How to Destroy a Civilisation | The Rev’d Dr. Thomas Plant
“The natural man lives for himself; he is the unit, the whole, dependent only on himself and on his like. The citizen is but the numerator of a fraction, whose value depends on its denominator; his value depends upon the whole, that is, on the community. Good social institutions are those best fitted to make a man unnatural, to exchange his independence for dependence, to merge the unit in the group, so that he no longer regards himself as one, but as a part of the whole, and is only conscious of the common life.” – Émile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Trotsky advised budding revolutionaries first to seize the post offices. Seize the means of communication, and you control the (mis-)information which governs people’s lives. Cut off undesirable external influences and the agenda is yours to set. What’s more, nobody can call for help without you knowing about it.
But what if you could seize something far more intimate than the external infrastructure of human communication? What if you could take control of the internal communication infrastructure of the human mind? Raze the slate and start all over again?
If I wanted to destroy a civilisation, I would need to make sure its house was well and truly divided: to erode all bonds of trust, make every aspect of community suspect. No longer would it be enough to set class against class, even race against race, sex against sex or generation against generation, though these conflicts would all be markers of progress. I would want to go further than that, and break down even the tribal loyalties of self-identifying communities. In a word, I would seek to atomise.
First, I would need to make the people believe (or at the very least, profess to believe) that formerly held virtues were now vices, and vices virtues. I would want people to consider their every desire as intrinsically good simply because they desire it – in short, to see desire itself as the highest good.
The more addictive the desire, the better: because then I could manufacture new and corollary desires to draw the people further into addiction. Like an anti-Moses, I would lead the people into slavery to their desires, implanting in their minds a consumer instinct of Pavlovian depths. I would want every billboard, every magazine cover, every television advert, every webpage to set each salivating for his particular meat. The basic instinct would be easy to kindle, but as time passed and peccadilloes became more peculiar and refined, algorithms would doubtless help to hone the aim. So I would forge a docile people, craving satiation. Better still, I would profit from selling them both poison and cure: and all the while, they would thank me for it.
To get to this point of complete moral reversal, I would first need to eradicate any sense of pride in their past: ideally, we would lead them to despise it, but first, we would need to remove either their capacity or desire to study it. Better still, both.
To reduce the people’s capacity to read any promotion or defence of ancient virtues, I would start by depriving them of the study of classical languages. The study of their own tongue would be limited to the needs of marketable utility. Take away, for instance, their Elizabethan Prayer Books and limit their exposure to Shakespeare or Dickens, and we could ensure that pre-modern English became a foreign language to the new generation. Add to anything written more than 50 years ago the social stigma of being written by oppressors, denigrate their ancestors as “dead white males,” and we would eliminate not only the capacity but even the desire to pursue the older ways. All aspirations to virtue could readily be crushed, with the added advantage of furthering hostility between generations. Old would become synonymous with evil. If a euthanasia programme could emerge from this mindset, all the better.
Of course, I would need the academy on side in my endeavour. If I could win, say, 95% of university academics to our way of thinking, then the trickle-down through teachers to schools would be inevitable. In all intellectual pursuits, if we could supplant knowledge with experience, truth with authenticity, then the minds of the young would be ours to mould into contempt for all that is old and established.
All this re-education would have a splendidly corrosive effect on language of the young. Unable to make any firm conclusions about anything, they would start every chain of thought as though it were conclusive, perhaps with the word “so.” To be seen to believe that what they say is actually true would become a gross breach of etiquette, so every assertion would now have to be prefixed with the words “for me.” Having abandoned all certainty about what anything or anyone definitely is, and for fear of offence or courting controversy, they would start to qualify all uses of the verb “to be” with the words “sort of” or “like,” committing only to vague and retractable similitudes. In reported speech, they would not wish to accuse someone of going so far as actually to say anything, but only to “be like” something. To emphasise their polite renunciation of all conviction, they would intone every assertion as though it were a question.
Changing the minds of the young would be a sure path to destruction, but a slow one, and might even risk a reactionary backlash from adults, aborting my project altogether. So, I would need to change the minds of the older, too: and what better way of doing this than by making it socially advantageous for them to emulate the young?
