In my view, most of what we talk about as “politics” today consists of wrangling over variants of the same system, without asking what we should be doing for the best results. It is like men arguing about how to fix or adjust a machine, not asking what the machine is good for.
Societies follow an arc from competence through navel-gazing, at which point they begin collapse and then must go through the dark under-arc which eventually leads back to sanity (for some, not all). To keep your society from decay, you have to always ask what the machine is good for.
Finding out the purpose of the machine is ends-over-means reasoning. We set goals, and accomplish them however we have to. When decay happens, people rely on means-over-ends, banning methods that seem too dangerous in order to leave only the good, in theory.
For example, humanity is overpopulated and inundated in all forms of pollution. Instead of addressing overpopulation, we attack poverty, making the problem worse, and instead of admitting pollution is the problem, we scapegoat cigarettes and ignore the real issue.
People live by symbolism in a decaying society because it has become inverted. Its original methods worked but were overthrown by those who wanted more for themselves, like the middle classes deposing kings, resulting in a society based on pretense in order to support its new fragile order.
It can re-start itself at any time by getting back to hard realism: what works in terms of results, not in the myriad of opinions, emotions, judgments, and desires that people have about it. Look at what produces the best quality results and do that, and your civilization recovers.
Doing so requires abolishing means-over-ends, since the reason your society is in decay is that it has cut out some necessary methods. For example, once you overthrow the kings, it is taboo to say that maybe we should have kings.
Once you declare equality, any affirmation of inequality becomes taboo as well, and any noticing of an egalitarian program that is failing is presumed to walk back up the line and be a criticism of equality itself.
This is why contemporary society has no problem destroying the lives of individuals for not fitting in, but will not accept any negative feedback about its entitlements, equality, and diversity programs. To criticize those is to rebuke what is seen as the basis of our society.
Our writers talk about “backward” civilizations, meaning those with low levels of organization and therefore, low levels of technology. It requires mental organization and then social organization to support inventors and those who accumulate wisdom. It is not cheap, so most cut it out early.
The real backward civilizations however are the inverted ones who have reversed their mentality from ends-over-means to means-over-ends. Instead of having goals, they have a list of controversial things that they reject.
Like any committee, such societies specialize in tying their own hands to the point where nothing can be done, therefore little is expected, so they repeat the same methods that consistently fail, hoping in a religious sense that someday the promised Utopia will come.
This starts with decay of the prime goal, realism, when a society grows too fast and accumulates too many incompetent people, therefore preserving unity becomes more important than achieving results. They reject realism in favor of utilitarianism, or whatever most people think they want.
Such societies become dependent on rationalization, which is the essence of means-over-ends thinking. Since such thinking rejects goals other than the most general, like wealth and utilitarianism, it also rejects the idea of internal mental change.
As a result, people accept what already exists, and under the guise of pragmatism, find a way to “work with the system” even though it is incapable of having good results. They rationalize their goals in terms of what is already accepted, instead of aiming for reality.
In my view, this happens in any human group when it grows too fast and compromises are made that break the cardinal rule of civilization, namely “reward any good/productive/creative/intelligent activity.” When some of the good go unrewarded, they turn on the system.
They then join with the natural discontented and, rather than admitting that the conduct of the discontented is usually the problem, blame their leaders. They start a revolution, overthrow their leaders, and get slick liars who promise them the world in exchange for power.
Rationalization can be visualized through this metaphor: a group of humans finds itself in a leaky boat that it must constantly patch and bail out in order to stay afloat. Across fifty yards of open ocean is a new boat, but since they fear the water, they dare not risk the swim.
Dying civilizations have a fundamentalist belief in patching the boat (rationalization) rather than seizing the new boat (realism). As Traditionalist thought points out, the new boat people are not trying to re-live the past, only recreate what it did well in order to make a better future.
Humans fear change, and external change is usually bad, but we mostly fear internal change: altering our thinking to adapt to what has changed in our world, usually our inertia. Since reality never changes, this internal change usually refers to humans losing illusions.
When rationalization hits, societies tend to depend on absolutes like ideology and miracles where somehow the rules of nature are suspended and everything can turn out okay. This includes religions, which change from nature religions to symbolic religions where a perfect Heaven fixes impure Earth.
Rationalism, or the mental process of rationalizing, comes about when we reject realism and choose human reasoning instead. The idea that we can figure out some things morph into the notion that whatever consistent thoughts we have must be right, therefore should be applied.
“I think therefore I am” becomes “I am therefore I think” and the suggestion universally (read: without exception) accepted is that “What I think, therefore is true.” Humans become self-referential and stop accepting new data that contradicts what they already have.
This cherry-picking works to a degree in adversarial systems. When you are defending someone in court, you look for anything that might exonerate him, even if you must ignore other data that suggests he is guilty af and heading for the long drop.
At a certain point, however, what works becomes self-defeating unless it recalibrates with reality. We see this in the constant see-saw in nature, where too much of a good thing backfires:
Traits than improve a male’s competitive prowess can also damage females. For example, some insect males have evolved penises that tear the females’ insides, and in many species, including mammals, males have evolved to harass females to induce mating. These behaviors reduce female fecundity or may even kill them.
