Category Archive 'Decadence'
21 Dec 2016

How Things Have Changed

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06 Oct 2016

Liberal Democracy’s Minimalist View of Humanity Leads Directly to Unlimited Entitlement

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Ryszard Lugutko, Professor of philosophy at the Jagellonian University in Cracow.

From The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies by Ryszard Legutko.

Liberal and democratic thought had been, from the very beginning –- with few exceptions -– minimalist when it came to its image of the human being. The triumph of liberalism and democracy was supposed to be emancipatory also in the sense that man was to become free from excessive demands imposed on him by unrealistic metaphysics invented by an aristocratic culture in antiquity and the Middle Ages. In other words, an important part of the message of modernity was to legitimize a lowering of human aspirations. Aspiring to great goals was not ruled out in particular cases, but greatness was no longer inscribed in the essence of humanity. The main principle behind the minimalist perspective was equality: from the point of view of a liberal order one cannot prioritize human objectives. Only the means can be prioritized in terms of efficiency, provided this does not jeopardize the rules of peaceful cooperation. …

There were, as I’ve said, exceptions to this view –- few, but worth noting. Among the eighteenth century authors, Kant, who defended liberalism, set up high standards for humanity; in the 19th century, John Stuart Mill and T.H. Green had similar intentions. The last two aptly perceived the danger of mediocrity that the democratic rule was inconspicuously imposing on modern societies. They both believed –- differences notwithstanding -– that some form of liberalism, or rather, a philosophy of liberty, was a possible remedy to the creeping disease of mediocrity. Mill remained under the partial, albeit indirect influence of German Romanticism, and thus attributed a particular role to great, creative individuals whose exceptionality or even eccentricity could –- in a free environment -– pull men out of a democratic slumber.

But these ideas did not find followers, and liberal democratic thought and practice increasingly fell into the logic of minimalism. Lowering the requirements is a process that has no end. Once people become used to disqualifying certain standards as too high, impractical, or unnecessary, it is only a matter of time before natural inertia takes its course and even the new lowered standards are deemed unacceptable. One can look at the history of liberal democracy as a gradual sliding down from the high to the low, from the refined to the coarse. Quite often a step down as been welcomed as refreshing, natural, and healthy, and indeed it sometimes was. But whatever the merits of this process of simplification, it too often brought vulgarity to language, behavior, education, and moral rules. The growing vulgarity of form was particularly striking, especially in the last decades, moving away from sophistication and decorum. A liberal-democratic man refused to learn these artificial and awkward arrangements, the usefulness of which seemed to him at first doubtful, and soon -– null. He felt he had no time for them, apparently believing that their absence would make life easier and more enjoyable. In their place he establish new criteria: use, practicality, usefulness, pleasure, convenience, and immediate gratification, the combination of which turned out to be a deadly weapon against the old social forms. The old customs crumbled, and so did rules of propriety, a sense of decorum, a respect for hierarchy.

Read the rest of this entry »

09 Jun 2016

Contemplating The Trump Phenomenon

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Trump-Tirade

Charles R. Kessler does not agree with NeverTrumpers like myself, but he does accurately perceive Trump’s flaws and has interesting thoughts about the rise of Trump in his current essay in Claremont Review of Books.

Trump’s own business record is indistinguishable from his career as a celebrity. He stubbornly defends his crudity, anger, and egotism as integral to the Trump brand, which he promotes incessantly, and as in touch with the working class voters he covets. To conservatives enamored of the gentlemanly manners of Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, this indecency offends.

Yet it hasn’t disqualified Trump as a candidate, because it helps to certify him as a non-politician, a truth-speaker, and an entertainer. Trump seems to know the contemporary working class well, its hardships, moral dislocations, and resentments. Readers familiar with the new working class described by Charles Murray in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 (reviewed in the Summer 2012 CRB) will have a roadmap to the America that Trump sees and rallies to his side. As the Obama team got a jump on its rivals by exploiting new campaign software and technology in the 2008 race, so Trump got a cultural jump on his rivals in the 2016 primaries. He saw that the older, politer, less straitened America was fading among the working and lower middle classes. Downward mobility, broken families, disability and other forms of welfare support—these were increasingly the new reality for them.

