How civilizations die

Think of the diagnostic process. You use this to fix your stove, figure out why your computer has weird pop-ups advertising Viagra, or understand what’s making your six-year-old upchuck so expressively at 4 am.

The process is straightforward: First, you recognize a problem; then, a series of symptoms; then, whatever states keep renewing those symptoms — here you eliminate a lot of false positives; finally, the causes of those symptoms come to light.

When they conduct a postmortem on the West, “they” will probably not be human. With the West will fall the brightest chance for humanity to rise above its own half-chimpanzee nature. Asia and Africa face problems that although farther away, dwarf our own. Those who examine the corpse of this civilization will probably come from far away, and be on some kind of civics field trip. “See, Xllggvxzxzort, this is how a mid-stage species passes on into the hereafter…”

What killed this civilization is not a thing, but an idea. This idea spread like wildfire through the citizens. It was an undoing of the contract which forms society, which is people trading some freedoms for the advantages of collective action.

This idea was the notion that the individual matters more than the process. Like materialism, it’s an insistence that what we have here and now is something more important than the eternal, even if we can feel the material stuff and see how solid, present and undeniable it is.

What built the West was a focus on the eternal. We investigated the natural laws like gravity that define how our world works; we built great empires on the principles of politics, philosophy and religion; we focused on the consequences of our actions, not the methods we had to use.

As a result, we built a great empire. This empire in turn made more people citizens than should have been citizens, and made prosperous even the stupidest among its ranks, and so soon drowned in idiots. They immediately insisted on equality, which is the notion that the vote of a genius is equal to the vote of a retarded person, criminal, idiot or pathological obsessive.

It’s no mystery that the West began its downward spiral as a result! Picking up momentum in 1215 with the Magna Carta, then going hog-wild with the storming of the Bastille in 1789, and finally reaching a passive-aggressive “peaceful” form in 1968, this idea has kept rolling and grinding us into the earth.

As a recent writer puts it adroitly:

Freedom wasn’t perfect here, but unlike the preponderance of world history, freedom abounded. America has seemingly forgotten what made her a beacon to the world. We downplay this bold experiment in favor of overblown tales of oppression. In the revision, America wasn’t unique because of its unprecedented liberty and resultant prosperity. According to cultural elitists, America was singularly vile for exploiting workers, enslaving blacks, robbing Indians and oppressing women.

As previously highlighted on Forbes, this reflects blatant cultural Marxism. Historically, few Americans found class antagonisms convincing. The Left substituted race, sex and other factors for the class conflict of orthodox Marxism. Under the guise of diversity, the Left seeks ideological uniformity uniting assorted grievance bearers in collective resentment against America’s cultural heritage.

Today our children are indoctrinated into perverse revisionism. Schools harp more on the KKK, slavery and Jim Crow than extol the heroism and unrivaled restraint of George Washington, the inventive genius of Thomas Edison or the innovative business acumen of Henry Ford. Our young know plenty about America’s perceived national sins, but little of her astounding achievements.

In an Orwellian redefinition of virtue, those who love America are smeared as intolerant bigots while those degrading the culture which sustains them pass as caring and compassionate. Most Americans intuitively perceive the hypocrisy of politically correct dogma, but few dare articulate their dismay, cowed into obsequiousness by the ubiquitous thought police. – Forbes

While he talks about free markets and freedom, both of which are somewhat fallacious as notions, his point is well-taken:

When we let nature manage us, and focused on creating, we did well.

When we turned into a moralistic society more concerned with wealth redistribution than creativity, all went to hell.

Nature is not PC. Nature is inherently Social Darwinist; in fact, nature is outright Darwinist. This means that those who adapt, prosper and reproduce offspring who can do the same are those who create the basis of the next generations. Nature recognizes that evolution branches, and some social groups and social classes in every society are more privileged, with higher abilities than others.

Our goal-oriented society, with its focus on the eternal, was entirely compatible with nature. It rewarded the good and smote the bad, and ignored those who did not distinguish themselves. It had a goal. It had a social hierarchy, rules and a value system. We have deposed all of these things in the name of “equality.”

The revolutionaries did not tell us that the price of equality was the destruction of our civilization. However, when you think about it, it makes sense. Equality should be granted in reward for performance, not before performance. Further, we need to reward those who do better at something than the rest. Everyone has a place (except sociopaths, incompetents, perverts, etc.) but in order to make a society that can do that, we need to push the best above the rest.

