On the Collapse of Civilisation

Among the many waves in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, is a trenchant and rather abstruse contribution from Guy Rundle of crikey.com.au (you may be able to read the entire piece here, if the link takes you beyond the paywall).

Allow me to quote a small part:

"The Right is falling apart as a political formation so fast you’d need stop-action photography to catch the process. ...The Hebdo massacre brought all these contradictions [of the Right] to the fore. Hebdo’s nihilism is actually culturally corrosive, as conservatives charge such obscene desacrilising with being. Conservatives know that a viable culture is a closed system to a degree, and unless it has pinion points -- usually religious -- which are not themselves, by matter of custom, subject to a general back-and-forth, then it is quickly in trouble. This week, sundry idiots have been suggesting that "free speech is part of our cultural tradition".
"What nonsense.
"Until the 1960s, hundreds of books, films and plays were banned, even in the US, as way of maintaining the limits of what was publicly talked of, in terms of sex, religion and the like. That maintained a Christian division between profane body and sacred soul. Once abolished, Christian Western culture collapsed."

This, the collapse of civilisation, is just as René Girard predicted. He wrote that rituals, taboos and prohibitions play a powerful role in protecting society from its own violence. Once we lose belief and confidence in the structures of our human-created world, we unleash the violence they shackled.

But Rundle sees politics, not just of the Right, as "without a program, coherent worldview, common sense, or much cheer as far as I can see." Looks like that to me too.

Modern politics, as practised in Australia, the UK and the USA (at least) is simmering into its essence. Pure politics is now, more than ever, about defining the enemy for the electorate. And not without irony. Rundle again:

"establishing their identity by defining themselves against [my emphasis] global Islam, a system which offers to its world what Christianity once offered to the imperial West: a simple and solid ground of belief that nevertheless manifests itself in infinite ways."
When the world arrives at the point envisaged by Kris Kristoffersen where freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, what will fulfil the human search for meaning?

Our belief and confidence in the structures of human society are decaying in the light of a revelatory act two millennia ago. A man who was supposed to be the scapegoat for human violence, revealed himself to be innocent. One soldier who saw him die declared him to be the Son of God. The discovery of the innocent scapegoat has thereafter slowly eroded our faith in our man-made structures of control, taboos and prohibitions. We see them for what they are--our own making. We see the innocence of the scapegoat and declare "Je suis Charlie". Most of us don't know what we are saying, of course.

But Jesus smiles.


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