Unless somehow we get passed all of this. Remember in the past it is a few things going badly that can be handled, but sooner or later all civilizations find their tipping point and over they go.
Had the Greeks lost at Salamis, Western civilization might easily have been strangled in its adolescence. Had Hitler not invaded the Soviet Union, the European democracies would have probably remained overwhelmed. And had the Japanese just sidestepped the Philippines and Pearl Harbor, as they gobbled up the orphaned Pacific colonies of a defunct Western Europe, the Pacific World as we know it now might be a far different, far darker place.
I am not engaging in pop counterfactual history, as much as reminding us of how thin the thread of civilization sometimes hangs, both in its beginning and full maturity. Something analogous is happening currently in the 21st-century West. But the old alarmist scenarios — a nuclear exchange, global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps, a new lethal AIDS-like virus — should not be our worry.
Rather our way of life is changing not with a bang, but with a whimper, insidiously and self-inflicted, rather than abruptly and from foreign stimuli. Most of the problem is cultural. Unfortunately it was predicted by a host of pessimistic anti-democratic philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Hegel and Spengler. I’ve always hoped that these gloom-and-doomers were wrong about the Western paradigm, but some days it becomes harder.
Over 90 million Americans who could work are not working (the “non-institutionalized” over 16). What we take for granted — our electrical power, fuel, building materials, food, health care, and communications — all hinge on just 144 million getting up in the morning to produce what about 160-170 million others (the sick, the young, and the retired who need assistance along with the 90 million idle) consume.
Every three working Americans provide sustenance for two who are not ill, enfeebled, or too young. The former help the disabled, the latter take resources from them. The gang-banger has only disdain for the geek at the mall — until one Saturday night his liver is shredded by gang gunfire and suddenly he whimpers (who is now the real wimp?) that he needs such a Stanford-trained nerd to do sophisticated surgery to get him back in one piece to the carjackings, muggings, assaults, and knockout games — or lawsuits follow!
Hanson points out the obvious. I have said for a long time that when more people are sitting in the wagon, looking for that free ride, than are pulling the wagon, it will grind to a halt. As we speak universities are finding out this reality, as are businesses both large and small. It will be consolidation and efficiency which will make the difference between success and failure. Almost every day we read about some major company, hospital or school shedding thousands of workers. The question is were they that inefficient before or are we seeing drastic measures of a dying company like the drowning man flailing in the water.
Hanson goes down the list of coming catastrophes, not the least of which is the trillions of college debt. If students coming out of school can’t find work, how are they going to pay back the loans? If that is the case, then the banks and organizations holding those loans will become stressed and may fail. If that’s the case, does the government come in and bail them out? Can it afford to? He also points out the blatant hyprocasy of the ruling elites and the “greenies” who get in the way of low cost energy (and have Obama twisted around their finger).
A very few people are saving very many. But how thin the strand of civilization hangs — given that the forces of our modern Lotus Eaters (every bit as dangerous in their postmodern imaginations as the Cyclopes are in their premodern savagery) have stopped the Keystone Pipeline, stopped most federal leasing of new gas and oil finds, and are trying to regulate fracking and horizontal drilling out of existence where it might be most vital to the U.S. — as in the Monterey Shale formation in California.
How ironic is the Sierra Club Bay Area grandee who finds light when he flips on his office switch, and would find no light were his utopian ideas about wind, solar, and biomass to come to full fruition. Only what he despises — radioactive uranium, messy drilling rigs, and unnatural dams — for now continue to bring him what he must have. Again, the theme: the more the green activists empty reservoirs to save a bait fish, or stop fracking, or prevent salvage logging, the angrier they sigh that it is not enough and the more they must count on someone ignoring them to provide them with what they must have.
The universities were the great backbone of the West, from the Academy and Lyceum to medieval Pisa and Oxbridge to the great 18th– and 19th-century founding of American campuses. Not necessarily any longer. Too many are bankrupt morally, economically, politically, and culturally.
The symptoms are terrifying: one trillion dollars in student debt (many of these loans accruing at higher than average interest rates and even before students have graduated); a small Eloi class of rarefied elites who teach little and write in runes that no one can decipher; a large Morlock class of part-timers and oppressed lecturers who subsidize the fat and waste of the tenured and administrative classes; graduates who are arrogant but ignorant, nursed on –studies ideology without the liberal arts foundations to back up their zeal; and a BA/BS brand that no longer ensures better-paying jobs, if any jobs at all.
In sum, apart from the sciences and medicine, most of the university coarsens rather than enlightens American life.
The current campus is unsustainable and we are beginning to see its decline, as online courses and for-profit tech schools usurp its students. The liberal arts are not nurtured and protected for another generation in the university. Instead, their umbilical cords have become cut with the cleaver of race/class/gender no-nothingism. Again the theme: the more bloated, exploitive, and costly the university, the more it lashes out it that it is short-changed, the victim of philistine budget cuts, and the last bastion of civilized life.
And all that debt gives us back what exactly? Hanson notes most kids can’t tell you about Jefferson or Gettysburg or how our nation was created and why. If kids can’t understand their history and how we got here, how can we expect them to be good caretakers of the nation? Truth is we can’t and they will not be. Hanson concludes.
You cannot expect the military to protect us, and then continually order it to reflect every aspect of postmodern American sensitivity in a risky premodern world. Filing a lawsuit to divert a river’s water to the sea during a drought is a lot easier and cleaner than welding together well-casings at sea. Last week, an off-duty armed correctional officer in Fresno intervened in a wild carjacking, shooting and killing the gang-member killer and thus limiting his carnage to one death and two woundings rather than five or six killings — at the very moment Harvey Weinstein — of guns-blazing Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction fame and profits — promised to destroy the NRA. These contrasts say everything about the premodern, the postmodern and the innocent who pay the tab in-between.
Each day when I drive to work I try to look at the surrounding communities, and count how many are working and how many of the able-bodied are not. I listen to the car radio and tally up how many stories, both in their subject matter and method of presentation, seem to preserve civilization, or how many seem to tear it down. I try to assess how many drivers stay between the lines, how many weave while texting or zoom in and out of traffic at 90mph or honk and flip off drivers.
Today, as the reader can note from the tone of this apocalyptic essay, civilization seemed to be losing.
Yep. It does seem that way.