I have long wondered how, after centuries of great civilizations, such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the western world could have then retreated into the “dark ages”. Population declined, especially in urban centers, there was less trade, and a decided lack of literary and cultural output.
Reading Timothy Egan’s opinion piece “Building a Nation of Know-Nothings” made me think of this. Egan talks about the growing number of people who not only believe easily disproved lies, but who don’t seem to care about the truth. As he concludes:
It’s one thing to forget the past, with predictable consequences, as the favorite aphorism goes. But what about those who refuse to comprehend the present?
So what do you think? Are we entering another dark ages? The second collapse of western civilization? The triumph of dogma over reality?
Personally, I just hope the world (or at least, especially, the US) will wake the hell up sometime, preferably soon, and get back on track. That said, most of the developed world seems to be progressing, if a bit slowly, but nonetheless. We’re constantly improving our scientific knowledge and technological mastery and opening up new frontiers.
In other words, there’s ample evidence to suggest both: That the (growing) fringes will remain fringes whilst the rest of the world moves on, or that we’re just screwed.
I choose to hope for a better future.
In know that this article and your posting specifically stated “Western” civilization. But I think we may have a constrained view of civilization, as well as history. The middle ages (including the “dark ages”) were definitely a period of population decline and social depravity. But during that same period of time, in parts of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia the reverse was occurring. These were, perhaps ironically, the areas controlled by Arabs/Moslems/Moors. Indeed, modern Western civilization owes a great debt to Arabs and Moslems for saving many of the Western world’s libraries from both the marauders and the Catholic Church (including many of the scrolls that later came to be included in the modern Bible). Neither the Renaissance nor the Reformation would have been possible had it not been for this.
There’s a great exhibit I hope to be able to see (hopefully it makes its way here to Boston) called 1001 Inventions that focuses on Arab/ Moslem civilization primarily during the Middle Ages. You can read more about it here: http://1001inventions.com/.
Anyway, my point being that the potential fall of our own empire does not necessarily mean the end of the world. If history repeats itself, it doesn’t even mean the end of Western civilization.
The second collapse of Western civilization? I think that’s a tad hyperbolic, considering we don’t see the same level of demagoguery and ignorance in other Western nations. I think “The collapse of America as we know it?” is a more appropriate discussion. Also, I am slightly perplexed that you wondered – for any length of time – how the dark ages came about. We know exactly how the dark ages came about, and we know exactly what the driving force was behind that environment of widespread suspicion and ignorance. I think quite a few parallels can be drawn between then and now, but I’ll focus on one: the requisite mindset for believing in falsehoods.
It’s important to note the disparity between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to questions of Obama’s religion or status as a citizen. Obviously, those who would rather see Obama out of office are more likely to subscribe to negative beliefs about him. These negative beliefs help alleviate the cognitive dissonance that I’m sure many McCain voters would otherwise experience. (“Wait, Obama HASN’T raised my taxes?”) Once someone accepts that he IS our president and that he DOES want what’s best for this country, that person would probably be more amenable to discussing policy rather than presidential legitimacy.
Unfortunately, that mindset doesn’t fit in with the political strategy of ad hominem demonization that the right has embraced. These latest statistics exposing the ignorance of the American people really aren’t that surprising. They’re certainly disturbing, but not surprising once you accept the simple premise that people believe what they want to believe, regardless of verisimilitude (yes, I got to use that word!). As long as people are fearful and vulnerable, and as long as they give credence to those who exploit their fears for political gain, we are going to see these types of statistics. As for the downfall of our country? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Starluna had a great point. The Middle Ages were the Dark Ages for Christendom, partly because they were physically remote and communicatively isolated from other parts of the world. With all of our modern conveniences (e.g., email, cell phones, air travel, cars), these same conditions do not hold.
