Chris, excellent. The one quibble I have is that I don’t think you’re considering the full implications of what you’ve suggested: “It’s a recognition of the total futility of any effort for victory for the side of ecology, conservation, or Gaia, on this civilization’s terms.” The last four words — on this civilization’s terms — are to my mind the crucial ones, because even now, in the belly of the beast, those terms are not universally applicable. They don’t define the whole universe of possibility available to us — and as this civilization crumbles, the number and magnitude of the spaces outside this civilization’s reach will multiply steadily. Thus it’s not simply a matter of waiting for this civilization to die — it’s possible to identify spaces (physical, cognitive, and other) where it’s already lost its grip, and leveraging your ability to shape those spaces in order to begin building the future amid the disintegrating carcass of the present.
Finding, carving, spaces in which to act, to live… How else can we proceed?
This amounts to an effort to establish the parameters of a culture. How do we distinguish the wreckage of this failed civilization from the requirements of a vital culture?
This has shown itself to be the central question. And, it has to do with exactly this. This culture’s toxic habits do not define the “whole universe of possibility available to us.”
“…as this civilization crumbles…” It is not our task to focus on its destruction. Such an attitude is a symptom of its toxicity, the ubiquity of its habits of thought. To do so carries the same hubris forward as we insist we have the power to take it down, to “save the world.”
It is collapsing of its own accord. This is what it has been aiming at for its whole existence. Collapse is the result of its efforts.
What we can do, what is of value, is to attend to what is missing in this broken system and discover ways to make them visible.
Ongoing destruction and collapse is opening spaces. Not spaces that match any fantasy driven wish-fulfillment, but spaces that can be acted upon. Spaces that can be shaped. In this lies our shoal hope.
Everything scattered about in shattered fragments. This civilization broke so many of the integrated connections that existed before it. The rest are falling victim to its death-throes. While it was in its ascendancy and in the full-bloom of its arrogant power it was nearly impossible to see beyond its imposed and imposing assumptions. Now, in our moment of clarity, we can find, collect, and harness fragments as we find them. We can also work on ways to make sense of the whole.
Both tasks are required. Neither will stop, or make harmless the Enormity we face. But, our efforts can influence how things go on from here. Dark Age follows collapse like a long night follows a winter’s day. We cannot prevent this but, we can influence how it plays out.
As the Spectacle loses its hold on us. As necessity returns to the fore demanding its due. Fantasy-driven beliefs lose their fascination. Into this vacuum, a space of sorts, a negative space –a lack – there can either intrude a tsunami of fear, or, alongside this unfortunate inevitability, there can also be room for attention to turn towards clarity and coherence.
If we have done the work of parsing this out, and, more importantly, found ways to spread a fundamental hygiene it offers; we can provide….
* * *
There is an inertial momentum to our assumptions around the rise and fall of civilizations. JMG is right to suspect every call that, “It’s different this time!”
Exceptionalism dies hard.
But the cycles of civilization’s ebb and flow have been contained within a core of assumptions that are also, not “…the whole universe of possibility available to us….” These assumptions have been particular to civilization and do not apply with equal certainty to cultures in general. Civilizations are only a subset of possible cultures.
To be as neutral as I can, the foundational assumption of civilization has something to do with growth, organization, and – there’s no other way to put it – a certain shift in attitude towards everyone and everything outside its inner-circles as simply existing as fodder for its/their ends.
Not every culture sees its weorld, life, fellow humans as simply things to be taken advantage of. Every civilization has and does. Even in Dark Ages. Or, as propagandists work so hard to deflect our attention from it, at their peak. Civilization is this particular compound of attitudes and assumptions that close down our view of what is possible to the constraints of what these narrow assumptions call-for.
Within the weorld as seen from a civilized perspective there is a cycle with a peak and a low. The values it cherishes rise and fall. Seen from outside this view there is less dissimilarity. The volume changes, the wave-shape remains the same.
Here is where “It’s different this time!” always fails. From within “this civilization’s terms” there is nothing we can think of that is different enough to take us out of these cycles. As predation spreads and reaches its limits – When not striving to be neutral I consider this attitude of the civilized to be a perversion of the concept of predation as practiced by other species within a biosphere to mean that we, the civilized have the right, the duty, to treat everything, even each other, as prey. As this reaches its limits, the energy required to maintain the fiction of separation between abuser and abused spikes right at the moment when the civilization’s access to surplus energy falters and fails. The implosion that follows, what is known as a Dark Age, are the effects of that force prying at the fabric of the weorld to hold some above the rest rushing back into its former center.
