Friday, July 31, 2009

The Betrayal of the West

I have never posted something written by someone else before, but I found the following passage by Jacques Elull incredibly on point. Given the insanity of our world--an economic "recovery" where the banks we bailed out are making billions and giving hundreds of millions in bonuses while continuing to foreclose on people and driving them into homelessness, an environment that continues to collapse while we pretend it has nothing to do with us, a healthcare system and reform of same that does nothing to raise the deep questions around what is health, the morality of rationed care, and why corporations gets rich off the suffering of others, the escalations of our war in Afghanistan and the civil war that is replacing our war in Iraq (mocking the terrible sacrifices of all our brave soldiers), etc.-- Elull's words, written over three decades ago, need to be heard.

I found them (in a longer form) in this month's issue of Adbuster's magazine. I'd love to hear your responses to them.

"We see the mistakes we have made, but we continue to make them with an apparent blind obstinacy… We know the implications of pollution, but we go on calmly polluting the air, the rivers and the oceans. We know people are going mad from living in huge conglomerations, but we, like automatons, go on building them. We know the dangers of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, but we continue to use them in increasingly massive doses….

"Our speed is constantly increasing, and it does not matter where we are going. We are caught up in the madness and hubris of the dance of death: the important thing is the dance… We are no longer worried about what will emerge from it or about the void it points to. We are content to die of dancing. Our generation is not even capable of cynicism, it take a kind of terrible greatness to say, “After me, the deluge.” No one says that today; on the contrary, everyone is glutted with promises and regards the mad dance as a way to authentic renewal. Yet there is no goal, nothing transcendent, no value to light the way; the movement is enough.

"The nihilistic revolution has succeeded. Today’s political activists who still claim to be revolutionaries have nothing to put in nihilism’s place. Movement for movement’s sake, thorough study for study’s sake, the revolution for the revolution’s sake: that, they say, is the only way to escape the system. It is a remarkable thing, however, that this system renders mad not only those who are part of it but those who reject it as well. The system is now the god that makes us mad, but it is a god we have created with our won minds."

(From The Betrayal of the West by Jacques Ellul)


Grégoire said...

My response? Amen, hail comrade, and hallelujah...

I've never heard of Brother Ellul before. I like the allusions to aesthetics in the second paragraph. Capitalism is condemned today more by the shallow affluence we see around us than by the grinding poverty of Karl Marx's day. Advanced industrial society seems to have solved the starvation problem (at least inside the borders of its homelands) but has never provided a minimum psychological level of subsistence.

Good stuff, Rabbi. Thanks for this one.

briankb said...

I must admit I am at a bit of a lose as to how to interpret your view of Ellul's excerpt. No one can argue any of your points about the state of the world today, but frankly, I could have made similar points at any time throughout the past 3000 years. There has never been a time in which society seems to not be falling down around us. Ellul's writings strike me as more of the same. Indeed, his anti-technological stance reflects a constant stream, of opposing the new. Of course he died before seeing the freeing of technology for the individual, through the internet, twitter, facebook, youtube, etc. Finally, he failed to see the underground upswelling of humanity striving for something other than nihilism. As Paul Hawken said at a commencement speech at the Univ. of Portland,
"When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.
The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.
You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. "

I will take hope over despair any day of the week. It is far more interesting.

Aron said...

Well, my first response to Jacques Elull's perspective is, what do you do next? As BrianKB says, despair seems to only conclusion if the system constricts you whether you agree with it or not.

However, I don't think we have to choose between hope and despair. Both can reflect true experiences of reality. I think true work comes out of accepting the hope and despair we experience each day and not allow those emotions blind us.

So I can accept the dark assessments, but I want to know what comes next.

Patti said...

I think you like his particular brand of truth telling. It seems eerily close to your own. Prophets recognize each other.

I am part of the groups that you dudes always yell at. I am trying to learn to listen. Does that count, if I can not be the one to call out in the darkness?

Gyongy said...

You misspelled "own" at the end writing "won" and the meaning of the piece becomes entirely different.

Gyongy said...

You misspelled "own" at the end writing "won" and the meaning of the piece becomes entirely differentT