The end of ideas

When you were in school, you probably noticed that some kids seemed like natural leaders. They were ahead of the pack because they were good at stuff — sports, school or socializing.

Although there was a lot of overlap, another group existed. These kids were good at being popular. That meant somewhat good at socializing, sometimes good at sports, but it wasn’t really any of those things. It was being good at being popular, at knowing how to draw attention to oneself.

When our culture turned leftist in the 1990s, inheriting a president and its ideals from the passive revolts of 1968, the popular kids shifted in composition. It was no longer the football players, honor students and rich kids; it was the freaks, the formerly unpopular, the nerds, outcasts and other rebels.

They had a simple appeal: self-hatred. Our country is bad; our culture is bad; the majority is bad. The only good thing is being different. Be unique, be your own person, have a life, don’t follow the herd, who cares about who succeeds? What matters is being true to yourself, which you show us by being different.

As it always does under liberalism, the focus shifted from “let’s win at life” to “let’s express ourselves and act out our desires, sensations and self-image.” The goal is not end results, but a constant suspension in a method of constant self-expression that makes the individual feel good. Hang the consequences.

Thus continued a gradual process that began thousands of years ago. It flowered in Athens, where democracy went from being a council of wise elders to mob rule, and then into Israel, where anti-Roman revolutionaries perverted the Jewish notion of morality into a pissing contest for egalitarian brownie points. It even blighted Rome, turning a prosperous empire into a decadent and self-pitying collapse.

In revolutionary France, and Russia, it really gained momentum and showed its true colors: a Crowd of selfish individuals, demanding that no one tell them what to do and yet that the group support them, as a means of excusing their own failings in life.

Their purpose was the opposite of what guided conservative Europe, which was a desire to confront one’s own fears and inadequacies and beat them, as a means of achieving better end results and a society of wisdom, beauty and technology.

A recent article in the New York Times spells out the consequences of this gradual liberalization:

If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé.

It is no secret, especially here in America, that we live in a post-Enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy. – NYT

Let us quickly summarize: we are living in a post-idea world because ideas are not popular and therefore, not profitable.

In other words, what people want to believe trumps what they can logically believe. We have left reality behind, and replaced it with socialization.

Then again, this was a clear consequence of letting the individual do whatever he or she wanted. Equality makes every decision valid, which means the individual is no longer beholden to any checks on their behavior except laws, social taboos and economics.

As society expands with technology, and it gets easier to earn a basic living, these constraints even relax. As long as you get some kind of job, and keep showing up for even mediocre performance, the paychecks keep rolling. So do the credit cards. This leaves lots of time for insanity.

Over the past forty years, we have seen the family unit collapse as social standards collapsed, and the ability of any two people in any Western country to have anything in common except the trivial collapse. We have seen our institutions follow in this collapse, and now, the performance of our leaders and economy.

Art died a painful death, perhaps first, being converted from the pursuit of meaning to the pursuit of the unique, with meaning explained as a form of justification through increasingly convoluted theories. Despite this seeming to be the arrival of big ideas, it was a retreat from large concepts into small granular explanations.

What is left? An emptiness so profound it impels us to self-destruct, or find some way to embrace the plastic and hollow as “meaningful”:

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society. – AdBusters

Mainstream and underground together are different symptoms of the same cause, which is a lack of direction. When we replaced reason with popularity, we replaced the notion of any cause in common. That means there is nothing under the surface. Everything is appearance.

You can only drink so many beers, snort so many drugs, take home so many sluts, play so many video games, and express yourself to the empty sky so many times before you see the futility. But what is the option? To deviate from this shallow path is to be seen as a public enemy.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

26 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    “As it always does under liberalism, the focus shifted from ‘let’s win at life’ to ‘let’s express ourselves and act out our desires, sensations and self-image.’ The goal is not end results, but a constant suspension in a method of constant self-expression that makes the individual feel good. Hang the consequences.”

    How exactly are self-expression and consequentialist thought in opposition to each other? Having been one of the “different” kids in school I can honestly never say that I was popular or that I never wanted to “win at life”. Also, why do you attribute every idea you disagree with with liberalism? There are other political ideologies other than liberalism and conservatism you know.

