The Decline of Western Society Part IV

By: Phoenix48

History is unapologetically cyclical. Every civilization has its rise and inevitable fall. Unfortunately, Western society is no exception.

“There came a point of diminishing returns, in which every denarius collected in taxes was pumped into administrative maintenance and the military. The empire became increasingly complex and bureaucratic – and so even more expensive to run – and inequality of wealth became grotesque. By the time of Nero in the first century, all the land from the Rhine to the Euphrates was owned by just two thousand obscenely rich individuals. Tax evasion among the wealthy became endemic, and the increasing cost of propping up the empire fell ever more heavily on the poor. The old middle class – once the backbone of the empire – declined, bled by taxes and squeezed out from above and below. The empire had consumed itself from within.”

Evolution by Stephen Baxter

The Society section is devoted to how and why American, and perhaps Western society writ large, has entered steep decline and the ramifications for the alcoholic/addict and the recovery movement in general.

Why Western Society Cultural Issues Are Relevant

You may justifiably ask why this topic is important to an individual recovering from addiction. Doesn’t the addict have enough problems without shouldering the burden of society’s troubles? The short answer is yes. But to understand the true nature of our personal problems means understanding the problems of everything surrounding us. The simple fact is no one can escape the culture one was born into and lives in.

In this endeavor, avoiding politics entirely is impossible. In fact, one definition of politics is how societies address and resolve (or fail to resolve) their problems and disagreements. Some readers will likely assign political motives and call “propaganda” or whatever the trendy terminology of the hour. But I can assure you, in adherence to one of the ambitions of this site, to make a genuine and sustained effort offend everyone equally.

We’re Not Stupid – We Sense It

Americans have an instinctive sense that something has gone horribly wrong. To the average American, our problems have piled up on us and become astonishingly difficult to solve. According to Gallup polls (2023), Americans’ satisfaction with the way things are going (since 1980) started a steady slide from its peak of 70% in January 2002 to around 18% currently1.

Man shot dead framed headline
Boring headline of a bygone era

There are numerous canaries in the coal mine. Mass shootings. Fentanyl and the opioid epidemic. Political polarization and demonization. The mainstreaming of unhinged conspiracy theories. Ever increasing housing costs and homelessness, diminished economic opportunities, a gig and hustle economy that doesn’t make ends meet. The rise and weaponization of social media and the decline of healthy and meaningful real-world relationships. The uncharted social and educational consequences of covid. Some might cite the rise of hook-up culture and the increased prevalence of other non-traditional values. The list goes on.

We Love Certainty About Complicated Problems

People have a preference for simple explanations. We love certainty, particularly when there is none to be found. There’s no shortage of all the usual suspects: Video games, popular music, Hollywood, the supposed decline of religion, etc. And let’s not leave out trench coats.

But even if some of these are legitimate issues in Western society, they are symptoms of problems, not the problems themselves. There was a political cartoon decades ago that portrayed Uncle Sam pulling out by the roots a weed entitled “Drug Addiction”. Uncle Sam declares, “I’m going to get to the root of the problem.” He starts yanking at the weed, and the first root pops out of the ground, named “collapse of the family”. He keeps pulling. The next root pops out named “poverty”. And the next “culture of instant gratification” and so on. Uncle Sam stops, scratches his head, put the weed back in the ground, clips it off at ground level, and holds a press conference touting “victory”.

Decline of Western society - Pharma drug-free America political comic
First meeting of Adderall Anonymous

The television series The Good Wife stars Julianna Margulies as fictional character Alicia Florrick. While running for Illinois State attorney, Alicia fields a question from a voter at a campaign stop:

“It’s about the whole cosmos. It’s not just in our heads or what happens to us, I mean we want to make it about crime on the streets and all that, but it’s not about things – it’s about everything, right? So, what are you going to do about that, what are you going to do about everything?”

Alicia pauses for a moment – and then goes back to her talking points.

The Decline of Western Society Started Long Ago

Retreating to worn-out talking points is precisely what we won’t be doing. The causes of what ails contemporary Western society can be traced back at least as far as the end of World War II. Some believe one of the original causes started before the war. The roots of today’s most alarming social problems are not recent but long-standing, getting worse, and principally revolve around men. At some point, fathers (and other male role models/society at large) were unable or unwilling to teach boys to become mature men. There is not a single reason or simple explanation. That there was a major social shift was not evident to anyone outside the field of psychiatry until the 60’s.

