Tower in Ruins

Why is the tower in ruins?
Deep down in its darkest dungeon
We kept a secret that would not stand the light.

We were in the tower to worship knowledge, not God or gods.
But we were priests nonetheless
And made sacrifices at our altar.

Our sacred duty was to expose false gods,
To face facts rather than to create myths,
To root out superstitions.

To do so we withdrew into our monastery
And made pronouncements ex cathedra
To a world that rarely cared.

When we brought them new cures
Or new tech toys and other magical tools,
They cared for the things but not the theories.

Our words were stale.
They inspired neither hope nor fear,
But only boredom.

We unlocked the secrets of the universe
And made impossible bombs that actually went off.
But late at night some people wanted to know what it meant to be here.

Science sometimes made life better.
And sometimes it made it worse.
But science didn’t give life meaning or worth.

The peons in the tower were the ones who were supposed to work on that.
They were to meditate on the meaning of it all
With paint brushes, stories, poems, and philosophical tracts.

But they sought tenure and merit increases more fiercely
Than they sought the meaning of things.
When the tower became a business they had nothing to sell.

The peons announced the death of meaning and stories and “theory”.
They told the laity they were all dupes,
Not even modern enough to be postmodern.

We all, scientists or not, published not to perish
Good work was lost in a sea of trash
The vast majority of it never cited.

We were all too busy going to conferences
And writing things no one read
To remove the trash or teach the acolytes.

The tower became a business.
We sold what we had claimed was beyond price
And discovered it wasn’t worth all that much on the open market.

Competitors came from all sides.
E-learning spread our kitschy knick-knacks everywhere
And amateurs learned without us how to make live viruses in their kitchens.

We made our tower a job training center,
And told the rubes they’d all get good jobs,
As wages, income, equality, and dignity plummeted.

But what in the hell did we know about jobs?
Our tower was meant, we had said, to enable vocations,
To be about a calling, not a job.

We all bemoaned the day our tower became a business center,
Just another type of insurance scam.
But we had been selling status all along.

We weren’t making people better.
We were making better off people better off.
And warehousing the less well off in the less well off towers.

We claimed audaciously that books had power,
But in reality we offered credentials and other trinkets,
That were no better than indulgences or superstitions.

We eventually found it was cheaper just to sell them
Rather than make anyone work to earn them,
Since they didn’t mean anything anyway.

Now we have courses with 50,000 students
Earning certificates that are special
Only because they’re not really as real as the other unreal ones we give.

We have “for profit” diploma mills,
No better than check cashing stores in rundown neighborhoods,
Offering students debt, lies, and bad degrees.

Catholic priests abused children sexually
And earned scorn.
We abuse them intellectually and earn money.

What was the secret in the dark dungeon deep?
What was there that turned to ashes in the light?
That we were meant to be priests of meaning, not just knowledge.

Meaning is hard and not for sale.
We can only baptize you when you begin the search
And bury you when you’re dead.

Not all needed or wanted the search,
Many are happy just as they are,
The tower was for those willing to sacrifice happiness for meaning.

The secret that died in the dungeon
Was that we had abandoned our birthright there.
The light showed us for what we had become.

We sacrificed our birthright on the altar in the dungeon downstairs.
Not ourselves.
Now we have paid the final price.

We are hirelings at a faux wood desk,
Writing bad checks on a drawn account,
With a quota to make.