What of the Georgia Guidestones?
Evil plot, or good advice?
In the summer of 1979, an unknown gentleman presented himself as "R.C.Christian" at a granite cutting firm in Georgia. He wished to order a large Stonehenge-style monument, to be erected on farmland near the small town of Elberton in northeastern Georgia. The monument was to consist of four 20-foot high flat granite blocks, arranged spoke-fashion around a central fifth block, all topped by a flat capstone. The monument, called "Georgia Guidestones" (GG) was duly paid for, constructed, and opened to the public in March 1980. "Mr. Christian" was not seen again after his original visit, and no one to this day knows who he was or who paid for the construction.
A strange and massive 35-year old stone monument in Elberton, Georgia, purports to give rules for mankind's journey on Earth. Some see the hand of the devil in the aphorisms, others nod in agreement. The new "ten commandments" are reviewed below.
The point of the monument is clearly the message inscribed on each of the eight flat sides of the upright stones. Each side contains the same message, written in one of eight major languages. The message consists of ten distinct principles or bits of advice about human life; some refer to individual attitudes, some to social behavior and organization, and some to the whole human race. The aphorisms are not numbered; while most discussions list them from the top, I will list them starting with the most individual, advancing toward the societal, international, and species-wide elements. The ten GG principles, and my take on them, are thus:
- Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason.
This is clearly good Confucian advice. Tempering passions, avoiding fanaticism in faith or in ethnic matters will go far toward maintaining inner peace and good relations with our fellow man. The advice is equally relevant on all levels of existence, from the individual to the international.
- Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite.
This principle unites the four great heights of human values: seeking and sharing knowledge, creating and appreciating beauty, feeling and expressing love, and experiencing the spiritual dimension in our lives. That all four are necessary for a fulfilled life there can be little doubt. It is surely a great principle, expressed succinctly.
- Balance personal rights with social duties.
This is one of the great principles of our society, and needs to be so for all societies. Totalitarian states "forget" this, and would have the individual live for the state. In an anarchy the individual forgets his debt to the society that provides his water, food, and services. The western world has developed an obsession with "individual rights" to the degree that it's often forgotten that rights are guaranteed by the society, and that every right entails an obligation, a duty to the society. The human species got here as organized societies – our cooperation together is essential in order to continue our species. The balance between rights and duties is tricky, it may vary with necessities, but the word "balance" means a recognition that both are vital, neither can be ignored.
- Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
Three cheers for this plain speech! "Petty laws" that seek to regulate every aspect of our lives have no place in democratic societies. We need to avoid making them, but even more important: we need an effective way to get rid of them once they're on the books. This principle also condemns bloated bureaucracy – well described as "useless officials" – the truest sign of invasive government. If it only told us how to get rid of these plagues!
- Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
One can hardly disagree with the need for fair laws and just courts, both for the protection of persons and the society/nation they live in. Certainly a fundamental principle for all nations.
- Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
This principle confirms that all nations have sole authority over their own affairs, without interference from other nations or international bodies. It proposes that international disputes that cannot be settled diplomatically should be submitted to a world court, rather than resorting to war. This more or less reflects the current world situation, although the "world court" in Hague has limited jurisdiction: it's a court where two disputing nations may apply to have the case between them heard and decided. The court only hears cases where both parties agree to the process. The GG's proposal that international disputes be settled by a court is not very clear: it certainly means disputes unresolvable by diplomacy, but it doesn't specify whether the court process should be mandatory, or whether nations are merely urged to take their case to the court. In my view, international legal adjudication is far preferable to war, but in any case a great deal of international law would have to be written for this to become a reality, and I suspect that's a long while off. Since the GG was written (1979 or earlier), a good number of regional bodies have grown up, aimed at fostering international cooperation and maintaining peace. These add another level of safeguards against armed conflict.
- Be not a cancer on the Earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature.
This exhorts us to live lightly on the Earth, to respect other forms of life and live such as to allow them also to flourish. If the Earth could feel pain, I suspect it will have felt an uncomfortable itch for some time now. None of the millions of species that preceded humans on the Earth are known to have had any deleterious effect on it. But mankind has polluted the land, the sea, and the air; has caused the extermination of countless species and eradicated ecosystems. Our species has been clever but not wise, and we have brought changes in the Earth's very climate systems that now threaten our own existence. If we are not yet a cancer on the Earth, we're in immediate danger of becoming that. It's good to remind us to avoid that course while our fate is still in our own hands.
- Unite humanity with a living new language.
Well ... this is perhaps well meant, but seems Pollyannaish. While I agree with the author that language is a unifying feature, perhaps second only to religion – though for the same reason it is a divisive feature – the proposal to make a new language is dead on arrival. Remember Esperanto? This "new language" was all the rage of Europe a century ago, but even at its height you'd go a long time between each time you met an Esperanto speaker. In the end, spending time to learn a language that hardly anyone spoke didn't seem like such a good idea, and today Esperanto has perhaps a million speakers world-wide and is of no practical importance. Meanwhile, English has come to the fore over the past century as the international language of commerce, science, sports, entertainment, and diplomacy. It has become the second language – the first foreign language learned – over most of the world. It's a fact that minor languages are dying out, to the dismay of some linguists, so each year there are fewer languages on the Earth. But I doubt that this trend will result in a single world language by natural means, at least not for a thousand years or more. On the other hand, I think the merits of a single world language are overblown. We can manage well with any number of languages, as long as there's a second language that's commonly known. Right now we have that situation with English (my own second language, incidentally), and it seems to be working better and better, since its use is spreading.
- Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.
