Living in an Age of Decadence?

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Painboy
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Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Painboy »

This is piece by Ross Douthat concerning Western stagnation. I don't agree with all of it. There are a couple things I think he gets fundamentally wrong but I think he makes some interesting points.
The truth of the first decades of the 21st century, a truth that helped give us the Trump presidency but will still be an important truth when he is gone, is that we probably aren’t entering a 1930-style crisis for Western liberalism or hurtling forward toward transhumanism or extinction. Instead, we are aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer optimistic about the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we await some saving innovation or revelation, growing old unhappily together in the light of tiny screens.

The farther you get from that iPhone glow, the clearer it becomes: Our civilization has entered into decadence.
Following in the footsteps of the great cultural critic Jacques Barzun, we can say that decadence refers to economic stagnation, institutional decay and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development. Under decadence, Barzun wrote, “The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result.” He added, “When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.” And crucially, the stagnation is often a consequence of previous development: The decadent society is, by definition, a victim of its own success.
The italics are mine. It's something I've been wondering about. How success often seems to plant the seeds of it's own destruction.

I really like this point.
But our battles mostly still reflect what Barzun called “the deadlocks of our time” — the Kavanaugh Affair replaying the Clarence Thomas hearings, the debates over political correctness cycling us backward to fights that were fresh and new in the 1970s and ’80s. The hysteria with which we’re experiencing them may represent nothing more than the way that a decadent society manages its political passions, by encouraging people to playact extremism, to re-enact the 1930s or 1968 on social media, to approach radical politics as a sport, a hobby, a kick to the body chemistry, that doesn’t put anything in their relatively comfortable late-modern lives at risk.
This was put really well too. The idea from some that the internet makes everything worse or that it empowers people to do crazy things.
The terrorist in 21st-century America isn’t the guy who sees more deeply than the rest; he’s the guy who doesn’t get it, who takes the stuff he reads on the internet literally in a way that most of the people posting don’t, who confuses virtual entertainment with reality. The left-winger who tries to assassinate Republicans isn’t just a little deeper into the Resistance mind-set than the average activist; he’s the guy who totally misunderstands the Resistance, who listens to all the online talk about treason and Fascism and thinks that he’s really in 1940s France. The guy who parks his truck on the Hoover Dam and demands that certain imaginary indictments be unsealed isn’t just a little more action oriented than the typical QAnon conspiracy theorist; he fundamentally misunderstands those labyrinthine theories, taking them as literal claims about the world rather than as what they are for their creators (a sport, a grift, a hobby) and for most of their participants (an odd form of virtual community).

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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

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The Decadence Of Our Time has been a thing since Oog complained to Ugh about those new-fangled atlatls.
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by D.A. Ridgely »

America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.
-- Oscar Wilde

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Eric the .5b
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Eric the .5b »

The real decadence is Ross Douthat still getting published.
Aresen wrote:
08 Feb 2020, 22:52
The Decadence Of Our Time has been a thing since Oog complained to Ugh about those new-fangled atlatls.
And specifically, when America isn't being presented as clueless and hayseed, it's presented as decadent. See also all the talk about the Fall of the American Empire, which, as far as I can tell, started within minutes of anyone perceiving America to have anything like an empire and will continue on until, finally, some lucky bunch of wags get to feel very smart.

The actually grating thing I see is that an earlier-born Douthat would write the same damn article in the 1960s (or any other time he tries to contrast the present with). He'd cite different facts—our fascination with plastics or the pompous, extravagant display of putting a few men on a cold, dead rock, etc.—and come to the same conclusion as our Douthat, because he'd live in actual history and not the simplistic, theme-park version of it that this Douthat looks back at. I say this because I've read so many then-contemporary essays saying just that and spelling out how any given period in the last century or so of American history was decadent. It's an easy, arch way of blowing past all the annoying details of why social and political discontent exist.

Now, when we finally have an era where commenters say we're all paying attention to the real issues and society is engaged in vitality, real meaning, growth, etc? At that point, we're probably deeply, deeply fucked in a horrific manner.
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

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Does dhex get royalties from Douthat for horning in on his Barzunian game?
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

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It’s barzunian!

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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Painboy »

Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
And specifically, when America isn't being presented as clueless and hayseed, it's presented as decadent. See also all the talk about the Fall of the American Empire, which, as far as I can tell, started within minutes of anyone perceiving America to have anything like an empire and will continue on until, finally, some lucky bunch of wags get to feel very smart.
Yeah something I roll my eyes at as well. In his defense he doesn't quite go so far as declaring the end of an "empire." He acknowledges that there isn't any impending fall and that things could go on for hundreds of years before things would actually come apart.
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
The actually grating thing I see is that an earlier-born Douthat would write the same damn article in the 1960s (or any other time he tries to contrast the present with). He'd cite different facts—our fascination with plastics or the pompous, extravagant display of putting a few men on a cold, dead rock, etc.—and come to the same conclusion as our Douthat, because he'd live in actual history and not the simplistic, theme-park version of it that this Douthat looks back at. I say this because I've read so many then-contemporary essays saying just that and spelling out how any given period in the last century or so of American history was decadent. It's an easy, arch way of blowing past all the annoying details of why social and political discontent exist.

