For years, I was puzzled as to why the Roman Empire ceased to exist and was replaced by communities that were uncivilized by comparison. How and why could mankind’s progress reverse in this way? Recent experience has eliminated the mystery. No special devastating event was needed; the cause of Rome’s demise was simply the loss of its people’s desire to support their ‘empire’ and its underlying values. And as it was 1,500 years or so ago, so I fear it is now.
The Covid-19 crisis – specifically, the reaction to it – demonstrates that people have grown bored, detached, and easily impressionable by things that have nothing to do with the roots of their society. We are all – or too many of us – fin de siècle Romans now.
The widespread opinion that everything, including economies, must be sacrificed to beat coronavirus is a revival of medieval witch hunts; the sacrifice seems more important than finding an effective method to deal with the problem.
Our increasingly decadent mass culture has gradually become more ideological and openly opposed to the values Western civilization is based upon. And while it boasts of being ‘counter-culture’ and independent, it’s acquired a monopoly over almost all the information channels that determine opinions, including mainstream media and political parties.
Our leaders have become sucked into this group-thinking and happily institute policies that unleash shutdowns that may cause the worst recession in history. Thousands of businesses are closing and long-term prospects are bleak.
Governments are stepping in to pay wages and fund other services. As tax revenue will be virtually non-existent, public debt will soar. Some governments may default on their debts or resort to printing money, causing soaring inflation. These countries may be unable to fund healthcare, their police or their military, and be so weakened they will be invaded by others and be erased from the world map.
That may be a worst-case scenario, but it’s almost certain that the impact of the shutdowns will be a recession comparable to the Great Depression. Yet what do most Western citizens make of it? Well, they are either unaware, uncaring, or they’re happy about it. They don’t seem to appreciate the consequent dangers. Instead, they are more obsessed with the latest celebrity who’s caught the virus.
The consumers of this mass culture haven’t built anything like what our ancestors did – enlightenment, the theory of relativity, parliamentary democracy, industrialisation, major advances in philosophy, science, literature and engineering. They don’t have to defend any real values against a tangible enemy, because hiding in a herd with uniform group-think is good enough for them.
Our ancestors had difficult, short lives; they had to work hard, produce enough to survive, fight enemies, and defend what they’d inherited. Numerous lasting values emerged from those efforts. The current generations of Westerners are good only at producing and escalating irrationality and panic.
Immortality as an entitlement
I have used some dramatic prose, so let me be clear: the scenario I’ve outlined – ending in the suicide of the West – is avoidable, and I hope and believe it will be. I know some who are willing to fight for its survival.
But even if this acceleration towards shutdowns is reversed and countries restore their pre-virus businesses, our world won’t be the same. Many people will conclude that the crisis was exciting, and try to kickstart a repetition. The curfew is likely to reduce CO2 emissions this year, so climate activists may try for similar results in the future. Terrorists may deploy some new disease – which, after all, is likely to be more effective than any stabbing or bombing.
It’s conceivable that the West’s brush with mortality will lead people to regain some common sense and survival instincts. Perhaps several nations going bankrupt will be a wake-up call. Maybe people will realise that the reaction to the coronavirus was disproportionate. But even if that is so, I’m afraid it won’t be enough.
We need to accept that the positive relationship of Westerners to the roots of their civilization will be still missing – and that this is a virus that poses a much more fundamental existential threat than Covid-19.