yeats second coming
Right now I think many people have the sense that society is coming apart at the seams. It's like the famous WB Yeats poem, "The Second Coming":
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
Yeats's Second Coming is not an event to be celebrated. It is not Christ, but the great Sphinx of Giza, who is lumbering toward civilization, with nothing good on its mind.
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
In the past few months we've seen mass hysteria over a virus that, according to the CDC's "best estimate," has a lethality rate of 0.26%. (That's 0.4% of those with symptoms, adjusted for the CDC's estimate of 35% infected without symptoms.) Then we saw new hysteria over a suspect who died in police custody and whose death was captured on video. George Floyd's death should not have happened, but the officer responsible has already been charged and is being held in custody, so what exactly does "justice for George Floyd" represent? A lynching? Perhaps. In any event, the tragedy is being used to justify looting, arson, murder, and the destruction of inner-city neighborhoods that won't be rebuilt for a generation, if ever. In the meantime, so-called "medical authorities" are telling us that, while the virus makes it incredibly dangerous to gather together for a picnic or sports event, it is not only safe but morally necessary to assemble for protests.

It would be nice to think that things will soon return to normal, but I doubt it. With every presidential election, the national mood becomes more feverish and agitated. This is partly because presidents have acquired too much power - the imperial presidency is all too real - and partly because the country is so deeply divided that each side, left and right, is moving to an increasingly extremist position. In this context, we can reasonably expect a long, hot summer and an equally divisive autumn. I doubt things will get any better after the election, either. No matter which side wins, the other side will feel disenfranchised.

In these circumstances, preserving one's peace of mind becomes a paramount concern. It's been reported that suicide hotlines have seen a significant increase in calls. Domestic violence - both spousal abuse and child abuse - is said to be way up. Tempers are short, and people's psyches are frayed, or maybe fried. These are dangerous times, and they're not likely to get better anytime soon. How can one cope?

The ancient Romans, or some of them, found a solution to the instability and chaos of their own times in the philosophy of Stoicism, which originated in ancient Greece but migrated to Rome in a heavily modified form. Recently I've been reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, who probably came as close to Plato's ideal of a philosopher-king as the world will ever know. Marcus was not an original thinker, but he was serious in his study of philosophy, and the notes he left for us - notes jotted down during military campaigns for his own use, and never intended for publication, nor even given a title (the name Meditations was added later) - give us a glimpse into his inner mind as intimate as that afforded by Cicero's letters, and more philosophically profound.

Stoicism, as the Romans understood it, consists of the view that the universe is fundamentally rational and good. Therefore, anything that happens, aside from acts of human agency, should not be resisted but instead embraced. If your house is struck by lightning and burns down, you are free to regard it as a tragedy, but you need not. The objective facts do not force any particular emotive conclusion. You may - and according to Stoicism, you should - go with the flow of events, not resisting, not objecting, not finding fault. To say that nature or the world has done you wrong is irrational, because the world cannot be irrational. Only you can be irrational by making an incorrect inference, an emotional value-judgment.

Human action, the Stoics admit, can be irrational and evil. Even so, the only victims of these actions are the actors themselves. You cannot be hurt in any meaningful way by the behavior of other people. The integrity of your intellect, the purity of your soul, cannot be sullied by any outside force. If you fail to live up to your own standards, the fault lies with you, not with others.

This is a hard philosophy, one might say a pitiless philosophy, a philosophy that takes no account of ordinary human emotions and weaknesses. Perhaps the Romans liked it for that reason. They were not known to be sympathetic to what they saw as weakness. The image of a man who can be shaken by no external events, who is secure in himself and indifferent to accidents of nature (although the Stoics would say there were no accidents) and the misdeeds of his fellow man, was deeply appealing to many of them.

