When people talk about the decline of a civilization historically, the discussion usually involves conquest, catastrophe, or corruption. But for our civilization---the United States---I believe the decline is due to a lack of nurturing of our humanity. Our art is dramatically superficial in inspiration, students rarely learn philosophy or theology in public schools, our education system neglects the humanities, and this is why we're experiencing the slow and painful death of not just the United States, but the entire West.
Can we save it? Yes, I believe we can. But first we have to get rid of the decay and rebuild what we have lost. We need to revise and revive everything from our cities, towns, and communities, to our religion and our arts. We need a rebirth; not a revolution but a resurrection.
A Messenger from Voyager
Even within my short 38 years, I've noticed the decay I speak of. When I was younger, there was more love for the humanities. Occasionally, a secular show would hint at the distinctly human elements that distinguish us from animals and machines: things like faith, hope, love, wisdom, and an appreciation of beauty. I use Star Trek as an example to prove my point here, because it has a very secular and progressive worldview but a great deal of its anthology has redeeming qualities. I was recently moved by the words of an old bard from an episode in the Voyager series. The characters, who were actors in a play within the episode, were arguing over the effectiveness of the play they were performing. The Bard offered this advice, "Find the truth in your story, and it will tell itself. These days storytellers have gotten lazy, relying on tricks to manipulate their audience" (Star Trek Voyager, S6 E22: The Muse).
This episode had a significant impact on me because it put the art of theater on center stage in a sci-fi saga. The "tricks" that the old bard was talking about were basically shortcuts that storytellers now use to enrich a story when they know the story itself is lacking in some way. I have found that writers today, myself included, use artificial intelligence to cut corners in a similar way. So you can imagine how ironic it was for me to learn, that "During its development, this episode was heavily revised.... actor Joseph Will stated, 'I recall that rewrites were happening up until the moment we were to shoot the scenes, which I had never experienced before.'"
So the writers and actors of the episode were experiencing the same problems as the writers and actors in the play within the episode. But that's how it ought to be, and I commend their efforts to avoid tricks and shortcuts. The episode, which is about a primitive humanoid civilization that has a love for theater, illuminates the immeasurable value of the arts, because it was a crash course in the challenge that making good art presents. The arts are too human to be replicated by artificial intelligence. Art is personal. To create something personal, human persons have to go through the creative process. True art is born of frustration, meticulous revision, passion, and love for the craft, whether it's theater, music, writing, or any other artform. I am not saying we should do away with AI, but if we use it to try to replace certain exclusively human tasks civilization will be lost.
Rebuilding Civilization through Real Estate
I speak with urgency because I am seeing civilization crumble in so many areas, including the literal crumbling of buildings. During my crazy plunge into the real estate sector, I've noticed this lack of humanity I speak of in a very stark way. I jumped into real state hoping I would find kindred spirits, people who shared my vision to revitalize communities by rehabbing distressed properties just for the sake of building a better, revived area. I have found no one interested in doing that unless they receive a substantial spread of at least $30,000.
I get it, it's a lot of work to rehab a house, or office, or any kind of building and they want to be compensated. But the concern for money in this business is starting to undermine the overall good that real estate investors and agents can do. Are there exceptions? Yes, of course. There are still bullish investors who do what is necessary to make a deal work. But more often than not, if "the numbers don't work", no one is willing to do the work.
This twisted capitalist mindset is doing serious damage to our society. I used to think socialism is our main threat, and I still do, but I'm starting to see that avaricious capitalism---when we put money before all other goods---is not far behind. In fact, I believe bad capitalism has hijacked the conservative political philosophy just as badly as socialism has infiltrated liberalism. In the West, there is a false dichotomy between conservatism and liberalism. These two political philosophies are complementary, but politicians and political talk show hosts would have us believe they are complete opposites.
Adam Smith is generally credited for being the founder of modern capitalism, due to his treatise Wealth of Nation. The full title of that work is An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The traditional capitalism of Adam Smith is economic liberalism; a laizzez-faire relationship between the government and economy where the government keeps its "hands off" the free market. Thus, as Smith observed, the nature and causes of the wealth of nations was---and still is---the free market. Smith was only able to notice this by observing the historic development of economies. He was not proposing anything new, but rather summarizing what had proved to work over the centuries. He was offering a synopsis of the West's economic tradition.
As Dutch architect Mieke Bosse said: 'Tradition is the sum of successful innovations'. Smith was summarizing the economic traditions of the West that helped build civilizations. This respect for tradition is an approach that conservatives would commend. However, somewhere along the way in this historic maze of words, we forgot that capitalism is a liberal idea, and that our free market societies were the traditional path to our prosperity.
It is my belief that capitalism, conservatism, and liberalism helped build the West; but socialism---contrary to the belief of progressives---derailed our progress by pitting these great ideas against each other. Taken by themselves all three paradigms are insufficient, but when used together they are a formidable force against socialist advances. In fact, when we define them and use them correctly, capitalism, conservatism, and liberalism are vital tools for rebuilding the West.
As mentioned above, in order to rebuild the West we need to revive the arts as well. Conservatism helps with that because it teaches us to stand on the shoulders of the renowned artists who came before us. Liberalism will help us revive Western art by providing the freedom needed to think and build creatively. True capitalism will help in a similar way by promoting the entrepreneurial spirit and the free market. We've settled for smaller, weaker versions of these great paradigms that built the West. We are part of a great civilization, but we are in danger of losing it if we do not conserve, liberate, and capitalize on its innovations.
Not a conclusion, a commission
Who am I to commission anyone? I am not Christ, a priest, or even a deacon. But perhaps we are too bashful when it comes to commissioning one another. I believe we ought to do it more. I do not submit my work to any publications anymore, not because I fear getting rejected. It's because I know how eccentric and erratic my work is, and I don't blame any publications for not wanting it. Better yet, I don't want them to want it.
The heart of my message is in my mission, and only I can understand it. That's not because it's profoundly complex. It's simply because it is my life purpose to fulfill it, and it is going to take my whole life to do so. If I do not try to forward my mission to other people, that is the greatest failure. And if I compromise that mission to meet a publication's guidelines, the loss is too great.
I am not a leader, but I do like to think of myself as a prophet. We all are prophets if we have heard the Word of God. We are not supposed to keep it to ourselves for mere personal comfort or inspiration like a coffee table anthology of poetry. Each of has a unique mission, and the words of God help us find it.
My mission, I believe, is to help wake us up by reviving what we've lost over the past few generations. What better time then, to publish this post: at the beginning of Advent, when Christ calls us to stay awake---or if we're sleeping, to wake up---for we do not know when he will come back. As a society, we are sleeping. Our souls have been tragically dormant. We've occupied our minds with trivial pursuits. It's time to wake up and remember our mission. We have a civilization to save. The hope is to save souls in the process, and to build a civilization that is more conducive to saving souls. Will you join me in doing that?
Image: Destruction, from The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole (1836), sourced from Wikimedia Commons.