Friday, October 11, 2019

VDH - Is America Entering a Dark Age?

Very few commentators rise to the level of Victor Davis Hanson, Stanford University Professor, classicist and historian - simply known to fans and foes as VDH.  He puts out the premise that America is entering a Dark Age and gives some arguments to back his claim at PJ Media.  As always, I'll drop a few quotes here and encourage you to go read.

VDH opens with a perspective from his life as historian and classicist.  The Dark Age Greeks, he notes, realized they were surrounded by ruins of spectacular buildings they couldn't hope to duplicate.  Largely illiterate, they'd occasionally plow up a piece of fired clay with symbols on it they couldn't understand, and wondered what those meant.  Were they connected to those buildings?
We of the 21st century are beginning to look back at our own lost epic times and wonder about these now-nameless giants who left behind monuments that we cannot replicate, but instead merely use or even mock.

Does anyone believe that contemporary Americans could build another transcontinental railroad in six years?

Californians tried to build a high-speed rail line. But after more than a decade of government incompetence, lawsuits, cost overruns and constant bureaucratic squabbling, they have all but given up. The result is a half-built overpass over the skyline of Fresno -- and not yet a foot of track laid.
America went to the moon in 1969 with supposedly primitive computers and backward engineering. Does anyone believe we could launch a similar moonshot today? No American has set foot on the moon in the last 47 years, and it may not happen in the next 50 years.

Hollywood once gave us blockbuster epics, brilliant Westerns, great film noirs, and classic comedies. ...

Our writers, directors and actors have lost the skills of their ancestors. But they are also cowardly, and in regimented fashion they simply parrot boring race, class and gender bromides that are neither interesting nor funny. Does anyone believe that the Oscar ceremonies are more engaging and dignified than in the past?
As we walk amid the refuse, needles and excrement of the sidewalks of our fetid cities; as we sit motionless on our jammed ancient freeways; and as we pout on Twitter and electronically whine in the porticos of our Ivy League campuses, will we ask: "Who were these people who left these strange monuments that we use but can neither emulate nor understand?"

In comparison to us, they now seem like gods.
Anecdotally, we read reports like modern law school students being unable to understand writings from 1800s leaders, such as Fredrick Douglas.  We read about a widespread drop in IQ scores in the Western world and other stories showing a falling off in academic prowess over the last century.  These stories add to VDH's arguments.

Over the years, I've said (and more often hinted) that what I see in the future is not just the chance of an economic collapse due to the world's unsustainable debt levels.  I see a real chance for another Dark Ages.  The main driving force there is the Postmodernists in academia pushing the idea of "my truth and your truth"; the idea that there isn't anything other than our perceptions of things.  That works fine for simple questions like, "what's your favorite color?" but is completely wrong for "what's the speed of light?", "will this virus survive in air?" or any interactions with the real world.  VDH follows those trends to the conclusion a Dark Age may already be starting. 

The completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, 1869. 


  1. The absolute irony of it all is that pretty much the combined learnings of the entire world throughout recorded history is available at the click of a button but very few will even be able to comprehend what any of it means.

  2. Started. I think the peak prosperity in the United States was 1973, and the descent started then. From then the lifestyle declines began - a single income of a high school graduate could provide a good living for a family. Now? Not so much. A single income from a high school graduate can provide enough income to live in Mom's basement.

    We can talk a lot about reasons, but the decline has been ongoing for forty years.

    I blame the Bee Gees.

  3. No American has set foot on the moon in the last 47 years, and it may not happen in the next 50 years.

    This prediction being wrong is a key to why all the rest are wrong. VDH has confused the prosperity of the government with the prosperity of the American people. SpaceX redoing manned spaceflight with a tiny fraction of the 1960's budget doesn't count, because the government, the all-important money-giver a university intellectual cares about, is in trouble. That government is in trouble is good because it means Our Enemy, The State, is about to destroy itself by bankruptcy and insanity.

    I see a real chance for another Dark Ages.

    What's actually going to happen is the temporarily-halted progress will pop up to the technological singularity trend line, just like it has many times before.

    John Wilder writes: a single income of a high school graduate could provide a good living for a family.

    This was a temporary situation because all the competitors' factories had been bombed into rubble.

  4. "This was a temporary situation because all the competitors' factories had been bombed into rubble."

    This may have been a part of it. However, what ruined it for that family was the crippling taxes the Dems instituted to cover their "great Society" programs. Prior to that, they didn't pay anything much in income taxes. That one income family could afford to keep the mother at home, BUY a home, and raise a passel of kids. Their kids in the 70's? Not so much.

  5. I love VDH, but he's way outside his lane, which is why telling us about the future instead of the past comes off so bush-league stupid.

    Americans could build a transcontinental railroad line in 6 weeks, if we wanted to. Six days wouldn't be beyond possibility with proper planning beforehand.
    In contrast, Jerry Brown's pork barrel rail boondoggle in California was never intended to work, it was intended to siphon money from the state to connected cronies.

    Apollo and NASA were getting 4% of the national budget in 1969.
    If we allocated 4% of the budget to space exploration now, we'd be on Mars in 2 years.
    Elon Musk, out of his own pocket, has made rockets that return, upright, to their launch pad. Simultaneously. Call me when NASA can do that. Even the NASA from the glory days of 1969.

