Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mars in Aries [Edited.]

“‘Few men realise,’ wrote Joseph Conrad in 1896, ‘that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings.’ Conrad’s writings exposed the civilisation exported by European imperialists to be little more than a comforting illusion, not only in the dark, unconquerable heart of Africa, but in the whited sepulchres of their capital cities. The inhabitants of that civilisation believed ‘blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and its morals, in the power of its police and of its opinion,’ but their confidence could be maintained only by the seeming solidity of the crowd of like-minded believers surrounding them. Outside the walls, the wild remained as close to the surface as blood under skin, though the city-dweller was no longer equipped to face it directly.

Bertrand Russell caught this vein in Conrad’s worldview, suggesting that the novelist ‘thought of civilised and morally tolerable human life as a dangerous walk on a thin crust of barely cooled lava which at any moment might break and let the unwary sink into fiery depths.’ What both Russell and Conrad were getting at was a simple fact which any historian could confirm: human civilisation is an intensely fragile con- struction. It is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future.

Once that belief begins to crumble, the collapse of a civilisation may become unstoppable. That civilisations fall, sooner or later, is as much a law of history as gravity is a law of physics. What remains after the fall is a wild mixture of cultural debris, confused and angry people whose certainties have betrayed them, and those forces which were always there, deeper than the foundations of the city walls: the desire to survive and the desire for meaning.”
I thought of the above while reading both thelettuceman's and Satyr Magos' responses to Sannion's previously linked commentary on Dionysos and his savagery. But where I'm about to take my commentary will be different enough, I think, to almost seem off topic. I don't think it is, so bear with me if you care to.

What humanity has always craved, has by its very animal instinct been forced to crave, is safety. In other times we protected ourselves by erecting large walls, by having armed patrols, and so forth. Before we had the manpower to do so, we simply created militia-like forces and turned to the forces of the earth and “other world” to try and gain some possible advantage against a world that is out – at the very best – to eat us and at the worst will horribly maim us and leaves us to die of blood loss in the depths of the wilderness.

As we, in terms of European history at least, erected those vast walls and uplifted our mighty cities from the world that seeks to turn us into food we simultaneously began progressively cutting ourselves off from the world. With walls came safety, and with safety came the convenient views of “civilisation” (the British spelling of that word is so strange to me...). The real world was out there, beyond the walls. It was filled with vagabonds, cut-throats, thieves, liars, and those we found could not be trusted to remain within the walls.*

It was also filled with, as one is easily reminded, with natural predators and the threats of weather, getting lost and dying of starvation, or in desert areas, dying due to lack of water. All of these threats are very real, and the only reason we do not currently face them – as some do in other parts of the world – is because we have erected our walls and established technological dominion over the lands we have settled upon. In short, we've exported the dream of “civilisation” everywhere primarily because it is perceived as safe.

Therein lies the rub. Because the institutions and cities we built can easily crumble back to dust, rock, forest and glen quite easily without the resources and upkeep to keep them useful. And those resources are the bet that we have placed upon our civilisation, resources that cannot last forever.

There are too many humans, and too much civilisation, and not nearly enough resources. The looming crisis is the one dreamed of by poor Malthus. As we have progressively shut ourselves off from the world around us, instead dreaming of ever larger cities and an ever increasing population we have also cut ourselves off from the religious and spiritual dimensions of nature. Those tendencies we once had to implore the forces (Gods, ancestors, etc.) for aid in our continued survival have dwindled and died. As they became unneeded, at least in the view of those who think they don't work (I still disagree, even if the material facts will never be on my side) we cut ourselves off from those respective bodies of knowledge. Who needs daimon-boys to protect flock, field, and village when we have the technology to produce food for entire cities? No one, that's who. And as such it will remain until the resources that fuel that technology are gone.

We have also cut ties with the world outside. The “urban legend” of this sort've discussion normally involves my telling you that the Romans put “Hic Svnt Dracones” (Here Be Dragons) on the edges of their maps, at the end borders of “civilisation” as they knew it. This is actually not historically accurate at all: there is a globe, but no currently known maps, on which the phrase appears. What they instead wrote was “Hic Svnt Liones” (Here Be Lions). The edge of “civilised” space was the space in which all the terrors of the natural world return, and crossing the border into that space meant that one paid due to the liminal Gods who roamed both spaces and in-between: Hekate and Hermes, definitely. But Dionysos, the savage and mad son of the holder of the Throne of the Gods, was also a liminal god. The one that was both near and far; unto whom the Maenads cried and sobbed for his return. To know his mysteries was to become, in some sense or another, barbaric and savage. To become steeped in “the other place” beyond which civilisation was seen as, at best, a game. At worst civilisation of the human sort has always been somewhat monstrous, masking its nature in the covenience of safety.

