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Reply To: Don’t Look Up: The Doomsday Dilettante,” with mythologist Norland Téllez”

Robert Juliano


    I do see a solution in the film, though it may be far from being popular. About 10 years ago, I wrote a paper entitled Living into the Decline, a paper which was written from a place where we cannot solve certain essential problems such as human-caused climate decline. It is important to note here that the paper is not meant to be a pessimistic view. Instead, it looks at the state directly and acknowledges that the hero myth may not be applicable, that it may be too late for us to act in a ways which reverses the decline, that the road of no return may have already been reached, and it asks the critical question “What do we do then?” How to we proceed and, more importantly, what attitude must we cultivate to do so.

    The paper was written from a place that recognizes that we in the West are living in a period of decline and what I thought was the crucial issue of how one can live an authentic life during such a difficult period. This imagining was greatly influenced by my reading of Dr. Oswald Spengler’s excellent book Decline of the West, a book that views cultures as biological organisms whose life can be seen in terms the stages of birth, ascendancy, peak, decline, and inevitable death. ‘Civilization,’ Spengler wrote, embodies the final stage of a culture, the culture’s possibilities almost exhausted. And this is a similar view to Goethe in his short essay Geistesepochen (Epochs of the Spirit) which sees cultures as natural processes which go through four fundamental stages; Poetry, Theology, Philosophy, and Prose. Cultures begin with “deeply experienced perceptions” and end with “confusion, resistance, and dissolution.”

    The attitude I suggested which I think would be helpful in such circumstances is to see decline as a perfectly natural stage and to not necessarily assign to it negative judgment, a judgment which would potentially weaken our ability to lead authentic lives during this period. We must abandon the hero myth and embrace decline, solving what problems we can, but also being open to experiencing what decline brings. I believe that one must have the attitude similar to the “Rainmaker” of Kian Tschou who, when he restored himself to the Tao, there was a downpoaring of the rain that was urgently needed in a place that for many months had seen only drought. And it is with such an attitude that we can help each other likewise lead authentic lives.

    This is what I see as the solution expressed in the film (whether they intended it to be a solution or not) – everyone coming together at the dinner table and, with their entire being, authentically living in the moment … together.