The happenstance that Easter Sunday and Earth Day fall within a day of each other in 2019, leads the author to attempt a sketch towards the synthetic nesting of ecological issues within notions of culture and tradition. What are some of the affinities between traditionalist and ecological thinking?
The United States and Canada certainly participate today in the worldwide trends to technology (sci-tech); urbanization and migration; media; tribalism; and violence.
Together, these might generally be seen as constituting the ongoing crisis of national sovereignty and meaningful democracy in today’s world. National governments appear to be overwhelmed by multifarious crises, while in Western societies, the self-hating elites appear to be set against the respective national populations.
Although these problems are relatively easy to see around us, and although the proposed remedies are also to some extent obvious, effecting these solutions will be, of course, far, far more difficult.
The world today is characterized by the exponential growth of various modern technologies, which ultimately result in an ever-expanding “technosphere” that tends to annihilate the natural world, and that challenges a stable and durable sense of human nature. Concrete and suburbs devour arable soil and wilderness. Polluting industries poison the land. The cacophony of various electronic gadgets poisons the mind, soul, and spirit.
At the same time, the unsettled and rootless world created by modern technology results in the burgeoning of anomic urban cityscapes, as well as in massive migrations across the planet. Vast, rootless urban agglomerations are created. The denizens of the poorer regions flood into the richer countries.
Western societies are characterized by the problem of media (or “the mediocracy”) — which combines processes of “amusing ourselves to death” in the promotion of a commodity-consumption society, as well as antinomian impulses — in advertising, entertainment, and the purveying of news. A society which demands immediate physical gratification is created. Those who are deemed to be representatives of notions of traditional nation, family, and religion are frequently under relentless media attack in most Western societies. Figures who try to appeal to earlier traditions of culture, virtue, and religion – however fragmentarily — are derided. For example, social conservatives have been relentlessly demonized in the so-called mainstream media (MSM). There is also not much of a hearing offered to those on the left who criticize the dogma of economism and the current-day imperative of unending economic expansion.
Largely because of the pressures of assimilation to the global pop-culture, there is the reaction of rampant tribalism (as well as of religious extremism), mostly in societies outside of the West. When more traditional cultures are threatened by the influx of American pop-culture, which seems to be impossible to stop, tremendous frustrations arise among the more tradition-minded persons. As their culture seems to slip away, some traditionalists may turn to violence.
Violence has become an increasing element of the planet today, whether in the shape of irregular wars which are extremely difficult to win by “conventional” armed forces, endemic conflicts in the Third World, or crime-prone urban areas within the West itself.
The problems of modern technology, as well as of urbanization and migration, could be addressed by the coming of a new ecological paradigm of “limits to growth.” An awareness of our physical environment and the critique of rampant technology are becoming increasingly prominent in Western societies. It would be up to astute thinkers to channel positive ecological impulses in directions that would reduce consumerism, encourage smart growth, and reduce immigration.
The problem of media (or “mediocracy”) could be addressed in the West by a renewed emphasis on literary-humanistic culture, and on a renewal of the truly reflective spirit of Western humanism and rooted diversity. The West certainly has a huge store of profound thinking about human issues and problems. It would be up to culturally-minded critics to re-focus society’s attention on the truly profound reflections of earlier times such as those of Plato and Aristotle, and of salient later thinkers, for example, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, T.S. Eliot, and Canadian traditionalist philosopher George Parkin Grant.
The problems of rampant tribalism and religious extremisms in the world today could be addressed by an increasingly reflective (and therefore more moderate, but not non-existent) nationalism or religious spirit. The attempt to banish national and religious spirit from human existence (a project which, ironically, has been undertaken especially against Western populations) is ultimately bound to fail, and can only result in its return in more virulent forms. Far better to allow for the expression of national and religious discourses without prohibition, in the hope of their more reflective aspects becoming more prominent. For example, there are strains in Islam, such as Sufi mysticism, that are profoundly different from Osama bin Laden’s interpretation of Islam.
The problem of increasing violence in the world today could be addressed by a renewed emphasis on state-authority, and on the acceptance of the legitimacy of the exercise of state-power, in terms of upholding the civil order – in the context of a reasonably and undogmatically conceived legal framework. It would be helpful to draw distinctions between the highly necessary maintenance of civil order in society, as opposed to, on the one hand, attempts to promote one political ideology through state coercion, and, on the other, the too-frequent abnegation of the upholding of civil order. It may also be suggested that the way to resolve many regional and ethnic conflicts is through true federalism and subsidiarity emphasizing locality – rather than a centralized, behemoth bureaucracy.
Indeed, what all of the megaproblems or “megatraumas” above have in common is a degree of “illimitedness” or “boundarylessness” — an over-all sense of limits or “horizons” is needed.
To discuss the questions of how these are to be called into being would be practically a lifetime endeavour for the greatest thinkers, high-politicians, and cultural and religious figures of the age.
Among the sages who have begun this work are Philip Rieff, who identified today’s “triumph of the therapeutic” — and called for a “sacred sociology” in response — and Christopher Lasch, who criticized “the culture of narcissism” and “the revolt of the elites” – pointing to the family as a “haven in a heartless world.”
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher. Earlier versions of this article have appeared in Quarterly Review (UK) and Enter Stage Right.