Let us look at this moment in history from the perspective of someone a thousand years from now closing a fat book of history.
We are currently negotiating for this person to exist, of course, because if the best of humanity collapses as the West has been doing, the rest of humanity will never get to that stage. Humanity will merely be a curious species of monkeys that got wiped out by an asteroid.
However, assuming that things go well and there are people like you and me in the future, what will they think of 2019?
They will record the late liberal democratic era as having occurred between the end of WW2 and the Great Recession of 2008, at which point people tired of the system that was consistently periodically failing at the same time it was eating their societies alive.
The “yellow vests” protests will rank as highly as the storming of the Bastille because they were the “let them eat cake” moment for Leftist social policy, which taxed people so much that their salaries stagnated while costs rose, and despite this their governments pursued even more radical ideological projects in order to win approval from elites who had advanced by being good proponents of the ideology.
The rise of the populists will be seen as a recognition of a historical event, not its creation. Brexit and Trump were written into the destiny of humanity as soon as Clinton entered the White House. Leftism had its final triumph in that moment, and this meant that we would all soon feel the full effects of Leftist policy, and therefore come to hate them because they were totally dysfunctional.
In fact, the rise of populism and the fall of Leftism will be seen as the end of the postwar economic miracle which resulted from massive consumer spending for all the new gadgets that made life easier. With those, the unions rose, and then that drove offshoring and outsourcing, which then failed as the third world acquired enough gadgets to demand expensive lifestyles as well. The easy money chain simply dried up, and when it went, the extravagant entitlements programs of Leftism failed, as did the diversity agenda since cheap labor in abundance was no longer needed.
On an even broader scale, we will see this time as the era in which the symbols fell. People in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries thought in terms of symbols, not just in politics but religion and personal life.
This mattered when we lived in an economy for salesmen where access to the easy money of the consumer base and corporate jobs determined success, but starting in the 1980s this began to slow. The 1990s brought us an attempt to stave off that slowdown with “fast money” demand-based currency policy, but that collapsed in 2000 and 2008 and left behind a smoking ruin, so after its swan song with the Obama presidency that drove the middle class into the ground with healthcare taxes, it was clear that faith in Leftism had escaped the building. In addition, Europe officially declared itself broke and proclaimed that massive immigration from the third world would be necessary to pay off the entitlements for the generation born in the 1940s. This told everyone that liberal democracy had become unsustainable and was broken as a model.
What drove us toward liberal democracy at first was the desire for a stable system; as time went on, democracy became its own religion in egalitarianism, and at this point, people were living for symbols.
Equality became more important than the good life, a stable future, or a thriving civilization. At the end of democracy, the ravening mob cared only about tearing down those who were above the norm in power, wealth, and status. It thrived on symbolic acts of achieving equality like advancing transgenderism everywhere, waging war against “racism,” and destroying past history in order to make a new Utopian future.
In other words, the pursuit of equality pushed away any pursuit of realism, and in our manic focus on symbolic victory, we went down the same dark path as the Soviet Union did and now face the same dissolution.
Symbolism also affected our understanding of religion in an arc from the adoption of Christianity to its effective end during the early 2000s. With the rise of the middle class, we introduced politics to our world, where “politics” refers to the need to get a huge group of people to agree to something. Kings are the antithesis of politics; a king rules absolutely, with lesser aristocrats to advise him and if necessary, rise in unison of objection to signal to a bad king that he needs to shape up or ship out. Generally, however, kings have absolute power and so there is no manipulation of others, politics, or symbolism; they simply do what seems to them the best, which is an aesthetic and moral judgment as much as a practical one. Once a king must rely on the middle classes to raise funds, politics has been introduced. Once that happens, the middle classes solidify their power with a transition to democracy. At that point, society becomes purely symbolic: one casts a vote, hopes for the right party to win, but has no direct contact with power. Everything is manipulating symbols, especially trying to get enough people to see “your” side so that they vote for what you want.
We rolled with that system for centuries, steadily increasing the power of the symbolic over the real. Ideology took over from realism; pragmatism within the system took over from long-term thinking. It became more important to find a Martin Luther King, Jr., to be a symbol for a new form of equality than to think through whether his ideas were coherent and compatible with known reality.
Even the greatest event of the twentieth century, the fall of the Berlin wall, was more symbolism than reality; it told the herd that the power had fallen and they could go ahead and cross the border without penalty. But what was the real end result? They went from a place that was 90% Communist to one that was 60% Communist. In other words, they engaged in a delaying action and nothing more, since like all ideologies Communism accrues over time, since ideologies redefine words and activities until nothing but that which comports with the ideology can occur.
