Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi A Confused Society

By Harry Willson

OCTOBER 25, 1999:  I am aware that there is no such thing as a private myth, but often it feels as if that's what I have in my head and heart. Here's this lonely mythologist, persisting in swimming against the cultural current, seeking to create "new" myths for our obviously confused society. As a group we seem bent on rowing downstream toward a deadly waterfall, picking up speed as we near the brink. At the same time I find myself attracted to notions that seem very old, and very much out of date -- notions like justice, compassion, solidarity, learning, discovery, sensuality and wonder.

The modern emphasis on possession, status, rank, labels, appearances, patents and profits, with the widespread use of falsehood, slogans, clichés, catch words and buzz words, is surely a momentary flash in the pan. Nihilism is in. Reactionary literalism and authoritarianism are in. The Big Lie is more popular and more prevalent now than ever. Good will and good sense are very definitely not in.

I wonder if anything more than cultural fads are at stake. If our species is to survive the pending collapse of this culture, it will be because those older values have been preserved by pockets of modern, ex-liberal, ex-conservative, even ex-reactionary and ex-radical persons who still use logic and recognize old truths.

Those old political labels are of little use. I myself am a radical, believing that things will have to be changed at the very root. I am also a liberal, believing that the system must open up and allow more people to take part in decision making. I am also a conservative, believing that we should save the forests, the whales, the ozone, the soil, the water, the air and the children. I am even a reactionary of sorts, believing that it would be good if we could go back to the time before the invention of nuclear explosions, genetic tampering, plausible deniability, computer spying, the patriarchy, and the internal combustion engine. But how can one person be effective if he finds himself located literally at all points at once on the political spectrum?

"You're just confused," the sleepwalkers tell me. But I'm not as confused as they are, and besides, it's hardly any wonder. Ours is a very confused culture. We're uncertain about death, preparing for megadeath in the dozens of millions and refusing to ponder our individual mortality. We're also confused about life and love and loyalty and meaning. Our society can hardly even be called a society any more.

A society is a related group, with some kind of solidarity. Solidarity means sharing, doing whatever needs doing together, living in mutual interdependence, surviving as a group. The supposed monopoly on force, which is called "the state," has fallen into the hands of people who do not believe in solidarity at all. The result is that this society is taking itself apart, piece by piece.

The emphasis on military activity, with no war and no enemy in sight, tells how confused we are. The perceived increase in crime in our experience, if not in the statistics; the increase in prisons and in the percentage of the population imprisoned; the increase in homelessnes; the perceived increase in unemployed and uninsured which runs counter to the published statistics -- all of this indicates that the society is in trouble. The increase in cynical disillusionment on the part of many of the old; the increase in nihilistic and utterly egotistical aims on the part of many of the youth; the increase in lying generally and mutual deception as well as self-deception at the private level, along with well-funded programs of disinformation at the official and national level -- all of this portends a collapsing social system.

When one tries to account for much of the breakdown, the profit motive provides a significant clue. The profit motive has corrupted health care, housing, education, the food supply, the protection of the environment, the supply of essential services through what are misnamed "public utilities," the dispensing of public information, prisons, and what happens to the dying and the dead. In a society that intended to keep itself going as a society, the profit motive would be removed from all these concerns.

There are times when one senses that too much is ailing the system for it to be cured by patching. The pieces that survive the pending break-up, if there are any, will have to return to the older values, in smaller groups.


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