Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Sense of Proportion, 2015 Edition

It has been a while since I have written anything substantial here. There have been any number of embryonic blog posts kicking around in my head for months. I read Graham Richardson’s “Whatever it Takes”, for example. I wanted to write about how weird it was that he could come from a background in the Catholic Left and write about the years when all the important forward defences in the culture wars that were to come were abandoned, without mentioning them at all; but mostly I wanted to write about the renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation I had for the role of the Centre Left in winning the Cold War. Richardson’s memoir is devoid of moral content, beyond a sort of crude sentimental tribalism, but in terms of outcomes – which are what counts – it was incredibly important that this country had people like him occupying that Centre Left idea space and tenaciously defending it. This made a home for people who might otherwise have ended up further left, if that place was empty. Richo’s Labor Right faction, and even more so his arch-enemies of the non-Communist Labor Left, seems to me to have filled an absolutely essential role as the real frontline enemies of the Evil Empire in Australia. That is the critical theatre in the war for hearts and minds: that place in idea space where those who could go either way are. 

Then I have been meaning to write about a feeling that has been preying on me worse and worse this year, the feeling that I have trapped myself in the middle of nowhere, by setting up the perfect I have imagined as the enemy of the good that actually exists. Like Blake said: “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s”; but having done so I am in Lord Acton’s position: “absolutely alone in my essential moral position, and therefore useless.” Day by day Western Secular Culture – which I was quite comfortable in, c. 1990 - becomes more ridiculous and repulsive to me, driving me away. It has no sense of proportion at all, and it is in the thrall of a groupthink, a Grundyism as narrow and obsessive as the worst of the Victorian Age, the intellectual foundations of which make Scientology look like a respectable ideology. Then day by day Dar-al-Islam – which I was quite enamoured of, c. 2000 –brings forth some new horror. These things push me away, and make me long for the culture and ideology of my youth, the culture and ideology that created Western Civilisation: but then there is Laudato Si, and I am kicked away...

I want to belong; I do not want to be entirely alone and useless. But I cannot bow to be the slave of another man’s system. I cannot assert anything I do not truly hold to be true. Here I am, stuck.
So I give myself this command: seek a sense of proportion yourself, first. Take the beam out of your own eye. What does it mattter what happens to Western Civilisation? It has been fatally injured since 1914. It has done what it came into the world to do, it has spread its seeds, it has brought the Declaration of the Rights of Man to the shores of the Ubangi and the Summa Theologica to Vietnam, and there is no corner of the world where the ‘good bits’ of Western Civilisation are not ceaselessly alive, a vision in the minds of men. So it is dying, now, but it has been dying a long time, and every day it is a smaller proportion of the world’s population, the world’s wealth, the world’s knowledge. Remember, never have more people lived healthy and productive lives then right now, today. Never have we known more; never have we had more. Look at the world, and exult at it. What is happening in the parts of the world where most of us live? The Renegade Mainland Provinces have abandoned their profoundly anti-human One Child Policy; is this not the best piece of news of this century? Of course it is. Look at India: when you were young, remember how it was mired in unproductive economic policies, a hairsbreadth away from dictatorship? Remember a little more than a decade ago, the trains burning in Gujarat? See how Modi, the leader of the free world, is pursuing policies that lead to economic growth, is avoiding communalism. Look at Indonesia: a peaceful democratic change of government is not news anymore; remember what happened there, in the last years of the 20th century. Remember what East Timor was, and what it is now. Look at Nigeria: there has been an election, and a leader has stepped down, and a new one has stepped up; no tanks in the streets, no massacres. Look at Chile: how much better is it there now, then when you were young. Look at Myanmar! Look at Turkmenistan, even: is it not better there than it was, a decade ago, when the fruit loop was running the show? All across the world, there are places that were charnel houses when I was young – Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador, Uganda – where people like me go on holiday now, where the inhabitants are gainfully employed making things to sell me, where there is no-one with serious traction advocating policies leading to poverty and genocide. 

How crazily, unbelievably better of this world is then what we imagined when I was in grade school? The nightmare futures of overpopulation and nuclear war they scared us with? This is an awesome world.

I don’t need a system.  I don’t need to be enlaved to another man’s. I am useless, but I am one of seven and half billion. What cosmic arrogance and gall is it, for me to aspire to be anything other than useless! I will stay today in my lonely empty spot in idea space, and exult, for I have regained my sense of proportion.

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