Posts Tagged ‘2016 Election’

The Sun Sets in the West #3

December 18, 2018

One gloomy grey afternoon in the late winter of 1972, I was walking around Seattle’s Capitol Hill thinking about things when it dawned on me that the central idea of American life—that every generation must have a higher standard of living than the generation that preceded it—was an impossibility. I‘d never read anything about economics, but I understood that resources are limited. I also saw that even if we could accomplish it, it would be a bad idea since we’d overheat the planet to the point that it was uninhabitable. I thought it was something that even a child could understand, and yet most politicians, economists, and intellectuals did not see it—or at least wouldn’t admit to seeing. They didn’t dare because anyone in a powerful position who said such a thing would be scorned as a heretic and lose their position. I came home from that walk feeling that America was doomed, that when a nation’s core idea is false, there’s no hope for it. And for the great mass of Americans—liberal and conservative, Democrats and Republicans—a constantly rising standard of living has been our central idea. It’s only been a question of how we accomplish it. Over the decades I’ve been simultaneously adding to the detail of my understanding (that we would lose jobs to cheaper overseas markets was obvious to me long before it started) and watching the country steadily fall apart. The election of Donald Trump to the presidency is stark evidence of that fall. But I’ve come to believe that it is not just America that is in a state of collapse. The situation is much more complex—more epochal—than that.

There is an ancient, ongoing problem with human evil, which I think is the only real evil. Many people I know don’t like the word because it takes on the aura of a bogus religious force—medieval ideology. But evil is simply egotism—something we’re all familiar with. At times, the effects of our egotism become so overwhelming that we’re roused to try to counteract it. In the Western world, there have been at least three major efforts: Greek philosophy, Christianity, and most recently the movement that began around the late 17th century known as the Enlightenment. I think what we’re seeing right now is the collapse of the Enlightenment values—democracy, progress, equality, individual freedom, reason, science, and so on. It’s happening in both America and Europe. I think the last election, Trump vs. Clinton, was representative of that collapse. It pitted a representative of hardcore egotism versus a representative of traditional Enlightenment values, and evil won. It’s important to understand why, but not many commentators, politicians, journalists, or intellectuals do. This series, which I’m calling “The Sun Sets in the West,” and which I’ll work on as I find the time, is devoted to my particular understanding of it.

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