Initially Published 23 April, 2018
This page is somewhat lengthy.
“Nam qui dabat olim imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses” ––––––– “The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things — bread and circuses!”
Juvenal – The Satires number X, line 80
Societal Decay is already occurring and I don’t think that by itself it is likely to precipitate a sudden collapse. What I do see is the gradual decay of the bonds of society making recovery from any of the other possible collapse causes more difficult.
The above quote is one of the most misunderstood quotes often tossed around in political discussions in the comment sections of political articles, other online forums, and in face to face debates. It needs a little context. The author Decimus Junius Juvenalis called Juvenal today, lived in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries A.D., he lived at a time when the Roman Empire was at its height in power and prestige and his works are mainly a commentary on the decadence of Roman life and how that decadence would lead to Rome’s downfall. The particular satire that this line is taken from, number Ten, decries the loss of manliness among Romans who instead of doing great deeds content themselves with petty amusements and subsisted on handouts from the emperor.
I like the Juvenal quote because I think it applies equally to modern day America. Just 70 short years ago America was called the Arsenal of Democracy and from a standing start built a military of 16 million to fight a global war and restore freedom to the people of Europe and the Pacific suffering 416,800 military deaths in the process. The same country is now incapable of sustaining a regional war that lasts a decade and costs less than 10,000 combat deaths without getting war weary. The average American would rather stay at home and play video games.
I am in 100% agreement with economic historian Niall Ferguson and the points he makes in his 2013 book The Great Degeneration about the things that are causing the decline of the West. These are:
- The degeneration of civil, that is to say private non-government, institutions
- The failure of the Rule of Law
- The distortion of economies by social engineering
- The breakdown of trust in civil society
We can address each of these points individually and provide examples of them. If you take a few moments you will realize that they are profound and are indeed happening around us. None of these items individually or even combined will cause a sudden collapse, what they do however, is contribute to a gradual degeneration of the fabric of society. A rot and destruction that is so subtle that we don’t even realize it is happening until we wake up one day, look at the world around us, and wonder what happened.
For a good contrast read Alexis de Tocequeville’s Democracy in America in which he describes the vitality of mid-19th century America.
Civil Institutions. These are private groups, what Alexis de Tocqueville called private associations and that he lauded in his book Democracy, in America they are in decline. These are groups such as the Lions, Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, American Legion, VFW, Knights of Columbus, etc. that used to be the focus of society as recently as the 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Groups that exist voluntarily and force no one to join. They perform a variety of functions from providing assistance to the needy within a community, helping the disabled, to simply serving as a venue for connections between groups of like-minded people. In the early days of American independence they often served as ways for people to pool their resources and achieve collectively what they could not individually achieve by themselves. An example of this is agricultural Co-ops in which the farmers of a region would pool their resources to buy expensive equipment that they could all use or to collectively sell their produce allowing them to get higher prices as a group than they could get on their own.
Civil institutions and voluntary associations have been a bedrock of America society since colonial times. Membership in such institutions has been declining steadily for the past 30 years however. A good question is why is that so? When did it become unfashionable or uncool to voluntarily associate with other like-minded people whose only interest is in fellowship and helping their community be a better place? Some news stories about declining community participation: From Wichita, KS; Catonsville, MD; The Girl Scouts; The VFW. I will concede that VFW membership is declining because World War II vets are passing away and there are simply fewer people like myself who qualify for membership. When less than 2% of the population serves and an even smaller percentage of that 2% go to combat, then VFW rolls will naturally decline even if you expand membership criteria.Here is an interesting piece about why such membership is declining.
The last civil institution I will discuss is the Church, specifically, the Christian Church.
Despite everything you will read in a Howard Zinn book or any other post-modern, America hating tract that passes for what modern liberals call repositories of knowledge, the Founding Fathers of America were in fact all Christians. Saints, they were not, but men trying to do what they thought best and build a country they could be proud of that allowed men to be free. Judeo-Christian ideals permeate the Constitution and the writings of all of them. There was not a single atheist, Satanist, Buddhist, animist, Wiccan, or Muslim among the lot and they did not draw on the moral traditions of those groups either. (Note: this site lists the Founders and their denominational affiliation)
That church membership is declining is a fact born out by numbers from the US Census bureau and anecdotal evidence of the empty pews seen on Sundays by those of us that still profess a faith and attend church regularly. There are a couple of good papers I can point you to that discuss the reason for church decline: 1. Churchleadership.org paper and 2. A Paper by the Rev. William R. Coats.
Here is why I think church membership is declining. People have simply lost belief or never had it in the first place. They have lost faith that their local churches are concerned for the welfare of their souls because the churches don’t act that way. I have even been asked, “Why would I go to a church that says one thing on Sunday and does something totally different the rest of the week?” That is a question I don’t have an answer to. I have to agree with the sentiment that many of the churches I know say one thing and do another. Churches have gotten more and more involved in politics, which I find disturbing. I certainly don’t need a preacher telling me who to vote for. I want my preacher helping me get closer to God. I also think the increasing moral relativism of some churches drives people away. Faith comes with a set of moral standards and bending those standards to make some happy drives many more away. I want and think God wants, moral standards to be set in stone. Living to those standards is supposed to be difficult and we all fail at some point, which is why God is forgiving. He still expects us to continually strive to reach the moral ideal of perfect and seek his help and guidance when we falter. I think people are leaving churches in droves because they see no point in belonging to an organization that is wishy-washy and appears to not know what its message should be anymore.
