When a formerly thriving civilization suddenly hits the skids and starts barely producing anything of note, we start to conduct a postmortem to figure where it went wrong. Any one decision leads to others, and so at some point, there is a stepping-off of the right path and a rambling descent down another, reacting to past errors with future ones, until the end is reached.
Western Civilization has been several civilizations. Greece, Rome and modern Europe all come to mind, but America, Canada, Australia and the UK are part of it too. Now that all of these are failed, we find ourselves wondering what force could convert the most advanced civilizations, not just technologically but intellectually, into corrupt backwaters?
Perhaps the most likely answer is that they died of success. Many things do, because to succeed is to leave behind one set of problems and take on another. The success in this case went to “the people,” specifically the middle class, and they then took over these nations and ran them according to their values. These then shattered everything good about the West.
Middle class values reflect how one achieves social status in the middle classes: working hard, offending no one, making a public show of religion, supporting your nation, getting good deals at the store, and making your own business succeed by selling to those less fortunate than you.
But ultimately, middle class values are entirely self-referential within society, and focused on the individual, which makes them oblivious to consequences beyond a daily life of transactions. We might blame capitalism for this, but really it is a cultural choice, because it reflects how the middle class make their money and think of their world: taking civilization for granted, and trying to figure out how to capitalize on it and become wealthier as individuals.
The middle class worldview anchors itself in an outlook toward safety, which is not what we mean when we think of “workplace safety,” but in avoiding risk of social censure to the individual. The middle class hates any divisive, offensive, controversial or even simply difficult point of view; for them, it is more important that “we all get along” as the kindergarten teachers say, so that the sales of goods and services can continue.
In the same vein, the middle class hates goals. To them, the goal is innate: sell stuff. Any goal or purpose will rock the boat and interrupt the selling of stuff. It will also be controversial, which could drive away customers. The middle class — whether shopkeeper, banker, doctor, painter, lawyer, plumber, or architect — tends to treat civilization as a given and figure that we should never deviate from our current path, which means more democracy and more selling of stuff.
The middle class believes strongly in compassion. To them, empathy is advertising. The local business that sponsors a little league team, helps with the park clean-up, or supports equal rights for everyone and unlimited immigration is seen as good by its customers, mainly because these acts are anti-negative. They deny no one anything, and seem to empower others to live a better life, which is exactly the message the middle class wants to send about its business: “we bring you a better life…for a small fee, of course.”
The wealthier they become, the more likely they are to be altruistic, because this is how they win in their social circles. A group of shopkeepers will start one-upping each other with their sales reports, but when those become roughly comparable, the only way to win is to prove to be a better person by showing how many African orphans you have adopted, whales you have saved, and acres of rainforest in Brazil you have purchased. As with anything else, you can buy reputation, in the middle classes.
In the middle class, the shopkeeper is the ideal: part manager, part advertising guru, part financial whiz, and most of all the nice guy who always has a kind word for everyone and is universally loved to the point that no one questions his margins. The middle class treat everyone who might be able to buy as a customer; everyone else is an employee. They treat their contractors with the same manipulative aggression that they show toward their children, leaving a strewn ruin of neurotic alcoholic art students and shaggy-haired dropouts to be recruited by the Left.
Misidentified as “the Protestant work ethic,” a mania for hard work blights the middle class. Not only does this mean that they are too tired to make decisions, it means they are anathema to choice at all. The point is not to decide what should be done, but to figure out what others do, and then improve your margins. Their mania for being workers rivals that of the Soviets and, by making hard work itself the goal, they replace purpose and goal with a rote process that shows their neighbors that they are equal, participating in the group, and good people because, well, they work hard.
They love freedom. The freedom to buy and sell forms a cornerstone of their outlook. They care less about ideas, and the expression of controversial ones, because that might limit their customer base. Essentially, the middle class desires anarchy so long as there are police, courts, fire departments, and banks.
In this way, they are the ultimate individualists. For them, any standards above them will limit commerce and introduce controversy, so these are bad and must be abolished. Anarchy with grocery stores works for them. They are thus part libertarian and part committed liberal, and fear any extremes, but have no problem with full communism so long as the buying and selling can continue, even if on the black market.
At its core middle class logic represents existential death. Nothing is worth striving for and there is no purpose other than avoiding purpose, and in the interim, it is time to make money, retreat to the suburban home, and ignore the consequences of our political choices. Appearance is all that matters.
When historians explain the death of the West, they may scratch their heads and opine that the West simply shifted from trying to do what is right to trying to do what makes other people feel happy. It transferred its goals from outward conquest to inner pacifism, and by doing so, neutered itself and made it hate itself, because no one respects a shopkeeper who avoids controversy and works hard in order to avoid seeing the existential void hiding in the middle of his life.
Tags: decline and fall of Western Civilization, middle class, shopkeepers