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article imageOp-Ed: Society? There's a society? 60s living vs. 2011- no contest

By Paul Wallis     Dec 4, 2011 in World
Sydney - Whenever anyone uses the word “society” to me, my natural question is “What society?” A new documentary, Decadence: The Decline of the Western World tries to evaluate the scrap heap, but it's a pretty damn thankless task.
The documentary has been put together by Pria Viswalingam, a former SBS Australia TV presenter. Viswalingham is one of those occasional media people who actually will try to handle big subjects, and he has that thoughtful approach which is so noticeably lacking from the cut and paste agenda-based documentaries.
From the Sydney Morning Herald article covering the documentary comes this information:
…The Decline of the Western World, it explores the rise of porn, the demise of egalitarianism and the spread of junk culture. It examines the neutering of democracy and the unstoppable growth of mercantilism. It touches on the collapse of faith and the fracturing of families.
Interestingly, one of the culminating ideas of the documentary is that the actual peak of Western civilization was 1969. This could be considered a sort of high water mark in many ways, including Woodstock as the high point of 60s culture, the Moon landing, etc. This was a truly prosperous time in human history. Even the Cold War was thawing out, the Baby Boom had been over for long enough for a solid middle class to get established and earning money, and education was both cheap and universal. It was also the start of women’s liberation and environmentalism. Crime was a minor thing. No real gangs, and the greatest risk of the drug scene was that someone might show you their painting or make you listen to their new song. Life was actually pretty good, and pretty safe.
I wish Pria well with his tough subject, but this is all about a subject upon which everyone should have an opinion.The 60s have been idealized, loathed by reactionaries and generally misrepresented in so many ways, but they are a great point to look at how "society" has become "non-society" since then. It's been 50 years in a blender for Western society since.
Within 50 years
1. Egalitarianism has been replaced by elitism, however ridiculous and trashy.
2. Love and peace were considered anti-American. Guns and money were the replacements.That's been a stunning success. What next, idiots, DIY genocide?
3. Democracy has become anti-democracy- The election of facilitators and lobbyists who, like News of the World editor McMullan, define the public interest as commercial interest.
4. Humanities, as the SMH article points out are reviled, while an MBA is a form of heroism.
5. Poverty is reinventing the middle class as a much lower class.
6. Women’s liberation became just another industry, complete with jingles.
7. Environmentalism has created a Green movement which doesn’t know how to present its economics to make itself practical.
8. Education is now an expensive obstacle course, and career returns for college grads are steadily declining in real terms. You get a job more easily, but you get less impressive jobs. Now you need a Masters to sweep floors.
Society, like Humpty Dumpty, has fractured along natural fault lines and simplistic pseudo-fault lines like “conservatism” and “liberalism”. The real fault lines were and are economic; the pseudo fault lines are expedient ideological perspectives.
“Moral” decadence is a typical features of societies in decline dating back to Sodom and Gomorrah, but it’s also a feature of a social structure which no longer provides anything for members of society. The society, unfunded and unserviced, therefore falls progressively to pieces. Consider- What do your taxes pay for now? Political wages and the ability of politicians to legally give billions of dollars’ worth of contracts to their political sponsors. Why give the public an education, police, fire, sanitation or affordable health care, when you can make a few billionaires a few dollars richer? Common sense, really, isn't it? After all, what has the public ever done for anyone?
Think big, think small, or don't think at all? So far not so good
Another, less obvious, type of decay is about micro and macro thinking.
The Big Picture is now “out there” to micro thinkers who focus on deals, minutiae, jobs for themselves and single step logic. These are the mass of middlemen infesting the corpse of society. They’d do business in a blast furnace, and just bitch about the heat occasionally when one of them caught fire. These are the "everything is about market forces" office boys who really think life is a spreadsheet. They call themselves conservatives, mainly because nobody else thinks like them.
The macro thinkers, on the other hand, who tend to be liberals, will produce wonderful new visions and somehow manage not to cost them or figure out how to make them work. They’ve committed the unforgivable sin for progressives, ignorance of operational realities. No ideal is worth a damn thing if you can’t even be bothered figuring out how to put it into practice.
The theory on both sides seems to be that ideology is a replacement for practicality. It isn’t. The result is a “society” at its own throat in multiple ways. The impracticalities of two generations of this each way self-righteousness have produced a society which isn’t practical. This society now is well beyond decay; it’s now into the early stages of fossilization.
The absurdities are self-evident. Societies can’t go backwards. You also can't avoid the mistakes of the past. If you don't clean up the garbage of the past you wallow in garbage until you do. You can’t return to a pastoral existence if there’s no environment. You can’t retire to a market-driven cocoon if the market keeps crashing every 5 minutes. You can’t have a society run by illiterates, because the machines and computers require education. Even these incredibly basic, obvious issues can't get straight practical policies put in place.
There’s a much uglier side to this situation.
Historically, when a society reaches a point of total dysfunction, the usual result is revolution. One group or another declares war. The French Revolution, the various Roman and Chinese revolutions, were all the result of social meltdowns. The Russian revolution in 1917 was orchestrated by the Germans, but was based on an existing social collapse. Millions of people died in these implosions of societies.
The alternative, and much harder to define result is a progressive corruption of the society, which is based on its dysfunctions. That’s the way this “society” is going. Organized crime exists mainly because of corruption. Politicians and bureaucrats get away with murder 90% of the time because anti-corruption law and countermeasures are so inefficient. Social failure is now the norm, because actual performance of social functions is practically impossible in an environment where reelection and dodging responsibilties take precedence over everything else. The solution to every problem is to deny there's a problem, not fix the problem.
Safety is a cuddly ideology
There’s one other type of decadence which always gets ignored- The illusion of safety based on ideology:
The gun nut sincerely believes that the gun is a line of defence against everything, but you can’t shoot a recession a bankruptcy order or any of the other things that can destroy lives in a few seconds. There are endless other ways of getting killed or maimed, but the gun, for some reason, is supposed to “protect” people. More people go broke than get shot. More people are sentenced to generational poverty than are convicted of any crime. But the little popgun is the illusion of safety.
The hyper-conservative honestly thinks that the ways of the market and the past can work in a totally different world where only the people holding the financial cards have any say in anything. It’s like entering a go-kart in a NASCAR rally, but they and their antique views of the world really believe that conservatism will save them from anything and deliver a sort of personal Utopia with tax breaks.
The bluest of the blue sky liberals are passionately committed to their macro views of social justice, despite the fact that historically the words “social” and “justice” are almost 100% mutually exclusive in practice. The illusion in this case is that an idea, of all things, can get any traction and stand on its own unsupported feet in an almost totally anti-intellectual environment like this “society”. No amount of reality affects this view, apparently.
The joke is that doom saying is now an industry in its own right, paying very nicely, thank you. The End of the World is a perennial crowd pleaser since at least the days of the Black Plague. The easy out, incarnate.
I’d say the whole idea of the world ending is baseless optimism. Humanity would have to become a lot luckier than it’s ever been before for this world and its self-inflicted problems to end. You get the world you deserve.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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