Since the early days of consciousness, a question has animated my view of the world: our societies influence our options and mental state, so then why do all human civilizations fall like Rome and leave behind third-world wastelands like contemporary Italy?
To a kid who later read a lot of sci-fi, and already was familiar with history, this was clearly the Big Question. If we do not have a functional and resilient social order, space exploration is doomed as societies fall and colonies implode; even more, everything we are working toward gets destroyed and replaced by screaming primitive hominids.
The scary thing is that human civilizations fall the same way but some last longer than others. This means that this death-process is not normal aging, but the result of decisions that groups of humans make that seem intelligent to them but are in fact in denial of the patterns of reality.
Humans should take note that this means that civilization collapse is avoidable, which means that someone will avoid it, and that society will become self-sufficient enough to travel the stars. Humanity will fade with a single planet, but potentially one of its groups will outlast Earth.
That group may, if it can avoid self-destructing, develop technology advanced enough for it to prolong the lifespans of its members, cure various health problems, and even genetically refine itself into an optimum of human abilities. It might be able to bend time and space and spread life further into the void.
No one wants to think about this because two of the inherently hard problems of existence are involved. First, how to get sane enough to see reality as an individual without killing the inner self and the spark of joy in life; second, how to make a civilization that does not self-destruct in the usual way, which requires the former.
Most religions can be seen as attempts to do these two things. They try to orient the human toward the whole, but by personifying it as a god or meditation, they misdirect from reality. One cannot defeat egotism by being anti-egotistic; this simply creates a Hegelian reaction that leads to the ego being the focus of the group.
If any religion will save us, ironically, it is the belief in religion as a necessary but minor part of life, and a continued focus on realism: what is real in the world, and what resonates with us within, with a special focus on where they run in parallel and therefore imply an enduring importance.
A thousand years ago, our society reacted to the high costs of warfare, both within ourselves and against foreign invaders. The result was that those who owned land and businesses wanted veto power, at which point our societies started making decisions by committee.
Committee, bureaucracy, compromise, and pluralism amount to the same thing: instead of finding unity, we have a lottery of sorts, and whatever offends the fewest people wins out. This means both a focus on the lowest common denominator and a consummate denial of big problems because they are scary and we can fail in our response to them.
Our thousand-year tantrum was probably a structural change in response to a temporal problem, but we have continued down that path. Democracy with civil rights, our current form of government worldwide, is sometimes called “liberal democracy” but its liberalism is slipping as it tries to manage the rising problems that threaten to dethrone it.
Again it becomes important to separate the temporal from the structural. However, any government which spends itself bankrupt is not long for this world, and it looks like those in power know this and are unable or unwilling to do anything about it:
It is unquestionable that public debt has reached high levels by past standards. An update of an IMF chart published in 2020 shows the ratio of public debt to gross domestic product of high-income countries at 112 per cent in 2023, down from a recent peak of 124 per cent in 2020. The latter matched the previous peak reached in 1946. What makes this even more remarkable is that the earlier peak occurred after the second world war, while this latest peak occurred in peacetime. Furthermore, the ratio for emerging economies has reached 69 per cent of GDP, a record for these countries.
If governments are going to avoid the risks of a debt explosion and are also not going to resort to surprise inflation or financial repression, they will have to tighten what are mostly still ultra-loose fiscal policies. But will they dare to do so in ageing societies, with slowly growing economies and expanding defence burdens?
We might view public debt as a type of detonator sitting atop a giant pile of other explosives. Private debt is huge as well, as is the amount of infrastructure funding that we have neglected in order to pay for the civil rights welfare state, which means that when one domino falls, many others will also begin their descent.
If a private company had this debt load, it would start thinking about new ways to raise funding and cut costs. Democracy however cannot cut costs because it has already announced those things as “free” and that citizens are entitled to them, which means whoever slashes these programs get voted out of office by voters feeling suddenly deprived.
