Unprecedented times

It used to be that life was getting materially better but spiritually worse, that men enjoyed expanding freedom at the cost that their choices meant less and less, and conservatives argued that the loss outweighed the more obvious gain. This situation has changed.

While the destruction of tradition, religion, and the family accelerates, there is no longer even any promise of material benefits. From a hedonic point of view, the world is getting worse, and there is no prospect of this decline slowing or reversing. Inflation means most of us are getting poorer, which hurts the poor much more than comfortable people like me, but we’ve all lost the simple pleasure of being able to breathe easily now that we must wear these damned masks. We’ve lost the taken-for-granted pleasure of seeing people’s faces. We have no sense of personal freedom, but are reconciled to being locked up whenever the government thinks it necessary. We are told that, to stop global warming, we must soon drastically reduce our energy use and give up red meat and dairy. Alas, it seems that even so some degree of further global warming is inevitable, and our summers are permanently ruined by droughts and wildfires. Technical advance has slowed; I suspect in some areas our machines and software have actually begun to degrade. Our cities become increasingly violent and lawless, with no public will to suppress this. The sexual revolution is over. Many bought into the revolution because of the appeal of easy sex, but now intersexual relations are becoming more dangerous, the culture more censorious, women not easier but uglier and more shrewish. The common man isn’t even offered any benefit from progress, but promised that it will bring his justified punishment. One can argue about whether these losses advance a greater good, but one must admit that a pure hedonist with a time machine would certainly prefer to escape to the 1950s, 1970s, or 1990s.

As to ideology, it is shocking how in less than two years what was an extreme view has come to monopolize all thought in Europe and the Americas. Wokism has routed not only us conservatives, who barely had a toehold on social acceptability before anyway, but even our enemies who only a few years ago seemed so formidable. Conservatism is dead, but liberalism is also dead. Neutrality was the heart of liberalism as defended by analytic political philosophers, but who would dare defend it today? Nor would anyone respectable defend “classical” i.e. procedural liberalism, which provides legal protections to the wicked as well as to the righteous. Utilitarianism, including minimax-type variants favored by Rawlsian progressives of yesteryear, is dead, because it concerns itself equally with the utility of the wicked and the righteous, refuses as a matter of deliberate principle to discriminate between them. Tolerance has disappeared from the Leftist vocabulary. Postmodernism is dead, now that we possess the one true faith. Leftism–the division of the world into absolutely evil oppressors and absolutely innocent victims–was always incompatible with liberalism and post-modernism, with their skepticism of moral absolutes, but Leftism was before not strong or self-confident enough to so openly discard its allies of convenience.

What’s going on? Before, progress–meaning Leftist advance–was driven mainly by positive incentives, by the comfort and license it promised to the majority. There were negative incentives–the media could make your life very unpleasant if you caused too much obstruction–but these only had to be imposed on a minority of recalcitrants. Now progress continues–faster than before–but there’s no more carrot; it’s all stick. There’s a witch-hunting mass media prowling the land with a million volunteer spies who will ruin your life if you betray any lack of enthusiasm. With that kind of stick, who needs a carrot?

If I were to guess, I’d say that only a few percent of regime supporters (meaning almost everybody) are motivated primarily by self-interest. This could only be perverts and the minority of non-asian minorities in the professional classes. Everyone else supports it because of disinterested approval of social justice (i.e. motivated by hatred) or because of expediency (i.e. motivated by fear). It’s hard to tell how many belong to each camp, since people like to think of themselves as idealists (hatred-motivated) rather than as cowards. The young have less guile, so it’s easier to guess for college-age kids. I’d say about half fall into each camp.

13 thoughts on “Unprecedented times

  1. I do think yes, the socio-economic order that thrived post ww2 for decades, has been eroding for quite some time. This consequently, will bring about a period of disorder, but I am optimistic to see the number of communities emerge recently to tackle these ‘crises of meaning’ and deep philosophical questions that lie at the heart of our modern era.

    • I recommend George Friedman’s book “The Storm Before the Calm”. In it he talks about different cycles that have played themselves out throughout American history. He argues we’re currently at the end of two of those cycles currently (the first time this has happened in our history). Along with this comes a period of political unrest with renewal eventually on the other side.

  2. Really enjoyed your dystopian post and hope the witch-hunting spies never get to you. I hope you are wrong when you say “there is no prospect of this decline slowing or reversing.” Is there truly no path out of the madness? Perhaps recaptured spirituality?

