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Not every civilization is founded the same way. It might be as simple as a small tribe leaving another civilization and wandering until they find a space that "will do," and then they begin the long process of creation: building shelter, cultivating animals and fields, defending against enemies and starting institutions of learning, spirituality and government. It might be a group of religious breakaways, or convicts, or rebels, or a few individuals fortunate enough to evolve higher intelligence than the former group possessed. However it is founded, it will have a birth, and with luck a long life, and then begin the process of decline.
The decline of civilizations is universal. First consensus is lost; there is no longer an external enemy such as death through lack of civilization, so the mechanism of society is taken for granted and divided up among those who inherit it. Without a creative goal, the civilization declines into infighting, and therefore is incapable of choosing a direction on any issue; for this reason, the slow-acting poisons work unchecked until it falls. Its only goals are internal, and these also lack the creative impetus, thus there is nothing to do but for groups to take sides and polarize its parts against each other, with no one notices that this polarizes everyone against the whole.
When a civilization is dying, it is a paranoid time: no one can be trusted except to act in their self-interest, and since there is no long-term goal, those interests involve short-term linking like profit, power in the petty sense of taking a position and enforcing rules on others, and of course social power, which is how one feels "important" and can have authority for authority's sake among the population. Of course, nothing is worse than unmerited "authority," so this further divides the people, and soon although they are all going in separate directions, they agree on some "standard" of behavior which is used to alienate those who might criticize the direction of the failing civilization.
Thus comes about classic "in-group" politics, because if anyone is confronted with the truth that civilization is falling, it will make his or her accomplishments be shown as hollow, and since this person has no actual creative goals and thus gains all self-esteem from holding positions defined by other people, that would destabilize the individual. For this reason, the individuals form the social gang which applies the rules of behavior, so they can each be "important" and no one may pierce the bubble of illusion that says society as a whole is healthy, "doing just fine - hell - getting better every day!", and thus remove the legitimacy of the power of every individual in the crowd. The mob of individuals creates its own rule based on the self-esteem needs of its members, and reality is forgotten.
And who notices? The most pernicious weapon the in-group has is the illusion that we are separate from history, that our civilization will live forever and is heading toward a "progressive" future, and that therefore the rules don't apply to us. Other civilizations grow and fall, but we are the civilization that's a result of all of them, and the only one ever to discover the right way to do things; thus (goes the logic) we are eternal. We can make whatever changes we need because we are building on a platform that, like the memory of our dead, will never go away. Right?
The globe is littered with remnants of civilizations living on as a shadow of themselves. This is not to disparage those who live in them, except to note that they are the ones who survived a great disaster that generally shaped everyone to conform to its needs, or to pass judgment on these civilizations; the question "And what do you want for a civilization?" comes to mind here. The Aztecs in Mexico were once the height of the new world, with learning and social structure far beyond Christian Europe, but now, Mexico is barely able to hide the open sewers running down its streets, and contributes nothing to the world except a third world economy, which is that of a nation industrialized enough to export raw materials and basic manufacturing skills, but not learning or invention.
Tajfel found that when the boys were choosing between two boys in the same group, choices tended to be made on the basis of maximum fairness.
When the choice was between one boy in their ingroup and one boy in their out group the boys discriminated in favour of the ingroup...In making their intergroup choices a large majority of the participants gave more money to members of their own group than to members of the other group. Intergroup discrimination was the strategy used in making intergroup choices.
In contrast the in-group and out-group choices were closely distributed around the point of fairness.
But now the wailing starts from the in-group. Oh, you must be ignorant and racist and stupid and a terrorist, and not know that Mexico was conquered by Hernan Cortez in 1519. My response: Yes, with 300 soldiers, which is not the amount of force required to overthrow an empire. He landed with a small force, rallied the slave populations of the Aztec and Maya, and used them to defeat their masters; this was a collapse from within, and Cortez merely the implement. I don't have any praise for him, as anyone who takes the sacred gold of objects of a great society and melts them down is without reverence for his world; his eyes were on God and wealth, not the sanctity of life as a whole, meaning not individuals but the process by which civilizations occur and value things enough to make gods-in-the-earth out of them.
The Aztecs fell, and the Maya before them, from within. So, apparently, did the Hopi in Northwestern America, as did the ancient civilizations of Angkor Wat and Afghanistan. Also, it seems, did the great North African republics, as did Egypt, as did the once-mighty civilizations of the Islamic world. India, once the source of all civilized learning and might, is now overwhelmed by a massive population with little ability to create, although some have kept the learning and ancient ways alive. And Greece, and Rome? The political entities that replaced them have achieved little, and resemble the original populations barely at all. Indeed, all of Europe's great empires have fallen to some degree, after a period of colonialism and imperium.
But was this the imperium of healthy nations? To me it seems as if more likely, it was the in-group expanding outward to conquer any who might be dissidents, because nothing threatens an in-group more than people who do things a different way and, because they might be thriving in some ways compared to the in-group, thus provide an option which usurps the absolute, solid power of that in-group. Conquer them and convert them to Christianity: misery loves company, and if they're with us and we all die together, at least that way we were not proven to be wrong. The once-great colonial empires of Europe are all in massive decline; having exported their rule, they found they could not sustain it, and thus taking a blow to the self-esteem relapsed into being pleasant vacation destinations. I am thinking here of the ancient Visigothic empires of France, Spain, and Portugal, and the northern European states such as The Netherlands and England.
England, or Great Britain as they want us to call it now, since it absorbed its nearer colonies through brutal wars based on class and religion, is a perfect example. Once a nation of might, creating great things and contributing to the world, it is now a neurotic, frivolous empire, exporting its insanity through a "world policeman" role as a shadow to the USA, its newer offshoot which is clearly following in its footsteps. Are people happy, there? By how "happy" is defined, surely: they have cars and houses and jobs with nifty titles. Inwardly, however, they are craven and full of doubt, thus they cling to absolute ideas like justice, multiculturalism, morality, etc. to compensate for their lack of inner strength. They are looking for something in the world outside that is a fixed and immovable object, something to which the drowning can cling.
