Are We Vulnerable to Another Library of Alexandria-Level Loss of Knowledge and Art?

Joel Eisenberg

The digital age holds no immunity against a perfect storm.

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The myth of Egypt’s Great Library of Alexandria is that innumerable scrolls, records of knowledge and historic events, and invaluable pieces of art were lost in a tragic conflagration.

The reality is something else, and yet at once not fully recognized. Scholars largely agree that the loss of the Great Library took place over time resulting from a series of calamities, beginning in or around 48 BC when Julius Caesar accidentally burned at least a portion of the center during the Great Roman Civil War just prior to the establishment of the Roman Empire.

What survived of the original Library of Alexandria from then forward, and what has been rebuilt, has been endlessly debated.

Among the tragic outcomes, however, of the terrific loss of this largest of all libraries in the ancient world was the destruction of volumes upon volumes of thought and invention. The Great Library housed original works by the world’s greatest thinkers, among them Plato, Homer, and Socrates. We cannot know of all that was lost, nor how much of the work of these men we have never seen.

The extent of the works of other prominent historic thinkers, many with whom we are unfamiliar, is impossible to fathom.

This article will emphasize issues of today’s world, most notably its culture wars, that threaten to once again destroy untold volumes of art and history.

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Today’s culture wars take into account the following:

Our polarized political climate:

In 2020, we came to learn the term “Boogaloo” was extreme-right slang for Civil War. This would have been easy to dismiss at the time as little more than hype, if news reports emanating from Michigan did not show dozens of heavily-armed civilians taking matters into their own hands and bombarding the state Capitol, among hundreds of others not carrying weapons, and literally shouting in the faces of armed security.

The mind wandered as to how Donald Trump’s more unhinged supporters would respond if he lost the 2020 U.S. election. The threats were already made, and agencies such as the FBI tracked an increase in online chatter on the matter.

On January 6, 2021, some of our greatest concerns were answered during the storming of the United States Capitol. The insurrection began ...

Opening states vs. obeying staying at home orders during the early phase of Covid-19: Related to the above, medical experts tended to agree that states reopening too quickly is a recipe for disaster. With an average of 4000 U.S. deaths daily nearly one year ago from the time of this writing, it may still be a long while before libraries consider reopening. We are left with our computers, but the question arises if we are well-defended against cyber-warfare due to recently-exposed vulnerabilities.

Mass shootings: Domestic terrorism was at an all-time high in the U.S. prior to the advent of Covid-19, averaging one mass shooting daily over the period of the preceding year. Frustration is threatening to boil over. Now, during Biden's administration and an era where vaccines cautiously imply an end to our current pandemic, mass shootings have all but returned in force with a reported tragedy every day for at least the past three weeks.

Increase in racist incidents: Cops on African American violence. Anti-Semitic incidents on the upswing. Violence against Asians as a stated result of Covid-19. Continual anger against Muslims. All of which not only threatens to curb the creation and sharing of new art, in favor of homogeny, but add to the growing concern regarding November’s election result.

Increase in sexual misconduct charges: The #MeToo movement has destroyed the careers of several high-profile artists … as well it should. We all suffer as the result of the abuser’s actions, which also curtails new art that could have changed lives.

Escalating international tensions: Relations between the U.S., China, North Korea, and Russia have been increasingly tenuous over the last few years. NATO has been weakened. Barely three years ago, ISIS had destroyed innumerable artistic monuments, and is slowly reorganizing.

Decrease in funding to PBS and the National Endowment of the Arts. The past administration was not arts-friendly. This is not a partisan comment; this is a statement of truth regarding substantial federal cuts to arts organizations. Hopefully, Biden will hep see to it that PBS survives and thrives.

Skyrocketing unemployment: 2020: How many among us were being suppressed because we could not afford to create and pay our bills due to losing our primary source of incomes? 2021: Promise beckons, and yet another stimulus has appeared to spur a recovery, but there is still a long way to go.

Covid-19 itself: What effect will our novel coronavirus prove to have had on our libraries, schools and other places of readership and study? Sure, many schools have been announced as reopening. Time will tell. Our libraries are in danger right now. Likely, if they do not reopen, and maybe even if they do, those contents that are not already digitized will be, then, sent to physical storage.

Do we even need physical libraries anymore? Have computers taken away our need for such centers of culture? Speaking of, what will become of our museums?

Digital storage: The cloud is perhaps the most significant technological advancement of recent years, considered capable of infinite storage. But is it possible for the cloud to be hacked? If so, what would become of our own virtual Library of Alexandria?The world is changing, and we are watching the transition in real time. In an era of quarantine, many of us have leaned on our computer systems and home entertainment to get through the day.

The Library of Alexandria was a melange of our modern-day museums and our biggest libraries. Invaluable collections were lost, never to be seen again. And those lost that we are unaware of may well have contained answers to some of life’s great mysteries.

We’ll never know.

My wife and I had a conversation a few weeks ago. We were wondering aloud if 50–100 years hence, those of us who survive this virus would be looked upon as we do Holocaust survivors, hoping to find video, audio and print stories about our experiences so they can learn from them.

And be inspired to create art from them.

We need to keep expressing our art, we need to never cease telling our stories, and most of all we need to get along and not engage in further war amongst each other so this world — and its art — can survive and thrive.

And yet, despite what we need to do, these words accurately reflect the entirety of the modern world: Our global frustrations are converging in a perfect storm.

What’s next?

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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