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Ignorance as an anti-melancholia treatment.

Wonder if it has been tested in double-blind clinical trials?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Dec 27th, 2013 at 07:05:47 PM EST
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From the Psalms: "Every increase in knowledge brings forth an increase in sorrow."

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Dec 28th, 2013 at 12:56:52 AM EST
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On the other hand, if the baseline future scenario would be inevitably gloomy (compared to now), how useful is it to stay discontented? The Americans have an interesting gloom observation history:

No other writer of his generation had seen as much of the young nation's early sorrow, or become as familiar with its commonplace scenes of human depravity and squalor. As a boy on the Missouri frontier in the 1830s he attended the flogging and lynching of fugitive slaves; in the California gold fields in the 1860s he kept company with underage murderers and overage whores; in New York City in the 1870s he supped at the Gilded Age banquets of financial swindle and political fraud, learning from his travels that "the hard and sordid things of life are too hard and too sordid and too cruel for us to know and touch them year after year without some mitigating influence." Twain bottled the influence under whatever label drummed up a crowd - as comedy, burlesque, satire, parody, sarcasm, ridicule, wit - any or all of it presented as "the solid nonpareil," guaranteed to fortify the blood and restore the spirit. Humor for Twain was the hero with a thousand faces.
by das monde on Sat Dec 28th, 2013 at 11:47:52 PM EST
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Good question.

For philosophical and pragmatic reasons I reject "inevitably gloomy" in favor of "if the current trend continues things look gloomy."  The first forecloses action.  The second allows action.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Dec 29th, 2013 at 01:38:32 PM EST
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Paradoxically, necessity of collective action turns out to be very paralyzing, while personal action is facilitated well by "inevitable" doom.
by das monde on Sun Dec 29th, 2013 at 09:23:39 PM EST
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...necessity of collective action turns out to be very paralyzing

That sounds like something Jacques Ellul would have said.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Dec 30th, 2013 at 11:13:01 AM EST
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Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

Did you choose this tagline for this diary?
by das monde on Fri Jan 10th, 2014 at 12:55:57 AM EST
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Not purposefully.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Fri Jan 10th, 2014 at 11:47:51 AM EST
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But, at the edge, personal action faced with "inevitable doom" turns out to follow the survivalist ethic.

Collective action, in France at least, was made possible over the last decades by the sharing of common ideas (perhaps well-worn clichés, but in practical terms it doesn't matter) about progress and human dignity. Those ideas are now disappearing into limbo. Organisations such as unions, political parties, are powerless to raise mass protest without them. And when it's up to individuals to say "we need collective action", that is indeed paralysing. What is collective action that can't base itself on a set of common assumptions? Protest movements (Occupy, indignados) can make a noise, but have no relay into mass consciousness, and are easily dismissed as fringe.

If there's a take-away from ET's eight, going on nine, years, it is this: we need a new mythology.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Dec 31st, 2013 at 03:12:27 AM EST
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Funny how organizing depends on progress perceptions. What principles would be reliable under a decline?

Dystopian writing is on the rise. Even "Fifty Shades of Gray" is somewhat of that kind. Dystopian themes on websites are more frequent as well. Will we have a nice dystopian mythology? With collectively inspiring themes?

by das monde on Tue Dec 31st, 2013 at 06:22:08 AM EST
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Dystopia narratives are the romanticised versions of "inevitable doom", and they are perversely attractive. If I'm one of the atomised masses and I have no power, I also have no responsibility, no anguished choices to make, and I can get on hollowing out the comfortable corners of my alienated cubicle, just doing enough to ensure a sufficient supply of vaguely satisfying artificial chow and of vaguely titillating vidscreen content. Why on earth some busybodies have to organize an underground on the Resistance model beats me. They want to live in hell or what?

But isn't the Resistance model the only collective mythology in a dystopia? And isn't it bound to fail? (Hint: Resistance movements in Nazi-occupied countries in WWII did not defeat Nazi Germany).

As for the non-fantasy version, "inevitable doom", collective action might take the form of me and my family teaming up with a few more families to go and kick the shit out of the families that are sitting on a pile of food. A good old tribal mythology, with warrior heroes thrown in.

The more people fear the slide towards either of these forms of bad future, the more atomised they become. Which is why we don't just need a new mythology, we need it fast.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Dec 31st, 2013 at 09:57:28 AM EST
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I do not agree that a dystopian story must be dis-empowering. Or is there a separate term for that intermediate story spectrum between assured utopian optimism and utter helplessness?

