Over at the great site Splice Today, Todd Seavey ponders the 2016 presidential campaign and despairs:
At a time when our two major parties sometimes sound as if they're aiming for a careful balance of socialism and fascism, maybe I should feel consoled by the thought that at least we don't live in the dark days when people really did feel obligated to choose between those two options explicitly. Instead, I'm horrified that people go on choosing sides with enthusiasm even when presented with the most deadly and monstrous options.
With or without Biden in the race, I feel quite surrounded by bad presidential options this time around. What frightens me, though, is not the situation today but the possibility that people will keep going through the same half-hearted motions of picking, debating, squabbling, lining up behind their chosen representatives even as things get far, far worse and the choices more and more authoritarian.
Well, at least there's Halloween coming up, right? And Seavey plugs his NYC "libertarian Halloween party" in his column.
I don't take seriously the idea the that we're in the near-final stages of a decadent collapse. I'm not sure that Seavey does either, but I do know that Camille Paglia does. In fact, she told Reason TV in an interview that the proliferation of identity types is its surest sign:
Paglia: …There [comes] a time when these fine gradations of gender identity—I'm a male trans doing this, etc.—this is a symbol of decadence, I'm sorry. Sexual Personae talks about this, that was in fact the inspiration for it, was that my overview of history and my noticing that in late phases, you all of a sudden get a proliferation of homosexuality, of sadomasochism, or gendered games, impersonations and masks, and so on. I think we're in a really kind of late phase of culture.
reason: So that the proliferation of cultural identities, the proliferation of all sorts of possibilities is actually a sign that we're…
Paglia: On the verge of collapse? Yes! Western Culture is decline. There's absolutely no doubt about it, in my view, looking at the history of Egypt, of Babylon, of Byzantium, and so on. And so what's happening is everyone's so busy busy busy with themselves with this narcissistic sense of who they are in terms of sexual orientation or gender, and this intense gender consciousness, woman consciousness at the same time, and meanwhile…
For what it's worth, Paglia immediately classifies herself as a decadent.
The Seavey-Paglia line certainly has the ring of truth and it definitely appeals to all of us who want to be alive during the last days of disco and the Roman Empire. But I remain unconvinced that we're witnessing the collapse of civilization. That may just be an uncritical belief in progress on my part, but the vast and ongoing decentralization of authority has not in fact led to more human violence and desperation. Put slightly different: Western civilization may indeed be declining in terms of a cultural, political, and economic hegemony. That doesn't mean that civilization is declining.
Far from it. A record-low percentage of earthlings live in extreme poverty and for all the wars still smoldering around the planet, violence rates are down too. In terms of trends in political freedom, Freedom House's latest ratings show a nine-year decline in freedom, which supports the Seavey-Paglia POV. That's not nothing, to be sure, but it's also true that the world is still infinitely more free than it was 30 years ago. In 2000, Freedom House considered 44 percent of countries free; in 2015, despite declines, 46 percent are rated free.
So, Todd Seavey, enjoy this Halloween as though it might be your last. It won't be, but it will probably add some thrills to the evening.
What say you, Reason.com readers? Are we witnessing the end of the world, the birth of a new world, or just the slow, spreading-out of middle age?
Paglia on cultural decline comes in here around the 24-minute mark: