What did your friend the musician tell you after his band, which was successful on album two but not so much by album five, broke up?
“We just drifted apart. Didn’t have much in common anymore, we were heading in different directions.”
That is also how societies die. When they start out, they have a clear mission, and through years of struggle and violence they prevail over their enemies, beat out their own inner demons, find a stable system of values they agree on (the “social consensus”), and then use that value system to blow off everything else and drive hard toward self-improvement.
Once they reach that, these societies are in trouble. They lack wars to unify themselves; they invent internal wars, and spend time chasing Communists, Racists, Satanists, Hackers or other Demons. When that behavior runs out on them, they spend time chasing nothing; the individual becomes more important than the society, and soon what you have is a giant pool of selfish people who barely tolerate each other because they have nothing in common except a desire to manipulate past each other so they can continue their selfish pursuits.
And then they fade away. Usually, it’s not a sudden explosion, but an ongoing decline into third world status punctuated by larger dysfunction events, as happened in the Soviet Union:
In 1991, the Soviet Union suddenly evaporated. The Cold War was over. Like many wars, it seemed to have an obvious winner and an obvious loser. Nearly twenty years later, as the U.S. heads down the Soviet road to disaster—even if the world can’t imagine what a bankrupt America might mean—it’s far clearer that, in the titanic struggle of the two superpowers that we came to call the Cold War, there were actually two losers, and that, when the “second superpower” left the scene, the first was already heading for the exits, just ever so slowly and in a state of self-intoxicated self-congratulation. – HNN
What is third world status? You can’t rely on the blockheaded Wikipedia definition here, which tries to make it into a political alignment issue. Third world status means your nation is disorganized and lacks direction; as a consequence, it is corrupt, dirty, violent, illiterate and feeble. Usually it was once a greater nation, but fell into disorganization, and with that lost the ability or desire to recognize its better people, and bred them out. What is left is a horde of filthy clueless people ruled over by clever and thoroughly vicious overlords.
Did I just describe Russia? Indeed. And if you don’t believe that, let me sell you a Russian wife — it’s as easy as opening up a local paper here.
Did I describe the future of the USA? Quite possibly.
All empires, no matter how magnificent, are condemned to decline and fall. We tend to assume that in our own time, too, history will move cyclically – and slowly.
The environmental or demographic threats we all talk about seem remote. In an election year, who really cares about the average atmospheric temperature or the age structure of the population in 2050?
The most obvious point is that imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises – sharp imbalances between revenues and expenditures, and the mounting cost of servicing a mountain of public debt.
Think of Ottoman Turkey in the 19th century: debt service rose from 17 per cent of revenue in 1868 to 32 per cent in 1871 to 50 per cent in 1877, two years after the great default that ushered in the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. Consider Britain in the 20th century. By the mid 1920s, debt charges were absorbing 44.5 per cent of total government expenditure, exceeding defence expenditure every year until 1937, when rearmament finally got under way in earnest.
But Britain’s real problems came after 1945, when a substantial proportion of its immense debt burden – equivalent to about a third of gross domestic product – was in foreign hands.
Alarm bells should therefore be ringing loudly in Washington, as the US contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $US1.47 trillion – about 10 per cent of gross domestic product, for the second year running. – The Age
The entire article is brilliant and thoroughly worth reading as he describes the periodistic nature of empires. History is not linear; it speeds up and slows down, depending on what’s going on. Empires are healthy so long as their internal organization is healthy, but as they begin decline, they start to make a number of bad decisions all at once. There is no single cause of decline except decline itself.
Decline starts with loss of consensus. When you have social consensus about what is valued, you can reward people for upholding that and thus create a constant stream of “better” people. What replaces that is a measurement of a person’s viability to business or popularity (media), which is not a measurement of their overall competence but their skill/determination at only one skill out of thousands. Without a values system, society rewards the outlandish, the corrupt, the conniving and the dramatic. It rewards those who play the social game, not those who can create better function.
This is why in third world nations, people are generally more verbally and socially competent than they are competent with technologies and learning. They can talk a good game, or really make something sound like an appealing product; are they the descendants of long-ago corrupted hipsters? Hipsters themselves are the most evident product of decline. When your middle class kids stop trying to do anything productive and become egomaniacs trying to prove how unique they are, you know the system is broken, has failed them and has failed itself.
You can recognize a dying society by its need to falsify reality. With a social consensus, accurate perception of reality by every member of that society is not necessary; they need to follow (healthy) symbols and customs, and by doing so, use a metaphor for reality to achieve a positive interaction with it. In a declining society, with social consensus goes away the idea that some people have more of a clue than others, and soon “equality” (really: equal social status for the clueless) takes over. As a result, the comforting myth arises that every person has an equally valid and accurate perception of reality. Because that never turns out to be true, society turns to to people who can give it false but comforting perceptions of reality:
The maintenance of the hierarchical structures that control our lives depends on Pinter’s “vast tapestry of lies upon which we feed.” Therefore the main institutions that embed us into the hierarchy, such as schools, universities, and mass media and entertainment corporations, have a primary function to create and maintain this tapestry. This includes establishment scientists and all service intellectuals in charge of “interpreting” reality.
