I set a goal on January 1 to write a new post every Friday. Time up here on the river tends to break routine. The truth of the matter is that it is easy to get distracted by the beauty. But sometimes one simply gets stuck. Anne Lamont, in her witty Bird By Bird, likens “writer’s block” to constipation. But she points out that it might be something else—you might be empty.
Sometimes I am.
Here’s how I get refilled. Here’s how I keep the fingers from becoming too arthritic: I read. And there is nothing like a good book—a really good book. A book that makes you stop and take a walk on a summer afternoon—just to ponder. A book that compels you to keep reading, but if you are not careful, you will start reading too fast and miss the scenery—sort of like driving the open roads of Montana. You are so interested in what is coming next that you fly right past the eagle perched on a nest, or the moose standing by the river, or the small-town roadside casino offering a cheap meal to travelers.
I heard Jonah Goldberg at a conference in June. It was my first encounter. Intrigued, I bought his book, Suicide of the West. It sat there in my Kindle for some weeks. It looked like heavy lifting, and the first couple of chapters required serious mental muscles. But you begin to realize you are on to something profound. Here are five sobering takeaways—
1-if we are to live in a better world, we will have to fight against the natural decline—the course of decay that rushes in when we do not work against the seduction of human nature, the angry drumbeats of our primitive brains, the inner whispers of our feelings, and the unthankfulness that dominates our hearts. We teach people entitlement–not gratitude–and it is killing us.
2-we are not living in a better world today because we are not fighting against the natural decline. We are giving ourselves over to the natural forces of entropy. We are in a steep decline and decay because we have chosen not to deny our baser instincts. In fact, we have chosen to assault our best principles. We are becoming what we worship, and what we worship is ourselves. We no longer look to God—nor fear him. This “civilizational guardrail” is gone. We look to find fulfillment and meaning in ourselves, in our tribes, and in our crowds.
3-identity politics has taken hold of culture, and behind it all is power—“the desire to have authority over others, control the terms of the debate, and establish yourself as the new authority on what is or what is not legitimate.” We have a self-anointed class of academics, activists, writers, and artists who claim a monopoly on political virtue. They get to decide who gets excommunicated, who is labeled racist, resistors of “progress”—all ironically under the label of tolerance and inclusivism. (note “The Downside of Diversity” article in the August 3 WSJ, or the alarming article “The Demon in Middlebury” in the August/September First Things)
4-healthy, well-functioning institutions—like church and family—are the primary well-springs of societal success. They are the roots that strain to hold in place a civil society whose soil is exhausted. But when they are unhealthy and dysfunctional, these same churches and families are the primary cause of societal decline. This explains much of our decay and rot, and in the vacuum, a more totalitarian state tends to rise. It promises to provide everything, so we watch the political process, tending to believe some candidate will save us. But the record shows a government that promises everything, while demanding more and more control control, has a very poor track record when it comes to making things better.
5-we wallow in feelings and entertainment—but when technology and all the myriad forms of simulation that come with it—pharmacological, auditory, visual, pornographic, etc. advance at an orderly pace, so does our capacity to become numb to it. We need another morphine drip to get some form of satisfaction. No wonder we have an obsession with zombies.
Goldberg’s analysis of where we are is disturbing. It does feel like we are watching a slow suicide taking place. I have only captured the surface of his thinking. I would only add that it will take more than a determined resistance against the decline—it will require a Savior who can regenerate the heart—and he has come.