Now, when we finally have an era where commenters say we're all paying attention to the real issues and society is engaged in vitality, real meaning, growth, etc? At that point, we're probably deeply, deeply fucked in a horrific manner.
This is where I definitely disagree with him. He has that annoying view where the moon landing is somehow "real" and smaller unseen improvements are not. The moon landing was a great feat of human engineering and provides a great highlight and milestone in the history of science. However, it's practical effects on a civilization and society as a whole are fairly meager. A cynic might even see at as little more than a kind of scientific stunt. Flashy but transient. What's being missed is understanding the infrastructure that had to be built just to accomplish it.

This brings me to the point where he, like many others I've seen, dismiss the advances in tech like they're not real. Like it's really all just improved typewriters or something. The improvements and innovations that tech has made seem small when considered individually but when taken all together it's immense. It's not showy, and has been so successful it has become ubiquitous, so it gets little praise or acknowledgement. But because there is no Eiffel Tower or Hoover Dam it's not really "important."

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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Jennifer »

Once again, I can't read the whole piece since it's the NYTimes and I lack a subscription. But when I searched for "Douthat" and "decadence" I learned he's been writing columns and entire books on that theme since at least 2015 (first page of search results includes a NYTimes blog link from that year, titled "Star Wars" and Decadence). But assuming this latest Douthat piece makes basically the same arguments I'm seeing elsewhere (in addition to the bits Painboy quoted in his first post) ... yeah, my first thought was that he could've said this at any time.
Under decadence, Barzun wrote, “The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result.” He added, “When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.” And crucially, the stagnation is often a consequence of previous development: The decadent society is, by definition, a victim of its own success.
Could've said this in the 1950s and 60s too: the popular, cynical new book Catch-22 (published early 60s, written starting in early 1950s) -- the US won World War Two but instead of celebrating our achievement, Heller portrays it as a futile, absurd and often evil endeavor even among the non-Nazi non-Communist forces -- the fact that it's as popular as it is shows how decadent our culture has become.

1910s through '30s, a decadent society of people gorging on the mindless new entertainments of moving pictures and radio (before everything came crashing down in the Depression--y'all had fun dancing, now it's time to pay the fiddler), while Don Marquis got rich and famous writing archy and mehitabel, a series of free-verse poems ostensibly typed by a literal cockroach who mostly complained about America and its awesomeness (as in his notorious 1935 piece "the big bad wolf"):
...when a pig is eaten by a wolf
he realizes that something is wrong with the world
but when he is eaten by a man
he must thank god fervently
that he is being useful to a superior being
it must be the same way
with a colored man who is being lynched
he must be grateful that he is being lynched
in a land of freedom and liberty
and not in any of the old world countries
of darkness and oppression
where men are still the victims
of kings iniquity and constipation....
But even if you take Douthat's current complaints at face value -- when he said "we are aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer optimistic about the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we await some saving innovation or revelation, growing old unhappily together in the light of tiny screens..." my immediate question is, "Who is this aging and comfortable 'we' Douthat is talking about?"

If "we" means Douthat and others in his social and professional circle -- IIRC, Douthat is a well-to-do middle-aged white male pundit with enough religious-conservative ideas to be very disapproving of certain recent social changes, particularly those greater acceptance of non-procreative sexuality (everything from gay marriage to contraception -- IIRC Douthat subscribes to that obsessive form of religion wherein the single most important form of "morality" is making sure consenting adults never have orgasms unless a baby might result nine months later) ... okay, from his particular perspective things are getting decadent and cynical.

But I wonder what a teenager or young 20-something might think about current and likely-future social trends, especially one belonging to any demographic other than "white, male and with traditionally religious sexuality" -- sure, with the rise of Trump and America's racism renaissance there are many reasons to be concerned, but there are just as many reasons to feel optimistic: we're seeing some significant changes to the traditional American status quo that generally shat upon people like us -- not white, not male, not interested in a traditional babymaking heterosexual marriage, not the kind of people who'd populate Douthat's ideal America -- I think they're less likely to think of today's America as a stagnating "victim of its own success." From their perspective, stagnation (or clinging to an unjust status quo) is precisely what they're seeking to end.
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Mo »

Painboy wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 14:55
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
And specifically, when America isn't being presented as clueless and hayseed, it's presented as decadent. See also all the talk about the Fall of the American Empire, which, as far as I can tell, started within minutes of anyone perceiving America to have anything like an empire and will continue on until, finally, some lucky bunch of wags get to feel very smart.
Yeah something I roll my eyes at as well. In his defense he doesn't quite go so far as declaring the end of an "empire." He acknowledges that there isn't any impending fall and that things could go on for hundreds of years before things would actually come apart.
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
The actually grating thing I see is that an earlier-born Douthat would write the same damn article in the 1960s (or any other time he tries to contrast the present with). He'd cite different facts—our fascination with plastics or the pompous, extravagant display of putting a few men on a cold, dead rock, etc.—and come to the same conclusion as our Douthat, because he'd live in actual history and not the simplistic, theme-park version of it that this Douthat looks back at. I say this because I've read so many then-contemporary essays saying just that and spelling out how any given period in the last century or so of American history was decadent. It's an easy, arch way of blowing past all the annoying details of why social and political discontent exist.