Society will never be perfect and will never progress at a pace that will satisfy those of us on the left. Yes, marriage equality will exist in the U.S. Yes, freedom of religion will be fully afforded to Muslims and atheists. We’ll probably even have a Buddhist U.S. president…at some point. None of this will happen today or any time soon. But as time goes on and people learn that their fears are ungrounded, society will move forward.
Progress is messy, but it is inevitable.
Interesting post, and along the same lines of what I wrote today…
Perhaps there is too much doom and gloom right now. As long as the percentage of people lacking common sense is in the small minorities we should be ok. However there is a chance that the “flat earth” crowd will prevail as long as the democrats (including obama) remain indecisive. They had a overwhelming majority in early 2009 and while they faced extremely strong headwinds this majority should have given them enough cajones to pass a proper HCR bill, reform our economy and deal with the two costly wars. This indecisiveness is a sign of weakness that the wild eyed fringe of the republican party has pounced upon. Like a wild animal smelling blood they are going for the kill and unless the democrats show some fight they will clearly succumb and then we can panic.
I know it is popular to paint the democrats as deserving of their expected fate, because they were indecisive and didn’t fight back hard enough. But how much of this reported indecisiveness has been manufactured by the media? I look at the legislative achievements of the Obama administration, and they have accomplished far more than past presidents (including most Republican presidents). Is that indecisive?
On the other hand, I really enjoy the few democrats who are wholeheartedly playing office, and wish there were more of them.
(As a side note, I have great admiration for the Islamic and Oriental cultures, which kept much of human knowledge alive during the Christian dark ages.)
The only reason there have been so many achievements when compared to previous admins is because the dems have enjoyed a clear majority. If the numbers had been skewed ever so slightly towards the republicans in both the house an senate could this admin have achieved as much? Even then the inability to sway so called democrats like ben nelson has had, I would say, severe consequences. While I admire Obama’s intelligence and applaud his achievements I am disheartened that he has not been able to bring ALL democrats together in a time of great need. While Obama appeared to give a mixed message about the mosque Harry Reid is clearly against the mosque. While Obama wants to get rid of the tax cuts for certain incomes some democrats want to keep it. I call indecisiveness. It began with Ben Nelson and will likely result in a sub par election in november. After all, even if some of the democrats messages are the right ones, why would the population want to re-elect them if not all democrats are on the same page? As for the media, the only media network that has manufactured indecisiveness has been fox. The fact that this admin has succumbed to the guiles of fox shows the inexperience in the admins political team.
“In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.” Mark Twain.
“You wake up every morning, and you know that kids are getting a really crappy education right now.” Michelle Rhee, Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools
“Either kids are getting stupider every year, or something is wrong in the education system.” Geoffrey Canada, Education Reformer.
“Among 30 developed countries, we rank 26th in math, 21st in science; in almost every category we’ve fallen behind. Except for one: kids from the USA rank number one in confidence.” http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/
The intellectual decline seems limited to the USA. Our people DO need to learn how to comprehend the present.
Indecisiveness is one way to look at it. Deliberativeness, nuance, and compromise are another way. Obama was never indecisive about the mosque near ground zero–he supports the right for private citizens to build it on their property, but he doesn’t personally endorse it. Is that indecisive? Do you have to plainly be for it or against it?
Ever since 1980, we’ve been choosing decisiveness over indecisiveness, and so instead of Jimmy Carter who told us the truth about our overconsumption or Walter Mondale who told us the truth about how much taxes would have to increase to close the budget deficit, we’ve elected one Reagan Republican after another, who told us whatever the hell we wanted to hear. And so instead of electing more honest progressives, the public decides to ‘punish the democrats’ by staying home on election day. Instead of uniting, we divide our vote. This, my friends, is how President Palin will be elected.
RE: The American Dark Ages Cometh; Posted: 29 Aug 2010 12:09 PM PDT
I have a bunch of people who send me “forwards.” I always attempt to verify if it is true or not and if false to respond to the sender accordingly, with my source. Recently I received the infamous “Obama crotch salute.” I checked it out several places and it was proven (with documentation and video clips) to be false. I wrote back. The reply? “You believe what you want to believe and I will believe what I want to.”
