The Breakdown of Society

It starts with polarization. Is that okay, or not?

Polarization between left and right; or between conservative and liberal; libertines vs. disciplinarians; religious vs. atheist; sinners vs. saints; Democrat vs. Republican; libertarian vs. socialist;  communist vs. fascist; And of course there’s the original  human version, and most fundamental one of all: right vs. wrong, also known sometimes as “us” against “them.”

Is your personal identity, or mine, defined by one’s decision to take a position on “one side or the other”? Philosophers and sociologists call this way of classifying stuff as dichotomy, an insistence on believing that everything is either one thing or its opposite thing.

In reality, of course, we are all composites of both. I suppose that makes us all mixed up.  Why, my own chosen faith framework, Christianity, teaches that we are all sinners, while we can be, even at the same time by God’s grace, saints. Consequently, we discover that everywhere you look in this world we find, not so much black and white, but shades of gray. Shades of gray in every societal, political, and religious entity and institution that is out there.

And most important of all: shades of gray within my own (formerly) damned self.

Where does this endless diversity of contentions take us? What’s the world coming to? And how will little old me end up in it?

Over my sixty years of life, especially in the last half-decade or so, I have noticed a certain suspect predisposition within myself, and it disturbs me. To describe it simply, I would have to say it can only be called a kind of death-wish on society, because the world is so screwed up. It’s a perverse reasoning that if society–or the nation or the world–were to fall apart because of so much dysfunction and injustice, then conditions would spontaneously emerge that would somehow facilitate my self-actualization as a person,  and hence my fulfillment with a meaningful role in the new society.

But this is madness. I mean, this was Hitler’s problem. And look what happened there.

Furthermore, in research and reading that I have undertaken in the last year or so, I have discovered that I am not the only one who experiences this feeling of delusory self-justification at the expense of societal downfall. There are many others out there whose attitude toward the world is reflected as what some have called “apocalyptic.”

As I  am presently writing a novel, Smoke, which is set in the year 1937, I encountered this word, “apocolyptic” as descriptive of the fascists in Britain during that convulsive period of pre-WWII history. These desperate extremists didn’t care if their movement would bring about the downfall of British society, because they were so convinced that they were right and everybody else wrong, especially the communists across the street (in East London). And Britain’s experience of this polarization was minimal as compared to the Continental manifestations of it just across the Channel.

The whole European world was, at that time, attempting to divide itself according to the two opposing apocalyptic, or revolutionary, movements of that day: fascists vs. communists: fascists in Germany and Italy, Communists in Russia, eastern Europe and possibly Spain. There is so much to say about this, I cannot possibly do it here, so I’ll continue dealing with it in the book I am writing. But I would like to bring to your attention this passage about Germany in 1930, from page 15 of World Crisis and British Decline, 1929-56, by Roy Douglas (St. Martin’s Press, 1986.):

“Economic misery was matched by political chaos. At the General Election (in Germany) of September 1930 there were eleven parties each with a dozen or more representatives, and no single party held as many as a quarter of the total. The Nazis, who had only won twelve seats a couple of years earlier, became second party of the state with 107; while the Communists advanced from 54 to 77. Both of those parties believed in revolutionary solutions, and were perfectly willing to allow the state to collapse in ruins, in order to rebuild from their own preferred foundations. Thus they had no interest in making the economy work as well as possible, and every interest in refusing to cooperate with anybody.”

Sound familiar?

What they had back then was a failure to agree, and consequently, movements of both formerly-centrist positions toward extremes. Ultimately, the only reconciliation of those polarizations was one hell of a big war.

So, is the lesson of history that failure to agree may lead to apocalyptically chaotic rearrangemets of society? It could happen, but I’m not looking forward to it. When I was younger, I thought I might be awaiting some kind of apocalypse. I thought it was beginning in the fall of ’08. But we’re still here, all of us plodding along.

So, in this sixth decade of my time on earth I’m hoping and praying that the world does not fall apart. How about you?

Glass half-Full

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