It’s impossible to calculate how many dollars circulate through the economy in service of the building of “awareness” about one issue or another—how many man hours are spent every year, every week, every day by skilled individuals whose dearest desire is to raise “awareness.” Awareness is everywhere; it’s a key prayer, the most beloved incantation, among the deepest desires of contemporary secular religion.
“Please, holistic universe of oneness, bring them all awareness. Let my eyes be uncovered; let me have awareness. Please ensure that all of us come to awareness. Please it be awareness and nothing else, awareness for all and forever, amen.”
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What has all of the last thirty years of “awareness” done for anyone, though? Did “awareness” actually help anyone, with any particular issue. No.
More to the point, this is the information age. Anyone can distribute any message to millions. Everyone stands on every digital street corner not merely peddling but proselytizing to raise awareness of their particular, cause, issue, source of suffering, idea, catastrophe, etc.
We do not have a dearth of awareness.
Everyone is aware of everything. Every damned thing. It only took a year or two for every person in advanced industrial societies to receive “awareness” of every one of a billion distinct issues once “awareness” became part of the economy.
We’re all aware. We’re aware of the whales and the owls and the plastics in the ocean and the indigenous medicine men and the blacks and the latinos and the diseases and the natural disasters and the disabilities and the political crimes and the forms of discrimination and the queers and the veterans and the fallen heroes and the pesticides and the child labor and the spiritual suffering and the forgotten and the indigenous languages and the insulin and the fires and the workplace traumas and the same-sex marriages and the opiods and the genetic abnormalities and the agricultural adulterants and the refugees and the seniors and the underpaid teachers and the disappearing frogs and the overloaded social workers and the surplus waste and the needed safety standards and…
We’re all aware.
Some people have tried to overcome the stalemate by saying that it’s not an awareness deficit that we have, but a deficit of feelings, an “empathy gap.”
That’s bullshit. We all feel terrible. We feel terrible all the time. We suffer deeply. We cry and cry and drink and bemoan and editorialize and activize. Oh, we feel terrible. We’re full of empathy.
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What’s missing is simple.
Self-denial. We’d rather suffer through a thousand years of empathetic wailing than give up a single, tiny iota of our agency. Everything must be voluntaristic.
Our careers, our families, or communities, our religion, our laws—everything. Above and beyond anything and everything else is the basic value of agency. We’re only too happy to empathize, but we want to choose who we empathize with, then choose what we do about it (and, preferably, choose who is to do something about it, and what they are to do).
What’s missing is a key lack—a lack that we need to re-establish if we are to save our civilization, but one that I don’t believe we can re-establish, because all of public theology runs against it.
What we are missing is a lack of passivity.
To survive again, we must re-bind ourselves, re-link the chains, re-tie the ropes. We must lose our freedom. We must be constrained again by social norms, society-wide mores, legal structures, heavy responsibilities. Not rights. Not options. Not individual agency.
Individual agency is the form that our particular decadence has taken, and until we replace it with self-restraint—not self-control, not self-discipline, but self-sacrifice and self-restraint—we are on the short path to end times.
All that has to happen is for one person to cede all ground to his enemies—and for his enemies to then do exactly the same in return. That’s the entire metaphysical Judeo-Christian basis for the west and all that it has achieved. That we demure with civility to our enemies, instruct our children in this method, and ensure that one overriding social pressure exists: that everyone must give in whenever possible, at all times.
Activism won’t get us there. Policy won’t get us there. Awareness certainly won’t get us there. Only reciprocal surrender, with civility, gets us there. It’s also the least likely thing to happen at this stage of the game, despite how desperately simple and (ironically) just and equitable it is.
We’re all trapped in a giant game of The Prisoner’s Dilemma where the only way to win is to stand up and leave the game, but we won’t. We’re all embroiled in a tragedy of the commons—but the one thing we won’t do is the one thing that can save the commons: agree en masse to take none of it at all for our own part, and to do without—and to give it wholly to everyone else.
That’s all it takes—for everyone to simply choose to walk away. It’s both tiny and simple and catastrophically huge and inexplicable all at once.