    NASA now can't even decide if it wants to explore space, or kiss Islam's ass and embrace globull warming junk science. Space isn't even on their agenda anymore.

    Hollywood regularly makes epic movies fully the equal of past works. But they aren't trying to do that for the most part now. That's choice, not capability.

    VDH keeps comparing apples to oranges, and then trying to pull out a plum, but all he's shown with these weak sauce attempts is a dish of stewed prunes with a side of sour grapes, in service of a bankrupt thesis.

    If he'd asked why we no longer seem to want to excel, he'd have been on much firmer ground, but that's the bailiwick of the soft, fuzzy-headed sciences, not classic historians.

  6. I can and will attest to the dramatic drop in intellect, common sense and rationality. It is happening even among some of the 'best and brightest' in
    America....physicians. I have been in healthcare, specifically radiology, for more than 4 decades. In the past Physicians were ALL very bright and astonishingly quick to pick up on just about anything being discussed. In the second half of my career I have seen the intellect and learning curves of physicians entering practice drop precipitously. I am not a
    knowledge, skill and experience is in operating radiology equipment and obtaining high quality imaging exams of all types. I have a university degree in the field. In the past I could explain to an MD why something they wanted done was or was not possible due to the fundamental physics of image production.
    Now that has become almost impossible. Most simply CANNOT grasp the concept of an attenuation profile, the simple concept of the inverse square law is ONLY grasped by SHOWING THEM with a flashlight against a wall. I have had licensed Medical Doctors come to my department and DEMAND upon pain of me losing my job that I scan their patient RIGHT F**KING NOW OR ELSE....even AFTER being told that a critical power supply to the unit had failed and the machine was non functional until a part arrived via FedEx and was installed. The simple concept of the damn thing is broken so you can't have what you want was BEYOND THEM.
    So yes.... IQ's are plummeting, critical thinking is dying and a new dark ages is hurtling towards us.

  7. And people wonder why I avoid doctors like the plague.
    I noticed what you are describing twenty years ago.

  8. No. I do not believe that there is anything wrong with the IQ's of our children. The Education "system" however...When the system realized that my child was "gifted" (normal "A" student that could read "Above level" and do math) They tried to SEGREGATE her from the other students. I would not have it. I got a lawyer. They quit, almost at once, saying "but its for her own good". The system does not want our children educated. They want's good Marxists. This was all in the 4th grade. She is now in 7th grade, still an "A" student who likes to read and do math (G_D help me she likes to build things) I hope we can afford a good STEM school.

  9. Will writes: what ruined it for that family was the crippling taxes the Dems instituted to cover their "great Society" programs

    I saw the graph recently, sorry I don't have it handy. The tax rate actually collected from the middle class has been steady at 20-something percent of income for decades.

    Instead, what both parties instituted that increased exponentially was not taxes, but prohibitions and mandates. "Thou shalt not build this house without passing this expensive permitting process and including these many expensive details and materials. You cannot expand it incrementally with your own labor as budget allows without a mortgage."

  10. It might not be surprising for me to tell you that I often realize I should have said something or other after I post. Sometimes it's within minutes, others within hours. Last night, after posting this, it occurred to me that with few exceptions all of what VDH talks about can be thought of as too big, too corrupt governments and the cronyism they bring. Aesop mentions most of that in his comments. As an author who has pointed out the US' slip into third world, banana republic behaviors many times, you'd think VDH would have said that, too.

    NASA's a particularly bad example because their function is income redistribution. In the 50s and 60s, their function was the politics of beating the Soviets in the space race, followed by exploring aerodynamics and space travel. Having paved that road for so many, all of the talk about the Space Launch System (SLS) is really income redistribution in the form of "new jobs" for the contractors and keeping Marshall Space Flight Center in business.

    Years ago, I came to peace with the saying, "everyone wants to cut government except for their favorite program." My favorite programs were space exploration. Some time around when the Shuttles stopped flying I was ready to concede the only way to be intellectually honest was to say shut down everything about NASA that wasn't exploration, like the JPL and maybe one or two other labs, so I changed my mind and said to cut NASA, too.

    As long as what we keep hearing from NASA is about the "first woman commander" or first of any diversity position, I believe they've outlived their usefulness. (First woman on the moon reference)

    1. Say, how'd that "First Teacher In Space" plan work out...?

      Oh, BTW, we went to the moon on less raw computing power than what now actually runs my Casio G-shock.

      OTOH, Steve Jobs shrunk a formerly room-sized computer down to palm sized.
      And it also makes phone calls.

      So the problem isn't lack of civilizational capability, it's lack of focus or vision for how to harness that, and leverage it to do great things. That never works out well:

      "And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer."

      Point #172 in Why VDH Is All Wet on this thesis.

  11. For those who haven't seen the movie here is the opening scene to the movie

    Intended as entertainment it was in reality prophecy. And the basic premise that
    evolution doesn't reward the smartest or the strongest....merely the ones who are best at reproducing has a large element of truth to it. The movie is based loosely on the short story by Cyril Kornbluth titled "The Marching Morons", it too is worth the read.

  12. A classic example of "we are less capable than our forebears of even 50 years ago" is comparing the moon shots of 50 years ago using machines designed with slide rules to the F35 that doesn't fly more than 3 days a week and never leaves the atmosphere which was designed with the latest whiz bang computer aided design tools. WTF?