Symbols ruled us in daily life as well: having a Mercedes-Benz, going on mission trips to the third world, placing a Christian decal on cars, wearing a Che Guevara tshirt, having tattoos and piercings, flying a gay pride rainbow flag, riding a Harley, driving a Prius, supporting Israel so that you can experience the “rapture,” placing an IMMIGRANTS WELCOME sign outside your house, and many more comprise examples of this process.
After centuries of chasing symbols, we are rejecting the process of symbolic thinking entirely. It was a powerful tool in our societies based on delegation and mass manipulation, but it turns out to be a tool that wants to be our master. When you start thinking in symbolic terms, you apply more of that thinking everywhere, and soon reality has become far away.
This extends to religion. Much has been made on the Alt-Right front of the clash between Christians, secularists, and pagans who make up the core of the constituency. Christians point out sensibly that most of our people who are still religious are Christian, and the pagans we see in public are usually nutcases; the pagans point out that Christianity is foreign; secularists distrust religion because people tend to take it literally, instead of seeing it as metaphor. Perhaps this is part of a broader movement.
Although there are many Christians whose work I enjoy, and I think the Christians win the point on most of the Right currently being more Christian than pagan, there are two fatal flaws in Christianity. The first is that it is foreign; no one can change the fact that it is written about middle eastern people in the middle east, even if we note correctly that most of it was cribbed from Greek, Babylonian, Roman, Buddhist, and Nordic pagan sagas. More importantly, however, Christianity is a fundamentally symbolic religion. Whether a burning bush, or a sign that God has vindicated His people, or even writing on a wall, it depends on intrusion between a supernatural world and this one and the assumption that the two are radically different. That viewpoint, known as dualism, tends to make people see this world as a means to the end of another world which is symbolic in nature because it consists of things approved by God in opposition to how our world works. This makes people anti-realistic, even if it was probably simply a misreading of Platonism (and Plato’s theory of forms) by the ancient Jewish sages who wrote the Christian texts.
In my view, something bigger is going on: humanity is abandoning symbolic thinking. We do not care about burning bushes; we want to choose the best thinker because his ideas work the best in reality over the long term, not because he was anointed by God. We do not believe in writing on the wall or messages from another world, nor do we think that God sends signals to the victorious forces in war. These things are determined by hard, practical facts and our own choices, and we are OK with that. For us, religion fits better in the pagan model of describing reality and pointing out that the best among us attain a mental state that may persist after death, in a world that is not opposite to ours but more like a continuation of it.
The old WASP standard for Christianity was to take it seriously, but read it in the context of the Greeks and Romans, since those were its grandfathers. In that view, Christianity became less dualistic and more pagan in the sense that the Bible became literature, the symbolism became metaphor, and the point was that if you acted in a way consistent with the order (pattern, organization, blueprint, schematic, flowchart) of reality instead of purely in a material way which emphasizes the tangible comforts in the immediate moment, you would gain a transcendent sense of appreciation for the order of this world, and through that, organize your mind to go on to the next.
We are rejecting symbolism across the board. In politics, we are less concerned with the quest for equality and democracy worldwide than in achieving policies that actually work, meaning that they benefit the good and smite the bad while providing a stable social order and opportunity for all who can take advantage of it. In religion, we are less concerned with what God says and more concerned with what God’s world rewards, believing this world to be consistent with whatever comes next, and the same rules to apply to both. In social settings, we are less concerned with what people say about themselves than who they are, biologically and in moral character, and we are starting to distrust the utilitarian idea that whatever the largest number of people say that they think is the best option is indeed the best option.
Coming out of the age of symbolism will challenge humanity. There can be no doubt about that. It will also free us from the pervasive unrealism of the past millennium, and liberate us to see what we must do with our time in order to prosper in the future.
Our new thinking will embrace the idea of positional value, meaning a realization that it is better to be a serf in a sane and thriving society than a king in a deranged and failing one. There is value in being part of successful order and organization, we finally realize, and so we must focus on those instead of symbols for value that change with the markets.
In the positional world, people will be seen for what they are: unequal. We will want hierarchies, both leadership and social (caste). We will not care about who kisses babies or gives money to the poor. We want function.
This will translate into religion through the desire for what people have always wanted from religion, which is moral guidance and a series of hard and fast rules that lead to living the best life possible. If we can intimate an afterlife, even better.
When that fat book of history records the changes in our time, it will show us either rising above symbolism or falling into the greatest darkness of humanity, superstition, which is one step away from fundamentalism and symbolic thinking.
As someone with faith that life is good, I must believe that we will rise and not fall. However, I also realize that we are the conductors of our fate, and we alone can make this happen, so it makes sense to kick these ideas out in the open.