Whether in reference to chocolate cake for breakfast or wild all-night parties, decadence means extravagance, luxury, and wasteful self-indulgence with a sense of moral and/or artistic decline. The Latin root of decadence means “to fall down,” and this may help you understand the full sense of the word.
My first awareness regarding decadence happened when I sat in the revolving restaurant atop the East Berlin TV Tower. The tables are fitted to a floor that allows those seated a slowly revolving view of the city. However, at night it’s even more spectacular because it’s possible to identify exactly where the radiantly lit-up West and depressingly dark East Germanies are.
So while we sat there enjoying the constantly changing view, my host suddenly said: “There is the decadent West in all its glory.”
Clearly West Berlin indulged itself in electricity, because why would anyone want to light up the sky to obliterate a view of the stars? Why do West Berliners leave office lights on when they are at home?
If you don’t consider that wasteful use of electricity points towards decadence then consider this:
Does society fall down because of wasted electricity? In addition to using electricity inefficiently, the power generating plants are also regulated to keep up the electricity grid i.e. to balance it with respect to supply and demand. This means they have to produce about 30% more than total real time demand at any point, yet that overproduction is simply never used and also goes to waste.
My second awareness regarding decadence was with weapon systems. Since American standards prescribe how weapons systems work including almost everything about its development, production and maintenance, I was very surprised when a Russian Engineer said:
“Why are your weapons systems so shiny?”
While it is well known that Americans like to use technology jumps and Russians incremental improvements, the idea that a smooth painted surface with menacing aesthetics would be shiny is unheard of, until you take a closer look at Russian weapons systems with its rusty rough edges.
It may sound surprising, but having a “shiny” weapon costs a lot of money while more importantly it takes time to implement. Imagine a pilot telling you that he wants a wider more comfortable synthetic leather seat, which is a request no Western engineer will object to in their drive to keep the “client” happy.
But does society fall down because of shiny weapons systems?
It’s a misunderstood question because clearly the South African military had nuclear and lots of other shiny weapons that could easily have prevented its fall from first world grace to a second Zimbabwe that hates America and refuses to give up its remaining weaponized plutonium (for free).
Society in South Africa indeed fell, but to what extent did shiny weapons cause it? It’s clear the indulgent Politicians did not want to win the terrorist war, in fact they lost their “appetite” for winning entirely (despite dire warnings from Generals (most of whom which were fired subsequently). The Chief Negotiator Roelf Meyer literally gave his country away, simply in order to gain the “trust” of Cyril Ramaphosa, the same guy that now wants to take white properties.
The lesson of decadence is not that you should not be a little bit indulgent now and then, but that decadence should be tempered by a never ceasing desire to win.