The most effective form of social collapse is suicide. Tired societies perish when they discard the responsibility of maintaining their institutions.
Perhaps the West's machinery worked so well for so long that its present operators threw away the manual. There are cogs resting in the corner, no one knows where they fit or how long ago they fell off. The oil-can looks like it hasn't been used in a few generations either. There are rasping noises and the flywheels are spinning disturbingly off-centre.
I remember walking around the Colosseum in Rome. I’d joined a tour led by a studying American PhD student because he needed the money, and he told excellent stories. He explained what happened after the barbarians sacked Rome. The invaders enjoyed tipping over infrastructure creating ruins for tourists to wander through.
Yet the Colosseum was spared, only losing a chunk of its outer layer after a major earthquake in 1349. I did notice suspicious equidistant holes in the façade and it turns out the holes aren’t a result of war. The barbarians were responsible, but not in an obvious way.
When they invaded the Roman Empire, many of the city’s artisans, engineers and metallurgists were slaughtered or driven out in great numbers. In their frenzy of conquering indignation, the barbarians also wiped out institutional knowledge by burning precious papers and plans. After a few decades, the barbarians watched as their captured civilisation’s institutions start to wobble and shatter. The pieces of their empire had been re-purposed and spread around. But slowly, it all started to break down and decay.
Everyone in the classical world knew the best quality weapons were built by Roman citizens. There are stories of German tribes stopping mid-battle to wrench their poorly made swords back into shape after striking Roman armour. The same is true for institutions.
My guide explained how the degradation eventually became so pronounced the new occupiers of Rome realised they didn’t even know how to manufacture bronze. Romans would have laughed that a simple alloy of copper and tin couldn’t be replicated by these idiots. But it was the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
The barbarians had no one to turn to because everybody knowledgeable was dead or exiled. They succeeded in crushing the mighty Roman Empire, taking control of its assets and freeing themselves from Rome’s terrible oppression. But they now stand about wondering how the machinery of this enormous empire might actually be retained.
After centuries of hating everything Roman, here they were faced with an opportunity to send it to oblivion, and they choked. Maybe the empire wasn’t so bad after all, they reasoned, especially now the oppressed are in control.
Yet they couldn’t forge bronze. So to keep the system working, the barbarians decided to rip out the reinforcing struts in Roman buildings. These were the pockmarks in the Colosseum.
That’s a perfect analogy for what’s happening in large parts of the Western world. The liberation movements certainly had a case. Bound under centuries of systemic oppression, minorities and women fought to be free. In their many battles against the status quo, their forces chipped at the foundations and changed what it meant to be powerful. Now, in 2016, there is amazing diversity in all layers of society.
I don’t want to be cynical, but boy oh boy is it hard not to observe that at the very moment in our history when we have the most minorities and women in business and government, Western society is perceived to be unproductive, distracted, bickering, easily manipulated, passive and powerless.
And I’ll risk the blowback to say those are all stereotypes of women and minorities. Before you go crazy, I’m not saying this is causal. I’m saying the reverse: when the men in a society start to think their society isn’t worth maintaining, the machinery of that society breaks down while they remove the actual power and hand over the trappings of power.
In an effort to make room for historically marginalised groups, power-seeking men voluntarily stepped away from traditional positions of power to flow…somewhere else. Here we must ask the question: when more women and minorities enter a field, it means less men did. And if power-seeking men aren't bothering about government, for instance, where did they go? I assume they aren’t at home with the kids.
Think again about the barbarians in Rome.
No, I’m not comparing minorities and women to barbarians, but the effects are identical. Even those liberation movements assumed the system they hated was created by white men. And in their righteous effort to alter that system for the better, I want to suggest the people who knew how to make bronze were exiled. In 2016, no one wants to listen to a “white man’s” opinion on government, academia and media anymore.
But I don’t think those men disappeared, and they certainly weren’t forcibly exiled. They appear to have sold the society they created and flowed towards new power bastions leaving the well-constructed machinery in the hands of new owners. Where are these new bastions? Consider how many white males are bankers, lobbyists or owners of the most powerful machine of power ever devised – the internet.
