Over at Seasons of Tumult and Change, Talleyrand and his pals are speculating about the "fall of Western civilization." Will it happen? Yep, that's the consensus. When? Perhaps quite soon.
Tal lists "24 reasons given for why the Roman Empire fell," and claims America has achieved 21 of them. Yep, 21 out of 24. He writes: "The betting pool for when the West collapses into chaos begins now. Only gold please, no fiat cigarette rolling paper."
I've been very leery of making predictions.
Back in April, I wrote...
I make no predictions. I can only state a single truth: "Ideas have consequences"...
If the day should come when a critical mass of Americans believe… 1) We are nothing more than hairless apes, and 2) Free will is an illusion...Then it’s hard to see how freedom can survive more than another 1-2 generations...unless, of course, there's some sort of intellectual renaissance.
The next month, when writing about the economic crisis, I declared...
We might be on the verge of an economic/social paradigm shift not seen since the 1930's!I've been coy in the past, but I'll be more blunt today:
Should we be concerned? Absolutely. From the perspective of a typical American, it's one thing to be out of a job for a while with the understanding that prosperity is "right 'round the corner." It's quite another thing when our economic system is shaken to its very core and our our standard of living is thrown into doubt. Right now, I would wager that we are between those 2 perspectives, but over the next 1-3 years, we may solidly be in the 2nd perspective...
We may be on the cusp of a total revolution in America's political, economic, and moral order. Or...then again...maybe not.
As I commented on Talleyrand's site...
Yes, if I was a betting man, I would bet on the collapse of the West in my lifetime. But it’s far from guaranteed. And it will almost certainly be a gradual process – with some brief recoveries in between.
Why the pessimism?
First let me set the context: The mystery isn't why the West will collapse ("all good things must come an end"). No, the mystery is how the West was able to last as long as it did!
Think about it: For thousands of years of human history, life all across the world life was - to quote Hobbes - "nasty, brutish, and short." Then, in one small region of the world in one brief window of time, a civilization emerged in which people (on average) lived for 75+ years in excellent health, enjoyed an economic quality of life unimaginable to their ancestors, experienced freedom from tyranny and violence, and entertained nearly limitless opportunities for creativity and self-expression.
This civilization (first blossoming in the US, Great Britain, France, and Holland in the 18th century, spreading to most of Western Europe by the late 19th century, and spreading even into remote corners like Latin America by late 20th century) was no accident. And it was not inevitable. It was a coming together of a religion and a philosophy.
As I wrote in January...
I've never felt comfortable when politicians describe America as a "Judeo-Christian country" or reaffirm the need to preserve our "Judeo-Christian values"...It defines our country, our values, and our heritage through religion alone.
About a year ago, I coined the term "Christian-Enlightenment" because it combines the religion of the West (Christianity) with the ground-breaking Enlightenment ideas (freedom, reason, the Scientific Method, etc.) that enabled the West to dominate the world.
Ethiopia is a "Judeo-Christian" country, but it's one of the worst countries on Earth because it doesn't have the Enlightenment heritage of Europe and the United States.
The West is a product of the "Christian-Enlightenment." The "Christian Enlightenment" unlocked the "genius of man" - the genius of the rational man - unencumbered by religious superstition or political oppression. But how many people in the West realize that? Not many. And therein lies our problem. How can we preserve Western civilization when so few of us understand it?
Thankfully, the Founding Fathers understood it. They were the product of "The Age of Reason." They created the institutions and customs to preserve it. And when the European intellectuals started abandoning Reason in the mid-19th Century (and totally gave up on it by the end of World War One), only the U.S. was able to stop the descent into the abyss.
Why? Because of the Founders. They created the framework for the U.S. to become an economic superpower - and that economic power - in time - became military power - unprecedented military power.
When Europe started obeying the Second Law of Political Dynamics ("everything turns to shit") - abandoning reason and embracing a pair of horrific mysticisms - only the U.S. could, and did, save them.
When the Nazis conquered Europe, only the U.S. could, and did, save them. France surrendered with barely a fight. Great Britain had the resources to resist invasion, but not to roll back the Nazi Empire. Only the U.S. could do it. And years later, only the U.S. - for the same reasons - could resist Communism when that other irrational ideology consumed one-third of the world, and threatened to overrun the other two-thirds.
Since 2001, the U.S. has been experiencing a major economic decline - although it was able to mask that decline for 7 years by borrowing from China and other hostile foreign powers to finance a consumer binge at home while also undertaking a modern-day illogical "White Man's Burden" in Iraq and Afghanistan. To achieve those goals, this year, the federal government will run a $1.8 trillion deficit. And over the next 10 years, the U.S. debt is expected to double to almost $20 trillion. We are broke. So, so broke.