  3. Why should this make you miserable? It’s cause for great encouragement! I’m very enthusiastic about the rapidly spreading trend of homeschooling (great for families), the new classical education schools popping up, the Mama Bears defending their children all over the place (whom their children will respect and adore for going to bat for them); and the generalized widespread discontent with ’68 hogwash. Conservatism is very, very far from dead — what is dead is the Left-attached seeming conservatives who fed at the common trough.

    You are looking into hell thinking you might find heaven there. There are so many wondrous rebirths and restorations and if you go looking for them, you will find them. As I have written before, it’s all about action: we have to be progenitors of what we know to be better and find like-minded people, of which kind there are so very many! Sitting on the rump and complaining achieves naught.

    It’s all crumbling under their feet as they play out their circular firing squad (history demonstrates this happens at the end of any era of the power-mad and the beginning of a new one that abandons the old). You just have to make sure to get out of the way!

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  5. I think the fact that a worldly life is becoming less pleasurable will in the long run be very good for us. I think it was James Kalb (or was it Cardinal Sarah?) that recently said the Church needs to offer itself as a choice, in the sense of an alternative. People who have been made utterly miserable by the world are going to be much more receptive than those in a sensual fog.

    I don’t think liberalism is dead. Thinking in the shadow of ZippyCatholic, I think this just *is* liberalism. The unprincipled exception is a bit more aggressively on display than usual, but otherwise many of the elements are not unexpected. We only have to mandate masks because of the Low Man–if not for the Low Men refusing vaccination, and not following the plan from the start, the pandemic would already be over.

    Even the scientific tyranny makes a kind of sense. It is not actually possible to live without authority, so in “rejecting” it all liberalism has ever done is submit to authorities that pretend not to be authorities: and “The Science” (read: scientists) is in many ways the ultimate acceptable liberal authority. You’re not being ruled by men, you’re just freely doing what the Science–pure reason–tells you to. Anyone who doesn’t want to freely do that is irrational by definition.

    The enthroning of scientist-kings as absolute monarchs may be the last gasp of liberalism, its Dantean contrapasso, but it is simply a new incarnation of liberalism, not a rejection of it.

    If anyone cares I wrote out this argument at length here: https://forheavenssake46778317.wordpress.com/2021/05/10/how-freedom-became-slavery-part-1-of-2/

    • Thanks for the link to your blog post: it’s a question I think is interesting and worth thinking about – whether liberalism is dead or whether it is simply adapting into a new form by following its own internal logic.

  6. Honestly I take this as a good sign. Things are now unambiguously getting worse; we have moved from “the centre cannot hold” to “things fall apart”. Perhaps that’s accelerationism, though I’m not advocating that we morally should aid the advance of the collapse, only that it is advancing.

    On a moral plane, which is the only plane that truly matters, this can only ultimately be a good thing. And I say it as likely to be among the first wave of casualties regarding lifestyle.

  7. I don’t share optimism of the commenters who think that a declining standard of living will make us more spiritual. It will make happy hedonists into unhappy hedonists, and unhappy hedonists will be looking for a scapegoat and a drug dealer. Religion is not the opiate of the postmodern masses. Opioids are.

    • Perhaps I’m a secret pessimist, but my thoughts go like this.

      1) Most people aren’t religious and never will be, regardless of what happens, except possibly from desperation in a crisis.
      2) Some very few people are religious regardless of the circumstances and will be regardless of the circumstances. We call these people ‘saints’ or ‘diabolically evil’ depending on exactly where those religious tendencies lead them.
      3) There is a mass (and in view of 1, likely still a minority) of people on a continuum of religious inclination, but overly attached to worldly things because, let’s face it, worldly things tend to be nice when you can get them.

      The optimism of ‘things get worse, people become more religious’ largely attaches to 3)

    • Me neither. The world doesn’t need to corrupt men using the allure of pleasure and comfort, now that the regime is strong enough to corrupt them directly using fear. Fear is much more persuasive.

    • JM Smith, that’s a pretty good line (about opioids).

      Put me on the pessimist side, if only because in my lifetime and before, things have only ever seemed to get worse. But, I think rather than fear, I would chalk it up to desire for status (of course, it’s still fear in a sense: but fear of loss of status, rather than fear of the regime cracking down on you).


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