The Social Collapse of Complex Societies

Submitted by CC

Conservative thinkers tend to blame individualism for selfish behavior because they overestimate the power of ideas and neglect the material makeup of the social environment. They lament the loss of communal values but show little concern for the loss of physical communities. While an undermined ethical foundation rouses the wrath of a priest and makes a journalist choke on his pastrami, an undermined material foundation disrupts the embodied habits and severs the transgenerational links of average lives, throwing morally constitutive relationships into disarray.

The economic and technological substratum warps the fabric of society through its transformation of human social habitats, through the continuous upheaval of ecosystems and populations. Individualism and liberalism appear as epiphenomena, as surface level expressions and coping mechanisms of widespread industrial turmoil. Liberal political philosophy as formulated by Hobbes, Locke and Mill does not inexorably lead to the current state of civic dissolution. The missing ingredient is material instability inflicted by the technological system.

Modern selfishness flowers in the rot of social bonds. Self-absorption is a psychic survival strategy, not the rational choice of an empowered ego. The crumbling of the extended family and the cleaving of organic social bodies abandons the isolated person to alien masses, colossal institutions, changing markets and vast corporations; alone and adrift, he clings to ideology as a buttress of his identity and a defense against a threatening world. In a mass society of atomized competition and crowding, freedom is not a value, but the cry of a cornered animal. The self coheres through its relationships and roles; when social ties break, the self falls into an abyss of desire and addiction.

Deprived of durable support for his identity, the individual begs for comprehensive acceptance from a society he resents. His monstrous insecurity warps the desire for independence into an ear-piercing shriek for a security blanket. It is not an overfull ego that speaks of self-care, but a starved one. The point is not that belief in the ultimate value of the individual has empowered people to be selfish, it is that the self has been drained of its social substance and filled in with compulsion and complaint. Fixation on the expanding needs and fragilities of the self conceals its disintegration in a social void.  

Generation by generation, personality wilts in churning and depleted soil, in changing physical landscapes and shifting populations. Ideas and roles that fit a society of a certain size and demographic balance do not fit others, or they take on radically different characteristics and modes of expression. With nowhere to go and nothing to do in a cramped atmosphere of economic redundancy and terminally ill traditions, freedom is not releasing inborn talents, but hiding behind arbitrarily acquired perversion. But so long as we continue to overproduce a formally educated class without real occupation, we will be flooded with articles about what freedom and democracy meant for the ancient Greeks, and how a conscious effort to reincorporate the values of smaller scale societies might fix our current problems. 

Ganesh Siteraman, writing for Current Affairs, surveys recent conservative criticism of individual freedom and liberalism, and introduces his own term, soulcraft, to describe the process of renewing interest in ethics and citizenship.

It is unfortunate that the term is central to his article, because it sounds as if soulcraft centers on individual souls, though he uses it to mean spirited involvement in democracy and interest in the welfare of others. Inexplicably, he does not use virtue, though it has more traditional political resonance and a stronger association with civic engagement than his awkward and unknown portmanteau.

Siteraman argues that conservative criticism is overly narrow in scope, in that it focuses on restoring the healthy functioning of traditional soul-forming institutions. He recommends the broadening of this project to include public institutions like the school and the army. His point is that a complex society requires an expansion of sites for soulcraft rather than a mere return to traditional and private organizations and the values they promote. 

But a lack of institutional support is not the problem. The current moral torpor and civic desuetude stem from excessive integration and consolidation, from overgrowth and overreach of mass institutions, from the influence and invasiveness of mass scale organizations. Siteraman attempts to alleviate the social and moral degradation of an overextended society by stretching it farther out, by adding to the complexity and scale of its ameliorative and integrative functions. He, like most commentators, stumbles past the psychological and social consequences of mass society, and contents himself with recommending a few tweaks to the global corporate system which would only compound its heft and unwieldiness. His advocacy for an enlarged sphere of soulcraft glosses over profound changes in complexity, population size and mobility, ethnic diversity and other material circumstances that have wrecked communal stability and moral education.