This left them lots of time for TV (as Murray shows), especially for reality TV shows. Trump was more in touch with these developments, and also with the anxieties of the working part of the working class who feared falling into this slough of despond, than any of the other candidates. To put it in business speak, as the New York Times did, Trump “understood the Republican Party’s customers better than its leaders did.” It didn’t help that much of the rank-and-file had lost confidence in those leaders. Trump ran rings around them, and employed new media to do it. Steve Case, the founder of AOL, described that part of the achievement in an email to the Times that had the odd rhythm of one of its subject’s tweets. “Trump leveraged a perfect storm. A combo of social media (big following), brand (celebrity figure), creativity (pithy tweets), speed/timeliness (dominating news cycles).”

Every republic eventually faces what might be called the Weimar problem. Has the national culture, popular and elite, deteriorated so much that the virtues necessary to sustain republican government are no longer viable? America is not there yet, though when 40% of children are born out of wedlock it is not too early to wonder. What about when Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president? Many conservatives think that’s also sufficient reason to worry the end is near.

Whole thing.

14 Apr 2016

Diagnosing Decadence

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Eric Fischl, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog, 1982. –Our time’s version of The Raft of the Medusa.

Dan Greenfield contrasts the barbarous, vigorous, and decadent stages of civilization in another of his superb must-read essays.

The decadent civilization has a million laws which it applies selectively. Its universal laws, inherited from a vigorous civilization, are buried between equivocation. Decadents don’t believe in objective truths and so they cannot have universal laws. Instead they mire them in so many legalisms as to be meaningless. The laws must be interpreted by a specialized caste. Everyone is always in violation of some obscure law. Life depends on a lawless dispensation from the law. Justice is impossible. Corruption is mandatory. The only way for the decadent civilization to function is to bypass its own safeguards through corruption, black markets and lobbying. This is true in all things.

The crucial task of the law is interpretation that keeps everyone from constantly being punished. This task is accomplished by lawyers, lobbyists and the politicians who are constantly adding more laws to fix the interpretations in the old laws creating a complex mass of contradictory information.

This holds true in every other area of decadent life.

Read the whole thing.

Right now, a lot of people are eager to embrace the barbarian (Donald Trump) precisely because at an instinctive level they perceive him, with all his faults, representing an alternative to the decadence of our current elite culture, and they are ready to jump over the cliff to escape the latter.

19 Mar 2016

2016 Election Not Important

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NewZealanderLondonRuins
Gustave Doré, A Traveller from New Zealand Contemplating the Ruins of London.

“[W]hen some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s” — Thomas Babbington Macauley.

Selwyn Duke explains that the presumably-disastrous next presidential election doesn’t really matter all that much. America (and the rest of the West) is doomed anyway.

Many people lament that “Obama has destroyed America these last eight years” or, alluding to same, will say “I don’t recognize my country anymore.” This is much like viewing a woman who marries a greasy-haired, dope-smoking, heavily tattooed and pierced, unemployable reprobate and saying that her matrimonial decision destroyed her, when the real problem was that she was the kind of person who could make such a choice in the first place. Do you really think Obama isn’t a symptom at least as much as a cause? Do you think the 2008 A.D. America that elected him would have been recognizable to 1950 Americans?

And even if the next president is an anomalous good result, he won’t even be a pause that refreshes, but will at best slow down the runaway train racing toward the precipice. This is because our main problems aren’t illegal migration, trade deals or health care, as significant as those things are. Our problems are more fundamental.

