Civilizations go through three stages: Barbaric, Vigorous, and Decadent.
We can find all the barbaric civilizations to suit an entire faculty’s worth of
anthropologists in the Middle East. And then, back home we can see the decadent civilization that employs their kind to bemoan the West. Vigorous civilizations are a
rarer breed. They change the world. But don’t last.
America used to be vigorous when it was moving west, producing at record rates, and becoming a world power. It is growing decadent. And decadent civilizations fall to barbarians.
The barbaric civilization is purely crude. It runs on kinship. It is pre-rational and its guiding ethos is self-esteem often misspelled as honor. It has no notion of enduring facts or objective reasoning. It is incapable of recognizing inconsistencies in its code because truth is whatever it feels at a given time.
The barbarian has no morals. He obeys tribal codes that he does not understand, but accepts. Fairness exists only relative to his own interests. Empathy is foreign to him. He holds life cheaply and kills casually. He loathes outsiders and obeys no universal laws. His tribe is ruled by hierarchies which gain their position through brutality and trickery. And he assumes the world works the same way.
He cannot and will not interact with a more advanced civilization on any terms other than these. Cunning barbarians may learn the languages of more advanced civilizations and even ape their values for their own purposes, but they never adopt them. When a barbarian speaks of democracy, he means power. When he talks of religion, he means the worship of his own power. When he prattles of morality, he does not mean universal laws, but anything that impinges on his own power.
To the barbarian, all values are reducible to power. They are his gods, his religions, and his laws.
The decadents are obsessed with filtering hierarchies of ideas and people. Their societies have grown too complex, too full of ideas, cultures, and interest groups. The management of this unmanageable plenitude occupies all the energies of their fading civilization. They are the miser with the fading memory still struggling to count his gold. Decadents have too much of
everything and no idea what to do with it except to squander it in fits of misguided and destructive impulses.
The decadent civilization has a million laws which it applies selectively. Its universal laws, inherited from a vigorous civilization, are buried between equivocation. Decadents don’t believe in objective truths, and so they cannot have universal laws. Instead they mire them in so many legalisms as to be meaningless. The laws must be interpreted by a specialized caste.
Everyone is always in violation of some obscure law. Life depends on a lawless dispensation from the law. Justice is impossible. Corruption is mandatory. The only way for the decadent civilization to function is to bypass its own safeguards through corruption, black markets, and lobbying. This is true in all things.
The crucial task of the law is interpretation that keeps everyone from constantly being punished. This task is accomplished by lawyers, lobbyists, and the politicians who are constantly adding more laws to fix the interpretations in the old laws, creating a complex mass of contradictory information.
This holds true in every other area of decadent life.
Interpretation is what the decadent civilization does best. While vigorous civilizations discover new things, decadent
civilizations endlessly categorize and re-categorize them to accommodate intellectual fads. Decadents compulsively seek new systems of organization. The computer age is the glorious final era of the decadents who finally have infinite ways to manage infinite information.
What they lack is any way of distinguishing what is worthwhile in both information and systems.
The decadents are great categorizers. They know where everything should belong. They employ armies of bureaucrats to operate vast filing systems which never quite work as planned. They spend fortunes on intricate information systems and yet the more speed and storage space they have, the less they seem able to filter worthwhile information from the morass of junk clogging up their time.
The decadent civilization is convinced that if it can amass enough information, its interpretations will be superior, but its information gathering techniques and its interpretative techniques are both fatally flawed by an inability to focus, by ideological obsessions, and structural corruption. Scientists may have more rapid access to more information, but their community is more intellectually contaminated leading to worse results. Similarly, corruption undermines information gathering efforts from the start.
Vigorous civilizations understand that a process must be kept clean by open debate. Decadent civilizations operate corrupt closed processes while convinced of their own innate superiority. Decadents and barbarians both believe that they are always right and that the outcome will reflect that. They learn to forget setbacks, or blame them on others. This is why they frequently fail.
The vigorous civilization is confident and skeptical. It understands the importance of mistakes in getting the right result. Decadents and barbarians don’t acknowledge mistakes. For barbarians, it is a matter of honor. For decadents, mistakes violate their confidence in their cultlike baseless theories. Unlike vigorous civilizations, their path to truth is constricted by their own intellectual corruption.
