The Value of Measurement

In The Power of Imagination, I compared Eichmann to a cog in a clock, unaware of the bigger picture. This morning, when I re-read it, I thought about how it is not the clock that makes time pass. A clock is just a measuring device, like a tape measure or an odometer. All these human concepts. The birds have no clocks and yet they know when to do what. The nest-building, the partner-finding, the egg-hatching, the migrating. It all happens. All around them are clocks, I guess. Leaves falling, buds growing, sun-rises, rain falls, tides, moon phases.

Humans have our clocks and yet we seem to know so little. We know when we need to be at school or at work or how long it is since we ate. But we don’t know when or how to find the right partner, we don’t know how to prioritise raising kids and finding food, most of us don’t know how to build our own nests. I think the difference is we specialise. We are more like ants, perhaps, or meerkats, than like birds. We live in colonies and we assign roles. And we each perform our own role. But as history falls away behind us, the roles are changing and, for a time, everybody feels lost again, like the builders of Gaudi’s Cathedral in Barcelona when Gaudi suddenly died and left nothing written down.

The last male northern white rhino died this year. It did not know it was the last. It was just another rhino dealing with the world it lived in. It did not know its own significance.

Humans know. Humans count and keep track of so many things. Our belongings, our years, our hairs, our income, our killing, our birthing. We knew it was the last male northern white rhino and did it help? Will the last human know he is the last? I suppose not. Human infrastructure is what informs and updates us. Power-lines, telephones, boats, planes, computers – this is how we know stuff. But all that infrastructure requires humans, spread across the globe, to keep it working. By the time we are down to 3, for example, all that will have broken down. Those last 3 may know of each other but how do they know there are not others?

Maybe counting only matters when we are many. We are so very many, on this planet. We are the plague, the pestilence.

If you are one of three known humans left, you will count your food resources, count your water sips, perhaps. But does counting help? It only helps while there is something to divide or some bodies to divide it between. What helps is making / finding more.

Money. We are good at making / finding money. It has a worth that we can count. It has a value we have assigned.

But what was the value of that last male northern white rhino? What will be the value of the last acre of Bangladesh still above the waves? What is the value of the last house standing on Tuvalu?

The last dollar will have no value at all. When those last 3 humans wait it out, money will have lost all value. At that point, we will be back in the world of the birds and the meerkats. Clocks and odometers and tape measures and currency will all be as useless as crying.

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