At such times, we must all become Marcus Aurelius, Baruch Spinoza, Matsuo Basho: we must recognise that we cannot bend the material world with our reasons or our wills, but we can detach our emotions from external causes. We can retreat to monasteries of the mind, and pursue whatever interests elevate us, nourish us, and sustain us.
We can, in short, escape. We can think about elf-games. Outside, all is chaos: "I've seen the future, brother, it is murder." But here I sit by my fire, drinking whisky and making notes for next week's D&D session. It involves swanmays. Some may call this childish escapism. To which I can only respond: it's better than getting angry about what's in the news or on Twitter. That would be like opening the windows of my mental monastery in a storm. And I'd probably give myself ulcers, or an aneurysm, or something.
Anyway, in summary: I continue to write things, quite a lot of things, just not for the blog. There will be big announcements in the new year. In the mean time, spend some time in your own respective monasteries, and send me a carrier pigeon or two if the mood strikes you: https://discord.gg/cKWKkXFK
It seems like such a long time since the 90s. You're not the only one in your mental monastery. I suspect there are many of us.ReplyDelete
Currently running a Yoon-Suin campaign. Love your blog.
Thanks! Sadly, it is a long time since the 90s...Delete
It's not like there was actually nothing to worry about in the 90s. Post-Soviet chaos in Russia, Chechen War, the first and second Congo Wars, Rwandan genocide, Yugoslav Wars, Somalian Civil War, Gulf War, FARC rebellion in Colombia, Taliban in Afghanistan, Oklahoma City bombing, Rabin assassination, to name but a few.ReplyDelete
When I look at it like that, it was actually worse back then. The western world just deluded itself that all these things wouldn't affect it since the commies are gone, and that's really all that matters.
Those things are constants of human history if you take a global perspective - I don't think the 90s were any worse or better than our current era in that respect. The problem is that in the 90s people had the sense that things might be progressing. Now we're sure that they're not.Delete
The 90s also saw multiple student-perpetrated school mass shootings, including the Columbine and Westside dual-shooter incidents and the Thurston High shooting. They weren't quite the first mass shootings by teenage killers, but you have to dig back into the late Seventies to find anything with similar numbers of casualties that weren't committed by adults. There have been at least 25 similar teen mass shootings in the last twenty years - about four times as many as occurred in all of US history prior to 2000.Delete
There are some things that aren't constants of human history and represent dangerous new trends.
This age is so terrible because of the massive utilization of propaganda and new information systems. The certainties that underlaid our civilizational confidence have been inverted or revealed to be false. The present is obscurity, and you can either be a drone and follow the platitudes you are spoonfed or immerse yourself in murk and cling to mystics, prophets and charlatans. The low information diet is the information diet of kings. Family, friends, morality, self-actualization. The rest is dust.ReplyDelete
Well said. I'm in a similar place myself.ReplyDelete
By the way I read this blog a lot and never comment, so since I'm commenting now, let me say it's a great blog, and keep up the good work.
Thanks for reading, and commenting!Delete
My own attitudes towards the future of the world have gone from cautious optimism to the belief that the fall of our civilisation can no longer be averted. This is different from the harsh conditions of our past. Ironically, in no time have we been more comfortable and better off, it is the dynamics which are terrible.ReplyDelete
The forces set in motion and the institutions that have deeply invested in our cultural trajectory are too powerful to reverse or obstruct. Once the millstone starts rolling downhill, it will keep going until the bottom. So what to do? There may be holdouts and relatively safe refuges here and there, mostly on the periphery (you always hope it includes your place and your loved ones), but the general pattern is set.
Certainly, I live a life of ease and relative comfort, but it is a late Roman imperial citizen type of existence. You just KNOW these good times shall not last. My father's life philosophy was Ovid's "He who hid well, lived well", which helped him have a wholesome life under tyranny. Perhaps Marcus Aurelius is more for our time, and that includes the thought that preserving some of the things you love is worth fighting for, even if the whole cannot be saved.
I have the same view, broadly. I suppose the difference is that although I see material comfort, spiritually and mentally I can't imagine humanity as a whole has ever been less comfortable. The atomisation and consequence anxiety and continual nervousness among young people in particular is quite stark. It doesn't bode well for a healthy future.Delete
The 90's seem like more of a window of (relative) calm than a baseline. I mean, just imagine the feeling of constantly mounting dread you'd get reading the newspaper in the 30's...ReplyDelete
For modern fuckery, perhaps what's going on now is old evils that have been ignored and left to fester under the surface, are trashing about in an extinction burst. At least I certainly hope that's what's going on.
