The social dimension
The name of Poet was almost forgotten; that of Orator was usurped by the sophists. A cloud of critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning, and decline of genius was followed by the corruption of taste.
Edward Gibbon (1776: chap. 2, pt iv)
The evolution of society
1) Our society has changed from one of honour into one of welfare.
2) According to Heidegger, our intellectual crises consist chiefly in this: we have no good thinkers. Our thinkers have been eliminated by the modern university system, where they have been replaced by a civil-servant-like imitation. In universities no-one is allowed to think beyond the boundaries set by their academic discipline. You are either an economist or a psychologist, not both. Outside-the-box thinking is encouraged, so long as it stays inside-the-box. In effect it is self-censorship.
3) Our societies are efficient at dealing with external conflict, but vulnerable in the face of internal conflict. In the near future the conflict between old/rich and young/poor will become obvious as we move into a new era dominated by the old.
4) We think in "us-them" dichotomies, where the "us" is defined by our nationality, our profession, our interests. People are killed or starve to death only two hours' flying time from our homes without us even reacting. If the "other" holds our national passport, we will send a helicopter to rescue him. If he manages to get television coverage, the prime minister will meet him personally at the airport. Justice is a function of nationality + social status + mass-media coverage.
5) Ideologically we have gone from a bipolar to a multipolar world, from a world of objectivism to a world of subjectivism, from a world of simple order to a world of disordered complexity. This is (again) the era of the sophists. Instincts have once again become the legitimate answer to ignorance.
6) We are moving from a society of production to a society of entertainment. Yesterday capitalism exploited our economic weakness. Today the media exploit our psychological weakness. Society is moving from doing to creating a semblance of doing.
7) Market economy is neither good nor bad, but is the fastest evolutionary machine or mechanism Nature has ever produced.
8) The businessman's motives are his own personal interests; but his actions also have effects on the wealth and well-being of others. At the beginning of the period we call industrialization, the market economy led to misery for much of the population. Today in the "information and communication age", the market economy leads to misery for much of the population of other countries, the Third World, or in the Fourth World -the poor suburbs. Injustice has not been eliminated, simply exported - "outsourced".
9) Society is rapidly fragmenting into three sections:
a) the competitive
b) those who have a secure status
c) those who are unqualified for a job
... and an increasing number of these unqualified are academics.
10) It is important to distinguish among immigrants; many of them are courageous and intelligent people, others are dangerous criminals. There are three categories of immigrant:
1. the useful
2. the useless
3. the aggressive
The first category typically has to be persuaded to come. He worked in the labs of Russia or the Ukraine, but no longer lives there. After the Cold War the best brains went to the USA, then to Europe, then to the rest of the world. In Latin America you find many third-rank (but still good) Russian mathematicians. They have proved tremendously valuable to those countries.
The second category is predominantly a charge on society. Any society can only admit a certain number of these individuals before its workings are affected. They typically aim to go to countries with the most generous social-security systems.
The third category typically comes from underdeveloped countries. They include Muslim fundamentalists, Eastern European criminals, terrorists and trouble makers of all kinds, including thugs from Latin America. Their goal is to enter a prosperous state with a weak judicial system and exploit it.
11) It is important to distinguish between immigrants. Claude Lévi-Strauss once said in a L'Express interview (17 October 1986) "If you start calling anyone who adheres to certain values and expresses a dislike for other values racists, you risk producing people who say 'if that is racism, then I'm a racist' ".
12) The Americans have always been the best at brain draining - locating the best people and outbidding institutions in other countries to attract them. This has been a key success factor throughout US history, to the point where they have become dependent for their prosperity upon a continuous supply of new brains: first with the huge influx of hard-working, highly-motivated European immigrants at the end of the nineteenth century, then refugees from Hitler in the years before the Second World War,138 then pro-Hitler refugees after that war, Asians during the Cold War, and now Eastern Europeans since the Cold War.
13) We are encountering an infantilism in our societies. People are weeping before their elected officials instead of supporting them. If someone is suffering, that must be the fault of the system. This "system" would need a very strong back to stand up straight.
14) An adult is a person who is responsible for his own actions. He takes responsibility outside his home, he is law-abiding, and he contributes time and effort to building a healthy society.
15) To grow up and become an adult is an aggressive act: it means taking the place of your parents. Most citizens are less and less willing to accept that responsibility. Values are turned upside-down, for instance the old are imitating the young. We have also extended the period of adolescence, by treating our teenagers as a special market sector in their own right.
16) Being a "teenager" as such is silly. The concept (like the modern Christmas) is a retailing invention, designed to market certain kinds of consumer goods. But a balanced, secure, and caring childhood is vital for building a strong character. When a child grows up, that is the time to travel and see the world, to leave home. That was the tradition of the European elites, at least until the beginning of the twentieth century.
17) All authority is put into question today. A society without a model is a society without a father.
18) We have fostered a new class of unemployed people, many of them well educated, who may soon become a threat to society. They will eventually want to avenge themselves. Some do not believe in anything, or they believe in everything they are told, and they are only capable of realizing themselves through violence. This is the story of a whole generation in Russia. And it is the story of a growing population of immigrant children in our suburbs in a country like France, or in downtown areas in England, some of whom have found a new home in radical Islam.
19) People who have stayed in education for many years and cannot then find a job break down psychologically after a few years of rubbish jobs.
20) When you send everyone to university, there will be no-one to do manual work. People will think of themselves as too good to hold a hammer, and those who pick it up will be overpaid.
21) Because we are so deep in debt - making payments on our houses, education, and two cars - we have become very risk-averse. We have become voluntary captives of "the economy" and have lost our capacity for initiative. We "would like to", but there is too much at stake. Instead economics rules at all levels.
22) Western society is losing its memory. We are also losing our values, which used to be the strength of Europe: the significance of work, of family, of saving, of effort; all these values have been tremendously eroded over the last forty years. ... But they have reappeared in China.
23) The so called cream of the crop in society, our elites, no longer know where they have come from or where they are going. We are facing the greatest disaster in the history of modern education: without knowledge of the past there can be no coherent strategic vision for the future. How can we have vision? Our historical knowledge does not extend beyond our own time. Our understanding of history is dictated by the media. We consume events, but are not able to put them into perspective. Instead we let ourselves be captured by the present and led into passivity.
24) A classical education in history, literature, and philosophy is essential. You need history to know what Man has done, literature to know what Man can do and think, and philosophy to challenge your ideas about the world. These things should be learned at home if possible. That used to be the way of the German Bildungsburgertum, the educated middle class. Since this ideal disappeared, with the emergence of mass culture, some Western societies including Germany have been organizing special courses in the classics for their business leaders. The Japanese have been doing the same for a long time. There are similar initiatives in Sweden (Alsheimer 2004).
25) The erosion of collective values is not a temporary trajectory. Something is going to happen within the next generation. For the moment we must live through a period of anguish, worry, and stress.