Thursday, March 27, 2008

The rise of the declinist

There's an excellent opinion piece in today's Ottawa Citizen by Andrew Potter, commenting on the fashionable pessimism, not to say nihilism, abroad in the West today. It's been around for awhile, but the current fad for "global warming climate change" seems to have pulled all the threads together into one great theology of WOE AND DOOM.
Let us call these people "declinists," and their animating philosophy "declinism." What motivates declinism is an attitude so pessimistic that it is almost theological: not only are things worse than they used to be, but they're getting worse with every passing year. Furthermore, the declinist believes that the various strategies that are usually proposed for making things better -- the promotion of liberal democracy, technological development and economic growth -- cannot be the solution to our problems, since they are actually the cause. That is, it is the principles that underwrite modernity itself that are the problem.
As the writer says, this is a quasi-theological phenomenon, primarily among rich, de-Christianized westerns, and the Episcopal and Anglican churches provide a handy portrait of the kind of people who champion this new gospel. First, God is completely absent, except as a rhetorical device (he's the one who made us "stewards" of the earth, and now he can go). Secondly, everything we do is of overwhelming importance - the whole world trembles with every tin can we throw in the garbage. Thirdly, we are heroic, rare and unusual - the vast majority of the world is against us, but we battle on against great odds, carrying the Light of Truth. The drama concludes with a satisfying Götterdämmerung, where the evil perish and take the good down with them. A Christian wouldn't like this sort of ending, but these aren't Christians, they are deracinated pagans, and so they forego even the hope of Valhalla, and brood on the coming darkness that will envelop us all - they, of course, will face death nobly, and that will be their satisfaction. In fact, it proves their superiority, because they don't indulge in the weakness of after-life fantasies; they are Nietzschean supermen and women, who can gaze steadfastly into the abyss without flinching.


Anonymous Antique said...

Ah, yes. They are all this things. Brave, noble, self-sacrificing. But they are also victims. Let's never forget that point (not that they'd let us). They suffer relentlessly at the hands of the rest of the world who, apparently, just doesn't get it. They gather together in self-made churches with self-made gospels to commiserate and renew their resolve to be brave, noble, and self-sacrficing.

And craft public statements and lobby for legislation bemoaning how unfair it is that everyone isn't like them, rightfully pointing out everyone else's shortcomings and sins. But Oh! To be like them! Sinless, guiltless, and standard bearers for The Cause, perpetually the victim.

How jolly. Must be a wonderful life. I'll try it. Some day.

12:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"he's the one who made us "stewards" of the earth, and now he can go".

This is why truncating the gospel to merely the social/ecological gospel is so unconvincing. One feels like one is being fed an atheist con job. Great quote, btw.

3:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr Mab, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Apparently this is NOT a spoof. (See the Wikipedia page.)

Elle M

4:58 pm  
Anonymous Jeffersonian said...

This dark weltanschauung has one and only one purpose: To give perceived depth to the shallow. Go about whistling and happy and one is deemed an aloof dolt; angry and depressed and one is suddenly a profound thinker, concerned about Big Issues, a confirmed altruist.

8:22 pm  

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