11 April 2005

from fear to fundamentalism

Fear is an inordinately powerful force. Those who are afraid will too often suspend rational thought in favor of whatever options will make them feel safer, stronger - fight or flight. But what of the nebulous threat? or the impossible situation? Global warming, a shaky economy, Peak Oil, terrorism - Americans are being spoon-fed a steady diet of fear, with no point of focus, no specific enemy to fight and nowhere to run. If the whole world is chaotic and unsafe, where or what is left to fill the need for safety and security? The result is an imbalanced collective psychology, and what I would perhaps call a sickness of the spirit... fundamentalism, or religious extremism.

The progressive left seems to have been missing the living room elephant here for a long, long time. The appeal of right-wing ideology is patently irrational, just so: it is not about reason, for reason (in scary situations) only stokes the flames of panic. A plain-spoken God, presented within a "stable" religious structure with clear, internally-consistent definitions of right and wrong and offering a "safe harbor" outside the rational world, is exactly perfect to draw in the fearful masses. Call it what you will, blue-meme, pre-rational, whatever, I think if the Left doesn't get it together and begin to present an alternative "answer" with equivalent spiritual and psychological power to fulfill the same needs, this sort of hard-right, conservative, reactionary fundamentalism is simply going to grow in power. The coming instabilities will be like throwing gas on a fire.

Ken Wilber has spent a lot of time talking about "Boomeritis," and the value of working to further "enlighten" or "evolve" those few in the world who are already acting from a "green-meme" or "post-rational" consciousness. The trick for them, apparently, is to create a critical mass of highly enlightened individuals, who I suppose will then go forth and generate some grand tidal wave of change around the world, influencing their governments and societies to move toward more holistic, Integral actions and viewpoints. Now, while I support the idea that a small group of committed individuals, using their leverage in juuuust the right way at juuust the right time, could and indeed have made significant changes in the world, I am nevertheless disturbed by what seems to me to be a huge blind spot - namely, that there are great masses in the world who not only are going to resist this sort of change, but who are actively and aggressively converting into, or being "recruited" into, fundamentalist religions. And in a world where just one small group of clever or ruthless people can cause great devastation with the flick of a switch, being this far outnumbered is a Very Bad Idea.

I'm not nearly as concerned as to whether global business leaders will "discover" natural capitalism or the value of long-term planning, or whether global-north progressives/Greens will get over their internal multicultural wars long enough to develop a coherent single message. Left alone, they'll get there eventually. I'm far more concerned about the increasing appeal of fundamentalism. The Religious Right in the US has already developed their Critical Mass, and it's moving full steam ahead; coupled with the strength of such religious movements in the global south (which is also likely to grow in the coming years, as the consequences of global warming and economic exploitation become more apparent), years of progress in global institutions stands to be undone, or at least badly damaged.


Anonymous '.'M.'. said...

If you've not read Octavia E. Butler's "Earthseed" books, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, you owe it to yourself to find a way to do just that. They have only become more timely with every passing year.

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7:32 PM  

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