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Thursday, August 6, 2015

A New Quest

A New Quest

By John Michael Greer
August 6, 2015

It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact these tectonic
shifts will have on contemporary culture.

Ideas, institutions and ways of life forged in an era of prolonged
economic contraction and environmental blowback.

As they collapse, other ideas, institutions and ways of life will have
to be found and deployed, and that work of rebuilding will have to
be done amid the stresses and unpredictable impacts of a troubled

It’s a harrowing task and the one source of reassurance I know is
that the other human societies, in other ages, have managed the
same thing within the hard limits of the resources, opportunities
and wisdom available to them at the time.

Seen from another perspective, however — the perspective of
the emerging religious sensibility — the time ahead of us takes
on a different meaning.

At the heart of the older sensibility that’s now guttering out
around us was a daring, if not necessarily wise, attempt to break
free of the natural world entirely so that humanity could launch
itself beyond all limitations and break through into eternity and

The religions, the intellectual movements and ultimately the
superlative technological achievements of Western civilization
were all pressed into service in making that attempt.

In a certain very limited sense, that effort succeeded.

A modest number of human beings were tossed briefly outside
the atmosphere and circled around our planet for a while before
returning home, while a handful went further still, to stand on
the surface of the Moon or orbit through the void surrounding it.

Their voyages may well provide our descendants with a powerful
symbol of the subtler but equally real journey of billions of people
in the world’s industrial societies, who managed to talk themselves,
for a while, into believing that they were outside nature, superior
to it, waiting only for some final dramatic change — spiritual,
social, technological, or some blending of the three — to bring
ordinary existence to a close forever.

In a deeper sense, though, the grand attempt to transcend the
human condition forever has been a resounding flop and its failure
has brought harsh consequences to the biosphere that supports us
and to our own humanity.

The task before us at this point in the turning of time’s wheel,
though, is prefigured by those short journeys outside the
atmosphere that simultaneously fulfilled and betrayed the
dream of the space age, that strange cultural phenomenon
that briefly loaded hopes of transcendence onto a collection
of rocketry.

Once the astronauts had finished gathering rocks, taking photos
and pursuing their other chores on the Moon, the remainder of
their journey beckoned: not a leap further outward through
some bleaker void to some yet more desolate destination, but
the simple task of returning to the living planet they had so briefly left behind.

That same task awaits the people of the world’s industrial
nations today.

We have taken the old quest to break free from nature and
the human condition very nearly as far as our considerable
technological powers would permit, and in the process,
created landscapes — spiritual, cultural and in some places
physical as well — very nearly as bleak as the Moon’s silent
and airless wastes.

Whether that was a good idea or a bad one, a choice or a necessity,
a triumph or a terrible failure, is ultimately less relevant than the
fact that the effort has run its course.

A different quest calls us now, murmuring through the emerging
religious sensibility of our age, rising stark before us in the cold
gray dawn of a world after progress: to return to the living Earth
and come to know it again as the whole of which each of us is a

After all our wanderings, it is time to come home.

— John Michael Greer, After Progress

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