*The Decadent Society*

The author is Ross Douthat and the subtitle is How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success.  Excellent book!  It has a real dose of Peter Thiel (and some Tyler Cowen), and most of it comes as fresh material even if you have read all of Ross’s other columns and books.  Imagine the idea of technological stagnation tied together with a conservative Catholic critique of decadence, and in a convincing manner with a dose of pro-natalism tossed in for good measure.  There is commentary on Star Wars, Back to the Future, Jordan Peterson, and much more.

America’s problems are not what you think they are!

Definitely recommended, due out February, and you can pre-order here.


The only crisis I see is a rejection of capitalism, as advocated by Keynes, which results in artificial capital scarcity to drive up monopoly profits and rent seeking.

But the opposition to capitalism, the building of capital, as public policy, does not prevent individuals from engaging in extreme capitalism.

My space age dreams are finally being realized after the conservative driven winter by SpaceX and Blue Origin, among others. Bezos partners with "establishment" players, but drives them to their limits with extreme investment in integration and unique capital. Musk sees the establishment as outdated or plain obsolete and builds from scratch fast and nimble.

Between the two, they inspire venture capital to back less ambitious folk creating new space ventures, so new private ventures are bringing space to the masses, most notably map imagery, but other space enabled services to come.

But, the opposition to capitalism is clearest in infrastructure decade which is driving Red America to drugs and despair be disconnecting Red America from the global economy. That means none of the promises of the 60s are realized in Red Amrrica because they can't be produced there, so they must be imported, mostly from Blue America, but at prices too high for most to afford.

If you see even the poor in Blue America able to afford things that are luxury items to even the Red America upper class, like Internet capable of video streaming, and you can't even get the equivalent of dialup internet, it's reasonable to feel left behind or forgotten.

I enjoy your posts because I have no idea where they will take me. I just wish I had left some bread crumbs so I could return home.

This was good. A little overwrought, but good. The blue state VC game does cycle within itself, and while Facebook and smartphones may travel as far as Myanmar, it can be a ragged second or third tier evolution.

It might take policy beyond "what VCs(*) think" to smooth it.

* - or founders

That was paragraphs of nothing.

Your response is also completely content free.

What community college is pumping these anonymous’s and mulps out...

Once again we see Tyler as the status seeking, shill, that he is truly. Ross Douthat is so good, because he works for my employer and me getting more status is all that matters. What bugmen we are that don't shill every day of our lives.

Or maybe he just liked the book.

Evangelicals are drawn to Trump for the same reason they are drawn to the prosperity gospel: the power of positive thinking. Thiel is drawn to Trump, and Christianity, the prosperity gospel version of it, for the same reason. Thiel: "Christians don't just hope for a better world but also hear a call to be active partners in the fulfillment of that hope . . . . One can speculate that Christianity has already had a positive influence on the history of technology because it gave people a forward-looking view of the future, breaking us free from the ancients' conception of history as an endless cycle of good and bad fortune. Since this forward-looking story is far from over, that fundamental orientation toward a future in which our actions matter (rather than a chaotic world in which our actions are eroded away by meaningless chance) is one way in which Christianity can continue to have a deep and positive influence."
How one reaches this view from the apocalyptic teachings of an itinerant preacher in ancient Palestine is, well, something of a miracle.

For those who recall Cowen's conversation with Thiel, who can forget the (knowing) look on Thiel's face when Cowen mentioned gnosticism. "A big-scale social vision of a better future is important partly because it leads individuals to plan their own futures more ambitiously and more consciously than they otherwise would. The huge danger for a society that stops thinking about the future comes when people ratchet down their individual ambitions and thereby bring about the underwhelming results that they expected in the first place." Thiel's version of Christianity or Cowen's version of capitalism?

To be clear, I am a Christian, and I am pleased that Thiel professes the faith. And I am not sufficiently knowing to completely reject a Christianity for the 21st century rather than the first. Maybe if Christ were to return today, He would appoint Thiel as His disciple, and the two of them would preach the message of a future here on Earth that is Paradise, a Paradise built on technology. And a positive attitude.

For those who might wonder why my comment is about Peter Thiel, it's because the cure for Douthat's diagnosis of the current world condition, "civilizational malaise", is the prescription provided by Thiel, a better future here on Earth built on technology and a positive attitude. Indeed, Thiel and Douthat have collaborated in spreading the message.

