Friday, April 25, 2008

Is the West decadent?

In certain ways yes, in certain ways no. By the west I primarily mean that United States, but also Europe and European originated countries in North America and Australasia (big words!).

The idea of decadence is connected to that of being degenerate or of having a lot of people in a society becoming degenerates. A degenerate was/is thought to be someone who in breaking a kind of moral or social code descends in terms of character to the lower levels. Like someone starts out doing something seemingly innocuous but somewhat bad and then goes through a downward spiral of temptation into self destruction and crime.

While I know that this does in fact happen to some people, the history of the 20th century and 20th century social movements reflects the idea that things that were once considered degenerate can be enjoyed in a healthy way without leading to the final consequence of being, say, a bum on the street who's a petty criminal, which is sort of the example people who make the argument about degeneration point to.

Sexual freedom has been proven not to lead to degeneracy when done in a positive way. Women's liberation doesn't lead to degeneracy. Having a system of government not based on religion and not based on enforcing moral codes has been proven not to lead to degeneracy. Drugs, when used in a responsible and non-self destructive way, do not lead to degeneracy. Freedom of speech in terms of writings that push the boundaries of language and of portrayal of subject matter don't cause mass degeneracy. Dancing erotically doesn't cause degeneracy. Pornography doesn't cause degeneracy. Neither does rock music. Or gay rights.

On the other hand there no doubt is a lot of behavior in the U.S. that is unhealthy and degenerate, ultimately leading to really bad cultural currents that are exploitative and anti-human liberation in their destructive behavior. But I don't think that unleashing this sort of liberation has caused this. The cause is probably something outside of it, and here I'm thinking of the ethos of just getting really fucked up, treating women like shit, and being intentionally violent in the hope of being manly or something. People who are like this aren't the poster children for liberation, instead they frequently oppose quite a bit of the liberatory currents that have been produced.

Because of that I think that there must be outside reasons for why they act like that. Looking at the social structure of society as well as people's opportunities could probably explain a lot.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

These are tough words to define: degeneracy and decadance. But I think it requires a deeper analysis than you have here. Personally, I favor Nietzsche's way of approaching this. According to him, it is not a falling away from social norms--it is the norms themselves that have become decandent and degenerate. The people of the west have fallen from the formerly powerful existential pessimism and have progressively rationalized themselves into worthlessness.