This is an excerpt from Paul Kingsnorth’s essay “Finnegas”.
Now I will say what I believe: that this civilization will not learn anything from this virus. All this civilization wants to do is to get back to normal. Normal is cheap flights and cheap lattes, normal is Chinese girls sewing our T-shirts under armed guard, normal is biblical bushfires and barrels of oil, normal is city breaks and international conferences and African children poisoning their bodies sorting the plastic we have dumped on their coastlines, normal is nitrite pollution and burning stumps and the death of the seas.
We made this normal, and we do not know how to unmake it, or—whisper it—we do not want to.
But Earth does, and it will.
It turns out that we were never in control at all.
Control is what civilizations do. Perhaps it is what they are. Perhaps it is their central story. If we can control the world, we can protect ourselves from the darkness it contains. We can protect ourselves from what lies under the ground, in the tombs. Who doesn’t want to be protected? But who, in the end, can ever be?
Later in his autobiography, Moriarty writes that he is attempting to walk into culture. Into a culture so sure of itself that it wouldn’t ever need to become a civilization.
Cultures like that have existed before. They will again. But not yet. And when they come, people like us will not make them. We can’t. It is not our work.
Who knows what happens next? Maybe the virus will come and carry me away, me with my weak chest, me with my winter coughs, deepened every year by the damp Atlantic land I am grounded in, and there will be nothing to be done about this. Then my atoms and light will go back where they came from, or forward to somewhere else, and this is the way of things, and when exactly did we forget that? When exactly did we decide that our tiny little temporary mass of atoms, named and suited and given a role, pumped up with words and stories, should have any right at all to persist in its small form when all else is change and motion?
Nothing matters at all, and this is why everything does.
Look: the sun pierces the tunnel; the belly of the Mother is seeded again as another year begins. Something will be born when the summer comes. You do not need to catalogue it, understand it. You do not need to learn anything at all from it.
You can just watch it come.
Cultures that last are cultures that do not build. Cultures that last are cultures that do not seek to know what cannot be known. Cultures that last are cultures that crawl into their chthón without asking questions. Cultures that know how to be, that look at the sun on the mountain, and say, yes, this is the revelation.
People last when they do not eat apples that were not meant for them, when they do not steal fire they do not understand. People last when they sit in the sun and do nothing at all.
Let us learn from this! we say. Let us take this crisis and use it to make us better! Better people, more organized people, wiser people. Sleeker people, more efficient people. Let us become sustainable! Let us learn to tell new stories, for the old ones are broken now!
We should be saying: stories were the problem. We should be saying: no more stories, not from us.
We should be saying: break the stories, break them all. Nothing of this should be sustained.
We should be saying: no more normal. Not now, not ever.
We should be saying: we could die any moment, and this has always been true. Look at the beauty!
We should be saying: see the sunlight crawl down the passage of the tomb.
We should be saying: something is about to be illuminated.
We should be saying: watch.