…nfirmation that governments act only after inevitable disasters have happened, not to prevent them. We need, as a civilization and a species, to set our eyes higher, on eternity. Ensuring the survival of the planet would be a bigger and more ambitious undertaking than the cathedrals, harder and more hubristic than the moon landing, as transformative as the domestication of animals or the industrial revolution. And the reward would be everything: the world, our progeny’s lives, the illimitable future.
…n to address, let alone solve, problems like health care, gun control, or campaign finance reform.) They are altogether unequal to the vast planetary project, the massive civilizational shift, required to slow global warming. It isn’t a matter of economic feasibility or technological potential, but of will. We aren’t acting because no one in power has incentive to. This world seems ruled, more and more, by men who feel no identification with humanity or investment in any future — who are still living in the solipsism of infancy. Billionaires are building bunkers, not cathedrals.
…in monuments to human aspiration, testaments to multigenerational cooperation toward a common goal. Notre Dame was built over the course of a century and has stood for 30 generations since, the generations tending to it, repairing it, and adding to it — transepts, gabled portals, rose windows, flying buttresses, a spire — even as our culture has magnified and enhanced itself with theories and inventions, movements and manifestoes. The cathedral, like the symphony, is synecdoche for Western civilization’s highest cultural achievements. It is the artifact of a people who had faith in continuity, in a future, of a civilization that still believed in itself.