It's clear to those who approach our society with an open mind, most notably youth, that it is diseased and falling apart. It does not achieve its stated goals, and its process for decisionmaking is muddled in the politics of appeasing the crowd, or making profit, and not doing what is right. If it were not for our vast resources in material wealth, technology and capable individuals, this would have degenerated long ago; but, like any situation where a fundamental cure is overlooked for symptomatic treatment, our society is inevitably heading into the toilet and the tasks required to change it seem initially vast.
In the Viet Nam War, the Americans faced a choice of strategy: they could either opt for a political victory, and somehow gain control of the country, or they could apply a public relations patch to the face of society, and charge ahead with a brute force military solution - attrition, or removal of insurgents by killing them, at which point, since there would be no opposition, victory would presumably come. Much as they will find out this is failing strategy in Iraq, no matter how much they disguise it with "benevolent" programs to lure Iraqis toward shopping malls (I mean democracy), they found out in Viet Nam that if you do not tackle the problem at the level of its structure, no matter how many of its symptoms you kill, you will still lose.
And they did lose, more than just in Viet Nam, as they woke up many people at home to the lack of reason behind their government and society, and the awareness that we were simply exporting this neurosis everywhere we went without tackling our inner problem, but this was forgotten as soon as the "baby boomers" could be bought off with BMWs and 401(k)s and private schooling for their kids who are now busy working office assistant jobs and taking MDMA. Momentum was lost because, much like US forces in Viet Nam, the people who woke up in this country could not adopt a coherent political message and therefore ended up telling America that its values were OK but misapplied; from this we got Civil Rights legislation, and a society that now favors every weakling over any strong person, in the idea that if we beat everyone into a shapeless mass, no one will have any cause to resent another.
Thirty years later, we are still tackling this problem, and should be aware that most empires take a century or more to fall, and that ours began collapsing roughly in the Civil War era, with the effects of that being seen in the next generation and most notably in their progeny during the 1920s, at which point our culture seemed to recognize that it was without value and thus hedonism, fatalism and distraction were excellent palliatives. The "Jazz Age" - so appropriately named. Of course, to back up and see civilization on the level of millennia, what's happening here is an ongoing process: long ago human groups were isolated in the Ice Age. Nature selected the more fit in every race, and those were able to set up high civilizations which stood far above what everyone else could accomplish. In the years intervening, "everyone else" - including those who by genetic mutation or inactivity have been bred badly in high civilizations, have been busy trying to take over that which they could not create for themselves. That is the face of the mob, the crowd, the mass - that is the force that has steadily been moving civilization from being more selective into a state of being passive and thus a great place for "everyone else" to live as parasites.
This is a vast disease, and will require a solution of vast scope, although as any martial artist knows, sometimes the bigger ones fall harder because they have less maneuvering room and therefore can more easily have their great weight and hence momentum used against them. What is required first, however, is philosophical coherence; those who are going to make something new must get onto the same page about the values that would found that new civilization, or, like the hippies, they'll simply repeat this one while running around neurotically screaming about what a great new shining example of social excellence they have created. Without philosophical coherence, any movement will either fail, or worse, succeed enough to realize its values are incompatible, and then will destroy what its revolution initially spared, through infighting and other signs of disorganization and hence, decline.
With this in mind we now turn to the question of "activism." Most of those who initially approach the situation as it is now will, upon having realized the face of the problem, begin screaming for something to be done about it; this is natural. However, as demonstrated above, to run shrieking at the enemy without any plan or more importantly, ideal of what would replace that enemy, is to be either swiftly defeated on the battlefield or after victory fall into infighting. Thus any would-be activist should plan well, or he or she will become an agent of the very destruction to which the individual activist claims opposition: a vast wave of crowd phenomenon. However, the question remains: what can be done?
Obviously, the first and most important task is to find fundamental philosophies that replace the error upon which our society is based. This requires a process of digging and analysis, trying to get to the root of where this society went wrong; when this is found, it is a matter of analysis to create not an opposite, but a complementary solution to, that essential conflict. No solutions make Utopias; Utopia would be a place without conflict, and conflict is in part what stabilizes any existing system - competition. With this kind of idea in mind, we can design an ideal society to not only avoid the problems of this one (as a revolutionary does) but to provide the best kind of society in general (as a philosopher does). Without this concept, "activism" is meaningless, as it implies activity without goal, which would delight those who oppose social change more than those who embrace it, as unorganized activity results in inaction, and nothing pleases a crowd more than being told they can change nothing and still be doing the best that they can. The root of passivity is fear, and fear is palliated by excuses such as "Well, you did all you could" or "There was nothing to be done!"
For this reason, I see "activists" as running into long-term philosophical conflict with their own stated objectives; it is more sensible for people instead to aim for cultural change, at the level of values, by spreading a philosophy of this new society among those who have intelligence and strength of character. Yet there is error here, too: while it is undeniable that to gain power in society, breed well and have influence is important, to assume this alone will solve the problem is a mistake, as is underestimating how much of your time that will take - it will take all of it. In the middle between directionless activism and self-absorbing "success," there is a sensible path: gain power and influence in society, but do not let it take your soul, and remember that at every choice you are given, there is a chance to assert your will - and that will should be to carry out a philosophy that you understand in depth. Otherwise, activity - whether "activism" or career-building - absorbs you, and you become like a Baby Boomer, bought off with a BMW.
What is fortunate is that, if attitudes change among even a small percentage of the population toward a discernible new philosophy of civilization, that idea will become radically influential, and it will either divide greater society in fear of it or cultivate those that can understand it from that group. Much as in martial arts, a small push in the right place while blocking the motion of a foot can send a giant toppling, in the case of our society, building consensus around what sort of society would not have these problems can reveal the ignorance and fear of the larger mass, and thus begin getting people on board. Such a philosophy must be free of illusion, emotional "activism," bigotry and other intellectual pitfalls. It must clearly demonstrate why it is rewarding, and that it not only fixes our current problems but provides for a society with fewer overall problems.
This brings me to the topic of this essay. This site, and its philosophy, is not like an organization that you "join"; we have web forums, IRC chat, a music-sharing hub and a USENET group so that people can talk about ideas and thus go over every aspect of this philosophy until they are sure of its structure and relevance. Being part of these is not necessarily being part of the solution, any more than holding a shovel is digging a trench; they are tools toward an end, and not the end in itself. Similarly, those of us who write for this site are conveyors of an idea, and not the idea in itself. At this time, the solution to modern civilization lies in a distributed network of people who understand what and how things must be changed; there is no party affiliation, or identification, that one can use. It is a lonely path, for only the hardiest of souls, exactly because of that lack of visible symbol, entity and personality.
And for "activism"? As stated above, live your life for excellence, and do not take society seriously, and maneuver yourself into a position to live well and influence other thinkers - do not worry about the mass as whole, because they will oppose anything that is not inaction. Make sure you understand these words. And finally, realize that we all specialize in what we can do to bring about this change. Some will be politicians, some will be scientists, some soldiers and some - including us - are the writers.
February 9, 2005