Now, when we finally have an era where commenters say we're all paying attention to the real issues and society is engaged in vitality, real meaning, growth, etc? At that point, we're probably deeply, deeply fucked in a horrific manner.
This is where I definitely disagree with him. He has that annoying view where the moon landing is somehow "real" and smaller unseen improvements are not. The moon landing was a great feat of human engineering and provides a great highlight and milestone in the history of science. However, it's practical effects on a civilization and society as a whole are fairly meager. A cynic might even see at as little more than a kind of scientific stunt. Flashy but transient. What's being missed is understanding the infrastructure that had to be built just to accomplish it.

This brings me to the point where he, like many others I've seen, dismiss the advances in tech like they're not real. Like it's really all just improved typewriters or something. The improvements and innovations that tech has made seem small when considered individually but when taken all together it's immense. It's not showy, and has been so successful it has become ubiquitous, so it gets little praise or acknowledgement. But because there is no Eiffel Tower or Hoover Dam it's not really "important."
I kinda disagree with this a bit. If you look at things like productivity growth and GDP growth, there is a longer term malaise. If you do the, what would people 20 years ago think of the world today, then there’s definitely a point. Like the people in 2000 would think tech advances were cool, but not nearly as much as the people in 1950 would if they woke up in 1970.
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by JasonL »

Logistics and supply chain have undergone profound shifts. It’s hard to see because you don’t get to see the parallel world where price points and availability of goods didn’t scale. The consumer side of globalization, the enabling technologies and the primacy of consumer interests are very significant relative to their appreciation in popular discourse. There have been unbelievable strides in delivering quality at scale throughout the economy.

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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Painboy »

Mo wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 16:45
Painboy wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 14:55
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
And specifically, when America isn't being presented as clueless and hayseed, it's presented as decadent. See also all the talk about the Fall of the American Empire, which, as far as I can tell, started within minutes of anyone perceiving America to have anything like an empire and will continue on until, finally, some lucky bunch of wags get to feel very smart.
Yeah something I roll my eyes at as well. In his defense he doesn't quite go so far as declaring the end of an "empire." He acknowledges that there isn't any impending fall and that things could go on for hundreds of years before things would actually come apart.
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
The actually grating thing I see is that an earlier-born Douthat would write the same damn article in the 1960s (or any other time he tries to contrast the present with). He'd cite different facts—our fascination with plastics or the pompous, extravagant display of putting a few men on a cold, dead rock, etc.—and come to the same conclusion as our Douthat, because he'd live in actual history and not the simplistic, theme-park version of it that this Douthat looks back at. I say this because I've read so many then-contemporary essays saying just that and spelling out how any given period in the last century or so of American history was decadent. It's an easy, arch way of blowing past all the annoying details of why social and political discontent exist.

Now, when we finally have an era where commenters say we're all paying attention to the real issues and society is engaged in vitality, real meaning, growth, etc? At that point, we're probably deeply, deeply fucked in a horrific manner.
This is where I definitely disagree with him. He has that annoying view where the moon landing is somehow "real" and smaller unseen improvements are not. The moon landing was a great feat of human engineering and provides a great highlight and milestone in the history of science. However, it's practical effects on a civilization and society as a whole are fairly meager. A cynic might even see at as little more than a kind of scientific stunt. Flashy but transient. What's being missed is understanding the infrastructure that had to be built just to accomplish it.

This brings me to the point where he, like many others I've seen, dismiss the advances in tech like they're not real. Like it's really all just improved typewriters or something. The improvements and innovations that tech has made seem small when considered individually but when taken all together it's immense. It's not showy, and has been so successful it has become ubiquitous, so it gets little praise or acknowledgement. But because there is no Eiffel Tower or Hoover Dam it's not really "important."
I kinda disagree with this a bit. If you look at things like productivity growth and GDP growth, there is a longer term malaise. If you do the, what would people 20 years ago think of the world today, then there’s definitely a point. Like the people in 2000 would think tech advances were cool, but not nearly as much as the people in 1950 would if they woke up in 1970.
I don't think current measurements of productivity do a very good job of capturing it's impact. People have removed an enormous amount of work and time from their jobs. It's one of the main reasons people can bring up work life balance so much these days. They can do this because of numerous tech innovations that allow them to. The fact that I can do my job from home if I need to was almost completely unavailable even 10 years ago. For instance you don't need to convene meetings constantly to keep up with projects when you can just IM the people you need to talk to and everyone can exchange documents or whatever online. I mean an office in 1950 didn't look that much different than one in the 1970s. Currently I work in what is an essentially paperless office aside from the odd post it note. It's not quite the Jetsons but it's a pretty massive change.

