The Lights of Civilization Are Going Out

Honestly, could you get a better distillation of the essence of leftist environmentalism than a bunch of leftists filming themselves enthusiastically switching off lights to plunge the world into darkness?

We face a modern version of the early-Renaissance Bonfire of the Vanities. Leftist environmentalists tell us we have sinned against the earth and that we must destroy those materialistic goods which drive us to sin. Just as Girolamo Savonarola railed against the artists and proto-scientists of Florence, leftist environmentalists rail against those who create and build the technology that makes our lives something other than suffering and drudgery. Just like Savonarola, they tell us that we should sacrifice our material well being for the promise of a heaven later. 

Savonarola failed to abort the Renaissance,but back then Europe was still recovering from the effects of the Dark Ages. Today, we live in an age of light, but the moralists wish us to return to a dark age. 

Our forebearers would vomit on us in disgust. In 1900, Parisians and the world celebrated the lighting of the Eiffel tower in a blaze of thousands of gaslights. Most people back then still lived their lives in tiny pools of light cast by fire. They understood the difference between progress and stagnation, between light and dark. Today, spoiled, petulant, immature leftists celebrate turning the Eiffel tower into a dark, looming shadow. The ghosts of Eiffel and all of the other great technologists must be howling from their graves. 

Just as the Renaissance clergy and nobility raged against the humanism and capitalism that eroded their privileged positions, leftist environmentalists rage against the technology and commerce that marginalize them. Unable anymore to exploit technological bounty for their own benefit, they have chosen instead to destroy it. 

Such a lust for status generated the envy that drove Milton’s Lucifer. Lucifer’s words (stanza 260) encapsulate the worldview of the modern leftist:

The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

It says a lot about the leftist environmentalists’ world view that they see nothing sinister in the symbolism of shutting off lights and creating darkness. Their own lack of self-awareness may yet doom us all to a world of ignorance and shadow. 

[Addendum: A contemporary Lucifer]


21 thoughts on “The Lights of Civilization Are Going Out”

  1. Remarkably true. The Left is eager to abandon the benefits of science, technology and progress for the nebulous good which is neither a proven outcome of the abandonment or assuredly attainable. Sack-cloth and ashes until the planet cools?

    One need only look at central Africa or middle Asia during a satellite fly-over on any night, not just “Earth Hour” to see where they would take us.

    Thanks, but no thanks. I’m forever grateful that I was born in this period, in this nation, and with the fruits of my labor able to experience and enjoy the benefits that surround me. Abandon them? Hell.

    Like so many other things, “Molon Labe!”

  2. I object to the idea that Europe before the fifteenth century was in the Dark Ages. That would be the Dark Ages, when the idea of trial by evidence and first stirrings of parliamentary government began; when Gothic architecture flourished and extremely subtle thinkers like Thomas Aquinas and John of Salisbury wrote. I could go on. Please do not accept that canard invented by the eighteenth century know-alls.

  3. For real craziness, consider the end of Battlestar Galactica.

    [Rest of comment deleted because I haven’t seen the last Battlestar Galactica — Shannon]

  4. “The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they – this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that Man might hope again in wretched darkness.”

    –Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

  5. Helen,

    I object to the idea that Europe before the fifteenth century was in the Dark Ages

    I didn’t say that. I said it was recovering from the Dark Ages (600-1100). Trade, literacy, technology etc in the 15th century started to recover to levels that had existed during the Roman Empire. The Dark Ages were a nadir that Europe was a good 500 years crawling out of.

    I realize the term Dark Age has fallen into disfavor but the metaphorical juxtaposition was just to good to pass up.

  6. These lunatics are in the dark about answers to the great questions modern society faces. They d They are in the dark about the questions, too.

    They won’t freeze in the dark, but wouldn’t care if others did.

  7. Eric Blair,

    Yeah, but what happened to Savanarola in the end?

    He was excommunicated and executed. This bit is interesting:

    Florence soon became tired of Savonarola because of the city’s continual political and economic miseries partially derived from Savonarola’s opposition to trading and making money. God did not seem to intervene to come to the city’s aid, and the Last Days did not seem to arrive despite the city government’s insistence that the Apocalypse was near to fulfilment.

    So either Savanarola was born in the wrong century or the current crop of environmentalist are repeating a very old pattern in human affairs.

  8. It is not the Left’s lack of self-awareness that will doom the world. They are incapable of it; that is why they are Left.
    It is only awareness in the unafflicted, and their degree of courage, that determines our future. We have weakened.

