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The Mass Psychology Of Decline

Politics / Social Issues Jul 28, 2014 - 02:02 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


The Decline Paradigm
Possibly unknown to some persons, the fear and theory of decline is the single most important long-running feature of modern western culture.  From at latest the 1870s, it haunts western elites. We can legitimately call it mass paranoia of the elites.

The counterpart obsession is finding remedies to limit or reverse the decline. To be sure, the elite fear of decline is a “secret paradigm”, only rarely admitted at the microphone, and only mentioned when so-called remedies are being floated and touted. Keeping this mass paranoia of the elites a mostly “secret doctrine” is also advantageous to them because, when needed, they can declare that decline is now a national emergency needing “shock therapy” to reverse the decline they previously denied.

For the public, the shift from blissful unknowing that their society, culture and civilization are in decline  – to knowing something completely false, can be rapid and again serve the elite. Elite group think, mainstream media manipulation, and mass psychology join up the dots. The unexpected results, for the elites, can include riot and rebellion in their own streets and cities!

A Wonderland of Decline
By the end of the first quarter 2014 it was already clear that the “western mature democracies” were again in recession. Falling household spending, house and car sales, business activity, investment, economic growth, world trade activity, and shrinking rates of inflation were the rule in nearly all major economies. In the US, even in late May, Goldman Sachs and other forecasters were still using the “bad weather” theme to explain the “surprise decline” and forecast a rebound. The long cold winter had depressed the economy, but in Europe this excuse wasn't possible due to one of the warmest winters in decades.

The ECB chief Mario Draghi on several occasions used the explanation of lower household energy spending, due to warm weather as another reason why inflation was falling!

Falling inflation, using “pure Keynesian logic” is a sign of decline. Even economic globalization, as an elite goal, has declined. Former IMF chief economist and the present head of India's central bank, Raghuram Rajan early in 2014 accused the G7 countries of purely and simply using his country and other emerging economies as “disposable adjustment mechanisms”. Throw them away when they are no longer needed. Economic globalization is no longer of any use to the western developed economies whose economies have “special problems” which cannot be alleviated by importing cheap consumer goods from the emerging economies, using debt to pay for the goods.

Bang goes the “global growth paradigm” replaced by the “western decline paradigm”, like a cuckoo takes over the nests of other birds!

Economic growth in the emerging countries – once vaunted by political and business leaders in the developed countries as “the locomotive of global growth” – has fallen out of its nest and gone out of focus. It is no longer of interest to the political class in the developed countries who have retreated to the firmer and time-hallowed ground of the Western Decline Paradigm.

“The west”, meaning the US and several of its EU28 allies are engaged in a senseless and dangerous facing-down of Russia's Vladimir Putin for the shaky prize of an economically ruined Ukraine needing massive bailouts. How could “inheriting” or “winning” another ruined economy from the Russian Bear help economic recovery in Europe?  The fundamental motive for the west's rush to war with Russia using the excuse of Ukraine is to prove that western military superiority has not declined

The 1870s Ghost in the Machine
As already noted, it is quite easy to place a start date for western decline psychosis at the 1870s. To be sure we qualify that as “modern decline” due to former and ancient decline-fear outbreaks having also existed.

Modern decline fear is itself an uber-mature paradigm. Why Ukraine would be such an important prize was never explained to us by the mainstream media – maybe its coal mines in the east of the country? Offshore oil drilling rights in the Black Sea, or plain old pipelines for gas? Nobody knows, which shows that atavistic, primitive, and psychotic strands have pullulated in the not-so-brilliant minds of today's western leaderships. Do not search for rationality!

The 1870s start date for modern decline psychosis – and a highly developed Decline Paradigm – can be related to the first “global electronic” stock market collapse, the first Flash Crash, using then-recently-developed telegraph machines for placing simultaneous buy-sell orders on several stock exchanges at one time. The crash was a big (and of course bad) surprise exactly like the 2008-2009 flash crash.

Both events were soon mythologized, for example as “the Lehman Bros moment” for the 2008-09 crash. Both events also left a Ghost in the Machine.

The decline paradigm operates in a well-studied and time-hallowed manner. At some point in time, disaster is declared, then the Shock Therapy phase follows. Previous major examples included the run-up to World War I, rather than World War II, because the rush to war in 1914 featured the intense exploitation by the elites of “mass social memory”. In 1914 unlike 1939, public opinion in the west could be channeled towards war by evoking a threat to “a century of economic and social progress”. The run up to World War II followed the Great Depression and disabled this war rationale.

Very importantly today, the shock therapy of war to reverse decline and prove the west still has military superiority requires that “the mass” still has its social memory intact and operational. Because that is not the case today, we are only able to forecast “unexpected results and sequels”.

A Broken Backed Paradigm
By early 2014, the different strands of the “new decline paradigm” were dusted off and reassembled. Normally concerning only the USA and the West, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) now also fit the paradigm of “unexpected and surprising” economic decline, political stress, social instability and ungovernability.

