The Marshmallow Test

In a 2013 post, Culture and Metaculture, I quoted a lengthy passage from the late Leszek Kolakowski’s Modernity on Endless Trial, in which he explains the way radical multiculturalism causes what I will call a kind of historical “stenosis”. As more cultures are added to the mix, all of which must be given equal weight, the area of “overlap” — the foundation of possible commonality in the new metaculture — becomes smaller and smaller. Because culture is heritage, the effect is that history is “tied off”, like a newborn’s umbilicus. (I’ve touched on this often, for example in my post Simple Common Sense About Diversity And Immigration.)

In Culture And Metaculture I wrote:

What remains of the high culture of the West in our new, barbarian metaculture is shrunken, withered, pecked by crows. As for the metaculture itself: what are its pillars? Where are its heroes, its mythos, its religion, its language, its great literature? Where are the commonalities that bind its people together? Gone, gone, gone.

Worse: where is its history? Not only gone, but despised. Our new “culture” has lost its sense of extension in time. Under modernity’s ascendant doctrine, the long history of the West is only a litany of sins, deserving not propagation, but repudiation. We have no legacy, no heritage, to cherish for posterity; we have pulled up our own roots. If our new American “culture” has any history worth remembering at all, it is no more than a few decades old, and consists almost entirely of the destruction of the past.

In our “brave new world”, then, we are cut off from both past and future, imprisoned in the present as no generation of people has ever been before. We have lost — jettisoned — both our rudder and our compass, and are unmoored and adrift.

In short, we have lost our sense of extension in time. Until now, every generation of every civilization saw itself as a living bridge between past and future — as heirs and beneficiaries of the productive labor of their forebears, and stewards of that treasure for children yet unborn. But now, having pulled up our roots (and salted the earth from which they sprang), we have no inheritance to cherish and preserve; that which we have not simply squandered, we have taught ourselves to despise. We have, therefore, nothing to offer our posterity, and so if we think of it at all, it is only to turn away in guilt, and to focus on what we can take for ourselves right now. If that weren’t enough, we also find ourselves in a time of exponential social and technological change. Even those of us who do seek to preserve our inheritance can hardly imagine how.

It’s often been said that civilization is, at bottom, the organization of “low time preference”: the deferral of present consumption to take advantage of the increase of the relative value of future goods. But in order for that strategy to work, one has to be confident in a stable future. When things change too rapidly, and we can no longer be sure that our efforts today stand a reasonable chance of bearing fruit in later years, it drives time preference toward the present. And that, in turn, undermines the very foundation upon which civilization is erected.

So when a civilization becomes unstable, or when the pace of change becomes too rapid, there is a cascading time-preference effect, a kind of negative-feedback loop that begins to take hold.

All of these things, then, work together: multiculturalism, through a process of historical “stenosis”, severs the past; this loss of heritage, in turn, diminishes a society’s sense of obligation to its ancestors, and stewardship for its descendants; rapid technological and social change diminishes the surety of the future. All of this drives time-preference toward the present — which manifests itself in hedonism, present consumption, loss of social cohesion (why pull together when there’s nothing to pull for?), and declining birth-rates. Finally, the foreshortening of time-preference attacks the bedrock of civilization itself, in an accelerating, destructive cycle.

It is the daunting task of the new Right to break this cycle, somehow.

Related content from Sphere

16 Comments

  1. JumpinJackFash says

    On the contrary, it may be our task to accelerate the cycle! The only way any alt right ideas have a chance of being implemented is through a crisis of emergency proportions.

    All these monarchists for example, who LARP about kings and aristocrats, how do they think that could possibly happen? It could only happen through a war in which the warriors emerge ascendant, and the warriors run that society, not the merchants or the moralizers we now have. Thats where kings and lords come from anyways, they were the descendents of warriors and chieftans who ensured a future for their posterity.

    The question is, will there be enough of us left to reclaim whats ours when the time comes?

    Posted February 29, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    JJF,

    My point is that this cycle destroys civilizations. If you are suggesting that what we should hope for is the total collapse of this civilization, so that we can build a new one upon the rubble, I must point out two things: first, that creating a civilization is not something you can do just by snapping your fingers, and second, that the total collapse of this one, if it happens, is likely to be extremely unpleasant.