Men In Crisis

There are countless books and academic studies related to the subject of men in crisis. Here are some unnerving facts:

Academically, boys are behind girls in all levels from elementary through college. In college the gender ratio has moved from an even split in the 1980s, to fast approaching two female undergrads for every male. Fully 50% of American men between the ages of 18-30 are not seeking either a committed romantic relationship or a casual relationship. Men are dropping out of work during their prime working years. Approximately 14% of men aged 25-54 are not working nor looking for work, up 25% from 10 years ago. Men are dying: Overdosing (70% men), drinking themselves to death (83% men), and committing suicide (79% of successful suicides). Men are almost exclusively responsible for mass shootings (98% of mass shooters are men).

While these statistics are American, women are overtaking men comprehensively worldwide at a rapid pace. Girls outperform boys both in countries that have traditionally struggled with sexism, such as South Korea and those characterized by egalitarianism such as Sweden and Norway. Boys are twice as likely to have attention-deficit disorder and twice as likely to be suspended. Their dropout rates are considerably higher, although this distinction varies highly by geography.

“The masculinity crisis is far superior to the femininity crisis. It’s just science.”

– The Onion

Western Society Has Been Particularly Hard On Men

Author Susan Faludi, in her book “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man” (1999), chronicles through a series of interviews men’s predicament. She writes this stems less from economic uncertainties and competition with women than from more fundamental changes in American culture:

A shift from a traditional society that valued competence, fairness, loyalty, team play and the mastery of a vocation in favor of an “ornamental” culture driven by celebrity, image, and ruled by expedience and commercial values. This media-driven culture, she argues, has subjected men to the “mirror-gazing traditionally held to be feminine” and has reduced masculinity to manufactured, artificial appearances, describing masculinity as something to “drape over the body” and “be displayed, not demonstrated” as opposed to being forged by drawing on inner resources and overcoming adversity. You can read more about men’s issues in the masculinity section.

Western Society Has Become a Culture of Narcissism

The consequences are far-reaching and subtle. Author Christopher Lasch was hailed as a “biblical prophet” by Time Magazine for his highly influential book, “The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations” (1979). Lasch does provide a perspective into the mind of the clinical (or ‘textbook’) narcissist. However, he explains that only a very small percentage of people meet the definition of a clinical narcissist, but that narcissistic tendencies in the population at large exists on a spectrum. A detailed perspective unfolds as to what society looks like when fashioned from people who fall on various positions on the spectrum. Lasch describes a pathology that has spread to all aspects of American life. He describes an anxiety and rage driven by repressed self-loathing, manifesting as a war of all-against-all.

The narcissist, he writes, escapes into a grandiose self-conception, using other people as objects of gratification while simultaneously craving their love and approval. He harbors deeply anti-social impulses, holds secret beliefs that the rules don’t apply to him, actively stacks the deck against fair competition, and possesses an obsession with the camera eye as a reflection of himself. As a consequence of cultural narcissism, we possess a fascination with celebrity and desire instant gratification. But in perhaps the most relatable observation, we inhabit a state of shallow restlessness driven by perpetually unsatisfied desires.

“Long-term social changes,” have “created a scarcity of jobs, devalued the wisdom of the ages and brought all forms of authority (including the authority of experience) into disrepute.”

–Christopher Lasch

There is an intimate link between our social ills and the decline of mature masculinity. There is not a clear divide where one ends and the other begins. The best that can be done is provide a wholistic picture by connecting the dots.

Western Society: More Than One Point-of-View

Content in the Society section will be eclectic and reflect outside-the-box thinking. One central topic, the collapse of the male self and the effect on society, is outlined above. Another central emphasis will be to present beliefs, values, and patterns of thought of foreign cultures throughout history. Our hope is that this will not only foster an expanded awareness but provide a window to help us understand our own culture from a different point-of-view.

There’s will be a focus on Asian cultures for several reasons: They are on the rise, possess less compartmentalized/more holistic thinking, the values are quite different, and their weaknesses are increasingly crossing over to those of Western cultures (and ours to theirs). Asian cultures already have a greater influence on Westerners than most people realize, and this influence is likely to increase.

It shall be a revealing and exciting journey – not to not to be missed.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x