On the Golden Age

“She says that people used to live in peaceful villages,” I was explaining, “as long as society was matriarchal.”

“We love to imagine that there was a peaceful golden age at some point in history,” Mr. Magundi said, “but our illusion always evaporates when we actually know the history. We used to say that the Maya were a civilization of peaceful astronomers; then we learned to read their writing, and discovered that they loved to boast about how many other Maya they’d killed. Whenever we read that some ancient society was ideally peaceful, that wars and aggression were unknown in their time, we may be sure that we simply haven’t dug up their killing fields yet. So I think we have to give up on the golden age as a fact of human history, and recognize it instead as a fact of human psychology—or, if you prefer, as a fact of theology. Our minds tell us that there is a perfection from which we have fallen. Whether you regard that as an original sinless state, or as a sort of dimly perceived Platonic ideal, we have a mental certainty that we live in a fallen world.”

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