Here is the link to a discussion among the three amigos (Douthat, Thiel, and N.T. (Tom) Wright, a new testament scholar and Anglican Bishop: http://www.veritas.org/what-is-the-hope-for-humanity-a-discussion-with-peter-thiel-n-t-wright/

Bloomer or Boomer?

What a load of BS ...... Got news for you, Christianity was around for 1700 years before the industrial revolution. That's a damn long incubation period.

But Trump doesn't promote positive thinking or optimism. His message is basically one of anger and revenge. It is a nihilistic vision of a nasty world filled with horrible people and only Trump can protect you from the many forces seeking to corrupt and hurt you. Arguably the Trumpian vision of the world is closer to a traditional American protestant view of the world than Norman Peale style optimism.

At a certain point certain libertarians thought they could finesse that vision, and get what they wanted .. which was also not so good to be honest: less regulation but also less democracy.

"Not all libertarians" of course, but I think it explains those who signed on, or passively accepted.

TDS is a horrible and intrusive disease that impedes the ability of it's victims to enjoy or explore anything.

We have to find a cure before it's sufferers (aka the losers in 2016) collapse in crippling despair.

Let us pray for their tortured souls.

TDS is what Trump has got, no? We can distinguish that from the disease afflicting his followers, which is racism. What malady other than racism is capable of turning tens of millions of Americans into malign morons?

Trump was greatly influenced by Norman Vincent Peale, the family minister and close friend. The power of positive thinking and the prosperity gospel are two of the same thing. What evangelicals hear when they listen to Trump is what Peale taught Trump: focus on a positive image of the self. Trump is a narcissist, who practices the religion of narcissism. Likewise, the prosperity gospel (Joel Osteen et al.) teaches one to focus on a positive image of the self. Secularists are confounded that evangelicals are the strongest supporters of Trump. It's bloody obvious.

The prosperity gospel is essentially nonexistent outside of Judaism and black Pentecostalism.

You’re making bs up again rayward.

So Joel Ostein is a black Pentacostal? Who knew?

Trump evinces positive thinking? Huh? Unlike Reagan who was a sunny optimist, Trump just seems permanently POed about something.

"a conservative Catholic critique of decadence": I giggled and I'm not a giggler. He's a member of a church that hews to the habits of the decadent classes of Late Antiquity, for heaven's sake. Or, rather, not for heaven's sake.

That's a good line regarding decadent religion.

Martin Luther wasn't completely woke, but he moved the ball down the field. More congregational equality, less incense. More individual search, less proclamation.

And that's what paved the way for the Nordic worldview.

As opposed to billionaires buying figurative bishopships in a more Catholic church electronic?

To blend in Raymond's theme.

Were congregations "more equal" under Protestantism? It seems like it transfers more power to senior males in the congregation, from priests, not really a move to equality. (More to the conditions that prevail under patriarchal religion - Islam, Judaism, Confucianism).

And what "Nordic worldview"? - "The findings of this paper suggest that at the end of the nineteenth century, the Gini coefficient for gross family income in Norway was between 50-60 per cent ... an apparently Latin American value" (http://ftp.iza.org/dp10574.pdf). Nordic conditions are recent, and the result of political bargaining and small, homogenous states, not much to do with Protestantism.

Arguably. Women had a greater voice in Catholicism than in Protestantism: Hildegard von Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Heloise, etc. And that's just a few. Who are the prominent pre-modern Protestant women? Anne Askew, who was martyred in part for being too uppity, Anne Hutchinson (also came to as bad end), Napoleonic evangelist Julie de Krudner. Anyone else?

That's my opinion as well. I've heard Douthat interviewed numerous times and listen to the NY Times podcast "The Argument" every week. His Catholic approach to things is grating. I semi-respect the Jesuits for their educational efforts but belief in 'magical thinking' (e.g., the Trinity) is just too bizarre. Douthat falls in the same category.

Existence is bizarre.

One can see why trinitarian theology would be bizarre to some people since it's gotten out of the New Testament, and using that as one's premises for one's reasoning might seem bizarre.

The end point of trinitarian theology is a fully equipped platonic 'Nous', or God of the Philosophers, not gotten from 'natural reason', but from 'revealed truth' or the Bible.

Thinking that a man deploying his 'natural reason' about God, or Nature, be able to get anything actually right about God or Nature, is what is bizarre, and Trinitarian theology, or something like it, is necessary to make the efficacy of human reason with regards to God or Nature, not impossible to believe in. Especially, if in regards to Nature, one doesn't have a long string of previous successes that can get one to believe in it by induction, which is a more than a bit ludicrous in itself.

