Friday 1 October 2010

Decline and choice

Almost all bad things now are consequences of bad choices in the past.

On the other hand - we keep getting presented with choices.

It works like this: The bad choices of the past make it ever-harder to make good choices in the present - the immediate and predictable cost of making  good choices escalates (because of the cumulative bad choices of the past).

But we do still keep getting choices.


9/11 was a moment when the West had a choice. There was a choice between continuing on the preceding path, the path determined by past choices, the path which led to 9/11. That was the easiest choice because there were the fewest immediate disadvantages.

And there was a choice to reverse the decisions of the past which had led to 9/11. But this choice would present immediate costs and problems.

Definite (albeit finite) short term costs could not be contemplated - even if they averted long term catastrophe.

(And anyway, they reason - the present is for sure, but the future is contingent. Maybe bad things won't happen, after all? Or maybe we can adjust to the badness? When all is said and done - what is 'good' and bad' anyway? - merely a state of mind...) 

We continued to march towards civilizational destruction.


The Minority mortgage meltdown/ credit crunch was a moment when the West had a choice. There was a choice between making minimal immediate repairs then continuing on the path which led to the Crash; and a choice to accept moderate but significant short term costs in order to reverse the direction of travel. But short term costs are definite, and the future is not-wholly knowable. There was no hestitation - indeed, there seemed (to the rulers) to be no choice! So - we will re-inflate the housing bubble, if we can; increase international financial inter-dependancy, increase the size of institutions, increase political influence on the economy - and continue to march towards economic destruction.


Such choices have been presenting themselves to the West for hundreds of years. In the past, sometimes the right choice was made, more usually the wrong choice.

However, each time a choice came around, the costs of making the right choice were greater, and our courage was less.

Sometimes, in the past, the right choice was made because these societies had the resources and capability to take a long-view. People had courage.

We still get presented with choices - nationally and individually. But now the West always seem to make the wrong choices, because we now lack the resources and capability to bear finite and short term costs in order to avert long term disaster.

We are all cowards now. Cowards cannot make a right choice; only the expedient choice.


Volksverhetzer said...

I know you are a christian, but you really should read about the heathen concept of wyrd, whose lawlike nature even the gods were subjugated to.

"Another way of understanding wyrd is through a weaving analogy. In the Anglo-Saxon Riming Poem, the narrator says of his life circumstances Me þæt wyrd gewæf, 'Wyrd wove this for me'[3]. In the Icelandic Njal's Saga, valkyries weave out the course of a battle on a loom made of weapons and threaded with human entrails.[4] Imagine a patterned piece of cloth being woven on a loom. The horizontal threads (the woof) are woven in in layers along the vertical threads (the warp). The horizontal threads represent layers of past actions. The vertical threads represent a time line. The colour of each horizontal thread as it is woven in will add to the pattern that is already established and influence the pattern that emerges. The threads already woven in cannot be changed, but the overall pattern is never fixed. Existing designs can be expanded into new forms. New designs can be added. Everything we do adds one more layer to the pattern.

One ramification of wyrd in personal human terms is that our past (both our ancestry and our personal history) affects us continually. Who we are, where we are, and what we are doing today is dependent on actions we have taken in the past and actions others have taken in the past which have affected us in some way. And every choice we make in the present builds upon choices we have previously made.

The philosopher Schopenhauer voiced the notion that "our lives are somehow irresistibly shaped into a coherent whole by forces beyond our conscious will".[5] He believed that neither chance events nor inborn character were enough to explain the consistency and direction in the life course of an individual, and so he postulated "the intention of Fate" to explain this controlling force in our lives. Many people have equated the notion of wyrd with this sort of "fate" concept, and the Norns with the Moerae or Parcae, the Greek and Roman Fates. However, to do so is to ignore the constant interplay between personal wyrd and universal wyrd and the role we each play in creating our own destiny."

xlbrl said...

The great philosophers observe that man's natural instinct is toward centralization and uniformity, in reflection of his origins. It is miraculous we escaped those bonds for so long an era. All civilization is a renunciation of instinct.

If there is to be an extended era of cultural enlightenment instead of an oppressive retraction, we have more tools and means than ever before to understand ourselves and our tasks. Only our will is in question.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Volksverhetzer - I have only been a Christian for about 2 years - before that I was a mixture of rationalist-atheist and neo-pagan - so I am very familiar with the concepts you describe.

@xlbrl - "Only our will is in question." Exactly: *will* is absolutely required.

And it is lack of will which is killing the West.

By my understanding is that the lack of will is a direct consequence of secularism and the dominant hedonic and this-worldly ethic - and so Christian 'revival' is the absolutely necessary first step.

Lacking this, the West will continue to be displaced and/ or subordinated by those who *do* have will.

Since a recovery of devout and orthodox Christianity in the West (perhaps especially in the UK) seems at present very unlikely; this means that the will shall continue to be weak.

This analysis makes me pessimistic about the future of the West. 'Pessimistic' (i.e. things turning out badly based on the balance of known probabilities), but not hope-less (because we do not really know much about these things).

ElectricAngel said...

Since a recovery of devout and orthodox Christianity in the West (perhaps especially in the UK) seems at present very unlikely; this means that the will shall continue to be weak.

It seems very likely to me, in the sense of "the future belongs to those who show up for it." Christianity conquered the Roman areas in the West not by the sword, but by greater birthrates than the Pagan power could muster. Traditionalist Catholics and Amish will likewise outbreed the dying Feminist West, but it will take centuries, and they must not surrender cash or human treasure to the Enemy; in this regard, the Amish, exempt from Social Security, are better off.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully put. And so true.

But I think it is not that people was wiser in the old times. It is that society was built in a manner that promoted taking good choices.

Man is a selfish individual and is lured by easy and pleasant paths. For millenia, society had built rules, moral imperatives, shaming that encouraged him to take the hard but right choices.

This is why the most important of these choices happened during the sixties, at least in the Western world. There were two options then:

a) Keep on sacrificing for something bigger than us (family, country, religion, common good, you name it). Or, in your own words, the ability to choose the hard but right choice.

b) Throw all the restrictions (morals, rules, stigma, laws) that were between us and our short-term gratification. Or, in your own words, having no obstacle to choose easy but wrong choices.

We choose b) Once chosen this path, it wasn't possible to choose the hard but righ choice any more. The decline was inevitable and we were doomed. The rest is history.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anonymous - I don't usually publish "Anonymous" comments - but this was a good one.

In future, please could you sign with a pseudonym? That way, when you comment more than once, I can build up an idea of your personality and perspective.

xlbrl said...

It may be easy to overestimate the importance of the British once being Christian--both Catholic, and later, Anglican. They were state religions, and while powerful outwardly, state religions of the Christian variety do not generally inspire citizens. It was the Puritans who changed the way business was done, literally, and who formed American custom for all who followed.

Was it not always the smaller Protestant sects that moved Britian forward, or for that matter backward? The point being that Britian no longer being a Christian nation may not be so important as Britian no longer having sections of people active in life-changing actions.