Flat White

Is the West cannibalising itself?

2 March 2022

4:00 AM

2 March 2022

4:00 AM

As Putin’s army continues its invasion of Ukraine, I am beginning to fear we are seeing Western society cannibalise itself from the inside out and it will put us at risk of being overcome by competing forces – à la China and Russia.

Instead of building on the tenets that have defined Western society since the ancient Greeks, we are deconstructing them. We seem to forget we have inherited the democratic society in which we live. We ought to remember that the age-old process of passing down traditions means we now enjoy the most egalitarian, free, inclusive, and economically prosperous society in human history.

One of the most clear-cut examples of this, as reported by World Vision, is ‘since 1990, more than 1.2 billion people have risen out of extreme poverty. Now, 9.2 per cent of the world survives on less than $1.90 a day, compared to nearly 36 per cent in 1990’. Despite the challenges Covid has caused, we are still on track to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, which in just two hundred years has dropped from 94 per cent of the population living under those conditions.

This is just one of the many examples of capitalism and Western thought affecting changes that have transformed the quality of life for the majority of people on earth. However, this is not to say our current world is perfect – far from it. Believing such a thing would lead us blindly down a path of complacency and apathy.

Rather, in the spirit of those great men and women who walked before us, we should seek to continue the great democratic traditions of the past and develop them for the greater good of contemporary society and our children.

We are moving away from this approach and now a narrative has formed where a significant proportion of people propagate the notion that Western culture is flawed by greed, intolerance, and inequality. This is an easy story to believe but a lot of the objective data shows this notion is wrong on its face. I challenge people to name a time they would rather live in than right now.

This nihilistic sentiment has gained serious traction and is going to have dangerous repercussions if we continue to buy into it. It is anti-progressive because it is destroying the key pillars of a civilisation that have been built over two millennia and brought us to a point of unparalleled wealth and inclusion.

China must be watching us and licking their lips, because Western culture is doing to itself what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does to its citizens. Like those who question the CCP, people who go against the dominant left-wing orthodoxy are routinely shut down and de-platformed.

In the twenty-four-seven news cycle, we are repeatedly seeing scenes out of George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare, 1984. One of the most prevalent instances is the Two Minutes Hate, a daily, public period where members of the party must cravenly express their abhorrence for enemies of the state.

Today, this is a common occurrence, where people who offer alternative views face backlash from a ruthless mob calling for their head. The most recent example of this is Joe Rogan, who is receiving ferocious criticism for speaking with people viewed in the Orwellian terminology as ‘committing a thought-crime’.

The attacks accumulated to a public apology which was not so different from Otto Warmbier’s show trial, where he confessed his guilt and begged the North Korean people for forgiveness.

This, despite the fact Rogan hosts a wide range of people on his show offering different opinions on topics. We should all be striving to reach Rogan’s level of curiosity, openness, and willingness to grow through long, deep, and philosophical conversations. It is one of the best models for accelerating growth within society. One just needs to look at Plato’s Republic, which is proven to be one of the world’s most influential works of philosophy and political theory, to see the power of dialogue.

Even if the person is wrong, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to realise an idea should be avoided or to build it into something that can drive impact at scale. Overall, these are net positives for the world.

The most important innovators of humankind often faced rebuke when they first publicised their revolutionary thoughts. Instead of cowering, they bravely fought for their voices to be heard and were able to make the world a better place. Some of these include Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection, the earth revolving around the sun, the civil rights movement, diseases being spread by germs, the light bulb, the automobile, and the aeroplane — the list goes on.

Instead of exploring opinions outside of the norm, we now write them off as misinformation, which has become one of the favourite weapons of cancel culture. Through this, we are entering pernicious territory. Who are we to decide one ought to adhere to a viewpoint because it is unquestionably true? If history has taught us anything, the only truism is that nothing is ever absolute and universal truths are constantly shifting.

Besides, things that would see people banned from social media for misinformation 12 months ago are now widely considered to be fact. Look at the Covid ‘Lab-Leak Theory’.

Throughout time, it has been well documented how easily we can get things wrong due to the flawed nature of human perception, which is why I am so perplexed by this emerging culture of dogmatism and censorship.

The phenomenon has gotten so powerful that people are scared to admit Leonardo DiCaprio’s last Netflix film, Don’t Look Up was a terrible movie. A recent article about the movie genuinely frightened me. Published by The Independent, a piece entitled Don’t Look Up: It’s OK to hate it, assures us that we can think ‘something’s rubbish, even if it is about the climate crisis’.

This is alarming behaviour. It is essentially saying ‘it’s okay if you do not like this tribute to the zeitgeist. If you confess your sins and state your support for the movement but did not enjoy the film from an entertainment perspective, then you are not – God forbid – a climate denier’.

Again, it is not so dissimilar from what you would see in communist China or when the Catholic Church was at the peak of its influence.

Moving forward, the solution is simple. We must end this monolithic approach and return to harnessing the collective genius of the past, present and future. The answer is always in the middle and that can only be arrived at through hard discussions that take everyone’s viewpoints into consideration.

If we are unable to do this, we risk weakening our position of strength and authority. China and Russia can already sense this, which is why we will continue to see them disrupt the world order and become more brazen in doing so.

Our security is not guaranteed. It is time we acknowledge this and unite because we have a lot to lose.

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