Displaying a glibness toward the intractable problems and pathologies of mass society, he reproves the tendency to withdraw in the face of overwhelming complexity, ethnic conflict and cultural incoherence: “in a polarized era in which people are sorted into tribes, retreating to our neighborhoods or churches only segregates and polarizes us more.” 

He does not examine why the era is polarized or what it would mean for an era to be polarized, nor does he show any awareness of what impels the sorting of people into misleadingly labelled tribes. What commentators call tribalism is the desperate adoption of a floating, mass-scale identity, a search for solidity among vaporous relationships in societies structured by mass consumption and disordered by the corrosion of kinship. There is tribalism because there are no tribes. The dull rancor of political debate, the crass infantilism of consumer culture and the rigid fixation on race and sex signal a crisis of belonging among the socially impoverished, rather than an immoral lapse into libertinism or a resurgence of ingrained attachments to ethnic, religious and geographic roots. 

Segregation is an effect of ethnic distrust and competition, not the cause. People form smaller ethnic and religious communities when group conflict has grown intolerable and unworkable. Fractured and unsettled populations need less contact with each other, not more. The insistence on unity, without respect for group differences or the human need for space, distance and exclusion, sets an unrealistic standard of harmony that aggravates the bitterness between uncooperative parties. 

The ever-increasing size, density and fluidity of populations, put forward as requisites of innovation and economic growth, are also recipes for stress, alienation and dysfunction. Swarms of unconnected people move into neighborhoods, sweep away landmarks, remake their surroundings to fit a fleeting aesthetic and then leave at a dizzying pace. Transient and ethnically dissonant populations cannot build trust, and they cope with uneasy coexistence by sinking into hedonistic lifestyles aided by cheap entertainment technology.

Though it is often rhetorically deployed as an unthinkable evil, segregation is a broad, banal and irrepressible social dynamic, it is a basic structural facet of group and identity formation, as well as the beginning of a healing and restructuring process and an attempt to replenish exhausted social capital. People separate themselves from outsiders on every level of social organization, within groups of every size, without coercion or prompting. Even the all-encompassing abstraction of a global community presupposes the distinction between those who accept this community and those who reject it. But the modern intellectual believes, he must believe, for the sake of his career and reputation, that the right ideas and education will forge a peaceful and productive society out of any demographic mixture at any size in any space.

For the managerial elite, measures and policies that resolve family strife are crimes when applied to race relations. The state separates violent and dysfunctional families, interposing legal, spatial and armed barriers between those who cannot get along, while using that same power to force mass scale populations to intermix, despite the social, environmental and economic costs.

Siteraman acknowledges the disjointed and splintered character of the family without a hint of alarm or judgement, opting for a managerial tone to bypass the difficulties of defining the family on religious, traditional, ethnic and geographic grounds.

“Consider family. Through these most intimate of relationships, we experience not only fulfillment and happiness, but also the suffering and obligations that build responsibility. But the challenge is that the family of today does not look like the idealized 1950s vision of a happy couple with children. Families today are increasingly complex, with stepparents, stepsiblings, and half-siblings, multiple adults com­ing in and out of children’s lives, and grandparents acting as parents. Even the idea of a single-parent household assumes a level of stability that is illusory. Of mothers who are single at the birth of their child, 59 percent experience three or more residential or dating transitions before their child reaches five years old—and 33 percent have another child with a different romantic partner in those first five years.”

Siteraman cannot resist the useless reference to the family of the fifties. Where is he getting this stereotype, and why does he mention it in a serious essay on soulcraft? The patronizing assumption that misty-eyed nostalgia motivates all criticism of dismembered families shows rather the stupefaction of an intellectual class cut off from its physical past, raised by industrial images and enclosed within an educational system that reinforces detachment from origins. Children of cosmopolitan frittering and meritocratic jockeying, their points of reference for familial stability and tradition are projected caricatures which reassure them that what we fondly look back on never existed anyway.

