3, 2, 1, Timber - Brownstone Institute

[The following is a chapter from Dr. Julie Ponesse’s book, Our Last Innocent Moment.]

Nobody sees it happening, but the architecture of our time

Is becoming the architecture of the next time….

Time slips by; our sorrows do not turn into poems,

And what is invisible stays that way. Desire has fled,

Leaving only a trace of perfume in its wake,

And so many people we loved have gone,

And no voice comes from outer space, from the folds

Of dust and carpets of wind to tell us that this

Is the way it was meant to happen, that if we only knew

How long the ruins would last we would never complain.

Mark Strand, “The Next Time”

The clock seems to be ticking. Growing disparities in wealth, a housing and gas crisis, transhumanism galloping over the horizon, heroized incivility, and the constant threat of viruses, the ‘cures’ for which may be worse than the diseases.

Global politics feels eerily apocalyptic these days and, in our own little worlds, many of us are so lost, so unmoored from the comforts of our pre-pandemic lives, we don’t know which end is up or what the future will hold.

I wonder, are we falling as Rome did? Is it possible that our civilization is on the verge of collapse? Not imminent collapse, perhaps, but are we taking the initial steps that civilizations before ours took before their eventual downfalls? Will we suffer the fates of the Indus, the Vikings, the Mayans, and the failed dynasties of China?

As a philosopher, to figure out if our civilization is, indeed, on the verge of collapse, I first need to understand what we mean by “civilization” and what it would mean for that kind of thing to collapse.

This is a significant conceptual hurdle. “Civilization” (from the Latin civitas, meaning a body of people) was first used by anthropologists to refer to a “society made up of cities” (Mycenae’s Pylos, Thebes, and Sparta, for examples). Ancient civilizations were typically non-nomadic settlements with concentrated complexes of persons who divided labour. They had monumental architecture, hierarchical class structures, and significant technological and cultural developments.

But just what is our civilization? There isn’t a tidy line between it and the next in the way the Mayans’ and the Greeks’ coexistence was defined by the ocean between them. Is the concept of Western civilization—rooted in the culture that emerged from the Mediterranean basin over 2,000 years ago—still meaningful, or has globalisation made any distinction between contemporary civilizations meaningless? “I am a citizen of the world,” wrote Diogenes in the 4th century B.C. But of course, his world wasn’t quite as vast as our own.

Now for the second issue: civilizational collapse. Anthropologists typically define it as a rapid and enduring loss of population, socioeconomic complexity, and identity.

Will we suffer a mass loss of population or socioeconomic complexity? Perhaps. But that isn’t what most concerns me. What I really worry about is our loss of identity. I worry that we’ve lost the plot, as they say, and that with all our focus on the ability of science to save us, we’ve lost our ideals, our spirit, and our reasons for being. I worry that we are suffering what Betty Friedan called “a slow death of the mind and spirit.” I worry that our nihilism, our façadism, and our progressivism are incurring a debt that we may not be able to pay.

As the eminent anthropologist Sir John Glubb wrote, “The life-expectation of a great nation, it appears, commences with a violent, and usually unforeseen, outburst of energy, and ends in a lowering of moral standards, cynicism, pessimism and frivolity.”

Think of a civilization as the top step on a staircase, with each stair below having fallen away, its citizens largely ignorant to the technological advances, wars, and political events that got us here. Western civilization today is built largely on the foundational ideals of ancient Greece and Rome that endure long after their physical structures and governments disappeared. But they endure because we find them meaningful. They endure through literature and art and conversation and ritual. They endure in how we marry, how we write about one another, and how we care for our sick and aging.

One lesson history tries to teach us that civilizations are complex systems—of technology, economics, foreign relations, immunology, and civility—and complex systems regularly give way to failure. The collapse of our civilization is almost certainly inevitable; the only questions are when, why, and what will replace us.

But this brings me to another point. Early in its usage, anthropologists started using “civilization” as a normative term, distinguishing “civilized society” from societies that are tribal or barbaric. Civilized people are sophisticated, noble, and morally good; other people are uncivilized, backward, and vicious even.

But the old distinction between civilization and barbarism has taken on a new form in the 21st century. It is from within our own “civilized” culture that emerges an inversion of the concepts of civility and savagery. It is our professionals, our academics, our political leaders, and our journalists who most ignore the standards of rational discourse, who institutionalize hatred and incite division. Today, it is the elites who are the true barbarians among us.

I can’t resist quoting Whitman again who said, “We had best look our times and lands searchingly in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease.” If our civilization collapses, it won’t be because of an outside attack, like nomads charging in from the desert. It will be because of those among us who, like parasites, are destroying us from within. Our civilization may collapse and it could be due to any number of factors—war, the economy, natural disasters—but the silent killer, the one that may get us in the end, is our own moral catastrophe.

The ultimate problem, therefore, is not interpersonal; it’s inner-personal. If our civilization is collapsing, it’s because something in each of us is collapsing. And we need to rebuild ourselves first, brick by brick, if we are to have a chance of rebuilding ourselves together.


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Source: Brownstone Institute Read the original article here: https://brownstone.org/