It's easy to find examples of barbaric and decadent civilizations. We can find all the barbaric civilizations to suit an entire faculty's worth of anthropologists in the Middle East. And then back home we can see the decadent civilization that employs their kind to bemoan the West.
Vigorous is what America used to be when it was moving west, producing at record rates and becoming a world power. Decadent is what it is becoming.
The barbaric civilization is the simplest of all. It runs on kinship. Pre-rational, it operates on explosions of emotion. It has no concept of enduring facts or objective reasoning. It holds life cheaply and kills casually. It loathes outsiders and has no universal laws. It is ruled by hierarchies which gain their position through brutality and trickery.
The decadent civilization has a million laws which it applies selectively. Its universal laws, inherited from a vigorous civilization, are so mired in legalisms as to be meaningless. The laws do not mean what they say. Instead they must be interpreted by a specialized caste. Everyone is always in violation of some obscure laws. Life depends on a lawless dispensation from the law.
The crucial task of the law is interpretation that keeps everyone from constantly being punished. This task is accomplished by lawyers, lobbyists and the politicians who are constantly adding more laws to fix the interpretations in the old laws creating a complex mass of contradictory information.
This holds true in every other area of life.
Interpretation is what the decadent civilization does best. While vigorous civilizations discover new things, decadent civilizations endlessly categorize and re-categorize them to accommodate intellectual fads.
The decadents are great categorizers. They know where everything should belong. They employ armies of bureaucrats to operate vast filing systems which never quite work as planned. They don't cure diseases. That's what vigorous civilizations do. But they do spend billions on medical record systems that never seem to be compatible with each other.
Decadents have a great deal of information and no idea what to do with it. The great task of decadent civilizations is a futile effort to organize all the information they have so that they can make use of it. The internet is the ultimate such mechanism and it is largely a failure as such. It has many entertaining and useful aspects, but it is actually becoming more disorganized with time, rather than less so. ObamaCare is another information organizational failure. So is the VA.
The decadent civilization is convinced that if it can amass enough information, its interpretations will be superior, but its information gathering techniques and its interpretative techniques are both fatally flawed by an inability to focus, by ideologically obsessions and societal corruption. Scientists may have more rapid access to more information, but the scientific community is more contaminated leading to worse results. Similarly, corruption undermines information gathering efforts from the start as projects are diverted to crony contractors by corrupt politicians.
Vigorous civilizations understand that a process must be kept clean by open debate. Decadent civilizations operate corrupt closed processes while convinced of their own innate superiority.
Decadent civilizations are less interested in discovering new things than in disproving old things. The corruption of the decadent civilizations handicaps its advancement. The middling talents at the helm rewrite history while justifying their misrule by denouncing the achievements of their vigorous ancestors.
Where the vigorous civilization disproves the old through its achievements, the decadent civilization considers the disproving of the old civilization to be an achievement in and of itself. Where the vigorous civilization outside its parent, the decadent civilization is still stuck fighting "Daddy".
If you examine our achievements today, they increasingly have much to do with the supposed social and intellectual progress we have made since the fifties. This progress is relative. It depends on how we view the fifties rather than what we actually have. Worse still, much of this progress is in outlook, rather than in reality. We are better because we are morally superior.
Despite the disdain for the past, decadent civilizations struggle to do more than deconstruct and then helplessly imitate the past. Chaotic deconstruction of past creative arts is followed by retro copying of them, first ironically and then earnestly. Nostalgia becomes the central industry of a civilization increasingly incapable of making its own culture.
The central cultural critique becomes updating older works to more politically correct forms. A classic character is made black or gay. Problems with diversity or sexism are tackled. The critic becomes a commissar whose job is to sanctify the transformation of an old politically incorrect work as politically correct. That is the role of the social justice warrior.
All this energy makes it appear as if there is cultural ferment when nothing is actually being produced. Instead older works are being "cleaned up" in keeping with new social values by a civilization that frantically chews up the past in a desire to forget the problems of the present.
People living in decadent civilization have a greater need for entertainment due to leisure time, extended adolescence and the breakup of the family. But their lack of meaningful work, family engagement and adult responsibilities leaves them increasingly less able to produce it. Instead they become children putting together pieces of stories that "Daddy" once told them while taking the credit.
Decadents confuse criticism and curation with creativity. They develop great sensitivity to everything from literary styles to foods. In a decadent society, everyone is a cultivated critic, but these critics value style over substance. Their criticism is a cultural signal rather than a mastery of technique. The decadent civilization is obsessed with taste as brand. It is sensitive to subtleties, but fails to see the large flaws in a work. Its creativity is microscopically innovative and macroscopically a failure. Its subtle refinements cannot compensate for the lack of vision.
In a decadent civilization, everyone can be a critic or a collector of something, even as no one actually produces anything new until there are more critics and collectors than creators.
The decadent civilization spends much of its time and effort in a battle against apathy. It is forever "raising awareness" about something or other. Its sophisticated messaging however creates apathy as quickly as it erases it. Its messaging becomes more short term and more hysterical. Everything is a crisis and every message is pitched at the highest possible level.
The outrage of today is quickly forgotten by the outrage of tomorrow. The organizers dream of sustaining awareness for real change only to dive into the next round of short-term messaging.
In a decadent civilization, everyone is always fighting a political battle, while the real changes are orchestrated by power groups behind the scenes and presented as fait accomplis to a bewildered public.And most of what is debated is a distraction from what truly matters.
Barbaric and decadent civilizations are both so dishonest that they are incapable of seeing their own lies.
