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Decadence As Default Culture

'Jump, lemming!' says pop culture. 'You can fly!' (photobank gallery/Shutterstock)

A reader sends in this excerpt from Peter Block’s management book The Answer To How Is Yes. The reader adds that it is pertinent to what we are going through now in the culture:

These patterns – personal, institutional, and societal – partially gain their power through their subtlety. As powerful as the culture is, we hardly notice its effects on us. It is the sea we swim in. The culture works on us and through us and even expresses us. In a literal sense, though, the culture does not really determine our actions or even explain why we do what we do. We are responsible for this. The culture is more like a presence in the shadows, ready to step in when we are not paying attention.

One useful way to think about it is as the default culture. In computer software, a whole host of default settings comes with every new program you buy. If you choose, you can change these settings to suit your preferences but if you don’t, the defaults create the rules.

Each time we turn our attention away from our own intentions, we operate, in a sense, by default. In the absence of our clear intention, our willingness to consciously change the settings of the world we are creating, the default culture is decisive. This is hard to see clearly because the culture is able to absorb the rhetoric of our individuality and freedom. It (we) allows space for our own desires, it just does not encourage acting on them. While no one argues against values and desires, we fear they might lead to anarchy and chaos. The result is that although every institution lists its human values on its mission statement, these are often operationally set aside, only to be resurrected during retreats or when public declarations are required.

Here is a real-world example about what popular culture-makers’ changing the default setting of society on sex and gender has done. The British women’s magazine Grazia commissioned a survey of British women, conducted by the firm Onepoll. Here’s what Onepoll found:

We were commissioned by Grazia to explore young women’s views on gender and sexuality. The research follows a rise in celebrities challenging gender norms and advocating gender fluidity. [Emphasis mine — RD]

The survey of 2,000 women aged 18+ found that a quarter of the respondents, despite describing themselves as ‘straight’, admitted to having had a same-sex fling. A third also admit to having been attracted to other women.

The respondents were split into 3 categories based on age:

  • The Pioneers: ages 18 – 24
  • The Teachers: ages 25 – 34
  • The Explorers: ages 35 – 44

1/3 of the Pioneers thought that marriage was irrelevant and 45% claimed that they would consider having a baby without a partner.

Whereas the majority of the Teachers were married or living with a partner. They were, however, determined that their children will be raised in a different world with aspects of gender neutrality. In fact, more than 1 in 10 of this age group would avoid choosing pink for their daughters. The mum’s of that age group also stated that they would give their child both ‘male’ and ‘female’ toys and read them non-stereotypical stories.

The explorers, meanwhile, felt that attitudes had changed towards gender in the past decade with society becoming more accepting. Two-thirds believe they are more open minded on gender issues than their parents with more. For example 1 in 5 admit to being sexuality experimental with a quarter claiming they’d like to be more so. A quarter of the elder age group also admits to buying an item of menswear for themselves.

How much human wreckage will result from these new norms? We are going to find out. See, this is what the bathroom wars are really about: changing the default settings of our culture. You have to keep that front to mind at all times.

And, if you are a social or religious conservative who is raising kids, or hopes to one day, you cannot avoid the hard truth that if you are not consciously countercultural in everything you do, your kids will absorb this default culture. 

Spare me the “we just want our kids to be salt and light” excuse for why you resist making hard choices. At least be honest with yourself about what you’re doing, and why. We see now what is happening. We see where it will lead. How clear does it have to be? If by intention or neglect you let your kids shore up the Empire, the Empire will own their hearts and minds.

For religious conservatives, we have been in a time of testing for some time, and the trial is intensifying. It will never get better, not in our lifetimes. Get that straight in your minds now. I expect that most conservative Christians will capitulate, and not take the Benedict Option, because it’s hard now to resist, and it’s going to get much harder. Don’t let your family be one of them.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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