Until mid-2015, I lived in a small village in the central Mexican highlands, a place where I stayed for half a decade, and where I still own a tiny house. In summer, the rainy seasons would bring heavy thunderstorms that knocked out our power, sometimes for half a day at a time. We cooked using cylinders of gas, and if we missed the gas truck, we could end up unable to eat hot food the next day.
Occasionally, the dicey electrical connection on the hillside lot I shared with a small Mexican family gave out entirely. Once, while they were away, I spent three days with no light, no internet, and no fridge. I finally found someone in the village to reconnect me, and I learned the lesson that the passage of many centuries has repeatedly taught the inhabitants of that ancient community: human support is more important than any technology.
The isolation that we suffer in North American cities (and elsewhere) leaves us perilously ill-equipped for the point where our utility systems falter or give out. Any Mexican kid learns to fix the family car, and probably also to mix cement with a shovel. I, however, fix cars by driving them to a mechanic, and I know only the theory of cement mixing.
The Dark Mountain Project is perhaps not something I’ll be joining, but its manifesto is something I applaud. The group’s founders recognise that we really are coming to a collapse point in modern society, and while a total eco-apocalypse might be worse than what actually happens, we’ll endure tough times in the rest of the 21st Century. Trying to make any nation ‘great again’ under such circumstances is, therefore, both futile and a denial that such ‘greatness’ is the problem, not the solution.
My Mexican experience, followed by residence back in Toronto where I’ve lived most of my life, has prompted me a few times to quip, not untruthfully, that I want to retroject myself back to the 18th Century. I was already living quite simply in Mexico, driving no car of my own and owning no TV, as well as reading poetry by candlelight when the lightning strikes had knocked out the electricity, so this quasi-confession isn’t far off reality. And I don’t see a truly viable alternative for myself in the years ahead, when the cellphone obliviousness around me, and the Rise of the Planet of the Apps, leaves me feeling alienated and baffled.
The fact that much of my life has been committed to extending the grasp of technology (through writing about it for a living) is a mark against me, and I accept the indictment without excusing myself. I rejected some lessons learned in my early twenties, made my own deal with the devil, and contributed to the malaise. I once hoped my reversal might be correct, then decided it was only a part of the overall juggernaut, then … But it wasnt, and it wasn’t again. I also have an intuition that only by coming to the brink can we see past it. To walk away, to see only part of what’s happening, would be another moral failure. The Dark Mountain Project rejects optimistic ‘sustainability’ advocacy as well as selfish mercantilism.
Today, I feel strongly in agreement with the DMP’s view that we can’t simply make a few extra technical leaps and undo what we’ve wrought through our technical proficiency. We’re not at a point where we see past our unquestioned assumption that this is inherently helpful. We’re cutting ourselves off from the roots of our own nature, and we have three apparent choices: to hippie-fy, and go back to the land, which is impractical on a mass level; to hope that our Mars colony, or an orbital city, or more solar power will offer a solution; or blame the media, the Muslims, the cultural marxists and the elites for our own lack of consciousness. But the failure to envisage our future in anything other than terms of some future near-perfection, or alternatively as a catastrophe where Jesus saves the just at the last moment, is the issue; not the lack of a viable ion drive or a more efficient UV-to-electricity conversion system; or enough Bibles.
This isn’t despair, nor nihilism. There’s much in humanity to like and value, and that includes the spiritual essence that is so often scorned because it supposedly implies either the repressions of a dying Christianity, or the vacuity of rainbow warriors with crystals dangling round their necks. There is a wildness, a waywardness and an unknowable aspect to the human spirit, for which our aspiration to head for the stars to survive is a metaphorical representation. And with which we need to reconnect, if we are to see a way through for ourselves.
Have I succumbed, then, to the enchantment of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option? Not as he would like it, no; nor are the ideas I’m expressing here new to me, except in my saying them so completely. The DMP is far more to my taste than enclaves of prayer, even if its actual literary output to date is less austerely rigorous than I’d like.
But denying that we’re on the cusp of a collapse or implosion, or maybe that we’re already past the point of the cusp, seems silly. We are looking at a diminution of our material prosperity in the coming years, as well as seeing our humanistic western social concept receding from view. Remaining ignorant of all this is increasingly pointless.