Do you really want to save America? Okay, then completely transform the media, academia and entertainment so they’re not brainwashing citizens 24/7 with anti-American, anti-Christian, multiculturalist, socialist, feminist and a multitude of other lies. End legal immigration, which, via the importation of massive numbers of Third Worlders, is changing our country into a socialistic non-Western culture. Even more significantly, convince the 70-plus percent of Americans who are moral relativists to believe in Truth; these are people who, as the Barna Group research company put it, believe that what we call “truth is always relative to the person and their situation” and whose most common basis for moral decision-making is “doing whatever feels right….”

Read the whole thing.

01 Mar 2016

“The Age of Trump”

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TrumpCampaigning

Eliot A. Cohen, in the American Interest, points out that Donald Trump is not the solution to America’s problems, he is really the most alarming symptom of the disease.

Politicians have, since ancient Greece, lied, pandered, and whored. They have taken bribes, connived, and perjured themselves. But in recent times—in the United States, at any rate—there has never been any politician quite as openly debased and debauched as Donald Trump. Truman and Nixon could be vulgar, but they kept the cuss words for private use. Presidents have chewed out journalists, but which of them would have suggested that an elegant and intelligent woman asking a reasonable question was dripping menstrual blood? LBJ, Kennedy, and Clinton could all treat women as commodities to be used for their pleasure, but none went on the radio with the likes of Howard Stern to discuss the women they had bedded and the finer points of their anatomies. All politicians like the sound of their own names, but can anyone doubt what Trump would have christened the Hoover Dam—or the Washington Monument?

That otherwise sober people do not find Trump’s insults and insane demands outrageous (Mexico will have to pay for a wall! Japan will have to pay for protection!) says something about a larger moral and cultural collapse. His language is the language of the comments sections of once-great newspapers. …

The current problem goes beyond excruciatingly bad manners. What we increasingly lack, and have lacked for some time, is a sense of the moral underpinning of republican (small r) government. Manners and morals maintain a free state as much as laws do, as Tocqueville observed long ago, and when a certain culture of virtue dies, so too does something of what makes democracy work. Old-fashioned words like integrity, selflessness, frugality, gravitas, and modesty rarely rate a mention in modern descriptions of the good life—is it surprising that they don’t come up in politics, either? …

The rot is cultural. It is no coincidence that Trump was the star of a “reality” show. He is the beneficiary of an amoral celebrity culture devoid of all content save an omnipresent lubriciousness. He is a kind of male Kim Kardashian, and about as politically serious. In the context of culture, if not (yet) politics, he is unremarkable; the daily entertainments of today are both tawdry and self-consciously, corrosively ironic. Ours is an age when young people have become used to getting news, of a sort, from Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, when an earlier generation watched Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley. It is the difference between giggling with young, sneering hipsters and listening to serious adults. Go to YouTube and look at old episodes of Profiles in Courage, if you can find them—a wildly successful television series based on the book nominally authored by John F. Kennedy, which celebrated an individual’s, often a politician’s, courage in standing alone against a crowd, even a crowd with whose politics the audience agreed. The show of comparable popularity today is House of Cards. Bill Clinton has said that he loves it.

American culture is, in short, nastier, more nihilistic, and far less inhibited than ever before. It breeds alternating bouts of cynicism and hysteria, and now it has given us Trump.

27 Nov 2015

San Francisco’s History and its Disastrous Impact on American Politics and Culture

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Michael Anton, in the current Claremont Review of Books, has an absolutely brilliant, must-read article which identifies the peculiar historical relationship between San Francisco’s Barbary Coast outlaw culture and American haute bourgeois culture’s contemporary decadence all of which is closely connected to the incongruous American alliance between big wealth and the revolutionary left.

Contemporary liberalism exists to redistribute wealth, which in turn has, historically, sought to fend off, mock, and discredit liberalism. In the rare cases when these tactics fail, wealth makes the minimum necessary concessions to ensure its own survival against the Left’s relentless envy and resentment.

But for a decade or two now, the rich haven’t needed to make much of an effort because they’ve managed to beguile liberals in much the same way that Tom Sawyer tricked his friends into whitewashing the fence. Rather than clamoring to redistribute wealth, liberalism now gratefully accepts whatever crumbs wealth deigns to bestow—and in return treats wealth with the obsequious deference of a court eunuch.

