Saturday, 1 October 2011

M/M Guest Editorial: The West and the Loss of Primacy

Guest Editorial by Nathan Lauer


            I am not an economist, nor am I a statistician or a political analyst.  In a world where being called an expert of some narrowly focused field of study holds the highest intellectual value, I am an anachronism.  I am an unrepentant generalist.

            As a generalist, on rare occasions I feel the need to spout off my perspective in some public forum.  The last time was in the ‘90s, at a liberal arts conference where I presented my much belated undergraduate thesis, which was titled something along the lines of, “The Internal Political Dynamics of the Qing Dynasty During The Opium Wars.”.  As boring as this sounds, I made a great effort to make it more interesting by using the core analysis of that specific period to connect China’s early history to the present.  I will not go through the whole thing here, but to sum it briefly, I compared the unification of China under Qing Shi Huang Di (3rd century B.C., simultaneously one of the most reviled yet respected figures in Chinese history) to the political reunification of Mao.  In the conclusion, I told my peers and professors that the overall politics of China had not truly changed.  That it was still an empire, and it that it would behave as such. Specifically, I warned them that China would be looking to perpetuate its 3000-year pattern of dominance.  The difference would be that in the current global climate, they would do it economically.

            Today, this sort of concept is old hat, in spite of the fact that the details of it continue to be ignored by popular media.  At the time, when it should have been taken seriously, it fell upon deaf ears.  The charts, video displays, and intellectual flim-flam depicting how the fall of the Third Reich was largely due to female factory workers in Eastern Europe was deemed to be of far greater import.

            So, once again, I feel the need to spout off my statistically un-analyzed observations, without the benefit of charts, graphs, or video.  If I bore you, feel free to stop reading.  Go and watch an even more unsubstantiated but certainly more visually stimulating piece by Michael Moore, or another glorious oratory by one of our illustrious elected representatives.

            For the past 50-100 years (depending on which country you are from), the West has had the wonderful combination of democracy and economic wealth.  The freedom to speak our minds, and to spend our money.  Truly, this is wonderful state of being, which every society should aspire to.

            Unfortunately, without the need to sacrifice to attain these things, we have become spoiled.  First, we wanted to be able to earn more: more money, more equality, and more rights.  Then, we expected to earn more money, more equality, and more rights.  Now, we simply demand more, ignoring the fact that these are finite resources.

            As the middle class grew to historic levels, many of those in the “have” category began to feel guilty that others did not have.  Therefore, we gave.  We gave money, we gave jobs, and we gave rights.  We gave to this benighted group and that.  Initially this altruism was beneficial, and in good cause.  However, it is human nature to take what is always given for granted.  We learned to expect to be given, and then to demand to be given “equality” in spite of not earning it.  In addition, as more groups arose to display their neediness, more of us felt needy.  As a result, our culture has devolved into entitled groups and an infectious, pervasive sense of entitlement.

            This could have been nipped in the bud, if the altruistic were truly so.  Like dealing with a spoiled child, if we had cut off the gifting and required earning instead, things eventually would have righted themselves.  Unfortunately, spoiling a culture, like spoiling a child, has little to do with true altruism. 

            Instead, the spoiling parents have been motivated by guilt.  As they perceive themselves as having the most to feel guilty for, guilt dominates the elite.  They pander and they preach, trying to wash away the sins of a world where most people are not amongst the elite.  As the pulpits of society are dominated by them, their congregation is almost universal.  Young minds have been and are being taught that they too should feel guilty, that they too are entitled. The reality of existence has taken second seat behind some pseudo-utopian faith in what should be the reality of existence.

            What started as an intellectual and political movement has become instead a belief system.  Discourse has become impossible because contrary opinions are not just contrary, they contradict the faith. 

            The result is a state of un-treated Cultural Autism.  We focus on minutia and grand theory; we listen to the masters of minutia and the orators of grand theory.  When faced with a reality that does not match our belief system, we repetitively quote that minutia and grand theory, bobbing our collective heads in the corner.  The more that reality intrudes, the more we bob our heads, eventually beating them against a wall (look at Greece). 

          This is, at its heart, corruption.  Our society has fallen prey to the corruption of success.  Historically, this is the way of all great societies in one form or another.  Eventually, the sense of entitlement pervades, and while it manifests in different forms (our guilt is fairly unique), they are all in essence the same.  We learn to be comfortable, we learn to expect to be comfortable, we learn to demand comfort, and then we refuse to see that our comfort is threatened.  To cite a few obvious examples, the French Monarchy, both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and every Chinese dynasty from the 3rd century B.C. onward fell prey to this.  Being ‘egalitarian’ is no protection from it, and in fact makes us more susceptible to it.  So, the real question is, will we survive it?  Will we maintain enough of our senses to paddle out of the whirlpool in time?

            I think so.  Oh, we will lose our primacy, I have little doubt of that.  In many ways, we have already given it away.  But we will survive and most likely be successful again.  After all, our little boat has a hidden 500 hp outboard motor on it.  The powers waiting in the wings to supplant us need us.