This discussion will focus on the if you think Western society is in decline, why or why not. Also, feel free to get into side discussions that are relevant (which is inevitable, but this way no is pressured to get back on topic).
I have some very opinionated stances on this topic but am more than willing to have an open mind in this discussion. So please, by all means let us start!
I will add my opinions in the next day or two as soon as I have time.
(And for those that wish to look back, this is sort of a continued discussion of the (very long) comments from this discussion.
Is society in decline?
Certainly, no question about it. While there are and always will be short term ebb and flow to all the assorted and sundry statistics and points of fact we may use to measure the status of our civilization, there is absolutely no question we are on the second half of our apex.
That is NOT to say that things have never been WORSE than they are right now. Certainly they have been. But I do not believe that they have been as universally bad as they are now. Any ONE aspect of our society has been worse at one time or another, but never with the totality of indicators that they are now.
But what is fundamentally different here, is that in todays West, we are in a cultural vacuum.
This is no different than with anything else in that, nature abhors a vacuum. America, and even western Europe, are the least defined we've ever been. To be "American" or some flavor of Western European, is to say nothing. There is no real, articulable meaning behind the definition of "American". A lack of specificity in nationality has corresponded with the beginning of the end of each and every empire that has ever existed. Now, if you want to argue causality, thats' fine. But there is no mistaking that when Rome fell, it was no longer made up of predominantly Italian Romans. Or the Mongols. Or the Egyptians. Or the Greeks. Or Persia. Pick any one you like. But in all cases, the societys' predominant populations where no longer descendants of its' founding population at the time that it fell.
There is also a financial component. All the worlds' empires fell at a time of deep debt. Not just recession, but debt. We, as a nation, have created more debt in the last year then we have in the previous 233 year history of our country COMBINED.
A Third component. Fertility. The fall of the worlds empires have also corresponded with a plummeting birth rate. Took a look at the birth rates in Western society of late?
A Fourth. Borders. In the death throws of each empire, we see expanding and contracting, poorly defined borders. Today, America and Western Europe have the most poorly defined borders' we've had since the early days of our nations' expansion and the Louisiana purchase. A significant percentage of our countrys' own population advocate a suicidally porous national border that provides the very fuel for many of the identifiers for a societys' end.
The highest rate of single parents in our history (excepting the massive loss of husbands during the civil war).
The weakest definition of "manhood" and values in our history.
The farthest away from our founding principles we've ever been.
The greatest exposure to violence and sexuality as an entertainment in world history.
The least compunction about violence towards children and Women in our history, (with the arguable exception of the early days of the "Wild West".)
The greatest level of dependence on Governmental intervention in our history.
Labor and skill specialization to the point of codependency for even the most basic of lifes' needs.
Whew. ok, now, how does Gender role play in to all of this?
I believe, that like it or not, want it or not, the foundation of society and culture is 1: the family structure and 2: the spiritual, religious structure.
And in both cases, the Men of western society are the largest failures. The Men of Western culture have taken their hands off of the wheel and are no longer the moral compass. The Men are no longer saying to their families "NO" when his wife wants the newer S.U.V. or his teenager wants that blackberry/cellphone. They (Men) are at the weakest and of the least significance to societies morays than ever before in our history.
I personally do not fault feminism, so much as I fault the Male worlds' reaction to feminism.
Men gave up. They tossed their hands (Along with their nuts) in to the air. The inmates are running the asylum, as it were.
Debt, a prevalence of passive entertainments, the complete inability to make moral judgments and an absolute refusal to stand against the intellectual and cultural attacks on the very things that created the greatest society and culture in the world are all, in my view, directly linked in causality and directly indicative of the decline of our society as well as it's nearly visible on the horizon end.
The Sun has not, I believe, set on us just yet, but the sky is definitely changing colours. No question there is less time ahead of us than there is behind us.
I think Michael makes some good points. I was actually reading something the other day that was relating culture to Sigmund Freud. In fact it made lots of references to Psychologists and philosophers as it tried to tackle many issues in my country today. Anyway regardless of how accurate you think it is I did like it's explanation, not sure it is scientifically based...
Basically it compared to west (America, Western Europe) to the Islamic states (Pre 9/11 Afghanistan and also Iran after they got rid of the Shah.) Basically it looked at Freud's Super-ego and compared this to states with very strong traditions and law enforcement. Where law, honour and tradition are so important that if you fail to comply you might even die.
Then it compared the west to the Id basically doing what you want for yourself and pleasing yourself on a whim to try and make yourself happy (Which it notes that we are not happier so this obviously does not work).
Obviously a state that represented the ego (in balance between the Id and Super-ego would be good) would be good (or so it suggests) and although the author did not seem to be certain that such a state has existed it used Victorian Britian as an example. On the face of it there was a strong Super-ego at least within some classes and this can be represented for example by the behaviour of gentlemen or those who pretended to be them at least. At the same point their were boiling hotpots of Id especially among the "underclass" in certain areas and this can be seen in prostitution and alcoholism.