But Siteraman is not alone in reducing the past to a stereotype or pictogram. For most people today, even those with families who have lived in America for many generations, cultural memory is televisual and cinematic, preserved in the silver of screens. Not handed down, but disseminated, streamed and soaked up. We remember not what we have done, not how our ancestors have lived, but what we have watched, what has been shown to us by alien directors of the culture industry. The penetration of technological devices and spectacles into every space and every moment of daily life has turned the recollection of the past into a cinematic citation.

The memory of what the family used to be like is not drawn from a living inheritance rooted in a local tradition, but from images circulated by mass media. It is important to emphasize that this conquest of the mind by the culture industries is a physical process enabled by the mass production of electronics and the lightning pace of population movement. Memory is shared and relational, externalizing and strengthening itself in places, people and rituals. When the environmental conditions of collective memory are destroyed in a kind of mnemonic deforestation, experience is dominated by screens and their delocalized flows of information which blur the differences between times, places and peoples.

Contrasted with this recorded and endlessly reproducible but unlived past of happy couples and their children, modern day families are complex, a term which, in this context, is a euphemism for chaotic and dysfunctional. Siteraman will try to say that soulcraft must adapt to this new complexity, that outside institutions and economic policy changes will be needed to help the new haphazard family engender citizens with moral values. 

It is not clear, in his telling, if economic reform will affect the structure of the family or if it will only boost the bank accounts of its loosely bound members. Since he does not analyze the economic and technological background that gives rise to unrelated people exploiting each other to satisfy short-term interests, we can only wonder if broken families can be fixed, or if the civic spirit is expected to flourish in individuals who grow up around an interchangeable cast of step-dads, if only everyone has more money and enjoys their job.

When he brings up the Gilded Age, his focus on wealth inequality as a cause of falling marriage rates clouds the more relevant similarities between that era and our own, such as increasing complexity, urbanization, mass immigration and technological change. Superficial fluctuations in marriage rate correlated with wealth inequality do not tell much of a story. More pertinent than marriage rates in the old and new gilded age is the steady shrinking of family size and falling fertility rates in industrialized and urbanized societies over much longer periods.

American fertility has declined for over two hundred years, a span coinciding with industrialization, crowding and rising complexity. The only exception to this trend, the vaunted post war baby boom, was ignited by a higher number of couples who would have otherwise forewent reproduction having one or two children. A technologically aided abundance nudges the formerly barren into starting small families while deterring the formerly fruitful from having 3 or more children. Economic parity might raise the marriage rate, but it does nothing to stop the fall of fertility and the diminution of family size, and works instead to redouble the decline of an organic population and the breakup of extended family networks, thereby increasing atomization and dependency on mass immigration. 

Women might avoid marriage in part because of economic inequality, but they have fewer children each generation because the progressive physical conditions of modern society—the urban, overcrowded spaces, the mass scale of institutions, mobile populations, compulsory and prolonged education, withered organic relationships, cheap and accessible birth control technologies, the severing of extended families, the disconnection from traditional rhythms and obsolescence of traditional roles—tend toward sterility and a stunted historical sense in which the future is hopeless or unforeseeable and all fond memories of the past are dismissed as nostalgia.  

Siteraman offhandedly mentions underlying causes of civic disrepair, but then does not explain or analyze them, or show any sensitivity to the psychic shock of family breakdown or the slow erosion of identity from infrequent contact with extended family amid the constant shuffling of surroundings and populations. He can only offer a perfunctory incantation about the need for economic opportunity. 

“An America with­out economic opportunity for everyone isn’t an America that facili­tates soulcraft. When parents have no economic opportunities, it is harder for them to nurture their children and engage in the soul-forming activities Levin and Deneen desire. Likewise, a nation of Sisyphean workers, condemned to an eternity of hard labor without ever making any economic progress, is unlikely to believe that hard work, responsibility, and character lead to just results. What moral lesson does one learn from a lifetime of work without progress? Indeed, the neoliberal era’s policies show little moral value in hard work. Our country’s tax policies, to take just one example, reward heirs and heiresses who gain wealth without work—even as regular people who seek wealth through work pay full freight. The moral message of such a policy is precisely the selfishness that Deneen and Levin decry.”