I think the quality of products is greatly increased from what it was before as well. Using various data gathering and feedback mechanisms companies make less mistakes and usually catch the ones they miss much faster. They are also numerous signals available to companies now that allow for a greater insight into what consumers actually need or want other than just sales numbers. All this reduces the amount of waste created, makes for better consumer experiences, and helps prevent really disastrous business decisions.

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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by dead_elvis »

Jennifer wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 15:56

But even if you take Douthat's current complaints at face value -- when he said "we are aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer optimistic about the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we await some saving innovation or revelation, growing old unhappily together in the light of tiny screens..." my immediate question is, "Who is this aging and comfortable 'we' Douthat is talking about?"
I kept trying to formulate a response but virtually every paragraph had *something* to pick on and I think this kinda sums up my complaint on a broader scale. Maybe *his* (friends'? cow-workers'? general cohort's?) lives are lacking vitality, maybe the art forms *he* likes feel dead-ended, maybe the things he does and the use of the products *he* uses don't add meaning to his life, etc.

His cultural critique sounds like it's 1981 and complaining that the 70s sucked for music. Well yeah, if all you did was listen to top 40 and watch variety shows. All the "vitality" was happening in areas that weren't visible at the time, as I'm sure they aren't now. I was horrified by the glitzy vapidity of the super bowl half time show, but why would I be looking there for something significant anyway? Mass culture has always been "decadent". Sure, like any civilized person I yearn for a general culture in which twelve-tone music can pack 100,000 seat stadiums, but it's just never been the case.

I feel like he is criticizing us for the quality of our lowest common denominators, but is that where most people really live their lives or look for meaning?

And OMG the "cut off from the past... spurning memory..." What does he think people are watching in the light of those tiny screens? We have access to an enormous swath of the past, as imperfect as it is, and you see it all the time in our culture. What I think is disappearing is a sense of linearity in looking in the past, it all happens simultaneously now, and for some reason this makes Douthat confused and angry. It's not decadence, it's meta-progress that allows for things that would never have been possible in the past. Even though kids always get the past wrong, I still look forward to what some-yet-unknown kid out there is going to do with combining silent film style, 80s SoCal punk, outdated looking 90s 3d animation, and a 00's color palatte. It'll mean all the wrong things and be empty to us, but it'll be vital and meaningful to them. So yeah, who's "we".
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
Now, when we finally have an era where commenters say we're all paying attention to the real issues and society is engaged in vitality, real meaning, growth, etc? At that point, we're probably deeply, deeply fucked in a horrific manner.
And a million times this. Complaints about this stuff always strikes me as "the nation isn't unified under my banner" and they never want you to think about the totalitarian implications if they got their wish.
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Mo »

Painboy wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 19:03
Mo wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 16:45
Painboy wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 14:55
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
And specifically, when America isn't being presented as clueless and hayseed, it's presented as decadent. See also all the talk about the Fall of the American Empire, which, as far as I can tell, started within minutes of anyone perceiving America to have anything like an empire and will continue on until, finally, some lucky bunch of wags get to feel very smart.
Yeah something I roll my eyes at as well. In his defense he doesn't quite go so far as declaring the end of an "empire." He acknowledges that there isn't any impending fall and that things could go on for hundreds of years before things would actually come apart.
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
The actually grating thing I see is that an earlier-born Douthat would write the same damn article in the 1960s (or any other time he tries to contrast the present with). He'd cite different facts—our fascination with plastics or the pompous, extravagant display of putting a few men on a cold, dead rock, etc.—and come to the same conclusion as our Douthat, because he'd live in actual history and not the simplistic, theme-park version of it that this Douthat looks back at. I say this because I've read so many then-contemporary essays saying just that and spelling out how any given period in the last century or so of American history was decadent. It's an easy, arch way of blowing past all the annoying details of why social and political discontent exist.

Now, when we finally have an era where commenters say we're all paying attention to the real issues and society is engaged in vitality, real meaning, growth, etc? At that point, we're probably deeply, deeply fucked in a horrific manner.
This is where I definitely disagree with him. He has that annoying view where the moon landing is somehow "real" and smaller unseen improvements are not. The moon landing was a great feat of human engineering and provides a great highlight and milestone in the history of science. However, it's practical effects on a civilization and society as a whole are fairly meager. A cynic might even see at as little more than a kind of scientific stunt. Flashy but transient. What's being missed is understanding the infrastructure that had to be built just to accomplish it.

This brings me to the point where he, like many others I've seen, dismiss the advances in tech like they're not real. Like it's really all just improved typewriters or something. The improvements and innovations that tech has made seem small when considered individually but when taken all together it's immense. It's not showy, and has been so successful it has become ubiquitous, so it gets little praise or acknowledgement. But because there is no Eiffel Tower or Hoover Dam it's not really "important."
I kinda disagree with this a bit. If you look at things like productivity growth and GDP growth, there is a longer term malaise. If you do the, what would people 20 years ago think of the world today, then there’s definitely a point. Like the people in 2000 would think tech advances were cool, but not nearly as much as the people in 1950 would if they woke up in 1970.
I don't think current measurements of productivity do a very good job of capturing it's impact. People have removed an enormous amount of work and time from their jobs. It's one of the main reasons people can bring up work life balance so much these days. They can do this because of numerous tech innovations that allow them to. The fact that I can do my job from home if I need to was almost completely unavailable even 10 years ago. For instance you don't need to convene meetings constantly to keep up with projects when you can just IM the people you need to talk to and everyone can exchange documents or whatever online. I mean an office in 1950 didn't look that much different than one in the 1970s. Currently I work in what is an essentially paperless office aside from the odd post it note. It's not quite the Jetsons but it's a pretty massive change.

