talk to people on the other side of the globe and share ideas, and I can learn a lot of stuff that others care to publish. In view of this, Free Software and Free Documentation share the award.

3.6. Nothing. Everything stated above is simply much too great to place near anything else. Science. Let's say Science in general. It's been already mentioned 3 times though :)

3.7. No. I can't think of anything comparable in greatness or relevance to hygene, medicine, freedom, the IC, or the Internet and its associated freedoms.

There. Think about how the Rhodes Colossus and the others make your life so much better than ancient Romans' and shut up.

P.S. :D :D Just as I was proof-reading this post, a senile old lady was speaking on TV on "The Critical Eye" claiming that God built the Great Pyramid and Stonehenge :) Dude, we build skyscrapers and tunnels and hydroelectric dams and launch rockets and send ships outside the solar system, but our ancestors couldn't have moved some blocks of stone to build some pyramids and a stone circle. That's not only stupid, but insulting to humanity as well.

2 comments:

etor said...

Although almost speechless, I can not hold myself from expressing my respect towards the value of this post. (No, this is not butt-licking. The post actually made my morning.). Thing is:

(besides some small comments like: man, the situation with illiterate slaves was the same in South America as in Egypt, just that egyptians didn't kill that much of their work force. Moreover, South America's pyramids are significantly newer. Also, building the Great Wall was driven by utility.)

I just want to point out that, although your points about 1.* versus 2.* are true, as the point of the guys with the New Wonders was true, however bringing 3.* into the discussion is fairly forced and quite on the side of the subject. The discussion was not about important discoveries and solutions. Let us not be mislead by words. The phrase 'Seven Wonders of The World' does indeed contain no reference to the domain of construction, however when they introduced the term (see this) contructions was kind of everything great that they were doing, besides some weaponery and some basics in philosophy and maths - which were quite untouchable and unknown to the common individual.

So, everybody knows that the term does refer to contruction wonders. 3.* are great, but the whole thing was not about this.

ret 784 said...

Of course the comparison is forced and out-of-place, I can't afford to disappoint my audience :)
Corrected Great Wall from 'practical' to 'useful', which is what I wanted to say in the first place, thanks for pointing out.