My thanks for keeping the Ship of Blog ably afloat in my absence, although it doesn’t look like we had any bites on the gender issues, lol.
This week I cast the net wide to hopefully respond to all your questions back to 3/28! This will of course mean massive busting of brevity guidelines. :)
Should we think in civilization terms rather than American terms? Yes, although Western civilization, while more than a bit weak, is nowhere near as dysfunctionally weak as America, and some parts of that civilization are fairly robust in comparison. We focus on America because its dysfunctionality has the capability to drag the rest downward with it. In maddening fashion, when what that civilization needs is a healthier and saner America to help stabilize it, it gets instead a sickly and somewhat arrogantly irrational one that greatly magnifies the problems.
The other nations of Western civilization have their own problems with illusion, etc., but they are often far less marked than ours (ask our semi-bewildered—and taken for granted—neighbors to the north what they think of our politics and economics, for example). The difficulty with using Toynbee’s methodology too strictly is that we now have, effectively, a global civilization (at least in the economic sense, but some other aspects as well), and a number of sub-civilizations, of which Western is one, and America the prime component of both the overall global and the Western sub-one. This particular bit of uncharted territory leaves all sorts of misty variables. Will the up and coming sub-civilization in the East (these directional terms are subjective as all hool, I know) come to dominate the world civilization, and will China as the dominant member of that civilization dominate the whole? Is America’s dysfunctionality and self-injuries (economic, educative, infrastructural, etc.) forcing an unwanted change, and ahead of time? Do the old patterns of rivalry and advantage mean less now? Can ever greater integration be reconciled successfully with local control and representation? These questions I pose here barely take a feather to the surface, let alone actually scratch it. :)
If I were so endeavoring as to try to climb inside the mind of Toynbee and extract what he would say to do immediately to avert us from our present course, it would, I believe, pull out the answer: ENGAGE. The system, for all its arrogant and dismissive blustering, is actually afraid of an engaged populace that can 1) hold its parasitic elites accountable, and 2) ennoble those who don’t really want to be parasitic elites but feel trapped by a self-serving and unresponsive system. When the heretofore apolitical CITIZENS are actually talking to each other about the REAL issues, and looking for a way forward, when the discussions are not mostly about sports or any of the other of what have become the system’s diversions, a step will have been taken. Those of us who have been engaged already in some manner should not foist our views, but merely challenge anything that is strictly emotion or repeated hollowness. In that we can say to them: “Look to your senses of what you see and hear, THEN ask yourself these three questions: 1) What ACTUALLY happened? 2) Who ACTUALLY benefitted? and 3) How did they ACTUALLY benefit?”
And yes, dearest Madame, it would behoove us all to find a way to move in the same direction, even if at times it has to be for different reasons.
Humans find it difficult to learn from history, even their own, for many reasons. A prime one is that they find it PAINFULLY (human drivers: avoid pain and pursue pleasure) difficult to objectively look at past actions and learn lessons, and besides, many (most?) think that whatever happened then is not comparable to now, that THIS is NEW. And that we live in the present and shape our future, not dwell in the past. “The past is gone; forget it.” “You can’t do anything about yesterday; set your sights on the future and live in the now.” And any number of personal prescriptions which coalesce for societies and civilizations as well. There is also the nagging fear that if they spend too much effort on understanding the past, it will take up too much of their time, may take too much of their lives, even control their lives—and the lives of their societies and civilizations.
As for cooperation, we in America in particular are still stuck in the driven masculine philosophy of hyper-individualism and maniacal competitiveness. That view, which even John Locke abhorred, is not only a millstone on us, but it is a mostly unexamined one (and any embryonic examination is aborted by knee-jerk cries about socialism, etc.).
Your Lord Acton quote from April 4th: How we are on such track to fulfill it. The things that time has run out on, that we need to do at last? They are legion! While America and Western sub-civilization, and especially the global one, still have many powerful reserves of strength and ability, and there are a good number of quite positive things, it would be fantastically obvious to an extraterrestrial observer of a few things of what we need to do:
Cease militarization (times have rarely been systemically safer) and divert those resources to productive and vitally needed things.
