Strange And Disturbing Times 2.0

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I’VE BEEN RACKING my brains for an historical parallel to the strange and disturbing times we’re all passing through. Because these are strange and disturbing times. Beliefs and expectations once considered rock solid melt into air (to borrow Karl Marx’s magnificent phrase) and new beliefs and expectations, emerging with dizzying speed to replace the old ones, are promoted and defended with a frightening fanaticism. When was the last time human-beings went through such a period? More importantly, how did it end?

The first place to go looking for an historical parallel is, obviously, among the great revolutions of the modern era: the French, the Russian and the Chinese. Almost by definition, these were periods of tremendous turmoil during which a significant portion of the entire population was swept up and into a vast national movement demanding decisive and fundamental change.

In the first instance, these revolutionary movements were dedicated to the removal of present evils, and to the overthrow of the political and economic forces deemed responsible. Once achieved, however, the question of what should replace the old order swiftly undermined the people’s unanimity and, in circumstances of mounting horror, the Revolution began to devour its own children.

Tempting though it was to append the word “revolutionary” to the period we are living through, I felt obliged to reject it. After all, New Zealand is not being rocked by tremendous turmoil from below. Those on the receiving end of the policies responsible for homelessness, child poverty, precarious employment and crippling indebtedness are not rioting in the streets. Nor do we see political firebrands urging them on to storm New Zealand’s equivalent of the Bastille. (The local WINZ office, perhaps?) Though revolutions are, more often than not, led by “declassed” intellectuals, they are always and everywhere massive eruptions from the social depths. Intellectuals may lead revolutions (and, more often than not, bury them) but they are made by “the people”.

If we are not living through revolutionary times, then what sort of times are we living through? Is there another great historical era that bears comparison with our present period of intellectual and moral ferment? While finding an exact historic parallel is, obviously, an impossibility – no two periods of history are exactly alike – there is an era that rings more than a few bells: The Protestant Reformation.

Generally agreed to extend from 1517, the year in which Martin Luther protested (hence the term “Protestant”) the abuses of the Catholic Church; to 1648, the year in which the Treaty of Westphalia brought the catastrophic Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants to an end; the Reformation marked a crucial turning-point in the spiritual, political, social and economic history of Europe.

The medieval concept of “Christendom” – the united community of Christian believers presided over and guided by the Catholic Church – did not survive the Reformation. In the countries of North-Western Europe, where it triumphed, Protestantism ushered in the individualistic mindset which was to prove so crucial to the development of capitalism and the evolution of modernity.

What the intellectual stresses and strains of our own time have in common with the Reformation period is that they both originated in what might be called crises of confidence in the moral underpinnings of the established order. Intellectuals, almost all of them what would today be called “academics” (but who, in their own time, were concentrated in the institutions of the Church) were losing faith in the “official” version of the Christianity handed down from above, and began conceptualising a radically new, deeply personal, relationship with God, founded on scripture and unmediated by the spiritual agents of the Church.

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It was Martin Luther, and the followers he inspired, who gave this radical movement coherent vernacular expression and, by using the “new technology” of the printing press, were able to communicate the new protestant doctrine to educated middle-class audiences across Europe with unprecedented speed.

If this was a revolution, then like the radical intellectual movements of our own time, it was a revolution of the mind. Incidental to the protestant reformulation of the spiritual, moral and political Christian narratives, were deeply personal religious insights and emotions. Experiences that were in no way subject to secular compromise. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, individuals conceptualised these powerful feelings as emanations of their “soul” – the survival of which overrode all other considerations. To save their souls, protestants were prepared to both endure – and inflict – persecution and martyrdom.

Today, these powerful emotional experiences and insights are said to constitute the individual’s “personal identity” – a concept which, like the soul, our twenty-first century metaphysical reformers will go to extreme lengths to preserve, protect and defend.

Moreover, and just like their protestant predecessors, these identarians are socially and institutionally positioned to ensure that their new “truths” are entrenched in the legal and institutional frameworks of the nation state. Racial and sexual identity issues encompass both the personal and the political. The salvation of the self and the salvation of society cannot be separated. Heresy and heretics are deemed intolerable. They must be silenced.

