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Home/Rod Dreher/Things Shift. Things Fall Apart

Things Shift. Things Fall Apart

“Things have changed,” my friend said. “Things have definitely changed. Something has shifted.”

We were talking by phone yesterday. We had not spoken in months. We talked about how America seems to have lost its collective mind, and to be coming apart. It was a long conversation, but the thing I remember most was the news that someone who used to go to church with us back in the day had divorced her husband, taken up with a woman, announced it in a self-congratulatory series of Instagram posts, and also, on Instagram, celebrated her teenage daughter — sorry, “son” — injecting herself with her first testosterone shots, for the child’s sexual transition.

These were church people. But that was a long time ago.

In a different time, it would have been a stretch to connect the fall of Afghanistan to the general sense of imperial collapse into decadence, but in this context, it’s hard not to. Yes, the Taliban was bound to take over whenever and however we left. The decadence manifests first in the disgracefully haphazard way we left, and in what the failure of the nation-building project reveals about the corruption both in the senior officer rank of the armed forces, with their testifying over and over that things were ship-shape in Afghanistan, and in the revelation of the extent of American superpower hubris — that is, the belief that our wealth and our power enables us to control things that cannot be controlled. To rewrite the script of reality. For example, to make a primitive Islamic country into a 21st century liberal democracy.

Look at this publication by a Kabul-based, Western-funded think tank. It appeared two months before the Taliban conquered the whole country:

Good luck trying to deconstruct Mullah Baradar’s hegemonic masculinity, ladies! Tucker Carlson commented:

It turns out that the people of Afghanistan don’t actually want gender studies symposia. They didn’t actually buy the idea that men can become pregnant. They thought that was ridiculous. They don’t hate their own masculinity. They don’t think it’s toxic, they like the patriarchy, some of their women like it too, so now they’re getting it all back. So maybe it’s possible that we failed in Afghanistan because the entire neoliberal program is grotesque.

This is not to defend what the Taliban do. God help the poor women of Afghanistan now. It’s simply to say that Western liberals and progressives are fools to think they can impose their crackhead ideologies onto a country and a people like that. Gender-critical feminists no more caused the collapse of Afghanistan than those who thought it was a good idea for the US Embassy in Kabul to signal its progressive bona fides by tweeting out pro-LGBT content two months before they had to flee the embassy to escape victorious Taliban barbarians. The fact that Americans and other ruling-class Westerners tried to impose cultural imperialism of that sort onto this primitive society, and thought it could work — that is what caused this disaster.

If we are fortunate, maybe enough people in this country will realize that we don’t have to put up with this crap here either. That there is nothing inevitable about it. That we are governed through our institutions by fools who are trying to dismantle what our ancestors have built. For example, here’s a cheerleading piece from Harvard about how folks in its law school have created a group to advocate for changing the law to permit polyamory. There’s a movement well underway to empty out our museums as repositories of vice. We are ruled by decadents. They are destroying us.

If we don’t revolt against it now — all of us, including commonsense liberals, commonsense moderates, and commonsense conservatives — the ruling class will use technology to make it unlikely that we can ever revolt. I’m talking about by instituting a social credit system. Read Live Not By Lies, and let’s start right now, this very day, building the networks we are going to need to withstand what is coming, if we can’t get rid of this corrupt ruling class. I would rather be ruled by liberals who live in the real world, who reject this crazy ideology, and are prepared to act firmly against it, than by Republicans who only look at the threat as a means by which they can gain power, then sit on their collective ass sending out fundraising letters and angry tweets.

If I’m honest, though, I don’t have a lot of faith that we will revolt successfully against these decadents. I hope I will be surprised! But no wise man or woman should put off preparing for the long winter ahead by hoping that somehow, a demoralized and divided people will rise up. We are not going to be able to vote our way out of this crisis.

You need to read this essay by Paul Kingsnorth, a visionary English writer who, in my view, excels at reading the signs of the times. Excerpts:

The West is a lot older than liberalism, leftism, conservatism or empire. It is at the same time a simpler, more ancient and immensely more complex concoction than any of these could offer. It is the result of the binding together of people and peoples across a continent, over centuries of time, by a particular religious story.

“There has never been any unitary organisation of Western culture apart from that of the Christian Church,” explained the medieval historian Christopher Dawson in Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, written shortly after World War Two. “Behind the ever-changing pattern of Western culture there was a living faith which gave Europe a certain sense of spiritual community, in spite of all the conflicts and divisions and social schisms that marked its history.”

“The West”, in other words, was born from the telling of one sacred story — a garden, an apple, a fall, a redemption — which shaped every aspect of life: the organisation of the working week; the cycle of annual feast and rest days; the payment of taxes; the moral duties of individuals; the attitude to neighbours and strangers; the obligations of charity; the structure of families; and most of all, the wide picture of the universe — its structure and meaning, and our place within it.

The West, in short, was Christendom. But Christendom died. If you live in the West now, you are living among its ruins. Many of them are still beautiful — intact cathedrals, Bach concertos — but they are ruins nonetheless. And when an old culture built around a sacred order dies, there will be lasting upheaval at every level of society, from the level of politics to the level of the soul. The shape of everything — family, work, moral attitudes, the very existence of morals at all, notions of good and evil, sexual mores, perspectives on everything from money to rest to work to nature to the body to kin to duty — all of it will be up for grabs. Welcome to 2021.

Paul has been reading MacIntyre’s After Virtue, and explains the philosopher’s core thesis: that without a common commitment to a transcendent source of authority (reason alone has failed), the West is falling apart. More:

Ultimately, without that higher purpose to bind it, society would fall — as it has — into “emotivism”, relativism and ultimately disintegration. If every culture is cored around a sacred order — whether Christian, Islamic or Hindu, the veneration of ancestors or the worship of Odin — then the collapse of that order will lead inevitably to the collapse of the culture it supported. There is a throne at the heart of every culture, and whoever sits on it will be the force we take our instruction from. The modern experiment has been the act of dethroning both literal human sovereigns and the representative of the sacred order, and replacing them with purely human, and purely abstract, notions — “the people” or “liberty” or “democracy” or “progress.”

I’m all for democracy (the real thing, please, not the corporate simulacra that currently squats in its place), but the dethroning of the sovereign — Christ — who sat at the heart of the Western sacred order did not lead to universal equality and justice. It led — via a bloody shortcut through Robespierre, Stalin and Hitler — to the complete triumph of the power of money, which has splintered our culture and our souls into a million angry shards.

The vacuum created by the collapse of our old taboos was filled by the poison gas of consumer capitalism. It has now infiltrated every aspect of our lives in the way that the Christian story once did, so much so that we barely even notice as it colonises everything — from the way we eat to the values we teach our children. Cut loose in a post-modern present — with no centre, no truth and no direction — we have not become independent-minded, responsible, democratic citizens in a human republic. We have become slaves to the self and to the power of money; broken worshippers before the monstrous idol of Progress. “In the ethics of the West,” wrote Spengler, “everything is direction, claim to power, will to affect the distant.”

Read it all. I don’t get the sense that Paul has read The Benedict Option, but his conclusion inadvertently calls for it.

Paul has a Substack, The Abbey Of Misrule, that is consistently one of the most interesting things on the Internet. I suspect that his most recent essay is behind the subscriber paywall. I’ll quote it in brief, but trust me, you’ll want to subscribe to this newsletter. Though English, Paul and his wife and kids live in rural Ireland. He writes about how he is reaching a breaking point over Covid:

Perhaps it’s just me, but I feel that, in just the last week or so, something has shifted out there. Some deepening has occurred; some quickening. I can’t put a name to it, let alone ‘prove’ it. It’s a feeling; a hunch; sometimes a fear. But it’s there. It’s not the first time this has happened in these last few years, and it probably won’t be the last. Certainly here in Ireland, a Rubicon of sorts has been crossed, almost without comment.

He talks about how the Irish government is instituting what he calls “vaccine apartheid,” a kind of social credit system, against those who decline the vaccines. Paul explains that from his work as a journalist, and his wife’s medical career, they both have deep concerns about these vaccines, which were rushed into production, and whose long-term effects no one can know. He talks about how the Irish government and media have been managing the vaccine narrative tightly, memory-holing any information that contradicts the official line. He writes, “I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it in a democracy; and I’m old enough to remember the phrase ‘weapons of mass destruction.’”

