Hard questions make the best pursuits because they are both prone to reveal the greatest truths, and are most commonly not just ignored but denied because they scare the heck out of us.
One of those hard questions appears when we consider the nature of civilization. On the surface, civilization brings great power; underneath, it seems that it sets a group of people on a course to slowly self-destruct. Perhaps like our stomach acid, or oxidation itself, civilization is a game of playing with fire that we have not quite adjusted to the point of being stable yet.
Many good things are this way. We are accustomed to flying in airplanes where a minute tweak to the stick could bring disaster not just to us but on the ground. We walk feet away from speeding cars, dwell in homes alongside captured fire and contained lightning that bring us warmth and light, and somewhere out there, nuclear weapons and nerve gas are ready for deployment.
But in our inner thoughts, we wonder how much civilization is actually bad for us. The instinct of the human in civilization is to react to threats by standardizing behavior in such a way that it excludes the threat. This creates a myriad of rules, taboos, punishments, and other negative reactions to drive us away from certain behaviors. But in so doing, it lessens our knowledge of why the threat is bad and how to avoid falling into it by doing something else instead. In effect, civilization subtracts behaviors at the expense of any sense of purpose or goal.
We can see this through a biological metaphor involving the humble German cockroach and the termites which evolved from its ancestors:
Termites are “social cockroaches.” They evolved from ancestral solitary cockroaches some 150 million years ago, at least 50 million years before bees, ants and wasps evolved similar intricate societies independently of termites. Termites live in complex societies characterized by division of labor of castes and close coordination of tasks among members of the colony. For example, the queen and king monopolize all reproduction within the colony, while workers and soldiers maintain and defend the colony. This separation of responsibilities within the colony requires clear recognition of who’s who and mechanisms to suppress worker reproduction when a fertile queen is present, and stimulate new queens to develop when the resident queen dies. At the same time, termites have a relatively simple lifestyle – they eat wood and rarely venture in the open. These changes from the ancestral solitary cockroach should be reflected in the organization of the termite genes, the genome.
…A paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution reports the sequencing, annotation and analysis of the genomes of the German cockroach, Blattella germanica, and the drywood termite, Cryptotermes secundus, within the context of the evolution of sociality in termites from solitary cockroaches. The team, including NC State entomologist Coby Schal and principal research scholar Ayako Wada-Katsumata, compared these genomes and those of 15 other insect species so that the evolution of gene families could be analyzed along the transition from non-social cockroaches to social termites. Of particular interest in this paper are the chemosensory genes, which are used in chemical communication – smell and taste. The nocturnal and omnivorous lifestyle of cockroaches requires substantial investment in sensitive and discerning senses of smell and taste, and the genome of the cockroach reflects this. Four families of chemosensory proteins enable insects to distinguish diverse foods, locate and recognize mates and aggregation sites (pheromones), and avoid poisons and pathogens. The German cockroach now holds the world record for the diversity of its chemosensory gene repertoire, and this resource will be invaluable for developing better lures and baits for pest control. The far more specialized but evolutionarily related termite experienced considerable losses of smell and taste genes, commensurate with the more specialized chemistry of its ecological habitat.
For the termite, the social order of the the mound replaces the need to react directly to nature. As long as an individual termite is fulfilling its role, it will be rewarded with life; on the other hand, a roach needs to do more than act out a role because it needs to achieve actual results. It is like the difference between a job and running a business.
The roaches remained independent and have developed a far more advanced sense of smell and taste because they are less efficient. They did not aim for a safe optimum, like an accountant, but instead remain open to whatever they can scrounge, where termites have specialized on a food source and environment. Specialization requires optimization to that specialty.
We can see the same process occur in the degradation of our delicious beer which has become, for lack of a better term, an alcohol-enhanced soft drink:
Designed from scratch today, a modern, profit-minded brewery would do no brewing. Instead, it would be a distillery — a lean, sterile study in efficiency that churns out pure alcohol from a cheap source of carbohydrates.
Artificial flavors and colors would go into that blank alcoholic base, the precise formulation depending on the desired style of beer. Maybe a little more color for a brown ale, a little less for pilsner. Fruitier flavors for hefeweizen, a chocolatey tone for stout.
For the finishing flourish, the “beer” would be hissed full of foam, then packaged and shipped off to thirsty drinkers across the globe.
