The Death of Knowledge

A little over a month ago, the Brazilian National Museum  burned. I remember feeling a sort of helpless frustration as I followed these events, but I didn’t realize the full impact of what had just occurred, until a few days later when I read what all had been lost. 11,000 year old human remains, an 18th century meteorite, and countless artifacts from South America’s Pre-Columbian history. Each piece was unique and cannot be replaced. The finality of that still gives me chills.

I am still not sure how preventable this was. My first impulse is to find a scapegoat, and I’m sure many feel the same way. This Atlantic article talks of a disaster waiting to happen, with failing infrastructure, and budget cuts. I remember a few years ago, when Rio hosted the World Cup, there were protests because many Brazilians felt this was an improper use of Brazil’s funds. I don’t presume to express any real understanding of whether or not cutting this museum’s budget was necessary, and it would be hypocritical of me to downplay the World Cup when I know full well that I watched it that year; but prioritizing a sporting event that the country evidently couldn’t afford (as per the reaction of many Brazilian citizens, as well as their recent economic downturns) over Brazilian history seems skewed to me.

I don’t know if anyone is specifically to blame for this. All I know is that a treasure trove of history, both societal and natural, was destroyed in a single day. And I don’t like how fragile this event makes our connections to the past appear, if it only takes a single catastrophe to destroy this much.

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