Friday, November 8, 2013

Cultural Death Wish

Back in early February 2012 I wrote a three-part piece on Why Civilizations Die. The short version is: Civilizations die when the culture no longer has a will to survive.
Civilization—with a capital C—is an ideal. It may be neglected, ignored, left alone. But the concept itself is eternal and undying. So when we say civilization is dying, we’re saying a particular culture, or group of people, that may have qualified as civilized relatively recently, is dying out and disappearing.
In September I mentioned some reasons for considering Russia’s Slavic culture as dying. Some of the data came from the author of a book called Implosion: The End of Russia and What It Means for America, by Ilan Berman. At that point, I was writing from information from a radio interview with the author. The book finally showed up at my local library, so I’m adding to that discussion with a few more details from the book.
Here’s a summary of the decline:
Russia is dying. Russia is undergoing a catastrophic post-Soviet societal decline due to abysmal health standards, runaway drug addiction, and an AIDS crisis that officials have termed an “epidemic.” The population of the Russian Federation is declining by close to half a million souls every year due to death and emigration. At this rate, the once-mighty Russian state could lose a quarter of its population by the middle of this century. And according to some projections, if Russia’s demographic trajectory does not change, its population could plummet to as little as fifty-two million people by 2080. It’s a phenomenon demographers have described as “the emptying of Russia”—a wholesale implosion of Russia’s human capital and a collapse of its prospects as a viable modern state (pp. 10-11).
There’s a rather short three-generation pattern for civilization demise. If you’ll recall the words of J. D. Unwin, who studied the role of monogamy in civilizations throughout world history:
If, during or just after a period of [cultural] expansion, a society modifies its sexual regulations, and a new generation is born into a less rigorous [less monogamous] tradition, its energy decreases…. If it comes into contact with a more vigorous society, it is deprived of its sovereignty, and possibly conquered in its turn…. The results should begin to emerge in the third generation.[i]
That does seem to be happening in Russia. Simultaneous with the severe demographic decline is the ethnic and religious transformation from Slavic Christian to Muslim. According to Berman, “Muslims are on track to account for a fifth of the country’s population by the end of this decade [by 2020], and a majority by mid-century (p. 11).” Compounding this demographic change is a xenophobic effort to keep the growing minority as an underclass, which pretty much guarantees separation rather than assimilation (p. 33).
The collapse of the Russian family is at the core of the decline:
In 1958, divorces in the USSR were virtually nonexistent—just 0.9 per one thousand citizens. By the end of the 1970s, that rate had risen slightly to 3.6 per one thousand. But Soviet-era restrictions on individual mobility, coupled with widespread economic hardship, helped keep most families together.
By contrast, the past two decades of freewheeling capitalism and post-Communist disorder have coincided with a collapse of the Russian family. According to the UN’s 2011 Demographic Yearbook, Russia now has the highest divorce rate in the world, with half of all unions ending in divorce (and 60 percent of those dissolving within the first decade.)… Nuclear families with multiple children are quickly becoming an endangered species in Russia (p. 19).
What does “freewheeling capitalism” mean, and why is that a negative thing? In Russia, corruption is rampant. There’s the kind of uncertainty you find in the Spherical Model southwestern quadrant—chaos of organized crime, economic takeover by the biggest and strongest. Freedom to enjoy the fruits of your work requires limited government that protects property rights. (See Wednesday’s post.) Russia, by contrast, has “organized corruption on a staggering scale”:
According to a February 2013 study by research group Global Financial Integrity (GFI), Russia lost more than $200 billion in illicit financial outflows stemming from crime, corruption, and tax evasion between 1994 and 2011. All told, the study estimates “the size of Russia’s underground economy—which includes, among other things, drug smuggling, arms trafficking, and human trafficking—are a massive 46% of GDP” over that period (p. 72).
On the surface, Putin’s regime is attacking this corruption, but that doesn’t reflect a systemic, internal change: “Indeed, the very foundations of Putin’s state—and, by extension, his hold on power—rely on loyalty that is secured through informal dealings and graft. Without them, the Putin government’s hold on power would quickly loosen” (p. 73).
These are not random factors; they’re all cultural factors. On the Spherical Model, we can see what leads to thriving civilization: living God’s laws, starting with the Ten Commandments—with honesty, honoring family, including honoring parents and fidelity to spouse, and valuing life standing out.
It might be that Russia is already in its death throes. But with God nothing is impossible. I don’t know how the nation can solve all of its problems (other than massive personal religious conversion). But I am certain that no authoritarian regime can do it—attempts to encourage marriage and childbearing notwithstanding (p. 24 mentions the “mother’s capital” program to encourage childbearing). Living the principles of civilization by individuals, and individual families, in large enough numbers to become a critical mass, is the only cure for the cancer.
Russia is something like a failing uncle in the European family—aging, addicted to alcohol, often non-functional, with such depression and despair that he seems unwilling to take the action necessary to prevent an early death. Only that internal willingness to change—eschewing the self-harming behaviors—can move this enfeebled uncle to get his life back. Many of us are shaking our heads and thinking, it doesn’t look likely.
One concern for us in America, upon the possibly imminent demise of this uncle (this Slavic people), is what happens to his assets (nuclear weapons material), which look like they’ll be taken over by whoever moves into his tenement (people, probably Muslim, that are gaining prominence in the region), especially if that new occupant has radical ill will?
That’s a big question. Another reason for concern about Russia’s imminent demise is as a cautionary tale for us. The US divorce rate, while not quite as high, is too high (70% remain married for life, but the near 50% divorce rate shows a high number of serial divorcers). The abortion rate here, while not as high, is too high. Our birthrate is right at replacement level of 2.1—but that depends mainly on higher birth rates among active religious people and immigrants; much of the rest of the population mirrors below-replacement rates of other decaying civilizations. Our level of corruption is lower, but is growing under this administration, which functions with a southern (on the Sphere) tyranny mentality.
We know what leads to cultural death. And we know what leads to thriving civilization. We need to consciously choose life.

[i] Joseph Daniel Unwin, Ph.D., “Sexual Regulations and Cultural Behavior,” address given to the Medical Section of the British Psychological Society. (Library of Congress No., HQ12.U52)

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