Unquestionably, the differences between the identarians of today and the protestants of 500 years ago vastly outnumber the similarities. Nevertheless, like our own time, it was a period of extraordinary intellectual stress and strain. At stake were ideas and expectations about which people were simply unwilling to compromise. How could they, when at stake was the very essence of what they believed themselves to be, and the creation of a world in which that essence could survive and thrive?

How did it end? Badly, I’m afraid. The wars that were sparked by the Protestant Reformation, and the inevitable “Counter-Reformation” of the Catholic Church, killed millions. The German territories, which supplied the principal battlegrounds for this vicious religious conflict, are estimated to have lost a third of their inhabitants. Ultimately, Protestants and Catholics agreed to differ. Strange and disturbing times seldom end any other way.

 

34 COMMENTS

  1. Superb article Chris. What the elites fail to realize is the poor are getting poorer and have less and less to lose each day. Their last chance of hope was when they voted for the charlatan in power now. She rewarded them by laughing in their faces and making them poorer whilst then buddying up to and enriching her new middleclass National supporters. The homeless numbers are growing substantially at the same time that the number of super rich asset owners are growing substantially. The wealth is being transferred uphill with no regard to the social hatred this is creating. Crime against others is increasing and will continue now that the social contract has been burnt and destroyed forever. There is no forgetting this period even if things somehow improved. The damage is done and the anger is forever!!!

  2. The woke certainly do have the certainty and enthusiasm of the religious zealot.

    And when faced with those people considered evil, or even just questioners, the woke identitarians are equally unhinged and cruel in their response as the Catholic and Protestant zealots.

    • I think there is a desire for proving yourself worthy and good – to yourself and others in the group – by showing enthusiasm for destroying the non-believer, and the level of cruelty inflicted.

  3. Put this way Chris I’m glad I’m neither Protestant or Catholic, to this day influenced not by entrenched beliefs that have their precedent in history. Not that I know of at least. But like DNA we pick up attitudes from our kin, so who knows. And then there’s environmental influences. In a post-truth world, fuelled by the echo chambers of digital platforms, identity politics, wokeism, fake news and alternative facts, who can really get a grip on it all. Strange and disturbing times indeed.

  4. Look further back, Chris. The collapse of the Roman Empire.

    Military overreach. Gross inequity and an unjust society held together by force and propaganda, and a bit of fake religion) while resources declined and crops failed (deforestation). Infighting amongst the ‘elites’ and futile wars to maintain control and to attempt to maintain extraction of resources.

    Bread and circuses.

  5. I believe there are three main reasons we haven’t seen more marching in the streets and general civil disobedience pertaining to the miserable circumstances many find themselves in. Covid has been a distraction in that the Government gets to benefit from the fear of it, and the belief by some that if it wasn’t for Covid this Government may have done more for the growing numbers of struggling people.The other reason I believe is that the large numbers of those on the left who voted for Jacinda (not the labour government) are gobsmacked at the lack of social recovery policies, and are left not knowing their next move. They got rid of the Government they hated only to get one they equally despise. If National had won the last election and we were where we are today, I believe we would have seen a lot more civil disobedience and street marches. Jacinda has hood winked you all. She gets away with it, but what goes around comes around, and although she may have dodged the covid bullet, she won’t be able to stop the tide turning on her popularity unless there is rapid social improvement. The third point is that this Government has ticked more boxes on climate change than many believe National would have. Once again they get the benefit of the doubt on this, and so many believe they are the best of a bad bunch, and so they just put up with the social carnage in the hope that before they all perish this Government will eventually prove them right and do SOMETHING to improve their plight. Don’t hold your breath. You would see revolution toward Judith, but only disappointment toward Jacinda.