In his previously linked post, Satyr writes**: 
Unlike the god I may not, must not, unleash that violence. Violence means something different in today’s world than it did in ancient Hellas—though the consequences for the victims, blamed post facto for their own destruction, are shamefully unchanged.”

It is here that I disagree. Violence has never changed. Violence is inherent in the human animal. Any young boy who ever mercilously, or perhaps in some bizarre and niave form of brutal innocence, lifted a magnifying glass over a swarm of ants to watch them smolder and burn knows this well. Any woman who has ever been pushed the edge and forced to match her physical strength against another human's being knows violence in the same sense that the Hellenes and Romans knew. Conflict, as Heraclitus will tell you, is inevitable and necessary. War is the means by which humans have asserted power over others. It is the power by which America retains the status of Empire, brought to these shores by perhaps the Spanish or British in the form of our New Rome, our New Order of Ages.

We have an endless array of tales from all ages of men who looked upon the very face of War, of the savage and violent impulse inherent in the human being, and ran screaming in terror. It has only been in the last century that we've sought to put a psychological term to the response, beginning with the First World War: “shell shock.”*** All that has changed is our technology. We have sufficiently advanced that to the degree that our rival nations could wipe humanity, and most life, off the face of the globe in a series of hours. Truly, ancient warlords would have sold their souls for such power in some cases.

As we erect our safety nets, as we build our walls and concrete jungles, it is only the physical qualities of the world that change. The terrifying animal instinct still remains, undiminished and waiting for the time when our walls and protective edifices have progressively worn down to reappear with astonishing rapidity. It is then that mankind is at the whim, not the reconciling mercy, of such a force. They are, as Jung would put it, “seized.”

The traditional response, and the most unhealthy, is repression and suppression. It is generally followed by sublimation, an attempt to make the impulse socially acceptable. There is another response that is possible, however. That response is integration. Unlike Satyr, I can never put away the violence in my heart because it is so very natural, and were I to attempt such a thing I would only become a far more warped and twisted monster. Rather, first I must turn it upon myself. I must embrace my violence, know it for what it is and when it is to be used. I must temper my emotional desire toward it until it is just another potential tool which sits within me, capable of being called upon when or if it should ever be necessary.

To do any less would be to deny my natural existence, my very humanity. Furthermore, for me, to deny that impulse would be to simply shove it aside and hope – much like the hope that I will “always be safe” – that it should never overcome me. And that may very well be a path of good intent, but it remains like so many others, a path to Hell.****

And so I just kill myself every day, take care to meditate when the urge threatens to bloom beyond verbage.

To fail to do so would be to be unprepared when the moment finally arrives, and one has never once considered the possibility. Then there is only seizure, or like the wild men, to flee into the wilderness. In so many ways, I see the responses and fear of the savage as part of the twin impulse of civilisation: first, to deny our natural and animal origins, and second to flee from the face of that very thing we built our cities and nations against. None the less, that safety is an illusion. It does not exist, and it has never existed.

Still: who would I be to deny any one else their ideals? That much, I leave to you, dear reader. Whether you choose the game of civilisation or to get as close to moving beyond the boundaries, into the realm of lions and dragons, is up to you.

Be seeing you,
Jack Faust (currently using the Voice of Mr. VI, without whom this entry might well not exist.)

* In the lands where the early Celtic tribes wandered, there was apparently also a distinction between “landed” youths (who would come to form property owners) and those who were bequeathed no such land, and became hunters (and just as often, pests) and lived outside the traditional bounds of society. Cú Chulainn comes to mind as an immediate example of such a one. Keep in mind, however, that my knowledge of Celtic history is... inadequate on the best of days.
** [Edited]: I don't want to come across as crap talking Satyr or his process; I may disagree to a certain degree, but I don't want to disabuse him or anyone else on his (or their) chosen course. I just went into, if you will, war-mode a long time ago and came up with my own, different solutions and thought process in that regards. God, that sounds so fucking pompous. ... Anyway.
*** The symptoms of which, Freud was astonished to discover, were not much different from those being seen in his “neurotic” female patients. War does not, nor the trauma of what we do, stop in those other places where we wage it. It exists in our homes, our lives, too.
**** If the Christian term bothers you, then displace it for another monsterously horrid and terrifying locale.
[EDIT #20 Billion: Fixed the goddamn Uncivilisation manifesto link.  I couldn't possibly be writing while intoxicated. Noooooot at all.]


Mr VI said...

Shit. How did I end up ginger, married to a beautiful woman and living in California? :P

Jack Faust said...

VI: You know, there can only be one response to that! And so I've added a small update. Much love, brother and fellow cultist!

Mr VI said...

I share the voice with all the others really :)

Rachel Parker said...

I'm gonna make sure I do my Hagakure-recommended death meditations tonight. Something inside your words in this post makes them seem absolutely essential, at this point in time, or maybe it's just this point in time and me. I do not know.