Monday, June 19, 2006

Civilizational Collapse

Society depends on common action, which presupposes common ideas. Not just any ideas, of course -- collective stupidity is not less stupid for being collective. But something must hold us together if we are to rise above anarchy.

Everywhere you look there are signs of social decay. David Warren is a great commentator on these signs. He explains, for instance, the cause of division between left and right:

The constant ambition is to deprive the individual of the freedom and security that only the state can assure, while making him a ward of the state in his private behaviour. To do this effectively, the entire moral order of a society must be systematically destroyed. In particular, the seemingly impregnable institution of the family must be undermined and subverted, and likewise religious and independent social institutions -- for it is from these a society acquires its moral backbone. Break them, and the citizen becomes a kind of jelly to be fit into any desired new mould.

There are those who relish this, and those who accede to it out of temptation (undermining the family = sexual titillation). Warren finds the deepest cause of this in a kind of perverse sexuality:

The reasons for this go deeper than public policy, to the profound narcissism that has taken over the “liberal” mind. I am not suggesting the average liberal is a criminal. He hasn’t the guts for that. But in the phantasia of his consciousness he is attracted almost sexually to the idea of “transgression”; to soiling the respectable. This is why, for the Left, “free speech” usually comes down to protecting pornographers; whereas for the Right, it is usually a matter of protecting the right to voice an opinion in good conscience.

An interesting question for me is whether the bottom motive is really transgressive or nihilistic. The point, Warren perceptively argues, is to submerge the indivdiual into the state -- and why? The desire is part and parcel of the Enlightenment: human life must be rationalized. But the human spirit stands in the way. Men are not cogs in a machine to be programmed so as to solve all problems. So they must be tamed. Fascinating, that this project to eviscerate the human soul could become pseudo-erotic in character, so that the path to nothingness would seem exciting, liberating, pleasurable! Quite a nut to crack here.

In any case, those on the right have some sense of what's coming and resist it, to some degree.

This does not make it seem promising to be 'conservative' today -- a sign of Warren's precision. A case in point:

the feminist movement succeeded in de-legitimizing the male sex, and we now have a public system of misandry. It has been stripping our whole society of the masculine protections we need to survive in a cruel world. It has been stunting the growth of boys in playground and schoolroom, and thus depriving women of their supply of grown-up men. And in return for the elimination of a few petty injustices, feminism has sent men and women, by their millions, via an earthly into a perpetual hell.

And yet this man-hating movement could be over-rated. For feminism is itself only part of something larger: the self-destruction of a wonderfully paternal social order, that brought the world the highest civilization it had ever seen. “It’s just our castles burning.”

Lest we think the fault is in us alone, Warren has this to say about the global situation and civilizational decline:

But no reason to think it is because the great mass of Muslims have been seized by religious enthusiasm. On the contrary, I have the strongest possible hunch, from everything I know about the current Muslim East, that the opposite is true. The world of Islam is suffering a crisis of belief, parallel to that in the West, though so different in its outward expressions that we do not recognize it. Indeed, the failure of what we fondly call “moderate Muslims” to stand against the fanatic tide, is among the leading indicators that the “mainstream” of Islam has hollowed out. . . .

We don’t see this possibility because our eyes are trained upon what is typical of the crack-up of a Christian society -- absurd parodies of old Christian doctrines, such as tolerance for anything at home, and surrender-pacifism abroad. But the same planetary loss of faith, infecting the Muslim world, produces instead absurd parodies of old Islamic doctrines, such as Talibanism at home and gratuitous terrorism abroad. In other words, both civilizations are entering their “second childhood” of senile dementia, but each in his characteristic way.

So that a better way to phrase the question, “Who will win this clash of civilizations?” might be, "Which one is collapsing faster?"

What to do as the world threatens to collapse all around you? Here is an offering by our president:

Complaining that television and radio shows in recent years have "too often pushed the bounds of decency," President Bush signed legislation yesterday to escalate dramatically the penalties against broadcasters who violate federal standards.

"The language is becoming coarser during the times when it's more likely children will be watching television," Bush said, citing a study of nighttime programming. "It's a bad trend, a bad sign." He noted that complaints to regulators have exploded since he took office. "People are saying, 'We're tired of it, and we expect the government to do something about it.' "

I would not lump this with the banning of smoking in bars. I would not suggest that Warren's point about the correlation between regulation and the diminishment of man applies to censorship (as regulation). No, such regulation attempts to defend the turf of the family, the ability to raise children in decency and thus to make them that much freer of the seductive power of the annihilating state Warren describes. Problem is the government action cannot and will not go far enough:

Broadcasters and free-speech advocates argue that the legislation attacks expression and unfairly targets broadcast networks while cable and satellite programming remains beyond the reach of federal regulation. The main television networks and affiliates recently sued to challenge the government's power to regulate on-air content.

The National Association of Broadcasters yesterday released the same statement it issued when the legislation passed, calling "responsible self-regulation" the preferred path and asserting that any rules "should be applied equally" to cable and satellite outlets.

Self-regulation is of course a lark, but the initial point is fair: this will not affect most media. It is not for that reason worthless. It makes a point. One could even argue that its very inconsistency is a virtue, since part of the soulless order of modern society is the idea that all legislation must be uniform. Contradiction within the soul is a disease, but contradiction in social order can be better than conformity to a base standard. I support what the president is doing but I take little hope from it in itself.

The virtue of hope comprises Warren's topic in my final quotation:

It follows, that Father’s Day is a day on which men should renew hope. Why? Because there is always hope of recovery, while we breathe, and our society still exists. Fathers, take your lumps and get on with it: for so long as a man would rather be a man, he isn’t beaten yet.



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