How this happened—and especially its San Francisco pedigree—I hope to explain. It’s long been a truism that California is the political and cultural bellwether for the nation. But this particular export remains underappreciated.

For the moment, though, it’s enough to recognize that both the rich and the Left—and above all the rich Left—have a clear interest in obscuring and even denying their arrangement: the Left because they need the culture’s rhetorical guns trained rightward in order to maintain their grip on power; the rich to deflect scrutiny and envy from themselves. Politicians decline to stoke populist outrage against this partnership because the rich pay them not to and because, in a democracy, they must court the Left for reasons not dissimilar to Willie Sutton’s rationale for robbing banks. Sutton, though, couldn’t count bankers as backers or allies. Today’s Democratic Party, by contrast, enjoys near universal support not just from Wall Street but from the 1% in every industry, save Big Oil and Big Pharma.

Drop everything and read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

28 Oct 2015

They Have the Russian Shaking in his Boots

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01 Oct 2015

The Modern Man Fisked

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TheModernMan

Via Karen L. Myers and Ed Driscoll at Instapundit, a NYT column defining “The Modern Man” with replies in red ink.

22 Aug 2015

Tweet of the Day

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Tweet96

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds via Karen L. Myers.

17 Aug 2015

“Notes on the Death of Culture”

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Eric Fischl, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog, 1982. –Our time’s version of The Raft of the Medusa.

John D. Davidson reviews Mario Vargas Llosa’s just-released
Notes on the Death of Culture, a must-read pessimistic essay discussing the West’s rate of decline since 1948 (the year of my birth) and our civilization’s gloomy prospects for the future.

In his 1948 essay, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, T.S. Eliot argued that the highest levels of culture are only attainable by relatively small groups of people, and that in order for a civilization to sustain high culture a class system of some kind is necessary. Because culture is transmitted primarily through the family and religion—not schools—and because it relies to a large extent on these particular loyalties for its perpetuation, when these institutions fail, “we must expect our culture to deteriorate.”

At the risk of over-simplifying Eliot’s argument, one of his basic contentions sounds rather old-fashioned, perhaps even bigoted by today’s standards, that “we can distinguish between higher and lower cultures; we can distinguish between advance and retrogression.” This notion flies in the face of multiculturalism, not to say the notion of equality. Yet it’s a necessary premise for his assessment of the state of contemporary culture:

    “We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline; that the standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and that the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity. I see no reason why the decay of culture should not proceed much further, and why we may not even anticipate a period, of some duration, of which it is possible to say that it will have no culture.”

According to Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, the culture-less period foreseen 67 years ago by Eliot is the one in which we are all now living.

01 Jul 2015

Sentimental Nihilism

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ReligiousFreedomAct

Kit Wilson identifies the leading cultural disease of modern times.

We seek to make society blinkered, mindless and immature. Look at the way today’s businesses choose to market themselves. They invent names that imitate the nonsense words of babies: Zoopla, Giffgaff, Google, Trivago. They deliberately botch grammar in their slogans to sound naïve and cutesy: “Find your happy”, “Be differenter”, “The joy of done”. They make their advertisements and logos twee and ironic — a twirly moustache here, a talking dog there — just to show how carefree and fun they are.

Those in our society who actually still have children have them later and in smaller numbers than ever. Many simply choose to forego the responsibilities of parenthood altogether. Marriage is an optional extra — one from which we can opt out at any point, regardless of the consequences for the children.

Students expect to be treated like five-year-olds: one conference recently prohibited applause for fear it would, somehow, trigger a spate of breakdowns. Many of my fellow twentysomethings reach adulthood believing they can recreate in their everyday lives the woolly comforts of social media. They discover, with some surprise, that they cannot simply click away real confrontation, and — having never developed the psychological mechanisms to cope with it — instead seek simply to ban it.