Rule of Law. I think it is clear that the rule of law is being replaced by the rule of force in society. I also think that is mainly because for some odd reason, the law breaker has become idealized in the public sphere. Drug dealers, rapists, and murderers are idolized and glorified in music, films, and video games. It is only when the consequences of such behavior becomes personal that people wish it were different. I also think that people expect too much out of the government. They fail to realize that ultimately, government’s power is derived from the end of a gun and its monopoly on legitimate violence. The only real coercive power the state has is violence.
Lastly, the ruling class, and America has one of corrupt businessmen and politicians, feel that they are not really doing anything wrong when they lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead. How else do you explain the KELO decision except that the nation’s highest court feels that the interests of government outweigh the interests of an individual property owner? If the KELO decision does not legalize government theft of private property, I don’t know what does. Hand in hand with that is the process of civil forfeiture in which a person’s property is seized before that person is even, or ever, convicted of a crime and it is extremely difficult to recover property wrongly seized in such a manner.
Another decline in the Rule of Law is the increasing use of no-knock warrants in which a legal process is followed but the whole process is seemingly designed to spread fear of government. I won’t even go into the overkill of having SWAT teams serving warrants where no violence is expected. I hope that everybody was as shocked as I was in the aftermath of the Boston Bombings when the police essentially declared martial law in a section of Boston as they went door to door evicting people from their homes and searching them without warrants. I was not surprised the cops were doing it so much as dismayed at the sheeplike way so many people meekly complied and the lack of an outcry over the cavalier way the Bill of Rights was being ignored and trampled upon. To top it all off, it was a citizen and not a police officer who found the second bomber.
Last is the apparently endemic corruption among the political and affluent class in America. It seems that not a week goes by that we are not told about yet another politician or businessman getting caught lying or cheating. They never seem to get punished either.
Social Engineering. Social engineering is the efforts by government, the media, and other arbiters of culture to change the way we think and act. Government efforts include, but are not limited to, welfare and other entitlement programs. These are not designed to change ways of thinking per se, but they do because they encourage a lack of responsibility among the recipients and discourage productive work. I don’t know how many times I have heard someone say or write “why should I work? The government will pay me not to?”
Efforts by major media to eliminate any stigma from receiving entitlements exacerbate the problem. People on welfare should be ashamed if they are deriving their living long-term from the public purse. There is no shame in receiving assistance until a person gets back on their feet but to live an entire life on the fruit of the labor of others is and should be seen as shameful in the extreme. A culture of shirking responsibility for one’s action is fostered by the entitlement itself and the victimizing of those on entitlements by the media. Hell, even the name entitlement implies that the recipient somehow deserve the largesse they receive simply because of the fact of their existence.
The media also plays a significant role in changing social mores. Sometimes this can be good, as in the case of eliminating racial bias, which despite what Al Sharpton says is all but gone among adult white Americans. Media has played a large role in getting people to accept homosexuality as not just normal but something to be positively admired. The way the media fall all over themselves when someone announces they are gay is both sickening and scary. Just Google “mike sam gay reaction” to see the love fest that went on when a mediocre player was drafted by the NFL who announced he was gay. Does sexuality have anything to do with football and does being gay make him a better player? No, to both questions. Heck, Greg Gutfeld has devoted an entire book Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You to discussing the ways in which celebrities and the media engage in social engineering on a grand scale and in the process make America less of a beacon of freedom than it was even 50 years ago.
Political Correctness – need I say more than just utter those two words that describe unfree speech so clearly. PC and its policemen are the worst kind of people. Somewhere along the line people forgot that if they get offended by something I say, they have the problem, not me.
Breakdown of Trust. How many times have you been outside in an urban area at night and were worried for your safety? How often does the media hype criminal acts and attempt to get everyone to think there is a serial killer around every corner and some kid waiting to shoot up his local school?
If you are older than 40 think back to your childhood and the ways in which you used to play in your neighborhood without fear. The rule when was a kid was in the summer we had to be back home before the streetlights came on. We had no cell phone either, we told our parents where we were going and woe be unto us if we were not there. Of course crime happened, no one thinks it did not. We were just not paralyze by fear as so many people seem to be nowadays if you believe what you hear on the news. We also did not automatically distrust someone who we did not know. Simply put, Americans just don’t trust each other anymore and that distrust has spread into the public sphere and the way we see our government.
Given that I believe societal decay is happening now my probabilities reflect what I think is the likelihood of a reversal of the rot.
Short-term-the next 5 years –roughly 10% chance
Medium-term-in 5-15 years –roughly 10% chance
Long-term-more than 15 years from now – I think this is essentially unknowable because it depends on if the current generation of children get disgusted by society as they see it and try to change it. I actually think there is only a roughly 5% chance of significant change absent a black swan style societal upheaval.