Sunday 17 March 2013

Where lies hope? A Schumpeterian analysis


The greatest weapon of the enemy is despair - it is against despair that we must fortify.

Yet not by false optimism.

Because false optimism does not work.

In a situation where realistic evaluation leads to pessimism about the outcome, where lies hope?


What seems futile is to hope that the mass of population, and all powerful institutions (including most churches) can be persuaded to abandon their path of suicidal, hedonic distraction.

Absent an almost-instantaneous switch to Christianity, any of the ruling elite who abandon secular materialism will instantly be thrown into a despair which is paralysing.

They will be denied their pleasures, their goals, their social status and support - yet they will have nothing to replace them.

(A grim satisfaction derived from the greater accuracy of one's world view will not be of any practical consoling value - certainly it provides near-zero motivation for most people most of the time.)


To reform a thoroughly corrupt and rotten 'institution' like the Church of England, state schools and universities, the legal system, political parties, the civil service, health services, or the mass media - to reform any these in a world of dominant and interlinked bureaucracy, and a world where a change of direction in any one place will be fought by all the other places... well, it really is inconceivable.


And yet we must hope for change. 

And I mean must: Despair is such an overwhelming sin that it sweeps away all virtue.

If reform is impossible (or, more accurately, something an informed and rational person cannot believe-in) then replacement is the only alternative.

Replacement, not reform.


The master theorist of this simple but unfamiliar perspective was, I think, Joseph Schumpeter:

The idea was that economies grew mostly by replacement of large units - as when one whole industry (automobiles) replaces an other (horse drawn carriages and carts).

That human societal adjustment was not typically incremental but categorical.


On this basis, we can assume, realistically, that the current secular, hedonic society of nihilism and self-loathing suicide will not last, and will be replaced; and we can assume that it will be replaced by a religiously-based society - but we can also assume that on present trends that, in most places of the modern world, that religiously-based society will not be Christian.

The trends are against Christianity.


So, we have a situation in which we await a Schumpeterian period of 'Creative Destruction' in which we anticipate wholesale replacement of many or most social institutions - but most Christians in most places must realistically anticipate that the wholesale replacement will not bring in a Christian society.

And yet we must hope.


My conclusion is that Christians need to transfer their hope away from dying institutions that want to die

These are hope-less.

And instead channel their hopes to living institutions that want to live: no matter how small and powerless they may currently seem to be compared to the vast lumbering cancer-riddled dinosaur institutions which constitute modern socio-political life in the West.


Life in the dinosaurs is one of mutual parasitism - success comes to the tumours which can most efficiently feed on the masses of rotting flesh which they themselves have caused and are exacerbating.

Modern leadership therefore celebrates neoplasia, and admonishes us to join-with the most malignant metastases; to focus on first killing, then consuming, the dwindling supply of healthy, living tissue


This metaphor of malignancy seems to capture the weak-strength, the effete-vigour, the docile-domination displayed by modern bureaucratic 'leadership'.

Modern leadership is a matter of organizing the forces of destruction more effectively to exploit the destruction they themselves create and continue.

Replacing a modern leader with another who is more 'effective' is usually akin to a malignant transformation; in which a slow-growing local tumour - that might take many years to kill you - undergoes swift evolution into an invasive, metastatically seeding and rapidly-lethal sarcoma.


The message of hope is not to cling to delusive optimism, not to seek by persuasion to reform suicidal institutions which do not want to be reformed.

Much of my life has been a serial (typically delayed) realistic recognition of the fact that things have now gone too far - and a withdrawal of hope from institutions, organizations, professions, groups that have now, one the whole and in overall tendency, abandoned their proper role and embraced self-destruction.

Realistic hope therefore depends on each of us finding at least one alternative group of at least some people who, one the whole and in net effect, embrace life not death, proper function not parasitism, creation and making not novelty and decomposition, Heaven not Hell.



Lest I be misunderstood.

I am not advocating the utopian, impossible, unreal idea of quitting the evil bureaucracies of modernity - bureaucracy is in fact the world in which we all live, even when we do not work directly for a bureaucracy - bureaucracy, hence our complicity in evil-motivated institutions, is inescapable.

But I am stating that we must learn not to place hope in these institutions, not to hope that they will become self-reforming, or be persuaded to become good from the inside, or even significantly better.

Indeed, we must not 'give them the benefit of the doubt', as if they were basically well-meaning. If in doubt, we should assume (on the basis of past experience and organizational inertia) that they are always (except by accident) up to no good - any and all bureaucratic 'initiatives' are to be considered destructive (unless preceded by explicit repentance). 

Nor am I suggesting that we must join any or every group in which we have hope (that may, or may not, be possible, to varying degrees) - most of our hopes will necessarily remain theoretical and at-a-distance.

But if we cannot or do not join an institution in which we have hope, we should try to support it; and also I think we must endeavour to find at least one or two, or some group of, people with whom we can ally, meet, speak face to face. 



Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

I just found this link on a heroic Roman Catholic priest (and convert from Anglicanism) who gave up his life to remain with the passengers of the Titanic left to die.

For a few months, I have had the distinct impression that we are on the sinking Titanic and that our only hope is in the things invisible. I sense that we will have to uphold the faith heroically, just like those Christians on the Titanic did, and they were able to face death calmly.

Matthew C. said...

What of hope in His return? Did He not promise that the Son would return in the Glory of the Father? Is that not the Christian hope for renewal?

Adam Noel said...

Although I agree we need hope to go forward I feel a great sense of despair that the decline of modern society will be incredibly long and protracted.

Just like how the medical research bubble never burst it seems that modern society, especially over the last 30 years, has become a credit bubble that seems incredibly unstable yet remarkably resilient.

Why do I picture the situation, at least in the short term, just more of the same insanity without end?

Bruce Charlton said...

@AN - Of course it will end - it is unsustainable and on top of that it wants to kill itself.

That is not the issue.

It is what comes next that is of concern.

I wrote about this in Thought Prison

Cantillonblog said...

Spot on.

Isn't this a grander (much grander version) of how growth normally occurs in social institutions?

See the book "The Coming Dark Age" for an extreme example.

Of course it's hard for us, with our Whiggish left-hemisphere utilisation bias mentality, to grasp what healthy organic growth in human institutions looks like. The tearing-down phase seems like a complete disaster, because one can see only what has been lost, and not what might come to be, formed out of the newly-liberated energies.

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - and then of course there is tearing down for the sake of sheer destruction! I'd be happier if I could perceive the destruction was being caused by creation - but I think it is going the other way (still Schumpeterian, but opposite sequence): there is a lot of destruction and the creation will come when the current order is so weakened that it cannot-prevent creation.