The Thin Veneer of Modernity

Posted on Feb 15, 2022

Modernity is a thin veneer over thousands of years of baser and humbler human history. Almost everything we take for granted today—like electricity, telecommunications, antibiotics, vaccines, knowledge of the internals of the atom, an understanding of DNA, the discovery of plate tectonics, limited space travel, microchips, complex computer modeling, the internet, and so on—was invented or discovered within the span of two or three lifetimes.

When I was a little kid, some of the things I was taught in science class had only been discovered or agreed upon within the past twenty years. A lot more things, such as nuclear energy and weapons, had been invented or discovered in the prior fifty years. As a six-year-old first-grader in the 1980s, fifty years ago may as well have been five-hundred; I couldn’t understand how new everything was around me. For instance, I didn’t realize that my dad had been born before the atomic bomb had been invented. Just today I learned that he was born even before helicopters, which he helped manufacture throughout most of his career, were invented.

It is absolutely astonishing to be alive at such a time, when the past hundred years or so invented nearly everything around us, and we expect new scientific discoveries and new inventions practically every week. It is also very troubling that humans, after only such a short time enjoying the fruits of our ingenuity, seem to be unable to focus on and solve the climate crisis that modernity caused. I fear that thousands of years of baser and humbler human history could return to us at some point in the future if we do not learn to work together to preserve our planet.