Complex human societies, including our own, are fragile. They are held together by an invisible web of mutual trust and social cooperation. This web can fray easily, resulting in a wave of political instability, internal conflict and, sometimes, outright social collapse.
We swoop down through the clouds to the Coliseum grounds. We see senators, centurions, aqueducts, Caesar, bloody-handed Brutus, Roman baths. So far, we might be watching a cheesy educational video about ancient Rome or a really bad movie preview.
The showdown over the U.S. debt ceiling demonstrates a crucial failing of human beings: We are systematically incapable of understanding how precarious our existence, or the continuance of our currently familiar condition, really is.
The rugged terrain of Asturias in northern Spain is dotted with remnants of aqueducts and mining pits, reminders that the region was an important supplier of gold to the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. Now Asturias is regaining its luster.