We may whine and complain about this horrible “progress,” but it wins in two areas: efficiency and utilitarianism. It is much simpler, cheaper, easier, and most of all, safer to brew the way the big industries do, which is by distilling alcohol and then adding carbonation and artificial beer flavorings; this means the process is more “efficient” or produces greater results per amount of cost, at least as measured in profit.
Utilitarianism, or the idea that whatever people say they think makes them happy is the best choice, means that this beer is not measured in profit alone. For it to be profitable, most people have to like it. Unlike aristocrats, they do not concern themselves with the simplistic flavor profile and yucky origins of the beverage; they simply consume. And so the product succeeds.
Most of the writers and critics out there will criticize this approach but will be ignored because they are a relatively small group at least in contrast to the much larger audience that is purchasing this stuff. Food critics hate Big Macs, but the audience loves them. Political theorists hate American laws, but the majority of the people vote for the politicians that make them.
In this we see part of the crisis of civilization: if it does not have an internal hierarchy that places scornful aristocrats over plebeian consumption, the lowest common denominator will rule.
As a secondary problem, the presence of this lowest common denominator prompts people to try to distinguish themselves from it. Since most of them are in fact of it, this means a whole lot of LARPing about being unique and different. This causes them to fear being downgraded in importance for their attention-seeking behavior.
Civilization naturally reacts to fears, and out of fear of “racism” it turns to diversity, at which point those who fear being downgraded see an opportunity: they can create a camouflage for themselves out of social chaos, because if there is no standard of normalcy, then anything they want to do as individuals must be accepted.
Like most things that civilization does, this creates a situation no one is happy because different groups have conflicting goals including power over their own futures:
On campus, everybody suffers. “Some Asian Americans,” writes Mr. Dershowitz in his review, “argue that race-based affirmative action programs discriminate against Asian applicants. Some Jewish students point to anti-Israel hate speech, including accusations that they — American Jewish students — are complicit in genocide, apartheid and war crimes. Some Muslim students claim that the very presence of Zionists on campus makes them feel unsafe. Some Christian students say their religious beliefs, particularly regarding abortion and same-sex marriage, are mocked and belittled. Some gay, lesbian and transgender students feel marginalized in a hetero-dominant culture. Some women [argue] that campuses promote ‘rape culture’ and that allowing anti-abortion voices to be heard exacerbates the view that men control women’s bodies.”
Groups clash not just because they are innately biologically and genetically different but because in order to be a member of that group, they need to act out the customs of that group and work toward its self-interest, which is to become dominant in its territory before another group takes over. Think of West Side Story and all those gang movies which were essentially about conflict over “our territory” or “who owns this street.”
For a member of any group to lose identity with that group is for them to become less unique, and therefore to lose at the game of being important above the lowest common denominator. This means that unless forced, they will not give up their ethnic identity, because to do so is to lose their only real point of orientation.
This could explain why the only mixed-race groups that prosper are those which are also financially adept. They have another identity in their wealth and power.
With diversity, we see the extension of the entropy of civilization: it erases unique traits and replaces them with traits oriented toward obedience, which in human society is enforced through socializing. Those who do the same thing that everyone else is doing are rewarded, while those who go their own way are excluded.
Even more, human society works by demoting those who are not in touch with whatever is trending at the moment. Someone who does not know the latest movies, clubs, television, restaurants, and memes will be considered to be a lesser person than someone who is “in the know,” much as someone who does not know the latest stock tips is less “valuable” as a friend.
Staying in touch with fads, trends, gossip, news, entertainment, and shopping is a way to signal your allegiance to the crowd. It in effect says to them, “You and not I are most valuable,” and that makes them feel better about awarding you with popularity. It is an odd codependency where those who appear to be leaders are in fact servants, and those who appear to be servants are also servants, but can retaliate at any time, and is highly unstable.
This instability works in favor of those on the bottom. They are empowered to destroy those above them, which makes them feel powerful as they go off to their unnecessary jobs and wade through the bureaucracy. This power gives them the ability to destroy those who bring up unpopular truths, and this creates a death cycle.
Politicians, bureaucrats, and careerists think of themselves first: they have to pay the bills and feed their families. Once they learn that certain topics bring negative response, they stop bringing them up, and in order to fend off criticism, invent distractions and lies to cover their backs.
A distraction usually consists of identifying a different problem as the “real” problem while concealing the actual source of the system, and a lie can be as simple as claiming the problem is solved or insoluble. “It’s just human nature” or “we’re doing better than before” are powerful combinations of the two.
