March 12, 2011

Death of an Empire

We read various historical accounts of the dying days of the Roman Empire, or perhaps, the Inca Empire, or the Egyptian or Chinese dynasties, and find it all quite fascinating, but remote from our experience. Many may be lulled into thinking 'that was then... we're a long way from those days.' But, not to fret--
we're seeing the unraveling of an empire-- nay, a civilization-- before our own, glazed eyes. The problem is, that most people don't have a clue that it's happening.

But the signs of decay and disintegration are all around us, constantly. If we would but open our eyes, our ears, we'd become all too aware of it. It's often in places we don't regard as having universal importance.

For example, hardly a week goes by when we don't hear a story in the news about bullying. There are earnest programs conducted in elementary schools, junior high schools, senior high schools... what next, kindergarten? Yet, for all the programs, the pink T-shirts, the tears, the bullying goes on-- often with tragic results.

The bullying mentality carries into every walk of life. As I write, another professional hockey player lies in hospital after taking a brutal hit in his last game. While the police are launching an investigation, and some game sponsors are making angry noises, the head of the hockey league dismisses the incident as a legitimate contact that went wrong. In the hey-day of the Roman Empire, they had gladiatorial combats to titillate the bored crowds; today, we have ice-hockey, the ritualized combat of young men for glory and lucre. Again, some parents, certain pundits, some physicians, have spoken out over the years against the violence that can leave a player with life-long injuries; but nothing seems to change.

If the criminal element has always been violent, and now the common man increasingly resorts to bullying, it's all the more sad to see the police become casual with the use of violence at any opportunity. In any interaction with the public, the police are apt to use force far in excess of what's required... simply because they can. For every story that gets into the media spotlight, who knows how many incidents go unreported? Since it's most often the police who investigate themselves, they are quite secure in figuring that they'll get away with it. The responsible chiefs-- after they've stonewalled for as long as possible-- assure us that it's only a few 'bad actors' who misbehave. Yet the stories have been getting more lurid all the time.

Every attempt to reclaim human morality in the face of the creeping brutality gets smothered in the all-embracing fog of modern hyperactive daily existence. Actually, it's more than that, because a cycle thru the TV dial will demonstrate that violence is woven into the fabric of modern, Western 'entertainment.' After watching years of virtual bullying and 'simulated' violence, is it really a wonder why the citizenry act it out almost by nature?

Indeed, an objective survey of modern entertainment should quickly convince anyone who can recall the dawn of the TV age that the trend is rapidly accelerating to total moral anarchy. In the early days it was enough to show a white sheet covering a 'dead body;' today, we have to be shown a naked cadaver on a slab, with part of it excavated for closer examination of vital organs. A passionate kiss used to convey the desired image of intimacy between lovers; today we are titillated with ‘soft porn’ to get the point across; tomorrow, expect hard porn on the regular dramas. And so it goes.

In sexual mores, it used to be sufficient for mainstream society to show tolerance towards homosexuals. Today, we must take 'pride' in their perversion, as it is paraded annually, in big cities across the Western world. The spectacle of men and women in various costumes and lack of costumes, waving from floats and strutting on the streets can't help but conjure up images of the Saturnalia and other Roman celebrations in which effigies of giant genitalia were paraded thru the streets to the delight of the throngs. Regardless of one's enlightened views, the on-going normalization of sexual deviation is a trend with bleak prospects, and historically, a signal of the breakdown of a society.

Another barometer of societal collapse is the craving for thrills among the youth. Sociologists may argue that the popularity of risky sports, such as sky-diving, bungee-jumping, extreme skiing and snow-boarding, base-jumping, and so on, arose as a substitute for the former 'normal risks' inherent in life before the comfort of modern, urban, artificial living. That idea has a certain ring of authority to it, but does not account for the on-going presence of war as an available outlet for youthful thrill-seeking. No; today's youth seem to be cramming as much 'living' as possible into what may be a limited life-span. Demographers are already predicting that the present generation in the under 30 age bracket will actually have a shorter life-span than their parents, due to the prevalence of obesity and other health factors that modern medicine has proved incapable to eradicate.

The reckless destruction of our environment-- despite the ostensible understanding bestowed by science-- is yet another clear sign of the mass insanity that precedes collapse. Sure, our slick industry spokespersons assure us that their company exercises good stewardship with resources; but after a few decades of hearing such baloney, while the ecosystems continue to be destroyed, the rhetoric sounds sickly hollow. According to pundits like Jared Diamond, this rush to grab all the resources before the next guys is a hallmark of an empire in a tailspin.

A primary characteristic of a civilization in rapid decline is the loss of moral direction, the lack of consensus on what constitutes morality. Western society, in the main, prides itself in having broken free from the shackles of religion. Unfortunately, society has essentially failed to develop a viable alternative. We threw off the mental fetters of corrupt religions, only to joyfully accept the invisible chains of the ersatz substitute proffered by our exalted science, the doctrine of Darwin. Instead of being the creation of a Divine being, we are now the descendents of apes... How great is that? Western man worships at the altars of the pseudo-religion of science, complete with its high-priests, its cathedrals, its credos and orthodoxies. In place of the gospel of Jesus, we have the Theory of Evolution. Instead of 'love thy neighbor,' we have survival of the fittest-- interpreted as the meanest, and most ruthless among us. You may not like the pretenses of religion (neither do I); but we may have done much better to reform religion than to throw it on the scrap heap of knowledge. I hope that the sincere atheist can screw up sufficient courage to acknowledge that the abandonment of traditional religion has come at a high price-- without an agreed ethic, we are at the mercy of whatever intellectual scam can be foisted on a majority of people.

To recap the thesis: signs of the collapse of civilization are everywhere, for those with the perceptions to see them. Every TV show you watch, every commercial message, every magazine and newspaper, all our cultural reflectors, they all encode the not-so-secret message that this is an empire in terminal declension. You can train yourself, like a latter-day shaman, to open your eyes; or you can continue to exist in dreamland-- the red pill or the blue-- the choice is yours.

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