Last month we talked about how information overload is making us crazy with fear and paranoia, distorting our perceptions of reality.
But I also argued that Global Trembling isn’t merely hallucinations from overstressed minds, it has real causes.
To quote: “Information overload makes us feel out of control.”
The fact is, we aren’t in control. The forces that drive events today are infinitely stronger than the outdated institutions we created in earlier times to manage the world.
Not long ago the victors of World War II established the United Nations to enforce global peace and justice.
How quaint. We’ve avoided World War III, but the UN has proved utterly powerless against the forces of economic, social and physical destruction that face us today.
This is not a surprise because no nation has been able to tame those forces. The disruptions of the 21st century are much bigger than any nation state, bigger than all the nation states put together.
We have been operating on an outmoded premise, that big, over-powerful, meddling governments are the major threat to our liberties. But I believe the reverse is true. It is non-governmental forces, like globalized wealth, the toxic cloud, nihilistic religious movements, and ecological chaos that are the real threats today.
Governments are too small and weak to make policies that the world needs. They sign wordy treaties about global warming and combating terrorism but the effect is minuscule. If they really think those issues are the existential threats to humanity that they claim, their responses are pitiful. Pitifully weak.
Worse yet, government, which, at its best, is the democratic expression of the will of the people turned into policy and power, has become too distant from the people to produce the former and too enfeebled to enforce the latter.
The political convulsions we are witnessing all over the Western world are evidence of how disturbed the people in the so-called advanced democracies feel. From nativist parties in Europe, right here to our shores, where one party barely escaped an insurgency and the other was felled by a salesman with a bad comb over.
But the real horror will only become evident when those populist movements win. Not because they’ll enact hateful policies—though some will try—but because they will fail. Government as currently constituted is incapable of doing the job, righting the wrongs, and satisfying the people.
If we’re going to calm the rage of Global Trembling, we need to create methods and institutions that bring power back to those frightened, angry people. And that power needs to be strong and supple enough to control the ungovernable forces that fuel our sense of irrelevance and insecurity.
That insecurity goes far deeper than economics. What people fear—not to be too graphic—is castration. Impotence, in a world that neither sees nor cares about them, is what drives their rage.
Impotence drains life of meaning, it produces profound feelings of alienation. In the absence of humane, compassionate and powerful institutions, inhumane, violent institutions become a magnet for alienated souls. To a greater or lesser degree, we are seeing that all over the world.
Universal values can gain no traction in a world impervious to human controls. Which is why, while traditional politics implodes, identity politics thrives.
While their virtues differ radically, there is little difference between defenders of the White race and, for instance, the LGBTQ movement.
They’re both a kind of glue. Identity politics attempts to seal the gaps in communities fractured by the globalized, toxic cloud. They seek to empower in a world where idealism seems corny. Idealism without power is corny. It is also extremely dangerous.
Traditionally, religion has filled the void of solitary human existence by creating communities of belonging and common values.
But modern religion doesn’t have the salience it once did, and while many still believe, too few feel that sense of belonging they desperately crave. Modern, humanistic religion isn’t working as a counterweight to worldly power and hyper-selfish ambition, it hasn’t taken the venomous sting out of Global Trembling. Only raging fundamentalism is strong enough to do that, but the cure is worse than the disease.
We need compelling religious revival to deal with our current soul sickness. Some organizing principle that is less about ritual and more about universal values. One broad and strong enough to fight the chaos, and bring us together.
Not being a religious scholar, I haven’t the slightest idea of how to create such a thing. But as a human being, I feel the need.
That is one way to turn cynicism into hope. But it will take more than a new, universal vision of the divine to turn around this sad, troubled age.
It will take worldly power. And the only collective worldly power that is even potentially within the reach of the people is government. But today’s governments, of whichever mode or ideology, have next to no power at all. They are 19th century responses to a 21st century disease. Even the global elites are running scared, the supposed masters of the universe know they’re powerless to control the monstrous forces they’ve unleashed.
So, what kind of a political revolution will it take to tame the forces that have overwhelmed our societies and sickened our souls?
Something new. Something that’s not on the obsolete scale of communism to capitalism. Those methods of ordering humanity are right and left. I believe the next revolution will come when we look up.
What we need from government is not regulation but creation. A government that grows with the cloud, that adapts with the speed and agility of a startup.
But if the people don’t feel that this new governance is close to them, that they count, it will fail.
Find me a political philosopher who can design such a thing and I’ll show you the next Socrates. But all of human history is contingent. So if we get the next Stalin, Global Trembling will be the least of our problems.
But I’m an optimist. I do believe we’re living in an age of miracles and wonders. We cure epidemics in years, not centuries, there are spacecraft circling Jupiter and soaring beyond Pluto as we speak. We’ve made amazing progress in so many fields.
Only the way we organize ourselves has stagnated, only our sense of community feels stuck in a downward spiral of digital confusion.
People are depressed, cynical, fearful, alienated, as if we live in a dystopia. But we don’t. It only feels that way.
Global Trembling, caused by information overload and the toxic cloud, is making us believe that actual humans don’t control the human condition anymore. That it’s out of our hands.
We need to grab it back. I’ve talked about a couple of ways we can start doing that. But the problem is far too big for me, or any one person, to grasp, much less solve.
To do that we’re going to need two things. Some fresh thinking by some young geniuses, most of whom are currently preoccupied trying to get rich making the toxic cloud even bigger, and, hardest of all, a leap of faith.
Faith that mankind can control the forces he’s let loose on the world, faith that the future doesn’t have to look like Blade Runner. Faith in the power of faith to save us, not set us at one another’s throats.
Huge job, right? Sounds impossible. So how can I remain optimistic against such overwhelmingly long odds?
I don’t know. Let me ask my 500 times over great grandfather as soon as he gets done scraping the flesh off that mastodon with his flint-knapped knife.