After a few decades, if these new owners find they want to maintain this “oppressive” system rather than destroy it, but no one remembers how to forge bronze, perhaps those metaphorical struts in the Colosseum will be plucked.
The machinery left behind by white men isn't working very well. We are all barbarians now. But we could pick up the oil-can and squeeze out a few drops. Actually, make that an entire vat of the brown, gooey stuff. If the new owners want to repair it, they simply need to understand how the machinery works. Thankfully, those white men were excellent at writing it all down.
Muslims entering Western society in droves is only a short-term dynamic of what started with the liberation movements all those years ago. It is a replacement of the white male-dominated/created societal system.
When asked whether mass migration leads to war - or whether war leads to mass migration, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld said, "There is no difference. Mass migration is war." And the victorious now find themselves staring at a machinery they don’t remember how to maintain, or even its original purpose.
But if the new owners think the no-longer powerful machinery of the old system is worth maintaining, there’s still some tried-and-true steps they could take:
Make it a priority to expose immigrants to soap operas, give them books, teach them English, give them Facebook accounts, incorporate their ideas into Wikipedia, pay for their schooling at universities and ensure their children attend primary and secondary schools.
Give them minimum wage so they can buy consumer goods, send them credit cards, expose them to dreams of affluence on Playboy or Instagram, encourage their women to straighten their hair to appear "sexier," let L'oreal and Dove cover them with ideas about make-up, invite the young males to play soccer, buy iPhones, pour Western-style aspirational advertising into their minds, include them in political parties, etc, etc. The list goes on and on.
There’s no need to worry about Muslim immigrants who choose to travel to the West. They are post-Christian in their worldview already. Show them how to discuss their jihadism in the dialectic of the default assumptions of the modern Western world. Begin conversations with the conclusion already decided.
In other words, keep talking about the Islamic "State." The more Muslims keep using that word, the more likely they are to desire a nation-state of their own. Remember the machinery. The nation-state is not an Islamic idea, it is a Western idea. The system will win. Keep forcing their terrorists to hate Western targets, because if they assume the West is tyrannical they are assuming it is in control. The system wins again. The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.
As for that tight group of isolated pure jihadists? Kill them where they stand. Every well-aimed Hellfire missile sends two signals: that the path of a true-believer is antithetical to the advertisements on Facebook, and that the West's long arm can strike anywhere on the planet.
Even better, in one explosion a zealot's ability to spread an alternative message by powerful word-of-mouth is drastically limited. As in, obliterated. The goal should be to force a message’s spread using the internet. If that happens, any truly alternative idea of jihadist government will be using the tools of the system to fight that system – a sure path to failure.
Digital is precisely where we want the jihadist message. Tucked in with a myriad of ideas, mixing and diluting. The internet enables “history editing” to cut and slice the message. Any moderately sophisticated cyber user can change messages over and over until no one remembers the original meaning.
The internet is the quintessential American invention. It is egalitarian, democratic, flat and global. It is a new world in which anything can be altered for any political purpose and no one will see you do it. And jihadists want to use it to spread their message! HA! The system wins.
Ironically, it may actually be good advice to keep talking about Islam’s need of reformation. The trick is to get Muslims to repeat this. That will be a powerful maintenance of the assumption that not only is the arc of Christianity the correct arc, it reinforce the quiet acceptance of the West holding the power to decide the framing of the conversation.
Do you want real democracy? Then stop deferring your only interaction to three-year election cycles. Engage with the system. Don't blame the elected officials for what you should be doing to help the community. If the machinery continues to rust, the problem isn’t spineless politicians, women or Islamic minorities – the problem is you.
Ask yourself, instead of whining about the collapsing Western society, what you have done lately to repair this wonderful model of government? Wouldn’t it be liberating and empowering to know that you can do something meaningful every day to maintain this concept? If you don’t want to, that’s fine.
But if you're reading it, it’s for you.