I think this ties in with Michael's spiritual/religion point although I personally think anything such as honour (If everyone embraced the way of chivalry, maybe this is spiritual...) or any other traditional behaviour that was strong enough.
However the site I was reading disagrees with his first point saying it is not the decline of the nuclear family that is the problem (although I'm sure that isn't helping) but the decline of community that is causing the problems within society (maybe this is caused by the family?).
No onto my opinion, Yes it is in decline at least in some countries. I am only going to talk about my nation (UK) because I feel I can't honestly say I know enough about all other nations to comment. There is a decline in my country in regards to standards. We used to be number one in the world for many things (As has been said empire rise and fall) and we can no longer rely on plundering the riches of the world (good times). However from the start of the decline of the empire (No this wasn't when you Americans gained your independence) we have just let things go we have relied on the old which was great at the time hasn't been updated and replaced enough and is now out dated and can't cope (I use sewage systems as an example).
Standards in behaviour have dropped, education standards have not improved enough and man countries have systems that statistically at least seem to produce better students. Where we were once viewed with begrudged respect by our neighbours we were respected. Some people still imagine the English as the "English gentleman" stereotype however I know a few who have then visited this country and then changed their opinions to match our European neighbours that we are lazy and inconsiderate with our premier representatives the football hooligan.
People in England lack political will unlike in France where if they don't like it they will kick up a huge sink on short notice the best we can normally do is hold up billboards. We have got into a state of political stagnation where three parties exist who have any chance of gaining power and all three of them are pretty much the same thing now (they used to be very different) and because minority parties find it hard to gain any real support (and if they do the ideas they are supported for are often stolen by the main parties but somehow forgotten once they have been elected) and so only these three parties who are the same stay in power. Someone voiced the opinion that this is a totalitarian regime, but I like to think it isn't... at least I hope not.
To stop the decay of splendour one has to work far harder than they did to gain it in the first place and people don't understand that. We have reached a level of affluence where even the poor excluding a relatively small number of unfortunates are actually very well off and they expect this standard of living as a right but do not understand how hard it is to keep that standard.
Daily Show had a brilliant bit on this last night. They were talking about how the big 3(Oreilly, Hannity, and Beck) are always going on about better times, even made fun of Beck crying on how we will never get back there. Then they went through and interviewed people who lived in those times or were experts, only to find out, that they weren't all that great.
Mix that with the great stuff you read from Topher, throw in the way you wish to view life(negative or positive) and it really comes down to the person's own experiences rather then society as a whole.
If you watched Beck, as opposed to taking the word of people who culturally drift with the wind, you'd know better. Stewart believes nothing, and mocks everything, as a result. He especially mocks those with a solid foundation pf beliefs. Beck for one, because he says we are throwing awahy what we were given. We then have two choices.
We can continue to throw away what we have as a Country, and eventually pay the price. Or, we can go back to the very values that the current culture mocks. Things like: A man's word is his bond; All men (and women) are equal; No one is entitled to anything by birth or "class"; that your right to defend yourself is not a gift from Government, but from your creator; you have control over your own life, and not that of any other person. Nearly all of their beliefs can be found in two documents. The Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States, with the first Fourteen Amendments.
OTOH, we have Olbermann, Stewart, Maddow, etc., who believe that the self selected elite (them), should tell the rest of us what to do. They should be in control, "because they (the rest of us) are too stupid to know. . . " If you think a bout that statement, the unbelievable arrogance of it should offend you. Their foundation value is. "If it feels good, do it," (and worry about consequences later). Like a successful thief, they equate not getting caught, with being right.
If Glenn Beck is so damn great, why isn't he organizing tea party protests outside the home's or offices of these people who are the puppet masters instead of the puppets. I bet if he did, you would start to see a G20 style crackdown.
I say yes, and the decline started around the same time when TV was introduced. Coincidence?
The media bombards us with infotainment, most or all of it is not relevant to your personal life.
Our public education system is a joke, we rank near dead last in every subject.
Ask people where New Zealand is located and they wont know.
Mix in a political climate where you are either Republican or Dem, no third category, and you have an empire in major trouble.
People no longer care about government or each other. Common sense is extinct.
Most would rather watch films instead of reading, its "easier" for them.
Tabloid rags crowd the newsstand racks. People care more about Paris Hilton than what is going on in Congress.
We live in a throw-away culture. When was the last time you took your radio or other device to be fixed?
It seems everyone now lives in cubicles and if you do not possess the latest tech, you are the weird one.
As for food, we eat what does not qualify as food in most other countries. We also waste the most of any other country.
The best way to sum up how I feel about our modern culture? watch the film Network.
