Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Will Western Civilization End in Your Lifetime? Yes, Probably

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!

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.

I've been coy in the past, but I'll be more blunt today:

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.

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.

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.

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).



Anonymous said...

"And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake." Matthew 24:6-9

Todd White said...

Personally, I don't believe in the Apocalypse. The verse you cite could be used to describe most of human history (the World Wars, for example).

What I fear is not war or famine, per se, but the loss of Western Culture.

Anonymous said...

Western culture has one leg in Jerusalem and the other in Athens. Secularists chopped off one leg, and you wonder why the cripple is bleeding to death in the street? Good riddance, I say.

Todd White said...

"Western culture has one leg in Jerusalem and the other in Athens."

TW: If by that you mean Western culture has one leg in reason and one in faith, then yes, I agree with you.

Secularists chopped off one leg, and you wonder why the cripple is bleeding to death in the street?

TW: I don't wonder why. I agree with you. That's what I said in my essay: The nation's elite is drowning in Reductionist/nihilist thinking. This is an unprecedented phenomenon. And it's the number one reason for the likely demise of our civilization.

Anonymous said...

"Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

But perhaps you mean to say that the "reason" you worship is the "rationality" of the ancient Greeks or Romans? The same "rational" people who worshiped multiple idols, murdered infants and the handicapped, and enslaved the majority of the populace?

In that case, you should be cheerful. We are heading right back to Athens...

Todd White said...

The "reason" you worship is the "rationality" of the ancient Greeks or Romans?

TW: No. First of all, I don't "worship reason." I can't imagine what "worshipping reason" would even look like. And second, the Greeks and Romans have little appeal to me.

If you're looking for historical examples of what I consider to be a "rational civilization," I would say the U.S. and the Anglosophere up until very recently.

Todd White said...

Oh, and Israel.

Anonymous said...

The U.S. was one of the most Christian nations in history. It wasn't surprising that it was also one of the most rational, as Christianity is a rational worldview, and if one considers their eternal salvation important, the MOST rational.

Anonymous said...

If you like Rand, you might like this essay by Pastor John Piper on her philosophy:


Todd White said...

The U.S. was one of the most Christian nations in history.

TW: In some parts of history, yes. In other parts, no. Religious fervor has waxed and waned over time. Ironically, you could make the argument that the most sincerely religious President was GW BUsh and the most vocal religious political party was the GOP under his leadership. Needless to say, I wasn't too impressed with their performance.

Christianity is a rational worldview.

TW: Hmm. I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with that. See my essay, "A Comment Thread to a Christian Nation."


Anonymous said...

If you though the US was a "Christian" nation from 2000-2008, you really have no sense of what Christ stands for.

I read your essay. I have commented there as well, but perhaps you don't find a worldview based on a logical evaluation of the evidence to be "rational."

Todd White said...

If you though the US was a "Christian" nation from 2000-2008, you really have no sense of what Christ stands for.

TW: I don't think the US was EVER a Christian nation. As I said in my essay, it was a "Christian-Enlightenment" nation.

Anonymous said...

A government is not a nation. The wonderful state we have today is the French Revolution hitting our shores with its full intensity.

Enjoy the "Enlightenment."

Todd White said...

I wasn't referring only to the government; I was referring to the culture at large. Western culture.

Anonymous said...

You got it. Western culture. Today is what it looks like sans Christianity. There is nothing new under the sun. Paganism is paganism.

Todd White said...

Anon: "Western culture. Today is what it looks like sans Christianity."

TW: As I said in my essay, Christianity is still a cultural force, although its power is declining. The reason Western culture looks the way it does today is because 1) the spread of the Reductionist cancer has reached critical mass (especially among the youngest Americans), and 2) Christianity has not adapted to meet this challenge.

As I said in a previous essay, the best hope for the West is a more rational, more muscular form of Christianity. That can still happen. And it might happen quite suddenly. But I see no evidence of it. Thus, my pessimism.

Todd White said...

Anonymous (from 8:46 AM)

The essay you sent me was very good. It sounds like the author has a similar understanding of the world as I do. And if you share the author’s perspective, I guess we share the same perspective, as well.

Yes, the fact that God exists (which can be demonstrated rationally beyond a reasonable doubt) changes the ethical dynamic for those who are committed to reason (as the Objectivists claim to be). The fact that God deliberately chose to create us in an act of love expands one’s “moral sphere” beyond those who can be advantageous to the individual. We are, in some sense, “our brother’s keeper.”

No, we should not sacrifice ourselves to those who wish to do us harm (which some Christians actually believe) but our attitude towards our fellow man should be one of benevolence, and we should actively help those who need our help even when it doesn’t directly advance our interests. Why? Because they are children of God. And thus, we are all - in a sense - “brothers.”

Anonymous said...

"But I see no evidence of it."

Look harder. It exists. In fact, I have pasted several sources for your edification today. The Christian that says "The Bible alone is God's Word" is the more rational, more muscular form of Christianity you are seeking.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:21-23)

Point of this: Not all "Christians" you may know are necessarily who they say they are.

Todd White said...

Anon: 'The Christian that says "The Bible alone is God's Word" is the more rational, more muscular form of Christianity you are seeking.'

TW: I feel pretty confident saying that's not the case. The way I read the survey data is that there IS a spiritual hunger out there - PLUS an open mind towards Christianity - but they can't commit to Christianity if their adherents are going to say things like "The Bible alone is God's Word." They feel like there are many avenues to "Truth." The Bible can be one of them, perhaps. But to say it is "THE Truth" and everything else is wrong strikes them as a non-starter.

Actually, I might have a new essay on this topic in the next day or 2, although I've written about it before.

Anonymous said...

"But to say it is "THE Truth" and everything else is wrong strikes them as a non-starter."

No doubt. Because they are relativists, which means they are irrational.

But I wasn't implying that rational Christianity (i.e. Biblical Christianity) is growing in the U.S. It's not, though it is growing in places such as China and Africa.

The U.S. is a dead nation walking. On that point, we both agree.

Todd White said...

Anon: "they are relativists, which means they are irrational."

TW: I am neither a relativist nor irrational.

Anon: "I wasn't implying that rational Christianity (i.e. Biblical Christianity) is growing in the U.S. It's not, though it is growing in places such as China and Africa."

TW: By my standards of "rational Christianity," I can see no scenario where Africa will be in the vanguard. China? Perhaps. That's a very interesting subject in its own right.