Let us go on a flight of fancy and assume for the moment that we can divide human tendencies — inner impulses manifesting in action — into dark and light categories.
Light refers to those that rise in evolution and capabilities; dark refers to those which return us to our Simian past (or, for creationists, the lowered state of humankind to which pre-Adamic humanity slid).
We might list light traits as: purpose, kindness, aggression in problem-solving, honesty, honor, pride, decency, thoughtfulness, insight.
We might list dark traits as: selfishness, greed, cruelty, laziness, dishonesty, ethics of convenience, obscenity, perversity, carelessness, obliviousness.
The success of humanity is bound up with those light traits, and its downfall with the dark. Light leads to improvement, where dark retreats from improvement, and goes instead into the individual, withdrawing from the world and the challenge of it.
Today some Baby Boomers came my way. They had worked their whole lives for what they had: president of a company, leader of a civic association, a big house near the city with cars that screamed “success” to casual observers.
Like most of their generation, also called “the Me generation,” they had done everything for themselves, and in the process been induced to give up their lives. Then came retirement, theoretically the golden years.
After being given a Blackberry (gold watches are passé) and sent on the way with a celebratory dinner, the husband retired to his hobbies. These were in theory what he liked to do, an ultimate expression of self.
Over time, however, they began to ring hollow. One can only play so many rounds of golf before realizing that the talent to be great is not there, and the thrill is gone. Golf was an escape; now it has become a job.
Simultaneously both of them became irrelevant to their community and their friend groups, all of whom were busy with their own pursuits, also dedicated to the self. They found their contact with the world limited because they no longer had anything to offer it, like power and wealth.
Then they began to look at that big house. It was unending work, it seemed, and once it was a status symbol and image of prestige, but now, no one gave it a second look. It had been — at the end of the day — no more than a complex business card, albeit also providing some comfortable living.
They had no problems with money, but lacked things to spend it on. Their kids had moved far away after contentious childhoods, and checked in for the monthly call, but not much more than that.
No matter what they tried — new hobbies, new social groups, even going to church — they found that these activities had little relevance. Their presence was for their own enjoyment, and there was no joy to be found in going through rituals.
Eventually they retreated back into their home, a grocery store or two, and a favorite hardware store. He puttered around the house, fixing things he would have paid Mexicans to do in crisp twenties only a year before. She went through old recipes.
At night, the house was still, with nothing to think about but decrepitude and death.
Through their example we see the rotten fruit of individualism. Living for the self means becoming relevant only to the self, and there is only so much there, like the hobbies or purchases. Without purpose, humans die.
Their generation grew up in a huge postwar boom of wealth. Having thrown off the last of the old rules, individuals were free to make money and live however they wanted, but this meant no connection to anything beyond function and self.
During working years, this did not seem like such a big deal. There was always something to do at work, and distracting television at home. Then activities on the weekend, filling that time. The goal was to never be silent and alone.
Now however, life was entirely silent and alone. As limbs stiffened and eyesight faded, they found themselves unable to participate in all that they would have done, if they were young, and somehow past it already. Less fascinated. More experienced.
In a former age, they might have found themselves on a council of wise elders in their community. Possibly also living near their children, helping them with a new generation. Reaching out in other ways, having a purpose.
They might have even seen in the interconnectedness of things the presence of something us educated moderns dare call “God,” but which represents the God-principle: a battle between darkness and light, always struggling to produce something better, or even more interesting.
They might have connected to something.
Instead, the lights dim and the television goes on for the fifth time that day. The sports games are empty, since there is no watercooler talk. The romantic comedies after forty years reveal an utter redundancy. Shopping has no luster.
If you want to know the dying of the West, hear this: at the boundary of the self, light converts to darkness and vice-versa. What the self sees as light is dark, because it isolates the self from purpose. What it fears is what it must pursue.
The West has died because it lacks a reason toward, an aspiration, that connects us to life. Instead we are prisoners in the wells of ourselves.