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Archive for January 24, 2013

Toxic Societies Will Always Shrink, Shrivel and Die Out

January 24, 2013 28 comments

One of the main set of problems which occupies the minds of, and causes frequent hand-wringing among, people in ‘developed’ countries goes something like this..

Why do ‘affluent’ and ‘developed’ societies shrink in numbers? Why is the fertility rate in ‘developed’ countries functionally sub-replacement? Why do financial incentives to have more kids not work? Why does increased levels of ‘wealth’ translate into people having far fewer or no kids?

There are those who believe that these behavioral changes are linked to people becoming more materialistic, secular and hedonistic. Others suggest that people are not having kids due to concern for the environment or other altruistic sounding reasons. Another group blames it on the cost of raising children and sees not having kids as a rational response to destruction of living standards due to following the cult of neo-liberalism.

But are any of these reasons real, large or widespread enough to account for what we see all over the world? While I do not deny that economic calculations and realities have an impact on fertility rates, they are at best a partial explanation. Countries with relatively stable living standards and decent prospects such as Germany, Sweden or Austria are not much better off that countries with decent but stagnant economies such as Japan or Italy. Furthermore, economically depressed countries such as Greece have very similar fertility rates to still booming countries such as South Korea or Taiwan. Culture can also be excluded from the list of major factors affecting fertility since Japanese culture has very little in common with any of the Italian sub-cultures which in turn has little in common with Swedish culture.

So how can we explain this drop in fertility to sub-replacement levels across a number of cultures and societies? While we could say that sub-replacement fertility in any given culture is due to its own unique set of circumstances and reasons, there are two problems with that type of explanation. Firstly, sub-replacement fertility can occur rather quickly (within a generation) in countries or regions that once had very high levels of fertility such as Mexico, Brazil, Iran and South India. Basic cultural assumptions and mindsets simply cannot change that fast, even if they really wanted to. Secondly, it is hard to ignore that the patterns of fertility change and their linkage to educational levels and occupational status is eerily similar across various countries and cultures.

So let me suggest another way of looking at this issue.

Have you ever though about what motivates most people to work towards a better future? Is it the threat of bad consequences or a reasonable chance at happiness? Unless you are a CONservative, LIEbertarian or otherwise delusional, it is obvious that it is the desire for happiness that drives people to work towards a better future. Sure, you can make most people work like slaves for a generation or two, but then things stop working and society slowly but surely comes apart. You simply cannot get people to care about the future through overt or covert force.

Could it be that the structure of social structure and organization in ‘developed’ and ‘affluent’ countries make people feel unhappy.

Here is a question- When is the last time you felt happy and optimistic about the future for more than a few hours? I am not asking you about the last time you acted as if you felt like that, but rather when you actually felt like that. So why is it so hard for people to feel happy in societies that are by measures very safe, secure and easy places to live in? Hardly anyone starves in developed countries (except maybe certain parts of the USA), goes with reasonably decent medical care (again.. expect parts of the USA) or lives very precariously (once again.. except the USA).

So why do high levels of personal security and relative affluence not translate into happiness?

There are those CONservative morons and LIEbertarian subhumans who say that people are desensitized to happiness by having all their basic physical needs met and only people who don’t have stuff can appreciate getting stuff. However I have yet to see CONservatives or LIEbertarians who want to willingly become poor so that they can happiness over every small gain in their life. Clearly these scumbags are preaching something they don’t believe in, let alone practice. Let us now consider an explanation that most people find too embarrassing and unpleasant to think about, let alone admit.

Maybe ‘developed’ and ‘affluent’ societies are built on and enforce rules, mores and behaviors that are for the lack of a better word- unnatural.

To be clear- I am not talking about ‘naturalness’ or ‘unnaturalness’ based on whether hunter-gatherers did it or not. Nor am I defining ‘naturalness’ based on any continuity with older cultural traditions. My definitions of both are based upon whether the rules, mores and behaviors in any given society are in direct conflict with what human beings really are- irrespective of race, culture, level of technology or any similar externality.

Almost every single human being desires certain things and experiences beyond immediate survival and safety. We desire human company, sex with other people, entertainment and doing other things to feel more happier. A person who cannot indulge in these activities is an incomplete and unhappy person at best, regardless of how safe and affluent the rest of their existence may be. Did you notice a common thread that runs through all of the things I just described? They require people to think, choose and act on their own.

Therefore any society that tries to suppress human agency will be filled with people who are perpetually unhappy, regardless of how comfortable and materially well provided they are.

All ‘developed’ and ‘affluent’ societies, without exception, are constantly involved in trying to suppress and subvert the human agency of people who live in them. While the precise mix of reasons behind doing that varies from one society to the other, the end results are rather similar and people just end up disconnecting from that society to the maximum extent possible. While most of them will go on living and pretending to be ‘normal’, deep down they just don’t care. In that respect people who live in rule and protocol-based societies from Germany, Switzerland and Sweden are very similar to those in Japan, Korea and Singapore or anglo- countries such as the USA, Canada, UK and Australia.

Suppressing and destroying human agency under the guise of ‘tradition’, ‘efficiency’, ‘conformity’ or ‘competition’ results in a system where almost nobody is happy or invested in the future viability of the system. People in such societies then try to act ‘normal’ when it is plainly obvious that their actions lead to rather abnormal outcomes.

You might have seen rich childless professionals striving to buy the biggest houses in the most expensive neighborhoods even though neither they nor anybody they care about or know can enjoy the fruits of their labors. Then there are people who attend multiple social events every week, routinely talk to hundreds of ‘friends’ and actively participate in society yet are incapable of basic trust in the person they live with- let alone those they call their ‘friends’. You also might have seen people who commute to work for almost 2 hours a day in large and expensive cars and SUVs just so they can live in a neighborhood filled with people who do the same. What about the physician or surgeon who makes half a million dollar an year only to spend most of their waking hours working and trying to extract more money from patients and insurance companies. Or the lawyers who spends the best decades of their lives trying to maximize their billable hours rather than enjoying life?

And what about the elaborate and worthless scams of European and East-Asian social etiquette. Do they make people happy or achieve anything worthwhile? Do they create societies that make people want to contribute to them? Is living you entire life as a passive-aggressive german (or canuck), an autistic swede, a deceptively rude french, a hatefully polite japanese or an insecure self-hating but obedient korean worth it? Even societies that are less socially rigid such as the USA are full of people who are openly phony and willing to stab their nearest and ‘dearest’ for small and temporary gains. These toxic and dysfunctional societies survived for a longish time only because they had a supply of new and naive suckers. Modern and effective methods of contraception put an end to that mode of survival and expansion.

We are therefore now observing and experiencing what should have occurred a long time ago- namely the shrinkage, shriveling and death of toxic societies.

what do you think? comments?