The Decline of the West?
Posted by MyLaowai on Monday, January 5, 2009
We have enjoyed so much freedom for so long that we are perhaps in danger of forgetting how much blood it cost to establish the Bill of Rights.
- Felix Frankfurter
There’s this hypothetical guy, you’ve probably either met him or seen him around. If you’re anything like me, you may have mistakenly hired him, and been glad to see the back of him when you fired his ass for ineptitude a few months later. He was likely born in the seventies with a spoon in his mouth, possibly a silver spoon, but plastic is just as likely. He probably fancies himself as a musician or a writer or an artist, although he isn’t very talented at any of those things. He will tell you that he’s always had it tough, and that he learned about life at the school of hard knocks, but the truth is he never had to work thanks to Mommy and Daddy’s support. Following high school, and not having much in the way of a goal, he probably went to a second-tier university and studied a worthless degree in theatre or something equally meaningless.
He has, in all likelihood, written a number of short stories / poems / songs [* delete as appropriate], but became disenchanted at The System when editors and recording industry experts rejected them. He also fancies himself as a radical, a person who is fighting the system, and he is always happiest ‘hanging out’ at radical websites and blogs. He reads magazines such as Radical Magazine, and wishes his last name consisted of a single letter – ‘Z‘ would be just fine. He thinks Communism is a great concept that was failed by the people who ran the show, and there’s a good chance that, if he ever got a proper job, he’d be the one agitating for strikes all the time, because that’s far better than actually doing any work.
He came to Asia because he couldn’t fit in anywhere else, he teaches English because he refuses to get a real job, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he loved moody black and white photos of himself.
In Hong Kong, there is a name for people like him: FILTH. Failed In London, Try Hong Kong. China has more of these losers than one can shake a stick at, and they love it here. They love it because here they can pretend they are important, here they don’t have to be productive, here they can sit with their friends late at night in dimly lit apartments smoking weed and congratulating each other on not taking orders from The Man, and complaining about how the West is so bad. In a previous age, these people would have attempted to defect to the Soviet Union, although to be fair, the Russians were smart enough to see these useless idiots for what they were.
If this is what your average Chinese sees when he sees a foreigner, it’s no wonder they hate us so much.
It seems to me that a significant percentage of a certain generation meet the description of these toe rags, these whiners and arseholes who seem to think that the world owes them something, that they have a right to have their every whim catered for by society at large.
Well, I’ve got news for you, if you’re reading this: Society owes you squat. You have a right to think your own thoughts, except in those same Communist countries that you profess to love so much, that is. You have no right at all to tell others what they should be thinking. You have a right to shelter and food, but with that goes the right to get a job and pay for it yourself – you have no right whatsoever to expect that anyone else should pay for you. You have the right to do as you please, except where that gets in the way of other people’s rights, and you have the right to believe in any religion or political ideology you please – but not to ram that down anyone else’s throat. In short, you have the right of freedom. And that’s about it, Sparky. The Right to Freedom is a big one, bought at a high price, and the world owes you no additional favours, no extra debts, nothing. You have a right to freedom, and everything else, sonny, is charity.
I’ve a Theory on this. Stay with me.
You see, for much of human history, life was a struggle. There wasn’t enough shelter, there wasn’t enough food to go round, and what you had (including your freedom and your life) was at the mercy of anyone else who was stronger than you. The idea that you had ‘rights’ was utterly alien. The ancient Greeks had some nice ideas that set the ball rolling in this regard, and so did the Romans. The idea that a man could help himself by helping others was a good one, but it did take a while to catch on.
The Magna Carta, I reckon, was the real turning point. That was the moment when the King was forced to guarantee certain rights of his subjects, free or fettered, most notably that of habeas corpus. It came about when the Barons got together and forced the King to sign it. They could have simply replaced him – it was the done thing in those days – but they realised that by working together, they could effect a lasting change that would benefit all of them. The Magna Carta was a turning point, but it didn’t end there. In the centuries that followed, more and more people learned that the only way to freedom was to band together and demand it. Many, many people died in this pursuit of freedom, but they died in a greater cause, that of freedom for all. This idea of fighting for the freedom of others became so deeply ingrained in Western Culture, that in some ways it can be said to have become one of the defining characteristics of it.
In my mind, this fight wasn’t really won until the end of the twentieth century, when the West had fought and won the war against fascism on a global battlefield, and then gone on to declare victory over Communism. Sure, there are still some pockets of resistance against freedom in Africa and Asia – China is the best example – but at the same time people in the West had won freedom from want, and that’s the key point I’m getting to. There was suddenly enough food that everyone would not starve, enough housing that everyone had a place to live, sufficiently robust rule of law that everyone could expect protection from it. Everyone had access to an education, everyone had the chance to better themselves regardless of social class, and everyone had access to more and better information than ever before. They also had, for the first time in history, a reasonable expectation that their freedom could not be taken away by anyone else on the basis of strength. Put simply, the fight was pretty much over.
The problem is, that the idea of fighting for freedom is so deeply ingrained in Western civilisation, it doesn’t just go away once the fight is over. When your society has been doing something for a thousand years, there’s a certain inertia that keeps it doing that thing, even when the reason for doing it has gone away.
Our subject, the tyre-kicker I introduced at the beginning, is still fighting, and he doesn’t know how to stop. He has been born into a society that has achieved everything his ancestors fought and died for, and he is living at the very pinnacle of progress thus far. There is no one left to fight, and no thing to fight for, so now he has turned inwards and had begun fighting against the very ideals that gave him more from birth than any other culture in the history of the world has ever had. He is fighting for the sake of fighting, and in doing so, is attempting to destroy that which made his civilisation greater than any that has come before.
I pity this person. I pity him, and I feel sorry for him, but I do not want to see him succeed. The West cannot afford to see him succeed, because the alternative is very much like what I see every day in China: brutal totalitarianism and an utter disregard for the rights of any man to freedom in the smallest degree.
I’m an optimist, however. I see signs that people like him are increasing in terms of noise output, but I think I can see light at the end of this particular tunnel, too. We in the West may have lost our way somewhat, but we have always found our way back into the light when things got bad. I think history will look back on these times and judge that the West found itself a second wind, and that the aberrant behaviour of some was merely a temporary sickness that soon passed.
It isn’t hard for us to do – we have the talent, we have the knowledge, and we have the freedom to do the right things with them.
And when the chips are down, it’s that freedom that makes the difference.
Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves.
- D.H. Lawrence