Personal Responses to a Declining Civilization

The Problem

I can see myself as a long term optimist. I believe that good shall prevail - eventually. Good forces unite and cooperate; evil opposes other evil as well as good. But for the present structure of this country, and probably its followers, within my lifetime, I don't have much hope.

I've come to suspect that the U.S. government, and probably others, have been taken over by business, the military, religion, organized crime, the "secret team", as well as the "bleeding hearts", beyond the point of being able to take any kind of significant action on its problems. I'm sure there's still a chance, but at present I don't see where.

A recent article supporting optimism over pessimism admitted that the pessimist is more realistic than the optimist, but that optimism encourages to us be more active. This is the message the establish- %%ment wants us to hear. We avoid rocking the social boat by staying physically rather than mentally active, or at least putting most of our mental energy into day-to-day activities. But, to extend the boat parable, we fail to notice the rocks the current is taking our boat to. We try to be happy with tolerable circumstances today rather than worrying about them getting worse tomorrow. The optimist may be more active, but what's the point in taking action if it's in the wrong, or at least unthought-out, direction?

Meanwhile the real problems of population, finite, non-renewable energy resources and pollution get worse, while we are largely controlled by instincts and politicians' charisma. Many organizations out to save the world are really only alleviating symptoms rather than working on a cure, not being willing to recognize that the disease could be fatal for many of our cultures, or even our species. They also fail to recognize that if they only postpone the downfall, we use up more of the non-renewable resources which might be better used by the next era of civilization.

I'll take a few examples of symptoms from a recent article by Richard D. Lamm, former governor of Colorado (though some are summarized quotes). Up until the 60s and 70s, America "had the industrial world's highest rate of productivity growth and was doubling its wealth every 30 to 40 years". Now we have the lowest rate of growth and it would take about 130 years to double our growth. (At the same time, the seeming need to grow fast is one of our main problems.) Today "we go into debt to maintain current levels of government". Since the 50s we've gone from being the world's largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation. The world's largest corporations and financial institutions were American. Now they're mostly all Japanese, and some German. "Practically every year....we have seen a drop in our education levels and a corresponding rise in illiteracy." "No one else spends as much money on health care, and yet we don't keep our children as healthy as Europe, Canada or Japan. We have five percent of the world's population and two-thirds of its lawyers." (And use about half its energy resources.) "The health care of a society which dies in old age of a chronic illness is vastly different from that of a society which died at an average age of 47 after a short episode of infectious disease. Geometric demand for public services cannot be met by arithmetically growing tax resources." "The economics of the 1990's cannot support the dreams of the 1960s." "Too many Americans believe that God is an American and will watch over us no matter how hedonistic, selfish, myopic or inefficient we become." "We can't rely on past success to insure future success." (We hear a lot about successes over adversity. The failures don't talk much, even if they still can.) "We have not left our children a sustainable society." He gives many more examples, but he fails to mention that many other countries look up to us and follow in our footsteps, and we encourage this, often with a big stick.) Worldwide, we fail to heed Malthus who warned that any species will increase its numbers to the maximum limit of its resources (which is well beyond the optimum.)

For palliatives, we try to increase social services. Short term solutions are necessary, especially when we procrastinate on long-term solutions. But they aren't the real answers. The cures I see would be more in the area of changing attitudes about what to teach children, in the schools and at home. This would include clear thinking, propaganda analysis, the value of community and cooperation, different views about privacy, both on personal and national scales.

The "Solutions"

The bottom line is, what can "I" do personally? I see four possible types of approaches to this dilemma. Usually we follow a compromise of all of them, even though they may be contradictory.

1. I can continue trying to do good deeds in small ways, hoping that I'll help to slow the downfall long enough that unforeseen events can turn us around. For instance I can get out and vote. I consider this a very small deed, especially considering how little we know about politicians' real intentions. But I can also campaign for causes I think are important, including my own if it applies. I can avoid polluting and wasting energy and limit the number of my children. "The ripple begins with your stone cast." (The easy, optimist approach.)

But if my ripple, with the help of all the others, isn't enough to actually upset the fleet made up of traditional religion, politics, advertising etc. we may be just delaying the time, and increasing the fuel they use, until they run aground.

Included in small good deeds is setting a good example for others by "doing the right thing". The first step in this is to get noticed. But maybe examples of bad behavior do as much as good behavior to bring about needed changes. Therefore I believe in doing what feels good to me now, and whose result I expect will feel good in the future, without going out of my way worrying about what kind of examples I'm setting.

2. I can take the opposite approach, "go with the flow", speed the onset of oblivion of this era of civilization, in order for us to get started sooner, and with more resources, climbing out of the hole we've dug. I can live by greed, investing in every kind of destructive industry, and use my profits to invest in more. Give them more rope to hang themselves. (The comfortable, short-term pessimist, realist? approach. Still, not one most thinking people will take, intentionally.)

3. I can work toward helping to develop autonomous communities which might be able to outlive the present "civilization". (The back-to- the-land approach.) But these groups are likely to fall into the categories of those who grow and make what they need, those who take what they need from others, those who force others to make what they need, which evolves back to the present society. How can we avoid this cycle?

4. I can make the effort to do big things (the activist approach). One person can make a difference. There are many times in history when the outcome of world events can be traced to the actions of certain individuals. Often different decisions by just one of these people would have made major changes in history. There is no determining in advance who these people will be. Therefore you could be one. Perhaps it could be through your children, though this frequently goes wrong when actively attempted. If you had dedicated your life to a specific goal, the probability would be greatly increased (though a goal chosen too early, might be the wrong one). Dedicating the rest of your life would still increase your chances. The big problem of course is figuring out where to dedicate your life. At least it also helps to think about what kind of changes, or non-changes, you'd like to see, and be ready to act, when the right opportunity comes along. The rest of your life is all you have. Opportunities come more often to those who make them.

5. In a disintegrating world where humanity seems to have less to lose, we should consider combining numbers 2 and 4, the pessimist and activist approach, radical action with major social risks.

Thus I have two propositions, usually voiced by conservatives, but for different reasons. Let it be decided thereby whether we save the present civilization, or give the forces of evil more rope, to take us all back to the dark ages so we can start over.

I propose that we call for a Constitutional Convention. As we continually re-interpret and patch the original, it has less and less meaning for today. If we can't replace the dead wood in our most fundamental legal document, what chance do we have elsewhere? (But first we need an amendment to change the ratification procedure to have it ratified by the people rather than the states. But to get an amendment, I guess we need a convention!)

I'd support getting the U.S. out of the U.N., so that the U.N. might be able to take some meaningful action, rather than going down with us. Failure to pay our dues for several years (Is this still true?) indicates we don't really have the UN interests at heart anyway.


Send me your thoughts.
Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org, Eugene, Oregon
My home page: http://www.efn.org/~danrob/