The effects of social media don’t end there. A Pew Research Centre study last year found that regular social media users are far more likely than non-users to censor themselves, even offline. We learn to ignore, rather than engage with, genuine disagreement, and so ultimately dismantle the most important distinction between civil society and the playground — the ability to live respectfully alongside those with whom we disagree.

Social media assures us that the large civilisational questions have already been settled, that undemocratic nations will — just as soon as they’re able to tweet a little more — burst into glorious liberty, and that politics is, thus, merely a series of gestures to make us feel a bit better. Hence the bewildering range of global issues we seem to think can be somehow resolved with a sober mugshot and a meaningful hashtag.

In reality, our good fortune is an anomaly. We’ll face again genuine, terrifying confrontations of a kind we can scarcely imagine today. And we’ll need something a little more robust than an e-petition and a cat video.

Sadly, our philosophical approach seems to have been to paper over Nietzsche’s terrifying abyss with “Keep calm . . .” posters. If one were to characterise the West’s broad philosophical outlook today, it would be this: sentimental nihilism. We accept, as “risen apes”, that it’s all meaningless. But hey, we’re having a good time, right?

This is gleefully expressed by our society’s favourite spokespeople — comedians, glorifying the saccharine naivety of a culture stuck in the present. When the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat asked the comedian Bill Maher to locate the source of human rights, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s in the laws of common sense.”

Read the whole thing.

25 Feb 2015

“Liberalism Fills the Missing Space Once Inhabited By Religion and the Family”

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Eric Fischl, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog, 1982. –Our time’s version of The Raft of the Medusa.

And Dan Greenfield argues that it really does not do a terribly good job.

Liberalism has become a revolt against the middle class that its grandparents struggled to reach, a rejection of their “materialism” while substituting the “ethical materialism” of liberalism in its place that envisions a much smaller upper and middle class that derives its wealth and power not from hard work in the private sector, but highly profitable social justice volunteerism in the public sector.

An American Dream of universal prosperity has been pitted against the left’s dream of a benevolent feudal system in which the few will be very well paid to oversee the income equality of the many.

24 Feb 2015

Lab Mouse Experiment Leads to Dystopia

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LabRat

io9 describes a 1972 experiment which demonstrated that urbanization, increased population density, led to dystopian decadence and inequality featuring exactly the same kind of urban community of fashion elite we have ruining America today.

In 1972, animal behaviorist John Calhoun built a rat paradise with beautiful buildings and limitless food. He introduced eight mice to the population. Two years later, the mice had created their own apocalypse. Here’s why.

Universe 25 was a giant box designed to be a rodent utopia. The trouble was, this utopia did not have a benevolent creator. John B. Calhoun had designed quite a few mouse environments before he got to the 25th one, and didn’t expect to be watching a happy story. Divided into “main squares” and then subdivided into levels, with ramps going up to “apartments,” the place looked great, and was always kept stocked with food, but its inhabitants were doomed from the get-go.

Universe 25 started out with eight mice, four males and four females. By day 560, the mouse population reached 2,200, and then steadily declined back down to unrecoverable extinction. At the peak population, most mice spent every living second in the company of hundreds of other mice. They gathered in the main squares, waiting to be fed and occasionally attacking each other. Few females carried pregnancies to term, and the ones that did seemed to simply forget about their babies. They’d move half their litter away from danger and forget the rest. Sometimes they’d drop and abandon a baby while they were carrying it.

The few secluded spaces housed a population Calhoun called, “the beautiful ones.” Generally guarded by one male, the females—- and few males — inside the space didn’t breed or fight or do anything but eat and groom and sleep. When the population started declining the beautiful ones were spared from violence and death, but had completely lost touch with social behaviors, including having sex or caring for their young.

In 1972, with the baby boomers coming of age in a ever-more-crowded world and reports of riots in the cities, Universe 25 looked like a Malthusian nightmare. It even acquired its own catchy name, “The Behavioral Sink.” If starvation didn’t kill everyone, people would destroy themselves. The best option was to flee to the country or the suburbs, where people had space and life was peaceful and natural.

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