Invincible Summer |||

Notes on post-secular – 2

Raven and the First Men, by Bill Reid
Raven and the First Men by Bill Reid, Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art

Dear Carissa

Thanks for the Accidental Gods podcast links. I listened to the Josh Davila interview. He sees some interesting applications for blockchain, but he misunderstands the importance of location and embodiment – perhaps having been raised in a digital world. There’s a hint of this skew in the introduction, when he speaks of being “based in Spain, which is where I usually am”.

His concept of a Co-Ordi-Nation is a category error. He describes an affinity network, which is a valuable thing; but if he’s in Spain, and I’m here, we can’t share the same physical resources: postal service, sewage network, food supply. Infrastructure has to be organised geographically. There are alternatives to nation states – a relatively recent concept – but affinity networks isn’t one of them. We have to collaborate with our neighbours because that’s who’s here.

He’s also wrong about what money is. Money is debt: IOUs issued by the state. We need national fiat money to pay our taxes; so we have to use it to trade with each other. The massive redirection of actual physical resources to protect us and our descendants from what we’ve wrought can only be accomplished this close to the end of Modernity by state actors creating and creating new money (as they do unhesitatingly when war looms) and levying taxes (retiring existing money) to avoid hyperinflation. Planet: Critical has a lucid explanation of this from Steven Hail, a Modern Monetary Theorist. Replacing centralised fiat money with crypto, as Davila suggests, is a terrible idea; it would remove our collective power to take urgent action.

The Jetsons

Thermo-industrial civilisation – or just Modernity – promises growing affluence to future generations: Flintstones to Jetsons. That promise could never have been kept indefinitely on a finite planet, and ours is the last generation for which it was kept for a majority even in the WEIRD countries. (Western, industrialised, educated, rich democracies.) In our lifetime we have seen the charmed circles around the very rich dwindle. Accordingly, the tacit consent on which the political order rests has eroded, giving us Brexit, Trump, Johnson – also Orbán, Modi, Bolsonaro and others. The mask of democracy slips towards The Masque of Anarchy.

xkcd: Green House effect

The Gary Snyder Reader

There’s a lot here that has to fail before it gives way and is replaced – by what? Affinity networks will not feed, clothe or shelter our descendants. Thirty years ago Gary Snyder was urging us to pick a watershed – a natural geographical unit – to learn it, love it, and look after it. The advice is still good.

At the core of our converging crises is the Enlightenment, a centuries-long project to which I have been a lifelong subscriber, but from which I have at last resigned.

I don’t know and it doesn’t matter
If there was ever an age of light and learning.
Mine is ended.

Stained-glass tree

An essay at resilience.org, A Religion of Life by Tom Murphy puts it well. Our species’ evolutionary success on this planet is by definition success at getting along with everything else on it. Which we’ve clearly messed up despite our superpower – intelligence – or more plausibly because of it. The classical sin of hubris. The first apex predator on both land and sea,

humans might well be more intelligent than the community of life can tolerate

We might think of what’s happening now as Global Worming. Fortunately behavioural change is what humans do best.

Murphy lays out a case for evolution as religion. Like the case for Buddhism, the premises rest on observation rather than myth. That is to say, it’s “belief free”, but religion because it does what religion does – reconnects (re-ligere) individual subjective experience to a larger world.

Last summer Caroline Mackenzie introduced me to the term post-secular, and I’ve been chewing since then on what post-secular might look like. It could look a lot like Gary Snyder and Tom Murphy: reverence for the land and the life on it – what indigenous Australians call country. A respect for the mysteries – how other forms of life interact and our considerable ignorance about that. The cultivation of restraint; taking only what we need.

If humanity has a future, it may be guided by Buddhists and Quakers.

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