Saturday 16 July 2011

What is the bottom line level of social organization?


When genetic relatedness is reduced to small nuclear families (no tribes); when there is no effective cohesive ideology (e.g. religion, nationalism).

The predatory teenage male gang spontaneously forms and dominates, by sheer force.

(This situation prevails in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.) 

When all else is stripped away the teenage male gang may dominate society.


The next step-up is organized crime - endemic gangsterism, piracy, robbery, extortion, blackmail etc.

Lacking extended families, tribes, clans - and lacking a cohesive ideology - this is the highest level of social organization that can be reached - the Big Man, mobster state.

My concern is that when the West collapses, this will be the level of society which will be dropped-down-to among the politically-correct, post-Christian indigenes - since Leftism has systematically subverted or destroyed all higher levels of social organization.



Alex said...

If one celebrated decline and fall is any guide, then we are teetering on the edge of another Dark Age - at least in Europe. But it will not be a Dark Age which affects the material situation; cities will not be abandoned nor technologies forgotten. It will perhaps be a Twilight Age in which 'only' civilised standards, the sensibilities of good men and women, are despised and swept into obscurity.

However, some vital standards will be maintained, I believe, by an indefatigable underground minority. These resolute few will have to wait patiently - wait until something or someone (and I don't know what or who) reconstructs the social and moral order which has collapsed.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ Alex - I am more pessimistic! Darker than Dark is what I forsee; precisely because we lack the intermediate levels of cohesion which were so abundant in the post-Roman collapse in the West.

And because we are not Christian nor even pagan but are hedonic individualists - hence have no basis for any meaningful cooperation nor long-termism; no basis for sustained and tough group cooperation.

But of course I missed out the one intermediate level of long-termist purposive cohesion located in the West, which is Islam - because I was referring to the West and its internal forces of cohesion; and Islam is of the East.

Once the West collapses down to teen gangs/ gangsterism - any larger entity originating from outside the West can and will simply walk-in and take-over - will indeed probably be welcomed; since rule by teen gangs is (it seems to me) close to being 'hell on earth' in terms of violence, terror, torture, mutilation, rape, murder, starvation, disease etc (see H/O post-colonial Africa); and rule by organized crime is not very much better.

But of course there would be intermediate stages of transition, and I really don't know how long these would last.

But - in sum - the modern West is much more *brittle* than the Roman Empire - which was highly segmentary (i.e. built from layers of multiple similar highly self-sufficient units: nations, provinces, towns, villages, villas) and cohering on the basis of clans and tribes (genetic) and devoutly-religious sects plus the pervasive state religion.

Alex said...

Your pessimism may well be justified by events more calamitous than presently imagined. I agree that the atomization of society makes collapse more likely with compound interest, and makes resistance less conceivable. I fear you are probably right in every particular.

But my pessimism is occasionally countered by something I've studied, or an experience I've had, or even an erudite sermon I've heard. Sometimes I'm afflicted by a free-floating optimism, which of course is ephemeral and unwarranted.

A few lines from Tennyson's Ulysses, which were quoted recently by the Dean of Lincoln, gave me heart for a while:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

baduin said...

This post requires a very long discussion - again, more of a book than a post.

I would like to suggest one thing: modern Western state are already in essence Big Man mobster states; with all the immense apparatus of ideology devoted to disguising that fact and stopping any opposition to it.

A good example is an overtly "Rightist" institution - American Armed Forces. In a long process, they have transformed themselves into an institution which serves to extract money from the budget and transfer it to various contractors. This process is overseen by senior leaders - top admirals and generals - who after retiring from the armed forces gain remuneration from the concerns they enriched.

The top leaders - "Big Men" of the sub-gang in question - take enormous care to advance only such men as support them. Anyone who opposes or in whatever way threatens to publicly expose or damage their operation must be removed from the armed forces. As the results, all people advancing to higher ranks are focused only on their careers, and put no importance at all on the putative functions of the institutions in question.