With an interdependent, although not yet integrated, world civilization, understand that if things get better elsewhere, things probably get better for you (Mexican immigration is a prime example). The reverse is often true as well.
Acknowledge that if you don’t preserve and enhance the biosphere, nothing else you do will matter, for it is the basis of nearly everything, including civilization itself.
Stabilize climate and quit focusing so much on measuring it and debating it. Even in the highly unlikely eventuality that changes have manageable or occasionally beneficial effects, it’s like performing an experiment on your own heart and lungs—with no chance of a transplant.
Stabilize population, and begin to reverse to a sustainable level. This will be helped by the below.
Eradicate poverty as a systemic feature (personal choices are different); it affects your global civilization in innumerable and interlocking economic, physical, security, social, psychological, emotional, moral, and even spiritual ways.
Restore earth’s ecosystems to sustainability, and emplace a sustainability ethic.
Win the vision of the above as the goal of earth’s peoples. When they can envision a Star Trek like future, the intractable problems of today will become addressable.
As for our own Western sub-civilization, and in particular the American centerpiece, I’ve already submitted my answer on that. And so have you. Americans and Westerners need a consensus vision. It WON’T come from our “elites.” And another thing: a society or societies can’t just try to respond to problems (“challenges”); it/they need a positive vision to aspire to, for mere pain avoidance does not always work exactly well for societies (--or perhaps it works too well; otherwise, we wouldn’t keep kicking the can down the road or choosing to embrace illusion or diversion). One overcomes pain and accepts sweat and toil when the objective is motivating.
Of course, Toynbee is watching us now to see if our response is adequate! :)
You are right to be concerned about the loss of skills and know-how. Although this process began a pretty long time ago in this civilization, and in particular, America (see the novel “Brickie” for a good illustration), we have already lost much. And in much the same way that we today scratch our heads at how “the ancients” did various construction and other things, so will any post-civilization societies if it comes to that.
A centrist voter unfortunately often is confronted with the realization that if he or she DOESN’T vote, the really bad (perhaps destructive) candidate will win, instead of the “merely” moderately bad or corporate-serving, say-anything candidate. A nauseating task, to be sure, but it buys time to either reform the parties from within, or to do the near-impossible and form a viable third or fourth one.
Of course, what we really need are voters who quit following political ads (even though they “know they’re bad,” they can’t resist the temptation, and end up falling under their sway in one way or another, even if just emotionally). And we need candidates who are Jesse Unruh-like: Elliott Ness and The Untouchables when it comes to political corruption.
Once again, it all comes back to the people and their response to the challenges of their society, doesn’t it? Boy, that Toynbee guy was smart. :)
At what point did we lose our soaring ideals? That’s a WAY subjective question, but here’s my 1.75 bits: when we institutionalized the way we responded to this civilization’s apparent challenges. A previous (and abhorrent) aberration—a standing security-industrial complex after a conflict was over—became an accepted and self-fulfilling norm. We then piled on more aberration by slowly sucking the vitality out of the middle class and working class and transferring largely undeserved wealth upward, in supposed service to “making things better.” Along the way, we, as Vance Packard tried to warn us, dissolved our sense of community and replaced it with consumerist isolation, hyper-individualism, and diversion. WHILE we allowed ourselves to be exploited, and all while we disengaged from political and historical awareness and other despised things of a “liberal” education. In doing so, we played into the hands of those who were intent on worldwide exploitation and solely-profit and predatory capitalism. As our situations deteriorated in reality but the flickering illusions we chose to believe provided our willing diversion, we became enormously susceptible to those things you mentioned: “cobwebbed corners of delusion and anger and closed mindedness.” Why? Because we are little different from past peoples (Germans are only an obvious example, and they at least could claim some actual outside influence) who, when they choose to exert any thought at all to them, are ready for demagogues to provide them simple answers for their uninformed or misdirected anger. These things are gradual processes, although momentary crises accelerate the progression.