  9. A couple of years ago, a friend and I kept returning to the idea that the life force was being negated – that it was being countered by nihilism. It seemed Henry Adams’ theme and one that was, with his curmudgeonly, self-centered and even tiresome persona, surprisingly wise.

    Our talks were not too crazy if you spent enough of your life around English dept. types. I’m at the point where I’m likely to go off on the next student who hands in a paper which demonstrates an immense admiration for the liberation that Edna Pointellier demonstrates by cheating on her husband, engaging in a rather superficial flirtation with another guy – and, of course, the real proof of her liberation – her triumphant suicide. My god, what are they feeding those kids in high school? Of course, turning out the lights, suicide, abortion – they all welcome the great long night that has long been our life as humans and may, unfortunately, be it again.

    It’s bad enough, of course, to negate what seems to me (fool that I am) a long, painful, and not always straightforward movement toward the rule of law over the endless battles of tribalism, the freedom & analytic thinking that is a byproduct of an open marketplace of ideas, of religions, of commerce. But how often in the last years have I seen educated adults scoff at the importance of “freedom” of any of those – looking at me with a kind of pity and even revulsion that I would think such freedom was possible and desirable if possible. But to hate life itself. To celebrate not the birth of children but their death – I don’t mean to sound like (because I don’t really think like) my more fervent pro-Life friends. But they have a truth and a value system that is real. That abortion may sometimes be a tragic but necessary choice, well, I’ll go a ways with that. But I can’t imagine a culture that celebrates it.

    Oh, well, sorry I went off on this. None of you are likely to see suicide as the appropriate response to life in the Big Easy as a young, attractive woman. My job, I guess, is to try to force my students to think about it – is this really what they value?

  10. Great post, as always, Shannon. The left don’t really give a sh*t about our ‘desecration’ of the planet (check out the environmental awareness of the classic leftist regimes in history). What they really object to – as per Evan Sayet – is the use of discrimination, or, in other words, rational thought. They object to the progress brought about by rational thought because all this technology is an ever-present repudiation of their thesis that discrimination (ie, the attempt to be right) is the cause of all wrong.

  11. Ginny: I’ve quoted this passage before, but sadly, it always seems to be in season:

    “Cupio dissolvi…These words have been going through my mind for quite a long time now. It’s Latin. They mean “I (deeply) wish to be annihilated/to annihilate myself”, the passive form signifying that the action can be carried out both by an external agent or by the subject himself…Cupio dissolvi… Through all the screaming and the shouting and the wailing and the waving of the rainbow cloth by those who invoke peace but want appeasement, I hear these terrible words ringing in my ears. These people have had this precious gift, this civilization, and they have got bored with it. They take all the advantages it offers them for granted, and despise the ideals that have powered it. They wish for annihilation, the next new thing, as if it was a wonderful party. Won’t it be great, dancing on the ruins?”

    (from a now-defunct Italian blogger who went by the name Joy of Knitting)

  12. And, as so often, thanks Shannon. It’s easy to forget how much difference it makes that you make us think.

    The nineteenth century celebrated light; it reflects their optimism, but it isn’t an optimism that is stupid or unaware of the limits of our lives. Most weren’t as optimistic as Emerson, who says “And as the eye is the best composer, so light is the first of painters. There is no object so foul that intense light will not make beautiful.” Of course, he goes on to say: “Even the corpse has its own beauty.” This is a man whose idealization of his dying first wife can hold its own with Poe’s – but the recognition of death, of the darkness isn’t a celebration of it. It makes the celebration of the light more intense.
    I think of the way light appears throughout literature as signifying order & harmony against chaos and madness, of counteracting nihilism with meaning, isolation with the light of love. Is it ever negative, whether the light of the Old Testament or in the existentialism of Hemingway’s cafe. Are we rejecting all our forefathers have learned?

  13. Shannon, I completely agree with you about the envronmental nutties. I must, however, echo Helen’s comment. I agree that in the years between 600-1100 Europe was, for the most part, dark, but the recovery began in the 12th and 13th Centuries, not the 15th.

    Also, as you point out Savanarola was excommunicated and executed. Not all clergy in the 15th — 17th Centuries were like him. Thus, it is unjust to say, tout court, “Renaissance clergy . . . raged against the humanism and capitalism that eroded their privileged positions.” Some did, most did not.

    Finally, I think it significant that you see the Leftists view encapsulated in Milton’s portrait of Satan. Religion can, therefore, be a source of enlightenment. Religious fanaticism (of whatever form), however, always leads us into darkness and the shadow of death.

