semper novum

The Romans had a saying: ‘ex africa semper aliquid novum’.

Apparently this was a phrase coined and popularized by Aristotle. Not his own original idea or saying. In fact, a Greek proverb, translated by him into Latin & laid into the mouth of the people.

People who were hungry for something new. And as the new, to them before unbeknownst animals, captured in conquest, were paraded before them, they would excitedly turn to each other, smile and with a lightness in their voice say: wow! there is always something new from Africa!

The Romans were masters at conquering.

Conquering & controlling.

At one stage they pretty much ruled the known world.

And with a magnificent logistics network they sourced for themselves food, wood and labour. Taking what they need and want, from whomever they have conquered and building their own immense and obscene wealth.

If whom they have conquered did not have what they needed or desired, they would conquer another who did, with no regard or consideration to anything but themselves.

Except off course that small Gaulish Village where Getafix would brew his magic potion and Astrix and Obelix would beat up Roman Legion after Roman Legion to Ceaser’s frustration and their own delight.

From Africa always something new.

I hear that phrase hopefully.

For it has been a long time since we’ve seen anything new.

Truly new.

And I sense a frustration.

Perhaps even a desperation amongst people.

The Romans took the democratic system created by the Greeks in their peaceful city-states and bent it and applied it (in a way) in their own Roman Republic and ever since, to this very day, in the western world, democracy has ruled.

The Romans weren’t very innovative. They were excellent at applying and popularizing.

A secular state with religion trailing behind it like a puppy dog, applying the same governance principles and enhancing obedience and compliance, even executing sanctions when non-compliance becomes unbearable.

A monetary system with the ruler’s face on the coin making barter trade almost extinct and citizens dependant on its apparently benevolent rulers.

An academic educational system with progressive learning and reading, writing and arithmetic at the heart of its existence.

A state institutionalized and controlled through Roman-Law.

It is more than 2000 years later and we still live in the same way.

Yes, where previously the coins actually carried the weight of their value in gold or silver, today we have given up on the gold-standard and the paper we trade is nothing more than an idea, increasing dependence.

Yes, where in the Greek City state democracy actually meant the people ruled themselves, with rotating chairmen and regular meetings in which matters were discussed, today we’ve gone big. Democracy exceeding the city limits including so many people in a single governmental (‘mental’ being the key word) system that in the end the needs of single individuals and communities are lost in the noise of the crowd.

Even education only still carries the semblance of a system chosen twenty centuries ago. Teachers. Classrooms. Libraries. Exams. Progress from one grade to the next through twelve years of ‘education’.

A slave to democracy.

Training citizens.

Not professionals.

Not innovators.

I wonder if Africa will yield something new?

I wonder if from our soil will come the bold innovation to find a new way of organizing our society?

Of buying & selling?

Of utilizing natural resources and preparing our children for an unknown future?

I wonder if the conquered will ever become the conqueror.

If perhaps from the East something new will come as China conquers the world anew.

Perhaps not.

As female fetuses are aborted.

As the value of humanity is decreased daily.

Children working under terrible circumstances.

People creating objects in exchange for nothing more than to live another day.

Perhaps the key to something new lies hidden inside of this: that human life is valuable?

Each individual human life.

That human existence is not accidental or per chance, but intentional and meaningful?

In the old eastern (and I believe universally deistic) ‘truth’ that everything is connected, lives rippling in on each other.


Building residue.

I know this: at least our ‘condition’ has changed.

More and more, fewer and fewer are eager to conquer and control.

More and more, we desire to be convinced and willingly give our cooperation.

And solicit it from others.

Someone spoke of ‘momentum’ to me in a conversation earlier in this week.

If something had built up speed, over time, something large and heavy, even if you cut the power that objects keeps on moving forward, relentlessly pushing its way into the future driven only by the ‘momentum’ created while the engine was still running.

Perhaps the power has been cut on democracy & capitalism?

Perhaps only the momentum of more than twenty centuries is pushing it forward?

Perhaps the recent economic crashes of 1930 and 2008 is part of its losing speed?

Perhaps from Africa will come a new way?

A way drenched in the understanding that life is precious.

That earth is our habitat.

That each of us are responsible for the other.

That if I destroy another, I destroy myself.

And if I deceive another, I deceive myself.

And if I subject another, I subject my own existence.

Perhaps, from Africa, will come a new decentralized, yet deeply connected, way of being a society?

A kinder way.

A more sustainable way.

Driven not by profit & the desire to amass obscenity.

But energized by a consciousness that we are not immortal and what we do today will be the inheritance of our children.


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4 thoughts on “semper novum

  1. You are one of the few blogs I follow real close. I get your blog in my email. I love to hear your thoughts. I love to hear what you have to say. Thank you for these words. They are very powerful

  2. Then the empire stretched from Hadrian’s Wall in drizzle-soaked northern England to the sun-baked banks of the Euphrates in Syria ; from the great Rhine – Danube river system, which snaked across the fertile, flat lands of Europe from the Low Countries to the Black Sea , to the rich plains of the North African coast and the luxuriant gash of the Nile Valley in Egypt . The empire completely circled the Mediterranean … referred to by its conquerors as mare nostrum —’our sea’.

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