I think the quality of products is greatly increased from what it was before as well. Using various data gathering and feedback mechanisms companies make less mistakes and usually catch the ones they miss much faster. They are also numerous signals available to companies now that allow for a greater insight into what consumers actually need or want other than just sales numbers. All this reduces the amount of waste created, makes for better consumer experiences, and helps prevent really disastrous business decisions.
In 2009, 40% of IBM’s nearly 400k employees were remote workers. When I joined in 2007, in the US at least, I was the exception by being in the office 4 days a week. The biggest change has been less around the technology and more around cultural acceptance of remote work. Being able to use data to better capture consumer insights and prevent bad decisions is exactly the sort of stuff that should be indirectly captured in productivity growth. Same with improved logistics.
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Eric the .5b »

dead_elvis wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 21:08
I kept trying to formulate a response but virtually every paragraph had *something* to pick on and I think this kinda sums up my complaint on a broader scale. Maybe *his* (friends'? cow-workers'? general cohort's?) lives are lacking vitality, maybe the art forms *he* likes feel dead-ended, maybe the things he does and the use of the products *he* uses don't add meaning to his life, etc.
Hell, maybe the guy's just had a shitty late 30s.

Though, I can't find any pity for him, because I find his talk about political violence slimy. Lol it's all just trolling and posturing, and I'm gonna talk about one left-wing guy when crazed right-wing gunmen and marching Nazis are the dominant thing, because it doesn't count as bad unless it's 1968-bad..

I'm as glad as anyone else that things aren't late-60s bad, but that doesn't mean they're good, or that they aren't worse than just a few years ago.

In conclusion, fuck Ross Douthat.
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by D.A. Ridgely »

The late 60s were great if you didn't get assassinated or weren't a 27 year old rock star.

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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Warren »

D.A. Ridgely wrote:
10 Feb 2020, 11:08
The late 60s were great if you didn't get assassinated or weren't a 27 year old rock star.
Or just like, a dude between the ages of 18-26.
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Painboy »

Mo wrote:
10 Feb 2020, 02:14
Painboy wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 19:03
Mo wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 16:45
Painboy wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 14:55
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
And specifically, when America isn't being presented as clueless and hayseed, it's presented as decadent. See also all the talk about the Fall of the American Empire, which, as far as I can tell, started within minutes of anyone perceiving America to have anything like an empire and will continue on until, finally, some lucky bunch of wags get to feel very smart.
Yeah something I roll my eyes at as well. In his defense he doesn't quite go so far as declaring the end of an "empire." He acknowledges that there isn't any impending fall and that things could go on for hundreds of years before things would actually come apart.
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
The actually grating thing I see is that an earlier-born Douthat would write the same damn article in the 1960s (or any other time he tries to contrast the present with). He'd cite different facts—our fascination with plastics or the pompous, extravagant display of putting a few men on a cold, dead rock, etc.—and come to the same conclusion as our Douthat, because he'd live in actual history and not the simplistic, theme-park version of it that this Douthat looks back at. I say this because I've read so many then-contemporary essays saying just that and spelling out how any given period in the last century or so of American history was decadent. It's an easy, arch way of blowing past all the annoying details of why social and political discontent exist.

Now, when we finally have an era where commenters say we're all paying attention to the real issues and society is engaged in vitality, real meaning, growth, etc? At that point, we're probably deeply, deeply fucked in a horrific manner.
This is where I definitely disagree with him. He has that annoying view where the moon landing is somehow "real" and smaller unseen improvements are not. The moon landing was a great feat of human engineering and provides a great highlight and milestone in the history of science. However, it's practical effects on a civilization and society as a whole are fairly meager. A cynic might even see at as little more than a kind of scientific stunt. Flashy but transient. What's being missed is understanding the infrastructure that had to be built just to accomplish it.

This brings me to the point where he, like many others I've seen, dismiss the advances in tech like they're not real. Like it's really all just improved typewriters or something. The improvements and innovations that tech has made seem small when considered individually but when taken all together it's immense. It's not showy, and has been so successful it has become ubiquitous, so it gets little praise or acknowledgement. But because there is no Eiffel Tower or Hoover Dam it's not really "important."
I kinda disagree with this a bit. If you look at things like productivity growth and GDP growth, there is a longer term malaise. If you do the, what would people 20 years ago think of the world today, then there’s definitely a point. Like the people in 2000 would think tech advances were cool, but not nearly as much as the people in 1950 would if they woke up in 1970.
I don't think current measurements of productivity do a very good job of capturing it's impact. People have removed an enormous amount of work and time from their jobs. It's one of the main reasons people can bring up work life balance so much these days. They can do this because of numerous tech innovations that allow them to. The fact that I can do my job from home if I need to was almost completely unavailable even 10 years ago. For instance you don't need to convene meetings constantly to keep up with projects when you can just IM the people you need to talk to and everyone can exchange documents or whatever online. I mean an office in 1950 didn't look that much different than one in the 1970s. Currently I work in what is an essentially paperless office aside from the odd post it note. It's not quite the Jetsons but it's a pretty massive change.

