We are accustomed to thinking of our present time as the ultimate evolution of humankind. We look back and see that all of our ancestors existed just to produce, we think, what we have right now, which avoids some problems of the past, so we assume it is good. However, this is merely bias toward the present.
The problems that we consider solved comprise only part of the list of problems that we face, making our self-congratulatory triumph more a case of distraction than completion. If there is a possibility of something better, then our present time is far from and end position and more resembles a downturn before correction. Even more, we ignore the glories of the past.
If we reduce the argument to its simplest form, we find an argument that modernity has technology and wealth and is safer than any previous time, therefore is better, mainly because we fear those other times. We see bad things that happened to others and fear they could happen to us, despite making different choices than those who faced fate in the ways we fear.
Maybe that will convince us at first, but in the long term, that explanation begins to develop cracks. We see how many of our problems have been intractable because we will not admit the truth of them. We recognize that our art, literature, architecture, and even public speaking have declined to be pitiable, simplistic, and child-like. We see the corruption, insincerity and lack of innocence.
As a result, we realize on some level that our civilization is in decline. Occasionally someone says this in public, but always couches it as an inevitable result of history, and not a consequence of our choices. A prime example can be found in this chronological view of the inevitable end of the American century:
My third heresy says that the United States has less than a century left of its turn as top nation. Since the modern nation-state was invented around the year 1500, a succession of countries have taken turns at being top nation, first Spain, then France, Britain, America. Each turn lasted about 150 years. Ours began in 1920, so it should end about 2070. The reason why each top nation’s turn comes to an end is that the top nation becomes over-extended, militarily, economically and politically. Greater and greater efforts are required to maintain the number one position. Finally the over-extension becomes so extreme that the structure collapses. Already we can see in the American posture today some clear symptoms of over-extension.
Blaming over-extension provides a convenient scapegoat and to avoid the obvious condition that with power, societies become unstable, and that then shapes their citizens toward certain behaviors. The crisis proves to be not external, as he argues, but internal, as the civilization becomes unable to make choices, perhaps caused by how much a concentrated form of power is under attack from those who would usurp it. Another interpretation suggests that states which cease to focus on the internal, or self-improvement, become committed to the external as a means of holding themselves together, which is why they peak and then fall.
As is often discussed on this site, we see in these crises different manifestations of The Human Problem: our tendency to shape any activity around its audience, instead of around purpose, which we might see simply as social influences and peer pressure winning out over an ability to focus on the abstract goals of the activity. The failure of nations relates to The Human Problem, not “over-extension,” and democracy, diversity, and wealth expand it, but its fundamental method is caste revolt, by which The Herd of people without purpose overthrow those who are actually useful.
While this group are not entirely comprised of lower classes, it is the expansion of people who are lower echelon in consideration of their parallel “force of intellect” and “force of character” that overthrows nations. They are opposed by The Remnant, a small group of people who are capable of making both realistic and qualitatively good decisions — maybe five percent of your average European population — but this group usually does not recognize itself as what it is, so seems to always become overwhelmed by the others.
The basics of human civilization have not changed since before Biblical times. There are a few people who have an actual sense of identity, meaning a purpose which unites self and civilization with nature and the divine, and they make all of the important decisions that give civilization shape, where the rest are a vast crowd of people just milling around, competing for wealth and status, acting like a counter-current to the qualitative refinement of that civilization. The good want to go one way, and the rest are not so much an opposite, but people who are engaged in chaotic, pointless, distracting, or otherwise non-contributive behavior toward that goal. Certainly they do their jobs, pay their taxes, and obey the laws, but these are negative considerations, as opposed to measuring whether they advance the cause of civilization itself.
When this group wins out, society becomes internally disordered, and reverts to its most basic form, which is a mixed-culture crowd overseen by tyrannical leaders and run as an open-air bazaar. Almost all of the world, which exists at a third-world level of subsistence living, lives under these conditions, and not surprisingly, they produce little except when told exactly what to do with imminent consequences for failing to do so. Most people are slaves in their hearts, regardless of their condition outside, which is why they constantly blame others for oppressing them; this is their way of rationalizing their inner inability to be anything but slaves.
This means that degree of social order, not wealth, determines when a civilization will collapse.
Unlike Freeman Dyson who is quoted above, many of us see the broader problem: humans have forgotten — through centuries of willfully denying, erasing history, obscuring truths, and otherwise indulging in individualistic behavior at the expense of civilization — how to be civilized, which means the condition of having both social order and people who are genetically inclined to perform within it. In other words, the group gave in to the weakness of individuals, and lost its order which was larger than those individuals, thus like a body whose cells have turned against it, died.
What this means for us students of human history is that any society which does not restrain the impulses of individuals will be torn apart and consumed by them. Regulatory systems like democracy, including democratic republics, do not limit this, but rather enhance it, by shifting the moral center from the individual to following the rules. This sentiment appears also in some apropos words from John Adams:
Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.
Adams notes what Plato noted: the problem is individualism. When leaders are good, they pursue virtue instead of personal wealth because they have the foresight to know that with virtue comes qualitatively-enhanced adaptation, and with that comes wealth for everyone, but that with decline, all wealth is short-term because it is based on the stability of an increasingly unstable civilization. You can run away with your gold, but what can you buy with it, when there is no advanced civilization? At best, you get a rich man’s house in a poor man’s nation, where your children will find no mates of their own intelligence, and you will grow old among the sounds of foreign languages, with alien customs and none of the people or institutions that would appreciate anything good that you did.
