Looking backward, and ahead, with gratitude
The Upheaval turned two years old on April 7. I had intended to write a reflection for the occasion, as I did for year one, but ended up missing the anniversary. I felt like there was still something big missing that I had to finish first before I could truly mark the milestone. That thing was writing “The China Convergence.”
This Substack was founded as a personal investigation into our ongoing collective “upheaval” and its causes and consequences. “What is happening? Why is it happening? Where are we headed?” These were questions I posed for myself in my very first essay here (expecting then that few others, if any, would ever read my attempted investigations). With “The China Convergence” completed alongside “A Prophecy of Evil: Tolkien, Lewis, and Technocratic Nihilism,” I’m now relatively satisfied that I’ve answered those questions, at least for myself.
Read in conjunction with each other, I think these two essays largely explain, to the best of my ability to articulate, the conclusions I’ve come to over the past two years about what the upheaval is, fundamentally. They also each represent, in a sense, the two sides of the phenomenon that I’ve come to recognize as realities: the worldly and the spiritual, respectively. That is not a distinction I anticipated making when I began this journey, but here we are.
Looking back, I can also see how my views have changed in another especially important respect. When I began writing here, I assumed our problem must essentially be one of growing chaos: a kind of fiery civilizational breakdown wrought by crazy people with crazy revolutionary ideas who were hell-bent on overturning the benign stability of the old Western liberal order. Indeed, the Chinese character I chose to use as the logo of this site is 乱, or luan, which means “chaos” (or “disorder; upheaval”). I no longer believe this is fully accurate – at least in my original conception. Because the call is coming from inside the house, so to speak.
What we are experiencing is not an outbreak of spontaneous chaos and collapse, but the unwelcome imposition from above of a solidifying order of control, cold as iron and heartless as ice. This order is driven by a quiet fury at existence that our own civilization has birthed, and it is intent on replacing our organic reality with a new, managed regime in which everything will be subject to its surveillance and control and ordered to its will. But of course this order cannot be true order at all – for it bears no accordance with Truth – but only an order false, twisted, and terrible, which must necessarily superimpose itself on true reality by force. It is a tyranny in the truest sense; chaos all over again, but dressed up in robes of false and illegitimate authority. And so, unsurprisingly, wherever this false order’s cold, unliving hand grasps the earth, there disorder, decay, and a sick absurdity grow unchecked.
If that didn’t make much sense, well… it’s an idea that probably deserves its own essay to explain. For now it’s likely enough to simply say that I’ve concluded the upheaval we face around the world today is essentially the consequence of the (re)arrival of totalitarianism. This is a frightening but important diagnosis to reach. It must determine the whole structure of how to respond, if we are to respond – as I believe we must – to this threat.
It also means that it is I think time to move past the diagnostic phase of this Substack. Already the hour feels late, and it seems like the time to try to contribute at least marginally to identifying the means to help push back this darkness or find a way out. So, while I reserve the right to continue writing pieces simply to explore whatever interests or amuses me (hey, it’s what’s worked so far!), I intend the thrust of my work here to shift more towards the question of what is to be done. Unfortunately this is a far more difficult project than diagnosis, which is why every author with good sense avoids it.
But, in what I hope will aid the effort, I am both pleased and terrified to say that, come later this fall, I will finally be departing my day job to “be a writer” as a fulltime vocation. For more than two years, I’ve been trying to maintain at least a decent pace here using only my spare hours, but that is becoming more and more untenable. And now seems like the right time for choosing. Relatedly, if all goes well I am also planning some exciting “real world” ventures beyond the pages of this site, which I can hopefully soon begin to let you know more about as they take shape.
This all still feels like quite the leap for me, however. There is the jump into general uncertainty, of course. But I am also particularly concerned that this is precisely the moment when managerial control over the information environment is due to only further accelerate. As other Substack authors have noted, in recent months it has become harder and harder to attract new traffic as the platform is progressively ring-fenced algorithmically. The flourishing of independent writing on Substack over the last few years has been a real grassroots miracle – and no doubt a terrible thorn in the side of those powers-that-be who would love to see it smothered. I expect things will only get more difficult for us from here on.
Therefore I’m putting my full faith in you, my subscribers. None of this would or will be possible without your amazing support. So please let me express my profound gratitude to all of you who have unexpectedly made this whole Substack thing possible: to every one of you who has purchased a paid subscription; to all those who have shared my writing with friends and family, or on social media; and to all those who have let me know through your many comments and emails that you think what I’m doing is valuable, or thought-provoking, or sanity-inducing... You are all the very best.
So, as a soon-to-be-independent author who must learn to do the self-promotion thing, let me conclude by also making an appeal: though I intentionally leave much of what I write outside the paywall, if you at all like what I’m writing, and think it’s worthwhile, please subscribe now if you haven’t yet, so that I can keep going here. There’s a lot more to come.Warmest regards, N.S. LyonsSubscribe