In the culture-stream, a great deal of nostalgia for the 1980s and early 1990s seems to be floating around. Your average normie — talking monkeys with car keys — blames it on technology, and that seems right, since social media and CCTV blankets were unknown back then.
But looking more closely, we see yet again how humanity is not a single thing and people are not equal. The normies back then thought things were going pretty good; the more sensitive, inquisitive, creative, and analytical types were horrified by yuppies, mass trends, and acid-washed jeans.
It was an apocalyptic time, for most of it through the threat of nuclear annihilation, but also through what we saw in our governments, churches, media, and academia: no one had a clue, and everyone was advancing his own career by inventing fanciful new explanations.
No wonder it was such a time of trends. The core of society had dropped out, as David Brooks noted, when the WASPs were overthrown and replaced with near-whites and other minorities.
This group appeared in the 1990s and that is where Brooks centers his book. In his view, they came to power as a replacement for the old WASP hierarchy in America. While that ancient regime operated by knowing the right people, and having the right family, this new regime accelerates those who have the right education, the right careers and the right beliefs and lifestyle choices. Brooks shows us a new elite trying to justify itself with claims that it morally deserves what it has.
As Brooks ably and humorously reveals, however, the downside of being in this new elite is inanity and pretense. Inanity, in that the trends they follow are even more boring than those of the WASP hierarchy before them. Pretense, in that the constant moral posturing by having to play nice with conspicuous consumption creates a useless, posturing and haughty lifestyle that is still just as product-oriented as the lives of the middle classes that its adherents disdain.
In other words, the revolutions of 1968 fundamentally transformed the West and dethroned its founders, replacing them with a new group chosen by education and not background plus character plus native intelligence, resulting in a gradual seepage of bungling into every aspect of modern life.
What haunted the 1980s was democracy. The effect it had on the human mind was to remove its center and purpose, replacing it with an ocean of self and desire, and this turned people into trivial but self-centered little careerists who quickly burned down everything of value.
This should surprise no one because the psychological effects of democracy had been ably described for twenty-four centuries at that point:
And then democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and power; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.
Yes, he said, that is the nature of democracy, whether the revolution has been effected by arms, or whether fear has caused the opposite party to withdraw.
And now what is their manner of life, and what sort of a government have they? for as the government is, such will be the man.
Clearly, he said.
In the first place, are they not free; and is not the city full of freedom and frankness — a man may say and do what he likes?
‘Tis said so, he replied.
And where freedom is, the individual is clearly able to order for himself his own life as he pleases?
Then in this kind of State there will be the greatest variety of human natures?
This, then, seems likely to be the fairest of States, being an embroidered robe which is spangled with every sort of flower. And just as women and children think a variety of colours to be of all things most charming, so there are many men to whom this State, which is spangled with the manners and characters of mankind, will appear to be the fairest of States.
Yes, my good Sir, and there will be no better in which to look for a government.
Because of the liberty which reigns there — they have a complete assortment of constitutions; and he who has a mind to establish a State, as we have been doing, must go to a democracy as he would to a bazaar at which they sell them, and pick out the one that suits him; then, when he has made his choice, he may found his State.
He will be sure to have patterns enough.
And there being no necessity, I said, for you to govern in this State, even if you have the capacity, or to be governed, unless you like, or go to war when the rest go to war, or to be at peace when others are at peace, unless you are so disposed — there being no necessity also, because some law forbids you to hold office or be a dicast, that you should not hold office or be a dicast, if you have a fancy — is not this a way of life which for the moment is supremely delightful?
For the moment, yes.
And is not their humanity to the condemned in some cases quite charming?
Have you not observed how, in a democracy, many persons, although they have been sentenced to death or exile, just stay where they are and walk about the world — the gentleman parades like a hero, and nobody sees or cares?
Yes, he replied, many and many a one.
See too, I said, the forgiving spirit of democracy, and the ‘don’t care’ about trifles, and the disregard which she shows of all the fine principles which we solemnly laid down at the foundation of the city — as when we said that, except in the case of some rarely gifted nature, there never will be a good man who has not from his childhood been used to play amid things of beauty and make of them a joy and a study — how grandly does she trample all these fine notions of ours under her feet, never giving a thought to the pursuits which make a statesman, and promoting to honour any one who professes to be the people’s friend.
Yes, she is of a noble spirit.
These and other kindred characteristics are proper to democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.
The individualistic nature of the state gives rise to the individualism of the average citizen, which makes him abandon all things of lasting value, and instead pursue that which adorns his ego in such a way to make him socially competitive:
Yes, I said, he lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour; and sometimes he is lapped in drink and strains of the flute; then he becomes a water-drinker, and tries to get thin; then he takes a turn at gymnastics; sometimes idling and neglecting everything, then once more living the life of a philosopher; often he-is busy with politics, and starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head; and, if he is emulous of any one who is a warrior, off he is in that direction, or of men of business, once more in that. His life has neither law nor order; and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom; and so he goes on.
Yes, he replied, he is all liberty and equality.
Yes, I said; his life is motley and manifold and an epitome of the lives of many; — he answers to the State which we described as fair and spangled. And many a man and many a woman will take him for their pattern, and many a constitution and many an example of manners is contained in him.
We knew, back in the 1980s, that we were heading into an apocalypse and all was lost. We knew that the decay had visited itself upon us and everything was falling apart. We knew that everything we loved or created was headed for a forgotten trash heap.
Since that time, there has been a bounce as we dare state the obvious but feared: democracy is failure, diversity is wrong, equality is a seductive and addictive illusion, America must be WASP, and consumerism is just egotism with more landfill.
What you are seeing now is those of us who lived through this nightmare and spent years laboring in depression without hope, and without a desire to go on, now turning around and saying that since everything is failing anyway, we might as well use this as a chance to fix it.
Deportations will be involved. Many people who are “succeeding” now will suddenly not have the wealth and power to which they are accustomed. Institutions we have relied on will be hollowed out of the rot and restarted. There will be changes in laws and political systems.
But at least we no longer need to live on our knees, waiting for the guillotine to drop yet again.