Traditionalism and Ecology
Timely reflections from Mark Wegierski, on Earth Day, 2016
This is a sketch of a synthesis of ecological issues with notions of culture and tradition. What are some of the affinities between traditionalist and ecological thinking?
The United States and Canada participate today in the worldwide trends to technology (sci-tech); urbanization and migration; media; tribalism; and violence.
These trends constitute the ongoing crisis of national sovereignty and meaningful democracy. National governments appear to be overwhelmed by multifarious crises, while in Western societies, the self-hating elites seem to be set against the respective national populations.
Although these problems are relatively easy to see around us, and although the proposed remedies are also to some extent obvious, effecting these solutions will be far more difficult.
The world today is characterized by the exponential growth of various modern technologies, which ultimately result in an ever-expanding “technosphere” that tends to annihilate the natural world, and that challenges a stable and durable sense of human nature. Concrete and suburbs devour arable soil and wilderness. Polluting industries poison the land. The cacophony of electronic gadgets damages the mind, the soul, and the spirit.
At the same time, the unsettled and rootless environment created by modern technology results in the burgeoning of anomic urban cityscapes, as well as in massive migrations across the planet. Vast, rootless urban agglomerations are created. The denizens of the poorer regions flood into the richer countries.
Western societies are characterized by the problem of media (or “the mediocracy”) — which combines “amusing ourselves to death” in the promotion of a commodity-consumption society, as well as antinomian impulses — in advertising, entertainment, and the purveying of news. A society which demands immediate physical gratification ensues. Those who are deemed to be representatives of notions of traditional nation, family, and religion are under relentless media attack in most Western societies. For example, the Tea Party movement has been demonized in the so-called mainstream media (MSM). And not much of a hearing is offered to those on the left who question the necessity of unending economic expansion.
Largely because of the pressures of assimilation to the global pop-culture, there is the reaction of rampant tribalism (as well as of religious extremism), mostly in societies outside of the West. When more traditional cultures are threatened by the influx of American pop-culture, which seems to be impossible to stop, tremendous frustrations arise among the more tradition-minded persons. As their culture seems to slip away, some traditionalists may turn to violence.
Violence has become a ubiquitous element of the planet today, whether in the shape of wars which are difficult to win by “conventional” armed forces, endemic conflicts in the Third World, or crime-prone urban areas within the West itself.
Yet the problems of modern technology, as well as of urbanization and migration, could be addressed by a new ecological paradigm of “limits to growth”. An awareness of our physical environment and a critique of rampant technology are becoming increasingly prominent in Western societies. It is up to astute thinkers to channel positive ecological impulses in directions that would reduce consumerism, encourage smart growth, and reduce immigration.
The problem of media (or “mediocracy”) could be resolved by a renewed emphasis on literary-humanistic culture. The West has an incomparable store of thinking about human issues and problems. Culturally-minded critics could re-focus attention on the reflections of Plato and Aristotle, and of salient later thinkers, such as Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and T.S. Eliot.
Rampant tribalism and religious extremism could be replaced by a reflective (and therefore more moderate, but not non-existent) nationalism or religious spirit. The attempt to banish national and religious spirit from human existence (a project which, ironically, has been undertaken especially against Western populations) is ultimately bound to fail, and can only result in its return in more virulent forms. Far better to allow for the expression of national and religious discourses, in the hope of their more reflective aspects becoming more prominent. For example, there are strains in Islam, such as Sufi mysticism, that are profoundly different from Osama bin Laden’s interpretation of Islam.
The increasing violence in the world today requires a renewed emphasis on state-authority, and on the legitimacy of the exercise of state-power to uphold the civil order. It would be helpful to distinguish between the necessary maintenance of civil order in society, as opposed to, on the one hand, attempts to promote one political ideology through state coercion, and, on the other, the too-frequent abnegation of the upholding of civil order. Likewise, the way to resolve many regional and ethnic conflicts is through true federalism and subsidiarity emphasizing locality – rather than a centralized, behemoth bureaucracy.
What the “megatraumas” cited above have in common is a degree of “illimitedness”, when a sense of limits or “horizons” is needed. Among the sages who have begun to identify these problems are Philip Rieff, who referred to the “triumph of the therapeutic”, and called for a “sacred sociology” in response and Christopher Lasch, who criticized “the culture of narcissism” and “the revolt of the elites” – pointing to the family as a “haven in a heartless world.”
Sociologist Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher