As we enter the new year of 2012, the state of nervousness and the mood of high anxiety and dread is palpable. One might say it is even epidemic. The 2012 Doomsdayers — like the medieval Millenarian manias — are merely symptomatic, as are many other paranoias of the day. Nor is it any exaggeration or mere turn of phrase to say that the entire Earth and its creatures are tragically shot through with a suicidal distress, dread, and anguish. It is evident to all but the most insensate mentalities (which is to say, the narcissistically self-absorbed).
Here, especially, there is no question that the roots of this near universal sense of dread and distress are anthropogenic. The creature Man has not lived up to its high privilege and responsibility to shepherd the Earth and to tend the Garden, which alone would be its true joy and happiness. Read More…
“Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always.
May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep.”
—William Blake, Letter to Thomas Butt, 22 November 1802
I’m sure someone has probably written about this. If so, I’m not familiar with it but it needs to be said anyway. The frontier is closed and the values that were appropriate for that space-conquering and space-dominating period have become anachronistic today. Clinging to values deemed “absolute” but that were only adequate to the purposes and tasks of their day belongs to a misplaced and reactionary nostalgia — from absolute to obsolete.
Today we have new tasks and these require new values. The chief task for the planetary era is how to establish a truly human and humane planetary civilisation. The new frontier, as Nietzsche earlier pointed out, is the realm of values itself.
There are certain mass obsessions, born of anxiety, that emblemise civilisational eras in the throes of their disintegration and decline. The mass obsessions of Late Modernity are no different, in many respects, than those that attended the fall of the Roman Empire or the decadent stages of the Late Middle Ages. These are the same kinds of obsessions described by Charles Mackay in his well-known book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
I was alerted this morning to an interesting piece by the Toronto Star’s Craig Silverman. “The Truth about Public Untruths” appears in The Columbia Journalism Review and attempts to articulate a public strategy of “fact checking” to counter the epidemic of untruthfulness at our “end of history”, as it were.
But to my mind, the most pertinent part of the piece was the first comment by a poster named “Thimbles” that appears immediately below the article, and which is quite insightful in recognising the essential problem of our post-Enlightenment situation. It won’t be particularly effective to deal piecemeal with the veracity, or lack thereof, of the factoids if the root problem lies in the breakdown of the over-arching narrative context — the collapse of the cultural grand myth — that informs the meaning of those factoids, and also the functions of the public lie.
That’s exactly it. And I’m grateful to both Silverman and Thimbles for helping point out why our post-Enlightenment “culture of lying”, as former Maclean’s columnist Andrew Coyne named it, has become such a disturbing problem. No society can long survive where lying and the habits of falsehood have infected and polluted the public conversation to such an extent that we can speak of it as a “culture” itself.