Gleaming Cities of the Eclipsed

When driving home yesterday evening I had on this cool Youtube video (featuring the delightful song “Night Drive” by Timothy Drury and Corridor) that featured a gorgeous drive through what I’m pretty sure is Dubai. Which got me thinking about those gleaming Coruscant-esque cities blossoming from the Arabian Desert, breaking not just the rules of where cities ought to be situated but also the rule that a first-world standard of living requires first-world standard of political system, society, culture, and mentality. Oil wealth has made possible an instantiation of a kind of archeofuturism in Arabia; some of the world’s most futuristic places are also some of its most pre-modern. Really makes Dune, with its Arab-flavored futuristic feudalism, seem more prescient than when it was written!

Nemesis balances her Scales

I’ve heard it said that the oil is God’s recompense to the Arabs for losing the land of Israel to the Jews, Nemesis balancing the scales for Hagar and Ishmael having been cast out all those ages ago. Which isn’t nearly as far-fetched as one might think; consider that Israel became a thing in the 20th century, and nearly simultaneously the Arabs discovered oil and became wealthy.

Well, at least some Arabs did. It’s worth noting that the Arabs of Palestine, the ones who were cast out of Israel, congregate in large measure in Jordan, one of the few Arab countries that doesn’t have much oil, or oil money. The Saudis and the Persian Gulf states not taking in their fellow Arabs from Palestine and sharing their bounty with them in this reading might earn them the disfavor of God.

Though, it seems, not for now; indeed, for all the predictions that the Saudis will soon run out of oil or some such they seem to be able to turn on the spigots any time they feel like it, as we saw in 2014. Seems like they’ve got plenty. The Persian Gulf states are even more blessed.

Islamism and the Second Religiousness of the Left-Behind

I can’t help but wonder if what was meant to happen was Arab unity and Arab nationalism, which ironically might have been facilitated with an earlier advent of Islamism; with a religious imperative to unify they just might have made it, which would have brought the Palestinian Arabs into the fold.

Arguably Islamism is an example of what Oswald Spengler called the “second religiousness” in a civilization’s life cycle:

The next phase I call the Second Religiousness. It appears in all Civilizations as soon as they have fully formed themselves as such and are beginning to pass, slowly and imperceptibly, into the non-historical state in which time-periods cease to mean anything. (So far as the Western Civilization is concerned, therefore, we are still many generations short of that point.) The Second Religiousness is the necessary counterpart of Caesarism, which is the final political constitution of Late Civilization… The material of the Second Religiousness is simply that of the first, genuine, young religiousness– only otherwise experienced and expressed. It starts with Rationalism’s fading out in helplessness, then the forms of the springtime become visible and finally the whole world of the primitive religion, which had receded before the grand forms of the early faith, returns to the foreground, powerful, in the guise of the popular syncretism that is to be found in every Culture at this phase.

In the Arabs’ case this is the ossification of what he called the “Magian” civilization as it reached the end of its life cycle, which one could date to the end of the Islamic Golden Age, when Arab civilization turned against Hellenism and the classical Greek heritage, which has been the greatest motor for progress history has ever known (fortunately the West was ready to carry the torch again by the time the Middle East had flamed out…).

Not a Reformation, but a Dark Age

This whole line of thought suggests Arab civilization is not in the midst of a period resembling the rise of Protestantism, as is sometimes suggested by scholars of Islam, but rather something more akin to an extended dark age. Which might seem odd with the gleaming cities of Dubai, Riyadh, Doha, and the like, but honestly this whole moment in Arab history has a dark age vibe to it.

Consider that the reason why the Arab world embraced Arab nationalism, and the attendant Arab socialism, was their dispossession of the Arabs as a people, their eclipse as a power in the world by the West, searching for an explanation, yearning for a pathway to recover their greatness. This has roots dating back to the 19th century, a phenomenon of the era (stretching to a lesser extent into our time!) which we also see with the other venerable yet ossified civilizations that fell behind like India and China.

Islamism’s rise as a force in the Arab world is merely a continuation of the same process that led to Arab nationalism and socialism becoming so popular; since the latter started to be perceived as a failure the former has risen.

The Arabs’ recent Past: the West’s Near-Future?

And here’s where it gets really interesting: maybe the West will be in a similar position as it’s eclipsed by China and the East as the dominant player on the world stage in the 21st century. Does that mean we’ll, like the Arab world did with Islam, revert to political Christianity, organizing our civilization around Christianity as a desperate search for meaning and greatness? Wait, is that the future the integralists are readying for? Uh oh. 😳 

Worth noting: Objectivist extraordinaire Leonard Peikoff in his 2012 book “The DIM Hypothesis” predicted religious totalitarianism will overtake America within 50 years (mark your calendars: 2062!). Hmm…

More likely I think is a different analogue to the Islamist turn, much like the 1960s-and-later New Age movement and all that good stuff was a great awakening, just not a Christian one. Indeed, these very same movements may well provide the raw material for the coming turn. If there’s an Islamic analogue think of the rise of the Sufi mystics in earlier centuries, rather than Islamism in more recent times.

I honestly don’t think a Christian revival is in the cards; the flow of Western history has been against Chrisitianity, and this isn’t a recent trend; it’s been present over the long haul, over several historical and generational cycles. The zeitgeist over the longue durée militates against Christianity, not for it. Its destiny in the West is to become a minority faith with little ongoing cultural relevance. Of key note is that the faith stopped ringing true for intellectual elites by the 17th century at the latest, and it’s been downhill ever since.

A Hunch about our Future

I can’t help but suspect that the cultural, social, and religious revolution of the 1960s will be completed sometime in the relatively near future. It’s odd anyway that the great awakening of that era resulted in something akin to a stalemate, a failure to sweep away the old order and replace it with something altogether new. When the old hippies sense that something that was in the air, a real bold step into a new future, has been denied them they’re not really wrong: it is strange that they didn’t really have their day in the sun as the dominant players in society.

But maybe that day is still in the future, as odd as that might seem. Maybe we have this “woke” stuff now, not to mention the likes of the religious right, because we’re stuck in some unholy hybrid of the old and the new worlds. The next Second Turning, a part of the generational cycle that will take place around the mid 21st century, might just see the utopian socialist New Age hippie stuff come back in a big way, albeit in updated forms, and the spiritualists will achieve ultimate, comprehensive, and complete victory over the old-time religion and society to a degree and with a rapidity few expect, in a kind of revolutionary moment.

Who knows? It’s at least an interesting possibility.

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