A sobering read

June 22, 2010

I read this afternoon the manifesto of a group called “the Dark Mountain Project.” The authors of the manifesto are the writers Dougald Hine and Paul Kingsnorth. The document (it may be be downloaded here) speaks very bluntly about a failure of our current, global civilization, while suggesting that there are problems inherent in human civilization as such. It is a depressing, sobering essay. Given that I prefer being depressed and sober to being giddy and intoxicated, I recommend it. Here is a brief sample:

There is a fall coming. We live in an age in which familiar restraints are being kicked away, and foundations snatched from under us. After a quarter century of complacency, in which we were invited to believe in bubbles that would never burst, prices that would never fall, the end of history, the crude repackaging of the triumphalism of Conrad’s Victorian twilight — Hubris has been introduced to Nemesis. Now a familiar human story is being played out. It is the story of an empire corroding from within. It is the story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how that people will cope with the crumbling of their own myth. It is our story.

This time, the crumbling empire is the unassailable global economy, and the brave new world of consumer democracy being forged worldwide in its name. Upon the indestructibility of this edifice we have pinned the hopes of this latest phase of our civilisation. Now, its failure and fallibility exposed, the world’s elites are scrabbling frantically to buoy up an economic machine which, for decades, they told us needed little restraint, for restraint would be its undoing. Uncountable sums of money are being funnelled upwards in order to prevent an uncontrolled explosion. The machine is stuttering and the engineers are in panic. They are wondering if perhaps they do not understand it as well as they imagined. They are wondering whether they are controlling it at all or whether, perhaps, it is controlling them.

All this is true, and it is good to hear it stated in such stark terms. As to the idea that civilization itself is the problem, or part of the problem (an idea suggested, in part, by the essay’s title, “Uncivilisation”), I don’t buy that; the essay is, in fact, a fine example of civilized writing, which is why I recommend it. Nor can I accept the authors’ description of the Christian gospel as a “myth of eternal salvation,” a phrase they let drop at one point. It is curious that, although Mr. Hine and Mr. Kingsnorth seem to have a notion of an ecological fall, and highly developed consciences, their metaphysical naturalism probably precludes any belief in the reality of sin.

Anyway, the essay is worth reading, and brings to expression a feeling which many of us carry with us much of the time these days — a sense of something having gone deeply wrong with the civilization we have inherited, of living in a world tottering dangerously on the brink. None of us, apparently, are very sure what to expect when the world tips over; these authors, nevertheless, think that we would do well to start looking into the pit that lies below. And I must ask myself: how, as a Christian, do I respond to this?

5 Responses to “A sobering read”

  1. T. Chan Says:

    I first came across DMP a couple of weeks ago when John Michael Greer linked to it on his blog. I don’t know if the authors go as far as the anarcho-primitivists, but it doesn’t surprise me that they are post-Christian. It would seem that most of those who are vocal about sustainability, peak oil, industrialization, and so on, are not Christian. But I think Christians should be at the forefront of any relocalization effort. Unfortunately, here in the U.S. the Catholic bishops seem unaware.


  2. […] was tipped off to The Dark Mountain Project by bekkos. It is, as indeed he suggests, a sobering read. You can read the full “manifesto” here, […]

  3. Samn! Says:

    Someone (from a non-Christian part of the world) once said to me “there is no civilization outside the Church…”

  4. bekkos Says:

    Extra Ecclesiam nulla urbanitas est!

  5. Ben Says:

    Contrary to the ill-formed opinion of these two enlightened gentlemen, when one studies the last 500 years of history (originating @ the time of the enlightenment, in the estimation of some, earlier) one can not help but see that religion is not, nor has it ever been, the problem. It is a scapegoat.

    Instead, as Jacques Barzun argues in “From Dawn to Decadence” it is precisely when man began to focus his energies on an insatiable urge for “progress” for progress’ sake, that the world begins to implode.

    At the time of the enlightenment (which by the way is no more a “Western” Phenomenon as tomato sauce is an Italian invention) the powers that be decided to pattern civilization not upon God, but upon man. The concept of New is truly the only option in this brave new world. Ultimately this obsession in having things new and up to date, leads to a culture obsessed with death. I say this because ultimately what this obsession boils down to is a constant reminder that all things end, which goes against the Christian assertion that in Christ there is eternal resurrection.

    Christian Civilizaton was built upon the pre-supposition that there will be a happy ending. the death and decay, war and poverty that we experience now will not last forever. That society should be patterned not upon standards of human beauty and order, but upon the most beautiful and eternal truth which is Jesus Christ, the creator of beauty is truly a uniquely Christian ideal.

    Secular humanism can see no such thing. There is, and will always be, death and decay, just as there will be creation, (however flawed that creation may be. In Christ, however, there is a stability which takes out the factor of Death. Death has indeed lost its sting.

    The only true way of overcoming decadence is not to to be found in “not buying into our worlds numbing stories” but instead to return to the eternal story of the Word made flesh. It is a story which encompasses the whole universe, which the apostles spread through the whole known world, which captivated and continues to captivate those who sit in darkness. The only way out is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Outside of the Church, there is no salvation from this mortal coil.

    May all the Saints in heaven pray for us, in this the last hour, that we may be bold witnesses for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


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