Last night, as I was about to call it a night, this idea just popped into my head, virtually full-grown.
Damned if I know where it came from, I wasn’t thinking about the Grand Scope of History, I was reading John Gardner’s ‘Grendel.’ It of course, owes a lot to Eric Hoffer’s essay, ‘The Role of Undesirables in Society,’ and Poul Anderson’s fortunate phrase, The Long Night. It probably ought to owe something to Toynbee, except I’ve never read him.
It might actually be called ‘History etc,’ except that doesn’t rhyme with cynic.
At any rate it’s a classification of five stages of civilization, perhaps ours, perhaps any other, which are:
5) the Long Night
Vigor: the founding age, the age of the pioneers and founders. Brawling, lusty, vulgar, and definitely not the kind you’d bring home to dinner. Especially if you have pretty, nubile daughters.
(They’d throw themselves at them. Charming bad boys. Might work out, and you’d have some tough, strong, grandkids – or your daughters would regret it the rest of their lives and you’d wind up supporting your grandkids. It’s a toss up.)
Hoffer described them perfectly. He met their kind among the Okies, fruit pickers, and men in the labor camps set up during the Depression. He asked older local folks in California who remembered the pioneers, and when pressed they replied that the people who most resembled the pioneers were the Okies and migrants.
Virtue: the age of the stolid New Englanders who moved west, from perfectly nice places to live. The westward migration in the covered-wagon era was overwhelmingly a middle-class movement, as shown by the cost of the wagon and all the gear.
Hard-working, church going, tight-assed for sure, but self-reliant and enormously inventive. Where the voortrekkers broke trail, these built civilization.
What happens is, families and single women move in. The hell-raising pioneers either get hitched and settle down, or take advantage of the new civiliation (which means “city”) and colonize a corner of it.
That corner is called, “skid row.”
Decline: civilization has now existed long enough to feel natural to most of its living citizens. The idea of “enemy” is fading. Tolerance is the new frontier. Reason and negotiation, backed by armed watchfullness, will solve all problems with hostile strangers.
Decadence: civilization is accepted as eternal. “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met.” Tolerance becomes agressive. In fact, the idea of tolerance is insulting. We must embrace what we formerly only toleated.
If reason and negotiation fail with hostile strangers, well then we can’t have been reasonable enough. Thus surrender is the only moral imperative.
This period is actually the most fun to live in for party animals. The possibilities for pleasure are endless, and can be enjoyed openly. The only social sanctions are against being an intolerant killjoy.
But these are a different kind of party people than the vigorous men who could wake up with tremendous hangovers and work them off with an hour of hard labor and lots of water.
Metrosexuals seldom live a life physical enough to have negotiating room with their vices.
This era is followed by…
The Long Night: preceeded by a transition period in which there is first a breakdown into the default male form of organization – the gang.
Since disorder is the least tolerable of social states, society re-stablilizes into the only truly natural units of human society – the family, the band, and the tribe.
Enemy means stranger. Strength means brutality – and you don’t dare be less brutal than your enemy.
Women lose all gains in freedom and independence, their status is dependent on attaching to a powerful man – who can brutalize them at will.
Gee, sure am glad I had that nighmare before I went to sleep.
You needn’t take any of this seriously, but… which stage do you think we’re living in?
I vote for late decline/early decadence.