Paul goes on to talk about the lie in the injunction to “follow the science.” He says we have taken a method and turned it into an ideology. You really need to read his explanation of this. And then, he takes a turn:

Sherrard presents science as a modern enterprise built on a Christian rootstock that grew out of shape. He is not the only one to make this case, but as I was reading his book, another thought occurred to me; a thought that took me back to the time, not so long ago, when I used to practice magic.

When I say ‘magic’ I don’t mean fairground tricks; I mean the workings of what is sometimes called the Western Mystery Tradition, or, if we want to be spookier about it, the occult. The meaning of the word ‘occult’ is actually less sinister than it has been made to sound: occulted simply means hidden. A few years back, before I became, to my own surprise, an Orthodox Christian, I was a practicioner of Wicca, a nature religion founded by the eccentric Englishman Gerald Gardner back in the 1950s. Wicca is a form of modern ‘witchcraft’, though everyone involved will have a different explanation of what that word means. Being a modern path, Wicca is mostly undefined and eclectic. At its (usually American) extreme, you can basically make it up as you go along, which is why it has proved so appealing to millennial teenagers.

The Wicca I practiced was the more traditional variety: I was a member of a coven, whose workings and details were secret and into which you had to be initiated. The people in the coven were not dastardly devil-worshippers; they were basically good-hearted, interesting people looking for meaning in a society which offered none outside the marketplace. Wiccan covens do all sorts of things, but at the heart of the enterprise is the practice of magic: which, if you’re feeling mysterious or pretentious, you can spell magick.

There are all kinds of magick available to the practicing mage. There’s sympathetic magic, Hermetic magic, herbal magic, elemental magic, High (or ceremonial) magic, folk magic (or ‘cunning craft’), natural magic, Enochian magic (fun with secret Angelic languages) and – for the ultimate rush – Goetic magic, which involves the summoning of spirits to do your will. Faust, who did his famous deal with the devil, was practicing Goetia. At the heart of the practice is the notion that the spirits of the otherworld are ours to command. If we are knowledgeable, smart and well-trained enough, we can summon up the very forces of nature itself, and ‘bind’ them to our will.

Perhaps you can see where I’m going here. The history of magic in the West is a long one, but one thing it teaches is that what we call ‘magic’ and what we call ‘science’ are intertwined. Many of the pioneers of science we know today were also magicians of one sort or another. Bacon was said to be a Freemason and an alchemist. Isaac Newton wrote far more about alchemy than he did about physics, and many of the august founders of England’s Royal Society, still one of its foremost scientific institutions, were alchemists or mages. In the early modern period, today’s distinction between ‘science’ (real, good, objective) and ‘magic’ (fantastical, bad, superstitious) did not really exist. Both were branches of the same effort: to understand the mysterious forces of the universe, and ultimately to control them.

Here is Francis Bacon’s definition of science:

The knowledge of causes and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible.

And here is the occultist Aleister Crowley’s definition of magic:

The science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will.

These could be swapped around without anybody really noticing. The thread that links them together is control. Both the scientific enterprise, and the magical quest which it was part of, spring from the same desire: to know the world, and to bend it to our will. Will, in both cases, is the key word. When Aleister Crowley, pioneering occultist, rampant self-publicist and self-described ‘Great Beast’, created his own occult religion, Thelema, in the early 20th century, he gave it its own famous commandment: do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Thelema wilted on the vine, but we could say that Crowley’s dictum lived on as the foundational basis of what our culture has become.

At this point, any scientists reading will be protesting. No, no! they might cry; that’s not what we do at all! We’re driven only by curiosity, by wonder, by a desire to understand the world! Maybe. But science, always and everywhere, is handmaiden to technology, and technology is, in this time, never innocent. Einstein bombed Hiroshima just as surely as the pilots of the Enola Gay, and he knew it.

My point is not that all magical workings, or all scientific experiments, are bad, let alone the people who carry them out. A magician might want to perform a working aimed at bringing good luck to a friend. A scientist may be searching for a cure for cancer. But the wider project of both carries hidden within it a telos: a direction of travel. It is the direction of the Machine that now envelops us, and the new world it is building.

Paul goes on, but that’s enough to give you a sense of what he’s writing about. If you subscribe, read the whole thing. I’ve been reading him long enough to be able to say with confidence that whenever Paul Kingsnorth publishes something new on his Substack, it will likely be the most important thing any of us will read that day. If you don’t subscribe, you really should. I gave a gift subscription to a friend, and she is completely delighted by it.

