Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Catholicism, the Cult of Progress, and the Alt-Right (Part 3 of 3)


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Assuming that I am right and Moldbug and his crew are simply erecting new idols, where does this leave us regarding the Alt-Right’s indictment of democracy? Is it true, as they say, that democracy is a kind of “chaos,” a kind of “entropic decay,” a “fall from grace” that is less and less gradually wearing down the moral fabric of our society?

First, is our moral fabric disintegrating? I think it is. Respect for tradition, classic literature, and ancient religions is at an all-time low. If you’re on the liberal end of the political spectrum, this might all sound like a good thing. But in Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, he gives us some reasons to think it is bad. Bloom had been teaching philosophy for decades to very bright Ivy-League types. Over the years, he noticed that their ability to engage with classic literature had markedly declined. They tended to dismiss almost every philosophical or political discussion at the outset with statements like, “Well isn’t that subjective?” or “Isn’t it all relative anyway?” He couldn’t get the discussions off the ground. Students seemed to believe that our right to Free Speech was based on the “fact” that there is no moral truth, that everything is permitted. Bloom was forced to return to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers and demonstrate that, in fact, all the rights they put forward were supposed to have been based on everlasting truths: “We hold these truths to be self-evident ...” None of this should have been in question, but our modern-day high school graduates are simply not taught to think. The best way to learn thinking—reading the greatest thinkers of all time—is now demeaned as too white and male to be PC.

This may sound serious enough by itself, but it’s only one of several ways in which our culture is decaying, according to conservative thinkers. Single parenthood is ever rising. The quality of public education, overall, is declining. Psycho-therapy is at an all-time high. Every year there is measurably more violence and sex in entertainment. Ask anyone who likes old movies. The growth of the Alt-Right itself is a sign of decay. If the movement is right that our culture is decaying, then it’s right, and if it’s wrong, well, then it’s still right because we have such growing movements of apocalyptic prophets on our hands. Dissatisfaction with the government is at an all-time high. Average working vocabulary is declining. Ask anyone who likes 19th-century literature.

It makes sense that our culture is decaying, at least theoretically. How is culture passed down? Books, music, movies, religion, education. Books, music, and movies are now created almost solely with the thought of entertainment, of being “new” and “original” and most importantly “popular.” As a result they cater to our guilty pleasures—sensationalism, darkness, disrespect, and so on. We’re talking entropy here. Standards are not firm; they will decay. Entertainment is becoming more and more influential while religion becomes less and less so. And education is not breaking the cycle because moral teachings have been banished from it. Worse, education contributes to the decline of religion because our most vocal and influential professors tend to be more anti-religious than average.

Many, including Bloom, are pointing out that our obsession with equality is leading to relativism. No culture or idea or writer is being taught as intrinsically better than any other. By withholding judgment in this way, we have lost contact with the great thinkers of the past. We can’t even call them “great” anymore. It’s grade inflation, retroactively. What has been the basis of education for millennia, reading the classics: tossed. We needed to beat the Soviets in science. So we’ve now had three generations of students that know almost nothing about the history of Western thought stretching back to Plato, what used to be Western culture. Western culture is all but dead. It self-destructed in its mania for material success over tradition, it’s mania for science over humanities, it’s mania for whatever over the best.

Granting that our culture is in decline, this raises two important questions. (1) How do we account for this? Why are we suddenly mutating so much, when we’d been nearly static for centuries? (2) What can we do about this? Is there anything we can do?

The answer to (1) is relatively simple. We are a civilization that has grown incredibly rich due to cheap energy from fossil fuels. The industrial revolution was driven by coal, and the 20th century added oil and natural gas as major sources of energy. This is 80% of all the energy we use and it’s been estimated that without fossil fuels for fertilizer and transportation we could only support about a billion people on earth. When you've got a filthy rich empire like ours and life gets easy, the result is pretty obvious: you get spoiled. People like to say that this fossil fuel thing is only temporary until we can get solar or wind or maybe fusion power to take the reigns. Even if you could, do you really want to deal with that many more decades or even centuries of cultural decay? It strains the imagination to picture the weirdness of the result.

