This is an excerpt of a larger work which examines the political, economic, philosophic, technological and social issues precipitating civilization’s demise, and looks at what happens next.
Contrary to the common conception, society isn’t held together by patriotism, Governmental grace or military force. It’s held together by the tacit understanding – usually subconscious – on the part of its citizens that participation and co-operation is to the economic and moral benefit of most, and that the acquiescence of unadulterated self-agency is mitigated by the presence of certain securities. When the costs of those mitigating benefits overwhelm the self-interest of large swaths of individuals in that society, those individuals historically do two things:
- They (or a portion therein) get violent in an attempt to restore the prevailing civic order to their favor
- They withdraw their consent, withdraw their support, withdraw their economic and civic participation from the transgressive society
They become Agorists, without a word of protest against the prevailing tyranny, and no one notices until the economic engine sputters, and the social customs and courtesies evaporate. This is where we are.
The vaunted “consent of the Governed” isn’t strictly about placing limits on a government that rules you. That’s a symptom of the consent given by a populace that they will participate in a given society, because the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs. The Government instituted to arbitrate this comes later. When the paradigm changes – and it invariably, inevitably changes, every single time – the consent disappears as the economic, moral and civic acts of those participants shift away or disappear altogether from mainstream society, heading underground, taking their money and talents with them.
Far from being the Great Libertarian Wrecking Ball of Freedom, such a shift is at best a mixed bag, fraught with numerous, devastating drawbacks. First, black market pricing benefits no one, not even the outlaws. Transacting in the underground economy comes with increased risk for all parties, and the dealers and merchants comprising the underground spend nearly if not all of the markup on protective measures against the State, against competitors and against piracy. Except for the rarest of circumstances, black marketeers operate with a much thinner profit margin than they would have to under a traditional economy.
Another significant issue is that driving ordinarily non-black market segments underground severely diminishes innovation in nearly every possible area, as capital shifts from development and optimization to protection and procurement (theft). This won’t do much damage in a week or a month, but over the course of years the rearward pull of decline subsumes everything else, as fewer and fewer true innovations are developed.
When the social and civic order exists more underground than it does above it, the ethical and moral structures necessary to maintain any form of civilization disappear, both as a matter of expediency and as a result of fewer social and legal checks on individual behavior that would ordinarily be deemed detrimental.
There are five broad themes that have contributed to the current paradigm of civic degradation:
- We’re getting incredibly dumber. Every year that goes by we forget more than we learn, we become further removed from the kind of knowledge of fundamentals that allows for true innovation rather than refinement; as subsequent generations become further removed from what we can term “peak knowledge” familiarity with fundamental principles disappears and will at some point have to be re-engineered in order to be restored.
- We’re getting poorer, or at least it’ll seem that way when the dust settles. Simply pointing to digits on a ledger and saying “we’re rich!”, sadly, doesn’t make it Many points of history are debatable, especially when you’re talking about political or social trends, the underlying assumptions behind them, even the veracity of certain obscure events or documentation. But the two things that history is phenomenally good at documenting are wars and money. And to my knowledge, history shows no example, not one, of any political or social structure that has attempted an economic scheme like ours and enjoyed any success.
- We’re becoming increasingly divisive without actually dividing. You can thank human nature, you can thank post-post-modern deconstructionism, you can thank the GOP’s Big Tent or the Democrats’ Coalition of the Unemployed, but the more our social order has tried to cram people together, the more those people And it isn’t just about race. There are more ways to divide Us then there are members of Us to begin with, and many of them sometimes are and sometimes are not mutually exclusive.
- We’re getting more impatient. The success and ultimate propagation of a beneficial social order rests on saving things today for the benefit of tomorrow. Whether we will need the surplus to survive an unforeseen problem, or if we can sell that surplus for profit, or simply pass that surplus along to the next generation, the concept of “saving” is one of the most important paradigms of perspective in the human experience, because it is one of the few that must be actively fostered. Whether it’s to save a can of preserves for the winter, save a wad of cash for down the road, or save an important family heirloom to provide hereditary continuity, this is the only mindset that can stave off most, if not all, of the base ills of the human condition. Tomorrow will come, whether you plan ahead or not.
- We’re already standing amid the ruins of our own design. Following decades of the best and brightest trying to break down the foundations of social order on an endless parade of grounds by undermining its moral and ethical philosophies, we shouldn’t be at all surprised that they succeeded. We asked for this. We agitated for this. Yet many assumed Step 2 would be the continuation of all the things that make the social order shiny and cool while gutting all the things under the hood that actually make it work. Moral bankruptcy isn’t a secular virtue; it’s simply moral bankruptcy. We’re only at the beginning of grappling with this realization and the fact that the operable philosophies that used to govern the social order have been replaced by those that degrade meaning on every plane as a strategic exercise.
Sadly, as one cannot re-animate the dead, one shouldn’t pin their hopes on restoring this once-great civilization. The only sane course of action is to preserve what’s worthwhile, identify the cancers for what they are and document as much as possible so that the progenitors of the next great civilization stand a fighting chance.