Friday, April 18, 2014

Facing Mortality

I just found a kindred spirit in Paul Kingsnorth (who incidentally has given me a treasure trove of new writers to explore).  Listen to these words I might have written (maybe even on this blog!):
There is a fall coming ... After a quarter-century of complacency, in which we were invited to believe in bubbles that would never burst, prices that would never fall ... Hubris has been introduced to Nemesis.
I have been slowly, painfully thinking my way into my personal version of Kingsnorth's position over the past decade or so--as I realize the extent of human ignorance, my own and that of humanity in general, and the extent to which civilization as we know it rests on a foundation riven by fragility, exposed constantly to risks of catastrophic blow-up that cannot be undone without death and serious suffering.  No matter what anyone does, in any political or religious faction anywhere in the world, the coming years are going to be tumultuous and destructive.  In the end, everything alive (including the human species qua species) will die.  Maybe we will emerge as something new, somewhere new, or maybe not.  That cannot be known.  The immediate reality is that we are all going to suffer and die.  I see this clearly now (after looking at it through a glass darkly for many years). 

Now I need to find a way to live in the mountains with a scythe, teaching myself and my kids to live without dependence on modern amenities that I see as fragile. I already accept that Social Security and healthcare do not exist for me; but I have to give my kids some way to live that does not presuppose reliance on defunct institutions, that does not demand global solutions that are (to be simple) impossible.  I want to be part of something personal and little, something that isn't the empty worship of material success (especially large-scale political success, economic success, national success, global success).  I have seen the gods of this generation, the gods that everyone worships (even those who claim not to, affecting to love poverty and suffering from positions of relative wealth and ease, itself a kind of decadent suffering and disease).

I don't want to commit suicide, though I see that as a viable option for some people with insights close to mine. But I do want to see my own mortality clearly. I want to die doing something I believe in. I don't think I can believe in politics, or religion, or education, or healthcare, or even civilization as it exists across something as large, fragmented, and impossibly incoherent as "American culture" (let alone global civilization). I see myself as having very little worth to America (the nation), to its markets, to its leaders (in politics, religion, and business, including my own business of education). I don't want to spend my whole life bowing and scraping to people who couldn't care less that I exist, or that the world is dying (while they fiddle and I fetch things for them, listening to music I don't like or feel inspired to play for myself).

I want to mourn the end of the world--and less pretentiously, my own end, my own mortality--in my own way, with my own music. I want to embrace Death as I find her, not as some leader demands (for reasons I have tried hard to see but still cannot manage to respect, to make my own).

I do not expect to be rescued.  I do not expect salvation.  I do not resent its absence.  I see that I am futile, helpless in the face of destructive forces I could never hope to control or bend to my will (pray as I might, do what I will).  I see that and I go on living anyway, enjoying each moment as something special and unique, a gift I can never repay (let alone understand).

This poem from Kingsnorth is really moving to me:
when will i be free saes the cilde to the stag
and the stag saes thu will nefer be free
then when will angland be free
angland will nefer be free
then what can be done
naht can be done
then how moste i lif
thu moste be triewe that is all there is
be triewe
be triewe
I also really appreciate his perspective on the Norman conquest of England (quoted from the article linked above, like the poem):
When he was a schoolboy, Kingsnorth told me, his teachers described the Norman Conquest, in 1066, as a swift transformation. An army of Norman and French soldiers from across the channel invaded England and swept away Anglo-Saxon civilization. The old ways vanished, and a new world emerged. He was surprised to learn, much later, that a resistance movement bedeviled the conquerors for a full decade. These resisters were known as the Silvatici, or “wild men.” Eventually William the Conqueror drove them from the woods and slaughtered every last one of them. They were doomed from the start, and knew it. But that hadn’t stopped them from fighting.
Personally, I do not fight to make the world better.  I am not sure what a better world would be (though I suspect the quest for it lies through piles of dead corpses).  I fight because I do not want to be involved in the process of making it worse.  I don't care that my struggle is useless (useless to progress, as I am: I represent the face of those who turn away from progress, who do not desire to live forever or drive in flying cars or otherwise escape the limits of human mortality).  Silvaticus sum.

No comments:

Post a Comment