Friday, May 15, 2009

The World is Ending: Pass the Popcorn

I'm off for a long weekend in Tuscany. Don't worry, I'll take the camera. But since I won't be back till Tuesday, I want to remind everyone to be sure to make a toast to her Majesty on Monday.

Long live the Queen!


This from Rod Dreher (via Steve)
The Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre famously ended his landmark 1982 book After Virtue with a gloomy meditation about the collapse of a common moral sense in the West. He suggested that we were too far gone into nihilism and relativism to save and that those devoted to the traditional virtues should consider hiving off, as Benedict and his followers did in Rome’s final days, to build communities that can withstand the incoming tide of chaos and despond. MacIntyre wrote that our unawareness of how lost we are “constitutes part of our predicament,” one that can only be adequately addressed by “another—and doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

makes me look around at Rome.

It's an odd place, really. Where all the world still seems compelled to come and bring their ancient political rivalries with them.

I'm reading Hannah Arendt on the train lately and she is raising questions. Old questions about European politics and one thing has been clear. The arguments we are having now are not new. To a Canadian, or an American, of a certain age, politics is an entirely new field every five years or so and almost no one's political memory stretches back more than a decade. It also is something that can be more or less safely ignored if you want. One can be "interested" in politics, in the way one can be "interested" in butterflies or stamps. It does not force itself on the attention of the individual.

In the US and to a lesser degree in Canada, (and even less now in Britain), one can get on fairly quietly with one's life and it does not place one in immediate physical or economic danger to pay no attention whatever to the newspapers. But this is not the natural state of things in Europe. Of course, depending on where you're from, it has been possible for stretches of time, but it seems this can last no longer than two generations. Politics forces itself in cycles onto the attention of Europeans since the Wars of Religion started by Martin Luther.

And it is much easier to see here how the political disturbances of the past have created the swamps we now live in.

Rome has struck me as a place that lives with the past as an immediate and present reality. Its entire history is still here, and people don't forget it. It may look like a silly and rather touristy gesture, but I think there is more to the fact that the Commune di Roma lays a wreath at the foot of Julius Caesar's statue on his birthd...(oh no wait, that's my birthday,) on March 15 every year.

Europeans in general live with, if not in, the past. And the realities of the present are informed by the bloodthirsty realities of the 18th, 19th and 20th century past much of which is well within living memory.

Europe is withdrawing in on itself in a way that most Americans I think can't really understand. Most British too. I know a lot of Trads who see this, because Trads are interested in historical continuity. I have had lots of debates and conversations with other Trads about what should be done in the face of what nearly all of them agree is a serious time of trouble brewing.

But I see that now that feeling of impending doom - of standing on a shore and with your hair being blown by the wind created by the 1000-foot tidal wave coming at you at 550 mph - is beginning to leak out into the merely 'conservative' circles like that occupied by Rod Dreher. And a bit into groups of people who aren't really anywhere in particular on that political scale.

For myself, I think the idea of stockpiling and learning gardening is a bit of self-deception. If a collapse comes, the kind of collapse of social order that is often talked about in novels, the likelihood is that there will be very few choices for most of us. My feeling is that it is not 'survival,' if it comes to that, that will be most important, or even feasible, but how we choose to deal, morally and spiritually, with what is happening to us, whatever it may be.

But somehow, living in Italy, in a town where the oldest thing was built by a civilization whose language was lost by the time of the Emperor Claudius, it doesn't seem likely that things will "end". Change, certainly, but probably not as much as we might think. People in the Etruscan port of Pupluna or Roman Aquae Caeretanae, probably went to the shops in more or less the same place I do on weekends. They probably bought mostly the same kind of food. They likely had similar jobs to most of the people who live there now. Truth is, things don't change much. People still got to eat. Got to live somewhere. Got to have social interaction. They eat, sleep, get married, go to work, have children. It's what the humans do, in between fighting. And the fighting doesn't usually last long.

Civilization is more or less a necessity of human survival. It's a function of having thumbs, probably.

One thing is for sure. I am enjoying the view from the Capital of the World. It's a bit like taking a cruise to watch icebergs calving off Greenland's ice fields. Because it's all so huge, so utterly, enormously indifferent to our little problems, it becomes possible to look at it somewhat dispassionately, and see that it is fascinating. Even if it might kill you.

Rome has always been the best place to watch the end of the world.

1 comment:

Joanne said...

The monastic option is so appealing.

But most don't consider that St. Benedict didn't go out with a program or project of shelter, renewal, or mere survival in mind. It was about being faithful, of keeping his gaze on Christ. It was God who made it fruitful.
Considering that everything I knew as a child in my neighborhood is gone and something even tackier and ugly thrown up in its place, I cannot imagine what permanence feels like.