Saturday, December 20, 2008
Posted by Daniel Greenfield 7 Comments
Understanding that hot things burn is vital for a child to avoid serious injury. It is also vital that the functioning adult once have been a child who learned that hot things burn. Subtract the negative outcome and what remains is a desire for gratification unchecked by any understanding of negative consequences.
Self-help gurus often encourage people to accentuate the positive, and to recognize how much good there is in their life, rather than highlighting how much is wrong or lacking. But that is contrary to human nature and even basic biology. Our own safety and self-preservation requires that we notice what is wrong, while learning to take the good things for granted. Constantly being happy that we are breathing is all very well in a philosophical sort of way, but it is far more important to notice and take care of even the minor aches and pains, as they may be symptoms of something more serious. That of course is the point of pain.
And so the negative plays a crucial role in human development. The negative outcome, or even the fear of a negative otucome, is more compelling than the promise of an equivalent positive outcome. Coming of age, most human beings have learned that negative outcomes are dangerous, and while positive outcomes are desireable, they must be balanced against the risk of a negative outcome.
Taken the right way this produces balanced, healthy and functioning people. But what happens when the negative outcomes begin to be taken off the table. What happens when the child never learns to fear hot objects, or is taught to attribute a burn on touching a hot object, to something other than his own action in touching a hot object?
The question isn't complicated because we happen to be living in that society right now.
For generations we have worked very hard to take negative outcomes off the table, as a result each generation has grown up more handicapped than the last, by its inability to learn the basic facts of life.
As negative outcomes disappear, the pleasure seeking side functions unchecked. The old rational balance between pleasure and pain collapses, and what that means for society is utterly disastrous. In a society with a balance between negative and positive outcomes, people forge strategies that enable them to avoid negative otucomes, and to embrace supermortality goals allowing them a legacy that transcends death. Whether that legacy is building a family or building a skyscraper, or discovering a new scientific principle.
In a society that has become unbalanced toward the negative outcomes, life is hard and the result touches off constant violence, brutality and rule by terror. Or in other words what we can see across much of the Third World.
In a society that has become unbalanced toward positive outcomes, people lose an understanding of consequences and embrace pleasure seeking. Morals degenerate as people "live to be happy" and pursuit of pleasure becomes a major goal, resulting in a rapid race to the bottom as successive taboos are tapped out by people with little understanding or belief in negative consenquences.
Where an understanding of negative consequences causes people to form goal achieving strategies which produce happiness as a byproduct, rather than focusing on happiness as the goal, the lack of that understanding drives people to "cut out the middleman" and in general be intolerant of any delays or processes and procedures, producing a society of people that "want it all now".
Rebelliousness becomes seen as a higher calling by people who no longer recognize that social stability is a virtue, rather than an obstacle. When pleasure seeking is a higher principle, social stability of any kind is an obstacle and must be torn down. Such assaults may be disguised by various forms of idealism, but pleasure seeking rather than idealism is at the root of them.
When the rebels move into public life, their goals are to take more and more negative outcomes off the table, cushioning the next generation even further from the real world. Warnings are everywhere, criminals are coddled, bureaucracy expands with the mission of taking care of the people. Any classical symbols of authority and the superego are despised, as threatening. Morality is uprooted and turned inside out. The outsider is welcomed in, and the native is driven out.
This of course insures that the next generation understands even less about the real world than the prior one did. And that they live in a world that is far more dangerous than ever, without them being aware of it.
Risky behavior becomes a way of life, in entertainment, in social settings, and politically and economically as well, Of course entertainment, politics and business often draws in people for whom negative outcomes are imaginary and risk is a challenge, and pleasure seeking reigns supreme, but what has changed is the lack of any plan to avoid negative outcomes, or even understanding that it is a possibility. Ventures are launched, which on rational analysis are simply indefensible, public behavior hits a new low each day fueled primarily by irresponsibility, and on it goes.
The end result for many individuals in such a society, and for the society itself, is death by gratification. Remove enough negative consequences, and an individual and eventually a culture will destroy itself.
The debates over abortion, homosexuality, drug use, terrorism, immigration and crime are debates between those who can understand negative consequences, and those who cannot. Which is why such debates typically reach a dead end. Because you cannot convey to someone that a hot object burns, and telling them that it does is not nearly the same thing.
For those who woke up on 9/11, even those who afterward went to sleep, felt that pain, and the knowledge now that the hot object burns. They did not often understand what to do about it, but tens of millions of people suddenly felt an understanding of the world that had been denied to them. The sudden solidarity, the determination, the new role models, all came because generations of a society that had been taught to think and view the world like children, were suddenly forced to think and see the world like adults.
If couldn't last of course for many, who were led back to the usual pleasure seeking mechanisms, told by the government to forget and go shopping, led through the therapy maze to talk out their feelings, place themselves at the center of a crisis, and return to life with the sense that they were all that mattered, and finally fading back into a culture glutted with self-entitlement, the succeeding rebelliousness and magical thinking-- all of which equal a blindness to the real threat.
But the problem remains the same. Europe and America are children living in a world of adult consequences that the heavy hand of government and the media have sheltered them from. Pleasure seeking has taken the fore. Marriages are delayed, birth rates fall, illegal immigration rises as negative outcomes are taken off the table for native workers, crime rises, terrorism rises, and a declining society confronts an all out invasion-- incapable of even understanding what must be done.
The problem however is not simply the invasion, it is the enforced childishness that brought it about. Subtract the invaders, and the same pleasure seeking society which has lost an understanding of negative outcomes, will still pursue its own folly. Japan has no Muslim invasion to contend with, but its birth rates are falling, its institutions are crumbling, and its governments offer no useful solutions for confronting the threat to their survival coming from North Korea.
Or to put it another way, The Problem is Not in the Stars, but in Ourselves.
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