“The world’s ending, Steve.” A longtime friend said this to me recently, and the certitude with which it was asserted really struck me.
It was a prelude to a larger point about the importance of things like longtime friendships in times of crisis, but what has stuck with me is the assertion itself. The sheer confidence of the statement. No bet hedging. Just, “This is what’s happening, man.”
But is it?
As a formerly prolific commentator on current events, I find myself more than a little stymied by the present state of affairs. In the seven years I ran 1P5, I wrote something like 1200 articles/posts, and produced around 80 fairly lengthy podcasts. These days, I struggle to write a Substack once a week, and I’m gun shy about firing up the ol’ podcast studio until I’m sure I can make shows consistently. I think about it a lot, and I haven’t been able to figure out if the loss of my content mojo is more internal — a result of the total re-jiggering of my interpretive framework that has been taking place over the past couple of years — or external — a result of an increasingly chaotic and nonsensical world that has devolved into weird, meme-buzzword-filled tribal dialectics that are almost entirely predictable and nearly always depressing.
Maybe it’s both.
Maybe I’m not as smart or insightful as I thought I was.
Maybe I’m broken.
Maybe the world is broken.
Maybe everything and everyone have lost their damn minds.
Well, mostly. Some of us, at least, have the temerity to ask just what the actual hell is going on and what happened to us. People like me. People like you.
But self-awareness about there being a problem is not a solution to the problem. In fact, it’s not even an identification OF the problem.
I have to be honest: I don’t think we’re facing the end of the world. I do think that it’s the end of something, though. (Maybe like Churchill famously said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”) I think what is ending is the world we knew. But the world that is coming into being…well, I just don’t think that has fully emerged from the fog.
This has something to do with the way we think, the way we learn, the way we communicate, the way we sort out fact from fiction, the way we process what is happening and through which filters, the memeification of ideology, and the whole metastatic result of a world filling up with people who don’t remember The Before Time. You know, the time before we were all jacked into the Matrix 24/7? The analog, linear world. Where as kids we only got to watch our shows when the network schedule said we could, and transfers of information — even for computers — happened primarily by means of physical or at least time synchronous media. The time when, despite the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, we still spent most of our time outside, climbing trees and building forts and riding our bikes around all day without our parents having any idea where we were, and the only way to check in was via a pay phone if you remembered to bring change. Where huge segments of your life were spent being insanely bored and having to get creative, and you were often left wondering what people you cared about were doing with no simple way of finding out. A world where, perhaps most importantly, you just didn’t know everyone’s opinions about everything unless you specifically asked them — and maybe more importantly, you and everyone else didn’t think you had to have and opinion about everything that was ready for sharing.
Sci Fi novelist and social commentator Rob Kroese tweeted the following a few days ago:
He went on to elaborate in a thread that will be easier to block quote than embed in series. Here goes:
To be clear, what I mean is that we grew up with not only a constant, well-founded fear of nuclear war, but also the fear that Communism might ultimately prevail over freedom. In contrast, people born after about 1980 were raised in a world where wealth, peace and safety were a given. But they were also fed a constant diet of fear porn, with global warming and the threat of racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. always at the door. I think most know on some level these threats are fake, but they've internalized the idea that what matters is their own emotional states and, more importantly, their imagined understanding of the emotional states of "marginalized groups." What makes you a good person is your level of concern for these imaginary disenfranchised.
In short, they've been taught that feelings are Real and Important in a way that previous generations were taught that the rule to look both ways before crossing the street is Real and Important. At some point, these millions of people are going to confront the real world in all its brutal reality, and to say that these people are unprepared is a vast understatement. They're not just unprepared; they've colonized important institutions and reprogrammed them with the Dogma of Feeling.
A lot of people (me included) thought these people were going to be in for a shock when they left college and entered the "real world," but the shock went the other way. These young people changed our entire culture to suit their feelings… The west's vast wealth and culture of the rule of law and personal freedom, rather than being a bulwark against the Dogma of Feeling, turned out to be a greenhouse in which the dogma could grow and thrive.
But the reckoning is still coming. And we've got two entire generations of people who don't understand why freedom is important, who think that prosperity is the natural state of man, and who think microaggressions are a real thing.
TL;DR: Things are going to get much, much worse before they get better
A good example of this hit my inbox this morning by way of the latest dispatch of N.S. Lyons’ fantastic Substack, The Upheaval. Lyons references Aaron Sibarium’s piece at Common Sense, “The Takeover of America's Legal System,” to demonstrate just how dangerous this colonization of our institutions really is. Lyons comments:
In it, we find law professors utterly terrified of their students, along with law firms that no longer dare to represent any remotely “controversial” clients because the partners are terrified of their young associates and their HR departments. Titular leaders are just hoping to retire before their company culture becomes “simply unbearable.” And we find bar associations now opposed to the presumption of innocence, because they believe the law should be equitable, not equal. And judges doling out punishment or mercy explicitly on the basis of the critical race theory courses they took in law school. And all of this rapid transformation of the American legal system, into what one liberal constitutional scholar decries as “a totalitarian nightmare,” being driven from the bottom up, by a generation of future lawyers and judges and Supreme Court justices trained to view the centuries-old cornerstones of American law as not only ideas worthy of near complete disdain but as obstacles to justice that must be overturned.
