Monday, January 9, 2012

The Culture of Crisis

Scan the newspaper headlines, take a casual walk down the Current Affairs part of any bookstore, listen to the news, or even listen to your local religious leader and you're more than likely to hear about the most recent downfall of Western Civilization. The American economy is collapsing, American debt is going to kill us, the American family is on the verge of collapse, morality is seeping out of the very fiber of this country, the planet is going to be destroyed through Global Warming, gays are going to destroy marriage, racism will rip this country apart, liberals will destroy America, conservatives will destroy America, Americans/North Koreans/Chinese/Iranians/Russians/Venezuelans/terrorists will plunge this world into war, violent video games are leading to horrific acts of violence by teenagers, drugs will destroy America, atheism is destroying America, and so on. Etc. etc. etc.

Growing up, I could never understand why people didn't take a crisis seriously. In the movies, people seemed to eventually understand when a crisis was upon them and then they heroically solved the problem and restored good and righteousness to its place before evil overthrew everything. Even as a child I accepted this was an overly simplistic view of the world but I couldn't understand why the real world was so chaotic. Being the aware college student that I was/am I again wondered how people could be so calloused and indifferent to the starving children of Africa/Asia/South America/Central America/Eastern Europe/inside America's own borders.

I feel I finally understand a little more why we function as we do. We are always in crisis. Humanity functions on crisis. It rarely functions on pragmatism outside its own familiar borders. The barbarians have come and they seek to destroy our way of life: crisis. The world is about to be destroyed from without/within: crisis. Crises have a tendency to pile upon us and as our awareness of the world increases more and more, so does our understanding of said crises. Some crises are made up, over exaggerated, or understated. It really doesn't matter what we may think, say, or do. There will always be crises.

I had a roommate that seemed to function on crises. There was almost some major project due at midnight or the next day that he had put off working on until then. He never wanted to face the fact that he was gay or why he felt so alone or lost, so he would drift and wander through life until the crisis of feeling self-hatred reached epic proportions inside him. I used to wander why he did this. Why didn't he face his problems a little at a time? It finally dawned on me that as twisted as it was to function the way he did, it also was very understanding. He functioned as he did because it made sense and because he thrived off this environment.

I think humanity is very similar to this. We are a species that is slow to act on so much. We are lazy, foolish, and easily distracted. These odd characteristics give us one scenario: we live forever in crisis. We function in crisis, thrive in crisis, and seek to always be in crisis. Something is always wrong. Something will always stand up and be wrong no matter what we do. We should not deal with it but recognize that humanity's collective desire is to remain in the realm of crisis.

Crisis is where the hero appears. The long dark night ever hangs over us, ever gives out the challenge for the hero to arise. Forever there is the "ultimate" clash of good and evil looming on the eternally near horizon. Forever do we call out to be saved for we refuse to save ourselves. And why should we? All our solutions ultimately require years and years to solve our problems.

Crisis' heroic form appears in fantasies. The fantasy genre is where the ongoing orgasmic interchange between titanic clashes of good and evil occur. Frodo must forever journey to Mordor to cast the ring of Environmentalism/Consumerism/Communism/Capitalism/Theism/Atheism/Moral Depravity/Moral Supremacy/Racism/etc. into the fires of Mount Doom. Harry Potter must forever duel the Dark Wizard of Crisis.

We are a culture of crisis. We seek it. Crave it. Hate it. But will never truly spurn it. It haunts us. Drives us. And chases us forever down the corridors of our "declining" civilization. Face it: society never declines. It simply changes. The Roman civilization did not decline. It changed and evolved into a barbaric society that eventually blossomed into the barbaric but refined modern Western Civilization.

The real question, I think, is not how to avoid crisis. But how to forever solve it in our individual lives. Like the fantasy genre, our modern society will never escape crisis because it awaits the coming of a hero/savior that will never come because they simply cannot.

1 comment:

  1. Well, there's a difference between rising to a challenge and being overwhelmed by it.

    I have serious learned helplessness issues, and when I realize I hurt someone I shut down. Or when it seems like there's no way out (and it seems like that very often), I panic and flail about.

    I'm trying to learn that problems don't have to be crises, and that even a crisis can be responded to better when you're level-headed and actually using the resources you have. Heroic fantasy stories and soundtracks help me with that.