By Brandon Smith
When historians and analysts look at the factors surrounding the collapse of a society, they often focus on the larger events and indicators — the moments of infamy. However, I think it’s important to consider the reality that large scale societal decline is built upon a mixture of elements, prominent as well as small. Collapse is a process, not a singular event. It happens over time, not overnight. It is a spectrum of moments and terrible choices, set in motion in most cases by people in positions of power, but helped along by useful idiots among the masses. The decline of a nation or civilization requires the complicity of a host of saboteurs.
So, instead of focusing on the top down approach, which is rather common, let’s start from the foundations of our culture to better understand why there is clear and definable destabilization.
Declining Moral Compass
There is always a conflict between personal gain and personal conscience — this is the nature of being human. But in a stable society, these two things tend to balance out. Not so during societal decline, as personal gain (and even personal comfort and gratification) tends to greatly outweigh the checks and balances of moral principles.
People often mistake the term “morality” to be a religious creation, but this is not what I am necessarily referring to. The concepts of “good” and “evil” are archetypal — that is to say they are psychologically inherent in most human beings from the moment of birth. This is not a matter of faith, but a matter of fact, observed by those in the field of psychology and anthropology over the course of a century of study. How we relate to these concepts can be affected by our environment and upbringing, but for the most part, our moral compass is psychologically ingrained. It is up to us to either follow it or not follow it.
Watching how people handle this choice is a bit of hobby of mine, and I do take notes. You can learn a lot about the state of your environment by observing what people around you tend to do when faced with the conflict of personal gain versus personal conscience. It is saddening to admit that even though I live in rural America, where you are more likely to find self-reliance and cultural stability, I can still see a faltering nation bleeding through.
I have seen supposedly good people act dishonestly in business agreements. I have seen local institutions scam hardworking citizens. I have seen a court system rife with bias and a “good old boy” attitude of favoritism. I have seen local companies pretend to be benevolent contributors to the community while at the same time running constant frauds and rackets. I have even seen a few people within the liberty movement itself put the movement at risk with their own avarice, gluttony, narcissism and sociopathy.
Again, it is important to make a note of such people and institutions, for as the system continues its downward spiral it is these people that will present the greatest threat to the innocent.
As Carl Jung notes in his book The Undiscovered Self, there is always a contingent of latent sociopaths and psychopaths within any culture; usually about 10% of the population. In normal times, they, at least most of them, are forced into moral acclimation by the rest of the populace. But in times of decline, they seem to leak out of the woodwork like a slimy fungus. During heightened collapse, they no longer have to pretend to be upstanding and they show their true colors.
Most dangerous is when latent sociopaths or full blown sociopaths assume roles of leadership or power during the worst of times. With everyone distracted by their own plight, these people can become a cancer, infecting everything with their narcissistic pursuits and causing destruction in their wake.
Disinterest In Rewarding Conscience
During wider cultural collapse, it can become “fashionable” to see acts of principle as something to be scoffed at or ridiculed or to even see them as threats to the status quo. The concept of “going along to get along” takes precedence over doing what is right even when it is hard; this attitude is not relegated to the less honest people within society.
As a system collapses, a fog of apathy can result. Good people can become passive, scrambling to their individual corner of the world and hoping evil times will simply pass them by. The phrase “I just want to put all this behind me” is spoken regularly; but as we ignore the trespasses of terrible men and women, we also enable them. How? Because by doing nothing we allow them to continue their criminality, and we subject future persons and generations to victimization.
When doing the right thing is treated as laughable or “crazy” by what seems like a majority in the midst of widespread corruption, you are truly in the middle of a great decline.
In Christian circles, the idea of “the remnant” is sometimes spoken of. In Christian terms, this usually represents a minority of true believers surviving a tumultuous and immoral era. I see “the remnant” not so much as a contingent of Christians alone, but as a contingent of people that continue to maintain their principles and conscience when faced with unprecedented adversity. In the worst of times, these people remain stalwart, even if they are ridiculed for it.
Disinterest In Independent Effort
It is said that in this world there are two kinds of people — leaders and followers. I’m not so sure about that, but I can see why this philosophy is promoted; it helps evil people in power stay in power by encouraging passive acceptance.
I would say that there are in fact two kinds of people in this world — people who want to control others and the people that just want to be left alone. In life sometimes we are both leaders and followers; we just have to be sure that when we lead we lead by example and not by force, and when we follow, we follow someone worth a damn.
In any case, passivity is not a solution to determining our roles in society. In most situations, independent action is required by every person to make the world a better place. Yet, in an era of systemic crisis, it is usually independent effort that is the first thing to go out the window. Millions upon millions of people wait around for someone, anyone, to tell them what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. In this way, society finds itself in stasis, frozen in a position of inaction. Poisonous collectivism wins through mass aggression, but also through mass passivity.
In fact, when individualists do take action they can be admonished for it during times of societal breakdown, even if their actions have the potential to solve a problem. The idea that one man or woman (or a small group of people) could do anything about anything is sneered at as “fantasy” or “delusion.” But mass movements of citizens working towards a practical goal are rare, and even more rare is when these movements are not controlled or manipulated to benefit the established order. It is not mass movements that change the world for the better, but individual people and small organizations of the dedicated, acting without permission and without administration.
It is these individuals and small groups that, over time and through relentless effort, inspire a majority to do what is necessary and right. It is these people that inspire others to finally take leadership in their own lives.
I write often on the plight of the individual and individual rights within society, and I continue to see the factor of the individual as the most important element in any culture. A culture based on protecting and nurturing individualism and voluntarism is the only culture, in my view, that will ever be successful at avoiding full spectrum collapse. That said, the downside to overt individualism is the danger of self isolation. That is to say, when true individuals only concern themselves with their personal circumstances and ignore the circumstances of the rest of the world, they eventually set themselves up to be crushed by that world.
Organization on a voluntary basis is not only healthy but vital in the longevity of a society. The more people turn in on themselves and only care about their own general conditions, the easier it is for evil people to do evil things unnoticed. Also, self isolation in the wake of collapse sets individuals up for failure, as no one is capable of surviving without at least some help from a wider pool of knowledge and talents.
In a system based on corruption, the establishment will encourage self isolation as a means to control the populace. Or, they will offer a false choice, between self isolation versus mindless collectivism. The truth is there is always a middle ground. Voluntary organization and individualism are not mutually exclusive. I call this the “difference between community and collectivism.” A community does not supplant the individual, while a collective requires the complete erasure of individual pursuits and thought.
If you find yourself surrounded by people who refuse any organization, even practical and voluntary organization in the face of instability, then your society may be in the latter stages of a collapse.
Even as a crisis or collapse unfolds, if a society actually reels or reacts to it and takes note of the problem, there is hope for that society. If, however, that society willfully ignores the danger and denies it exists when presented with overwhelming evidence, then that society will likely suffer complete disintegration and will probably have to start all over from scratch — hopefully with a set of principles and ideals based on conscience and honor.
The strength of a culture can be measured by its willingness to self reflect. Its survival can be determined by its willingness to accept its flaws when they arise and its willingness to repair the damage done. Self-aware societies are difficult to corrupt or control. Only in denial can people be easily manipulated and enslaved.
If you cannot accept the reality of the abyss, you cannot move to avoid it or prepare yourself to survive the fall. I see this issue as perhaps the single most important element in the fight to save the portions of our society worth saving. Educating people on the blatant facts behind our own national decline can dissolve the wall of denial, and perhaps we will find when disaster strikes that there are far more awake and aware individuals ready to act than we originally thought.