Is power the path to self-destruction?

All great empires look the same after they die.

They resemble what we might call “third world” living conditions, with a venomous oligarchy ruling behind the curtain of a governmental facade. Living conditions are disorganized, resulting in poor quality and hygiene. The behavior of citizens is random, discoordinated, self-destructive and non-cooperative.

What is missing most is a sense of purpose or goal. These societies are eminently facilitative, in that there is no purpose. No one expects the next Homer or Beethoven, nor for anything great to happen. In fact, these are the most individualistic societies on earth. So long as you don’t disturb your neighbor, you can do whatever you want, because there is no goal you could be missing the path to.

The modern West is in crisis. Like all wealthy first world nations, its focus on the individual has resulted in birth rates in free fall. If having children is a lifestyle question like what kind of car you want, or what wine you drink, it is subject to the analysis of what inconveniences the individual least. Children are an inconvenience; wine is not. Which wins out? We like to point the finger at education and wealth, but these are correlative, not causative. The factor behind our dropping birth rates is the rise to preeminence of the individual. When we’re all equal, every story is fascinating, and no one wants to be the story that says “went to a job, had a family, mowed the lawn before noon every Saturday.”

Like most falling empires, ours went through several levels of radical individualism before arriving at the modern narcissism which rejects all possible goals, influences or prior obligations except the self. Empowered by a theory of collectivism based in the desire of individuals to level those above them, the decay that is destroying the West is not so much a goal as the notion that we can each go our own direction and that society will remain as it has been without our effort to maintain it.

What kills empires is the nature of their own success. A good society takes care of its citizens, and thus empowers its citizens to do whatever they want. It becomes more efficient at generating wealth and spreading it around, which means that each person can afford to choose a direction of their own. Since these societies tend to treat all people as members of the team, it becomes socially taboo to point out which of these directions do not correlate to reality. The result is the formation of an unruly mob with nothing in common except that all of its members want more rights and freedoms. At first this mob is united by the simplicity of self-interest, and this makes these empires very powerful and wealthy.

There are two basic kinds of government: one where culture moves the society along toward fulfillment of a few basic ideas, and people are on the same page with those ideas, and thus a goal exists. Or there’s the opposite, in which there is no goal but the individual, and thus a strong central power is required to keep the citizens in line. With no direction in common, they explode outward like spilled marbles, and government is thrust into a management and police action role trying to keep the mess of its citizenry from truly imploding. The first offers power, because the government has control over its citizens, but the second offers a lesser role for government because the citizens themselves have something in common (besides shopping, commerce, fear of being murdered, television, etc.). The second offers a freedom from power and greater longevity.

By choosing democracy, individualism, consumerism and internationalism (multiculturalism/globalism), wealthy societies bring about their own destruction. They pamper their citizens and encourage them to diverge from reality. Then they try to keep them in line with either totalitarian or post-totalitarian “democratic” methods but the point is that one is herding sheep, not riding with comrades toward a task all agree is important. There is no agreement. The society just falls apart from within.

21 Comments

  1. Avery says:

    There are some people who genuinely believe that this pursuit of pleasure is the end goal of all human society. For example, Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” series is a pleasant read but also quite mystifying. Everyone is constantly changing sex and having sex with new people, and he seems to think that this kind of society can travel through interstellar space and win wars. Golden Age sci-fi never had this self-obsession. But this is the best image of the future we can concoct, apparently.

    1. Ryan says:

      Avery, you should read burrough’s “blade runner”

  2. ferret says:

    “What is missing most is a sense of purpose or goal.”

    Just a sense of, or there should be a purpose or goal?

    ****
    “The first offers power, because the government has control over its citizens, but the second…”

    The first and the second seem swapped accidentally.

  3. EvilBuzzard says:

    Civilizations grow stangnant and are displaced by resurgent cultures. Expect America to eventually change or split up along those lines. Maybe in 25-50 years.

  4. Joe Coffee says:

    You tell me that wealth is not causative but that “It becomes more efficient at generating wealth and spreading it around, which means that each person can afford to choose a direction of their own.”

    The quote, to my mind, indeed makes wealth causative.

    Maybe I am not so clear.

    I always thought the problem is too much comfort. When a people are comfortable for too long, they will relax and another generation, forged in turmoil and struggle, will take the former’s place.

    1. crow says:

      Comfort is one of the most dangerous things around.
      It kills slowly, but it kills everything it affects.

      1. ferret says:

        Comfort kills slaves, not masters.
        Because comfort as a goal is intrinsic to the slave mentality.
        I accept and enjoy comfort. No danger for me.

        1. crow says:

          Sure, everyone likes some comfort.
          The thing is to know when enough is enough :)

          1. ferret says:

            Diogenes knew.