Here, Siteraman suggests a link between economic, spiritual and moral progress without attending to the physical foundations of work or the connection between work and communities. The concentration of economic opportunity in a small set of cities and industries bleeds small towns of their populations, mutilates families and shoves people onto awkward educational and career paths. The result is an imbalance between urban and rural settlements and a culture of despair, rage and hedonism. People do not regress into selfishness because of the moral message they get from a tax policy, but because unanchored striving after wealth and status strips them of social support.

People need more than high paying jobs. The physical location of the jobs and the role those jobs play in grounded communities are paramount. We do not need more opportunity as it currently exists, with its endless growth, movement and innovation, but a different, physically bounded economic system that provides meaningful work without incinerating social bonds and accelerating population churn. Drudgery and poverty are not conducive to moral or social health, but the environmental conditions of wealth creation and technological progress must be aligned with the fundamentals of communal stability. Accumulating money and jobs without slowing tumorous urbanization, corporate consolidation and population fluidity will treat superficial ills but allow the deeper sickness to fester.

From there, Siteraman condemns mass incarceration and the racial disparity in incarceration rates, as if putting violent criminals in cages is a cause of social collapse rather than an unfortunate and messy container of it. If there has been a shift from rehabilitation to punishment, then we must consider the possibility that it is because larger portions of the population have become irreformable through the devastation of their social networks and the elimination of modest, physically necessary economic roles. The mainstream indictment of mass incarceration misdirects attention away from the intractable reality of low trust relations among incompatible groups and the economic obsolescence of unskilled underclasses.

In the same way that segregation proceeds from imposed ethnic proximity, mass incarceration issues from the disorder of rapidly mixing, growing and moving populations in a consumerist society without organic, communal and religious controls on behavior. Siteraman’s consternation about criminal justice policy has no practical purpose and contains no insight, it is only a ritual expression of outrage.

After dismissing the expansion and corruption of the prison system as a problem of racism, Siteraman discusses the workplace. Participation in civil society groups is declining, he says, tossing in a rote reference to Bowling Alone. Siteraman mentions the replacement of embodied human relationships with the internet, but he brings it up not to say anything insightful, but to keep things moving toward the next superficial observation. Putnam emphasized television as a cause of civic disengagement and sidestepped the correlation between ethnic diversity and diminished social capital in post civil rights America, a topic which is today not so much a minefield as it is a pit of punji sticks.

Though Bowling Alone documents multiple forces pulling people apart, the material nature of social dissolution is not properly recognized by Putnam and most commentators, because such a confrontation would challenge too many habits and inclinations of modern life. Suburbanization, immigration, economic development, population growth and the substitution of electronically assisted masturbation for human relationships are physical realities resistant if not impervious to rhetorical intervention. Admonishing people to think differently and choose different values will not cancel out the conditions of disconnection which prop up a complex and fragile system.

The conservative tells us to believe in god and start a big family, while the liberal cheerleads for diversity, inclusion and self-expression; they both fail to grapple with the environmental obstacles to civic participation and moral education. It is often thought that a conservative wants to go backwards, while the liberal or progressive wants to move forward, but they both move in a realm of ideas which ignores the material attributes of belonging that have been crushed by the massive size and scale of the social and economic system.

With ethnic cohesion, historically continuous physical communities and stable extended families placed under museum glass as exhibits of an irrecoverable past, Siteraman looks to the corporation as an agent of moral guidance.  