The Army and Marines must retain some vestigial capacity to fight Afghan goat herders. On the other hand, Navy and Air Force will never fight any dangerous adversary - and can therefore concentrate solely on transferring money to weapon producers. In order to do it, they must minimize the costs; this is done easiest by technological progress. It allows to limit the expenditure for paying the people - by replacing them with technology - and for costly production of actual ships and aircraft. Instead, producers are desiging new technology. This provides as much profit as they want, and costs them as little as they like. And, since the new technology will never be tried against any "near-equal" adversary, and in any case takes decades to design, the question whether it can perfor its function is meaningless. Anyway, most of those programs will be cancelled before they go into production.

There is a lot of such programs: JSF, FCS, LPD-17, DDX, LCS.

Here we have pure Big Man gang. But it is not visible, because it is hidden behind the most development system of propaganda in the history of the world. Universities, mass-media, think-tanks, politicial parties - both Left and Right - all serve both to enable and to hide the primitive gang nature of the summit of the political power. The postmodern ideology is, amongst other things, a system of explaining why the elite and leaders must and should do whatever they want.

This means, however, that the apparent dissolution of the Western societies didn't happen in vacuum. In fact, it did not happen at all; it was designed, caused and is sustained by the greatest intellectual and propaganda effort in the history of the world. Moreover, this effort is based on the deeply held moral beliefs held or at least accepted and considered to be binding by the majority of society. In other words, it may seem that the West is weak, but in reality it still possess quite considerable power - which is diverted towards subverting the West.

JP said...

The rule of the teenage gang in post-collapse Britain will only be a short one. There is not much food grown in Britain, and what food is grown relies on modern methods of production. Do modern farmers even know how to farm without gasoline and electricity any more, or will they be as helpless as everyone else after the collapse?

Even if these farms were viable and could produce food, they are within walking distance of millions of people, and lack the means to defend themselves, so they will be quickly overrun by hungry hordes. After a collapse, Britain will be quickly reduced to starvation and cannibalism, with 99% mortality. The teenage mobs will be the last to eat, but then they, too, will starve and die.

Britain is simply no place to be after civilization falls.

The Crow said...

Nicely put, JP. I agree completely. I could see as much in the early '70s, and it has only become worse, over time.

Quodrox said...

I really fear you are right about a breakdown in cohesion. This also puts me in mind of Roger Scruton's very pessimistic assessment of Western culture, where he says among many other things that the teenage gang is a natural response to a world in which the rites of passage into adulthood are no longer offered or respected.

He also, re Alex's comment, speaks of 'a flame kept alive by undaunted monks' as in the last dark age, but I think there are grounds to be sceptical about that.

Thursday said...

Collapse is slow.

The most likely result is that Western countries will turn into something like Brazil or Turkey.

baduin said...

"Britain is simply no place to be after civilization falls."

And this is itself an enormously powerful principle of cohesion. Hunger, and pain, and fear, are quite effective methods of ruling - maybe not for unlimited time, but for some time they are going to keep the rulers in power.

In fact, this is exactly the reason the ruling elite tries to eliminate every other principle of social cohesion except the social mechanism controlled by them.

That way, there can be no opposition to them, and if they are overthrown, the society will go hungry.

They are quite open about it: this is the principle of the "useful crisis" the European Union is built upon.

"George Soros

The euro is a patently flawed construct, which its architects knew at the time of its creation. They expected its defects to be corrected, if and when they became acute, by the same process that brought the European Union into existence.

The European Union was built by a process of piecemeal social engineering: indeed it is probably the most successful feat of social engineering in history. The architects recognized that perfection is unattainable. They set limited objectives and firm deadlines. They mobilized the political will for a small step forward, knowing full well that when it was accomplished its inadequacy would become apparent and require further steps. That is how the six-nation Coal and Steel Community was gradually developed into the European Union, step by step."

A good example of a society without principle of cohesion is China. Its own civilisation was abolished by Mao, socialism disappeared. The state, it is true, is promoting nationalism, because it feels the need for a principle of cohesion, and has some successes with it. But its power is built primarily on providing prosperity.

The West has an opposite problem. It is much too cohesive for the liking of the ruling elite. It is doing all it can to lower its cohesion: by immigration, by engaging in group politics, by anti-nationalist politics etc.

