The attempt to conquer nature—in less metaphorical terms, to render the nonhuman world completely transparent to the human intellect and just as completely subject to the human will—was industrial civilization’s defining project.
The new religious sensibility I began to sketch out in last week’s Archdruid Report post is a subtle thing, and easy to misunderstand.
When Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God—in less metaphorical terms, the collapse of the Christian faith that had provided the foundations for European social life since the Dark Ages—he saw that event as a turning point in human history, a shattering and liberating transformation that would open the road to the Overman. That hope turned out to be misplaced, and it’s worth keeping in mind that any equally grandiose claims that might be made about the consequences of the death of progress will likely face disappointment along the same lines.
Our myths of progress are killing us. Where can we find a new set of stories to inspire the work of the future?
The pointless debates over evolution discussed in last week’s Archdruid Report post have any number of equivalents all through contemporary industrial culture.
The continual recycling of repeatedly failed predictions in the peak oil community, the theme of last week’s post here, is anything but unique these days.
I’ve commented several times in these essays about the way that Americans in particular, and people throughout the industrial world more generally, like to pretend that history has nothing to teach them. It’s a remarkably odd habit, not least because the lessons of history keep whacking them upside the head with an assortment of well-aged and sturdy timbers, without ever breaking through the trance.
To suggest that faith in progress has become the most widely accepted civil religion of the modern industrial world, as I’ve done in these essays, is to say something at once subtler and more specific than a first glance might suggest. It’s important to keep in mind, as I pointed out in last week’s post, that “religion” isn’t a specific thing with a specific definition; rather, it’s a label for a category constructed by human minds—an abstraction, in other words, meant to help sort out the blooming, buzzing confusion of the cosmos into patterns that make some kind of sense to us.
To describe faith in progress as a religion, as I’ve done in these essays numerous times, courts a good many misunderstandings. The most basic of those comes out of the way that the word “religion” itself has been tossed around like a football in any number of modern society’s rhetorical scrimmages. Thus it’s going to be necessary to begin by taking a closer look at the usage of that much-vexed term.