The barbaric civilization simply does not understand the concept of a fixed truth. The minds of its people are capable of understanding it as an abstract notion, but not of holding it in their minds on a specific subjective matter of interest to them. A barbarian can understand that stealing is wrong, but not that robbing you is wrong.
A decadent however can understand that stealing from you is wrong, but not that stealing itself is wrong. The decadent civilization does not have fixed truths. Its people are trained to apply mores to subjective situations, much as barbarians do naturally. While barbarians can evolve from the fixed truth to the fixed value, the decadents have devolved by rejecting the fixed truth.
Fixed truths have been deconstructed and routed through a complex array of relativistic values. A decadent understands that murdering this baby right here is wrong, but can be taught that it is acceptable to trade parts of dead fetuses. For decadents in an information society, definitions are very important. Decadents and barbarians have an empathy that is triggered by cultural signals.
For barbarians, these signals are honor-shame kin-based. For decadents, the cultural signals are more complex group-based signals that are routed through complex intellectual justifications. These justifications naturally create their own unrecognized hypocrisies. Enemy civilians killed in a Republican's war are a horrific atrocity. Those killed in a Democrat's war don't exist.
Groups are politicized and every moral code is routed through an identity politics based on insecurity. There are no morals, only sides. Responses are emotional to shortcut rational reasoning. Decadents function like barbarians, not because they are barbarians, but because their minds have been wired in complex ways by brilliantly dishonest men in academia to reduce them to barbarians.
A major difference between vigorous and decadent civilizations is objectivity and long term thinking. Decadents are incapable of either while vigorous civilizations thrive on both. If decadent civilizations could engage in long term thinking, they wouldn't be doomed. If they could engage in objective reasoning, they wouldn't be slaves to the media machines under a lawless tyranny.
The barbaric and vigorous civilizations speak little of sex and yet have high birth rates. Decadent civilizations are obsessed with sex and have few children. Perversions multiply in decadent civilizations, especially among the elites, who have the fewest morals, the most wealth and the greatest need for new taboos to violate. This is not a cause. It is only the symptom.
Gay marriage, like so much else, is the symptom of a decadent elite that confuses its own power and privilege with civil rights, that wants to legalize its illicit behaviors even though it only embarked on them because of their illicitness. In its perversity, it must find new taboos to violate each time an old one becomes socially accepted, before then embarking on a civil rights struggle to make its latest taboo socially acceptable so that one day it's gay marriage and the next it's men in dresses.
Barbarians have large families and a tolerance for limited personal space. They speak loudly, are more casual about the deaths of their children, and view success in terms of power. Decadents speak softly, have a high need for personal space, have small families while playing helicopter parents and view success in terms of their own unattainable happiness. Vigorous civilizations have medium sized families, speak loudly, view success in terms of personal accomplishment, are not too concerned about personal space and value their children while allowing them to take risks.
Decadents want emotional rewards without commitments. As a result they are constantly unhappy. They pursue happiness as if it were a quality that could be permanently obtained through the right techniques, rather than a shifting response to the rigors of daily life. The more decadents do this, the more unstable they become, obsessively self-medicating and attempting to otherwise set the conditions of their happiness by controlling its application, and blaming others for their failure.
The more deranged decadents search for those who deny them their right to happiness by failing to accept them, reward them or otherwise please them until they find meaning only in attacking others. Behind their venom is narcissistic self-pity, they are searching for revenge against a cruel world when they are the authors of their own unhappiness.
The decadent civilization senses inwardly that it has no future. It becomes obsessed with apocalypses. Its people are always fixated on the next great threat to their health individually and the next great disaster that will bring their civilization to its knees. While vigorous civilizations boldly stride forward into the unknown, decadents are nervous and unsure. They veer between comfort zones and ritualized displays of destructive behavior that accomplish nothing except the illusion of freedom.
Vigorous civilizations pursue meaningful risks. Decadent civilizations pursue meaningless ones. For a vigorous civilization, adventure ends with an accomplishment. For a decadent civilization, risk is the accomplishment.
The decadent civilization obsessively manages risk. Its layers of government are mainly dedicated to that task. Accomplishment in a decadent civilization becomes a difficult task because of the many lawyers of corporate and government risk management standing in the way of getting anything done.
Fear is the true currency of the decadent civilization. A corrupted fear that is used to expand a vast bureaucracy that claims to manage risk, but in reality manages who is allowed to circumvent it. Groups are stampeded into accepting new tiers of fear government and fear authority based on the risk that something might happen. And yet the source of the fear is never dealt with.
A vigorous civilization rushes out to deal with threats. A decadent civilization imprisons itself out of fear.
Decadence in a civilization can be reversed. While the barbarian civilization must evolve upward, the decadent civilization must undo the damage that is devolving it. This is easier than it seems. Unlike the barbarian civilization, the decadent civilization has most of the same infrastructure, physical and mental, of the vigorous civilization. Only its ideas have become corrupted.
And even this deeper corruption is largely limited to the elites and the professional classes, while the rest of the civilization has experienced only a surface corruption that is easily wiped away.
The difficulty is however structural. A decadent civilization becomes more top-down with each year. And the source of the corruption is at the top. Removing the source of the corruption requires either removing all or almost all of the elites, and sizable sections of the professional classes as well. Or a campaign of ideas that transforms them as fundamentally as they were transformed.
Either is a daunting proposition. Both require a fundamental transformation, but the former transformation is structural, a revolution that changes how a civilization is run, displacing elites across all the tiers of society, while the latter is a revolution of ideas.