Global decline is however a direct challenge to the western “old decline paradigm” centered only on the fear of western decline. Globalizing decline, after globalizing the economy has produced unintended and unexpected results.

The direct result, in the west, is that the long standing theory of (western) decline, which exists for 140 years or more has retreated and downsized to its own fundamental bases. These are apocalyptic and nihilistic, or apocalyptic nihilism, directly drawing on Biblical myth.

What was later called Nihilism emerged by about the 1860s as a philosophical-and-political theory of decline and degeneracy. The basic nihilist argument that “nothing exists” makes it easy to accept that economic decline, and any other kind of decline should be expected and normal. Even by the late 19th century, writers and speakers could ask if Western liberal democracy and its market economy are on the right side of history  - or are they at the wrong end of their own history? 

By the 1930s, intensified by the Great Depression declinism was a major theme in western society. Then as now, it was heavily and often openly influenced by nihilism and “the heroic philosophy of Salvation”. This genre material was openly anti-democratic and pessimist. Like the Nihilist Beat Generation of the US in the 1950s and 1960s, and forerunners of it dating as far back as the 1860s, in Russia, extreme remedies to decline were offered, usually with little or no conviction.

One typical example, today, is the vastly un-serious claim by some economists  that the West “needs Chinese-type market communism” or some kind and type of despotic centralism and authoritarian modernity, if only to get the economy back to life.

Back to Terror
The enduring and mutating strands of “The War on Terror”, which started in September 2001, are another example where the anguish of decline is transformed and mutated to national security or its avatars like well-being and safety. Somewhat like esperanto is the avatar of sanskrit. Terror is the direct result on the ground and in the real world.

In Europe, the tortured and mutating strands of “the European federal project” is another example, in fact, of the decline paradigm. The project counters an ill-defined but diffuse fear – of another European war spanning the entire continent – while today's European elites rush to war against Russia on the coat strings of US war hawks! The European federal project is used to create a beatific illusion of peace, brotherhood and tranquility in an ever-growing economy.

What we can call the Culture War of nihilist declinism, versus the tattered remains of liberal democracy and the growth economy, challenges and refutes all features of the liberal model. This as we know, is theoretically defined as having free markets, bottom up political power, the rule of law, checks and balances on corporate power, freedom of information and speech, concern for the environment, gender and age equality, anti-racist multiculturalism – and so on. All of this can be dumped.

When all of them are tainted with doubt, the logical alternatives will include despotism and the police state among other things. The “other things” can include the suppression of the nation state - declinism of the 1930s, we can note, was surely and certainly linked with internationalism or what we call globalization today. The nation state was doomed to extinction – in the 1930s by Nazism, Fascism and Stalinism. That is capitalist despotism or communist despotism.

Agenda 21 and the Bilderberg Conspiracy could be called today's extremely-diluted versions of the same despotic internationalism which in fact is the ultimate oxymoron. Tyranny and despotism need all and every trapping of the police state, but globalist nihilism declares that no states exist! This oxymoron is as absurd as “State capitalism” which has  never existed because it can't exist.

Level Down and Out

The real problem is that when economies are contracting, that is “subzero growth” (which is an oxymoron) this has relatively rapid spillover collateral damage on culture, politics, and social behavior.  Everywhere in the West, growth has declined since 1980 making it easy to argue this process itself helped trigger the false solutions of neoliberalism, deindustrialisation, financialization, mass unemployment, massive income and wealth inequality, and so on. Declinists however argue that the 1980s political-economic ideology shift only reflected History in the making. It was inevitable and had to happen. There was No Alternative, even if that was a mindless neolib slogan of the 1980s.

It was a long process of decline. Entire nations declined. In the former communist countries, their political systems collapsed. The USSR disappeared.

Reversing the paradigm of Historic growth, to Historic decline is totally logical. Countries progress from agriculture and handcrafts to urban industrial manufacturing and then to a service sector and knowledge-based economy. The historical process drew on previous seemingly limitless reservoirs of cheap labor in country districts, but as fixed investment rises, its marginal return declines, and each new unit of capital generates less output growth than the preceding one – as Marx gleefully pointed out, and Ricardo before him balefully pointed out.

There is therefore a transparent logical case for the Declinists' Law of Declining Nations but the real problem is the declinists avoid forecasting when or if the process will stop, except by catastrophe.

Declinists draw economic cycle theory into their big picture. Since 2008, they claim, the world entered a long cycle of decline which started with a leveling-down across the older industrialized economies, that in the Trente Glorieuse were leveling-up. The poster children for this were Japan and West Germany after World War II. Their economies climbed skyward, overshot, and then went into decline over a 30-odd year timeframe. For Japan this is impossible to disprove, but Germany's economic decline to zero growth in 2014 will (of course) be treated as a shock and surprise.

Presumably the economic cycles level off sometime, but the Declinists can certainly ask another question. Are wars and revolutions cyclic? When the decline paradigm is shaken down to its core, somewhat like the Cheshire Cat's smile, all that is left is the Apocalypse.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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