I think the quality of products is greatly increased from what it was before as well. Using various data gathering and feedback mechanisms companies make less mistakes and usually catch the ones they miss much faster. They are also numerous signals available to companies now that allow for a greater insight into what consumers actually need or want other than just sales numbers. All this reduces the amount of waste created, makes for better consumer experiences, and helps prevent really disastrous business decisions.
In 2009, 40% of IBM’s nearly 400k employees were remote workers. When I joined in 2007, in the US at least, I was the exception by being in the office 4 days a week. The biggest change has been less around the technology and more around cultural acceptance of remote work. Being able to use data to better capture consumer insights and prevent bad decisions is exactly the sort of stuff that should be indirectly captured in productivity growth. Same with improved logistics.
I'm not sure IBM is the best example of the average US office. Still though I see a bigger difference between 2000 and 2020 than 1950 to 1970.

With productivity I think there has been a real shift with how much work is actually expected to get done anymore. That there is great deal of "slack" that's present in most people's current workplace. I guess you could call this slack a kind potential productivity. The idea being that if employees today worked at the same pace as those in the 1950s a lot more would actually get done. But because of the increased attention to things like work/life balance many employees aren't putting everything they can into being as productive as possible. I think this is directly due to being able to condense a great deal of work in to short periods of time.

Back as recently as the 00s, if you worked at a company with internet access, you could get fired for doing anything non-business related on it. Now it's common for people at work to have Youtube, Facebook, or whatever, open on one of their screens and no one bats an eye. I think this is because we have the ability to do a great deal of work quickly, faster than ever before, but people are choosing free time over more work, and this isn't being reflected in productivity measurements.

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Jennifer
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Jennifer »

For all the ways the 60s surely sucked for those living through it (especially since they did not have the benefit of historic hindsight as we do, to know things like "The Cold War is not going to turn hot" or "Bad as these race riots are, they're not going to devolve into Civil War 2.0 (though if you're looking to invest in real estate, DO NOT buy property in Detroit--no, not even in the good neighborhoods)," still there were many subgroups of Americans with good reason to feel "Whatever's going on right now, it is NOT 'stagnation'. It's actually a long-needed improvement."

For all the various civil rights or "liberation" movements -- black liberation, women's liberation, gay liberation, Indian/Native American liberation, etc., there was ample reason to feel simultaneously worried/pessimistic about the immediate future -- hope I or my loved ones don't get drafted and killed in Vietnam, killed or framed by a corrupt cop, hurt in a riot, etc. -- there were just as many reasons to feel optimistic about America in the long run. Same thing now: for all the horror and vileness of Trump and his enabling GOP bringing openly racist policy back into the government, and all the reasons for concern among many non-white or non-Judeo-Christian subgroups today, once again there's reason to simultaneously feel worry about the immediate future but more optimistic about the long run. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say the rise of Trump and the white nationalists since the election of Obama is exactly analogous to the rise of the KKK and similar groups during the civil rights movement, and for the same reason -- lashing out in an attempt to prevent racial changes they don't like. (I still think those attempts will ultimately prove futile in the long run, but in the short run ... I do fear it likely that racist horrors such as our current concentration-camp system are going to get worse before they get better.)

Ultimately, the main reason I disagree with Douthat re: stagnation and decadence is because he and I have completely opposing opinions regarding so many of these post-1950 social changes. IIRC, Douthat is opposed to gay marriage -- though he is at least pragmatic enough to realize, post-Obergefell, "We conservatives lost that particular battle, and should focus on other things," and naturally he's anti-choice and wants to criminalize abortion (in a hand-wavey non-specific way which TOTALLY won't violate the rights of any individual woman, of course), and doesn't like contraception very much either -- again, as I mentioned upthread, he literally thinks it immoral to partake in any sexual activity without the possibility of a baby nine months later, and disapproves of the various ways society and the law no longer enforces this as harshly as before. (And is fighting back when he can, though he knows to choose his battles: fighting gay marriage is a no-go in today's climate, but nowadays there's a chance abortion will return to the back alleys in certain states.)

