We spend the beginning of our life focused on success and the end of it focused on significance. Much of that involves what is popularly called downsizing, which is a fancy way of saying “getting rid of stuff”. We find that much of what we think we had to have is now just chains around our neck.
All of this is applied on a grander scale in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s brilliant story.
Here the world has evolved to an enlightened state where it collectively realizes the need to construct a giant bonfire to eliminate everything weighing down the human race. In goes history, literature and objects of pleasure and pain – all of the external manifestations of our collective experience.
As the books were thrown in the crowd exclaimed “Now we shall get rid of the weight of dead men’s thought, which has hitherto pressed so heavily on the living intellect that it has been incompetent to any effectual self-exertion. Well done, my lads! Into the fire with them! Now you are enlightening the world indeed!”
Hawthorne was a prophet.
He brilliantly saw the natural outcome of hubris when the day would find man desperately casting off everything in search of peace and happiness.
At the end, nothing remained but the human heart, and therein was the answer.
“When Cain wished to slay his brother, he was at no loss for a weapon.”