Bless your heart, Sweetie.

"The Catholic Church" as handmaiden for European science, industry and growth seems rather recently overrated (one recent paper in mind).

Yet moving religious and intellectual authority away from dynasty building men seems a positive, in the round. (Protestantism an archaic throwback, here).

And better "late Antique elites", with both the extremes of monasticism and ostentatious ceremony, than a freakish hybrid of Dutch burgher and Biblical patriarch.

Aw c'mon, why leave out all the papists' popery and their romish superstition. Can't you do better than that weak effeort?

If u want to observe the soul of the Church... study the lives of the Saints. Decadence is something you won’t find in them. What you will find there is self-sacrificial service... the essence of the life of our Lord. Your giggles reveal your shrill and ignorance of the Catholic faith...

As a "cradle" one of those, is the solution to decadence going to involve listening to men in red capes, who gift each other personalised gold rings as signs of authority and affection, go on rants about homosexuality?

Maybe. Glad you brought up the red capes. That's super important.

It's certainly possible that America's problems are not what I think, but it's even more likely that they are not what Ross Douthat - a guy who first came to notice by writing about how he failed to learn anything at Harvard, even how to read the course guide - thinks. I can only assume that Tyler is trying hard to be "Straussian" when he posts such obvious nonsense.

I'm no wordsmith but: 1. What's the difference between a "real dose" and a "dose"? 2. I can't imagine how one would critique decadence. It seems no different than critiquing crime or illness. All futile exercises in bloviation.

Rhen, why have we waged wars against crime and cancer? Would you rather surrounder?!

But does anybody "critique" crime or cancer?

I think the point is that "decadence" is an inherently negative term, and thus it's not useful to "critique" it. This is not an argument you need to make, since nobody favors "decadence" (if they favor the thing that you label decadence, they will call it something else).

Crime is wrong. Cancer is bad. We should not forget why we fight. As President Xi says, Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blunders in its exploitation.

Not trying to throw a punch here, but Ross seems to suggest that higher birth rates would be better, Tyler has suggested that the status of mothers should be raised, and Steven Pinker wrote a book about humanity becoming less violent - and yet, to my knowledge, they have a total of zero biological children.

Having a child is a deeply personal decision and there can be all sorts of setbacks. Likewise, one can become a parent through marriage as Tyler has.

But, in a soft sense, encouraging parenthood vaguely resembles the Saturday Night Live skit where potential martyrs try to convince each other to be the next suicide bomber.

Douthat referred to having children in his conversation with Tyler:


This post made my decision to visit this tired blog again. I have been spending too much time courting a gorgeous Thai grandmother. I won't date childless women, they don't get it. Parents share an understanding of commitment, self-sacrifice, and unconditional love that only they can know.

I wouldn't trade the loving Thai grandmother for all the fit "adventurous successful professional looking for a man who can keep up with me" single 40 year olds in yoga pants on Tinder.

Yeah, I can't keep up with the 40 years olds anymore either.

Let’s see. Being married and having children is a good thing, (not to the point that non-married or married with fewer than two children should be shamed, but a good thing?) Yep. I’m just not aware of who Douthat thinks he is arguing against.

David Benatar?


OK, you found one. Was he worth a book?

Many people think declining marriage rates and increasing divorce rates have been a good thing. They are, of course nuts. Some people will respond to this post with how it's a good thing how we are not a forced to be trapped in bad marriages like in the bad old days when fonzerellis roamed the earth. Of course, they will be nuts.

In the US at least divorce rates have been decreasing.

But the age at which you marry has gone up, underscoring important changes in how people approach early adulthood and pair bonding.

I like Ross Douthat, but I can't help but wonder how his perfectly natural and correct reverence for life led him to become contemporary culture's chief cheerleader for "natalism" rather than for life on the planet as a whole. This to me represents a narrowing, a step backward. If somehow granted his faith, I think it would orient me in the same direction I turned, long ago, in a true conversion period away from my family, towards conservation, which means for me the preservation of nature and other living things rather than always wanting more human beings at the expense of all other values.

