Martin LeFevre: It’s easy to become nihilistic when subjected to the deathbeat of this country’s daily mass murders. But nihilism is a runaway reaction to man’s destructiveness and evil. The nihilist comes to believe that the meaninglessness of so-called civilization extends to nature and the universe.
Over the weekend, this college town joined the long list of cities where a mass shooting has erupted this year. A 17-year-old girl was killed, and half a dozen young people shot when a party went to hell. It was a drop in the bucket of the bloodbath that has overtaken America. On the same weekend, eight were slaughtered at a mall, and eight immigrants waiting in line were run down and killed, both in Texas.
Hideous politicians on the extreme right again mouth worthless words about “hearts and prayers for the victims and their families,” while hypocritically calling for more mental health services even as they cut them, like the governor of Texas.
On the other side of the rotten political spectrum (no, it’s not a moral equivalency, but it’s a singular spectrum of American soullessness), President Biden says there is nothing he can do. It’s up to Congress he declares, though he knows damn well that there’s no chance a common sense bill outlawing military assault weapons will pass.
If he were serious, Biden would declare a national emergency and issue a requisite executive order banning the sale of assault rifles, telling wanker gun lovers they can go to hell. He’s got nothing to lose. At the rate he and this godforsaken country are going, Trump, a true tyrant, will be reelected in 2024.
A cultural geography class I took from a Chinese professor during my first year in college comes to mind. The perspective he conveyed affected the way I see American culture, and culture generally.
He was a rare bird, teaching at universities in both the United States and Canada during the Cultural Revolution, which killed millions and inflicted cruel and inhuman treatments on hundreds of millions more after being launched in 1966 by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party.
That was never discussed during class in 1970, but the professor did make a comment one day that has stayed with me ever since. “You know,” he said, “from the perspective of a cultural geographer and a Chinese, the United States and Canada belong to the same culture hearth.”
No doubt because I grew up not far from the Canadian border in Michigan with some Quebecoise ancestry, this observation struck a chord in me. Over the years I’ve checked it out during trips and conversations with Canadians, and though they are loath to admit it, it’s true. Canada is a nicer version of America, with politics that usually manifests within norms of decency and rationality.
Nowadays however, when people speak of the collapse of civilization, they’re referring to something that goes beyond the North American culture hearth. What has ended, and is about to collapse?
Western civilization? The global society, such as it was? Or something with much deeper and older roots – the traditions and consciousness of man? Clearly all three.
Collapses, though long in the making, occur quickly, irrespective of whether violence precipitates them or not. The USSR collapsed without violence, though Russian fatalism prevented them from taking a genuinely new course, and along with decades of American triumphalism, we’re now on the brink of world war.
A Canadian thinker I read recently said, “If it’s far too late to prevent civilization’s near-term collapse, it would still be interesting to know what a healthy, connected human society, re-skilled in the inherent capacity of dialogue, might be capable of. It might even be some small consolation if we could gift this knowledge to the re-localized communities left after civilization’s fall, in the hope they can make better use of it than we did.”
The name of his blog is “chronicle of civilization’s collapse,” so the “if” is rhetorical — the fellow clearly feels it is far too late to prevent civilization’s near-term collapse. So while the intent to leave something of value behind is commendable, there is a distinct fatalism here that is rather self-fulfilling.
Is it that the basic intactness of society no longer exists, but the collapse of human civilization hasn’t occurred? After all, economics, politics and mass media continue to function in their dysfunctional ways.
Facing things as they are isn’t fatalistic, since doing so contains the seeds of radical change. However, thinking and acting as though the meanings and institutions of the past are still intact, and that we just need to preserve and reform them, prevents us from responding to the immense challenge of the present, and the imminent collapse of civilization.
So is human civilization on the verge of collapsing, but there is still enough time and space for those who still care about the fate of the earth with Homo sapiens on it to pour the foundation for a true global civilization?
What would such a foundation look and feel like? If (and I mean if) these insights are accurate and reflect the reality of the moment, then the same imperative that applies after the collapse applies even more before it. Indeed, in pouring the foundation for a true human civilization, we won’t be shattered or confined to the rubble of the old civilization.
Solitary meditation is the foundation for the individual. Meditative dialogue, or as I prefer to call it, insight inquiry, is the social equivalent. Both require continual questioning without falling back into the beliefs and opinions of our conditioning. Both modes are not a matter of knowledge. So what is the question?
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. email@example.com
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