The more difficult question is what we are supposed to do about this. If you ask the Alt-Right, we need a benevolent monarch. Moldbug claims that monarchy has proven itself to be the most stable form of government. You don’t have to worry about “equality” taking the reigns, because you don’t have to worry about getting elected. You can just stick to tradition.

But the obvious problem here is that monarchy has proven that it is isn’t stable in the modern world. The one thing we should have learned over the past two centuries is that plentiful resources, population growth, and mass media together tend to magically dissolve monarchies. It’s mass media across a mass population that is causing tradition to decay. And it’s mass media across a mass population that is causing democracy, not the other way around. Moldbug’s indictment of democracy fails to get at the root cause of the problem.

Do we need tighter controls over mass media? Fascism tried this and failed. Communism tried this and lost the economic war. The problem is not an uncontrolled mass media, but mass media period. We’d have to destroy it. This seems unlikely to happen. While it has its disadvantages, mass media has proven that it can spread new, better ideas faster. It has proven itself a net benefit over the last two centuries, despite its problems, and that is why the most powerful nations today love their mass media. Or rather, those nations that have loved mass media have become the most powerful. If we ban it we lose our most powerful tool.

There is no fountain of youth, whether for humans or nations. There is no perfect political philosophy that will keep a state or culture eternally young. Mortality is a fact of life for civilizations too. Plato says as much in the Republic, when he speaks of the selfish forces that work to break down every system of government, even the most ideal. Democracy, he argues, tends to spoil its citizens and gradually form them into violent mobs. This is what he saw happening in Athens. It seems it is happening to us.

Which leads us to the final question: where is this ride taking us?


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Plato claims that democracy devolves into tyranny. We’ve seen this sort of thing happen before, with the Nazi and Soviet revolutions. It happened with the quasi-democratic Roman Republic. We don’t know if it would have happened with Athens (Macedonia conquered it before it had a chance to) but it must have happened frequently-enough with Greek democracies for Plato to set it down as a law.

There are many reasons to think that a collapse of some kind is coming. So the Alt-Right is likely correct on this point. But what they are wrong about is thinking that this somehow means we have no responsibilities toward the poor and disadvantaged. Economically, the Alt-Right is libertarian. That means they do not believe in social welfare. I suspect that they do not believe in personal charity at all, because they tend to think this encourages the poor to breed.

I disagree. They say they believe in Tradition. But to begrudge the less privileged every last penny—is this the traditional notion of chivalry? For the more privileged to rush ahead and greedily snatch up every opportunity—is this not the traditional notion of greed? Is it not traditionally Christian to despise a scrooge who clings to riches despite the sufferings of the poor? Do we no longer realize that wealth leads to decadence? Isn’t that the whole point of critiquing the vices and uncontrolled mutations of high civilization?

The more wealth we horde, the longer we forestall the cleansing day of judgment, and the more severe we make it. The less generous we are, the more we grind the faces of the poor in the brutality of natural selection, and the more we glorify they day of their revolt. This is why I am not and never will be a libertarian. It is the greediest and least Christian doctrine there is. World Progress is impossible. Social Engineering is futile. And for this reason basic human love is king.

You can’t predict the future. We have no idea what political systems are in store. Newspapers brought modern democracy. What will Google bring?

Plagues are coming. Our vast new networks are virulent. Cultural pestilence will spread unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We’ll need strong immune systems. We’ll need Christlike love. We’ll need incorruptible personal integrity.

Many desire to bring about the collapse of our society right now. This is pure impatience. We must resist complacency—but never embrace chaos. Many desire to set up our culture or race as an idol. This is pure pride. We must resist decay without falling into cultural incest.

Be not arrogant; be benevolent. Be not a parasite; be a symbiont.

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