What is to be done?
In the first edition of How to Survive we touched upon the fact that, on the one hand there is nothing to be done as events are now moving under their own momentum, yet on the other hand, there is much to be done, as we move through this trying time and into the next phase of our civilisation.
What, exactly, falls under the category of done is a nebulous question, but having thought long and hard about it, I believe a recent tweet from the Old Holborn account summed it up neatly when he wrote: “The art is not ensuring that your politician wins, the art is ensuring no matter who wins, it doesn’t affect you. Put yourself outside the reach of Politicians.”
The question is: how? To my mind, the tasks ahead fall into three broad categories:
1. The Material. Man does not live by bread alone, but nor can he live without it. From Portland in the west to Christchurch in the east, over the last few years there has not been a single corner of the globe un-touched by violence of some sort. From strife over the US election, to provocation by the far left, to protests against Covid measures, to Islamic terrorism, it seems that the chances of the next few years being violence-free globally are growing increasingly remote, and where conflict occurs, poverty and hunger soon follow. It therefore seems wise to take precautions and make provisions. However, the exact details of this will differ so widely depending on location, the specific threat, and indeed one’s situation and level of resources that it seems futile to delve much into it in these pages.
Besides, there are thousands of hours’ worth of videos on YouTube on practical survival skills, and a fair few books available too, and so I don’t intend to focus over-much on this side of things other than to say that a revival of some traditional crafts might not be such a bad thing.
2. The Organisational. It has long been my observation that difficult times can be better borne if we understand the reason for them. While it is true that good and evil undoubtedly exist, it is also true that every person, institution and event contains a mixture, to greater or lesser extent, of the two.
The bad in good events is, of course, that they lead to complacency. Conversely, the good in bad events is that they always offer lessons.
The question we must always ask ourselves when faced with challenges is therefore: what am I being taught here? If the lesson you learn from our current troubles is to reject humanity, I would put it to you that you have drawn the wrong conclusion.
One of the interesting aspects of the coronavirus chaos in particular has been its tendency to magnify the ills of our current way of doing things. For decades now, at least since the 80s, much comment has been made on the increasing atomisation of our society and the drive toward hyper-individualism which has taken place. Of course we must never lose sight of the individual as the socialists do, but the key is to simultaneously uphold both the individual and the interconnectedness of humanity.
We are not just Me, Myself, I. We are also Brother, Sister, Mother, Father, Son, Daughter — and we must act like it.
The way to defeat socialism is not through ultra-libertarianism or by cutting ourselves off from one another. Covid is proving that that path leads only to loneliness, misery, and in a very real way, the loss of our humanity. Rather, it is to come together voluntarily in like-minded groups which recognize the unique contributions of each member of the group.
So get together! Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option, sets out how this is done within a Christian setting. As he explains: “The Benedict Option is inspired by Benedict of Nursia, a sixth-century Italian monk. Benedict lived in the era shortly after the fall of Rome, a time when Rome was full of corruption and low morals. Disgusted by the state of the city, Benedict set up monasteries where monks could follow in his lifestyle of prayer and fasting.”
Dreher advocates that, as we now live in a post-Christian world, Christians should create intentional communities in which they can adhere to Christian values — although he emphasizes that he is not advocating retreating from the world.
“How do we take Benedictine wisdom out of the monastery and apply it to the challenges of worldly life in the twenty-first century?” he writes.
“The way of Saint Benedict is not an escape from the real world but a way to see that world and dwell in it as it truly is. Benedictine spirituality teaches us to bear with the world in love and to transform it as the Holy Spirit transforms us. The Benedict Option draws on the virtues in Rule [Benedict’s handbook] to change the way Christians approach politics, church, family, community, education, our jobs, sexuality, and technology. And it does so with urgency.”
This urgency applies not only to the Christian community. What I would like to advocate is a sort of civilisational-level Benedict Option, because not only do we live in a post-Christian world, increasingly we live in a post-civilisational world.
In the West, this has much to do with the loss of our Judeo-Christian culture, but it also encompasses the loss of classical influences, of European pagan influences, and a loss of secular culture in the realms of music, literature and fine art in particular. We have also seen an erosion of critical thinking, of philosophy, of the sciences — which are increasingly agenda-driven — and of the law.
It is therefore not enough to merely shepherd Christianity, we need to become the custodians of these cultural treasures too. (Incidentally, this is not limited to the West. Communism in China sought to destroy Taoism, just as the Communists and enlightenment thinkers in Europe sought to destroy the church, and across the world the role of the family has been undermined — but I digress).
The details of this shepherding or custodianship of civilisation will be one theme this newsletter examines going forward, but I would encourage you all in general to think about your own talents, and how they can be put to the task of preserving some of our cultural heritage and sharing that heritage with others.
3. The Spiritual. If we are to hold the individual and community in balance, then equal attention must be paid in our own lives to ourselves, as well as the communities we interact with.
Any community, from the level of family, through town and city, to country and even Commonwealth, is only as good as the people who belong to it. “Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times.” So said Saint Augustine, and it is as true in our times as it was in his.
If these times are provoking us to create better communities, then they are also provoking us to become better people as our communities can only ever be as good as we are. It is our duty, therefore, to strive to be moral, truthful, hard-working and above all, courageous.
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