Matt Judd

Normally when I attempt to write one of these essays, I try to remember what my English teacher taught me last century and have an introduction, a body and a conclusion. I also try to give articles some sort of legitimacy by attaching a link or two to an ostensibly trustworthy source. I’m venturing into a sort of philosophical rambling stream of thought here. Bear with me, or not; hopefully I will make some sense.

Over the past few months, I have being thinking about the end of progress. Perhaps this is the canard of those who often ponder the fall of the Roman Empire. Perhaps there’s an echo in our minds, an artefact of eons of rises and falls; a foreshadowing of something. I hypothesise that we have stopped making progress. I hypothesise that we haven’t made any progress as a civilisation this century. I contend that we who remember the period from 1980 to the end of the last century are remembering the zenith of Western civilisation. Maybe we are now like Wile E Coyote after running over the cliff but before gravity takes hold.

Or perhaps we have already started down. Do institutions like the US presidency, the WHO, The previous Labour Government, or the Green Party, for instance, represent the early indications of this decline? Ernest Hemingway wrote about how you go bankrupt, saying, “gradually, and then suddenly”.

Sometimes a similar quote is attributed to F Scott Fitzgerald: “slowly at first, then all at once”. The US Government is in that position now. Slowly at first. They have $35 trillion in government debt and have a decreasing tax revenue of around $4.5 trillion. The interest on the debt is expected to consume a quarter of that and be their biggest single expense. When it goes, it might go all at once!

Constantly I hear the media talking about “the Left” and “the Right”. These are a rhetorical blunt instrument. There is no nuance and, I contend, in the year 2024, those labels are effectively useless. The modern left love big government and technocracy. They’re authoritarian and delight in public-private partnerships where the government uses corporations to put pressure on their political enemies. They call themselves “Liberal” but they are so far from being classically liberal that they ask for the government to censor citizens’ free speech. I like to think of myself as liberal. With a few provisos, I believe in you do you and I do me. But ostentatious or lewd displays don’t really float my boat: that all seems a bit narcissistic or exhibitionist. So does that make me a “Conservative”? Conservatism is a failure. There has been a conservative movement since Noah. They stop nothing. All that they ever preserve is dusty items in museums. If I am a conservative, it’s only as someone looking forlornly in the rear-view mirror. I was raised a Christian and I have thoughts about a Judaeo-Christian society but I’m not sure that’s even relevant. The Church has proven woeful at inserting itself into modernity. The Conservative has to admit being hopeless in the face of the oncoming wave.

As I said earlier, all progress appears to have stopped, but that doesn’t stop the “Progressive”. This is a label that best suits the modern left. They are going somewhere: they’re not really sure where, but it must be better than where we’ve been. There’s a utopia out there and by breaking down and rebuilding every institution we can get there…Have they noticed that nothing ever gets better when they are in control? So progressivism is also failing. But who are “the Right”?

In our brave new world, the right has become someone who knits, grows their own vegetables, researches vaccines and participates in the education of their children. The far right have become the equivalent of neo-Nazis. They do things like collecting firearms, listening to Ben Shapiro and having some small admiration for the former game-show host Donald Trump. Some of them belong to the terror organisation known as MAGA or Make America Great Again. This is obviously a code for something else. On the face it would appear to be simply a nod to conservatism. A visit to the QAnon sites on Reddit or 4Chan may yield the answer.

Good luck to you. If our very own David Seymour is an example of far right, as the corporate media contend, then all you really need is to be an old-fashioned follower of laissez-faire capitalism and individual responsibility. (Shock-horror!).

I say all progress has stopped, because I was educated before the turn of the century. I went to an Epsom school that was considered one of the best in New Zealand and did a pure science degree at Auckland University. I have a great job and I’m well paid and, Covid-lockdown hysteria aside, I am upper-middle class and doing well. I fear I am becoming a minority. Last century the middle class and upwardly mobile made up the vast bulk of the population. But my children, who have every opportunity that they need, have been educated into a kind of sleepy mediocrity. They do enough but not much more. They’re online in a virtual world in preference to sports and hanging out with friends. They don’t really have a chance of owning their own homes, or living the expansive and optimistic lives that my generation had. Wages are stagnant and costs keep rising inexorably. But do they even want to? They live so much in the online world, would they even know or care if they lose the real world around them?

Great advancements in technology appear to have ceased. We don’t go to the moon; we no longer have supersonic airliners. Physicists have been trying to explain how gravity works for 50 years, without success, and Elon Musk is trying to implant microchips in brains. We don’t really believe anything anymore. There is a reproducibility crisis in the field of peer-reviewed studies and the media can only be trusted to tell the truth if their government benefactors and corporate advertisers allow them to. We live in an age of incompetence where, later this year, the leader of the free world will be chosen in a fraught quasi-democratic process to be either the aforementioned game show host or a dementia patient. The most powerful people in American politics are all octogenarians. The leader of Russia is a similarly aged oligarch gangster and the leader of the United Kingdom is an unelected corporate banker installed by the City of London.

Can we extract ourselves from the predicament we find ourselves in? Does modern man have the testosterone to drag himself back from the abyss? Maybe modern woman is the answer. In all the latest crises, it seems to be women who stand in the breach for freedom and liberty. Do we even have the power or the desire to take back the institutions, the academy, the government and the military? Schools need to be rebuilt from scratch. Critical thought needs to be built on a foundation of history, civics and basic skills in reading and mathematics. Higher learning needs to go back to classical philosophy, first to remember what we have forgotten. It seems like a daunting task. The building blocks of civilisation have been undermined for generations and it will take generations to rebuild.

Failing that: there’s still joy to be found in life. In the dark ages, people still fell in love. People got married and had children. In the times of Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, the villagers still walked to the seaside and watched the sunset. They caught fish in the river and they made art. When you ride on the train or catch a bus, put down your phone and take off your silly mask and talk to another passenger: ‘How about this weather? It’s been lovely huh!’

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