Such an attitude is bound to color Douthat's views of any society he looks at. Hypothetically, suppose we did suddenly make some technological changes big enough to offset our supposed stagnant decadence -- apparently he mentioned the moon landing as an example of a non-stagnant non-decadent society's achievement, so I'll see and raise him: America doesn't just go back to the moon, we build colonies there. And they're economically profitable colonies as opposed to scientific endeavors funded with tax money, so the colonies lead to an American economic boom, etc. ... but also, the current trends of increased secularization and sexual liberalization (at least regarding consenting adults) continue: at work, these people are mining the moon and building space bases and other impressive science-fiction things, but afterwards they chill out with their future iPhones, or hang out in the holodeck (where plenty of porn programs are available in addition to the things we saw on Star Trek TNG), and outside of actual dating contexts, nobody cares if anybody else is gay or straight or cis or trans, and the idea that it was once considered A Thing (especially A Thing big enough for major world religions to weigh in on it) is one of those bizarre historic-trivia facts ... I suspect Douthat would still be going on about stagnation and decadence. Sometimes in columns he'd write and file from his hotel room in a luxury resort on the shores of the Sea of Tranquility.
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JD
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by JD »

Without going too much into depth, I think part of the problem of analyzing your era and its changes vs. previous ones and their changes is one of perspective. I see it all the time in my own life - I tend to think that 1870 and 1895 were pretty much the same, 1970 and 1995 were wildly different, but 1995 and 2020 are "pretty similar" again (barring the obvious changes like smartphones) because of whether I remember them personally or not. I have no idea whether people in 1895 felt the same way, but I have no reason to think they didn't.
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by nicole »

Painboy wrote:
10 Feb 2020, 14:30

I'm not sure IBM is the best example of the average US office. Still though I see a bigger difference between 2000 and 2020 than 1950 to 1970.

With productivity I think there has been a real shift with how much work is actually expected to get done anymore. That there is great deal of "slack" that's present in most people's current workplace. I guess you could call this slack a kind potential productivity. The idea being that if employees today worked at the same pace as those in the 1950s a lot more would actually get done. But because of the increased attention to things like work/life balance many employees aren't putting everything they can into being as productive as possible. I think this is directly due to being able to condense a great deal of work in to short periods of time.

Back as recently as the 00s, if you worked at a company with internet access, you could get fired for doing anything non-business related on it. Now it's common for people at work to have Youtube, Facebook, or whatever, open on one of their screens and no one bats an eye. I think this is because we have the ability to do a great deal of work quickly, faster than ever before, but people are choosing free time over more work, and this isn't being reflected in productivity measurements.
Tempted to really agree with Painboy here after the latest in newly corporatized communications received in my work inbox
In the spirit of promoting company wide collaboration, we're going old school and announcing the first ever {redacted} Pen Pal event!

Would you like to get paired up with an employee in another office or who is remote and get to know them better? This is a great way to network with coworkers and get to know them on a more personal level.
Just an insane amount of nonwork stuff going on on the company dime, officially.

ETA: we also did an "Oscar winner ballot" that someone took time to create and promote a bunch, which was bad enough, but I now found out that we ALSO bought a little fake Oscar to give as a prize, and because there was a three-way tie we're going to buy two more. WHY IS THIS A THING AT ALL
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Mo
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Mo »

Painboy wrote:
10 Feb 2020, 14:30
Mo wrote:
10 Feb 2020, 02:14
Painboy wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 19:03
Mo wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 16:45
Painboy wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 14:55
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
And specifically, when America isn't being presented as clueless and hayseed, it's presented as decadent. See also all the talk about the Fall of the American Empire, which, as far as I can tell, started within minutes of anyone perceiving America to have anything like an empire and will continue on until, finally, some lucky bunch of wags get to feel very smart.
Yeah something I roll my eyes at as well. In his defense he doesn't quite go so far as declaring the end of an "empire." He acknowledges that there isn't any impending fall and that things could go on for hundreds of years before things would actually come apart.
Eric the .5b wrote:
09 Feb 2020, 05:37
The actually grating thing I see is that an earlier-born Douthat would write the same damn article in the 1960s (or any other time he tries to contrast the present with). He'd cite different facts—our fascination with plastics or the pompous, extravagant display of putting a few men on a cold, dead rock, etc.—and come to the same conclusion as our Douthat, because he'd live in actual history and not the simplistic, theme-park version of it that this Douthat looks back at. I say this because I've read so many then-contemporary essays saying just that and spelling out how any given period in the last century or so of American history was decadent. It's an easy, arch way of blowing past all the annoying details of why social and political discontent exist.

Now, when we finally have an era where commenters say we're all paying attention to the real issues and society is engaged in vitality, real meaning, growth, etc? At that point, we're probably deeply, deeply fucked in a horrific manner.
This is where I definitely disagree with him. He has that annoying view where the moon landing is somehow "real" and smaller unseen improvements are not. The moon landing was a great feat of human engineering and provides a great highlight and milestone in the history of science. However, it's practical effects on a civilization and society as a whole are fairly meager. A cynic might even see at as little more than a kind of scientific stunt. Flashy but transient. What's being missed is understanding the infrastructure that had to be built just to accomplish it.