  14. At the risk of repeating myself, I shall repeat myself:

    The beating heart of environmentalism is racism and misanthropy. It is a perverted and unkind religion like the one the Aztecs practiced. It pretends to be a political theory, but, because it repudiates Cicero’s maxim, which is also the epigraph of Locke’s “Two Treatises of Civil Government”, “Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto”*, in favor of the non-human world, it cannot be political in any way. It is a mere expression of contempt towards men. As Virginia Postrel commented years ago, at least when they were Marxists, they favored some part of humanity.

    Environmentalism and its practitioners must be exposed, mocked and driven from the public arena.

    *the welfare of the people is the highest law.


    Dark Ages. Shanon was correct to use the term as he did. But it is neither useful nor accurate for analyzing European history. The historiographical problem is that there are several different Europes. The development of Germanic north-western Europe, Slavic north-central Europe, the Mediterranean littoral, the Byzantine cultural area (including the southern Slavs and Romanians), and Slavic eastern Europe, form a complicated dance where different things happened at different times with different, but inter-related, impacts. E.g. in the 6th century, England was a howling wilderness, but Byzantium was at a peak where it produced the Hagia Sophia and the Corpus Juris.

  15. Modern leftist environmentalism is the same old millenialism and anti-industry anti-science romanticism that has been bubbling up since the mid 19th century. These are the same forces that gave rise to socialism, communism, so-called multi-culturalism (i.e. separate but equal v. 2.0), the nanny state, political correctness, etc, etc, etc.

    At the foundation is the fiction that there is an agrarian utopia of freedom, equality, and happiness that is just within reach if only we would just give it a chance. To put it bluntly, these forces are perhaps the most dangerous threat to the foundations of liberty and prosperity in the western world today.

  16. Mid-nineteenth century is a bit late. Try mid-eighteenth – noble savage, agrarian utopia etc etc. A reaction to the terrifying upheaval of the industrial (after the agricultural) revolution and to the enlightenment ideas.

  17. You know I had a very different reaction to this post about “leftist environmentalism” and the following comments. Daniel Larison does a better job than I could, in describing my own reaction:

    “one of the key features of any ideology is its horrific powers of oversimplification and its impressively narrow perspective on historical events. That is, ideology will not reliably predict consequences of events, but it will condition the mind to force every event into the mold provided by the ideology. If a person approaches the world with an ideological frame of mind, whatever events dominate the historical memory of his fellow ideologues are perceived as constantly recurring again and again as part of a progressive narrative of successive triumphs, each one more important than the last. The simple framing, the certainty of victory and the quick and easy interchangeability of extremely different groups as different faces of the same enemy are all very useful for purposes of propaganda and the acquisition and exercise of power.”

    Reading this post, I’m not clear about who is more ideological: leftist environmentalists or their critics.

  18. SeanF,

    one of the key features of any ideology is its horrific powers of oversimplification and its impressively narrow perspective on historical events.

    It’s a blog post, not a 1,000 page book. Generalizations and a lack of nuance are inevitable. Perhaps you should reconsider your apparent assumption that you can completely understand the sophistication, complexity and nuance of a person’s models based on their writings a medium that is by it’s very nature condensed and abridged.

    More importantly, we’re talking about broad shared-models here. We have political groups in the first place because large numbers of people share underlying assumptions. One of the great puzzles of political theory is why the same individuals line up on the same side of many diverse and wholly separate issues. For example, an individual’s stance on gay marriage strongly predicts their stance on the liberation of Iraq. Virtually all political stances are linked in this fashion.

    These links exist because of differences in the world-models of individuals. Few of the differences are articulated and people rarely examine their own core assumptions. These world-models are essentially pre-cognitive acts. They’re intuitive instead of reasoned.

    In understanding political behavior you have to understand these intuitive models. In this case, these people did not see any negative symbolism in shutting off lights thereby symbolically turning their backs on the achievements of industrial civilizations. I argue that tells us a lot about their world-model and it tells us about the parts of their cognitive process of which they themselves are unaware of.

  19. shannon,

    that was a really good response. I found it much more informative than your original post, which appeared to be taking a shot at environmentalists merely for doing what environmentalists do.

    at any rate, I read widely these days and it appears that the environmental movement is gaining strength on the New Right. it’s probably a good thing for conservatives in the long run, especially if one agrees with the scientific community on global warming.

    there are some issues e.g. civil rights, on which conservatives lost so completely that any remaining holdouts look like anachronisms and are electoral liabilities. I suspect gay marriage and global warming have the potential to be those kinds of issues.

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