Collapse of the Middle

Every society is focused on four things: Security, Prosperity, Culture and Trust. Security is both external and internal. A primary duty of every society is to make sure it is defended from outsiders, but also from deviant insiders. Those who work against the internal order are just as much of a threat as the invader. It’s why traitors have always been held up for the worst punishments. They threaten the very existence of the society.

Prosperity is another focus of human society since settlement. Technology, after all, is all about increasing prosperity, which is why so much of our efforts are involved in advancing technology. Every society has its own take on what it considers prosperity, but the main reason for human society is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a part of our group evolutionary strategy. It is expressed differently across groups, but it is as much a part of humanity as left handedness.

Despite what the lunatics in charge claim, preservation and advancement of the culture is a priority of every society. Culture, after all, is just the rolled up preferences of the individuals in society, handed down from generation to generation. It is a collective identity. It is also how essential knowledge is passed from one generation to the next. A few hours reading the Bible teaches more about humanity than four years in a college.

These three distinct priorities are strung together with trust. Clannish societies will place a premium on culture and security, forgoing prosperity in order to maintain the clan. Altruistic societies will focus resources on prosperity as their cultures are dynamic and adaptive. Swedes spend much more time worrying about prosperity than defending Swedish culture, while Arabs invest all their time in culture and live in squalor.

That very broad outline is a useful way to view politics in western societies. The three main priorities shift up and down in the public’s hierarchy of importance. In times of plenty, the pubic will reward leaders promising to keep the party going. Alternatively, at the end of an up cycle, doubts about the impact on public morality may reward candidates that speak authoritatively to cultural traditions.

This is clear in the recent American elections. Barak Obama won in 2008 largely due to the other side getting blamed for the financial collapse and the bungling of the Muslim problem. Prosperity and security. In 2012, however, the public was uneasy about the deranged assault on the culture by Obama and went looking for an alternative. While Romney said all the right things on the culture, no one believed him. Trust is the shadow that hangs over everything.

Shifting over to Greece, we saw promises of prosperity trump all else in the rush to join Europe and the single currency. The public put aside cultural concerns, expecting the trade-offs to be economically beneficial and they were initially. When things went sour, the public switched from one main party to the next and then finally a coalition of main parties, all in an attempt to restore prosperity. When that failed, the middle collapsed and the fringe parties moved to the center.

Syriza, for all its blather about socialism and Marxism, is a populist party making a cultural appeal to patriotic Greeks. They have no plan for solving the debt crisis. There is no solution. What they have is a cultural appeal, which folds in neatly to an appeal to security. Greeks think Syriza is best to guard the culture and keep Greece safe from the financial vultures. Most of all, Syrza is trusted. They are what they say they are and that means a lot.

In the rest of Europe, security and prosperity trumped all else for forty years after World War II. Our betters like to say this was due to people recalling the horrors of fascism, but that’s not true. Fear of Soviet aggression (and nukes) was the top security concern. It trumped all else. Economic integration was, in part, a component of the security issues. It was only after the wall came down that economics become the top priority.

Ignoring the culture has worked in Europe for a long time, but that time is quickly passing as people begin to realize that Greeks are not Fins and Spaniards are not Brits. Just because everyone uses the same money and flies the same flag does not mean they are the same. Those differences will be expressed through culture, which inevitably shapes economics and politics.

In America culture is always in the discussion due to the Cult making war on traditional America, but it is a one-way discussion. The Progressives form up and start to pull down some important cultural institution and the Right tries to stop them. The only thing keeping the Right in business is as a fire department, called into to try and save what’s left of America. There’s not a lot left these days.

Of course, good times economically and no fear of invasion make sacking the culture possible. Cultural Marxism is a luxury good affordable in rich societies with loads of free time. China and Indian have made great strides economically, but they are still too poor to indulge in ethnomasochism. Like throwing away food, only rich societies in the West can afford to throw away their patrimony.

At least for now. Europe is seeing a collapse of its political middle as the cultural vacuum underneath the political parties grows. Across the Continent, mainstream parties treat their citizens as enemies, standing aside as invaders from the south flood into Europe. They heap private debts onto public balance sheet all in the name of a prosperity that is just over the next hill.

In the US, one party is racing toward a weird techno-fascism while the other party pads along behind them like a slow-witted little brother. Issues of paramount concern to the public are ignored in favor of the ridiculous and absurd.The full force of the state is brought to bear on behalf of homosexuals playing house, while no one can be bothered to halt the invasion from the south. For close to half the country, the political parties have nothing to offer, other than the satisfaction of voting against one of them.

It’s why Donald Trump is getting so much attention. Outsiders have always popped up in party primaries only to fade from the scene. Usually they have a novel idea or represent a narrow constituency. Trump would have been laughed off if he had not had the good sense to say what the public is thinking about taboos subjects like immigration. He’s an American Beppe Grillo.

The other side is not immune. American progressives may have been motivated by a hatred of core Americans, but they always thought of themselves as the righteous defenders of fairness and morality. Bernie Sanders is having success pointing out that the modern Progressive movement has more in common with Italian fascism than old school liberalism.  He does not say it that way, but he is tapping into the growing doubts on the Left over the direction of their movement.

At the start of this long-winded post I said that trust is what strings the three key social categories together. The people will naturally trust leaders with whom that naturally identify. It’s why colonialism ultimately failed. The foreign rulers may have done a better job bring peaces and prosperity, but they could never be trusted because they were foreign. People will take one their own, even if he is a screw up, over a foreigner, even if he is brilliant.

In the West, the ruling elite no longer identifies with their host countries. They see themselves as having evolved beyond national identity. Their actions over the last few decades has made them foreigners to the people over whom they seek to rule. When times are good and the world is at peace, people can overlook the culture gap. When peace and prosperity fade, that gap becomes a maw, collapsing the center.

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Kathleen
Kathleen
5 years ago

If there is no trust, there is no society. Security, prosperity, and culture depend on Trust, between the People and the Government, between the People and the Market, between the People and formerly revered institutions, between the People and the People. When Trust starts to erode, which we are seeing at every level of society now, society starts breaking down. Many years of unrest lie ahead.

UKer
UKer
5 years ago

So many points you raise, and interesting ones too. W.B.Yeats poem ‘The Second Coming’ touches on an important component of your post: Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. And there is more that you raise. On traitors in society: some of us believe that the greatest traitors are now at the head of… Read more »

Dutch
Dutch
5 years ago

This article steps gingerly into the current national dilemma, which is that many Americans wish to be left alone to live their lives. The Powers That Be demand public affirmation of their cultural and social priorities from each individual American, which grates against being left alone to live one’s life. Trump is a signal that many people are not ready to acquiesce quite yet. In that sense, TPTB are correct in that many of their enemies are domestic, and populate the Tea Party. TPTB may not be so happy that personal public acquiescence has been asked for. In other words,… Read more »

L. Beau Macaroni
L. Beau Macaroni
Reply to  Dutch
5 years ago

What wolverine, Dutch? Trump is a preening peacock, i.e., great at showing off, but no bird of prey. The Tea Party is more of a yappy little terrier than it is a vicious little badger.

Dutch
Dutch
5 years ago

Trump gets less overt support than nods of understanding, the “I get where you are coming from” (IMHO). The Tea Party was a mostly bottom-up attempt to channel the feelings of the “leave me alone” crowd into something organized and politically powerful. Neither Trump nor the Tea Party are particularly meaningful, except as signals of a broader alienation of the middle. Many people do just want to be left alone to live their lives in the way they see fit, with the values and priorities that they carry with them. The overbearing government and its social and media allies are… Read more »