    • hmm, I believe the three main reasons we haven’t seen marching and disobedience may be, in no particular order:

      cheap piss
      plentiful meth
      the feeble drip feeding of charity dahling

    • Yes she is a tremendous disapointment.
      Her legacy will be purely and simply, she did nothing, other than get a 50/50 call correct and closed the borders early and went for elimination strategy, which are complimentary.
      TraitorKey also did not a lot, other than crooked stuff and probably has NZ on the hook for a load of ‘insurance style financial assets’ that’ll bankrupt us once the ‘fit hits the shan’.
      But WHAT AN ABSOLUTE disapointment Jacinda is. I do hope she isn’t rewarded with higher office else where. And just like TraitorKey rots away from the head down in oblivion. Admitedly he’s in a well paid job, with companies we should all avoid using as best we can, as they support and reward such traitors and crooks.
      JacindaBlair survives because we have NO ALTERNATIVE party. So LINO is the softest right wing death cult capitalist party we can vote for.
      What a sad indigtment of NZ.

  6. Wow..!? So that’s where the dowdy, sour faced old Presbyterian shit in the local church’s beliefs stem from…Pig headed determinations to be bestest at being the closest to an invisible flying spirit who smites randomly while clearly taking great pleasures from its cruelties.
    Can someone please throw the holy water onto the nearest pot plant and provide a little ( or a lot ) of LSD, Psilocybin, Ecstasy, pot, smack and coke instead? All at once or one at a time seems a lot safer than any religion one could name. Trust me? An LSD/Ecstasy cocktail will get you closer to God than any earth bound God Botherer will get you.
    Unsettlingly, the one religion that seems to herald the End Times more than all the others combined is the cult of Money. The God of Greed. As a consequence, within this farce we’re sold, that we so enthusiastically buy, we’re all more than eager to bash home the nails of our own coffins.
    The Guardian.
    ‘A managerial Mephistopheles’: inside the mind of Jeff Bezos
    “The Amazon founder’s relentless quest for ‘customer ecstasy’ made him one of the world’s richest people – now he’s looking to the unlimited resources of space. Is he the genius our age of consumerism deserves?”
    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/feb/03/jeff-bezos-and-the-world-amazon-made?utm_source=pocket_mylist
    Fabulous Post @ CT.

  7. Okay, so we have an Old Left and a New Left.

    Old Left – wants to destroy the global economy, kill millions of people (Mao / Stalin et al), and generally vandalise the world.

    New Left – as per above but also added further “woke” crimes against humanity.

    Impartial observers would have surmised that it was impossible for the New Left to be worse than the Old Left, but when the facts change, PSM changes his mind. The New Left might just have cracked it.

    This article then says that these two groups could fight it out like Catholics and Protestants did back in the day (and so it goes on).

    Mr Trotsky thinks best case scenario – the weirdo lefties agree to disagree.

    PSM best case scenario – both groups are abducted by aliens, and never seen again.

    Where are those pesky aliens when you need them?

  8. History is great eh @ Chris, despite it being just one damn thing after another. Its biggest problem seems to be that whether it merely rhymes or repeats, even mirrors down to actual minutia, humans, and more specifically the political class don’t seem to be able to learn from it – not even when there’s an abundance of learnings in that space going forward.
    The surprising thing to me (although it really shouldn’t be) is how those that one would have expected something better of,just seem to fall in line. Just yesterday, the rare appearance of the Far Foy gave me a reminder when as the platitudes and spin-speak rolled off his tongue, he resurrected TINA. Then there was an even bigger disappointment when I saw and heard Andrew Little’s utterings.
    Strap yourself in lefties. It’s probably going to have to take another bout of a loss, or even a cobbled-together coalition of lesser evils (maybe Labour/Greens/MP) before Labour will ever get its shit together.
    Pffffft! And with the mandate they earned with promises and the one trick pony that is a successful COVID19 incident under MMP.

