Why the West is in Decline

We go on about the decline of the West and the rise of the East but that seems to be an oversimplification of a more fundamental problem. A couple of centuries before, when colonial empires were at their height, we may have proposed the reverse. I have tried to come up with my own reasons for why civilizations grow and decline, in particular our present one.

A Declining Population:  “Me, Myself and I” is the motto of boomers (and to a large extent, of those who come after them as well) in the West. There is so much to “do” today in order to define who we are: education, career, home and car purchase, retirement savings, vacations, marriage, divorce, writing our memoirs. There is no time for children, and if there are any children, their arrival has to be carefully planned, because there is private school and college to pay for, extra•curricular activities to drive them to, designer clothes to adorn them with, teenage therapy sessions for those difficult years, the odd abortion or two for when they get careless. The list is endless. Oh, and lest we forget, our kids need to be equipped with laptop, cell phone, internet account and charge card before they can even figure out the bills. Bottom line: affluent societies procreate increasingly self•indulgent citizens who are unable or unwilling to regenerate themselves. Even Ancient Rome ultimately fell when citizens were more interested in feasting while barbarians lurked outside the gate.

Surrender to the Corporation: by empowering corporations with the same rights as citizens, we have created entities with huge amounts of citizen wealth (i.e. shareholder funds) that can be moved to where the best production deals are with no respect for national borders or needs. So we outsource jobs to cheaper locales, and reduce wages and buying power at home. Ultimately the newly emergent outsourced countries also suffer because the products cannot be sold back in the once•wealthy West. Global corporations ultimately die or change, leaving their hosts stranded; remember the great East India Companies of the Dutch, English and French? Where are they today? And did not their demise also spell the beginning of the end for their respective countries’ colonial empires? Closer to home, there is a historic echo taking right now in Waterloo, Ontario – the home of the once mighty Blackberry.

Weak Governance: when politicians lack the will to make tough decisions that may lose them the next election but will place their countries on paths to prosperity, then we are facing the inevitable ticking time bomb. Printing money and providing failed companies with unconditional bailouts are signs of this weakness, and we have seen a lot of this in the last five years.

Death of the Middle Class: when the tax base (aka. the middle class) erodes by its members going upmarket (where they usually don’t pay taxes due to umpteen loopholes for the wealthy) or sliding downhill into subsistence (where they don’t need to pay taxes because their contribution is insignificant), or when they just simply evade taxes (as we have seen in some European nations that imploded recently), then the great levelling instrument for providing a decent lifestyle to all citizens fails.

The death of fair competition: when markets get cornered between a few players (aided by weak governments) who can raise prices out of whack with the demand/supply curve, it creates reduced demand, reduced employment, reduced taxes and begins the downward race to the bottom. The telecom market in Canada is a good example.

Countries that avoid these signs of decline seem to be those that have community bases, where wealth is not the sole measure of success and where the battle for survival is ever present. I seem to think that the West was like this after the end of the Second World War, when the personal losses and rebuilding effort brought people together in a shared purpose. While I am not advocating another global cataclysm to shock the complacent West out of its dazed march into decline, I wonder if that is exactly what is required to get everyone working together again?

 

Trying to imagine life without social media

I tried to recall life without social media. Wasn’t it just a few years ago when I walked around without a portable device strapped to my waist, a device willing to announce my every grunt, burp and fart to the external world, if I only let it?

Without social media, my concentration would improve, that much I am sure. I would not be constantly interrupting my daily chores to go check that infernal device for the latest chat or inspirational message. My self esteem would mature for I would not have those “likes” to prop me up but would have to “like” myself instead. I could spend many hours with just me and my thoughts and reap the inspiration that comes from a stilled mind. I would not suffer from “too much information,” a syndrome that makes you skim the surface of everything, just to cope, and miss some of the major issues in the process. I will get to talk to people instead of sending them written messages even when they are in the next room. Friendships will be few but more lasting and not something to be activated and deactivated with the push of a button.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be “famous but poor” anymore. Instead, I would be “unknown and still poor.” I wouldn’t get to play closet politician anymore for my audience will have disappeared. I’ll have to stand up in my little room and declaim, to myself. Or join a political party and schmooze my way to the top over a number of years, not in mere days that it took me in the social media world. I would not have a test market for my writing. I would not be connected to the pulse of my peers, forever unplugged from their thoughts, drives, fetishes and joys. I would not be let into their living rooms, introduced to their families, invited as a virtual guest to their parties, or exposed to their embarrassing moments when they suffered mental or wardrobe malfunction and decided to share (or bare) all via the instant photos uploaded to my “stream.” Yes, I would have to kiss goodbye to my voyeuristic but engaged life.

Someone recently told me that “there is no going back.” We seem to have crossed a threshold into a new pattern of social behaviour that is irreversible. And I am not sure we are unique in that respect. Did people go back on their old habits when new inventions collided with their social lives in the past: the telephone, the TV, the car, the supermarket, the microwave, and canned food? Digitization and sharing has now replaced the communal life of the village where everybody knows everything about everyone else. Even the anonymity of cities—something I used to love to escape to occasionally—is breaking down under the new rules of conduct, where city dwellers cooped up in glass towers and matchbox condos, ostensibly isolated, are connecting with each other like never before.

Okay, so there is no going back, we are the social media generation, suck it up and get on with it. But there needs to be some “information firewall behaviour” called for; the confidence to switch on and off when needed, without the pressure to be “always on” in order to be relevant, despite Facebook and Twitter sending you those “How are you doing?” messages when you are minding your own business, or Klout warning you that your score is dropping because you have been silent for awhile. Taking social media•less vacations is a good idea, and retreats from “always on” to just read a book is also good for the soul. And most importantly, selfishly carving out time for contemplation and meditation is paramount.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, where did leave my Blackberry…? There really is no going back, is there?