July 19th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Jane Jacobs: Dark Age Ahead

            "A Dark Age is a culture's dead end."
                    - Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead

Is the cultural matrix of our multicultural global heritage imploding? Are we in the first stages of a new Dark Age? The idea of cultural amnesia has been with us for some time now. We've been hearing of the erosion of the community and family, higher education, effective practice of science and technology, government policy makers out of touch with the real needs of their constituents, and the failure the intellectuals and media to to police themselves and provide the public the truth about our forthcoming cultural, political, environmental, and economic collapse. Jane Jacobs tells us that a culture becomes unstable and unsalvageable if "stabilizing forces themselves become ruined and irrelevant."

In defining the cause of such collapse she tells us that the key is in how a culture confronts the radical and chaotic jolts in circumstances that their main institutions cannot portend nor adequately adapt fast enough to overcome and thereby become irrelevant, and are forgotten, thrown upon the dustbin of history as quaint artifacts of a bygone era. She points out that when stabilizing institutions are thwarted by government and corporate power, as they are in our time, then the basic self-organizing and adaptive corrections become impossible bringing on a deluge of self-defeating policies that will ultimately lead to a new Dark Age.

Could the immigration situation brewing in Arizona portend the demise of America? Jacobs tells us that "cultural xenophobia is a frequent sequel to a society's decline from cultural vigor." Instead of a culture based upon the logic of reason and science with its progressive future-oriented ideology, she sees a return to a new mythos, one of religious, political, and economic fundamentalism which see to ground their conservative agenda in the old anchors of isolationism and fortress mentality, thereby cutting itself off from an open-society view of inclusion and diversity of thought and action. She shows us that instead of turning inward through isolation and close conservative systems, that would lead to a time of cultural amnesia, we need should discover what in our cultural heritage is still alive and vibrant and worth saving.

Jacobs warns us that most of the past great civilizations have vanished due in part to a lack of cultural self-awareness. "They have neglected to recognize that the true power of a successful culture resides in its example.... Any culture that jettisons the values that have given it competence, adaptability, and identity becomes weak and hollow. A culture can avoid that hazard only by tenaciously retaining the underlying values responsible for the culture's nature and success." Her hope for the future is express in the core American values expressed by Lincoln when he "that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth." Yet, as a libertarian, I would add that the said government should be local, not federal, that at the heart of our future lies a true awakening of the power of the people to rule themselves along the lines of true liberty rather than be guided by the elite factions of a neoliberal establishment that has degraded both our planet and our economic livelihood for generations to come.