But decadent civilizations are also less interested in discovering new things than in disproving old things. The middling talents at the helm rewrite history while justifying their misrule by denouncing the achievements of their vigorous ancestors. Instead of standing on the shoulders of giants, they point out their flaws to obscure their own worthlessness.
Where the vigorous civilization disproves the old through its achievements, the decadent civilization considers the
disproving of the old civilization to be an achievement in and of itself. Where the vigorous civilization is outside its parent, the decadent civilization is still stuck fighting “Daddy”.
If you examine our achievements today, they have much to do with the supposed social progress we have made since the fifties. Much of this progress is a matter of outlook, rather than in reality. We are better because we are morally superior. Not because we actually do more.
Despite the disdain for the past, decadent civilizations struggle to do more than deconstruct and then helplessly imitate the past. Chaotic deconstruction of past creative arts is followed by retro copying of them, first ironically and then earnestly. Nostalgia becomes the central industry of a dying civilization mired in irony and incapable of mining its own culture for creative energies.
The central cultural critique becomes updating older works to more politically correct forms. A classic character is remade black or gay. Problems with diversity or sexism are tackled. The critic becomes a commissar whose job is to sanctify the transformation of an old politically incorrect work as politically correct. That is the role of the social justice warrior.
All this energy makes it appear as if there is cultural ferment when nothing is actually being produced. Instead older works are being “cleaned up” in keeping with new social values by a civilization that frantically chews up the past in a desire to forget the problems of the present.
People living in decadent civilization have a greater need for entertainment due to leisure time, extended adolescence, and the breakup of the family. But their lack of meaningful work, family engagement, and adult responsibilities leaves them less able to produce it. Instead they become children putting together pieces of stories that “Daddy” once told them while taking the credit.
Decadents confuse criticism and curation with creativity. They develop great sensitivity to everything from literary styles to foods. In a decadent society, everyone is a cultivated critic, but these critics value style over substance. Their criticism is a cultural signal rather than a mastery of technique.
The decadent civilization is obsessed with taste as brand. It is sensitive to subtleties, but fails to see the large flaws in a work. Its creativity is microscopically innovative and macroscopically a failure. Its subtle refinements cannot compensate for the lack of vision. It has style, but no substance.
In a decadent civilization, everyone can be a critic or a collector of something, even as no one actually produces anything new until there are more critics and collectors than creators.
The decadent civilization spends much of its time and effort in a battle against apathy. It is forever “raising awareness” about something or other. Its sophisticated messaging however creates apathy as quickly as it erases it. Its messaging becomes more short term and more hysterical. Everything is a crisis and every message is pitched at the shrillest possible level. And the worst crime is not paying attention to its noise.
The outrage of today is quickly forgotten by the outrage of tomorrow. The organizers dream of sustaining awareness for real change only to dive into the next round of short-term messaging.
In a decadent civilization, life becomes a constant political battle. Everything is politicized and nothing is personal. The individual is constantly being trampled by mobs in the forum.
Barbaric and decadent civilizations are both so dishonest that they are incapable of seeing their own lies.
The barbaric civilization simply does not understand the concept of a fixed truth. The minds of its people are capable of understanding it as an abstract notion, but not of holding it in their minds on a specific subjective matter of interest to them. A barbarian can understand that stealing is wrong, but not that robbing you is wrong.
A decadent however can understand that stealing from you is wrong, but not that stealing itself is wrong. The decadent civilization does not have fixed truths. Its people are trained to apply mores to subjective situations, much as barbarians do naturally. While barbarians can evolve from the fixed truth to the fixed value, the decadents have devolved by rejecting the fixed truth.
Fixed truths have been deconstructed and routed through a complex array of relativistic values. A decadent understands that murdering this baby right here is wrong, but can be taught that it is acceptable to trade parts of dead babies. For decadents in an information society, definitions are very important. Decadents and barbarians have an empathy that is triggered by cultural signals.
