Monday, June 4, 2012

Death of a civilization enveloped by moral fog?

Okay it is a form of grandstanding to make pronouncements about the death of Western civilization. But maybe these pronouncements should be made, because our civilization is in its last gasps of life. It is not as if we are not staring down the barrels of a Western economic "total emergency" as now not only Greece threatens to go belly up, but so does Spain. Nor is it the case that we are living in an era of inspiring leaders whom we may follow with confidence into the turbulent headwinds of the future. Why, even Maureen Dowd has taken on the role of declaring that the emperor has no clothes. When some say that only in the German Chancellor does a smidgeon of hope lie for the future, we are clearly living in interesting times!

We are staring down the barrels of an economic recession to end all recessions because we have grown lazy as thinkers. Western civilization is a product of thinking. Greek philosophy x Christian theology x Roman statecraft spawned Western civilization. Our civilization developed in leaps and bounds (with occasional regressions between) as the beauty and truth of Greek and Roman culture were reappropiated and rediscovered (Augustinianism, Thomism, the Renaissance) and combined with Christian reappropriation of its gospel roots (Franciscanism, Reformation), with a Saturn 5 rocket booster pushing us forward through the Enlightenment into a long era of scientific discovery, all aided by careful clear thinking which sought to evade inconsistency in order to find coherency in politics, ethics and business.

A singular Christian contribution to the development of Western civilization has been compassion so that the excesses of capitalism and of communism have been beaten back by regard for the worth of human beings. That clarity of theological insight about the worth of people as made in the image of God has driven forward, consciously or unconsciously the progress of Western civilization in overcoming inequalities of (say) slavery and oppression of women.

But have we entered into an era in which our thinking has moved from the clarity of the Enlightenment to the fog of Post-Modern Multi-Cultural Pluralism? On the economic front, it appears that we are in the mess we are in because we have confused entitlement to basic human rights for food, shelter and medical care with entitlement to a complex system of benefits which, effectively, involve a disregard for both the straight dollar cost of these benefits and the amount of labour required to earn those dollars. We also seemed to have confused ourselves about the cost of reproductive choices in the West: I belong to a generation in which, routinely, my friends growing up came from families with four, five or six children. But we ourselves in our marriages are routinely producing none to four children. There should be no confusion in our minds that our expected long retirements can be adequately funded by our children. But there is confusion!

This week, however, I have come across a very opaque fog in Western thinking. Across in the USA some legislators are trying to outlaw "sex-selection abortions" (i.e. abortions for the reason of not wanting a girl baby). One might reasonably expect that the outcome of all that Greek philosophy, Christian theology, Enlightenment rights thinking would be a unanimous vote for outlawing this dreadful determination that girls are lesser humans than boys. But no. As pointed out here (drawing on here, here, here and here), US legislators cannot agree that the right of women to be treated equally with men trumps the right to make a choice to abort on the basis of sex-selection. (In a savage irony, the legislators trying to ban such abortions are Republicans and the legislators resisting are the Democrats who have recently taken to savaging Republicans as having declared "War on Women". There is no more vicious war on women than the killing of babies because they are girls.)

I think we in the West are going to go on this way for quite a while. Bit by bit we are undermining ourselves. The civilization that grew on the back of clear thinking will die under the weight of foggy thought. Unless we can -as we have done before - reappropriate the treasures of the past.

There is no guarantee that this will happen.


Father Ron Smith said...

"our civilization is in its last gasps of life."

- The Revd. Dr. Peter Carrell -

"And here soundeth the Last Trump"

Well, Peter, the Joy of Pentecost certainly passed you by pretty quickly this year. What happened?

Was it a 'senior moment' - a times of reflection on your own human mortality, perhaps? The Bible you treasure has many such moments, but somehow the Spirit of God enables the prospect of humanity's actual salvation and redemption - despite our human failings.

The secret? The fact that Christ has broken down the gates of Hell and offers redemption to all those who look to God for eternal life.

Take courage, Peter! Faint heart never won the Crown of Victory that is promised in the Gospel - to all who believe that God has the final Word - through Him Who was 'made flesh' two thousand years ago in history, and Who lives today in the hearts of the Faithful who meet Him in the Sacraments of His eternal Love and their out-workings in and to the world.

Perfect Love casts out fear! The constant admonition of Jesus to his disciples was this: "Fear not...".

"Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your Faithful with the fire of God's Love, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."

Andrei said...

I think it too late myself.

We "terminate" 1/4 of our children before they are born.

Our children don't begin their working lives until they are in their mid twenties or later, postpone childbirth often until it is too late and then we expect to retire at sixty, sixty five and hang around for another twenty to thirty years.

We are running out of people to support the elderly and actively discouraging people from having children.

AS the meltdown gathers pace the issue exercising the elites and the chattering classes?

In truth we have turned our faces from God, lost sight of that which is important and we or our children will pay the price.

