A thought came to me just before dawn. It’s generally presumed that thieves are sociopaths and vice versa, and that the key tenet of a sociopathic personality is an indifference to social codes and standards, which is to say an absence of belief or investment in them. It follows that the most dangerously predatory and destructive thieves of our time — i.e., the big bankers and Wall Street speculators — are grabbing everything they can because they have no faith or trust whatsoever in anything — social cohesion, democratic institutions, or moral tradition even.
The world is a wild jungle, they’re figuring (or rationalizing), and so they must prey on the vulnerable in order to provide for and protect their own.
This is boilerplate stuff, of course — Charles Dickens came to the same conclusions about London industrialists and bankers 150 years ago. The difference today is that diminishing faith in most ethical-moral standards and growing indifference to the general social good is everywhere because fewer and fewer people among the educated ambitious classes believe in the future.
They see the writing on the wall — diminishing natural resources, the world economy essentially built upon a Ponzi scheme, ecological destruction, Jihadists, unsustainable population growth, greater gulfs between the haves and have-nots — and figure the only strategy that makes sense is to accumulate and hoard all you can and in so doing at least protect one’s family or property.
A culture that has no faith in tomorrow and in holding down the social fort for future generations will behave in ways that all but guarantee its own destruction. Because life is not just about now, but about what the current terms of life now will build into and manifest down the road. Except no one’s thinking this way any more.
The seeds of our current nihilist philosophy were evident almost 50 years ago, as Tom Wolfe pointed out in his mid ’70s essay “The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening.” I recounted the basics of this observation in an August 2009 review of Doug Pray‘s Art and Copy, to wit:
“In 1961 a copywriter in the employ of Foote, Cone & Belding named Shirley Polykoff came up with the line: ‘If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde!’ The basic attitude of having ‘only one life,’ said Wolfe, contradicted a general belief among families and nations that had existed for centuries, which you could sum up as a belief in ‘serial immortality.’
“Boiled down, serial immortality means that we’re all part of a familial stream — our lives being a completion or fulfillment of our parents’ lives and our children’s lives completing and fulfilling our own, and everyone understanding that we’re part of the same genetic river of existence and spirit.
“Polykoff’s copy line, which was written for Clairol hair coloring, basically said ‘the hell with that — it’s just me, it’s just my life and my goals, and I’m going to satisfy myself!’ By the time the early to mid ’70s rolled around the culture had begun to believe in the ‘me first’ philosophy en masse.” And now that philosophy has become a pandemic, and the chickens have come home to roost.