All the institutions — media, government, experts, scientists, pundits — have fallen in quality to the point that they are no longer trustworthy. Over the last three years, this has become common knowledge among the people in this society who are actually responsible for getting things done instead of “going through the motions.”
People look for a visual symbol of what is going on behind the scenes, like the famous burning bush in the Bible, but the grim fact of reality is that if something happens behind the scenes, you do not get a visual. Instead you have to probe with indirect measurements, like in engineering or statistics.
What if we just stumbled into this situation, instead of there being some evil conspiracy behind it?
A civilization starting out has founders and their descendants. These guide it. Over time however, especially once it becomes prosperous, special interests begin to demand more of the pie. Rules proliferate, exceptions multiply, and the discourse becomes neurotic.
Soon the founders cease to agree on purpose and instead choose the utilitarian idea of pluralism, or society as a container for the interests of its special interests. At this point, society comes to agree on only the basics: defend itself, keep law and order, and maintain an economy.
Over time however the special interests keep agitating. By now there are many laws, so a bureaucracy is formed to deal with all of these little objections and exceptions. Now everyone feels taken care of, and so the hens settle down for the night, clucking and adjusting their feathers.
However, the concept of equality rears its ugly head. If Citizen A got care from a bureaucracy, what about Citizen B? This citizen has lots of exceptions and special conditions. More rules are written. More bureaucracy appears. Soon government becomes a job for civil servants.
In an attempt to keep everyone from sperging out and going full jihad, government writes more laws and gives out money or other gifts, called entitlements, to keep everyone happy. The rule now becomes that government is good when it addresses the special needs of its citizens and special interests.
At this point government resembles a daycare. It has assumed responsibility for the wealth, security, and happiness of its citizens, but no one can do most of that; the citizens themselves must participate. However, because they vote (bureaucracy requires democracy), pay taxes, and interact daily with government, they expect it done for them.
Then this situation peaks. Rolling in wealth, motivated by nothing other than personal profit, the citizens adopt a bourgeois attitude that civilization is the job of someone else, and they need to do nothing more than pay taxes and accumulate wealth. As taxes rise, they become more rent-seeking to offset this.
The markets become manipulative because, in order to stay above the tax burden, people must invest and want quick returns, so all sorts of scams and snake oil appear. This produces instability, so government takes some control of the markets, using tax money to “prime the pump” so the markets stay high despite speculation causing crashes.
For a few decades, prosperity visits in abundance and so people have lots of kids. Those kids inherit a world where they can do just about anything because the wealth wave, so they become craven and turn to individualistic pursuits, having fewer children as a result.
Government has been getting nervous for awhile. It now sees society as a balance sheet: pay out a certain amount, receive a certain amount in taxes, and try to keep the figures roughly similar despite the many new demands from special interests who see all the wealth and want their share.
In this way society resembles a committee: everyone has demands, but no one is taking responsibility because they are a collective mind and that entity can be blamed without any individual taking ownership of the issue or crisis. The committee writes checks, takes in funds, and pays salaries.
You might think these leaders are evil or mean you harm. No: to them it is just a job, like every other job, so that they can avoid living in the poorhouse, which for them means enough money to insulate against any crisis, lawsuit, or tragedy. In their eyes, they are doing the right thing by keeping the system afloat.
That becomes their religion. Government will exist for another day; the people will get their checks. Business now depends on those checks, too. Any single person who is an exception who did not get his special circumstances addressed, or any special interest that is ignored, is a tragedy that must be addressed.
To keep the system afloat, they play clever games. They pass thousands of pages of laws no one will read. They borrow money in creative ways. They import foreigners and force you to like them because you, if you were not ignorant, would realize you depend on those future tax revenues to keep the system afloat.
When people start to figure out that this is a disaster, the bureaucrats know exactly what they must do: they must suppress the dissent or the system will be in danger. To them, this is not a moral imperative, but part of the job. Like everyone else, they clock in and do what they can to keep the line moving.
At this point, the politicians depend on huge amounts of funding to mount their campaigns, which are little industries in themselves. This means that any special interest group or corporation with lobbying money is demanding its share too.
Too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the soup. Too many chiefs, not enough braves, means that nothing gets done. A committee first and foremost protects the committee, secondarily tries to keep the system going, and only third worries about accomplishing something of actual utility.
Rather than look for scapegoats, we the inheritors of this mess should consider that all along it was merely an innocent blunder. We went down a path we could not maintain, and have been patching it up ever since, not believing in it at all but needing that paycheck so we keep things afloat.
Long ago an opportunity appeared before me at a company that looked good on paper. Signing on for the role required confronting a company that was not making money but was afraid to change its behavior. The actual task was tiny; getting past all the people afraid of the task was huge.
Even more, the company had become defensive. Suggestions that created mission creep were accepted, but pointing out that the numbers did not add up was seen as sabotaging the company. Everyone just wanted to keep their job and feared change. Therefore, they did the same failing things again and again, hoping for a different result.
Humanity at this point resembles a group in a sinking boat. They patch it daily and bail until they are exhausted, but there are more holes than wood. If anyone stops bailing however the group panics and throws that person overboard, so everyone bails and patches despite the boat still taking on water.
Across fifty yards of open ocean there is another boat that is watertight. It would stop the crisis, but everyone fears that open ocean, so they refer to it as the Demon Boat and refuse to consider the idea. They are now patching patches on patches. Will they wake up and make the minor change needed to survive? Only time will tell.