    “They had a simple appeal: self-hatred. Our country is bad; our culture is bad; the majority is bad. The only good thing is being different. Be unique, be your own person, have a life, don’t follow the herd, who cares about who succeeds? What matters is being true to yourself, which you show us by being different.”

    I don’t see how despising your country which you didn’t even choose to born in, your culture which is consumerist, and the vast majority of people around you (who in my case are morons) is a bad thing or how it makes one “unique”. I absolutely can’t stand my country, it’s culture, and most importantly it’s people, but does that make me special? No. Does that mean I don’t want to succeed in life? No. I believe in being true to yourself, but I don’t think you have to fail at life or be a complete freak to do so. To me, being yourself is about having an enlightened self-interest, pursuing the things that bring the most long term happiness.

    1. crow says:

      I guess it went right over your head, again, Robert.
      When it’s all about you, then no other awareness is available to you, for consideration.
      It certainly is a problem: how to prevent civilization from rolling over the cliff edge, when its former members can no longer recognize what civilization is.

      1. Robert says:

        “When it’s all about you, then no other awareness is available to you, for consideration.”

        First off, how are my views egocentric? When did I ever say that it’s all about me?

        Secondly, you’re not actually refuting any of what I said. You’re simply diverting the attention away from my criticisms by claiming that I’m narcissistic and narrow minded, which you didn’t actually give any supporting evidence for which leads me to believe that you are simply trying to dismiss me without actually addressing anything I said.

        “It certainly is a problem: how to prevent civilization from rolling over the cliff edge, when its former members can no longer recognize what civilization is.”

        I don’t recall addressing the fall of civilization so I don’t see how that statement is at all relevant.

        1. crow says:

          I was observing what I see, Robert.
          Clearly you do not see what I see, which is what I had observed.
          You’re in no way unusual; on the contrary: there are probably more people like you than there are people who are not like you.
          I suppose that makes you ordinary.
          Brett sees something that many do not, and writes about it. That would, I suppose, make him extraordinary. Would you prefer to only read things you already know about?

          1. Robert says:

            “Clearly you do not see what I see, which is what I had observed.”

            That’s rather obvious. You apparently fail to see what I see as well. Since we’re on the topic, do you mind explaining why you see what you see?

            “You’re in no way unusual; on the contrary: there are probably more people like you than there are people who are not like you.”

            You don’t even know me.

            “Brett sees something that many do not, and writes about it. That would, I suppose, make him extraordinary. Would you prefer to only read things you already know about?”

            crow, please stop resorting to calling me close minded unless you can actually present a real example me of refusing to discuss an issue. Also, you still haven’t addressed a single one of my criticisms yet and now you’re giving Brett praise for writing an article which is certainly not his best. I’m actually quite fond of most of his articles, but his constant demonization of unpopular and working class people (though the way he talks about them “peasantry” might be more accurate) is very insipid and gives him the appearance of being an upper class snob.

  2. crow says:

    It’s really very clear:
    I support Brett’s view.
    I do not support yours.
    There is no debate to be had.
    I have no proof of anything to offer.
    Nor any desire to offer it, if I had any.
    You are saying what you feel like saying.
    So am I.
    I hope that is settled, now.

    1. Robert says:

      “I support Brett’s view.
      I do not support yours.”

      I already knew that. What you failed to do was explain why.

      “There is no debate to be had.
      I have no proof of anything to offer.
      Nor any desire to offer it, if I had any.”

      Then why bother me talking to me in the first place?

      “You are saying what you feel like saying.
      So am I.
      I hope that is settled, now.”

      Of course we’re saying what we feel like saying, for what other reason would we possibly leave comments on amerika.org for in the first place?

      1. crow says:

        I was talking to you because you were talking to me.
        I didn’t expect it to amount to anything: these things never do.
        My initial comment was for the world to see, as opposed to only you. It observed that the ones who see the world as all about them are, by definition, unable to see anything else but themselves and their own responses to things around them.

  3. Robert says:

    “I was talking to you because you were talking to me.”

    Bullshit. You replied to my comment first.

    “I didn’t expect it to amount to anything: these things never do.”

    Indeed.

    “My initial comment was for the world to see, as opposed to only you.”

    Then why did you direct at me?

    “It observed that the ones who see the world as all about them are, by definition, unable to see anything else but themselves and their own responses to things around them.”