“In some countries, like Germany, corporate leaders believe that workers should have a say in the governance and operations of the company. Workers at Volkswagen, for example, are empowered on the shop floor and even included on the company’s supervisory board. Not only is their narrow personal fate attached to the company, but they are also partly responsible for success of the corporation in the long run. Think of how perspectives might change when work­ers have such great responsibility. Yet neoliberals, especially in the United States, are reflexively hostile to opportunities that would allow corporations to facilitate soulcraft. They fight attempts to allow workers to participate in the governance of their companies, even when, as in the case of Volkswagen in Chattanooga, the corporation wanted to empower workers.

A true commitment to soulcraft requires a willingness to think about how existing institutions like corporations can adapt to facili­tate the moral formation of democratic citizens. For example, we might consider adopting a form of codetermination—requiring the largest corporations to have a percentage of their board be employees. We might also enable works councils on the shop floor, so that line workers have a measure of democratic voice in their work. We could strengthen labor unions by making it easier to join a union. Each of these reforms requires more of workers than merely being cogs in a corporate machine—it empowers them to have a voice in their work and in the future of the company.”

These proposals sound like self-satisfied managerial benevolence. It is hard to see how workers councils and token employee board members would bolster soulcraft, especially when so many people work for such massively oversized companies while experiencing breakneck relationship churn in their personal lives. The problem lies with economic consolidation and concentration of power, with corporations and labor pools reaching a size that lowers the value of workers, regardless of the managerial rhetoric of empowerment. Large, fungible populations and giant corporations squash the responsibility and autonomy of any one person. Management and ownership will not relinquish power and wealth without opposition from an organized, cohesive labor force, which, because of population movement, mass immigration, technological capture of attention and social upheaval, is fractured by competing interests and paralyzed by stress, addiction and apathy. 

The feeling of being a cog in a machine will always haunt a person who works for a gargantuan corporation that employs hundreds of thousands of people with nothing in common, without shared blood, culture, language, myths, regional attachments, history or purpose. On the other hand, working for a business with a staff of ten, embedded in the local community, interwoven with its social and cultural tapestry, will instill a sense of responsibility, usefulness and dignity in a person, even without managerial megaphoning about valued team members. 

Siteraman does not realize that part of what makes a person feel like a cog is the size of the corporation that employs him and the quality of work in an industrial and information economy under the strain of unmanageable complexity and globalist imperatives. The separation of the production process from its surroundings, with people performing repetitive tasks in one place to manufacture component parts that will be shipped elsewhere to be assembled into a finished product that will then be sold in different markets in unrelated locations, contributes to the worker’s disorientation and attitude of paltriness and triviality toward his labor. And this situation is even worse for much clerical work, where the remoteness and disembodiment are even more pronounced. 

A person of average abilities would feel more self-respect and enjoy sturdier connections to his fellows if he built chairs and benches for members of his community. Instead, today it is far more likely that he will stack boxes in a shipping warehouse that launches products all over the nation and maybe even the planet. There are limits to the fun and personal fulfillment of most necessary jobs, but working to serve the people you live among will inspire more lively civic participation than playing tetris with an assortment of products in a featureless compound to sustain a sprawling shipping network. 

Instead of asking for slightly kinder and friendlier policies from massive employers, political pressure should be applied to breaking up the biggest corporations so that the smaller enterprises can supply regional and local markets with irreplaceable, location specific jobs and products. The smaller scale of operations will foster greater personal investment from workers, a stronger sense of identity based on unique physical and cultural traits, reciprocity with nearby organizations and accountability to surrounding social bodies, creating a higher likelihood of population stability, geographic mooring and environmental balance. 

The term that Siteraman brings to the fore of his argument, soulcraft, implies an idealized return to a human practice that has been dying for a long time, if it is not already dead. Soulcraft makes sense in a world of material craft. Today, we are generations deep into a society structured by mass production and consumption, molded by commercial and social patterns which do not require and cannot incorporate any handicraft at all. The mechanizing, automating and outsourcing of physically intricate and onerous labor culminates not in the liberation of the soul, but in its obliteration, or at the very least its obfuscation. The digital and mechanical products and jobs of mass society confront us with an inhuman reflection, by which we are transfixed because we do not recognize ourselves.  