Ha, yeah, well, that's true. But they were right to feel mounting dread. Will we be equally justified in doing so??Delete
Maybe? The closest historical analogue we have to the dawn of the internet age is the spread of printing in Europe. Eventually things got better (for some values of better) and the old system was deeply corrupt and horrible but dear god did people have to go through so much shit egged on by the equivalent of internet trolls to get to the better.Delete
Yes, and people do often make that analogy, but the internet is really nothing like the printing press, in my view. It's like that saying of Napoleon, that quantity has a quality all of its own. That's also true of information. You can only read books at a certain pace. Through the internet, you can completely bork your mind with access to limitless data.Delete
I can't be alone in my optimism for the future. Putting COVID-specific misery aside for a sec, so much of today's negativity seems a) entirely subjective, and b) ephemeral. Negative content gets the clicks, shares and ad money. Social media algos accidentally sow division. But how much of that causes actual or lasting harm? I'm not convinced.ReplyDelete
I think what is happening is that reality continues to challenge a certain progressive ideology/worldview/set of narratives about how the present and future should be.
Most future historians won't care or notice how upset we got about Trump, or TERFs, or Christmas parties at No. 10, or gerrymandering or abortion rights.
Considering the objective, measurable achievements of humanity in recent years, like revitalised space exploration*, vaccine and drug development, machine learning**, CRISPR, etc etc etc I think we'll do just fine.
*Including Hayabusa2 and Parker, not just Musk and Bezos
**Unless AI murders us all...
Stoicism is an incredibly useful mindset, but more important than that, IMO, is learning how to see the world a little more clearly. You don't have to open the window of the monastery to let in the chaos, but you can gaze out of the window, and contemplate reality as it is, rather than as we fear it to be.
I do know what you mean. Turn off the internet and just lead your life as though it was 1998 gives you a totally different perspective.Delete
What concerns me is how few people are doing that. It sort of doesn't matter if the negativity is subjective and ephemeral if it has the real world effect of turning everybody crazy. Once people have gone crazy it gets a momentum of its own. That feels like where we are now. Societies can actually collectively go mad and not recover. I mean, look at Iran or North Korea or Venezuela.
I've been living my life like it's 1998 since 1998. Except that I quite smoking 'round about 2001.Delete
Liar. There were no blogs in 1998!! ;)Delete
That is a world ... where Cyberpunk books were written, many political satire described what was actually happening and the world financial crisis was unfolding just at the time you stated as "stable". Though, of course, many people choose to close their eyes and hope it will all go away. Just as many people possibly do so right now. %))ReplyDelete
PS Ivory towers are, of course, a time-honoured tradition. Just not be surprised when it won't be inhabitable any longer. Though the latter may be neither sudden nor very soon. But probably sooner than many think. ;))
The world financial crisis was unfolding in 1998?Delete
I feel like a Melnibonéan prince in my lofty abode (accidentally, I do live in a loft) these days, far from the unwashed masses, with more books, games, works of art than I'll probably ever need. "Isolation" from anything is uncalled for as the world never showed much interest in me and the feeling is mutual. Existence has always been unexplained, unnerving and by and large painful, so what's ahead won't scare me. Bring it on.ReplyDelete
Near future: The whackadoodles will continue for years to damage civilization with their mindless thrashings. This will likely not ever rise to the level of revolutions or wars. Those not obviously insane will gradually secede (whether spiritually, mentally, financially, geographically, politically, etc.) from the madmen, leaving them to their ecstasies of destruction.
Far future: Looks like Dune in some respects. No computers. No modern political systems. Solid, traditional civilizations with advanced technology on Earth and on Mars.
In short, learn to adroitly side-step the madmen, and you'll do all right. And take encouragement that your descendants will live in a better world, a sane world.
We'll reconvene in 2050 to see if you're right.Delete
Interesting echo of Paul Kingsnorth there, Geoffrey. Not that he thinks we'll end up on Mars - but that in a few centuries the "thrumming wires will fall silent" and we'll return to our plows in peace.Delete
I think that's almost certainly going to be true. It's clearly a 'revealed preference', as an economist would say, that people don't want to reproduce when they live the kind of 'extremely online' lifestyle a lot of people under the age of 40 now lead. I fully expect the Amish, orthodox Jews, Latin rite Catholics, etc. to inherit the earth.Delete