This has various reasons, but one of them is that the elite wants to be the only source of cohesion, and to be irreplaceable.

Bill said...

This is far too pessimistic. The "teenage" gang pisses its pants and runs away when faced with organized, adult males defending something they care about.

Here is an account of one thing which happened in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. The account is in the Nation Magazine (an extreme left newsmagazine), so you have to correct for the biases inherent in that. In sum, in one white neighborhood after Katrina, the adult men, rightly fearing that their families and homes were in danger from "teenage" gangs, armed themselves, shot looters and "teenage gangmembers," and generally re-established civilization in their neighborhood.

Naturally, they are currently being prosecuted for doing this, but in the hypothesized permanent collapse this threat would not be extant. Furthermore, they acted even though they surely knew that they were risking prosecution.

There is a big difference between someone being passive when the benefits to action are small and diffuse and the costs to action are large and present and someone being passive in the reverse situation. Also, ice people show a consistent ability to spontaneously re-create civilization in the midst of its collapse as the examples of many natural disasters demonstrate.

By now, civilization is so deeply ingrained both genetically and culturally that it just isn't going to just disappear. Pace Thursday, there are lots of plausible scenarios including Brazil (the country) and Brazil (the movie), but Mad Max is not so plausible.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Baduin - while I find your analysis interesting and insightful - I think it is basically wrong, because it assumes a coherent and strategic rationality among the ruling elites that I think is absent.

Political correctness is the name we give to the irrationality, craziness and mere wishful thinking of the modern ruling elites. They really have no objectives or plans - merely vague and fuzzy aspirations; they know what they are against, but have no idea what they are for.

Another name for this is nihilism: the denial of reality, consequently an ethic of destruction.


@JP. Okay you win. I can't be more pessministic than that.


@JuliusW - a flame kept alive by undaunted monks presupposes zealous and courageous ascetics - do you know of any in England? I'm afraid I don't. The 'monks' I know of are very easily daunted, and very little monastic.


@Thursday - collapse *was* slow in some substantially segmentary societies - but why should collapse be slow in our society? What exactly would prevent it from being rapid? And there is the example of the Eastern Roman Empire, where decadence and weakness grew gradually over centuries but collapse was the matter of a day.


@Bill - the US (parts of it, anyway) is very different from England. We are much further down the path: much more centralized, there is much less autonomy of central government, and - vitally -we are much less Christian (much, much less Christian - much less Christian even than is obvious from polls, because even when Christian so lacking in devoutness).

England *now* is nihilist and hedonist to an extent which is hard to exaggerate, but which is disguised from simple observation by a basic docility and placidity of national character.

This placid docility certainly has delayed collapse, but in the event of collapse it would prevent effective resistance.

Thursday said...

There has never been a rapid collapse of a civilization without a military conquest from outside. The house may be rotten, but it needs a good shove from outside before it will fall in. There is currently no plausible candidates for such even in the forseeable future.

Even if say China conquered the West (extremely unlikely), gangsters aren't going to take over, so talk of such things is pretty much irrelevant.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thursday -

1. There has never before been political correctness.

2. *Consequently*, conquest can come from within - much, much, much easier (and harder - psychologically as well as physically) to resist than an invasion.

3. We are not talking about the conquest of the UK, or England - these units will disappear very swiftly. We are talking about a rapid break-up into much smaller units, and who will take over each chunk.

JP said...

I disagree with baduin's characterization of the US armed forces as "overtly Rightist". They're not. They are overtly Leftist - for example, after the Fort Hood shooting, the Chief of Staff of the Army said that "diversity" was more important than the lives of his soldiers. Institutionalized Leftism is of course the natural result of their political masters being Leftists. The armed forces have freely accepted women and gays, and are conducting several wars using the suicidally stupid (and defeat-inducing) principles of political correctness. It is true they are being ordered to fight their wars along PC lines, but there is little evidence that they protested against this or ever even realize that it is a bad idea that leads to defeat. I have talked to a lot of military officers one-on-one, and I rarely meet any who admit that "what we're doing is crazy and determined by ideology, but I have to obey orders." Almost without exception they accept Leftist premises about the nature of war, how it should be fought, and who is the enemy.

