A few weeks ago, I linked to Nesta’s predictions for 2022. One of them, climate inactivism, is a form of nihilism and helplessness I also see in relation to the current war in Ukraine.
The historian in me knows that nothing is inevitable. But it’s hard to feel that one has any ability to shape or contribute to things that require aligned geopolitical will — especially while slowly crawling out of a pandemic bunker.
Just about everyone these days is a grumpy old man, obsessed with decline and convinced of its inevitable loom. More than that, the acolytes of this cult, who are everywhere, are deeply suspicious that anything could ever be as good again. The problem with the cult of decline is that it presupposes a certain fixed point of view… and is deliberately blind to all others.
From the point of view of a barnacle, the whole of the ocean seems to rise and fall. Stand long enough before the tides and eventually you’ll see the erosion of the shore. But what are the tides from inside the ocean? The erosion of one beach leads to its deposition elsewhere. What is decline but the birth of something new?
The cult of decline worships a tautology, a cognitive bias, a bank run. If you believe things are failing, then you won’t expend the energy necessary to sustain them, and they will fail. In a universe like ours, dominated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, some creative vitality is necessary to sustain anything, even a good mood.
The Roman Empire didn’t succumb to insurmountable tidal forces. There was no tsunami of decrepitude that wiped it away. Everything it faced at the end—wars, barbarians, epidemics—was something it had conquered at least twice before. The difference was that its people no longer cared enough to overcome them. They believed it was over, and so it was.