Global uprisings. Economic collapse. Sudden pandemic. Climate crisis. Media frenzy. Election disasters. It really does feel like the end of the world, doesn’t it? The rhetoric has changed. We find ourselves clamoring for a moment of peace, only to pick up our phones to catch one more bit of bad news.
There’s not much to be certain of these days but one thing’s for sure, it’s times like these that tend to recalibrate the attention of all citizens of the world.
Of course the general mood varies in different places. Each community is conditioned to respond to the crises it faces in certain ways. As we face a possible pandemic beyond our imaginations, something we thought was the stuff of history books, the nerves that trickle at the bottom of our cultures are exposing themselves. While there are a multitude of ways in which a community responds to challenges they face, we can surmise in that there are three general leanings:
Cool school isn’t cool as hip but cool as calm. The cool school are those who keep their cool, have faith in the system or in human nature to stabilize, correct itself, even after a period of difficulty.
The euphoric are more prone to belief systems that are revolutionary in nature, calling for extensive changes. Unlike the cool, who are moderate in their expressions, the euphoric draw inspiration from humanity’s great challenges, drawn to narratives of collective resilience, individuation, and resistance. They see the utter meaninglessness of all things, the futility of life and they say- let us dance upon it.
Today we’re swamped by the paranoid. Our narratives are overwhelmed with negativity and doubt. Pandemics exacerbate what already is. The paranoia in society is in hyper-drive. Rotten regimes composed of decaying traditions of governance are pulling us down.
Patron Saint of the Paranoid, Jordan Peterson says in 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos, Not only are human beings social creatures, they are also antisocial creatures. He views the world through the rationale of scarcity, innate competition, where only the strong survive. The New York Times calls him the most important public intellectual right now. It’s not because of his leaps of the imagination, but his following. He sells millions of books, and attracts thousands to his talks and lectures. The Godfather of incels everywhere, he’s cultivated a place for himself in the lexicon of revivalist conservative literature.
The question begs, why is paranoia so popular? Why, when you can inspire motivation, conviction, you provoke fear, paranoia, delusion? Why are we so receptive to fear, to stress?
Peterson’s fame is testament to a backlash against identity politics in the West and the ostracization of a subculture of men who find solace in digital communities. But his mission, while academic and intellectual on the surface, is actually a concerted polemic resistance. His brand of politics is part of a discourse on free will, the notion of our innate freedom to inform and carry out our decision making in whatever context, significant or not.
Do we have free will in choosing the person we love? Choosing our occupation? Choosing to obey the law? Choosing who to vote for, where to live? There’s an excellent quote by Theodor Adorno, founding member of the German Frankfurt School of academics and intellectuals. His work often deals with notions of free will, the subjective self, the individual and society. In his view, A question’s urgency cannot compel an answer if no true answer is obtainable, even less can the fallible need, however desperate, point the direction of the answer. Maybe we’re not meant to know, but to seek only.
In the case of a global phenomenon, what drives our behavior? Our decisions? Isn’t climate change an existential threat? Where’s the panic? Why refuse truths in times of energy and crisis, and neglect the same truth when the tension desists and we return to our lives? Is this not a symptom of hysteria in itself? What are we missing?
Cultures are shaped by their stories, many of which deal with a turn of nature, humanity’s refusal to learn from its mistakes, and an expectation of deus ex machina. When we look out into the world what do we see? What can we fathom? What do we make of this madness?
There’s something to be said for preparedness. It is often those who are the most prepared who we view with suspicion. End of the world preppers are the laughingstock of international media. Who’s laughing now? That being said, sight of Western capitals descending into chaos over toilet paper reserves represents a mental nerve substantially unprepared to deal with the Unknown. Beware the Ides of March- where change rears its head. The flowers of spring bear witness to Dionysus- the Greek God that drives men to madness, who communicates with the spirits of the dead. A time for cleansing is also a time for rejuvenation.
Modern thinkers speak of the Integrated Sciences. We surmise an Integrated Intellect that has amassed all this cultural knowledge left ruminating in the swells of the Internet: amassing a cosmic algae of ideas, sentiments, blog posts and memes.
Cultural memory, stupid. How long will it exist? Will it survive our lifetime? What will the world appear like without the internet? Transformed into another archive of history and battlefield of future juice stuff of humanity. Institutions stripped bare of their circumstance and pomp reflects the height of human folly. Desperate, we take comfort in illusions that institutions will hold. Do they ever? A few hours and the economy shakes. What will it take to break?
Nietzsche spoke of a tragic disposition that was lacking in our world. Desensitized, the collective individual neglects the implications of existence and reverence- namely, identifying ourselves in our specificity, collectivity, beauty and radiance. Like a sun orbiting herself we watch ourselves from a shelter of mirrors- screens emanating friends, homes filled with memories and void. But what do we know about ourselves?
But what do we know about ourselves? Can we live without the standards we have set? Who am I without strength, without power? Am I vulnerable to them?
The Bara pride themselves in unknowing: not knowing the truth of that which dominates. Scant evidence suggests we are not merely the playthings of Destiny, an ancient God who swallows centuries whole. But we are made of more than human flesh. In our vibrancy we resist the temptation to fall apart. Challenged we resist the calls of the dead, who have come before us and fallen to the sword. While in the world of the mystics we revere the dead, because of what they have accomplished.
Let us be stoics. Let us at least dare to dance upon the void and be made into a madness of kinship, a madness of fatal breaths. Pray for your friends and invite them to dance. The stage is firmly set.
ARCHETYPE: THE SAVAGE
You were made for this world. Made for this time. Clipped from an Angels ear, you heard your first words. Sucked from the nipples of a mother’s tongue, you tasted the fire of your youth. You are here. Will you savor this dance, dissolve in your nature?
This text originally appeared as part of Barakunan’s “Say Bara” series. A rendition can be found here. The text has been edited by Sarah Huneidi and the original design by Ghiya Haidar.