Thanks for having this conversation. After “Savonarola” Beck’s last Saturday, I was very frustrated at the lack of response published in on-line news feeds. Any intelligent response to any of these right-wing demagogues seems to be buried several layers down and you have to know where to look. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Robert Grave’s great “I, Claudius” and “Claudius the god … ” On reflection, things could be worse. I don’t think we’ve resorted to physical poisonings to get rid of threats — but we are deep in poisonings of the mind. PLEASE, keep making your voices of reason heard!
I don’t think it’s indecisiveness or deliberativeness, I believe Obama’s achilles heal is devisiveness. He is the ultimate politician as could be seen in his rise to power and verified in his ability to get HCR passed. However, the method he is using to get things passed is to divide and put opponents on the “outside”. Desenting dems do not want to be on the outside, and the few that played hardball, like Nelson caused alot of potential problems for October.
When he stopped engaging the republican politicians and ordinary citizens who were not exactly supportive of his policies, he failed to differentiate between congress and ordinary folk. This has strengthened groups like the tea party and cast off moderate dems. I saw it again in the immigration issues. The majority opinion was not where the president was, and instead of attempting to draw them in, he divided them out. He does not, in my opinion, seem to grasp that ordinary moderate repubs, inds, and dems are not politicians and would and did vote for him. He will unfortunately find out they are still voters this October.
He is a gifted orator and politician, but a novice in leading from a standpoint that as president he is the leader of all Americans, just not progressive dems. The rest of us need to know we are being heard and cared for if he is to be successful. Right now, that is not being percieved as the reality.
Ok, now I’m confused. I mostly hear Obama being attacked because he spent too much time and effort courting the Republicans. Now you’re saying that he purposely divided them out?
I guess that’s what being a moderate means in this country — you get attacked by everyone. No wonder we have so few moderate politicians here.
No IK, the left says that, not the middle or middle right. They (middle, middle right) say he spends too much time courting the left middle and far left.
The media is the real problem, there are far left and far right media poles, nothing in between. So all Presidents will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Iron Knee, I have been following your website for a few years now and love it. I initially followed it to keep up with the late night monologues, but the entries in between are so succinct and to the point. Keep doing what you’re doing, it is very much appreciated here!
As for this entry, I actually crafted an opening argument for a debate that I will be in tomorrow based on forgotten history. I completely agree and am sick of the repetition of people forgetting the past.
PatriotSGT – I disagree that there is no media between the fringes. You should try PBS for TV news. The News Hour, The Nightly Business Report, Washington Week, Frontline, etc are some of the best and most balanced sources of information you can get on TV. Cable and broadcast media is mostly fluff, crap, and fluffy crap.
Thanks Starluna, I ‘ve been having a hard time finding real news.
I’ld like to shift the conversation, using as the underlying assumption that, in a representative republic, you get the leaders you deserve.
Fixing the leadership, I think, it missing the point about the long, slow, slough into an American dark ages.
What we need to do is fix the electorate (and reform how elections/campaigns are held/financed). Instead of looking to our leaders–media or politics–and pointing blame, we need to see those other three fingers in our hands. We need to fix us. All of us.
What have *you* done to fight the dumbing down of your friends, family, neighbors? What tricks do *you* use to combat the lies and manipulations?
If we don’t want to be relegated to the proverbial ash-heap, then it’s time and past time that we act to prevent it. But figuring out what to do can be tricky, so, why don’t we share our tricks / suggestions to encourage knowledgeable, critical debate focused on improving our society as a whole. Why don’t we talk about how we disprove the lies?
(@ZJD I had an English teacher in high school with a fascination with that word–he would have been delighted to see you use it.)
(@Salaam Bhatti and Starluna–thanks for remembering that there’s more to the history of ideas than just a long series of footnotes to Plato!)
Real News: AP news at http://start.localnet.com/
And Christian Science Monitor csm.com