This brings me to the point where he, like many others I've seen, dismiss the advances in tech like they're not real. Like it's really all just improved typewriters or something. The improvements and innovations that tech has made seem small when considered individually but when taken all together it's immense. It's not showy, and has been so successful it has become ubiquitous, so it gets little praise or acknowledgement. But because there is no Eiffel Tower or Hoover Dam it's not really "important."
I kinda disagree with this a bit. If you look at things like productivity growth and GDP growth, there is a longer term malaise. If you do the, what would people 20 years ago think of the world today, then there’s definitely a point. Like the people in 2000 would think tech advances were cool, but not nearly as much as the people in 1950 would if they woke up in 1970.
I don't think current measurements of productivity do a very good job of capturing it's impact. People have removed an enormous amount of work and time from their jobs. It's one of the main reasons people can bring up work life balance so much these days. They can do this because of numerous tech innovations that allow them to. The fact that I can do my job from home if I need to was almost completely unavailable even 10 years ago. For instance you don't need to convene meetings constantly to keep up with projects when you can just IM the people you need to talk to and everyone can exchange documents or whatever online. I mean an office in 1950 didn't look that much different than one in the 1970s. Currently I work in what is an essentially paperless office aside from the odd post it note. It's not quite the Jetsons but it's a pretty massive change.

I think the quality of products is greatly increased from what it was before as well. Using various data gathering and feedback mechanisms companies make less mistakes and usually catch the ones they miss much faster. They are also numerous signals available to companies now that allow for a greater insight into what consumers actually need or want other than just sales numbers. All this reduces the amount of waste created, makes for better consumer experiences, and helps prevent really disastrous business decisions.
In 2009, 40% of IBM’s nearly 400k employees were remote workers. When I joined in 2007, in the US at least, I was the exception by being in the office 4 days a week. The biggest change has been less around the technology and more around cultural acceptance of remote work. Being able to use data to better capture consumer insights and prevent bad decisions is exactly the sort of stuff that should be indirectly captured in productivity growth. Same with improved logistics.
I'm not sure IBM is the best example of the average US office. Still though I see a bigger difference between 2000 and 2020 than 1950 to 1970.

With productivity I think there has been a real shift with how much work is actually expected to get done anymore. That there is great deal of "slack" that's present in most people's current workplace. I guess you could call this slack a kind potential productivity. The idea being that if employees today worked at the same pace as those in the 1950s a lot more would actually get done. But because of the increased attention to things like work/life balance many employees aren't putting everything they can into being as productive as possible. I think this is directly due to being able to condense a great deal of work in to short periods of time.

Back as recently as the 00s, if you worked at a company with internet access, you could get fired for doing anything non-business related on it. Now it's common for people at work to have Youtube, Facebook, or whatever, open on one of their screens and no one bats an eye. I think this is because we have the ability to do a great deal of work quickly, faster than ever before, but people are choosing free time over more work, and this isn't being reflected in productivity measurements.
I think a lot of this is hand waving. The global economy is more competitive, if there was a way to squeeze out more productivity they would. I remember tons of fucking around on the Internet in the early 00s. Also, in 1950 computers weren’t a thing. By the 1970s IBM mainframes were common, not to mention other uses of computing. Also, the 60s saw the advent of the first Xerox machines. Interestingly we’ve moved backwards a bit as the open offices of today harken back to the bullpens of the 50s, while the 60s saw the creation of the cubicle.

My point about remote work at IBM gets more at the level of technology available. But even at Countrywide in 2005 I could get my work done at home, with the existing technology of the time, it was just not part of the ongoing business culture. I had Sametime, the Slack of the 00s, and could remotely access all the applications and data that I needed.
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Highway
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Highway »

I would actually disagree that the downtime in the office is hurting overall productivity. I subscribe more and more to the concept that people pretty much have a finite amount of attention / thought in them, and they can either use it up in bursts of higher productivity interspersed with downtime, or they can work at a lower attention consumption pace, if you will, and spread it out to work evenly throughout the day.

Now, it's entirely possible this is bias confirmation on my part, because I have a really hard time focusing continuously through an 8 hour day, and severely lose motivation if my reward for getting task A done faster is to be expected to get tasks B, C, and D faster. But I have also been working for someone who thinks that "you should get this done as quickly as possible, so I can give you something else to get done as quickly as possible, so I can give you something else..." and on and on, because that's how he thinks he works.

I really don't have a problem with people taking that step back, that breather during work, and think it's good for workplaces to acknowledge that. However, I do think that those breathers should minimize the interruption of other people. So the guy who goes and chats up other people at their desks is not just taking a break, he is keeping the other person from perhaps their high productivity time. The penpal thing is actually not so bad in my view, because you could write your letter at your convenience, and they can write back at their convenience. Non-real-time communication is not a bad way for those things to go, imo. But I do think that large, office-focused efforts are generally getting in the way of work, like office decoration contests or get-together presentations.
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by thoreau »

The stories I've heard of pre-internet office politics, boring meetings, "team-building", slacking off, and fax machine memes (yes, really) make me doubt that pre-internet offices were bastions of work ethic.
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Highway
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Re: Living in an Age of Decadence?

Post by Highway »

thoreau wrote:
10 Feb 2020, 18:06
The stories I've heard of pre-internet office politics, boring meetings, "team-building", slacking off, and fax machine memes (yes, really) make me doubt that pre-internet offices were bastions of work ethic.
They weren't. It's just more "Kids these days!" grumbling, really. People found ways of slacking off and taking breaks.
"Sharks do not go around challenging people to games of chance like dojo breakers."

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