The West Must Die
Beyond the Revolution
The problem with writing essays is what it does to your head.
Every writer will tell you that there are different kinds of writing. Different kinds of writing come from different ways of seeing, relating, immersing or understanding. This is very hard to explain, hard to put a finger on, and this is why we write. We write to reach the impossible but it is impossible to reach. If we are very lucky, the best we can do is to flail at it with our words, like a drowning man trying to escape quicksand by grasping towards the shore.
Writing essays, however creative you try to be about the process, entails some attempt to pin the world to the page like a butterfly. It requires simplification and clarification and explanation. This is not necessarily a bad thing. An essay is like a map: hopefully it describes the landscape reasonably well, and this may help point you in the right direction. But the process of mapmaking is not the process of glassmaking, or the process of composing poetry. I can never write poems when I am writing essays. The two forms are like oil and water; they never mix because they come from entirely different places. Essays are made: they are constructed over time, like drystone walls. Poetry arrives: it drops from the sky like dew, and is shaped as it flows onto the page. This is very hard to explain.
But here I am, still writing essays about the shape of things, still trying to pin to the page the world as it is. As soon as you pin it, it escapes from your grasp, but this is life, and it isn’t entirely futile, I hope. I just have to remember - and you, reader, should remember too - that the map is not the territory. There is only ever so much that words can do. Writers are limited creatures. It is necessary for us to go outside sometimes, and blink, and get our hands dirty and have people fail to understand what we’re on about. It is necessary to stumble about and get laughed at. This keeps us honest.
The morning I went out early to pray under the trees. The sunlight was coming down through the birches. The insects had been busy for hours. It was still cold. All prayer should be like this. As with poetry, nothing is created here. Something arrives, if you’re lucky, and something is offered. You wander about in the cold morning sun, and this is life too, quite a good description of it, perhaps. Sometimes, essays can gloss over the stumbling and the wandering. Our whole world now, it seems to me, has been built to prevent any stumbling or wandering from ever happening. Nobody wants to get lost. Preventing us from ever getting lost is what the Machine is for. It is why we like it. It is why, piece by piece, day by day, word by word, it is killing us slowly.
Exchange meaning for control: that was the deal. Exchange beauty for utility, roots for wings, the whole for the parts, lostness and wandering and stumbling for the straight march towards the goal. That was the deal. Turns out it was a trap, and now look at us. Look at everything we know, and how little we can see. Look at us here, flailing, drowning, gasping as we sink into the numbers and words.
How are we going to get out of this one?
One reason I began these essays, two years back, was that I wanted to understand what was going on with the ‘culture wars’ that were raging across the West. Having been caught in the crossfire myself, I wanted to know why these fights were happening, where the divisions were coming from, why things seemed to be fragmenting so fast. Since I started writing that fragmentation has only become faster, but I still think now what I thought back then: that the culture wars are a surface manifestation of a much deeper rift in the psyche of modern Western people. You only get a culture war when you no longer have a culture.
But the culture wars continue, and then as now the camps are well defined. On one side, the ‘woke’ tribe - that curious agglomeration of international capital and elite progressive opinion posing as an uprising from below - works to invert the culture as it crusades against everything that the place has ever been or stood for. In response, the ‘based’ tribe rises up to ‘defend the West’, but can never seem to agree on what it is defending. What is this ‘West’, after all? Is it an ethnic homeland, a religion, a set of principles, a particular economic or social model, or some other way of seeing or being? Nobody seems to agree.
Surveying the ongoing demolition of the pillars of my culture, I am sometimes, in my worst moods, tempted to join the defenders of the West in their work. But when I have calmed down, I remember that those pillars are mostly rotten anyway, and that those attacking them, repulsive as they can sometimes be, are not entirely wrong either. Something has gone wrong with this ‘West’, and those who highlight its past crimes are getting at something that maybe even they can’t quite put their finger on.
Like essayists trying to get to the heart of the matter, or poets scrabbling to take down dictation, it can sometimes feel as if all the discontents in our ongoing breakdown, wherever they think they stand, are motivated by the same sense of loss or confusion that Machine modernity has created as it has ripped us all away from our moorings. The right-populists who rebel against the bugs and the pod, and the left-green Extinction Rebels who stop the traffic because they want to stop the Machine, are routinely presented as opposites, but they look to me like manifestations of the same frustration. The progressives who rail against ‘whiteness’ and the traditionalists who refuse to be imprisoned in a fifteen minute city are taking a weirdly consonant stand against the same thing: a rationalised, profiteering, inhuman future that they feel is closing in on them without any means of escape.
So if you ask me to help ‘defend the West’ now, I will reply that, though this place is my home and the home of my ancestors, I can’t avoid the reality that this ‘West’ birthed the Machine, and is building that inhuman future. Something in our way of seeing contained a seed that unmade the world. I have been examining this seed now for two years. Do I want it to grow? No. I want to uproot it. I want to say that this ‘West’ is not a thing to be ‘conserved’: not now. It is a thing to be superseded. It is an albatross around our necks. It obstructs our vision. It weighs us down.
Sometimes, you have to know when to let go.
‘The West’ has become an idol; some kind of static image of a past that maybe once was but is now inhabited by a new force: the Machine. ‘The West’ today thinks in numbers and words, but can’t write poetry to save its life. ‘The West’ is the kingdom of Mammon. ‘The West’ eats the world, and eats itself, that it may continue to ‘grow’. ‘The West’ knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. ‘The West’ is exhausted and empty.
Maybe, then, just maybe, we need to let ‘the West’ die.
Let it die so that we can live.
Maybe we need to let this concept fall away. To let it crumble so that we can see what lies beneath. Stop all the ‘fighting’ to preserve something nobody can even define, something which has long lost its heart and soul. Stop clinging to the side of the sinking hull as the band plays on. We struck the iceberg long ago; it must be time, at last, to stop clinging to the shifting metal. To let go and begin swimming, out towards the place where the light plays on the water. Just out there. Do you see? Beyond; just beyond. There is something waiting out there, but you have to strike out to reach it. You have to let go.
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