February 23, 2018

Today’s Inversion of Yeats


The consummation of civilization

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of
Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
– William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
This poem was written in the context of the turmoil and radicalism of the interwar era in Europe. Yeats saw rational, humanitarian values in full retreat while the will to violence and destruction surged.
Today’s good moderates solemnly read this as cry of anguish against the extremes of fascism and communism. I don’t know enough about Yeats to know if that’s exactly what he meant by it, but given the context of the times it’s an obvious reading.
The problem is that today the matching of action to the perceived “moderation” or “radicalism” of political positions has flipped completely from that of Yeats’s time.
For years I’ve written from the perspective of speaking to those who have some level of anti-corporate consciousness and commitment and sought to heighten, enhance, intensify these. Most specifically I’ve spoken to the anti-GMO/pesticide movement and sought to help it evolve from reformism within a pro-corporate context (a position doomed to failure, as I’ve argued in countless posts) to the agronomically and ecologically necessary position of total abolitionism, a position which would require a broader anti-corporate consciousness.
You could say I’m trying to do the same thing King was doing when he realized that the civil rights movement never could win unless it broadened its consciousness and action to a comprehensive position against capitalism and war, and spoke to his people exhorting them to this evolution.
Well, my call to build an abolitionist organization, let alone a broader anti-system movement, has met with crickets. The most direct reason for this is that no one who talks radical wants to do any work, while those willing to work are willing to do so only within the system’s officially allowed reform frameworks. It’s a depressing paradox.
And when we look at where the real fury is in this society, that’s where it occurred to me that today we have an inversion of Yeats wrote.
“The best lack all conviction”: Today there are no MLKs who want to move from particular struggles to the commitment to build a movement to break corporate power and overthrow corporate rule. And there’s no one who would follow them if they did exist.
“The worst are full of passionate intensity”: Where’s the only place one finds fire, fury, radical feeling? Only among the Dembots and Trumpbots, only among the most pro-status quo conformists and cheerleaders of kleptocracy who nevertheless really ready to tear one another to shreds over whose team is better. Never in history, not even in Gibbon’s depiction of the Council of Nicaea, has the narcissism of microscopic differences generated such strife. And in this case, the identical twins locked in a mutual death grip are fighting over who gets to be the most mainstream, the most conformist supporters of entrenched power, the most ardent corporate bootlicks, the biggest warmongers, the most loyal (vicarious) followers of warlords and crime bosses.
Since civilization has become completely engulfed in the Extreme Energy Civilization, and since this civilization is doomed because by its nature it must violate the limits of resources and ecology until these force its destruction, it follows that for the adherents of civilization there’s nothing left but desperation, insanity, and the final rampage of destruction which will strive to drag down all of humanity and the Earth to extinction with it.
It follows that there’s no place left for any kind of “alternative”. No cultural, political movement is going to be built. The proof of this is that no one who in theory wants alternatives is doing anything toward this movement-building work. Politics is Dead. “Leftists”, “radicals”, just as much as your standard glad-handing Republican, care first and foremost about their work life. And just as much, they desperately support the Extreme Energy Civilization and yearn for its permanent continuation with all the ardent faith of the most primitive idolator. What’s the difference between someone who says we need total drilling and fracking to power the hi-tech economy, and someone who says we can power the hi-tech economy with renewable energy? Nothing. It’s the same religion and the same delusion. And in the end even the greenest renewables-touting, Prius-driving Sierra Club member will support drilling the last drop of oil and fracking the last cubic foot of gas in order to keep the city lights on for one more minute. It’s a fundamentalist religious commitment.
For whatever few of us hate what civilization has done to destroy humanity and the Earth, who can’t wait to see the lights go out and who can only hope there’s something left to rebuild upon, we’re simply the primal mammals hiding in the tree-tops and burrowing under the shrubbery, waiting for the end of the dinosaurs. We know the time will come, and just have to hang on till it does.
So it follows that any way we mammals can come together, any kind of actions we can take and groups we can form, must be dedicated to preserving our humanity, our ability to live as human beings, and the feeling of what it is to be human. Certainly this is a hard task amid such a hostile civilization.
As for the civilization itself, the masses of furious conformists and inert skeptics, there’s nothing to be done since they’re all committed to the terminal ride, and the only actions they’ll ever take are homicide and suicide.

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