Even more ominously, like all systems, democracy selects for the pro-democratic to run it. In our society this is done through education, which like all idealistic things emphasizes symbols and powers over practical concerns, and therefore makes a group of leaders who will not consider alternatives.
The voters hold them in place, their dogma keeps them from acting, and many other stakeholders also have a finger in the pie. The investors do not want radical change, the many employed directly or indirectly by government fight like hell to avoid cuts, and all the special interest groups fear being left out.
This creates a situation where our meritocratic elites filter out alternatives to the status quo like political correctness filters out mention of genetics:
This story begins in the 1960s, when high school grads had to go off to fight in Vietnam but the children of the educated class got college deferments. It continues in the 1970s, when the authorities imposed busing on working-class areas in Boston but not on the upscale communities like Wellesley where they themselves lived.
The ideal that we’re all in this together was replaced with the reality that the educated class lives in a world up here and everybody else is forced into a world down there. Members of our class are always publicly speaking out for the marginalized, but somehow we always end up building systems that serve ourselves.
The most important of those systems is the modern meritocracy. We built an entire social order that sorts and excludes people on the basis of the quality that we possess most: academic achievement.
The author of the quoted piece actually wrote a radical book called BOBOs in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There which explains in depth how those ruling us are not the traditional rich, but those who took their places.
These nu-elites got there by being good at education, which is different than being good at knowledge. Education by its nature narrows the question of how to respond to reality to a series of options based on what has occurred in the past, and it teaches mastery of this not the ability to find alternatives when necessary.
In the broader picture, society picks people who are good at working society as it is, and never thinks outside the bounds of what is established, which in classic bourgeois style it takes for granted. In a society dedicated to bureaucracy, this means more bureaucracy and nothing else.
Not surprisingly, intellectuals in the 1930s thought that socialism was the future, and so it was adopted with the New Deal and after the intervening war, picked up speed right where it left off. A population accustomed to mass military mobilization was familiar with obeying the government and embracing anti-Hitler ideologies.
This resulted in a first-world shift to socialism which as an extension of democracy, subsidized equality by funding those who were unproductive:
Once fascism was defeated, alternatives to socialism suddenly became lumped into the right, including European liberalism.
Most people do not understand that Hegelian history is linked together with “and” and “but.” When democracy came about, it established legal equality and caused people to expect this, but at that point people noticed that results were equal, so it was decided to subsidize those results.
At first, this meant that government merely took over charity programs and directly aided the poor, but this required people to hit rock bottom before anything could be done, so the cradle-to-grave welfare system came about. This was not a new idea, but merely a series of patches to democracy.
The idea of democracy took over Europe by force but was popular among the intellectuals but less so among the subjugated peoples who now had to live without kings and feudalism:
By the mid 1790s, Raico writes, “The rights of man, popular sovereignty, the French Enlightenment with its hatred of the age-old traditions and religious beliefs of the European peoples would be imposed by military might. To this end, the victorious, irresistible French armies invaded, conquered, and occupied much of Europe.”
As the Americans would repeatedly claim after 1945, Napoleon claimed foreign countries either welcomed invasion—or at least required invasion—in order to embrace enlightenment and equality. Napoleon insisted “the peoples of Germany, as of France, Italy and Spain, want equality and liberal ideas” thus justifying Napoleon’s abolition (by conquest) of the old regimes. Not surprisingly, many foreigners didn’t appreciate Napoleon’s generosity.
Those who buy into the ideas behind America’s modern wars for global democracy today might therefore find Napoleon’s rationale convincing.
As the critics of the new system — who would later be dubbed “rightists” and then “conservatives” — observed, democracy was not a new idea but an ancient one, and it was well-known that democratic societies tended to self-destruct after a century and a few decades.
Plato observed two thousand years before the democracy experiment even began to get its footing that democracy at first seemed like the best of systems; people could be individualistic, like people were in the third world, without a care and had the ability to indulge their desires.
Over time however, the situation came to resemble Mouse Utopia in that people began to give up on long term plans and focus on distracting themselves in the short term while failing to attach to anything more significant than their whims at the moment.