A prayer goes:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
The power of a dystopian novel could be giving a real perspective to cut through peak delusions, adding to wisdom, courage and serenity. And vbo comments on this page:
I always was under impression that for example Serbs from Bosnia are much tougher then Serbs from Serbia. Getting to know them better trough my husband's family I was surprise to see how they are able to take everything as a fact of life and continue to live almost untouched as opposed to us Serbs from Serbia where everything unexpected seems tragic to the point that it can ruin our lives.
If this civilization is in desperate need of new mythology, it is in a bad (collective) shape indeed.
by das monde on Wed Jan 1st, 2014 at 01:33:15 AM EST
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At a minimum a dystopian novel that resonates with its readers and rings true to perceived reality allows readers to realize that 'it' is not just a problem with how they see things. That alone is empowering.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jan 1st, 2014 at 11:50:51 AM EST
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I think it is in bad collective shape.

On the other hand, I don't mean to imply that dystopian fiction could not be a vehicle for a new mythology.

The problem with fictional dystopias is, it seems to me, the perverse attraction they exert (see my comment above). Since ATinNM mentioned Jacques Ellul, here's something that he put forward:

Jacques Ellul - Wikipédia

l'homme n'est pas du tout passionné par la liberté, comme il le prétend. La liberté n'est pas chez lui un besoin inhérent. Beaucoup plus constants et profonds sont les besoins de sécurité, de conformité, d'adaptation, de bonheur, d'économie des efforts... et il est prêt à sacrifier sa liberté pour satisfaire ces besoins. (...) L'homme a bien plus peur de la liberté authentique qu'il ne la désire.

man is not at all passionate about freedom, as he pretends. Freedom is not an inherent need for him. The needs of security, conformity, adaptation, happiness, and economy of effort are much more constant and profound... and he is ready to sacrifice his freedom to satisfy these needs. (...) Man fears true freedom more than he desires it.

Opposed (in most fictional dystopias) to the comfortable alienation in which humans can live with their basic needs satisfied, but in which freedom is suppressed by totalitarian social organisation, the usual narrative is that of the underground resistance. That doesn't seem to me to be a winning mythology at all. Most people would probably prefer not to have to make the difficult and dangerous decision of fighting for freedom.

So I suppose a fictional dystopia that would offer a new mythology would have to transcend the pattern I describe, both by showing alienation to be miserable, and proposing a new social organisation that could defeat the old one. Then it becomes a fictional utopia...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jan 1st, 2014 at 12:56:52 PM EST
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Freedom is not the most basic human need. You scare people about their security, and they will settle for conformity. Especially when a critical resistance mass is not there. No one want to be a rare fool.

The first half of the 20th century was the classical times for resistance. But since then, elites apparently became skillful in discouraging resistance ideas.

The Achrdruid Report traces the utopia/apocalypse dichotomy deeply to the Western cultural history:

... nearly all modern thinking about the future is hobbled by our obsession with a pair of rigidly defined mythic narratives -- the myth of progress on the one hand, and the myth of apocalypse on the other [...]

Both these visions of the future, while they take secular forms nowadays much more often than not, have their roots in Christian apocalyptic theology [...] The premillennialist position was that Jesus would return and bring about the Millennium, a thousand year period when Christians would rule the world. The postmilleniallists argued instead that Christians would rule the world for a thousand years, and then Jesus would return.

The difference may seem about as relevant as the number of angels who can dance on the head of Jerry Falwell, but sweeping implications unfold from each viewpoint. If the postmillennialists are right, history is on their side, since they're destined to rule the world for a thousand years before Jesus gets here. Thus postmillennialists believe that things will get better over time until the Millennium arrived. If the premillennialists are right, on the other hand, history is on the devil's side, since it will take nothing less than the personal intervention of Jesus to give the Christians their thousand years of world rule....

He reiterates this point regularly.

The same blog makes a distinction between problems and predicaments. Not all problems have neat or satisfactory solutions, hence not all dystopias will turn to utopias.

by das monde on Wed Jan 1st, 2014 at 11:04:10 PM EST
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The American sense of humor might be changing to sadder, after all:

Why are the Golden Globe "comedies" so depressing?
"Nebraska." "Her." "The Wolf of Wall Street." These depressing movies are our best comedies?
by das monde on Fri Jan 10th, 2014 at 12:58:58 AM EST
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