Whatever succeeds becomes emulated, but at some point, this leads to it becoming excessive. In this case, the means is aggressive male reproduction, but the end is health reproduction. Nature recalibrates through punishment: the species declines, and soon the gentler penises have a chance to win again.
Rationalism would have us say that because aggressive penises work, we should use them as a means, even if this is working against our end of having health reproduction. Thinking species like humans must recalibrate to reality and start favoring gentler penises or nature will punish them.
The original idea that “human reason can save us” crosses a barrier when it leaves the original person thinking that thought and is emulated by others. This viral barrier inverts it: if human reason can save us, and I am human, my reason must be rationalized as trying to save us.
That in turn serves as a form of equality. If every human is trying to save us by his thinking, all thoughts are equal, therefore we end up at pluralism or “agreeing to disagree.” We all have thoughts, and they are all accepted, which means that hierarchy of thoughts by realism becomes taboo.
In other words, social pressures doom humanity, and social pressures arise when societies grow too fast and society views its role as catering to all of the people it has instead of rewarding the good. At that point, good goes unrewarded and the society turns against itself.
With rationalization, every idea that a human wants to believe becomes accepted as truth, and soon the civilization descends into navel-gazing and bickering. Without clear champions based on reality, pluralism creates a bazaar of false hopes.
This brings about an Age of Symbolism. Without any known shared ideals and goals as provided by culture, society depends on manipulating its people with symbols in order to achieve consensus. This takes centuries to happen and accelerates when the kings are removed.
At this point, every person must be a manipulator in order to survive and reality goes further out the window. What groups of people think or desire is more important than what is real. In this way, the shopkeepers take over and enjoy a brief period of profit and permissiveness before the crash.
An Age of Symbolism brings a high price. Because of the constant manipulation, the people detest themselves and view even their most sacred beliefs and wisdom as bad and probably false. Individuals see society as a competing ape that wants to take their share, and retaliate accordingly.
Most of this retaliation takes the form of passive aggression. Like narcissism, this pathology consists of seeing everyone else as bad and the self as good, but avoids risk of direct confrontation through laziness, sabotage, subversion, distraction, deflection, and deception.
Citizens in such a society feel impotent. They cannot change the herd, therefore they cannot be honest in public and eventually, with themselves. Lying becomes the common behavior in this society. Manipulation frequently requires lying and “cherry-picking” data to argue a point.
In such a society, citizens are stranded in the leaky boat. They are unstable, hate themselves, hate others, and yet fear what will happen if they let go and allow change to happen. They might lose the little that they already have.
Leaders play into this fear by impoverishing the population even in the midst of wealth, making the real good life unattainable, and then handing out favors and subsidies in order to buy loyalty. This avoids another Revolution, which is the real job number one for all leaders in this situation.
We call this state “inverted” becasue effect becomes cause. All effects are seen as means, so we select the means we want, such as giving out money to end poverty. The cause of poverty is never investigated, and causes themselves are suspect because they are based in reality and not human opinion.
At that point, society becomes a vehicle to allow the mutual denial of reality by inverted thinking. Per pluralism, its essential unifying factor is that the opinions of each person are accepted as legitimate even when insane. Especially when insane: society normalizes insanity at this point.
Usually it produces a group that wants to resurrect the past. They imitate the methods of the past without understanding the goals, so become blind automatons stamping out repetition without a focus on what is needed or real.
Citizens in this era tend to defer to the system. The system is in control; we just follow the procedure. This allows them to avoid damaging their own self-esteem by possibly being proven wrong or worse, unpopular. Doing what others have done receives little criticism.
This era makes citizens fully individualistic, or “me first before all else,” something which leads to collectivism because that allows individuals to force others to accept them in an absolute sense. Individualism tears apart actual unity like culture and race and replaces them with pluralism.
To counter this decay, we need a new system of thought, not “new” in the sense of never occurring before but new in the sense of aiming toward that new boat. We do not want to re-create or re-live the past, but to adopt the abstract goals it had and then find the methods that are needed to reach them.
We might call this “positive thought”: we visualize what we are as individuals, choose the best out of that, and apply it to a larger order so that we have a support system for sanity, health, wisdom, and intelligence. We refine ourselves and our world in parallel.
Positive thought relies on us seeing what can be versus what is, reversing the inversion that rationalization relies upon. We orient ourselves toward new boats even if they are made of old wood.
This uses an economic principle: people will buy the same product until there is a better option, at which point they feel silly for paying more for lower quality. Our civilization right now is of low quality, but we can easily improve it to be high quality.
Such a view does not depend on the human order for stimulus and guidance, but uses the aspiration of individuals to move us away from failing methods toward reliable methods, which are the new boat that we need but are afraid to strive for.
Inherently this view reverts to realism, since instead of opinions about what is better or worse, we rely on the possibility of a better option to give people something to aspire to, creating an ascendant civilization around them.
Right now all of us “conservatives” are trying to conserve what is good, like culture, genetics, nature, and wisdom. We cannot step in the same river twice, so our goal is more to guide ourselves to a new boat to navigate this river, even if informed by the best of the past.
Tags: collapse, decay, individualism, pluralism, rationalism, rationalization