The title comes from a recent comment by "Epimetheus" (brother of Prometheus, the word meaning 'afterthought'):
The whole situation is remarkable. For those who are paying attention, and from an academic point of view, it's a tremendous privilege to watch a civilization collapse in super-slow motion high-definition real-time. Not many people in history get to sit in comfy chairs, eating plenty of food, and watch what we are watching.
This captures my own view - at least some of the time.
Anyone interested in history must have wondered what it would be like to participate in the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the suicidal eco-destruction of Easter Island, or any other of the catastrophic civilizational transitions.
We wonder - could the people not see what was coming - when it seems so obvious to us, in retrospect? Having seen, could they not at least stop actively making matters worse?
Apparently not. And we can now understand that the essence of these matters is that the collapse happens precisely because people can't see.
This kind of collapse is self-inflicted, and occurs as a direct consequence of the axiomatic assumptions of the people. They cannot perceive the collapse, and cannot stop causing collapse, because it is a product of their most cherished motivations.
To borrow and adapt a phrase from Rudolf Steiner: we are witnessing The Karma of Materialism.
In other words, for more that two centuries, and increasingly, the world has been embracing materialism (aka. positivism, abstraction, reductionism or scientism - equivalent to 'leftism' correctly understood, in its many manifestations); such that God is denied, the spiritual dimension is assumed not to exist, and life has become reduced to (ever more short-termist) personal gratifications.
This has built-up to become dominant; has instantiated in bureaucracy - which has interlinked into The System (world and national government and the mass media, plus all other functional systems) - and in the past generation such a way of regarding the world has been willingly, eagerly, assimiliated into the minds of the masses.
Our way of thinking is now materialistic - so that materialism now structures our world-view.
Much of reality is now invisible - by assumption.
And this crisis and the impending collapse is the destined consequence and revelatory fruit ("karma") of this Modern mindset.
In one sense there has been a top-down coup and takeover of most of the world (all the powerful, wealthy and influential bits, at any rate) by a tiny Global Establishment. But in another equally-important sense; the coup was invited, initiated, encouraged and actively-facilitated by the great mass of people from all over the world; which is why the impending collapse remains invisible.
Where I see the most obvious global totalitarian takeover imaginable; the masses see the world Establishment (at last!) working-together altruistically to defeat a deadly plague. Where I see a deliberate, active, coordinated and stubbornly-resistant policy of destroying civilization; most people see nothing more than a temporary - necessary albeit regrettable - suspension of unneccessary activities, as the alternative to extinction.
The people are getting, by and large, exactly what they want - and so are The Esablishment: so everyone is happy!
Yet, as so often, giving depraved and corrupted people what they want is a short-route to disaster.
This is, it seems to me, God's role in the current crisis. God has simply allowed the mass of people to have what they want, what they have chosen, what they insist-upon despite numerous attempts to teach them better and to provide experiences from which they could have learned better.
The sheer volume and intensity of actively-chosen and insisted-upon corruption in the world had been building-up for so many decades, and it is now so great - and all the signs are that it would-have increased further - that God has decided (for the good of our eternal souls; for the sake of those of his children who may thereby choose Heavenly resurrected life everlasting) to bring things to an end, by this means of allowing people what they demand.
(Or maybe the pressure of evil became so strong that stopping or reversing it was not possible, without massively and coercively encroaching on human free agency.)
But politics is a very simple and crude matter - it is never susceptible to fine-tuning: especially not at a global scale. Most things are (over the long term) all or nothing. And what the Establishment want, and was the masses of people want, is impossible.
Materialism has us in its grip. We deny the ultimate purpose and meaning of life; and the consequence is that our lives lack purpose and meaning; and people are reduced to fear and despair - and the pathetic attempts at propitiation (but of what?) by repetition of official mantras, observances of official rituals, displays of prescribed symbolism...
These constitute the shell of a pseudo-religion that nobody really believes. In actuality it represents the lineaments of the materialistic demonic cult of a selfish, cowardly hedonism that people are too dishonest even to acknowledge to themselves.
So what we want (as a civilization) will bring everything down on our heads; and this is what those who live long enough will be 'privileged' to observe: and it is a privilege (or could be).
We each need to take proper advantage of this privilege; derive proper benefit from it.
May it be that we will learn from the experience, rather than becoming consumed by the generalised fear and despair. The most important thing we can do is to maintain faith, hope and love - and to understand. Understand consciously and explicitly. To think clearly and honestly.
Whatever we can or cannot do; we can always think: and know that thinking is reality, with permanent objective consequences.
It seems everybody has forgotten that the original plan was to lock down for 2 weeks to "brace for impact". It's now been 2 months and nobody bats an eye.
It is really quite something to witness and considering that I can't even convince my own immediate family of what is going on, I have little hope for the general population clueing in anytime soon.
Everybody is convinced that life drastically changing is just impossible, and as long as everybody else is doing the same thing then we must be doing the right thing.
All I can do is sit back, watch and let God's will be done.
I'm glad I found your blog, Bruce. I've been on a truth journey for the past several years and you are one of the few people I enjoy reading.
"could the people not see what was coming - when it seems so obvious to us, in retrospect? Having seen, could they not at least stop actively making matters worse?"
I think in a lot of cases people do try to not actively make matters worse, but it doesn't work out for two reasons.
The first is that people are not omniscient; they cannot foresee the consequences of their actions to all people across all time horizons. So, they may well choose courses of action that help those near them in the near future but cause further decline in the long run. For example, in the Roman Empire, a general might have felt that the current emperor is doing a poor job, have felt that he himself could do a better job, and so he revolted. The ensuing chaos usually led to one or another of the Empire's enemies (Germanic tribes, Huns, Persians, etc.) gaining a new foothold from which they could not easily be dislodged afterwards. Repeat this process dozens of times over centuries and large chunks of the Empire will no longer exist.
The second is that efforts are often be frustrated by excessive bureaucracy. No doubt all of the fourth- and fifth-century Roman Emperors wanted to make the army better but their desires were frustrated by excessive rules, middlemen, waste, etc. It should be pretty obvious how excessive bureaucracy could forestall any attempts to make things better (and, IIRC, you've written about bureaucracy well enough elsewhere, e.g. Not Even Trying) so I won't go into more detail on this one.
I think the only solution is for people to stop trying to fix civilization and focus on greater goods. As C. S. Lewis writes in "First and Second Things, "Perhaps civilization will never be safe until we care for something else more than we care for it." We need to focus on heavenly things in order to preserve the earthly things.
Unfortunately, Berdyaev is spot on.
“In reality, freedom is aristocratic, not democratic. With sorrow we must recognize the fact that freedom is dear only to those men who think creatively. It is not very necessary to those who do not value thinking. In the so-called democracies, based on the principle of popular sovereignty, a considerable proportion of the people are those who have not yet become conscious of themselves as free beings, bearing within themselves the dignity of freedom. Education to freedom is something still ahead of us, and this will not be achieved in a hurry.”
― Nikolai Berdyaev
@Barry - Well, I would say that nobody is really much interested in freedom - and nobody has ever really sacrificed much for it.
Of course, some people have powerful specific motivations (such as a type of creativity) that seek a channel, but these can be dealt with on a case by case basis.
The problem with totalitarianism is that it is evil, not that it is unfree.
D - Good points.
I'd say "pass the popcorn" but I've lost my appetite.
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