  5. crow says:

    Power, as an end in itself, is eminently destructive.
    It should never be a goal: One may end up electrocuted.

    Power is the by-product of a greater undertaking.
    One learns to recognize what a wall-socket is, then learns how to connect to it, then learns how to remain connected to it.
    Power is not wielded.
    Power flows.

  6. Daniel says:

    Where is the picture from? It’s so beautiful.

  7. ferret says:

    “Since these societies tend to treat all people as members of the team, it becomes socially taboo to point out which of these directions do not correlate to reality.”

    It is not clear how and why this follows.

    If all people were treated as members of the team, they would be properly leaded and informed and would be responsible for their activities. Otherwise, it’s not a team, but rather a crowd that is distracted from reality and manipulated.

    I would say, this taboo is caused by the perversive political correctness and by the consumerist brainwashing. Both are means of nurturing the refined consumerist mentality essential to our echonomy.

    1. ferret says:

      * led
      ** economy

  8. Marcus Antony says:

    Brett, you often mention the collective goals of a society, could you provide a more specific desciption of what these goals could/ought to be in your opinion?

  9. Karyl says:

    Maybe it’s how things are supposed to be. It’s same old, same old; struggle for existence, pride in victory and nurturing of new generations, physical comfort, decadence and relaxation of social mores, loss of social cohesion, existential doubt, external forces attack overtly or covertly, panic, dissolution, desperation, let’s start again, maybe differently.

    Point is, how long can this go on? Each empire is more destructive than the last. I’m not sure the next wave of societies, whatever and wherever those will be, will ever know true peace and stability again.

    1. crow says:

      There’s probably no “supposed to be”, but certainly, this is the way of civilizations. They all fall prey to their own success.
      The terrible thing is that it so obviously doesn’t need to happen, but time again, it does.

      1. Rip Yrdikoff says:

        Civilizations fall victim to ills and lacks, not to goods.

        A belief that they inevitably “fall prey to success” would conceal dysfunctions like greed, injustice, power lust, radical inequality, and breakdown in civic discourse. It’s no more than a convenient way to avoid looking into such things.

  10. ferret says:

    “By choosing democracy, individualism, consumerism and internationalism (multiculturalism/globalism), wealthy societies bring about their own destruction.”

    Wealthy societies have become wealthy as a result of socio economic evolution that can be described in terms of Social Darwinism. It was the competition that shaped the most important traits of the society.

    Societies do not choose but rather develop democracy, consumerism, etc., in an evolutionary process which is part of objective reality. Similarly, a prisoner doesn’t choose his cell but arrives to it after being genetically selected and shaped by the society. He would try not to shoose imprisoning but at no avail.

    All this available wealth was created by the capitalist economy, the most efficient at the moment. Consumerism and democracy were essential for winning the competition: other formations have lost.

  11. Apuleius says:

    Power without wisdom is deadly.

  12. Eric says:

    I didn’t read the whole article, but a quick comment on having children. Sorry, but I live in a society that has absolutely no roots or grounding to be born into. I myself just don’t have enough (present) grounding myself to be able to pass that on in such a void. It is a sh**y society on so many levels we live in, and I have tried so much over the years to fight against it. But it is much bigger than me, and my own life’s circumstances are just not enough to overcome this for any person I might bring into this world. Sad but true. On a positive note, I do have some grounding that I can look back upon. I do have a sense of place and being, it is just the modern world has gotten so bad, and given other shortcomings in my reality, there is no way to pass this on to whom might come next. Given how much I have leaned on this grounding (out of necessity of being), there is no way in hell I’d want to bring someone into this world without such a thing. It would not be fair. It is an ugly world we have created, plain and simple.

  13. [...] The modern West is in crisis. Like all wealthy first world nations, its focus on the individual has resulted in birth rates in free fall. If having children is a lifestyle question like what kind of car you want, or what wine you drink, it is subject to the analysis of what inconveniences the individual least. Children are an inconvenience; wine is not. Which wins out? There are two basic kinds of government: one where culture moves the society along toward fulfillment of a few basic ideas, and people are on the same page with those ideas, and thus a goal exists. Or there’s the opposite, in which there is no goal but the individual, and thus a strong central power is required to keep the citizens in line. By choosing democracy, individualism, consumerism and internationalism (multiculturalism/globalism), wealthy societies bring about their own destruction. They pamper their citizens and encourage them to diverge from reality. Then they try to keep them in line with either totalitarian or post-totalitarian “democratic” methods but the point is that one is herding sheep, not riding with comrades toward a task all agree is important. There is no agreement. The society just falls apart from within. http://www.amerika.org/politics/is-power-the-path-to-self-destruction/ [...]

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