Siteraman’s proposal for worker empowerment, which amounts to cosmetically altering the bloated corporation so that it appears a bit more like an inclusive family, is far from a radical overhaul feared by executives, politicians or the culture at large, and is instead closer to the prevailing ideological refrain of the managerial class. Ignorant of history and sociology, fixated on racial antagonism (while refusing to understand it) and defensively hostile toward populist sentiment, contemporary elites busy themselves with managerial tinkering and hysterical hectoring to demonstrate their wisdom and usefulness. Their loudly professed concern for the health of democracy masks a pathological loathing of tradition, rural rhythms, middle-class values and common sense. In mass society, democracy is engineered and administered from the top down. When popular movements resist bureaucratic rule and assert themselves as unified ethnic and nationalist groups with particular interests, the apologists of globalist and corporate power groan portentously about Nazis.

Trying to recover the lost warmth of the family in the cold corporate environment exaggerates the social potential of a job in mass society. We work to feed our families, not to find them. The organic relationships of the family cannot be recreated by temporarily duct taping together a few coworkers and managers blown into the same space by shifting economic winds. Though higher wages will help ease the stress of paying bills, the social nourishment of family and community cannot be expected from oversized corporations mowing through a fragmented and uprooted mass of laborers.

Nearing the end of his essay, Siteraman hits the high note of liberalistic banality and recommends a culture of service to promote the virtues of tolerance and compassion. He assumes what is at issue, the question of whether the demand for tolerance signifies an enlightened outlook or a collapsing social order.

“Service for and with others also has one other effect: it develops the virtues of tolerance and compassion for those who are different. Some conservatives critically note that liberals enforce an “ethic of pluralism” for “fear of compromising the freedom of others.” But tolerance and understanding are just as important to the richer vision of freedom that Levin and Deneen advocate. Imagine an individual who encounters someone different and cannot but condemn the stranger’s views, spew hatred for his lifestyle, and reject his opinions. Such a person hardly has self-restraint or self-control, and we would not think him emancipated from the tyranny of his own passions, biases, and emotions. In a complex society, it is not a weakness but a strength to engage productively with those who have different views, and it is a hallmark of a truly free mind to seek first to understand before making judgments.”

The airheaded celebration of tolerance in abstract terms veils concrete priorities and preferences. In liberal discourse emanating from the multicultural clash of interests, tolerance is not merely grudging coexistence without physical violence, but the endorsement and advancement of specific groups and the suppression of others, which inflames hostility rather than dampening it. Siteraman holds our hands for a childish imaginative exercise, unable to think about conflict over differences in identity without referring to the image of a hate spewing bigot, a necessary foil of a mind fried by the late liberalism of an overcrowded and chaotic society.

Thanks to a grossly prolonged and cloistered education consisting of self-righteous busywork, the modern credentialed mind, crown of human historical intellect, expresses its visionary morals by ordering the bad man to stop being mean, as if mutual distrust and lack of cooperation among competing groups can be reduced to the moral failings of the raging, inbred xenophobe, most likely clad in overalls, who, if only he possessed self-restraint like the ancients, would welcome anyone and anything into his society, community, neighborhood and family.

We can only wonder what race and sex Siteraman pictures when he thinks of the tantrum throwing bigot, and we can only hope that his spontaneous fantasies would not reveal a man tyrannized by his biases. It is hard to take critical admonishments against abstraction and nostalgia seriously when they come from a person whose helpful examples include stick figure hatemongers and Leave It to Beaver 50’s style television families. 

In a ludicrous move, Siteraman equates the inability to perceive threats and condemn deviance with the achievement of stoic self-mastery, as if Marcus Aurelius’s austere scribbling about bowing to fate is applicable to a contemporary person’s attitude toward mass immigration, ethnic diversity, identity politics and gender theory. We are to assume that a person who favors their own, respects the past and resists encroachment by outsiders is a slave to his passions, while those who clap for demographic displacement are philosophers transcending the earthly muddle of emotions.

