The word ‘neoreaction’ is a split, productively paradoxical formula, simultaneously referencing two incompatible cultural formations, each corresponding to an abstract model of time. On one side, it is a gateway opening onto techno-libertarian hyper-progressivism, and an order of time structured by irreversible accumulation, self-envelopment, and catastrophe horizon (Singularity). On the other, it opens onto the temporality of reaction and the cycle, where all progress is illusion, and all innovation anticipated. Within NRx, the time of escape and the time of return seek an obscure synthesis, at once unprecedented and primordial, whose cryptic figure is the spiral. (This is the time of the Old Ones and the Outside, from which the shoggoth come.) If NRx thinks itself already lodged articulately in this synthesis, it deludes itself.
From a strictly philosophical perspective, the time of reaction finds no defender more able than Archdruid John Michael Greer. while his specific form of religious traditionalism, his social attitudes, and his eco-political commitments are all profoundly questionable from the standpoint of throne-and altar reaction, his model of time cannot be surpassed in an Old Right direction. Those who would install a prejudice of relentless degeneration in its place, anchored by a revealed religion of recent creation and subsequent continuous fall, only position themselves to the ‘right’ of Greer by making God a revolutionary. If deep time is to be preserved, there can be no archaic authority beyond the cycle.
Why call Greer a reactionary? It is not, after all, a label he would accept for himself. The answer lies in cyclical time, and everything that follows from it: the supremacy of wisdom among human things, the enduring authority of history, the dismissal of modernist pretension as a mere mask for deep historical repetition, an absolute disillusionment with progress, and an adamantine prognosis that — from the peak of fake ‘improvement’ where we find ourselves — a grinding course of decline over coming centuries is an inevitability. The cultural and political decoration can be faulted, but in the fundamental structure of Greer’s thinking, reaction is perfected.
There is a religious consideration to be noted here, as the stepping stone to another point. Once the cyclical counter-assumption is adopted — in a definitive break from modernist ideology — it leads inexorably to an expansion of the time frame. To see the pattern, it is necessary to pan out. An apparent rise is only rendered intelligible by its complementary fall. An event makes sense to the extent that it can be identified as a repetition, through subsumption into a persistent rhythm, which means that to understand it is to pull back from it, into ever wider expanses of history. Recognized precedent is wisdom.
Reaction is thus construed as a critique of modernist myopia. The appearance of innovation derives from a failure to see a larger whole. If something looks new, it is because not enough is being seen.
No surprise, then, to find Greer seize upon an opportunity to discuss The Next Ten Billion Years. At such scales, fluctuations of fortune are fully contextualized, so that no uncompensated progressions remain. After just 1% of this time has passed:
The long glacial epoch that began in the Pleistocene has finally ended, and the Earth is returning to its more usual status as a steamy jungle planet. This latest set of changes proves to be just that little bit too much for humanity. No fewer than 8,639 global civilizations have risen and fallen over the last ten million years, each with its own unique sciences, technologies, arts, literatures, philosophies, and ways of thinking about the cosmos; the shortest-lived lasted for less than a century before blowing itself to smithereens, while the longest-lasting endured for eight millennia before finally winding down.
All that is over now. There are still relict populations of human beings in Antarctica and a few island chains, and another million years will pass before cascading climatic and ecological changes finally push the last of them over the brink into extinction. Meanwhile, in the tropical forests of what is now southern Siberia, the descendants of raccoons who crossed the Bering land bridge during the last great ice age are proliferating rapidly, expanding into empty ecological niches once filled by the larger primates. In another thirty million years or so, their descendants will come down from the trees.
Everything that rises will fall.
Such vastly panned-out perspectives are also relevant to the competitive catastrophe theorizing that is so close to the dead heart of this blog. Any conceivable disaster has an associated time-frame, within which it is no more than a wandering fluctuation. Recovery from deep dysgenic decline requires only a few millennia, extinction of the human species perhaps a few tens of millions of years, full restoration of terrestrial fossil fuel deposits, 100 million years or so. Vicissitudes on the down-side scarcely register as tremors in the meanderings of geological time.
There is more to time-scales than more time. Whatever else anthropomorphism is — and it is a lot of other things — it is a scale of time. To be human is to be situated, distinctively, within a spectrum of frequencies. In our wavelength zone, a second is a short time, and a century is long. These lower and upper bounds of significant duration correspond respectively to the biophysics of mammalian motility and to the outer-limits of mortal plans. The cosmic arbitrariness of this scalar time region is very easy to see.
The digital tick of time in our universe is set by the passage of a photon across a Planck-length (in a vacuum), approximately 5.4 x 10^-44 seconds. This is not a number readily intuited. A comparison to the (mere) 4.3 x 10^17 seconds that have so far lapsed during the entire history of the universe perhaps provides some vague sense. (Anthropomorphic time-scale bias is at least roughly as blinding to minuscule durations as to enormous ones.)
The upper limits of the cosmic time-scale are harder to identify. Speculative cosmological models predict the evolution of the Universe out to 10^60 years or more, when the last of the black holes have evaporated. The Stelliferous Era (in which new stars are born) is expected to last for only 100 trillion (10^14) years, out to approximately 7,000 times the present age of the universe. (If the stelliferous universe were analogized to a human being with a one-century life-expectancy, it would presently be an infant, just entering its sixth post-natal day, with 987 billion years to wait until its anthropomorphic first birthday).
Beyond the human time scale lie immensities, and intensities. The latter are especially susceptible to neglect. When — over half a century ago — Richard Feynman anticipated nano-engineering with the words [there’s] “Plenty of Room at the Bottom” he opened prospects of time involution, as well as miniaturization in space. A process migrating in the direction of the incomprehensibly distant Planck limit makes time for itself, in a way quite different from any endurance in temporal extension. Consider ‘now’ to be a second, as it is approximately at the anthropomorphic scale, and its inner durations are potentially near-limitless — vastly exceeding all the time the human species could make available to itself even by persisting to the death of the universe’s last star. A femto-scale intelligence system could explore the rise and fall of entire biological phyla, in detail, in a period so minuscule it would entirely escape human apprehension as sub-momentary, or subliminal. The ultimate eons are less ahead than within.
Greer envisages no escape from the anthropomorphic bandwidth of time. Within his far-future speculation, each new intelligent species that arises is implicitly ‘anthropomorphic’ in this sense. After Earth has died, its particles are strewn among the nearby stars, and incorporated into the body of an alien species:
The creature’s biochemistry, structure, and life cycle have nothing in common with yours, dear reader. Its world, its sensory organs, its mind and its feelings would be utterly alien to you, even if ten billion years didn’t separate you. Nonetheless, it so happens that a few atoms that are currently part of your brain, as you read these words, will also be part of the brain-analogue of the creature on the crag on that distant, not-yet-existing world. Does that fact horrify you, intrigue you, console you, leave you cold?
If coldness is the appropriate response to seeing time still imprisoned, ten billion years from now, then Greer’s vision is chilling. For it to be compelling, however, would take far more.
Though only implicit, it would be grudging to deny Greer credit for the excavation of a crucial reactionary proposition: Nothing will ever break into the vaults of time. This is not an assertion to which Outside in is yet ready to defer.
ADDED: An exercise in extensive time perspective.