In 1886, Nietzsche wrote, “The time for petty politics is over: the very next century will bring the fight for the dominion of the earth–the compulsion to large-scale politics” (Beyond Good and Evil, section 208). That century has since come and passed, leaving us with the aftermath of the large-scale politics it brought.
Many will eagerly proclaim that this large-scale politics is the embodiment of the current system we find ourselves under, but I would have to disagree with any such sentiment. I see the faces of politics constantly changing; new slogans, new flags, new soundbites, new topics, new players, new wars, new issues, and new interpretations of old solutions. Indeed, the political scene is as grandiose as ever, but rather than being a reflection of the large-scale, it is really more of a retreat to the trivial. How petty must the “great” political debates of today sound to the observing bystander–where even large-scale issues are reduced to infantile bumper sticker catchphrases for the sake of our sensitive digestion.
I, like most of us, recognize that there are major problems with the system we live under. I know that a large part of the comforts I enjoy come at the expense of others, just as I know that the comforts of a good deal of people above me in the social hierarchy are maintained at my expense. I know this and, if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t care. I mean, I do care in an abstract, idealistic sense. But when it comes to actually taking a stand against the injustices of my society, my legs go rigid. I’m not being nihilistic, or fatalistic, by saying this; I am simply pointing out how I’m far too content with the place I am at to fight against the source of anyone’s chains. I’m not happy, or angry, or moody, or depressed; just content. I am content with my dependency on the mass consumerism that surrounds me (and my willing participation in it). I am content with my seemingly never-ending mortgage payments, my always forthcoming bills and expenses. I am content with knowing that my value to the social order I reside in is wholly judged by the monetary worth I contribute to its vast market. I am also content (though not happy) with the fact that a large number of my species would love nothing more than to trade my first-world problems in favor to the ongoing prevalence of moral leprosy that plagues their daily existence. All of this serves to make me the least dangerous man in the world; eager to flex his tongue against this and that, but with no intention to actually bite back against iniquity.
My relation to our societal structure leaves me feeling like a tiny gear amongst many, rotating within a larger machinery, whose exact goal and intent I cannot fully deduce from my standpoint, but, nonetheless, I continue to rotate in my part of the machine even long after my teeth have been eroded. I will never combat the injustices of society, to do so would mean to give up the solace of the trivialities being dangled in front of me; the petty, small-scale politics our grande policymakers retreat to at every election cycle, and we follow without hesitation. It’s not that we can’t recognize the large-scale problems plaguing our societal commonwealth–the depravity of the system itself–it’s that we are too pacified by our willingness to wage fervent battle over small-scale issues to be bothered by anything so nontrivial.
Nietzsche predicted accurately that the 20th Century was a fight for the dominion of the earth, but I predict that the 21st will be a race to evade the earth’s dominion over us. Not at first though. First, those at the podium will spend decades fervently quarreling over dull and outdated political disputes, which will further lull the majority of us debilitated masses into a state of perpetual passivity. Until this case of collective shell shock is broken by the unguided, uncaring assault coming from our planet’s womb; only then will the gears start to consider a new direction to rotate in, as the last facade of useless political thinking is left to rot in the furnace of the machine.
The 21 Century will be a happy one, as long as we don’t take it too seriously.