The author is on a slippery slope with this advice. The problem with aphorisms is that they simplify the issue and are often easy to misunderstand. This sounds a bit like Dr.Mengele's human stock-improvement program in Nazi Germany, but I think on the contrary that there's an important truth hidden behind the clumsy wording. The fact – seemingly unknown to most people – is that the genetic fitness of the human species has declined as medicine has improved. The fate of weak newborns in the past was to die; the same fate awaited people of all ages who lacked resistance to diseases. Those who were resistant survived. In short, the fittest survived to breed. It sounds ugly and "inhumane," but death as the fitness filter was how early humanity evolved to its modern state, in common with all other life forms. Today, in "advanced" societies, medical advances have brought about essentially full survival of both newborns and all other stages of life. This is of course great for us as people who prefer to be alive, but one serious effect (in addition to overpopulation) has been that deleterious genes are no longer filtered out of the population as they were in primitive times. These therefore gain in frequency in the population; the result of this in the long run has not had enough attention. It may eventually put us in the position of requiring ever-increasing medical intervention to ensure survival. I interpret the aphorism not as a recommendation for government control of reproduction, but as reminding us of this: that we need to find a solution to the insidious decline of genetic fitness of the human species before it becomes critical. That is an inordinately difficult problem, beset with unavoidable and untractable conflicts.
- Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
If the previous couple of aphorisms weren't enough to make conspiracy-theorists see red (but they are), this one sends them into paroxysms of blind rage. The internet is brimming with references to this as a plan by the "Club of Rome" to kill off nearly 95% of humans. (Makes sense, eh? We're at about 7.5 billion, so to get to under a half billion we'd have to get rid of more than 7 billion. Eh? To someone who has had the "benefit" of modern education – you know, where you don't have to learn anything – that undoubtedly makes good sense.) On the contrary, what the GG author rightly points out is that our current human population is far too high. It has resulted in dangerous degradation of our environment, and in crowding, poverty, hunger, and misery on a massive scale. What human population would be appropriate on the Earth? It's difficult to come up with a firm number – but it's quite certain that we're already well beyond it. In order to balance our food production, water and energy use, waste and pollutant disposal, and land use with the needs of the environment and other species, my guess (as a population biologist) is that a population of 2 billion people may comfortably be accommodated. But to get there (or to GG's 1/2 billion) we don't kill anybody! We reduce birth rates, first to end the present run-away growth, then to slowly reduce the population size. It may take several hundred years to get stability, even if we attack the problem vigorously (which we won't). But one way or another the population will be decreased – either by reasoned policies or by the more traditional biological methods of starvation and pandemic disease, or the newer human methods of all-out nuclear war or irremediable contamination of our own environment.
So what do we make of all this? Who was R.C.Christian, and whose ideas are conveyed by the Georgia Guidestones? A plaque at the monument, ordered by Mr.Christian, announces the purpose: "Let these be guidestones to an Age of Reason," and identifies the sponsors as "A small group of Americans who seek the Age of Reason." I personally don't think that someone spent the several hundred thousand dollars to raise this monument just for a lark. So the messages are meant to be taken seriously. Various commentators have suspected the hand of freemasonry behind this project, and I agree: I think it's likely to have been the work of a Masonic Lodge, probably in Georgia. Both the tenor of the messages, the geometric/astronomically oriented structure with its evident Stonehenge connection and spiritual overtones, the biblical parallel of ten commandments on stone tablets, and the penchant for secrecy are consistent with the Masons. And then there's the possible connection with the Rosicrucians, the old mystical "Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross" dating back to the 15th century, that significantly influenced modern freemasonry. The reputed founder of the Rosicrucians was Christopher Rosenkreuz, and their sacred symbol was the Rosy Cross. Rosenkreuz is often referred to as "Christian Rose Cross." Now that rings a bell: "R.C.Christian"? The Masons love ritual symbolism, with a little mysticism thrown in, and I see the Rosicrucian allusion as consistent with a Masonic origin of the "Georgia Guidestones."
The Guidestones were evidently placed, as the plaque says, by a small group of people who were actually concerned with the welfare of the human race, and were hoping to help guide humanity toward "an Age of Reason." Their hope with the monument was probably that it would cause wide and perhaps intelligent discussion of the listed principles. We can't say it has achieved that, exactly; instead the monument seems to have become a favorite target of those who are given to dark, paranoid thoughts about conspiracies on every side designed to rob them of their freedom and perhaps their very lives. These restless souls fill the internet with suspicions of grand conspiracies, and the Georgia Guidestones have received more than their fair share of trash talk.
Where do they come from, really, all these conspiracy-theorists floating about these days? They seem to be a particular type and hold predictable beliefs: all believe we're being visited from outer space and that the government – all governments – are conspiratorially hiding the truth about that. They believe chlorination / fluoridation of drinking water and immunization campaigns against flu and measles are government programs to poison the people. They believe the CIA killed Kennedy, but many don't believe Armstrong walked on the moon or Hitler killed Jews. They definitely don't believe in evolution or global warming – government conspiracies and lies, all. They believe in guns, and prepare themselves for the great battle to come. They see evidence of conspiracy everywhere: The Club of Rome plots to take over the world and institute a "New World Order." The United Nations is a tool for world domination, and will lead to world government for the purpose of suppressing all people. Etc, etc. I would suggest to these uneasy supposed victims of a thousand conspiracies that if great evil forces are preparing to take over the world, they would have found a better use for their funds than to erect a monument that, after 35 years, hardly anyone has heard of, on out-of-the-way farmland in rural Georgia. If that's all the new order world dominators have got, I'd say the paranoiacs can sleep well on that score.