I think we can see why this philosophy became prevalent in later years of the Empire, when turmoil at home and unrest abroad created an atmosphere of chronic uncertainty. If you can't count on the stability of the world around you, then you retreat into a private world and convince yourself that you cannot be touched by anything that happens. If the Emperor orders you to commit suicide, or if your estates are ravaged by barbarian hordes, you merely acquiesce and say that it is rational and necessary. In this, there is a bit of Voltaire's Professor Pangloss (satirizing Leibniz): Everything that happens is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

The mindset of Stoicism might well let us cope with the escalating chaos of our society. But I have to say, I don't think I'm up to it. I don't believe that everything does happen for the best. My suspicion is that events unfold in a way that reflects both a higher-level plan and random accident/unpredictable free will. Or to put it another way, I think that each person's life is planned before birth, but that the person, once born, is at the mercy of his own egoistic will, which can make serious mistakes, and also at the mercy of events that were not foreseen and cannot be controlled. This is probably why more than one incarnation is necessary; if we could get it right the first time, we wouldn't need to come back. Having incarnated without conscious knowledge of the roadmap that our higher self intends for us to follow, we are all too likely to blunder into a dead end. And when enough people blunder into a dead end, the result is societal breakdown, such as we're seeing now.

What, then, is the solution? If we can't believe that this is the best of all possible worlds, where everything happens for a reason, can we at least believe that we personally have some reason for being stuck here?

I can't speak for anyone else. The answer to this question is necessarily personal, subjective, and individual. For myself, I've come up with an answer, one that has been germinating in me for some time. To explain it, I have to briefly recap my last few years.

Around 2016, I largely lost my sense of purpose in life. My family was all gone. My career as a writer was winding down. There didn't seem to be anything much to live for, and I was honestly perplexed as to why I was still here. It seemed pointless, just a waste of time. Since I do believe there's a higher self in charge of my incarnation, I was baffled as to what this higher self expected me to accomplish. In my own "meditations," so to speak, I asked this question and did not get a satisfactory answer. Frankly, this annoyed me. What the hell do your people want from me? I would ask. My mission is over. Where's my goddamn extraction?

I was frustrated because I seemed to get no answer. But now I think I have one.

Even as a child, and throughout my life, I've found myself emotionally and intellectually drawn to end-of-the-world scenarios. For instance, I've read a great deal about the last days of the Roman Republic, and a fair amount about the end of the Western Roman Empire a few centuries later. The idea of the world breaking down and civilization falling apart has always haunted me.

In addition, I've had a long-standing interest in social manias or mass hysteria, as discussed in the famous 19th century study Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay. (I wrote a little about this book here and here.)

Now these two lifelong interests of mine have converged in real life, as we see Western civilization increasingly under stress as result of repeated episodes of mass psychosis. I expect this trend to continue.

And this leads me to my epiphany. I believe my purpose, at this stage of life, is to observe the breakdown of society under the weight of hysteria and divisiveness. As an infinitesimally tiny offshoot of the Cosmic Mind, I have a front row seat at one of the great events in history - the collapse of Western civilization in the 21st century. Assuming there is a future for humanity, historians will be writing and speculating about these events forever. But I get to see them firsthand.

I don't pretend that I can play any role in this unfolding catastrophe, much less delay or prevent it. I believe my role, as planned by my higher self before I was even born, and as prepared for me by my interest in relevant subject matters, is simply to observe and record what happens. Not to observe and record for others, but for myself.

Naturally, this newfound conviction of mine will not carry much weight with other people. As I said, it's subjective, and it can be dismissed as arbitrary and self-serving. But no one can dictate the meaning of another person's life. What's meaningful to you may not be meaningful to me, and vice versa. Some people find meaning in throwing Molotov cocktails at police cars. That is, I suppose, their destiny. As for me, my destiny is to watch everything spiral down the drain.

The present chaos will end, but it will be replaced by new outbreaks of mass panic and mass hysteria. Some archaeologists maintain that the great cities of the Mayan people were simply abandoned; the population moved out and never returned. I suspect that a contagion of panic and hysteria infected those populations. Something similar is happening now. Most of those who are actively involved in this epidemic of insanity have no real understanding; as Jesus said, they know not what they do. That, too, is fine.

I know what they do, and I am watching.

That's my job. It's the reason I'm still here.