In the Platonic analysis, democracy failed not so much directly but because it drove people insane. The frustration of equality meant servitude to the less capable, and the lack of social order meant that people wandered aimlessly and lost contact with anything that they might find meaningful. Over time, they became neurotic and unrealistic.
This shows us the problem of ideological systems: they start out with great promise, but then go into a decay phase, after which something else comes. Since they are not based in nature, their utility decreases over time and people stray, which requires increasing authoritarianism to apply.
For this reason, we see periodic direction shifts in the histories of democracies where the voters feel that the democratization has gone too far:
One answer is that American voters abandoned the system that worked for their grandparents. From the 1940s through the ’70s, sometimes called the New Deal era, U.S. law and policy were engineered to ensure strong unions, high taxes on the rich, huge public investments, and an expanding social safety net. Inequality shrank as the economy boomed. But by the end of that period, the economy was faltering, and voters turned against the postwar consensus.
What happened was that by the 1970s, the New Deal (and Hart-Celler Act) had expanded so much that they were crushing prosperity, at which point voters opted for dialing back the socialism and democracy a little bit to the last known point where it worked, which in that decade was the 1950s.
Once the Cold War ended however, there seemed to be no reason not to follow the Soviet Union down the suicidal path of socialism since there was no longer a contrary example that showed the failures of diversity and socialism on a daily basis. The Soviets were very proud of their diversity, as were the Chinese, and criticized America for its “racism.”
In this way, we see the second dark side of the Hegelian approach, which is that after a thesis and antithesis, there is a synthesis or compromise which includes elements of the warring party. After America rejected socialism, it then absorbed it into its own system and the poison began to spread.
Compromise leads to committees, committees lead to bureaucracy, and bureaucracy leads to egalitarian systems with subsidies so that no one can report any blatant problems. A bureaucracy considers itself successful when it has spent money on plausible solutions to all problems and therefore no one is complaining too loudly.
Third world people love bureaucracies because they know that all they need to do is show up and portray a victim, complain about unfair treatment, and make lots of noise, and the bureaucracy will follow its principle of compromise and pacifism and offer them something, even if not what they originally wanted.
The contrast to the bureaucracy, an aristocracy, makes decisions based on end goals rather than methods. It only cares if its actions lead to the desired outcome, and is not interested in compromising with the committee. This offended most people and therefore it was replaced.
We can see the origins of modern liberalism within our ancient Simian brothers who adopted a similar system:
The team found that cooperation between the groups was driven largely by a select few who were more helpful within their own group. These individuals tended to connect with similar “pro-social” bonobos from the other group, creating a system of mutual benefit, or “reciprocal altruism.”
The positive interactions occurred despite a low level of genetic relatedness between the groups, and despite the fact that reciprocity—such as paying back a gift of fruit—often took place much later, in future encounters.
Intriguingly, females, both within and from different groups, were found to form coalitions—sometimes to chase an individual from a feeding tree, at other times to prevent a coercive sexual advance from a male.
Instead of conflict, they choose pacifism and bribing each other with compromises. The pro-social group are the liberals of these species. These reject their tribe in favor of avoiding conflict, but in doing so, guarantee that their tribe will be assimilated and absorbed.
Give this thinking a few millennia, and you get the result of the modern West.
In the meantime, like all trends, this one has fascinated the popular mind but also run its course. Debt piles up. Enemies surround us and are within our borders. The competence crisis means barely anything is done well. Pollution threatens to restrict our lifespans and we are out of empty spaces to which to escape.
Your leaders know this is the case. They have known this would be the case since the early days of democracy. They did not do this to you; you and your fellow citizens did it to yourselves by voting for individualism and free stuff, or at least not opposing it fervently enough.
As democracy winds down, we can expect that much as the kings were scapegoated, anyone with money and power — especially “favored races” of high-IQ people from the first world — will be scapegoated as the financial system crumbls, plunging the third world into even greater poverty and despair.