I tend to agree with the maxim, “don’t write manifestos”, so I ignored this one for over a year. But I know a couple of the contributors to the project, so it kept coming up. I finally sat down with no interruptions and read it. If you skim it, you’ll see woo, you’ll see liberal tropes, but as a whole it has substance and is almost apolitical. The project has been around for a few years now, and there has been change in the global narrative, about climate change, about corporatism, but there’s no real measurement for the impact of art and poetry, so who’s to say.
What I liked about it was that it’s a different tack, an approach at the underlying myth, rather than trying to rearrange the deck chairs as the Titanic goes down. I see it a lot in Minnesota, where we have Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar and Rick Nolan, some of the most progressive congress people there are, but if they make one statement against someone’s favorite issue, they might as well be Mitch McConnell. Meanwhile, they buy organic and have dinners to talk politics but do actually nothing.
Here’s a little excerpt:
The myth of progress is to us what the myth of god-given warrior prowess was to the Romans, or the myth of eternal salvation was to the conquistadors: without it, our efforts cannot be sustained. Onto the root stock of Western Christianity, the Enlightenment at its most optimistic grafted a vision of an Earthly paradise, towards which human effort guided by calculative reason could take us. Following this guidance, each generation will live a better life than the life of those that went before it. History becomes an escalator, and the only way is up. On the top floor is human perfection. It is important that this should remain just out of reach in order to sustain the sensation of motion.
Most significantly of all, there is an underlying darkness at the root of everything we have built. Outside the cities, beyond the blurring edges of our civilisation, at the mercy of the machine but not under its control, lies something that neither Marx nor Conrad, Caesar nor Hume, Thatcher nor Lenin ever really understood. Something that Western civilisation — which has set the terms for global civilisation—was never capable of understanding, because to understand it would be to undermine, fatally, the myth of that civilisation. Something upon which that thin crust of lava is balanced; which feeds the machine and all the people who run it, and which they have all trained themselves not to see.