Will they find it? No one has, because if such a thing existed, it would prevent the decline of that which must face its time to die. Much like the Aztecs or Egyptians, the old order of Europe has died, leaving behind reactionaries (conservatives) and a "new order" (liberals) who have no solutions, but encourage the process of decay because, having inner weakness, they seek Absolutes in the form of pity for others, a universal social order where competition is eliminated, and the like. If you limit your focus to how our society defines itself in history, this will be mystifying, but if you look at history beyond the official doctrine, and see how the patterns of the past repeat themselves, these processes can be distilled to nothing more than the fibrilation of a dying empire.
Look at the people of our new order. We seem to lack many great thinkers and artists, as populated former times; in literature, at least, it's hard to find any voices since the 1930s who had any strength or vision. The ones who are left discuss their "great ideas" solely in the context of the in-group values of this dying civilization, and where those values leave off, so do the authors. There are no T.S. Eliots, or Ernest Hemingways, or F. Scott Fitzgeralds or even William Faulkners. Where is our Beethoven, or even on a lesser level, our Mozart, or our Brahms? Somehow I doubt it's Eminem or Linkin Park, and even they would disclaim that title. Where's our Carl Jung, or our Homer? A dying age has a lack of heroes, and raised without heroes, its youth have no higher ambition than comfortable living and intoxication.
Look at the people of our new order. They have myriad health problems, mostly revolving around congenital diseases and being fat and out of health; even the diseases they bring upon themselves are tiny compared to the overall tendency to die of inactivity and overeating. They are neurotic, and demand constant entertainment and drama to keep them from feeling the sting of life's emptiness. They are from every nation on earth, and share no culture in common, so their culture becomes that of the television, of the malls, and of the talking heads in charge. What kind of civilization is this? It is not; it is remnants, but the fearful crowd - the in-group - will do almost anything to prevent you from seeing that, because if you see it, that is one view that might contest their own, in which they lack inner confidence. A neurotic, paranoid time.
The culture is decayed. Great ideas that should exist on their own merit are forced to sell themselves, and to pander to the whims of a crowd that, bored with its lives, is always seeking something "new" and "unique" as if one more piece of art deco furniture could compensate from a lack of consensus, thus no way to establish a goal that benefits all, thus no way to establish quests and tasks which fulfill a life. Like dying stars they collapse into themselves. Always eating and never full, they run through a parade of plastic objects, temporary lovers, habits and vices, and even "kicks" - I'm on a yoga kick this week, or lately, I've been trying out macrame - but their souls are empty and their eyes blank. When there is no plan for the future, there are no values now, except comfort and intoxication, which are hollow and become boring after only a decade.
Without a goal, our civilization lacks a will, and without that, has no meaning and thus lives in fear of death. To live in fear of death means to take death into yourself as the highest value, and thus to be a servant of it. All of your values are contingent upon avoiding death, or not mentioning death, or finding something "important" with which to balance the inevitability of death: religion, morality, liberalism, antique cars, modern art. This lack of will explains the urgency of conquest in the late European republics, and marks the final stage of their passage from living civilization to burned-out husks like those of the "third world." Granted, back when there were thinkers, this was recognized, but books need an audience and if the audience cannot comprehend, or will not because of in-group politics, even the greatest truths spelled out in simple sentences go unnoticed.
One way to view this passage is that there is an "other side," but that not all of us will make it. Most are already so broken that to die childless and be forgotten is the best gift they can receive; others waver on the razor's edge between being committed to reality and just wanting to pull the covers over their head and go back to sleep, which at this point means a corporate job, a BMW and a "multicultural" significant other, or series thereof. These should not make the passage. For those with the will to be reverent for life, and thus wish to make a great civilization matching it, there are two commandments:
Perhaps this is mistitled, or maybe the typist or editor left out a word: to survive is to survive well. Rise above. Marry well, breed well, and raise your kids according to the ancient values of your tribe. Even more, live well yourself, and by this I do not mean comfort. Avoid the illusions of television, sports, and oversocialization; keep alive around you the best ideas, people and values. Be unrepentant, and be selective; anytime the in-group tells you that you "must" do or believe something, quietly do your own thing. Be legal, and be polite about it, because this forces them to martyr you if they're going to strike, and if they do that, they lose their own feelings of self-esteem through morality.
II. Do Not Bless the Illusion
The illusion is all around you, and every day someone will come running up to you with some artifact of it, looking for you to praise it. Politely and firmly maintain your ground. "I don't watch television, but I'm glad you enjoyed that program" is an honest sentiment without scorn, and should be more frequently heard. Simiarly, dismiss all politics and "social conscience" palaver with "It seems our civilization is falling, and it will be interesting to see what happens next." Then change the subject to something positive. This sows seeds of doubt among others, but does so without making you an aggressor, and allows you to keep your friends and friendly neighbors without compromising your ideals, which is the alternative if you start talking about modern politics, society or industry as if it will actually solve the problem. It won't, and it deserves no credit from an independent mind that is aware of history.
These are terrible things to write, if one believes that now is the only moment. They recognize that our enemy is not without, but within, and that the ultimate test of our species is still at hand: natural selection can at any moment remove us, or more likely, breed us into simpler creatures incapable of great civilization, but those natural disorganization makes them self-regulating. While civilization still exists, however, we can remember that nature is infinite and provides opportunity at every turn, so with decay comes room for those who will survive the passage: these are the founders of a new civilization.
January 17, 2005