As we saw during the Great Depression, the world doesn't react well to sustained economic downturns (the rise of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, World War Two, etc). Thus, we're in for a rough 5-10 years, to say the least. Can we stop the decline? Can we reverse it?
I'd say "no."
To quote Charles Murray...
What's happening? Call it the Europe syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase "a life well-lived" did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.
And how do we reverse this "Europe Syndrome?" According to Mr. Murray, we need a "political Great Awakening among America's elites."
When I say that something akin to a political Great Awakening is required among America's elites, what I mean is that America's elites have to ask themselves how much they really do value what has made America exceptional, and what they are willing to do to preserve it.
Indeed. But later on, Mr. Murray claims that Reductionist science will save the West. Seriously! as I pointed out in my essay...
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Murray correctly diagnoses the "bag of chemicals" philosophy as the source of the "Europe Syndrome," but he doesn't recognize that the syndrome can't be defeated by only treating the symptoms (in this case, rolling back the welfare state). The syndrome itself (reductionism) must be treated, as well. In some of the best unintentional comedy ever found in a political speech, Mr. Murray thinks reductionist science will help advance the conservative movement and facilitate the "happiness of the people!" Ha!
Ah yes, Reductionism. I won't do here another full-scale dissection of Reductionism here. Let's just accept that it exists and it's quite powerful. M'kay? M'kay.
As I wrote to Talleyrand on Sep. 3...
Today, Reductionist premises are ubiquitous through our public schools, universities, mass media, popular culture, legal system, and political system…Indeed, probably the only institution in modern society that hasn’t been infected is organized religion…Thank God for that, I guess.Yes. The Elites are Reductionists. And the Christian Fundies are morons. Thus, it's almost irrelevant whether the Reductionist Party (the Democrats) or the Fundie Party (the Republicans) holds power. Both of them are actively undermining the vision of the Founding Fathers. They are destroying reason in place of mysticism.
I am 29. I assume you’re around my age. If that’s the case, we are only the second generation to be heavily exposed to Reductionist thinking (with very little resistance from organized religion, in most cases). The first generation was lucky. They lived off the fumes of an earlier Christian/Enlightenment culture. Today, those of us who are under 30 are living off the FUMES OF FUMES.
Again, at the risk of sounding over-dramatic, our generation will either be the one that begins an Intellectual/Spiritual Renaissance, or we will be the first generation in American history to know the twin evils of anarchy and tyranny.
As I wrote to Talleyrand in a separate post....
A "rational civilization" needs only 2 things...
1) A citizenry that believes in the power of reason - i.e., that people have the intellectual and moral capacity to live their own lives with a minimum of outside coercion (coercion from a government agency or a religious body or whatever), and
2) A government that operates in a way that enables its "rational citizens" to flourish (i.e, a government of limited powers that can maintain law and order).
By those standards, which civilizations are "rational?" Not many. The United States, Israel, and the Anglosphere (Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand). Maybe one or two others.
And obviously, all of those countries are in danger today, because the idea that reason is good for humanity - indeed, the very CONCEPT that reason even exists - is under attack.
Actually, reason - at least as a political matter - is already gone. In retrospect, history will probably the record the year 2008 as the year that the American people lost control of their government. If that's true, the collapse of the West is already "baked in."
When both the GOP and the Democrats ganged up on the taxpayers to bail out Wall Street crooks to the tune of $700 billion (actually a lot more than that) and destroyed the ethos of the capitalist system and the spirit of the American Dream ("if you work hard and play by the rules, you'll do OK) - and did it despite unprecedented voter opposition - then we knew "something was rotten in the state of Denmark.
Today, we've reached a state of "demoschlerosis" that can't be resolved through constitutional means. When that bill was signed into law - the vision of the Founding Fathers and the American Republic - was given its lethal injection.
The Reductionists grow in power. And the Christian Fundies - while still powerful in many ways - refuse to learn and grow up. As for the rest of us? We sit and stew. And write. But we haven't reached a critical mass. I've entertained hopes for an "Intellectual Renaissance." And I still do. But now I'm starting to move those hopes to AFTER the collapse, not BEFORE the collapse, and thus avoiding the need for a collapse altogether.
So what does the future hold?
I’ll bounce this idea as pure speculation (not a prediction):
The world in 2050…
The US as a violent, economically-sluggish tyranny (think Cold War-era Latin America), China as the world’s economic superpower, but still a tyranny (in some ways, even more oppressive than today), Europe in a state of civil war (think 90s-era Yugoslavia), the Arab World in Stone Age conditions (with China controlling the oil-producing regions by force), Australia as a rising democracy (with large numbers of refugees from Europe and the US), Japan as a vassal state of China, India still growing peacefully (but behind China), Latin America dysfunctional (just like today) and Africa horrific (just like today).