Modern Ritualism

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On HBL, I recently learned about a remarkable article (alternate link, search term "ideology") by French philosopher Pascal Bruckner regarding both the anti-reason and anti-man motivations of the various modern prophets of doom, and the effects of their continual prophesies and prescriptions on our culture. Bruckner looks at the latter for global warming: The contrast between the proportions of the alleged danger and the triteness of the prescription for heading it off is startling:

First you break down all resistance; then you offer an escape route to your stunned audience. Thus the advertising copy for the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth reads: "Humanity is sitting on a time bomb. If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet's climate system into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced -- a catastrophe of our own making."

Here are the means that the former vice president, like most environmentalists, proposes to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions: using low-energy light bulbs; driving less; checking your tire pressure; recycling; rejecting unnecessary packaging; adjusting your thermostat; planting a tree; and turning off electrical appliances. Since we find ourselves at a loss before planetary threats, we will convert our powerlessness into propitiatory gestures, which will give us the illusion of action. First the ideology of catastrophe terrorizes us; then it appeases us by proposing the little rituals of a post-technological animism. [minor format edits]
Bruckner later speculates, rightly I think, that the goal of the doomsayers may be "to dazzle us in order to make us docile". He grounds his speculation on the fact that we eventually become dulled to the actual panic, but still anxious and petrified; but I think the various rituals they call for also come into play, both by continually reinforcing the message of doom throughout the day, and by replacing independent thought with action. More insidiously, people become used to such actions, as seen by a general consensus that grounding all flights across Europe was a reasonable precaution during the Icelandic volcano eruption a couple of years ago.

As evidenced by the last link, I find the preoccupation with risk in modern culture to be unhealthy, bizarre, and wrong. I am glad to see that Pascal Bruckner has connected so many dots about this phenomenon.

-- CAV

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