For barbarians, these signals are honor-shame kin-based. For decadents, the cultural signals are group-based signals that are routed through complex intellectual justifications. These justifications create their own unrecognized hypocrisies. Both operate on the moral blindness of herd logic.
Groups are politicized and every moral code is routed through an identity politics based on insecurity. There are no morals, only sides. Responses are emotional to shortcut rational reasoning. Decadents function like barbarians, convinced of their own superiority with no self-awareness of their flaws.
A major difference between vigorous and decadent civilizations is objectivity and long term thinking. Decadents are incapable of either while vigorous civilizations thrive on both. If decadent civilizations could engage in long term thinking, they wouldn’t be doomed. If they could engage in objective reasoning, they wouldn’t be slaves to the media machines under a lawless tyranny.
The barbaric and vigorous civilizations speak little of sex and yet have high birth rates. Decadent civilizations are obsessed with sex and have few children. Perversions multiply in decadent civilizations, especially among the elites, who have the fewest morals, the most wealth, and the greatest need for new taboos to violate. This is not a cause. It is only the symptom.
Gay marriage, like so much else, is the symptom of a decadent elite that confuses its own power and privilege with civil rights, that wants to legalize its illicit behaviors even though it only embarked on them because of their illicitness. In its
perversity, it must find new taboos to violate each time an old one becomes socially accepted, before then embarking on a civil rights struggle to make its latest taboo socially acceptable.
Barbarians have large families and a tolerance for limited personal space. They speak loudly, are more casual about the deaths of their children, and view success in terms of power. Decadents speak softly, have a high need for personal space, have small families while obsessively controlling and coddling them, and view success in terms of their own unattainable happiness. Vigorous civilizations have medium sized families, speak loudly, view success in terms of personal accomplishment, are not too concerned about personal space, and value their children while allowing them to take risks.
Decadents want emotional rewards without commitments. As a result they are constantly unhappy. They pursue happiness as if it were a quality that could be permanently obtained through the right techniques, rather than a shifting response to the rigors of daily life. The more decadents do this, the more unstable they become, obsessively self-medicating and attempting to otherwise set the conditions of their happiness by controlling its application, and blaming others for their failure.
The more deranged decadents search for those who deny them their right to happiness by failing to accept them, reward them, or otherwise please them until they find meaning only in attacking others. Behind their venom is narcissistic self-pity; they are searching for revenge against a cruel world when they are the authors of their own unhappiness.
The decadent civilization senses inwardly that it has no future. It becomes obsessed with apocalypses. Its people are always fixated on the next great threat to their health individually and the next great disaster that will bring their civilization to its knees. While vigorous civilizations boldly stride forward into the unknown, decadents are nervous and unsure. They veer between comfort zones and ritualized displays of destructive behavior that accomplish nothing.
Vigorous civilizations pursue meaningful risks. Decadent civilizations pursue meaningless ones. For a vigorous civilization, adventure ends with an accomplishment. For a decadent civilization, risk is the accomplishment.
The decadent civilization obsessively manages risk. Its layers of government are mainly dedicated to that task. Accomplishment in a decadent civilization becomes a difficult task because of the many lawyers of corporate and government risk management standing in the way of getting anything done.
Fear is the true currency of the decadent civilization. A corrupted fear that is used to expand a vast bureaucracy that claims to manage risk, but in reality manages who is allowed to circumvent it. Groups are stampeded into accepting new tiers of fear-government and fear-authority based on the risk that something might happen. And yet the source of the fear is never dealt with.
A vigorous civilization rushes out to deal with threats. A decadent civilization imprisons itself out of fear.
Decadence in a civilization can be reversed. While the barbarian civilization must evolve upward, the decadent civilization must undo the damage that is devolving it. This is easier than it seems. Unlike the barbarian civilization, the decadent
civilization has most of the same infrastructure, physical and mental, of the vigorous civilization. Only its ideas have become corrupted. And ideas can be healed.,
Barbarians advance by absorbing transformative new concepts. Decadents, however, must unlearn their new concepts by recognizing them for the dead ends that they are.
[Editor’s note: this article first appeared at Sultan Knish.]