❇️ Luis Cuende

09/10/2022

The West is in ruins

Humankind's adaptability is remarkable, and both our strength and our weakness. Strength because we quickly get used to sub-optimal conditions and adapt, in order to survive and thrive. But also weakness because we get used to great conditions, and suddenly forget the tremendous amount of work that was needed to achieve them.

Boomers have been kicking the can on many topics. From funding a dictator with control over Earth's largest nuclear arsenal, to inaction dealing with climate change, to letting bureaucrats and charlatans capture the governance of most nations.

I was born in Spain, a country that once was prosperous and invented the submarine, the space suit, the Gregorian calendar and the telescope, and was at the avant-garde of movements like anarchism.

When I visit after years living outside, the only meaningful difference I see in Spanish cities is more restaurants serving international cuisine. Oh, and the streets are full of motorbikes serving food delivery and also electric scooters. That's pretty much it.

Today, it would be unimaginable for Spain to invent the submarine. Today, Spanish are regarded as lazy and inventors of the siesta (nap). And don't get me wrong, Europeans (and Spaniards even more so among them) know how to live. Quality of life is still one of the highest in the world. It has beautiful land, amazing food and great people.

But you can see it's decadent. Quality of life was inherited by centuries of work, and it remains great despite today's society, not because of it. You can see fewer and fewer kids on the streets. You can see that the once modern infrastructure built in the 90s is now old and rusty.

You can see that big things don't get done. The most important landmarks in most European cities have been built centuries ago. The most incredible buildings in Spain remain cathedrals, with incredibly complex structures, luxurious materials and a care for detail that doesn't exist today.

One could argue that they were so grandiose because they were built by slaves. But that misses the point. The point is that society managed to build grandiose landmarks, not because of slaves, but despite not having a fully dedicated, well-treated workforce.

Imagine what we could built today, with the newer materials and a fairly-treated workforce.

Weirdly enough for the year 2022, we don't live in times of abundance. Even if a proposal to build new infrastructure gets through to the government, political parties then engage in infinite discussions and the proposal eventually drowns in a combination of endless discussions and archaic bureaucracy.

The roads are becoming unsafe and nobody is quite sure why ... [I'm] living in the ruins of a once great civilization (California)
Marc Andreessen compares California to Rome circa 250 A.D.
Andreessen and other tech industry leaders have lamented the social problems persisting in the Bay Area, including a housing affordability crisis. 
Icon from https://fortune.com/2022/10/04/marc-andreessen-california-rome-las-vegas-new-york/https://fortune.com/2022/10/04/marc-andreessen-california-rome-las-vegas-new-york/

Society at large has moved into a state of drifting. We cannot agree on anything. There's no common vision of where we are heading. Nations used to come together around common descent, religion and language. With the family unit being eroded, as well as language (by globalization) and religion, what remains to unite a nation?

When there's nothing to unite society, societal unrest grows until society finds a scapegoat to blame. Once there's a common scapegoat, society unites again. After all, enemies can become friends once they find a common enemy.

In some nations it will be the rich ("we are poor because they steal from us"), in others the immigrants ("we are poor because they steal our jobs"), or even some unlucky arbitrary enemy ("the Jews are destroying our race").

It's almost impossible for a society to come together and formulate the right answer, because it's psychologically hard to formulate the right question. The question people are asking themselves is who is destroying my country?. The question they should be asking is what did we do to destroy our own country?.

Psychologically speaking, very few are capable of taking on the blame and conducting deep introspection.

The answer to the latter question might be:

As a society, we have overlooked our governance systems for too long, let bureaucrats and populists capture them, and kicked the can on difficult discussions and reforms to address long-term issues.

But that is a boring, long answer requiring to take some blame home and do hard work. It's easier to blame it on the wealthy and businessman and tax the hell out of them, or to blame it on those immigrants that are coming to our country to do the work we wouldn't do.

Where do we go from here? Society will keep polarizing, as it keeps trying to find enemies to justify its downfall. One term the enemy will be the patriarchy, the next term the wealthy, the next one the immigrants. Attacking those imaginary enemies won't yield any results to revert the downfall. It will only create more polarization, as factions of society blame and attack each other. And while searching for a common enemy, political parties will radicalize more and more, as society becomes desperate to kill the scapegoat, which will magically make everything great again.

That's why we are seeing pseudo-communist parties co-governing in countries like Spain, and a pseudo-fascist party governing in Italy. This negative feedback loop doesn't end well: at some point, society at large will support unjustified extreme measures, out of pure desperation. There will be a leader that comes along, says all the right words and promises to make things great again, only in exchange for temporarily reduced checks and balances. Sounds familiar? Hitler did that decades ago, and more recently Putin.

There's this say that men would rather kill each other than go to a psychologist. As we have seen from mums supporting Russia's war, it looks like it's not only men but people at large.

And this is why democracy has failed. We don't know how to take the blame as a society, because we don't know how to take the blame as individuals. It's easier to offload the blame.

Why is cancel culture thriving now? Because offloading the blame has been normalized. Social justice warriors have unsettled issues that they would rather offload on society than sort them out in a psychologist.

We don't blame the gods for our misfortune anymore, but we blame the system as an ethereal untouchable entity. Surprise, the system is us. We fucked up. Some more than others, for sure. I blame boomers more than I blame the youth today. But no one is free from blame.

One we formulate the right question (what did we do to destroy our own country?), the right answers are at reach if we do the hard work.

I too feel like living in the ruins of a once great civilization, and the only thing that makes me optimistic are attempts at re-imagining nation states, like Nation3.

Now, let me give you both amazing news and terrible news.

The amazing news is that we got a shot at re-inventing nation states on the cloud, starting without baggage and being able to ask hard questions. These new-gen nations will eventually acquire land, and we'll be able to live in prosperous lands again.

The terrible news is that, in the meantime, the West (and with it, most of the world) remains in ruins, more and more polarized, and with turbulent times ahead of us. Mismanagement leads to global pandemics and climate change. The search for a scapegoat leads to nuclear war, fascism and communism and increased crime and other dangers.

Humankind is long-term default dead, and not default alive.

Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.

Unfortunately, we are ending a cycle and starting a new one. Life will get more and more difficult, until it thickens the skin of a generation that will then create good times. My only hope is that we will be able to turn this around fast enough, and get back to the good times.

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