This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Unity and uniformity

Some have recognized the problem of atomization on the social level, and there are frequent attempts to correct the disintegration of the social body and bring together again what has been fragmented, making true ‘communities’ possible once again. Unfortunately, the attempts seem to mistake unity, which would be healthy, with uniformity, which is something else altogether.

The human body is a unity—a coordinated and functional whole capable of feeling itself united with its component parts. Hence, I speak of my hand as my hand. In the unified setting of a vigorous community, we find the same identification of one part with another, hence my neighbor and our city.

Alternatively, a handful of dust is called a uniformity—a collection of similar particles brought into contact only circumstantially and held together artificially, but not unified in a meaningful way and incapable of possessing an identity. Instead of my neighbor, members of society are individuals held together by material necessity and cooperating mostly by force of law.

Although there are many aspects to this issue, one of the major distinctions between unity and uniformity is that the former possesses both identity and diversity, in the same way that the body has hands, feet, and head, and is empowered by diversity. Uniformity, on the contrary, is a mere collectivity, similar everywhere with little discernible variation, either in function or aesthetic. The ‘social body’ is composed of a hundred thousand right-hands, and an entire town might be sustained by the employment of one or two large industries.

The socio-political make-up of the Middle Ages, with its centrifugal tendencies, resulted in a varied spectrum of local personalities. Today there is no such thing as variation. Every American city has a Wal-Mart, a McDonalds. This is not unity—this has nothing at all to do with unity—it is uniformity: this is the handful of dust, coordinated and consumed by a carefully engineered industrial machine. It is the role of the individual, more the most part expendable, to manage this machine, and within the economic collectivity, no part can be differentiated from any other part, either cities or persons.

The traditional ideal is one of unity, since only unity brings about cooperation and community while at the same time permitting variation enough to satisfy the daunting range of human personalities and vocations. For the traditionalist, each community member plays a different role within one great web of meaning, and from the point of view, uniformity is a sign of death.

We speak of uniformity, but this process can also be referred to as ‘individuation’ since, instead of supporting the emergence of human personality, it demands its suppression, since the no machine can operate on a fuel that is varied, since in this context variation is equivalent to imperfection.

Industrial society does not need personalities, it needs employees. It needs a homogenous ‘workforce’ of machinery attendees, cash register operators, elementary school students with good grades who can all follow the same textbook. Uniqueness and variation lead to breakdown and inefficiency, and so industrialism seeks the disappearance of all uniqueness. It seeks uniformity, and it succeeds.

Pope Francis recently lamented the fact that the earth was becoming a perfect ‘sphere’ with no one place retaining any mark or contour distinguishing it from all the others. Adopting this geometrical representation, he argued for the ideal of the polyhedron:

“Here our model is not the sphere, which is no greater than its parts, where every point is equidistant from the center, and there are no differences between them. Instead, it is the polyhedron, which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness.”[1]

Ivan Illich provided another image. He spoke of the ‘funnel’ system currently at work, driving everything together into a mass; he called instead for the image of a ‘web’—a network widely dispersed susceptible to irregularities and imperfection, but all hanging together in a delicate, organic, and beautiful accord, all with a shared meaning and purpose.

[1] Evangelii Gaudium, 236.

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