This creates a headless system, in that the unpopular truths are the ones centered on real threats, and public opinion forces their suppression. The system then veers between accepting some truth, and going into twenty-year binges of backlash against those moments, draining itself of energy.
Right now, we are in a backlash against the backlash to Ronald Reagan. From 1992 to 2016, the anti-conservative element — including neoconservatives — ruled America and Europe. Once it hit its peak in globalism, diversity, over-taxation, and other destructive policies, people momentarily rejected it through Trump/Brexit.
Leftism and its system liberal democracy debunked themselves in the best way possible, which is by succeeding and through that, creating failure conditions. The falling status of liberal democracies shows us that the future for Leftism is a bad one:
The highlight of last year’s summit was a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who earned ardent applause for his rousing defense of globalization. With the U.S. receding from the world, China has raced to fill the vacuum, a development with troubling implications. “If you’re American now, you have to answer the question,” says [Timothy] Snyder, the Yale historian. “Why is democracy a good idea if it brings you to this?” What good is democracy, the world wants to know, if the result is Trump?
Of course China likes globalism: with the West removing any barriers to foreign investment, those who are in the rising part of their economic cycle are benefiting, while the more mature Western economies are not only more slow-moving, but have been sabotaged by regulations, tax-and-spend policies, and endless favoritism toward the developing world through political correctness on an international level.
At the same time, Synder is incorrect: faith in democracy is not declining because of Trump; we have Trump because of declining faith in democracy worldwide. Democracy won, gained full power, and made a dystopic “Utopia” and now people want off that crazy train.
Like all things Leftist, democracy is based on the idea that people are equal, including roughly equal in their ability to make decisions. We have to think that, otherwise we are saying that some people make better decisions than others, and this means that the basis of modern society — overthrow of the aristocracy — was not just wrong, but suicidal. Few of us want the only other options, dictatorship, anarchy, or oligarchy, although facets of those are present in our current system, specifically oligarchy, since vote-buying by legal or illegal means is common.
One important idea from the American system was to make its democracy into a limited agency through a maze of rules and procedures outlined in the American Constitution. This failed sometime around 1865, and for the next hundred years America grew more democratic and less rule-oriented, but for the past nine years, there has been a backlash against that century of mob rule.
First Barack Obama took power and ruled autocratically like a third-world warlord, and then Donald Trump arose with “populism” which seems to be the idea that the vote does not represent the voice of the people, or at least the spirit of the people. When those people have been replaced with imported voters, this is not surprising.
Although Trump is doing good work at removing the Obama-Clinton damage, he has a century of wild democratic thought and policies that he will have to un-do, and under the American Constitution, that is too much for any president. Hence the growing dissatisfaction with democracy, much as Europe is irate at its elected leaders for denying Brexit and continuing to import more foreign voters.
This means that what we are looking at is not just the failure of liberal democracy but the failure of egalitarianism itself:
The bottom line is this: if liberalism is supposed to be all about the power of the people and allowing the people to do exactly as they please; why are so many people in even the most “successful” of liberal societies so constantly unhappy and discontented? The answer, as should be all to obvious by now given recent events in both Europe and America, is that the people are not actually ruling themselves, they never have done and doubtless never will. They are being ruled but not in an open and honest way and this means that they are being manipulated by those who are their rulers but do not wish to be seen as such. This, I think, is something no traditional monarch has or could ever be accused of doing. For them, such a thing would have been unseemly as well as unnecessary but in the liberal system of idealism, it must be done to maintain the charade, to keep hiding the truth that liberalism is just as totalitarian as every other political “ism” that has ever been devised.
People no longer have faith in “the system,” but they are making the important leap in understanding that reveals that the actual system is the psychology of voters. In groups, humans tend toward insanity because their first action is to remove any notions that offend or disturb others; in a group, the first goal is achieving consensus, and that twists the question to fit the answer that might be achieved in that group, instead of twisting the answer to fit the question, as one does when looking for a realistic, accurate, and forward-thinking response.
This means that democracy — and all other systems based on consensus — are doomed to fail, not because of the system, but because of the human element. For that reason, even tweaking these systems as the Americans did cannot work. They are permanently broken as idea because of the very nature of humans as social animals and of group dynamics as rewarding compromise and greater attention to fears than intangible goals.