Tracing the roots of the global crisis.
The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anti-colonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.
― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
The Western world, especially its intellectuals, are largely blind to their civilization’s failures: an unfortunate circumstance not only for themselves, but for the world. One can hardly blame them; this blindness has been a defining feature of their intellectual class for hundreds of years. For instance, the fissures opening today in America can be traced back to its founders as they scrawled those prophetic words “all men are created equal” and then retreated to their plantations.
Like those who lived at the end of the middle ages, we too can feel our world beginning to unravel. The institutions which we rely on, the worldviews that bind us together, are failing. No one can say what lies on the horizon, but we all feel, with apocalyptic anxiety, the tremors of a tumultuous future.
The rise of fascism in our own time — like its predecessor in the 1930’s — is a clear signal of the inherit instability of our way of life. In less than a century, the west has seen two major economic crashes — in 1929 and 2008 — followed by the rise of nationalistic fervor, race science, and the kind of cultural nihilism that only bubbles up only during a lost generation and inevitably leads to mass destruction.
But the crisis goes deeper than issues of capitalism versus socialism. Indeed, much of the debate surrounding these terms could be summed up in one word: redistribution. The question of our immediate future is how best to redistribute earth’s resources to ensure our global survival. Climate change will first decimate those who have gained the least from technological advances and the burning of fossil fuels.
These harsh realities have been met with anger and denial. The inevitability of ecological disaster is, in part, fueling the rise of far-right, nationalist politics that seek to answer the question of redistribution with walls and guns. In the United States, we’ve witnessed pundits and journalists deny the existence of concentration camps despite the photographs and videos proving their existence. Even as the president defends the horrible conditions of the nation’s prisoners, our thought leaders continue to deny reality.
All this points to a sickness in the body politic. The political, academic, and professional classes have skirted their duties and unleashed a whirlwind of angry, unbridled souls that threaten not just the marginalized, but the privileged as well.
While climate change and nuclear war hang over humanity like a dark cloud, we seem unable to even agree upon the realities of the situation, leaving any hope of a possible solution all but laughable.
That dark cloud represents a failure of not only imagination, but of humility. For decades, western civilization has congratulated itself on solving history’s dilemmas, proclaiming liberal democracy the only game in town. Only now with the emergence of Donald Trump and a new order of wannabe autocrats have they begun to see just how wrong they were.
As Hegel suggested, historical progress is not a straight line. Those calling for a return to order seem to have forgotten our past. As we plunge into the vile depths of barbarism, the concept of progress itself will be tested.
There are those on the right who have attacked progress fiercely in recent years, channeling the romantic nationalists of the 1930’s who wished to purify the world by rewinding the clock on modernity. Using the internet to reach the masses, these Neoreactionary voices have called for a brutal rationalism founded on domination and techno-racism. Years before Trump emerged as a symbol of western regression, intellectuals like Nick Land and Curtis Yarvin were stoking the fires of an anti-democratic, xenophobic right.
To resist these notions, we must turn to those best practiced in the art of resistance.
In her influential work Decolonizing Methodologies, Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith predicted the rise of the NRx (Neoreaction) movement by identifying the link between technological advancements and colonial oppression.
“Rapid scientific and technological advances this century place indigenous peoples and other marginalized and oppressed groups at extreme risk in the next century.” She provides several ways in which colonization will continue in the 21st century including the prevalence of white supremacy in digital media where “cultural differences can be controlled by selecting and pushing buttons.”
Advances in biology will prompt a new race for power and domination. Smith writes “the mix of science, cultural arrogance and political power continues to present a serous threat to indigenous peoples.”
The temptation for violence is always there waiting at each new opportunity. Intellectuals offer justification for its doing. The rise of reactionary influence has sent a shockwave through the global order, but there were plenty of voices on the margins who warned the liberal elite that this was the reality of their lives.
Some readers may be familiar with the work of Franz Fanon, an influential thinker and revolutionary writer often regarded as one of the first major voices of decolonization in the post-war era. In his classic work The Wretched of the Earth, he warned of fresh violence in the age of decolonization as a storm of anger followed the waning strength of imperialism.
While Fanon was speaking specifically of the turbulence of the 1960’s, there’s a warning here for us as well. If the west continues to speak the language of violence, there will be no choice but to counter it with more violence.
Those of who’ve lived through violent conflicts have seen what it does to people. It only wets their thirst for more blood and leads to endless rationalization for the use of force until you’re locking up children to “protect the nation.”
Only by turning away from violence can the west heal its wounds. Generosity and courage are the cures to our illnesses. We need to tear down walls, not build them. We need to open our eyes, not close them.
While the media debates whether it’s okay to punch Nazis, the disaster looming on the horizon continues to gain momentum. Those of us who hope to leave the world a better place than we found it are facing what seems like a Sisyphean task, but it would be a mistake to lose hope now.
Deep fissures have opened in the west. Old wounds have resurfaced, and one gets the sense that a realignment is coming. Things are even less stable and less certain than our leaders would have us believe.
We need to keep in mind that the current crisis in all its forms, ecological, political, and economic, is evidence of the west’s failure. To put it bluntly, these things were simply not supposed to happen, and their happening is a direct product of the trajectory of western thought.
So, where does that leave us? Are we doomed to endless war and environmental destruction? Do we have no choice but to descend into the hell of barbarism?
Hardly. The crisis we face is largely a crisis of imagination. We have a drought of willing bodies and ambitious dreamers. Now, at this late hour, we need our stars to come out and give us their light more than ever. In dark places they will shine ever brighter and show us the way.
Remember that those who dwell in darkness are blinded by even a little light.