To know that he cares passionately about life ... but to find that in practice that becomes ... using his pulpit to promote an expanded child tax credit (!) ... fits equally well with two views, one of which Douthat finds anathema, although I don't: religion reduced to being *merely* (to him) a "socially useful" shadow of itself [that is to say, religion fulfilling its primary function of orienting society]. The other is assuming that humanity has an intrinsic value* transcending all other forms of life. I have evangelical friends as fervently pro-life as Douthat could hope for, given that they have (like I believe Douthat himself) only two children though they have cheerfully entered into the care of the children of others less prudent with regards to birth control, like birds looking after cuckoo's eggs. I grapple with my distaste for such charity - I know that they are better people than me, but I also know they are enabling the socially-detrimental behavior of those far worse than themselves. At the same time they are ultimately indifferent to the welfare of the environment, other living things. They've as much as said, though politely, why should we care about nature? We are going to heaven.

This, to me, is the true legacy of Gnosticism, which is an integral part of Judeo-Christian religions: the promise of secret knowledge in a secret world, and distaste for the real world, which is considered corrupt, expendable. Those who love the world are condemned. I admire Douthat's sincere faith, but when I weigh what he does and doesn't care about I feel that his beliefs are in part heretical.

*Humanism: sure, the sun that warms us, one of those impossible-to-define words - like liberalism - "everything that's good." Yes, we make better paintings than animals do. You can easily exaggerate our importance, though. Did not Shakespeare think it was worth knowing the names of all the flowers around Stratford?

I'm not certain I understand the concept of "decadence" used in any context other than a decline of work ethic. As a system integrator who often puts in 12 hours a day at customer sites, I find the very idea that I could possibly be "decadent" to be down right insulting.

So I guess the political is the personal in your case?

Unless your idea of non-decadence or normality is exclusively made up of the protestant work ethic, I think you can be a hard working person and still be decadent. For instance, by engaging in a lifelong accumulation of stuff for its own sake, so that your family has to discard a big pile of stuff after you die.

Having just read the description of his book, I would say that Douthat may be right in a societal context. Most people around me don't have the same work ethic as I do. However, Douthat being Douthat, probably prescribes some sort of religion as the antidote. I prefer libertarian transhumanism.

You know, when you know what you want out of life and have a personal long term vision quest, you really don't need any kind of external force, like religion, to drive you along. You're quite capable of driving yourself along. People like Douthat seem to forget that there are actually a fair number of people like this.

The only question is, what to do with everyone else in the world that is not self-driven like yourself.

"Catholic critique of decadence" LOLOLOLOLOLOL

Having thought about this, I'm not certain I share Douthat's pessimism. Government institutions have certainly declined (NASA, etc.). But private entities seems to be picking up the slack. SpaceX has developed semi-reusable rockets, something NASA have never accomplished. There are a boat-load of well-funded start-ups in both advanced (Gen IV) fission as well as fusion power development. Then there is a rapidly growing number of both profit and non-profit entities working on anti-aging life extension. Lessor talked about technologies such as 3-D printing (additive manufacturing) technologies continue their incremental development.

So, no, I'm not certain that our society has become so decadent that we no longer pursue development of new technologies.

<iAmerica’s problems are not what you think they are!

Indeed. The real problem is the Chosenite takeover

“There is commentary on Star Wars, Back to the Future, Jordan Peterson”

In a row? Sounds like a Kevin Smith movie.

Jack London thought societies decline when they become hedonistic. Totalitarians like to impose discipline akin to morality. Orwell thought ruling classes have to have a strict morality, a quasi-religious belief in itself, a mystique to endure. Personally, I think the growth in homosexuality and transgender is a sign. The mentally ill are being pandered to. At the same time, the welfare state is manufacturing poor, ignorant and violent people and destroying the family structure.

In his Social and Cultural Dynamics, his magnum opus, Sorokin classified societies according to their 'cultural mentality', which can be "ideational" (reality is spiritual), "sensate" (reality is material), or "idealistic" (a synthesis of the two). He suggested that major civilizations evolve from an ideational to an idealistic, and eventually to a sensate mentality. Each of these phases of cultural development not only seeks to describe the nature of reality, but also stipulates the nature of human needs and goals to be satisfied, the extent to which they should be satisfied, and the methods of satisfaction. Sorokin has interpreted the contemporary Western civilization as a sensate civilization, dedicated to technological progress and prophesied its fall into decadence and the emergence of a new ideational or idealistic era.

Pitirim Sorokin

One might check out "From Plato to NATO" by David Gress. He states that Liberty, tempered with morality and religion, serves the interest of power which leads to prosperity and freedom for all. He notes that we in The West are at a crossroads and the opposition, mostly leftist, is heartily trying to destroy that Liberty. The last two chapters are engrossing and speaks to modern times and issues. Smug liberal academics need not bother as it will have no effect on you. He exposes those preaching dogma as science.

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