    At any rate, whether it happens pre- or post-apocalyptically, it will be the job of the new Right to figure out a way to neutralize or avoid these hazards. It may not be possible; there are other natural mechanisms at work here too, which I’ve mentioned before, and will get to again shortly.

    Posted February 29, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  3. I have no experience with live action role-playing; my only game of late, as I have mentioned, is live action duplicate bridge (albeit with online robots). Be that as it may, I get the feeling there are some gen xyz-ers out there who grew up with computers and take high-tech gadgets, including star-wars like weaponry for granted.

    So some of these people may not realize that in the wake of a universal crisis of emergency proportions the availability of high-tech weaponry will very quickly be depleted and all possibility of replenishing it in the foreseeable future will have been destroyed. One of the first and most important components of our infrastructure will vanish — the power grid. No power — no manufacturing — no high tech.

    So the surviving warrior class can’t reload their high-tech weapons. As Big Al predicted, “I know not what weapons will be used in WW III, but WW IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Whereupon a new warrior class will emerge — the martial arts class, whose bodies are their weapons. Still with me?

    One of these new warriors will be — wait for it — Malcolm the Pollack. Sir Malcolm has the pedigree (he is a descendant of Robert the Bruce) and he is well Hung from decades of practice. He’s even got a mechanical knee, which must be an advantage in his type of warfare.

    All of this bodes well for those of us who have befriended him in these pages. All hail our once and future philosopher/king, Malcolm the Pollack!

    Posted February 29, 2016 at 8:13 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    “My blushes, Watson!” I hardly know what to say. (Robert the Bruce? Not that I’m aware of. Some Thanes of Cawdor, though, I’ve been told.)

    As far as taking the field of battle is concerned, the new knee is hardly an advantage — although once I get I have it fully operational it shouldn’t be too much of a liability, either, except for the really low stuff. Here’s some lo-res video (complete with cheesy music) of one of the grandmasters I have been fortunate enough to study under demonstrating some of our Hung Kuen training forms. I should still be able to do all this kind of stuff just fine, I think. (The clip says “Five Animals Fist”, but it really isn’t that form, exactly; it’s a bunch of stuff all mooshed together.)

    “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” I do not aspire to the throne, Henry, but I would not shirk my duty. I’m really more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, though. Philosopher is fine, but I’d rather not be King. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, they say, and I do so enjoy a good night’s sleep.

    I do thank you for your support.

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 12:08 am | Permalink
  5. Well, Sire, if thou doest change thine mind and/or greatness is thrust upon thee, and if it comes about that thou shalt have a Cabinet of Secretaries, and if one of those exalted Departments happens to be one whose purpose will be to oversee the science of harnessing the energy from E=mc^2, as Big Al taught us to do, I suggest you name it the Department of Energy (DOE) and that you shoot me an email at thine convenience.

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:46 am | Permalink
  6. Whitewall says

    “It is the daunting task of the new Right to break this cycle, somehow.” Pretty bleak outlook but one that seems all too real as we look at ourselves. If we look at Europe, we see fits of self erasure going on. They are well down the path of their own making. I believe their near future is extreme violence. In the US, we have time. A new Right can only rise from the ashes of the old one that grew weak from osteoporosis and corruption. This deformed frame will lead us nowhere. Maybe an outgrowth of the Trump movement will be a giant step in this direction as a deep split, removal of dead weight that is constantly under foot and then a realignment of the public can follow.

    What of the “other party”? It will lose some members to the newly risen party. Those who remain over there will be the continuation of the political acid and rot that has been their nature for centuries. We will not escape these changes without violence here at home. A new Right will want a future worthy of the struggle. The Left will, as always, want a future of just them with no opposition.

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  7. Epicaric says

    It is somewhat of a paradox that the modern Left that gave rise to intersectionality has not been able to comprehend the interconnectedness of history, culture and nation. Again, another victim to the long list of unintended consequences when one rushes to tear down walls – real and metaphorical- with no pause to contemplate Chesterton’s caution. In a handful of paragraphs your writing synthesizes volumes of work on how we have arrived to our current corrosive state.
    With young daughters being raised, I have little taste to retire silently into the night.

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Epicaric, it is precisely that “intersectionality” — a cognate ideology of muliticulturalism — that causes the “historical stenosis” I describe above.

    I have often used the idea of the Venn diagram to describe the way multiculturalism shrinks public commonality (See point 5 in the post I linked to above.)

