The Inevitable Collapse of Modern Civilization?

Dear Friends,

At the Nov 28, 2017 Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds meeting, “Enslavement of the Enlightened, Industrialized Self,” I opened discussion with the following handwritten note, a declaration of my bewilderment and concern:

“I don’t know if it’s me or Humankind but it seems we are going through a great moral unraveling; a collapse of all that has been ‘built’ that is virtuous and moral, all that has been intended to bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people. Take any area: politics, economics, religion, ethics, morality, virtue, nationalism, ecology....”

To many of us the presidential election of Donald Trump was a shock. We wondered how our society could elect such a crass and unqualified person to the most powerful office on Earth. Was it the U.S culture wars, the Democrats’ failure of working class whites? Or was their something larger and more troubling in current human affairs that was responsible - Humankind’s political processes, economic systems, nationalism, racism? Or was it something even deeper and perhaps malignant in the history of the West, something wrong with the entire vision and system of the modern world? Was there, is there, something amiss in how most humans currently view the nature of Humankind, and in the way we think humans should behave toward each other and toward the planet?

We spent the rest of the meeting discussing “modernism,” what preceded it and what might follow it. During the conversation consideration was given to the steady growth of knowledge, science and technology, and the global economy since about 1700.

These remarkable achievements, by comparison, make the glaring and often horrific failures of many of our modern global efforts at human social and moral advancement, over the same period, all the more perplexing. This contrast reveals Humankind to still be relatively primitive and inept (immature?) in terms of what is our most important evolutionary adaptive strategy - the use of our minds, collective and cumulative knowledge and technology, and our willingness to cooperate in order to survive and flourish. Improving knowledge and making better tools has proven far easier than making persons, human relations, and human ecology better.

For all our scientific and technological achievements, the concurrent evils of colonial conquest, two world wars, the Depression, the Holocaust and other genocides, and our ongoing destruction of Earth’s environment are telling. They reveal our inability to sustain improved notions of persons, social relations and moral systems, and our failure to mount a viable, sustainable cultural ecology.

The apocalyptic prediction of the Dark Mountain Project was mentioned at the November meeting as a possible explanation and descriptive outcome of these social and moral failings, and what might be the ultimate, cataclysmic and anarchic outcome of postmodernism. 

This meeting has since made me think it would be worthwhile for Owl & Ibis to look into the charge of unsustainability DMP has leveled at the current world vision and system we call civilization. Is this widely-accepted and deeply-cherished vision and system so terribly, irredeemably, and irrevocably flawed and doomed to fail as DMP claims? Maybe. Considering DMP in some detail should be useful and might open avenues in our thinking that are blocked by the thinking and powers of the current standard model of modern civilization and progress. Hence the following proposal. 

The Dark Mountain Project was begun in England in 2008. It is a response to what its initiators are convinced is the inevitable and ultimately fatal destructivenes of humans towards themselves and Earth under the banner of civilization. DMP focuses on the three purportedly erroneous notions within a mythic, delusional story our species has created about itself, a story that subsequently came to be widely regarded as a truth. This false story and false truth, according to DMP, first arose during the history of Western civilization following the beginning of agriculture and urbanization beginning after 10,000BP; and began enslaving Western thinking during and following the Age of Exploration (Discovery) beginning in the late 1400s, as a result of the immense wealth it brought to the elites of Europe. 

Before this, our story of ourselves also began changing into an unassailable truth as a result of the rise of monotheism in the Middle East and its attendant insistence on the supremacy of the Abrahamic religions’ respective gods, and their peoples’ acceptance of their god-decreed status as chosen people above all others on Earth.

Conceptionally, the story solidified and spread in the West as an absolute truth during the 18th Century Enlightenment, and materially during science-led Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. This Western “civilization” view of humans, and that which we must do as chosen, enlightened masters of the planet, coupled with capitalism, has since ever increasingly come to be the dominant, leading view of all of Humankind’s societies. Politics, economics, religion - left to right, democracy to fascism, libertarianism to socialism; free market to centralized, secular-humanist-atheist to fundamentalist religion - are all subservient to this homo-centric, progress-to-perfection, endless-economic-growth and consumption vision of who we humans are and what we must do for ourselves and to the planet. 

Specifically, within this vision, the three erroneous notions we have come to accept about ourselves and what we the civilized must do, according to DMP, are the widespread conviction that: 1) we rank qualitatively above and therefore are masters of all other Earthly life; 2) we can progress and achieve self and social perfection, material prosperity, and Earth sustainability through politics, religion and/or science and technology; and, 3) that unending economic growth capitalism is necessary and sufficient to express the first and achieve the second.

DMP claims that this view of ourselves is fatally flawed and must eventually lead to damage to, if not the total destruction of, ourselves; and a major degradation, if not total destruction and unsustainability, of Earth. And that no amount of prayer, regulation, safeguards, correction, or scientific and technological advancement, green or otherwise, can avert a collapse of the system this vision has given rise to.

I propose a close look at DMP by Owl & Ibis over the course of several meetings in 2018. This would require an O&I team approach that would investigate and make presentations on various topics contained in the following questions:

Is the DMP prediction of the collapse of the world system likely to take place, totally or in part? To find out I propose O&I compare DMP’s reasoning and evidence to that supporting the mythic-story-turned-truth standard version of civilization in the three notions presented above - Humankind’s dominance relationship with nature; trust in religion, progress and science for continuing survival and ever greater economic prosperity and social flourishing; and that current unending capitalistic economic growth and consumption is the only system that is productive and sustainable.

If we decide DMP is correct, that the current world system and vision is uncontrollable, destructive and therefore unsustainable, what are our options - damage control and contingency planning and measures? What might these be like?

Is DMP’s call for an exclusively humanities response, especially “uncivilized” writing, to ameliorate the collapse of civilization, along with a complete discard of current political, economic and scientific/technological methods, and religious approaches, sufficient?

I propose that we discuss the DMP Manifesto at the next scheduled O&I meeting. If at that meeting we decide to look into DMP more deeply in 2018 as proposed here, we could then come up with a framework for an approach at the meeting.

Kindly read the DMP Manifesto (link below) and let me know if you support this proposal to look more deeply into DMP, and if you would like to participate in future O&I meetings to do so. Your initial reactions to the Manifesto via email would also be welcome. Please copy all on your reply(ies). 

Jim Lassiter



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