Rather than another gushing encomium to diversity, we need tolerance and compassion for similarity. Elite discourse has been drenched in love of difference, diversity, the marginal, the strange, the debauched, the new, the experimental, the far-off and the far-fetched. And the enlightened have no shortage of scorn for the homogenized, the similar, the familiar, the old and enduring. Careers and reputations are secured by praise of difference and derision of sameness. If modern day sages want to test the boundaries of their benevolence, they should try applying their compassion to the small-scale, religious, ethnically cohesive populations and habits it is so fashionable to despise.

If it is now a second nature reflex to sneer at the similar and abiding, it is because social turbulence has become the norm in mass society. People feel those born beside them as deadweight because economic success and self-realization depend on endless flight, disposal and novelty. It would take more pious generosity to care for a relative who cannot help your career than to join Pepsi, Haliburton and Google representatives in applauding the sonorous struggle of illegal aliens.  

Siteraman juggles many ideas, but he does not explore their ties or material foundations. Like many contemporary intellectuals, he pathologizes healthy human instinct and seeks to lambaste or legislate it away. His thoughts on economic opportunity are distorted by his liberal and managerial biases, which are products of the material underpinnings of the complex society he invokes without understanding. 

Complexity does not drop out of the sky from nowhere, but rather tends to grow at an escalating cost, subject to the law of diminishing returns. Joseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies” is instructive here. The problems of society—the social decay, the overpopulation, the disparity between rural and urban settlements, grandiose and juvenile elites, military adventurism and mass immigration, the depletion of resources and despoliation of the environment, political corruption, the concentration of wealth and power, ethnic competition—require more expensive and less effective solutions, until the only affordable course is collapse, or a rapid reduction in complexity and size.

The pseudo-conservative challenge to liberal decadence broods over a legacy of ideas without safeguarding a physical lineage and landscape. Anomie does not come from an ignorance of Plato or the Stoics, but from dislocations of the social and natural environment. Individualism as a body of ideas does not unleash industrialization, urbanization and uncontainable complexity. It is one thing to have never read The Republic, but it is another to have never known your grandfather. Forgetting the preamble to the constitution may be less than politically ideal, but an economic and technological system that runs on population churn and rootless consumption is a social disaster. A man is better off with tangible ties to his flesh and blood ancestors than an appreciation of Aeschylus.

Siteraman asserts that conservative criticism of individual freedom is narrow and nostalgic, but his proposals are fatuously deferential to the disruptive tendencies of the present. To replant the physical roots of civic participation and social stability, we must work against increasing size, scale and complexity, and limit population movement and corporate consolidation. Serving in Americorp, adding a couple of chairs to a megacorporate boardroom and claiming to embrace diversity are stopgaps for a society blighted by its bulk.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. BaboonTycoon says:

    I absolutely agree with the points made here, however, even supposing that the current elites are somehow replaced with ones that would be willing to make a transition into reducing societal scale, the process of doing so seems counterproductive to the expressed goals. The breakup or downscaling of mass corporations would leave tens of millions unemployed, and furthermore, at this point many have their livelihoods depend on the existence of the scale itself. A middle manager is, of course, useless in a localistic environment, but it can be even something as simple as the aforementioned warehouse worker. Does that man necessarily have the skills to handmake his own furniture? In these days, it’s doubtful. And while I assume the presupposition here is the removal of women from the workforce, that only goes so far in alleviating the issue considering the useless make-work many women end up doing.

    Work is indeed a exaggerated as a social force, but it is still something one must do to survive. While I would not necessarily lament the fate of the bugman, asking to somehow remold today’s overly specialized workers into generalists is a tall order that too many will not meet. Someday, this kind of restructuring will be necessary lest we become literal human drones. I just don’t see a good way to do it when it too will accelerate social rot by destroying what little today’s society has allowed man to claim for himself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Claire says:

    This was very, very good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Caleb says:

      “Someday, this kind of restructuring will be necessary lest we become literal human drones.” This is the key. The trends and tendencies I’m talking about in this essay will not be corrected by a single piece of legislation or one simple change of behavior, outlook or living conditions. Part of the problem is that, because of the technocratic and consumerist background that influences our way of thinking, we want to fix our problems right now, we want to enjoy the benefits of what we do immediately. Not saying you individually expect this, but your comment reminds me that part of our failure to imagine or act constructively is related to a now deeper preference for instant gratification or expedited payoff.