Paul is saying that our worship of Science has led us to believe that we can change Nature through sufficient application of force and intellect, through technology. What the Taliban victory shows us is that this is a lie.  We are playing a dangerous Faustian game. The proto-transhumanist project of transgenderism will fail, eventually, but the destruction in human lives it causes — and not just in the lives of those who submit to science’s potions and rituals, and the law’s incantations — will be vast. The progressives, in their wisdom, have decided that it would be a good thing to summon forth the spirits of race consciousness, certain that they can be controlled to build a more Equitable™ society. They will find that these are malicious spirits whose submission required many years of effort and great suffering, and who, once released, will work savagery in the land.

And so forth. There will always be people who will not take a knee before whatever the mages of Progress (one of the names of Scientism) manifest as divinity. These savages may show themselves as true barbarians, as the evil Taliban are. Or they may be like John the Savage in Huxley’s Brave New World, living in exile from a corrupt society, reading Shakespeare in their de facto Benedict Option lairs, and prophesying against the evil ones.

I know where we need to be. I know what we need to be doing. So do you. So let’s do it. This is not going to get better. MacIntyre:

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead–often not recognizing fully what they were doing–was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another–doubtless very different–St. Benedict.

There are already people — military veterans — disgusted by what they’ve seen of the US military’s leadership, who are saying they will discourage their children from serving the Imperium of the Machine. I know this because they write to me. Let’s start thinking about how we can turn away from shoring up the Imperium, and build resilient moral community capable of withstanding the nemesis these Faustians have brought down on us. No, I’m not talking about abandoning politics completely. We have to fight in that field, if only to defend the space necessary to construct our long-term plans. I’m talking about doing two things at once. Fight politically — but at the same time, prepare as if you knew you were probably going to lose, and were going to have to live under occupation.

And by the way, check out this clip from Kingsnorth’s discussion with Jonathan Pageau (who has Covid now; pray for him!), in which they talk about how atheism is a luxury we can no longer afford:

UPDATE: A friend texts:

Your post interacting with Kingsnorth is great. His “breaking point” idea has been on my mind. It’s manifesting itself in so many ways from macro politics to individual church congregations. My daughter is wrapping up a summer working at an in patient mental health facility. She leaves Thursday to start a grad school program in this field. Despite the fact that she is just starting her program they offered her a full time position as soon as she graduates.

Of course as a dad I’d like to think this is evidence of how great she is :), but she is quick to say that they are simply overwhelmed by demand and simply can’t hire enough credentialed people to deal with the flood of patients. She has been doing patient intake and her shift is 4pm to 1AM, but she is often at work until past 3AM helping admit new patients. Many of them come because they have attempted or have been deemed a high risk of suicide. This is in the affluent suburbs.

Of course these issues are not completely new, but the people she is working with who are veterans in the field appear to be taken aback by what they are seeing. Something has changed indeed, and evidences of a breaking point moment seem to be all around us.

UPDATE.2: Wyoming Doc, from whom we haven’t heard in ages, comments:

I have been a physician for 30 years. I have given over 30000 vaccines in my practice in my life – flu, pnuemococcal, tetanus, MMR, you name it I have given it or recommended it. In that entire 30 years up until the past 6 months I have had a grand total of 4 vaccine reactions – all of which ended up being minor and not impactful of the patient’s life.

Since January – I have had directly related to these COVID vaccines – one death, 4 pulmonary emboli requiring hospitalization, one stroke within 30 minutes of the shot, 2 cardiac events in young healthy men, 3 cases of DVT, 8 severe local reactions to the vaccines, one requiring surgery, and many many dozens/hundreds of patients who could not go to work for days.

I have steadfastly tried my best to report these issues to the authorities and have gotten nowhere. They simply do not want to know. In the past the FDA would have been on the phone with me within hours of reporting. That is just not happening at all right now.

So when you quote all these articles about there being no problems with these vaccines, it is a clanging cymbal of white sound to me. I have had to deal with these patients and their families for months.

Quoting big media for information like this is a fools’ errand. You really have no idea what you are talking about. I would be really careful calling anyone else a liar based on information from these sources – who are known daily liars.

The very suggestion that there has been no severe problems with these vaccines should eliminate any other arguments you make.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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