From Lyons’ citation of Sibarium:
The adversarial legal system—in which both sides of a dispute are represented vigorously by attorneys with a vested interest in winning—is at the heart of the American constitutional order. Since time immemorial, law schools have tried to prepare their students to take part in that system. Not so much anymore. Now, the politicization and tribalism of campus life have crowded out old-fashioned expectations about justice and neutrality. The imperatives of race, gender and identity are more important to more and more law students than due process, the presumption of innocence, and all the norms and values at the foundation of what we think of as the rule of law.
All of sudden, critical race theory was more than mainstream in America’s law schools. It was mandatory. Starting this Fall, Georgetown Law School will require all students to take a class “on the importance of questioning the law’s neutrality” and assessing its “differential effects on subordinated groups,” according to university documents obtained by Common Sense.
At Boston College Law School this semester, a constitutional law professor asked students: “Who does not think we should scrap the constitution?” According to a student in the class, not a single person raised their hand.
The old-school liberals, those who have been around for three or four decades, say that none of this was supposed to happen.
That last line immediately brings to mind Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon, the tale of an imprisoned revolutionary leader who has been accused of treason by younger members of his own movement more radical than he, forced to confess to crimes not committed and ultimately sentenced to summary execution.
Americans forget, sometimes, that revolutions don’t always turn out well; it seems more commonly to be the case that revolutionaries wind up eating their own.
The attack of feelings against reason has perhaps no greater embodiment than our insistence that gender dysphoria makes any kind of sense. The news lately has been full of the kind of stories that make you wonder if you woke up in an episode of the Twilight Zone. A biological male who calls himself a woman destroying the biological females he’s competing against as a swimmer, and being celebrated for it by feminists. A US Supreme Court nominee who says during her confirmation hearings that she can’t define what a woman is because she’s not a biologist. The account of a major satire publication being banned from Twitter for naming transgender US Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary “Rachel” Levine “Man of the Year” — the same Twitter, it should be noted, that informed me when I tried to report pornography on a video game hashtag kids are likely to take a look at that nudity and sexual acts are totally acceptable according to their TOS:
Meanwhile, the sane view feels like a cry from the wilderness:
It doesn’t help that feeling of fighting a losing battle to see the number of “conservatives” celebrating the increasingly “conservative” but openly gay political commentator Dave Rubin’s announcement that he and his “husband” were adopting two babies this year. The resistance to such things has essentially crumbled, and it’s about to get significantly worse.
Imagine what it will be like when the entitled, illogical, emotion and ideology driven kids of the woke, gender-confused cancel culture generation are in charge of our institutions in the not-too-distant future. It’s terrifying.
In some respects, it makes an apocalypse seem appealing by contrast.
But our apocalyptic signposts, such as they are, have been underwhelming.
World War III has been something of a dud. Not that I’m discounting the possibility of Russia making recourse to what may be, when one considers the state of their war machine, a disturbingly dilapidated nuclear arsenal. But based on how things are going for them in Ukraine, where 10,000 of their troops have been killed and another 16,000 wounded, it has become clear that Russia’s days as a truly world-class conventional military power are behind them. Revelations of the extreme disrepair seen in their vehicles used in the invasion, or some of their failed military strategies and command losses on the ground has made them look to be more laughingstock than leviathan.
I’m not sure how this ends, but my apocalypse-o-meter isn’t going off on this front.
Nor, for that matter, do I see any indications on others. Two years of Orwellian pandemic policy has, if anything, woken up huge segments of the populace to the dangers of totalitarian moral busybodies. I’m even seeing people who lean politically left hitting the brakes on going further in that direction. But COVID paranoia is being signaled by the Left as official over, and whatever “The Great Reset” was supposed to be, everything after it began appears more or less the same. We’re certainly on a long, slippery, downward slope, but isn’t this the story of all of human history? Civilizations rise and fall. Weak men make hard times and hard times make strong men and all that.
The more dangerous thing in the short term, I think, is less a matter of acute dangers and more the problem of our collective propensity toward a death-by-a-thousand-cuts-induced malaise. When things aren’t going your way on pretty much every front, when you feel surrounded and on your heels and exhausted by a world you don’t have the energy to fight at every turn, it can very quickly strip you of anything like joie de vivre and kick you into a default, barely functional utilitarianism. You’re not facing an imminent doom, but you’re not seeing any reason to hope, either. You’re just stuck in an interminable no-man’s-land between what was and whatever is coming. And rather than facing a quick battle and likely death, it’ll be a dragged out, tedious, interminable sort of intellectual and moral torture. Flannery O’Connor had it right when she wrote the line, “she thought she could be a martyr, if they killed her quick.” Sustained courage in the face of a long defeat is a lot harder than the heroism of a firefight.
In a way, it would be easier if the world were ending. But despite our craptasticness, it doesn’t look as though it is. Instead, we just get to deal with it becoming worse. And a lot of us may never live to see better times.
But then again, like I said: I’m in the middle of framework-replacement therapy. Maybe I’m overlooking something that you all are seeing.
So what do you think?