Saturday, April 19, 2008

Decadence

A couple of years after Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California I saw what was then a recent picture of him on the beach and his Olympian physique was gone. Oh he was still in better shape than your average man of late middle age, but he was no longer the picture of muscular perfection.

What happened?

Simply put, not enough time to exercise like he used to (and perhaps he quit steroids as well - - if he even was at that point in his life.) When you quit exercising some muscle starts to turn to fat.

An ordinary working man or woman who does a lot of hard physical labor does not need to exercise as much to maintain a decent muscle to fat ratio because their job is exercise enough. When you've got it too easy the body starts to show it unless you work at it. When you've got it too easy things are good but you lose something.

It also happens in cultures and societies as well. When civilization reaches a point that there is little or no struggle in daily survival one loses something. Rome got so powerful that it could just sit and rule, but that attitude caused an interior decline that led to what had been unthinkable - - the Fall of Rome.

When one does not have to struggle to survive one finds other things to do, and at first they are good things, but as people get jaded and start to consider the easy life as the normal state of affairs, they begin to immerse themselves into hedonism and egotism. Moral decline is not decadence, but it is a symptom of decadence. Decadence is what happens when one has it so good that they lose the will to face hardship and the ability to struggle through hardship as they either forget how or they never learn in the first place.

Take a very young lion cub and raise it amongst humans. It learns that food is brought to it every day at a certain time and water arrives regularly. Those who would bother or disturb it are kept away so it is never annoyed or harassed. It never learns to hunt and it never learns to fight. It has never had to find water in dry place or shelter from a storm; it doesn't know how. Yet it is a lion, the king of beasts. After it has matured let this lion go alone into its natural habitat - - how long would this lion live? Answer - - it could quickly learn but more than likely it would die.

The poor people of New Orleans were facing a disaster that their grandparents would have easily dealt with, but for a couple of generations the government simply took care of them until they largely lost the ability to care for themselves. The hurricane hit and some of them died because the government wasn't there to take care of them, and even more importantly, they had forgotten how to take care of themselves.

No one likes hardship and most normal people do want to live the good life. I would like to. But if life is too good we start to forget important things. We forget how to face and deal with challenges. We forget how or lose the will to fight. We forget how to, or even the need to, make sacrifices. We start to assume that the good life is the normal state of affairs. We forget that in a purely natural life, the human life is short and brutal. We forget that poverty and violence is the natural state of man and that a change in affairs can bring us right back to that state of being.

Yet life can be good and we can avoid decadence at the same time. How? As a person with an easy life can exercise to maintain a healthy body, so a society at ease can maintain itself by something equivalent to exercise. Groups like Boy Scouts worked to instill the virtues that allowed survival in difficult times and also taught self-reliance and small-group-reliance to survive. Bringing young people through artificial hardship may teach many of them, not only the skills to survive, but a very important piece of knowledge - - the knowledge that they can survive and help others to survive. Military and self-defense training can also help. Kids, and adults, need to occasionally be forced to do things the hard way, just so we remember how and have confidence in our abilities if circumstances were to force us back to the default settings of our nature.

8 Comments:

Blogger Gayle said...

Shoprat, this is a great post! This is not something I just say, so please understand that I'm being very sincere. :)

Your point regarding our culture is well made. Many of our population take everything they have for granted... almost as though it is their due, and so many kids have been spoiled with everything they want, for instance brand new cars at sixteen - that I have to wonder how they will ever be able to deal with any real tragedy or hardship.

I think my husband and I would do very well if forced back to the default settings of our nature. At least we know how to grow our own food, hunt, fish, build campfires without lighters or matches if need be (not much fun, but it can be done) and other survival skills, but does the average citizen living in an apartment in a large city all of their lives even have a clue?

It's scary when you think about it.

11:01 AM  
Blogger BB-Idaho said...

A fair summation. My grandfather did not drive a car; he walked to town from out in the country, carried the groceries back over his shoulder. His old feet probably put on 50 miles a week.
He lived to 95 and never got over his natural 'thiness'. Now, thanks to technology, we hop in the car to drive to the fitness center a quarter mile away! We battle enemies and hunt pre-historic animals sitting in front of a computer screen. Industry-wise, we seek never-ending productivity where automation replaces human hard work (although that human produces more). Just a few generations back, most were farmers, a a millenium prior, we were 'hunter-gatherers'. So, while we enjoy the convenience and time-saving gadgets of modern technology, we have become far less physical in our lifestyles.
Yes, many of us have all kinds of excuses for avoiding excercise..
like sitting here posting a comment...:) I need one of those
good old 'forced marches', about
20 miles with full pack, dust, blisters sweat. er, don't I?

11:30 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I try to keep physically active. I run three miles a day, ski, windsurf, kayak, bike and spend a good amount of time in the gym. One major problem is that your metabolism slows as you age. You get more mpg (the only problem is that the stomach still wants the same amount of food, even though the body needs less to meet its needs).

On Rome, I feel that your arguement is only partially true. It wasn't so much that they had it too easy. They overextened their army (sound farmiliar) and faced a major plague that dissimated the population. Imagine running this country if 25% of the workerforce died this year.

Eventually America will fall into decline. It's already happening and is irreversable. And it will not take centuries as it did in Rome. If we continue to spend all of our treasure on the military while ignoring our urban decay and aging infrastructure while at the same time mortgaging our national future to pay for our bills of today, the Depression will look like the good ol' days...

BTW- I haven't seen you stop by my blog in awhile...

3:20 PM  
Blogger shoprat said...

tim You went quite a while without posting so I kind of just fell out of the habit. I did check on you and you have a couple of good things.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Yes, I am affraid that my ceaseless skiing has kept me from my keyboard!

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Seth said...

Over the last few years, I've pretty much taken a rather sudden and unaccustomed degree of prosperity for granted, but of late have realized that a downward spike in our society in general could well render financial success moot. Computers down, etc, and as such have begun to prepare myself for the worst.

We have to. One day we might abruptly find ourselves cut off from our financial assets due to a computer attack or other glitch (all of most of our assets are merely figures in databanks these days, and can be wiped out at the touch of an "enter" button by some high-tech miscreant or other, or by the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear detonation).

So we really need to pay attention to our physical capabilities and our tangible assets.

5:53 AM  
Blogger benning said...

I wondered where you were going with this, and you headed right for a winning place. Good post. I'd have a struggle surviving in the wilds, but I do remember most of my Boy Scout training. So I think I could make it. But I'd hate to have to try it for real.

One of the odd things I notice when watching Survivor - yeah, I do watch and it's funny! - is that when no one has the tools to make fire, they never seem to notice the contestant wearing glasses. Does nobody remember how to start a fire on a sunny day with a pair of glasses? How helpless have we become?

Sheesh!

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Al Czervic said...

You can start a fire with convex magnifying glass, but plain sunglasses?

Lotsa luck.

For better effect, remove the bullet from a cartridge, wad the cartridge with a tissue, and fire into tinder.

You are carrying a firearm in the woods, right?

Firearms --the world's number one survival tool

8:04 AM  

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