I would want the adults infantilised. Start by getting them to dress like teenagers, and eventually I might even get them going out to play dressed like babies in one-piece romper suits, drinking beer from cans festooned with childish cartoons. These would of course be only the outer signs of the inward change I truly sought: but wear the mask long enough, and the face fits soon enough. I would make the old crave youth, think like youths, desire nothing more than an eternity of irresponsibility and libidinous self-satisfaction.
A key vehicle to the infantilisation of adults would be a thriving pop culture which adulates youth. Teenage rebellion would become the new heroism. In films, self-asserting anti-heroes and defenders of identity would replace the old defenders of the innocent, for nobody is innocent any more – except perhaps the incarcerated criminals who are victims of the social injustice perpetrated upon them by the law-abiding majority: an excellent reversal.
The cinematographic anti-hero’s musical analogue would be the rock star, who sings of freedom and rebellion and wear its uniform all his life, yet in every other respect plays the game and lives the life of the pin-striped venture capitalist he purports to despise. So Emos and Etonians, rockers and Rockefellers, Satanists and stockbrokers could be encouraged to hate each other, while ultimately professing precisely the same social agenda of unfettered individualism: a life of perfectly indulged toddlerhood packaged in a musical register of interminable tantrum and misogynistic sexual fixation.
As part of the general impetus towards infantilising and disinhibiting the populace, both music and film would encourage complete indiscipline of the tongue. I would want the adults to riddle every sentence with profanity, unable to stop themselves, and the children to emulate them at the earliest opportunity. The use of foul speech should be laced with a good dose of defensive entitlement. People should be able to use the “f-word” as often they like in front of children and the elderly, whilst simultaneously professing outrage at anyone who questions this new freedom of speech (certain other freedoms of speech would, however, be severely curtailed). Popular culture would be the primary vehicle towards the complete collapse of self-restraint and the denigration even of restraint as virtue.
Re-education via schooling and mass media would contribute towards the next major drive: to do everything within our power to stop the people from reproducing. Families are the breeding ground for the germs of outdated mores. So, sex must be reconstituted as an inconsequential pastime, a harmless addiction which occasionally results in procreation as an inconvenient and unwanted side-effect.
To this end, I would as far as possible liberalise and destigmatise abortion and contraception, both of which would be administered by the State secretly to teenagers as soon as they reached the age of fertility, behind the backs of their insufficiently indoctrinated and conscientised (or “woke”) parents. Naturally, to further foment familial breakdown, I would make divorce as easy as possible, thereby disrupting any misplaced sense children might have in the stability of even the most basic unit of social order.
Making sex a pastime would be only a preliminary stage. To make it truly effective, I would need to weaponise it as an all-consuming obsession, which many dead white males tell us is very easily done. If only I could make sexual preference a matter of sheer arbitrary choice, I would be making a great step towards annihilating the fundamental biological binary necessary for the propagation of life, the very foundation of every successful human society: that of male and female. This would pave the way towards instilling the idea that really there is no male and female, that this binary is “only” a cultural construct. Those who averred that this distinction rests on a further and unproven binary of nature versus culture, or that perfectly credible exceptions to a binary do not mean the binary no longer exists, would be silenced by well-tried means: protest, no-platforming, ostracism, defenestration. Remember my little caution about certain freedoms of speech? Eventually, everyone would learn to say out loud on the subject what they know to be untrue: that is, to treat lying on certain topics as a virtue.
By now, our work of destabilisation would almost be complete: but how to enforce the reconstitution of the human mind? A Stalinist of old would have set up a secret police force, but today’s technology affords us far more intimate means. The ideal solution would be for the people to police themselves in public confessions like sixteenth-century Genevans, posting their indiscretions from the earliest age indelibly in the public forum, ready to be wielded against them later when the next stage of the momentum has been reached, and what passes as progressive now must then be denounced and demolished for more radical reformations yet to come.
Semper reformanda, the revolution is never over once begun, the tabula never truly rasa: just a narrative hiatus waiting to filled by a louder, more persuasive voice. And there is no shortage of those. Destroy one civilisation, and it’s just a matter of time before a new one fills the void.
Photo by Jon Derricott on Flickr.