      But the more consequential and positive changes will come from projecting our viewpoint and our aim beyond our own lifetimes. We should not be asking “How can I build a better world for myself that I will be able to enjoy right now or five years from now,” but rather, “What seeds can I plant that will bear fruit for my descendants?”

      The man of today is in a tough spot, because, as you say, most likely he does not have community oriented skills or values, and he will struggle mightily to adapt to smaller scale conditions. But at the very least he can work toward building a world where his children and their children will not be in the same position.

      And it’s not so much that people need to become generalists. Specialization is fine up to a point. A butcher is pretty specialized, all trades and worthwhile crafts involve specialization and investing time and resources in a small set of skills or practices. But the issue is that even specialized trades and skills are rendered obsolete or redundant by transnational corporate control of markets. A person who could supply his local community or region with a good or service is in competition with a massive economic entity that cheaply produces and distributes its products through advanced transportation and information networks while taking advantage of lax labor laws and low standards of living in third world production sites. Because a person cannot make a modest living in a small-scale setting, he is forced to move and take on precarious and ill-fitting jobs in churning urban environments.


      1. JerkingOffInPompeii says:

        This was an extremely impressive and important piece. We are all subject to the churn you talk about, and it influences us in ways we are not even conscious of.

        Are you on twitter, or do you have any other places where your work can be found at?


  3. Caleb says:

    Thank you for reading. I have a very modest twitter account here

    Also a very modest blog here

    The blog is a mix of short fiction and nonfiction, some autobiographical material and dark, dry short stories. I have a couple of nonfiction pieces that touch on the some of the themes of this essay. You might like the other stuff, too. The one that is most similar to the essay is here


  4. Henry says:

    Prediction: No one will ever find a robust, significant relationship between long-run marriage/fertility rate trends and the properties of the wealth distribution. People who are serious about this topic (which does not include Siteraman, apparently) have to show which trend is causing the other. And any relationship that might exist between the two trends would be minuscule compared to the effect of *attitudes* modern women have about pursuing careers. Why is there such a strong desire to have careers? Why does our culture expect them to prioritize some dumb career over starting a family? Those are questions worth investigating.


  5. M. says:

    I feel like there is another, more important topic which many on the dissident right refuse to actually approach, and often skirt around, or wholly blame on other ethnic groups.


    1. R. Landry - Editor says:

      Submit an essay on this topic and we will publish


      1. I can’t decide if I’m more bothered by the plagiarism or the fact that you wrote it so badly that I don’t want to take credit for it.


  6. Dr. Stephen J. Krune III says:

    how much of this article was cribbed directly from MPC?


  7. Caleb says:

    I did read MPC before it went private, but the influences that went into the essay are a bit more varied than a single forum. I’m not exactly sure how to go about citing a private paid forum of anonymous accounts, but if you think it’s bad enough, I’m sure it could be taken down.


  8. Exile says:

    Treating tribe and the stable, extended & rooted family as shibboleths is almost as Bug-tier as trying to replace them with muh corporations.

    Father Weyland Corp & Mother Tyrell Corp thank Unit Shrimpramen for his production enhancing recitation of Hivetruth. Hail Mammon.


    1. Русский Человек says:

      Tribe is literally an extended family. You are just mistaking it with jewish tribalism, which is more akin to mafia, due to being american, jewish and neoliberal.


  9. Scott D. says:

    Although I tardily stumble upon this essay, it has nonetheless been profound in its kismet like timing for me. I am that middle aged man currently confounded by the complexities i navigate in furthering my family legacy that benefits all.


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