We have turned our back on the values that made us succeed, and traded them for values that make us “feel good” (if we’re not winning at life on any level):

Countless technological innovations we take for granted today are also result of the US space program and Shuttle research. The Space Shuttle program alone has generated more than 120 technology spinoffs, including miniaturized heart pumps that save lives, thermal protection system materials, bioreactors (help chemists design new drugs and antibodies), compact laboratory instruments, sensitive hand-held infrared cameras, light-emitting diodes for treatment of cancerous tumors, lighter and stronger prosthetic limbs, an extrication tool to remove accident victims from wrecked vehicles, and many more. (NASA has an entire website dedicated to spinoff technology.)

Now the Shuttle is gone and there is nothing to take its place. The US no longer has the ability to put astronauts into orbit. NASA will have to rely on the Russians to hitch a ride to the International Space Station – on the old-fashioned Soyuz spacecraft, at some $50 million per ride.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. A few years ago George W. Bush announced the return to manned space exploration with the Constellation program. Missions to the Moon (by 2020) were to be followed by a manned flight to Mars and beyond. Then came Barack Obama who, believing in social programs and wealth redistribution rather than science and exploration, promptly cancelled Constellation, the country’s only chance at continuing with human space flight.

In any case the space program no longer seems appropriate for today’s America. Space exploration was a symbol and inspiration for Americans who believed in excellence, courage, self-reliance, achievement, science (hard science, not the politically correct pseudo-science of today). That country no longer exists; its spirit has been broken. The “virtues” America, and the West, worship today – equality, diversity, feminism – are a fast-track to a third world status, not to the stars. – Money Honey Blog

And what caused us to shift this direction?

The oldest problem in humanity: people gaming the system.

Instead of choosing what is best, choose what is best — for you.

The two do not always intersect, and if you place yourself before all else (a condition called individualism), you will sacrifice the interests of the whole.

A death of a thousand cuts results. Society is dismantled, detail by detail, until we have “equality” — a keyword for individuals doing whatever they want and demanding the rest of us pay for it.

Another phrase for this is motivated reasoning, or people letting their self-interest skew their sense of logic:

University of Southern California academics Dan Simon and Nicholas Scurich couldn’t have known months ago that they would be unveiling the results of their “exploratory” study, “Lay Judgments of Judicial Decision-Making,” smack dab in the middle of a furious debate over the nation’s debt and deficit. But it turns out that their timing is impeccable. For here, in one place at one time, we are (again) reminded why government so often seems so broken to so many of us.

It’s human nature, folks. Our founding documents and governing institutions may aspire to Locke, but hundreds of years later we’re still chock full of Hobbes. We respect officials when they do what we want them to do. We disrespect them when they don’t. We are far less objective and justifiable than we think are with the rationales we endorse and employ. And everyone is looking out for themselves. No wonder there is so much cynicism toward law and politics. It’s not just coming from the top down, as angry citizens like to claim — it’s coming from the bottom up, too. – The Atlantic

Our democratic illusion is that if something is going wrong, the big dogs — government, politicians, “the rich,” corporations, religion — are to blame.

The reality is that if something at the top level is dysfunctional, it only is so because so many clueless voters allow themselves to be easily misled. By what? By self-interest while ignoring conventional knowledge and impact on the whole.

What is a criminal or sociopath? An extreme example of someone putting self before society, common sense, science and future consequences.

What is a narcissist? Someone oblivious to everyone around them and the consequences of their actions, because they are focused on themselves.

Together, what do these form? A more extreme version of the idea that undid our society.

Josh Foster (of the University of South Alabama) and I are releasing a study today showing that narcissistic traits are increasing even faster than we previously thought. From 2002 to 2007, college students’ scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) rose twice as fast as we’d found in an earlier study that covered changes between 1982 and 2006. (The NPI measures narcissistic traits among the normal population, not necessarily rising to the level of a clinical diagnosis).

Then there’s the shocking data recently released by researchers from the National Institutes of Health. They surveyed a nationally representative sample of 35,000 Americans about symptoms that can add up to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the more severe, clinical form of the trait. They asked if someone had ever experienced these symptoms in their lifetime, so you’d expect that older people would have a much higher rate than younger people since they’ve lived more years. However, the data go the opposite direction: Only 3% of people over 65 had ever experienced NPD, compared to nearly 10% of people in their twenties. It’s possible that older people forgot some symptoms from earlier in their lives, but that would have to be a large amount of forgetting to account for this big a discrepancy. With almost 1 out of 10 people in their twenties already experiencing NPD, it’s sobering to realize how high that number might go in the coming decades.

