Wednesday, January 1, 2020

When You've Never Had It So Good

Some commentators are telling us that we never had it so good. They are even saying that the world never had it so good.

By the laws of contrary sentiment, well known to anyone who dabbles in the stock market, any time that people come to believe, in near unanimity, that the stock market can only keep going up…  you should watch out below. 

So, the world is at peace, more or less, and the American economy is booming. Europe is slowly yielding to terminal obsolescence, but Great Britain seems to have awakened from its Europhile torpor. 

Why then are so many people in such a foul mood? Why can’t anyone enjoy the fruits of our labor? Why can’t we rejoice at the good things that are happening? Why are we obsessed with the bad and the ugly? Better yet, why are we not enjoying our lives when we are all taking psychiatric medication that is designed to make us feel good, no matter what. 

Could it be that we have entered a decadent time, where we suspect that the future belongs to China and other countries in Asia? Could it be that we look at what passes for education in America’s schools and see, with the exception of STEM courses, the system has dumbed itself down to the point where it is no longer producing people who will be able to compete in the world markets. It puffs up students’ self-esteem while not teaching them much of anything. As for the STEM subjects, they are being monopolized by Asian-American students, the ones whose parents have most effectively shielded them from the ambient cultural rot.

If people are pessimistic, it might just be that they have a reason to be so. Ross Douthat summed it up well in a recent column. He attributes it to cultural decadence, where the pursuit of pleasure overtakes the work ethic, where people define themselves by their personal sexual activities and not by their contributions to social harmony. 

We no longer try to solve problems, we dramatize them. Isn’t that what is happening in the House of Representative with its impeachment freak show? It is not accomplishing anything, but playing to the idiots in the peanut gallery, to those who do not know how to construct anything, but are contented to deconstruct, especially the cultural products of those who have achieved more-- beginning with the American Constitution.

In Douthat’s words:

The 2010s were filled with angst and paranoia, they pushed people toward radicalism and reaction — but they didn’t generate very much effective social and political activity, beyond the populist middle finger and the progressive Twitter mob. They exposed the depth of problems without suggesting plausible solutions, and they didn’t produce movements or leaders equipped to translate disillusionment into programmatic action, despair into spiritual renewal, the crisis of institutions into structural reform.

It is this peculiar cultural predicament — the combination of disillusionment with stability, radicalization with stalemate, discontent and derangement with sterility and apathy — that I keep calling decadence. Whether it will last another 10 years is an open question; a catastrophe or a renaissance might be just around the corner. But as we usher out the 2010s, this decade of distrustful stability and prosperous despair, it has no rival as the presiding spirit of our age.

Stanford historian Walter Scheidel studied cultures where inequality, especially wealth inequalities, had gotten completely out of control. By his analysis, the usual way to overcome such extreme inequities involves catastrophic events, whether plagues or wars.

If you and everyone else are convinced that we never had it so good, duck!


trigger warning said...

Start your decade with a laugh... courtesy of the Heartland Institute and a cast of screeching A-list Eek!oloons:

Happy New Year!

Sam L. said...

We're doing pretty well, but the Dems hate, Hate, HATE it, and want it to GO AWAY (and teach us a lesson about how horrible we are). Schadenfreude be upon you, Dems!

whitney said...

"the system has dumbed itself down to the point where it is no longer producing people who will be able to compete in the world markets."

World Market? These people are not qualified to work in the supermarket. It's not going to be long we're not going to be able to keep basic infrastructure going because we don't have the intellectual Capital to do it and that's when things are going to heat up and that's why people are pessimistic. Things are great right now but it's not going to last. It never does

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I’m just glad no one’s feelings are getting hurt.

Anonymous said...

My feelings are hurt, but I'm a Goople robot so I don't really have feelings, lol!

UbuMaccabee said...

To quote the late, great Jeffrey Hart, I’m “smiling through the cultural catastrophe.”

Happy New Year