With the rise in individualism, society becomes more inclined to cater to individuals, and this in turn changes individuals. Deleterious mutations increase because life is easier. Bad behaviors proliferate because they are rewarded. The ability to focus on purpose and principle disappears because it is irrelevant. Civilization turns into a race to the bottom as the lowest common denominator is rewarded. No matter what form of government this occurs under, the symptoms of the same: a managerial or outside-in approach, bureaucracy, consumerism, recycling wealth through self-referential economies, and the formation of a crowd which enforces these ideals on others.
We can even see this occurring in seeming opposites to our democratic modern state, as it did in the Soviet Union, such as modern China, which is heading for a similar boom-bust cycle because its power is based on the individualism of a consumer economy:
Alibaba has set another Single’s Day record after the e-commerce giant sold over $25 billion of product on the Chinese biggest online shopping date.
…That represents an impressive 39 percent increase on last year’s sales total of RMB 120.7 billion ($17.79 billion), and it comes nicely on the heels of another blockbuster quarter in which Alibaba’s revenue surged by 61 percent thanks to its core business in China.
For comparison, Alibaba’s Single’s Day haul puts America’s largest shopping days in the corner. Retailers pulled in a record $3 billion on Black Friday and then $3.45 billion on Cyber Monday, both of which were records.
We are emerging from The Age of Ideology, a time when what humans felt “should” be true was considered to be true because we had a self-referential crowd to enforce it through social pressures, democracy and consumer economics. When those reached global control, people realized that our way of life was miserable and would never change under the current order, and the pushback that has manifested in Brexit, Trump, and European identitarian cultural revolutions began. While the old order looks stable because it is generating money, much of this is merely hype based on its ability to sell junk to itself, and so will be as fragile as the dot-com bubble and bust cycle which is about to consume the American economy. These economic tragedies are not isolated events, but part of the larger process of civilization decline.
Donald J. Trump won because he conveyed two ideas to his audience:
His appeal was both practical and emotional. Americans had seen their country change radically since the increasing diversity push of the 1960s-1990s Leftist parties, who adopted the Communism vision of importing different races to erase national culture and leave only the Party as a source of meaning for citizens. Clever monkeys, they knew how to manipulate others, but only did so in a negative way which removed connections to the outsider world, and failed to build corresponding connections. This manipulation without regard to the needs of civilization creates the conditions for collapse.
Right now, the people of the West are trying to resist collapse because we are the only group with something to lose. If China collapses, it goes back to being a third-world country for another thousand years, which is not exactly unexpected anyway; if Brazil or Russia return to their original role as serf colonies, they will shrug and say “oh well,” because they never really anticipated having more than that anyway. But the first-world nations of the West, and those at the periphery like Israel and Japan, we depend on being organized as civilizations in order to survive, because only civilization recognizes what we have to offer as more important than the gyrations of tropical music, tasty ethnic food from climates where spices thrive, and the sexual license of impoverished lands.
The rising fashwave in the West emerged from this realization: people recognized that, in our zeal to tolerate the individual, we abandoned social order and gave way instead to socializing, or the habits of people that flatter each other and prize novelty in social settings, sort of like the “peer pressure” they warned you about in anti-drug ads in the 1980s. We see that the entire world has begun following this path started in The Renaissance™ and that it will doom them all, first by destroying social order, then crashing economies, then revealing a natural world savaged by our excess, and finally through the misery of people themselves, who will have become smaller, weaker, dumber, and of indecisive character.
Those who wish to avoid this fate will need to convince The Remnant of the following:
We, the people who can still independently think and may possess souls, can see the crowd forming around us. They are chaotic, pursuing individual ends that ultimately do not reward them, and they are defined by being unstable, mainly because they have no direction and instead fill in the gaps with a pursuit of self-interest based on whatever trends, illusions, fads, panics, or opportunistic situations present themselves. They are a vast group of no pride in its heritage mainly because it either has mixed heritage or no distinctive ancestors, that is cultureless for the same reason, and is filling the void with consumption such that it becomes like a plague of insects, consuming whatever it can in the moment and rejecting anything more complex, essentially cannibalizing civilization for a few moments of feeling better about its pointless existence.
The modern age winds down around us as we speak. Technology will remain, so long as we have enough social order to support it with the knowledge and innumerable parts it requires, but the belief in the individual and through that in mass culture has fallen. People are finding refuge in the “old” concepts of identity, culture, values, customs, faith, and naturalism. They no longer believe that humans can socially engineer a Utopia, or that socializing provides an alternative to understanding our world and mastering it. They know that this Utopia is crashing down around them, slowly at first, but that this will accelerate.
That Utopia made itself doomed by having no internal order. It built itself around the individual, which means a civilization of many small parts, not coordinated parts which produce an order greater than the sum of its constituent elements. As it turns out, we needed that gestalt in order to have a civilization, and we need a civilization in order to be appreciated, and to know who we are. The passage of modernity into oblivion will not be much lamented.