"Gay" marriage - says it all really. That a pointless sterile unions are to be deemed equivalent status as procreative ones that are essential if our civilization is to persevere shows a level of vapidity and empty headedness which would have had our forbears shaking their heads in disbelief.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I am prognosticating on the fate of Western civilization, not on the fate of the church or God's kingdom. So my Pentecost joy in God is undiminished as I look out on the wreckage of a once fine civilization; but my appreciation for the heritage I have grown up with as a Westerner is diminished by the manner in which it is being trashed.

Scott Mayer said...

Hi Peter,

An interesting post.

I disagree, though, with this statement,

"On the economic front, it appears that we are in the mess we are in because we have confused entitlement to basic human rights for food, shelter and medical care with entitlement to a complex system of benefits which, effectively, involve a disregard for both the straight dollar cost of these benefits and the amount of labour required to earn those dollars."

I agree that clear thinking is needed, and I think that this statement touches on an important issue, but I don't think it accurately pinpoints the problems behind the current economic crisis.

My understanding of the problem was the global finance sector lending decisions; lending to those (individuals or nations) whose capacity to pay was/will be limited, or lending too much to them. And when problems started to show, they tried to pass their bad debts off to each other.

This same finance sector was extended its own form of welfare by govt's, including our own.

I think that it is unfair to highlight one form of welfare (often to the most vulnerable) -- even though the question is a legitimate one -- without highlighting the other.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Scott
I understand what you are saying and there are definitely big questions to ask about the "welfare" accorded by many governments towards the banking and finance sectors, including in our own country (South Canterbury Finance!).

Nevertheless those banks and finance firms were lending to people, and I think the question remains whether lending criteria were loosened in accordance with a sense of entitlement rather than with a sense of what was repayable, especially around lending to finance house purchases in the USA and in Europe.

MichaelA said...

Here are some excerpts from the final Boyer Lecture delivered on ABC Radio by Archbishop Peter Jensen in December 2005. The passages relate to how we should see human responsibility and freedom. It is a critique of the philosophy espoused by the Liberal Party (conservative party) at the time, and a call for a return to recognition of community responsibility:

"The real issue is, can we trust each other to use our freedom well? Will my freedom to bargain, be at the expense of your ability to look after your family? Will my freedom to open my shopping mall on weekends, be at the expense of your freedom to have a weekend off from work, at the same time as the rest of your family? The classic liberal account of this - that I should not harm others in the exercise of my liberty - is far too shallow to help in real life.
Consumerism and its supporting language of advertising made the expansion of individual choice its central legitimation, and postwar affluence taught thrifty individuals the pleasures of spending...Children learned to choose and spend before they learned to work and earn the wherewithal to spend. The meaning of the good life changed from one of earnest endeavour to one of pleasurable, easygoing consumption'.
It is about the Liberal Party, but a similar book could be written about Labor, for it, too, had foundations which owed something to Christianity. Its starting point was community rather than individualism.

You realise, I hope that this discussion is not anti-Liberal Party; if anything it is calling that Party to debate its origins and to be aware that the society in which it exists has changed its nature in a way which endangers true freedom. The Labor Party and other parties could benefit from a debate about exactly the same issues."

My apologies for the length of this. I hope it's relevance to the debate above can be seen. Even if some (or many) people were foolish during the years of affluence, how does that change our duty NOW to those most vulnerable in our society, particularly the next generation coming through?

Michael, Sydney

Anonymous said...

"But maybe these pronouncements should be made, because our civilization is in its last gasps of life."

They should, and it is.

The reality is that our civilisation is committing suicide. Abortion combined with low birth rates and massive non-Western immigration, as well as the welfare state, has produced a situation that will result in the 'Death of the West' within a hundred years.

This situation could be reversed, but it would take leaders with a degree of understanding and a readiness to do what is needed that our current leaders clearly do not have.

The economic situation is a part of this. It came about, over a long period, because of the entitlement culture which demands that the State intervene to produce desirable outcomes. Of course such intervention is the problem itself.

This was not a failure of the market, but a failure of so-called "Third Way" interventionism. The housing crisis was produced by the state, first in the US, forcing lending institutions to give easy loans to those with poor credit ratings. The argument used was that the poor and financlially irresponsible should not be "descriminated" against. In other words it was the Frankfurt School Marxism of "progressive liberal" thinking that produced the economic meltdown. The same Marxism giving us "gay marriage" and adoption.

Until we deal with this cancer, the West has no hope.

The welfare state is unsustainable in any form and must be abolished. The state itself must be removed from any intervention in the market and its powers and responsibilities strongly restricted to its only legitimate duty, national defense. The states ability to print fiat currency ( a major cause of the meltdown) must be ended, central state banks abolished, and a return to the gold standard and hard coinage instituded.

To quote Hans-Hermann Hoppe, one of the greatest intellectuals of our time...

"The monopolization of money and banking is the ultimate pillar on which the modern state rests. In fact, it is probably become the most cherished instrument for increasing state income. For nowhere else can the state make the connection between redistribution-expenditure and exploitation-return more directly, quickly, and securely than by monopolizing money and banking. And nowhere else are the state's schemes less clearly understood than here."

Anonymous said...

And if this individual is not part of the problem of Western decline, then I don't know who is!