In the last week, I have read two remarkable documents. Three thousand miles of ocean separate the journalists who wrote them. So far as I know, neither has met the other. They seem to cover different topics. Yet, for me, together they provide a glimpse into why the West is declining.
If you believe this is a problem, you are not alone.
Appearing first was the widely read letter of resignation of New York Times journalist, Ms. Bari Weiss. In clear and outspoken language, her open letter to the Editor explains crisply why she is leaving the paper. “Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor,” she complains. “Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences.”
Ms Weiss complains that editorial policy at the New York Times only encourages only agreed (left-wing) viewpoints.
If a person’s ideology is in keeping with the new orthodoxy, they and their work remain unscrutinised….my own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. Online venom is excused so long as it is directed at the proper targets.
Comments on the letter from other journalists have ranged from ‘What did you expect? Editors have to sell their papers.’ To ‘somehow, over the last several years, we’ve lost the thread in American life that celebrates our intellectual diversity. You see the broad-based embrace of what might be called “doctrinarianism” on both sides.’
Ms Weiss’s most telling point however is: “Americans still hunger for news that is accurate, opinions that are vital, and debate that is sincere.”
The second is an article from Matthew Syed of London’s Sunday Times. His topic could hardly appear more different. Titled “Xi banks on the decline and fall of the West”, Mr Syed argues that China closely observes the rot in Western society and seeks to gain from it.
He starts by noticing a UK analyst’s report that the UK Government’s much vaunted COVID stimulus package is not ‘new money’ at all. It is simply recycled from other uses. This issue received no attention in the UK media.
“If the story is true,” argues Mr Syed, “deception has become so commonplace … that it has melted into the background. Like a virus that has become endemic in a host population, we scarcely notice it anymore.”
With several references to Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, he repeats that we no longer notice, as Gibbon put it, “the poison introduced into the vitals of the system”.
“Now consider another trend by way of explanation,” Mr Syed continues: “in 1971 Washington had 175 registered lobbying firms. By 2013 this had exploded to 12,000, spending more than $3.2bn annually, a trend replicated throughout the western world.”
Mr Syed is concerned about China’s all-too-intelligent understanding of these trends.
Like Gibbon looking back on Rome, they spot the rot. They note the epic polarisation, the surreal identity wars…and they see this as a chance to reset the world order gradually in their interests and against ours.
A letter of resignation and an article about the decline of the West and the rise of China. What do the writers’ views have in common? Why should the Western world be concerned?
Bari Weiss refers to ‘Wrongthink’. Matthew Syed talks of ‘identity wars’ and ‘epic polarisation’. These are trends that sweep the Western world today because – well – they are trends. People in the West are preoccupied with trivia because everyone else is. As Ms Weiss has discovered, it is hard, if not impossible, to develop, let alone publish, thoughts that differ from the crowd. These are absolute truth to those who share them.
Every school child knows about ‘mob rule’. Emperors from the Chinese to the Romans knew it was vital to keep the crowd content. Dictators and demagogues everywhere use emotions, their words tinkering with the truth, to persuade the people to back them. In democratic societies, the most capable often give way to the most electable for the same reasons.
People believe what they want to believe.
The collective insanity that pervades the West today has similarities to mob rule. In many ways, however, it is more insidious than mob rule. As both Matthew Syed and Bari Weiss point out, social media is a form of mass gossip. Where once small groups met in coffee shops or pubs, those same groups now gossip world-wide. Opinions are reinforced by millions. As a result, they become even more believable – and polarised – to the zealots who espouse them.
Collective insanity damages us all
- Environment, circumstances, and events represent the social suggestions of the moment. (i.e. They change quickly)
- By the mere fact that he forms part of an organised crowd, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilisation. (Interesting how the ‘Group Thinkers of today see this!)
- The .. sovereignty of crowds is as little defensible, … as the religious dogmas of the Middle Ages. But it enjoys …the same absolute power they formerly enjoyed. It is as unattackable in consequence as in the past were our religious ideas.
- It is terrible at times to think of the power that strong conviction combined with extreme narrowness of mind gives a person.
To counter Matthew Syed’s points, one could argue that China has the same collective insanity. Not so. The State certainly tells people what to think and how to behave. This is distasteful to Western people. And yes, le Bon’s insights are equally valid.
But complaining about China’s politics and governance as the West does, will achieve nothing. China is better organised, more intelligently governed and more focussed. China is certain to become, once again, a more successful civilisation.
If some of the West’s explanations for its success to date were free speech, mutual respect and the debate of different ideas and philosophies, it is clear to Ms Weiss, Mr Syed and me that the West is now, inevitably, declining. Thinking and speaking against ‘the crowd’ is much more difficult.
But good Governance, drive and focus are lacking.