the reading project: eternal truths

I am currently reading Sumerian Proverbs: Glimpses of Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia but Edmund I Gordon, and I had one of those moments where I realized the commonality of human experience across the whole of recorded (written) human history.

On page 15 of (my edition of) Gordon, we find the proverb: He acquires many things; he must keep close watch over them.

And we are still saying this. We are still talking about being the custodian of our things.

This realization struck a chord in me. Looking back over almost 4000 years of human writings, we find these threads that have persisted for all of that time.

One thing I find interesting is that if we compare the material wealth we have access to in current days, against the material wealth available to even the well to do in ancient Mesopotamia, we have access to more. And yet, to be recorded, this expression must have been kicking around for some time.

There are things that we will never know. One is, who was the first person to formulate this basic idea as an idea worth sharing with others. One worth codifying into a phrase. One worth committing to print. One worth preserving.

And yet, looking around at the world we inhabit today, consumption and acquisition still form a large part of the advertising we find ourselves subject to, and the underlying rules on which our society is built.

So what to do with this realization? One is to look around and ask, what of the things around me are things I actually need, and this is a question I find myself asking often, and not often enough.

I have to admit that I don’t include books in this discussion. I agree with the basic point of view that buying books, owning books and reading books are related but distinct pleasures, and I have a weakness for all three.

But looking around and getting rid of the things around me is only the start. The more important thing to do is to not acquire in the first place, and this reminds me of a science fiction story I once read, about a future capitalist society in which increasing consumption had become required of all citizens, to keep the social bubble inflated.

It’s a story that’s been written more than once, I’m sure.

This post was based on a single proverb and its similarity to modern expressions. As I keep reading, I’ll make notes of other Sumerian proverbs that strike a similar chord, and we’ll see where we find ourselves.

~ by Jim Anderson on 17 November 2019.

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