I Hate The Sprawl
I Want This On My Tombstone

Two Smart People Discuss the Disintegration of Culture

I'm trying very hard, and so far successfully, to stifle my impulse to talk about the political crisis of the United States. The crisis is far from abating. It's quieter now that the frenzy surrounding Trump has ceased, but the basic situation hasn't changed, and I'm trying not to spend too much time fretting about the likely outcomes, which seem to me to range from not good to very bad. (All right, I'll go this far: I think the most likely is a continued decline toward a situation like that which has often existed in Latin American countries: a corrupt pseudo-republican government, a small class of very wealthy and powerful people, and a great many poor and almost-poor people.)

The civilizational crisis that underlies the political crisis, though, still engages my attention and still seems worth commenting on as part of my effort to grasp it. A British novelist named Paul Kingsnorth has emerged as an articulate and perceptive voice on that subject. This video is an hour of his conversation with a Canadian artist/thinker name Jonathan Pageau, previously unknown to me. It's very much worth watching as a sort of overview. The most interesting part to me begins a little less than halfway through; the first 25 minutes or so are introductory. I don't entirely agree with him about the importance of climate change, but that's relatively unimportant--I certainly agree that our culture's relationship to the created order is pretty sick. 

Rod Dreher has quoted and written about Kingsnorth frequently, and today is another instance. I have not yet read the First Things and other links in that piece, but as this post has been sitting half-finished for over a week and I'm ready to be done with it, I'm going to go ahead and say that they're most likely very much worth reading. 


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Jonathan Pageau seems to be an interesting person. I came across him a year or two ago because of an interview he did with Jordan Peterson. (They did another one recently, of which I've seen snippets, and it looked good too.) He has an interest in symbolism and can discuss it with what seems to be intelligence.

Kingsnorth is new to me. Whoops! A baby is crying...

I first read Kingsnorth about a dozen years ago when he put out a book that was something like a British Crunchy Cons called Real England. It was somewhat longer and more substantive than Dreher's book, however, and came from a more self-consciously leftist point of view.

I've followed him off and on over the years through his fracture with institutional environmentalism and his contributions to the "Dark Mountain" project, which I didn't fully agree with but still found fascinating. Upon reading some of his more recent stuff over the past couple years I remember saying to myself that it wouldn't surprise me if Kingsnorth one day became a Christian. Well apparently he did, back in January, and an Orthodox to boot, which I found very surprising.

I didn't read either of his first two novels, as they seemed like the sort of experimental fiction that I do not like. Dreher convinced me to try the new one, Alexandria, however, and I bought it late last year. I intend to give it a go in the near future. Kingsnorth is also responsible for introducing the work of Wendell Berry to the UK. A couple years ago he edited a selection of Berry's essays for an English publisher, marking the first time that Berry's work had appeared in England in any sort of substantive collection.

I'm mildly surprised that Berry had not appeared in England before then.

Never heard of the Dark Mountain project, but it looks somewhat interesting, though it's pretty obvious that I would have some reservations about it. Or maybe many reservations.


I mentioned that the first part of that talk is introductory--it includes Kingsnorth's background and his conversion.

Pageau "has an interest in symbolism." Indeed he does--this video series or YouTube channel or whatever it should be called--is called The Symbolic World, and as you'll see if/when you watch it, it has a very appealing video logo. There must be a word for that: a brief identifying clip, like a title or logo but not static.

I just read Kingsnorth's First Things piece. It's excellent. The story is broadly similar to my own. Here's the direct link:


Something I'm wondering about: he says he was baptized just recently, but since he was born into the CofE, it seems likely that he was baptized as a baby. If so, that's probably a factor in his story.

I have looked at Pageau's website recently, although I don't really remember what led me there. I had also seen part of his recent interview with JP-well, I guess he's JP, too. I have been meaning to look up more about him.


Many Orthodox churches will "rebaptize" a convert if there's a question about the original baptism's validity. Usually this has to do with the Trinitarian commitment of the person's former tradition. Some of the stricter Orthodox will rebaptize no matter what, but that tends to be a minority position.

Yes, we do that, too, for the same reason. Though it's not called "re", but "conditional" : "if you are not already baptized, I baptize you..." In fact I was conditionally baptized because the priest had doubts about the validity of my Methodist baptism. We would consider a normal CofE baptism valid but perhaps his Orthodox church did not. Or, who knows, maybe he wasn't baptized at all.

Anyway, what I was wondering was, if he had indeed been validly baptized, what that may have had to do, on the supernatural side, with his conversion. It would not be the first such unexpected conversion of a lifelong unbeliever who turns out to have been baptized as a child.

Yes, I'd agree with both observations.

There's a 2014 profile of Kingsnorth in the NY Times that mentions his father's suicide. Made me think of Walker Percy.

Alas, the NYT site won't let me see that. Says I've reached my limit of free articles, even when I try to get around it by using a VPN. But anyway: that's got to have a gigantic effect on a child.

Here's how that NY Times piece describes it: "In August 2007, as he was picking flowers in the small back garden of his house, he got a call that his father had killed himself. Kingsnorth’s father had been living in Cyprus, in semiretirement. His marriage had fallen apart. He had a nervous breakdown and spent time in a psychiatric hospital. One morning, he wrote a bitter suicide note, got in his car and drove full speed into a parked truck."

Just awful.

So Kingsnorth was an adult, then. I guess that would be less damaging, though certainly awful enough. I hope nobody was in the truck.

I really enjoyed this conversation. I went at it twice, & may give it another go. Many things came out of it that surprised me. The importance & necessity of self sacrifice, for example. How nothing works without it! It is so counter-cultural. Everyone is admonished to never stand down to get what they want, and of course we all deserve that. Without Christ, the Divine, God, love at the centre, any culture will will be a perversion. So many good points.
I went to read Paul Kingsnorth's conversion story in First Things as well. He is the walking example of the human need for God, truth, worship, etc ...it led him to Orthodoxy despite himself. 'The Hound of Heaven'... I love his comment about the liturgy- Oh! God is in the room!.

I think the overall sense that I came away with was the strength of his conviction that it is basically crazy to try to found a civilization with no founding in or even connection to the transcendent. That such a connection is fundamental to human nature, entirely apart from the question of which conception of the transcendent is valid. And the sick ways people are unconsciously trying to bring it back in various disguised forms.

That's a really good summary, Mac.

Thank you.

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