  9. I think it is more a direct cause and effect situation .
    Do you not remember some years ago a Business Roundtable conference in Wellington deciding (for us!) that New Zealand should steer its development towards being the land of recreation and rest for the rest of the world and that NZ should have a population of 7 million?
    I do , and I have noticed that our politicians – many of whom who were also at that conference – have without public mandate steered NZ this way.
    Immigration was ridiculously “opened up”, we stopped training our own freely thereby pushing our own down to make a bottom impoverished layer that we had never had in NZ before.
    New Zealand has become an experiment in social engineering – analyse the actors used to make TV advertising – and the middle class of the third world countries was attracted to partake of our public welfare systems – free health, education , pensions and superannuation .
    Conservation stepped up – to do more to protect our native species to be sure we hold our unique flora and fauna – our wilderness is a big attraction for the elite of the world to rest and play here.
    Without a doubt our politicians over the last 30 yrs have been irresponsible in failing to listen to and follow the wishes of NZers and have lead us into the poverty, social discontent and dismay many New Zealanders are expressing now. No more no less.
    Its time to look for people who will properly listen and represent OUR wishes, people who can led us out of this mess. People who care about New Zealanders first.

  10. There are obvious parallels between the post printing period and the arrival of social media – this allowed competing world views to emerge.

    Then add to that the emergence or urban living and occupations apart from the feudal order – today the post industrial/union age and a huge population in wealthy retirement.

    Then add to that existential crisis – global warming, pandemic, and supplanting of the certainty of the 21st C as the end of history with democratic victory in the Cold War within 20 years (the emergence of China as worlds largest economic and military power while the West is still in confrontation with Russia) and the USA now as divided as any nation on earth (between liberal democracy and kingdom come Christian dominionism with the GOP akin to Constainine choosing Christianity and the Cross as a way to save a dying Rome).

  11. Why would there be any protests or revolution when we live like fricken kings.
    The appalling price of shelter aside, things are the best they’ve ever been.
    This sort of intellectual sensationalism imagines things that are just not there. It’s mental gymnastics of the hand wringing and navel gazing kind.
    There are bigger fish to fry – fossil fuel dependence is the big one on the horizon
    Not climate change – EROEI
    Support local.

    • …” The appalling price of shelter aside, things are the best they’ve ever been”…

      I dunno so much,… in 1967-8 we were reckoned as the 6th wealthiest nation on earth, behind only Denmark. By the time of John Key we were reckoned as behind Albania, and a little further on, estimated as being ”Mexicans with cell phones”, – ie : 32nd behind the OECD .

      So much for neo liberalism and its promise of cheaper prices, competition and efficiency,… what was that all about with power outages recently and people not being able to afford to heat their homes again, mate?

  12. Didn’t feel right in just giving Mr Bradbury a serve and leaving you out, Chris. Here’s a wee bit of humour Carrol O’Connor style. Its brilliant. Nothing disturbing about Archie Bunker ! Just nuts and bolts working class conservatism and kind of loveable to boot. Please enjoy.

    All in the family Archie on Religion Vol.02
    https://youtu.be/xJgFPJ5dSvc?t=3

  13. It’s time to drain the swamp.
    It’s an exporter of toxic identity politics, Woke ideology and all that other shit that goes with it.

    Get some proper politicians in who can focus and deliver on resolving all of the Crisises we have.
    Do I have to name them all again? I think not.

    This lameduck government is shite. Need to flush them all down the wharepaku.

  14. Yet another beleaguered attack on identitarians as though they are the greatest threat to the world economic order, using a very laboured and vastly different historical parallel. About the only thing Mr Trotter gets right here is the role the protestant movement had on the development of modern capitalism.
    When are all the vocal critics of this government going to wake up to the fact that even reformist governments cannot make the changes to the structures of corporate consumer capitalism that are necessary to make peoples’ lives easier to cope? Governments can only tinker round the edges of the social and economic problems, make cosmetic changes that have no chance of reversing the real inequalities, or they make them worse (as conservative governments do on a continued and regular basis). The real problem to analyse here is not the problem of the ‘woke’ (which is a complete and almost total distraction for some) but the entrenchment of neoliberal and associated ideologies that keep us in a state of a kind of continued present where nothing actually changes (except for the expanding bank accounts of the wealthy elites). The problem here is not one of various groups fighting for and asserting their right to be whatever identity, which in reality is just what liberalism’s ‘civil society’ has always promised. The problem is the diminishing purchasing power of the working and middle classes, the destruction of income, community and social cohesion through technology, the ongoing obliteration of the living environment, and yet most peoples’ blind acceptance of the powerful naturalising processes of the ideologies of capitalism.

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