As for the armed forces being money-extractors, this has always been true, from before the founding of the Republic to the present day. The military consumes, it cannot produce for itself, and this fact alone does not determine whether the institution is "Leftist" or "Rightist".

I would also question calling the military a "Big Man gang". They are certainly a bureaucracy, and act as bureaucracies do. However, bureaucracies are different from Big Man gangs - in the former, the organization matters but the man himself doesn't, whereas in a Big Man gang the man at the top is everything. If the military were a Big Man gang, then the top men could never be fired and would never retire unless another Big Man kicks them out; this is the way it works in Third World militaries.

Bill said...

Thursday said...
There has never been a rapid collapse of a civilization without a military conquest from outside.

How about Tsarist Russia & the commies? How about Bourbon France and the revolutionaries?

These were not merely coups. They were epochal changes in the civilization of each, genuine revolutions. I would describe these events as the moments that each of those two countries moved from being part of Christendom to part of "the West" or whatever we are going to call the Modern contraption.

S. F. Griffin said...

"presupposes zealous and courageous ascetics - do you know of any in England? "

Not sure if they go far enough for you, and they are outside of England, but how about the monks of Papa Stronsay:

JP said...

Bill said...
Thursday said...
There has never been a rapid collapse of a civilization without a military conquest from outside.

How about Tsarist Russia & the commies? How about Bourbon France and the revolutionaries?

The Tsarist collapse and the Bolshevik revolution was the direct result of Russia's defeat on the battlefield in WW1. Though Russia had not been completely occupied, the Germans would have done so if the Bolsheviks hadn't surrendered at Brest-Litovsk.

As for the French Revolution, it is hard to view it as a national collapse - or at least, it was a very short-lived collapse - given that the French defeated a foreign invasion in 1792 and soon went on to invade foreign countries. You can't have a levée en masse in a nation that has collapssed, because the "masse" of people won't show up.

Cornelius Troost said...

One thinker has grappled with this theme perhaps beyond all others.Futurism was a major sport back in the Sixties as America unravelled, with various scenarios spelled out in dramatic terms, but Robert Wright may have gone further with his book called Nonzero.Here he eloquently argues for an increase in non-zero-someness throughout world relations because evolution itself has gradually changed humankind into kindlier beasts. His New World Order is socialist and transnational. We will live like beings in a coral reef colony.Interdependence will be the dominant theme of life.

Robert Kaplan, a liberal realist whose books I devour with much relish, wrote a little book called Anarchy which exactly counters Wright's socialist utopia.He stresses the harsh reality of fragmentation and tribalism.The world once had a vast number of polities and that reduced to 193 in recent times. However, we are rapidly growing more polities as globalism threatens the security of most earthlings. This, however, does not discourage Wright, for he has a vision of world governance that overcomes all friction and disruption happening today. He imagines organizations that will improve the trust problem by resolving even the worst kind of international squabble.The IMF and WTO are precursors.He sees Greenpeace and Unicef as leaders of future transnational governance.Thus, the world is becoming more non-zero-sum than ever before because the thrust of history is away from zero-sum. Cooperation is the order of the day.Technology has promoted both schemes and can yet destoy our future in the hands of tribalist fanatics.Wright sees a reasonable chance of good winning out over evil because technology advances knowledge and moral knowledge could well save us from oblivion.Since non-zero-sumness has grown during human history, it may save humankind by providing world governance that frees us from the bestial tribalisms of the past and present. I give him credit for creative thinking and enormous flights of fancy. Little more.Indeed, his "solution" sounds a bit like 1984.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CT - Thanks for this. I have indeed read Nonzero, and was for a while a big fan - as is clear from citations in my book of 2003:

However, I now regard both Nonzero and my 2003 book as seriously mistaken, and indeed actively wrong. Also, I found it a dismaying and disillusioning experience to watch Robert Wright on podcasts - when it came to current affairs he seemed to be almost always wrong about almost everything; in a PC and self-satisfied way.