[Editor’s note: This post is the first entry by the Times’ newest contributor and friend of the blog Halifax Shadow! I’m sure that all of our readers will join me in welcoming him aboard!]
“Why are the cattle on a common so puny and stunted? Why is the common itself so bare-worn, and cropped so differently from the adjoining enclosures?” – William Lloyd Forster, in 1832
I’m sure that most readers are familiar with the “tragedy of the commons.” This concept is a simple one that describes a situation in which a resource that is to be used for profit and is un-owned tends to be overused, potentially to a breaking point. Furthermore, the resource will be under-invested, as any improvements made to it will provide returns for the common good and not for the specific individual(s) making the investment.
As an example of this, we’ve recently heard serious allegations regarding the complicity of Purdue Pharmaceuticals and the Sackler family in aggressively pushing opioid prescriptions – up to and including knowingly encouraging doctors and pharmacies who were moving irregular amounts of the product (likely to addicted people) to move even more. This opioid epidemic – which claimed 130 American lives per day in 2017 – is the greatest drug crisis America has ever seen.
Western civilisation is vulgar. By that, I don’t just mean that it is boorish, coarse, and offensive (though it certainly is these things), but rather that it is common. Plebeian, if you will. The drive to egalitarianism which has plagued the West since 1775 has created in Western man a desire to debase himself. America – founded as it is upon the spurious principle that all men are created equal – has led the pack in the decline to the bottom. It is in the United States, especially, that the lowest common denominator is exalted in every area of life – the social, the political, the religious.
Sadly, this absurd view of equality has not encouraged Americans (or other Westerners, for that matter) to better themselves or to pursue equality by raising themselves to the level at which they would become worthy of admiration and esteem. Quite the opposite has been the case, and this debasement has been coupled with any ever-present drive to expand the number of lowest common denominator people who are allowed to exercise political power through voting, which has further eroded what remained of decent civil society. Indeed, our political leaders seem to be actively abetting this degeneration of our societies by importing massive numbers of low-IQ third worlders and rushing them into political participation as quickly as possible. At exactly the time when our nations need better citizens, we are only getting more, and more active, ones.
Of the many pathologies which afflict the modern Western world, one of the most pernicious is the soullessness of Western economic life. The essence of modernity, from an economic point of view, is to work for a repetitive eight hours a day so we can then go home and sit in front of a television for eight more, or else go out to the mall and buy useless junk that we don’t really need. Many in our societies recognise this problem, but feel powerless to do anything about it. We feel locked in, chained to a system which maximises “economic growth” and minimises our humanity. We have no choice but to feed the relentless machine of “progress” by offering ourselves as sacrifices to the great god Mammon.
Modern Western man finds himself in the grip of monergocapitalism – the inexorable, undivided will of the economic imperative. Many may be familiar with the Calvinistic theological position of monergism, which essentially posits that God will work through His Holy Spirit to bring about the regeneration of individuals whom He chooses, regardless of their actual cooperation with Him. The term comes from the Greek mono (“one, single”) + ergon (“to work”). Essentially, God’s action AND will alone (as it is often applied) are involved in the theological process of salvation. By analogy, economic monergocapitalism follows the same line – the only acts and will that matter are those of the capitalist imperative, the “invisible hand” that drives all transactions, all goals, all desires, all purposes. All economic life is ever more centralised, ever more monopolistic, ever more fitted into the same mold. To attempt to hinder in any way the progress of this economic imperative is to be a regressive, to be a heretic and a reprobate. Everything must be subsumed under the economic will, even the very essence of human life itself. We in the West have indeed reached the point where the human body itself, even that of the unborn child, is subject to dismantlement and sale to the highest bidder. Likewise with the human soul, captured by the vapid entertainments and propaganda of a society which enslaves the mind to the plasma screen TV.
What we see going on with respect to this monergocapitalism is an extension of the larger and more overall tyranny over mankind of “technique” which was discussed by Jacques Ellul in his book The Technological Society. In it, he discusses the role which technique (which extends far beyond mere machine technology) and its advancement plays in dominating human society ever more thoroughly. Technique is, essentially, any means by which any realm of the human life is regulated, systematised, and organised in what we might call “inorganic” ways. Mankind has always had technology and methods of organising his life, and had even had fitful starts at systematic science. However, it is only since the late 18th century (i.e. coinciding with the full efflorescence of “Enlightenment” thought) that human industry and life began to be dominated by “technique” in such a way that “progress” became formalised as a social aim and the function of economic competition became enshrined as the single acceptable driving force in society, with all others such as religion and morality being shunted to the side as “not useful.” Both man and machines were subordinated to the drive for economic improvement and advancement.