It is no secret that Western Civilization is failing. A lot has been written about the causes, with the consensus among many thinkers being that a loss of belief in its founding religion, Christianity, has played a considerable role. While I am not, myself, a believer; I do think that view has a lot going for it.
Let’s see if we can break the problem down:
When people adopt certain patterns of action, it makes them more successful and their society more competitive.
We observe that these “good” patterns are engaged in disproportionately by religious believers.
This is not a revelation. Religious beliefs are transmitted vertically, from parent to child. Beliefs affect actions. A person whose actions make them more successful gets to pass their beliefs on to more children. Likewise, since an individual’s success is in part dependent on that of their society, beliefs that inspire actions that make the believer’s society more competitive will also get transmitted more. This is simply evolution in action.
There are lots of potential reasons why that faith and the civilization it founded is failing us now:
- Beginning with the invention of the printing press, it has become ever easier for beliefs to propagate horizontally, which allows bad ones to thrive.
- The discovery of the scientific method made people more conscious of whether their ideas were objectively true or not, which was not at all what beliefs were selected for in the ancestral environment.
- A lot of it could be cyclic genetic failure: civilization tends to be dysgenic, and our modern one is probably the most dysgenic in history.
- There have been recent changes in the environment that religion has not had much time to adapt to, e.g. modern birth control.
- Some of it could be the Jews fucking us over.
Whatever the cause, in losing our faith we have abandoned the system that had evolved to make us successful. Some intellectuals imagine that once a person ditches their formal religion they suddenly become a rational actor, capable of advancing civilization to the stars. Yea…not so much. Those intellectuals don’t spend a lot of time in the company of people with two-digit IQs, which is half the population. Evolution has spent tens of thousands of years optimizing our brains for belief, not rational thought. Most people are barely capable of reason at all. And even very smart and rational people need to be raised in some sort of belief system to guide them: life is too short to first figure everything out and then act in ways that make you a success.
I have seen a variety of ideas on what we should do about the problem, but from my perspective most of them start off half-cocked, It’s like listening to people with no mechanical knowledge trying to troubleshoot a broken car: Would prayer help? Is the air-freshener worn out? How about we go to the auto-parts store and buy some…you know…parts. Or should we just buy a new car? We could always try to hitch a ride with the neighbor. To which I say: Stop! First we need to figure out exactly what is wrong. If we lack mechanical knowledge, we need to acquire some.
The motor that drove Western civilization was human action: we used to act in ways that made it work, and now we don’t. To troubleshoot the problem we need to first be clear on what actions we are talking about. What exactly do people need to do/refrain from doing in order to maximize their success and that of their society? And why?
Once we have that down we can move on to the next step: how best to motivate people to act in those ways. How do the various religions do it? Are those methods still functional in our modern environment? Are there better, more efficient ways to motivate people? Does our motivation system need to be multi-faceted to deal with different personality types?
Only once we understand those fundamentals should we turn to the question of what to do: whether to try to patch-up the old belief-system, build a shiny-new one, or take the easy way out and hitch a ride on one that still seems to work.
The final step is strategy: once we know where we want to go we can start to plan how to get there.
Having laid out that order, next time I will try to dig a little into the first question: how do people need to act, and why?