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?