1. Agreed - there is much more junk on the market. However, there is also much more fresh fruit and vegetable of higher quality available (at all times of the year, no less) than at any other time. Especially if you live somewhere with a short growing season. There is a reason canned fruit molds were popular in the 50s... the fresh fruit often wasn't an option.
2. Junk mental food has always been a problem, but I agree its gotten much much worse over the past 25 years.
3. No argument here.
Luckily, there are movements, and ways to fight against all three of these. But it is a long road and requires alot of effort and education.
I agree on the environmental cost... we try to eat locally when we can (difficult in winter, certainly). And heirloom varieties when we can...and cut out as much corn syrup and other nasties as we can. But it's always a trade off. We're settling for awareness and conscious decisions until we get a chest freezer and start canning in season ourselves.
Wish we had a garden. But no space at our condo currently.
We just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - which while a bit hokey, is quite good.
But yeah, the point was really just that these were not even options not long ago. I think its possible to eat MUCH healthier than we (as a society) did.
I disagree even though the question is loaded anyway. I'm 21 years old and I'm sick and tired of people saying that society is in decline and "will never be the same." If you look at history people have been saying this since the beginning of time and society has never "been the same" as it was the golden nostalgia of whichever past is being put on a pedestal.
To address Michael Denny: Have morals changed? Yes. Have spiritual concerns changed? Yes, but these changes seem to go hand in hand with the progress of science and technology. For people who make an effort to be intelligent (which is a small few and always has been a small few) and concurrently step away from traditional religion, science presents a new view of life that can't flourish with the deistic part of religion. The result varies from enlightened humanism to total debauchery with complete justification either way, but that's just people and for what it's worth they've always been that way.
Which past are we idealizing? The one where blacks and women couldn't vote or the one where a single mother was chastised for not having a husband? If this sounds inflammatory I'm sorry but I'm writing in the heat of the moment and nothing gets me more than people who look at the "good ol' days" with solace. It's just sad.
This "decline" is not a decline as much as it's the amorphous evolution of the strange animal that is culture, it's just that now we have more graphs and charts to look at than ever before. Are there millions of idiots? Yes. Are there evil people? Yes. Are people bringing things to the lowest common denominator? Yes, but what (forgive me) older people tend to forget is that all these things have always existed.
To change the subject a bit I'll just mention what the three biggest challenges of my generation will be: First, we must preserve the institution of looking at the present as a moment of opportunity and step away from the emerging concept of a public safety net provided courtesy of a bloated and inefficient social state. We must prevent ourselves from becoming slaves of our technology. Lastly, we must stop spending money that we don't have. We can't afford to spend like people did back in the good ol' days because the buck has been passed to us and we'll be paying the bill for years and years to come.
If this comment sounds too inflammatory I'm sorry but I think my emotion was well placed. Now is the best time in human history to live. The only thing that's declining is an optimism about the future.
One of my friends and I were touched on this last night. As someone has already pointed out, I think it does boil down to your personal experience. I think in some areas (technology, science, etc.) we're making great strides, and I hope that continues. However, on some levels (general civility for one - raising children to be responsible adults) we're failing horribly. I'm not sure what to do about them.
I wouldn't say Western society is in a decline, but rather in a state of flux and uncertainty not seen or experienced for many years, if not centuries. It seems that the main thing forgotten by many is the aphorism, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Good intentions have given us a school system that lacks certain personal accountabilities, in the service of building self-esteem. Good intentions have given us a criminal law system wherein the potential evil-doer does not fear the consequences of criminal behavior. Good intentions gave us the initial puffs of gas into the housing and financial market bubbles that burst so spectacularly in 2008.
It's not just good intentions, it's the de-emphasis of self discipline, the disparagement of certain acquired knowledge, the abdication of social responsiblity, the "me first and the devil take the hindmost" attitude towards wealth, possessions and sexuality espoused by many, with an overlay of medical issues approaching pandemic levels (AIDS, malaria, anti-biotic resistant Staph and TB) that are causing this flux.
A reading of history will show that this sort of flux has happened before. The 14th century in Europe was replete with many examples of licentiousness, bloody, spectacular & violent sports and theater, flexing borders, foreign influences, easy money, a shift from field to "factory" (city trade guilds), an achievement of an architecture of great buildings (dedicated to God and defense of the temporal realms, rather than our monuments to financial power) and to finish it off, a literal "death from the East"-the black plague, that forced a shift back to an isolated, rural existence for most Europeans. Before that, the decline of the Roman Empire, with a very similar set of circumstances, including a medical health crisis (lead poisoning among the ruling elites and upper classes). These historical examples point towards a theoretical 800-or-so year "boom to bust" cycle for Western society/civilization. If so, yes, we are in the decline phase of the cycle. If not, then boy am I blowing a lot of philosphic smoke!