    And what is the area of overlap in a Venn diagram called? Why, the “intersection”, of course.

    When my cherished history is also your ancient grievance, when my heroes are your villains, then the only way we can live together is not to talk about any of that. And so we discard, little by little, our connection to the past.

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    “In a handful of paragraphs your writing synthesizes volumes of work on how we have arrived to our current corrosive state.”

    Thanks, Epicaric. For a long time now I’ve been trying as hard as I can to understand what’s happening to us. Writing these things down helps me to clarify my own thoughts.

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  10. What of the “other party”?

    Yes, Robert, the question no sane person has been able to answer to date. As you point out, they have been around, like, forever, just like the cockroach. We close the door on them (defeat the Soviet Union in the Cold War) and they come in through the window of the Democrat Party. They are relentless.

    And when the dust has settled from the post-apocalyptic nuclear winter, only one species will have survived, the radioactively mutated cockroach, afterwards known as the asymmetric cockroach; the one with the pronounced leftward tilt.

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    “The question no sane person has been able to answer to date”?

    It’s not that hard, really, to see why a party that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul, especially when it makes sure to create and import a steady supply of new Pauls.

    Add to that the understanding that the modern Western Left, as many on the reactionary Right have explained, is in general a secular repurposing of the religious impulse — and is in particular a linear continuation of the “mission into the wilderness” of 17th-century Protestantism — and we have a pretty good answer in hand, I think.

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  12. Whitewall says

    Henry, I saw this on Instapundit but am not sure I buy it as it relates to Trump..
    http://www.weeklystandard.com/putins-rasputin-endorses-trump/article/2001344

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink
  13. Yes, Malcolm. I was just expressing my exasperation with the Left’s resilience to all attempts at persuading its insane adherents that they are being bamboozled by an insolent and insidious ideology.

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  14. Robert,

    I not only don’t buy it, I also don’t bother reading anything that emanates from anyone’s party line. When you have seen and heard it all (more than once) you realize that the only things that truly matter are the things you have learned over the years from independent research of many different sources that you trust. That doesn’t guarantee you will make a good decision in the end, but it will, most likely be as informed a decision as can be expected to be reached within a limited amount of time and effort.

    Posted March 1, 2016 at 5:59 pm | Permalink
  15. Bluefin Tuna says


    In short, we have lost our sense of extension in time. Until now, every generation of every civilization saw itself as a living bridge between past and future — as heirs and beneficiaries of the productive labor of their forebears, and stewards of that treasure for children yet unborn. But now, having pulled up our roots (and salted the earth from which they sprang), we have no inheritance to cherish and preserve; that which we have not simply squandered, we have taught ourselves to despise. We have, therefore, nothing to offer our posterity, and so if we think of it at all, it is only to turn away in guilt, and to focus on what we can take for ourselves right now… It is the daunting task of the new Right to break this cycle, somehow.

    The only (probably-unhelpful) suggestion I can make is to start small. Leftists have plenty of time to write screeds condemning major figures like Andrew Jackson. They wouldn’t have time to attack someone like, say, Solomon D. Jacobs (mayor of Knoxville, 1834-35), even if they were historically-literate enough to know who he was. Sincere affection for anyone in the “bad old days”, however lowly his station, can cause enough cognitive dissonance to loosen progressivism’s hold on the historical imagination.

    Over the past half-decade or so, I’ve become apprentice of sorts to my aging father as the unofficial family archivist and genealogist. With the above-mentioned problem in mind, over Christmas I printed several copies of some old newspaper clippings, photographs, and records of particular interest, and gave copies to each head of household at the family party.

    I was pleased to see real interest and fascination, even from the teenagers. Some people even took the trouble to dig out half-forgotten mementos of their own. Granted, a few moments of historical consciousness once a year aren’t going to stand against the acid bath of modernity. But if one holiday’s meager efforts can light a spark, a more consistent and sustained effort could probably light a blaze. “Here’s a framed photograph of your great-great-grandfather; I thought it would be nice to put on your desk. Remember his hardships when face your own troubles“. One could do worse than join a local historical society.

    Posted March 2, 2016 at 5:21 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    Bluefin, somehow I missed this comment when you posted it.

    Another thing is actually, as Mencius Moldbug recommends, to read the past, rather than reading about it.

    Posted March 23, 2016 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.