In fact, the scientists and “experts” define reality in order to bring it into conformation with the always-adapting dominant mental tapestry of the moment. They also invent and build new branches of the tapestry that serve specific power groups by providing new avenues of exploitation. These high priests are rewarded with high class status. – Denis G. Rancourt
Newspapers, which once were viewed as little more than tabloids, then became seen as valid sources of “objective” journalism, become the shapers of the minds of people who cannot make up their own — and naturally become a focal point for the most embittered of them all, people who want to destroy the validity of others by insisting passive-aggressively on universal equality and consequently a drowning out of the “better” with the “average” or to-be-pitied:
Tucker Carlson’s Web site, the Daily Caller, has unearthed a treasure trove of liberal journalists talking (nastily) to themselves in a private e-mail list about how they should use their media power to remake the world in their image.
The funniest thing about this expose of JournoList was witnessing journalists say it was unfair to leak these e-mails when reporters had an “expectation of privacy.” More than 90,000 pages of secret documents on Afghanistan have been leaked and journalists are tripping over one another in a mad stampede to cover the story. Everyone should laugh heartily at leak-devouring journalists getting a fistful of their own bitter pills.
The saddest thing about all this is the confirmation (as if it were necessary) that liberal journalists really aren’t journalists first. They’re political strategists.
They pretend to be the Hollywood version of Woodward and Bernstein, the brave sleuths digging out government malfeasance and corruption. But in reality, they’re the Woodward and Bernstein who plotted how to get Richard Nixon impeached and ready the way for pacifist and socialist “Watergate babies” like Chris Dodd and Henry Waxman to take seats of power. Ethics are only relevant if they’re a weapon. – Investors Business Daily
These are the people we’re trusting to tell us the truth, and most importantly, to tell us what ideas/trends are for smarter people — because that way everyone emulates them.
Even more, we’ve gotten to the point where even for liberal thinkers, all we see is financial transactions and benefit from individual to individual. No sense of a cohesive nation:
In every industrial democracy since the end of World War II, there has been a social contract between the few and the many. In return for receiving a disproportionate amount of the gains from economic growth in a capitalist economy, the rich paid a disproportionate percentage of the taxes needed for public goods and a safety net for the majority.
In North America and Europe, the economic elite agreed to this bargain because they needed ordinary people as consumers and soldiers. Without mass consumption, the factories in which the rich invested would grind to a halt. Without universal conscription in the world wars, and selective conscription during the Cold War, the U.S. and its allies might have failed to defeat totalitarian empires that would have created a world order hostile to a market economy.
Globalization has eliminated the first reason for the rich to continue supporting this bargain at the nation-state level, while the privatization of the military threatens the other rationale. – Salon
Like most liberals, Salon is educated and savvy for all surface issues. They are clueless for any sense of the underlying structure. In the case of the United States, the reason for globalization has been a steady moving of vital industrial elements away from the dying nation. Parasitic unions? Too many laws? Too much crime and corruption? Well shoot let’s take our manufacturing someplace where we can buy the local authorities and by being corrupt, crowd out not only organized crime and corruption but bureaucracy. It’s just more efficient.
Even more, as the latest round of American workers turn out to be entitlement-hounds like Generation Y, there’s no point starting a business here. Go somewhere else where people are more realistic, even if they can’t use IM and Twitter to unite a department into a social hive, or whatever crap buzzwords they’re spewing now.
Salon falls into the usual pattern of liberals in a time of decline, which is to try to destroy as much of the power structure as possible, and then get raped in the ensuing anarchy:
Empire achieves this by means of “economic liberalism, militarism, multinational corporations, corporate media, and technologies of surveillance.” Because capitalism causes millions of deaths that a non-capitalist system would eliminate, it also is guilty of mass murder.
The United States, of course, is the Great Satan, accused of hoarding disproportionate resources. Its military oppresses the poor so its corporations can exploit them. Its government promotes the pretend danger of terrorism to aggress abroad and repress at home.
And Israel is the Little Satan, serving as Empire’s sinister ally — or maybe the Jewish state is really the master? From World Social Forum meetings in Brazil to the United Nations anti-racism conference in Durban and from mainline churches to NGOs, Zionism is represented as absolute evil. Why Israel? Beyond not-so-subtle anti-Semitism, it alone of Western countries lives under a barrage of constant threats, which in turn compel it to engage in constant wars. “Stripped of all context,” Sternberg notes, “Israel’s actions fit the needed image of aggressor.” – National Review
Let’s get rid of the people and institutions who could help, using the justification that they are not helping those so clueless/lazy/stupid that they fail no matter how much aid you give them.
These are all signs of the decline, and while people are waving hands over the Wikileaks debacle, which releases very little actual news, the truth behind the scenes is that this country is eroding itself from within — from its lack of agreement on essential values, or social consensus.
That lack of consensus is how nations split apart. Right now, we can see that America is divided by “rich” (actually, middle class: household income of $50,000/year or more) versus poor (rural whites, urban minorities, recent illegal immigrants with household income of $18,000/year or thereabouts) or maybe by conservatives versus liberals or north versus south. It’s about to be divided even more thoroughly: those who are oblivious to the decline, mostly leftists, and those who oppose the decline and want to restart the nation, and those are mostly on the right.