It’s not considered a Dark Age when West Africa, South America, Southeast Asia are sucked dry and suffering from the collapse of their own cultures. Only when the prospect of the same thing happening in New York, London, Beijing begin does the notion of collapse take hold of our imaginations. Take the example of Ebola….
But what if we take this chance, our moment, as an opportunity – one so costly, so many, so much, lost to bring us to this potential of clarity – to consider something truly outside “civilization’s terms?” Not just this one civilization now cresting at its peak, but all of them? The whole syndrome of civilization is not the limit of human existence. Certainly it is not the “goal” of life itself, as every civilization would have us believe.
Let’s get back to this space we are carving. Let’s be clear about what this space can hold.
It’s not, “It’s different now!” in the sense this is always called forth. Unless we disavow that sort of exceptionalism we have not learned a thing. Whatever may be possible it will not remove the weight of Enormity and its inertial momentum’s effects on what is to follow. We are most certainly on the cusp of a Dark Age with all that has in stock. No enlightenment will stop it. Only a believer would expect a wave of this magnitude to stand without falling on all in its way.
This brings us to a crux, a distinction between what is available and our common expectations. This distance we hold between where we find our selves and where we want to be is at a point where our hygienes have been derailed by civilization’s presumptions – presumptions held by any “leader,” as well as by any “follower.” Civilization is this hand held out ahead demanding, “Wait! I want…!”
“What else is there?”
This is the question this moment offers us an opportunity to examine.
Cycles and waves move onward. They can even interpenetrate and go on seemingly unaffected by the collision. But there are times when their movement is easily missed. A swell upon the open sea hides its power only to have it concentrated and amplified by entering shallow water. At that moment it cannot be missed. Its power self-evident. Its effects no longer implicit. Its results no longer left to the imagination as it crashes into the shore. There is a pause before the next one. An even shorter pause before the backwash draws us into its path again. But there is a pause.
This is where we find our selves. These are the circumstances of our moment and they define our possibilities. If we fail to attend we are overrun. If we do attend, we are still quite likely overrun. If we limit ourselves to civilization’s view.
The spaces that open to our attention if we accept their presence, their validity, their opportunity are entrances to culture outside the traps of civilization. The way forward does not magically remove us from the turmoil of the breaking wave. This violence, its inevitability, and the potential to respond to it in other ways than the expected are the very requirements of our task.
There are theospheric spaces. There are artistic spaces. There are the spaces of craft. Civilization has torn them from each other and demanded they be subsumed by the power-game. As true for a warlord as for a President. What we face is the question, Can we hold them all in our own practices? Can we not precipitate from their dynamic interplay and fall into fossilized roles, identities, that focus exclusively on one at the expense of the rest?
Civilization attempts to own these, and all spaces. It does not.
Civilization has only been able to exist as long as it has by feeding off the residual strengths left within pockets of integrated life beyond the reach of its greedy claws. Biological abundance was once there for it to parasitize. So too human health and capacity and ability. The implosion this time is so deep because of civilization’s success at eradicating so much of what it fed on.
Within the twisted language of the abuser, a projection of its shadows insists that the qualities it has destroyed are its own. Its violence, it insists, as defensive justification.
Don’t expect the enveloping Dark Age to change any of this. It will change our circumstances but it does not have to define our responses to them. The demands of civilization’s tropes will not get lighter. They will come at us from different directions. Stupefaction and oppression peddled and enforced by new players scrambling to fill the voids of power.
They do not seek to end power’s thrall, only demanding that it serve their wishes. The anesthetic provided by distance and infinite intermediation are torn away. The immediacy of direct violence and the fear it sends rippling outward are no less confounding and no less deadly when they hit the entitled as when they have been sent against the rest of us. This next wave has its particular twists. Its chaotic unpredictability not masked by the cloaks of familiarity.
Unless we develop our strengths and harness a new hygiene to the defense of our psyches. Unless we clarify our vision. We will certainly succumb. Victims or victors, we will carry civilization’s diseased view onward.
This is not our only option….