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A society in dangerous decline?


EDITOR: Letters are filling the Opinion and Letters columns of our newspapers weekly, written by both religious and secular-minded people decrying the moral state our country has sunk to. Crime, sex, corruption, miscarriages of justice, and general demoralization are continuing themes. Is there a historically valid argument for this concern? Does Gibbon, Spencer, Spengler, Vico, Tainter, Diamond, or the Durrants, et al have anything to say that may corroborate this concern? There may be some consensus.{{more}}

Most agree that when an economy shrinks due to agricultural declines and business contraction, declining exports and foreign trade imbalances (imports increasingly outnumber exports), or when mundane problems can no longer be solved by the government (potholes, unemployment, unclean, cluttered, or vermin infested streets, fires taking too long to extinguish, etc); or when major public work projects are left uncompleted or completion is continually postponed (Georgetown hospital, Green Hill housing, cross country-road, airport, etc); or when court proceedings come to disarray (the judges, prosecutors, and defense agree on the ineptitude or inefficiency of the police to provide timely and suitable evidence, or arrests are made with cause, but dismissed for political reasons, or arrest are made without sufficient cause and dismissed for lack of evidence, or cases are dismissed due to poor police procedures, or endlessly delayed and rescheduled, etc); or when government administration of essential services is devolved to private control, due to confessed inability to manage (fisheries, shipyard, etc); or when the national debt burden is so large that it becomes the responsibility of many future generations…such a society could be characterized as in dangerous decline.

Among the symptoms would also be a loss of structure of grammar in the language, shrinkage of the vocabulary; fewer words commonly used mean an inability to convey nuance or subtlety because bombast, hyperbole, and invective have subsumed moderate speech, and a regression to argot, patois or dialect increases. The arts decline to crafts; dance and painting revert to folk forms for inspiration; music becomes increasingly energetic and emotional, or spiritual and provocative, and/or loud. People’s expectations may not decline, but they do not rise. The middle class (the source of imagination, aspiration and creativity) contracts; many seek self-exile to foreign shores, or as a body it declines into subsistence. Individual initiative is lost, replaced by a faith and hope in a “higher power”, political or spiritual, that will sustain them. Despair, ignorance, bias, prejudice, polarization, tribalism, and superstition incrementally become sustaining features. People look to leaders who incite, foment, and declaim their right to rule, rather than to leaders who offer guidance, civility, dialogue, and solutions that may be hard, but necessary.

In the modern world, countries in bureaucratic or cultural decline don’t dissolve; nature abhors a vacuum. A “strong man” emerges to take control: Franco, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Chavez, Pinochet, Peron, etc. They are charismatic, willful and decisive. They also abrogate rights and freeze creativity and innovation. Dissent is repressed and individual behaviour restricted. Stability is maintained, but at the cost of a declining standard of living and loss of individual liberty. The upside is that its duration is limited.

But then none of this sounds familiar, does it? I’m OK, you’re OK, and we are all OK. And I am sure that’s not a cliff we’re marching toward…aren’t you? We nah turn back!