Does the achievement of success in a free society doom it to destruction? If so, do the very innovations and improvements of the industrial age (that exponentially improved the quality of life in the western world) actually doom us to societal decay? Are we the instruments of our own destruction?
There are many similarities to the challenges faced by our free, open and democratic society and the Edward Gibbon model of the fall of the Roman Empire. Writing in his classic 1776 tome (actually written over 12 years up to 1788), The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon placed the lion’s share of the blame for the destruction of the Empire on a loss of civic virtue among the Roman citizens. He theorized that because they grew complacent due to societal prosperity, the citizens of Rome gradually abdicated the responsibility for their own defence and entrusted that role to barbarian mercenaries. This abdication allowed the Empire to be infiltrated by a population who had no allegiance to the nation other than money and absent of any true allegiance, eventually turned on them.
Hiring mercenaries to provide civil defense is analogous to the current “jobs that Americans won’t do” excuse used by our political class that has allowed the ensuing infiltration of the United States by both legal and illegal immigrants who are only here for jobs – or by people who want the benefits of our society while simply refusing to assimilate for cultural and/or religious reason. Eerily similar to Gibbon’s theory, there are isolated populations existing in America today. The Muslim community of Dearborn, Michigan (essentially the Muslim capital of America), Chinatown in Los Angeles and the segregated Mexican communities of Tucson (and many other cities in the American Southwest) are prime examples. These are areas where English is not spoken, failures of America are celebrated and flags of foreign nations are more prevalent than those of America.
Gibbon also held that Christianity contributed to this shift by making the populace less interested in the immediate because it was willing to wait for the rewards of heaven. He wrote that:
“The decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight.”
It can be argued that in the contemporary push for secularism combined with the attempts to delegitimize the role of Christianity and the rise of militant Islam would seem to be in opposition to Gibbon – but they are just different paths to exactly the same destructive destination. The doom based quasi-religion of “climate change”, the counter intuitive combination of irreligious political positions and the embrace of Islam – or at least the fear/passive acceptance of it – are all contributing to a lack of belief in any worldly future. While the promise of 72 virgins in Islam would seem to be a reason for virtue in this life before passing to the next, it has been reduced to an excuse to end the life of a believer and unfortunately any life within the blast radius of a homicide bomb. In these cases, having no hope for the future or wishing to rush to meet the pleasures of the afterlife have exactly the same end result. Same ends, different paths – the only difference is the speed at which each progress.
Many have compared contemporary American society to the “bread and circus” society of Caligula’s Rome. Certainly the obsession of today’s society for leisure via sport and entertainment could be looked upon as something that Emperor Caligula would recognize. How else do you explain vouyeristic wastes of time like television’s Jersey Shore or Keeping Up With The Kardashians?
Others have drawn comparisons to Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and there are similarities from the “newspeak” of our media and political class to Huxley’s description of the perpetually euphoric society, many of the aspects of this fiction are proving to be fact.
In Huxley’s future, a state of perfect pleasure is achieved in society through the use of “soma”, a drug used to produce a euphoric state. Excerpted from his book, the drug is defined as having:
“All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects.”
“..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon…”
Sounds a little like the mood altering drugs that are dispensed like so much candy today, doesn’t it? Far from being the exception, the rule of today is the use of chemicals to even the mood, reduce stress and to generally cope with the demands and speed of modern society…but where does that get us that we artificially manage these inputs rather than build up a true natural resistance to them? When the medication stops, the ability to deal with these situations will disappear as well.
When we think about it, there are arguments to be made that simply having 30 varieties of toothpaste and 40 different varieties of yogurt ready for instant purchase at every American grocery is evidence of how far we have distanced ourselves from the harsh realities of the creation of these products. Does the ready availability of foods from all over the world in a store two blocks from our homes divorce us from the labor and effort that it takes to get it there?
Societies, like individuals, do reach a point of comfort and that comfort breeds a terrible cycle of complacency, context free self examination and reactionary behaviour. One wonders if America could be headed down that path.
We are seeing an example of this in the crowds of “middle class socialist brats” who initiated the #Occupy[insert city/location name here] protests. Of course, now the “progressives” are co-opting them for political benefit but there are a core of these protestors who have no clue that they are calling for the contradictory positions of anarchy and big government at exactly the same time and are also supporters of a political ideology that is at peace with Wall Street. In this, I am as confused as they seem to be. Little wonder their “demands” are so incoherent.
Does this mean that Western Civilization was destroyed by Target and Wal-Mart? Of course not. Is it a warning sign? Perhaps…
In truth, Gibbon can offer only rational deduction based on observation and historical clues, Orwell and Huxley can only impart a theoretical vision. There is no perfect textbook example of what we face, no user manual for operation of the future. There are only analogies and simulations of future states because the future entirely depends on us and our actions. We should learn from the past but we make the future fresh every day. Just because Rome was destroyed does not mean that we have to accept her fate as our own.