    I would disagree that you effectively communicated that, but it is indeed true that people who are self-absorbed are oblivious to reality. On that issue I must agree.

    1. crow says:

      The world is made up of a great many people who are not you. But if you insert yourself into the eyes of the world, and by name, then the chances are that the world will respond to that name.
      I happen to be a part of the world.
      I responded to what you said.
      Although, not solely to you.
      We are different, you see.
      But it is interesting that we do, in fact, seem to agree on something.
      Have you considered applying that which you agree with, to yourself?
      Hypothetically, of course.

      1. Robert says:

        “The world is made up of a great many people who are not you. But if you insert yourself into the eyes of the world, and by name, then the chances are that the world will respond to that name.
        I happen to be a part of the world.
        I responded to what you said.
        Although, not solely to you.”

        Thank you for elaborating. I can see how that’s a valid reason to respond to my comment.

        “But it is interesting that we do, in fact, seem to agree on something.
        Have you considered applying that which you agree with, to yourself?
        Hypothetically, of course.”

        Yes, I do in fact try to apply it to my daily life.

        1. crow says:

          That’s the spirit :)
          So many of us are unnecessarily enemies.
          It generally stems from willy-nilly use of language, and misinterpretation of the resulting ambiguity.
          Less is so often better than more.
          And goodwill, applied, the epoxy that cements our purpose.

          1. Robert says:

            Agreed. :)

  4. EvilBuzzard says:

    We have benned all consequence. All ideas come freighted with consequence. Guess what the missing logical implication of my 1st two sentences is…..

    1. EvilBuzzard says:

      Darnnit! banned, not benned! 1st they come for ideas, and then spelling doesn’t have a prayer.

      1. crow says:

        Lol :)
        “Benned” is equally valid, if you are a South African.

  5. kinderling says:

    Goys, can we get back on topic. (Doh!)

    “I don’t see how despising your country which you didn’t even choose to born in, your culture which is consumerist, and the vast majority of people around you (who in my case are morons) is a bad thing or how it makes one “unique”.

    This is what every convert receives: hating what they once were and blaming the people and culture they came from. Not then, ‘forgive them for what they do, because I now know that I know nothing, having come out of a deep hypnotic state they were in,’ but rather ‘heh, I’ve just been inform I’m better by thinking who I am! ….and as long as I remain thinking good thoughts my agreeable fairweather friends inform me I won’t be completely ostracized… or even killed!’.

    Self-hatred, caused by demoralization, is either to self-harm or to transpose self-loathing onto everyone else to never see yourself.

    1. crow says:

      Nice. That’s about the size of it.

  6. Ryan says:

    awesome article here, wow this blog is literally bringing up better stuff and more interesting ideas than my college profs (libtards). and i totally hear mr stevens, no matter what you do, you can still feel the hint of futility of everything. DAMN THOSE NIHILISTs!

    1. crow says:

      Interestingly, Brett claims to be a Nihilist.
      But certainly not in the sense that the term is usually understood.
      I vote he should write an article explicitly about this.

      1. Robert says:

        Agreed. Most people can’t differentiate between fatalism and nihilism so an article addressing that issue would be helpful.

      2. Ryan says:

        i was “damning” those existential philosophers whose ideas were instrumental, even if they were (and most likely warped) to help undermine cultural solidarity in the west. nihilists such as camus, sartre, etc. and of course the whole “god is dead” part. but i honestly don’t have any problem with a “nihilist” which no one can claim to be (as it is living without any values, so being a self described “nihilist” is silly, not that i mean any insult to you or mr. stevens). i think we are all living in a state of NIHILISM due to our culture and its depraved obsession with equality.

        1. crow says:

          You’re right. That’s the stuff of collapsing civilizations. But Brett has a very interesting slant on Nihilism, that he once explained to me, more or less. It must be not easy, explaining complex stuff to a crow. It left me not very much the wiser, but it wasn’t like any definition I ever came across before.
          Wait for it… :)

          1. Ryan says:

            i await it eagerly, damn it!

  7. Ryan says:

    also where did you get that quote at the end of the piece? it is great, i think im gonna go and spray paint it on a wall to express myself (just kidding of course), but actually it is quite profound. i should have written “damn hipsters” not damn nihists, but that was i always meant

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