So the whole society has become more narcissistic – not just the people, but our entire value system. – Psychology Today

Equality makes individuals narcissistic.

They no longer have anything to prove; they have no reason to better themselves. They find external targets for their rage, like more successful people, instead of improving themselves.

And they breed. Both by influencing others to their worldview, and literally, by producing more legions of angry useless people.

The West has been drowning in these angry useless people for some time. In the old days, we sent them out to the fields and had them do work for hire, because unless told what to do, they did nothing.

Now we have to figure out a way to take away the power they wield — votes and consumer dollars — so we can rebuild the society they and their dogma has ruined.

This diagnosis is not as simple as blaming the rich (the left) or blaming a lack of Jesus in our modern world, but it lets us see what actually did us in: an idea, which produced a herd of militantly useless and selfish people, a.k.a. narcissists.

All of us who love living in a successful society, and not a third-world failure, value things like the space program, the military and other forward-thinking objectives. We are opposed by those who want the entitlement checks to keep coming.

The battle lines are drawn. Finally. We live in exciting times.

10 Comments

  1. J says:

    We can see what kind of civilization we are creating by observing who we put in a pedestal. A journey through the historic downtowns of Europe and America we have statues of heroes, philosophers, scientists.
    But now in Chicago we have a narcissistic, drug addict, hollow headed woman called Marylin Monroe. These are the signs in stone of what kind of value system we have created.

  2. Bob says:

    Great article.

    As bad as things are, I fear they might need to get a lot worse before people wake up and face hard truths about “equality” and “democracy”.

    It seems to me that you are gauging the worth of our present civilization by its continued ability to produce technological innovation. With a empirical and materialistic worldview, it seems to be the only real metric in which to judge a civilizations success.

    Up until recently, I would have agreed with this. But I now wonder if this materialistic view of the world is inseparable from all the other tendencies of the modern world that we loathe: egalitarianism, democracy, etc.

    Can a traditional-style civilization that views technological innovation as its primary goal even exist? I don’t know.

    Ancient civilizations produced materially impressive civilizations to be sure, but their societies were motivated by something supra-rational, beyond the world of nature as we see it. Maybe the only way the West can save itself is if it reconnects with this kind of thinking (something deeper than just a religious revival), which seems extremely unlikely to me.

    (Also, the Magna Charta wasn’t in 1066. It was 1215).

    1. (Also, the Magna Charta wasn’t in 1066. It was 1215).

      Thank you! I’m slipping, clearly.

      Can a traditional-style civilization that views technological innovation as its primary goal even exist? I don’t know.

      It can, but only if it sees technology as a method to its goal.

      Right now, our goal is the individual.

      If we have a higher goal, technology will serve that instead of whims, fancies, notions, dreams, drama, etc.

  3. crow says:

    Some of those sheep have nasty bruises on their heads.
    The dying of civilizations is a painful business, for sure.

  4. danielj says:

    Something even worse happened in 1066!

  5. JHB says:

    I’m not convinced the problem is individualism in itself, but something related, yet more specific: autonomy.

    Individualism is a healthy respect for originality, personality, and variety. What’s wrong is the idea of a disembodied ego, both in its existentialist (radical freedom) and behaviorist versions (blank slate). Autonomy generalizes the capitalist idea that we’re all at a deep, philosophical level, just consumers consuming in the void. Which is silly, if one recognizes that humanity, like individuals, have a nature.

  6. Bill says:

    How civilizations die: they rack up a huge debt load, cant come to a consensus on what to do about it, then their lenders start getting nervous:
    http://money.cnn.com/2011/08/05/news/economy/downgrade_rumors/index.htm?iref=BN1&hpt=hp_t1

  7. [...] Stevens – “How Civilizations Die“, “Cause for War“, “Helpless“, “How Liberalism Destroyed the [...]

  8. Mr. Armchair says:

    Gaming the system .. Yes! correct analysis.

    First hand observation confirms your claim. How many people have I seen “suddenly” develop JUST the right illness, problem etc. that has a program to devoted to it.. so that they can do no work and get paid for it.

    No, it all adds up. Build it up on debt, they don’t care. They’ll get theres , for a while.

    And that’s the damnable thing . The shortsightedness. Our plague today.

  9. Lior Dubnitzky says:

    What’s the deal with Thomas Edison?

    He was no inventive genius. It is an established fact that he exploited people by paying them money for inventing things for him so he could write it on his own name.

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