The world has seen many civilisations rise and even more civilisations vanish. From ruling vast territories, advancing scientifically and adding to what we call art and culture, they went on to become merely footnotes of history. Though we might not always appreciate it, their legacies remain, to this day, the building blocks of present and future progress. However, we cannot help but to wonder how some of the most magnificent dynasties, kingdoms and empires fell into decline and ultimately simply seized to be. We can think about the Empires of Babylonia, Egypt, Mali, Aztec, Rome, Byzantine and the Turkic Empires, including the Mongol, Hun and Ottoman Empires. Once they had flourishing economies and greatly advanced our species in the fields of arts, science and politics. Today, they no longer are. Surely, they all somehow transformed and developed into different societies and political systems, but most of them failed to come near to formerly achieved levels of development.
The most meaningful advances in understanding how these civilisations fell into demise were naturally made by political scientists and historians, who engaged in the field of state theory. On the grounds of their work, we are today able to understand what happened that these civilisations were not able to withstand time and although the specific developments naturally diverged from case to case, they can usually be traced back to one common dynamic that they were not able to avert: decadence. If we seek a short explanation of societal decline, we can simply say that they were doing too well, which led to lethargy. With such a societal dynamic poisoning a civilisation, effective and efficient policymaking cannot be upheld. For one, because the policy goals and preferences inherently change, due to the different level development, but also because the intrinsic motivation to further advance society decreases, due to the marginal diminishing returns on invested effort in terms of societal progress. Although this is a very fundamental account, it is nonetheless true. However, we cannot extract much value from this, as it does not enable us to uncover those dynamics beforehand. Rather, once a civilisation’s existence becomes limited to the lines in a history book, we can in hindsight explain its demise by pointing to certain decadent dynamics. Also, we have limited tools to identify potential decadent tendencies within societies. For Essydo Magazine’s 1st anniversary, one indicator of societal decline into decadence is presented and discussed: sex.
Micro and Macro
Methodologically, one of the most effective approaches to derive meaning is to find analogies between the micro and the macro level of application. This would mean that if we have a question or problem at the micro level, we would seek to find already explained parallels at the macro level. For example, in order to understand the forces that affect the atomic level relationship between neutrons, protons and electrons, we could derive value from observing the behaviour of planets within a galaxy. Similarly, if we want to understand macro level problems, such as the decline of formerly glorious civilisations, we could turn to micro level phenomena to derive meaning at the macro level. In this particular case, we need to better understand the concept of decadence by identifying dynamics at the micro level, in order to draw conclusions about civilisational decline. At this point, it should be clearly pointed out that the indicator, dealt with in this analysis, is only one among many other indicators, though a quite significant one. Further, the distinction between indicator and factor is important, too. Here, the role of sex and sexuality, which is going to be dealt with in a bit, is an indicator, which means that decadent tendencies have already set in, while factors would be dynamics, that would cause decadency in the first place. Surely, indicators can also be reinforcing factors, accelerating already existing tendencies. Therefore, being aware of them is immensely important to identify decadent tendencies and counteracting them.
The Human Nature
Our most fundamental instinct is the survival instinct. This also holds true for any other organism in the universe. No organism seeks death, but rather structures its behaviour around avoiding death for as long as possible. Linked to the survival of the individual organism, every organism’s second most fundamental instinct is to reproduce, because it is what enables survival in the first place. Accordingly, every organism is equipped with physical properties, that allow it to reproduce. While the survival instinct can be viewed as a rather reactionary trait, reproduction requires physical interaction with another organism of that species, which is why every species divided into two different groups, possessing complementary reproductional properties. While this holds true for all organisms, human beings have certain characteristics, that influence our fundamental instincts. In the course of evolution, our species developed a level of consciousness, that allows us to seek meaning beyond the limits of our survival instinct. This can be art, music, sports, science, spirituality or any other activity, that embodies the subjective, but intrinsic beauty of life. With the emergence of this heightened level of consciousness, our perception of reproduction changed from being a merely biological act to a pleasure-giving interaction. It somehow reduced the importance and necessity of reproduction, as this consciousness triggered our curiosity to extract meaning from our world beyond the limits of physical reproduction. Where this curiosity is satisfied with action, we find fulfilment, since it affects a part of our being that is superordinate to our instincts. However, where we are not consciously acting to derive meaning beyond mere survival, our instincts’ weight on our behaviour is increasing and with it the drive to reproduce.
Implications for Civilisations
From the above, it follows that our personal development is tied to the centrality of the endeavour of seeking meaning beyond survival. Further, it also depends on how actively we are engaging in activities that move us closer to this meaning that we are seeking. For example, a musician would perceive the concepts of love, friendship and family, but also life, success and even the universe in terms of music. The artist would be driven to explore life from the perspective of notes, symphonies and instruments. Greats like Vivaldi, Mozart and even Michael Jackson can be looked at to understand this concept, as they were able to create truly unique pieces of work, which beautifully embody parts of life.
Translating this finding to the macro level, we can sustain the statement that civilisations’ progress is tied to the aggregate level of engagement in meaning-creating activities by the society. The more people are consciously engaging in activities in and around fine arts and science, the higher their level of fulfilment is. Where this is not the case, the natural instincts are playing a greater role in people’s lives.
Sex and Societal Decline
The core claim of this article is that increased levels of sexual activity within a society indicates societal decline, because it means that meaning-creating conduct is decreasing, which, in turn, leads to slower societal progress. Further, also increased levels of perverted sexual activity indicate such a decline. Increasing rates of rape, homosexuality, repression of women, child marriage, masochism, polygamy and virtually any other sexual perversion or imbalance hint at decadency, which is the main cause for civilisational demise. The examples of this dynamic are countless. We can think about the Ancient Greeks, who to this day are considered as the pioneers of philosophy and maths. To the end of their glory days, pedophilia and homosexuality were already commonly accepted sexual practises. As it is delivered in mankind’s oldest written document, the Epic of Gilgamesh, women were reduced to sex objects and were even openly shared among men. The rulers of the Ottoman Empire practically “collected” women to their liking and made them sex slaves in their so-called harem. Today, we can see that many Arab nations’ societal decline, flawed policymaking and internal conflict coincide with increased oppression of women. Where in the 20th century, the discrepancy in terms of societal value between women and men was lower, the nations were much more stable than today. Again, and this is important to stress, the imbalance in sexual activity does not itself cause societal decline, but rather is an indication that the decline has already begun.
The reason for this is when civilisations become too prosperous and advanced, the added value of each step of further development decreases. There is less urgency to develop, in order to survive, but also because the level of fulfilment is high in such a situation, the leniency to be less euphoric about seeking further meaning increases. Because our drive to extract meaning from our being decreases, due to higher standards of living, the instinct of reproduction becomes more dominant. However, as the standard of living and the material comfort is high, the mere act of reproduction will not be sufficiently stimulating at some point. So, lessened motivation to develop, paired with increased weight of sexual desire and a comfortable environment will lead to increased sexual perversion at the aggregate level. Once these are visible, we have a strong indicator that a society is falling into decline. However, even when societies are underdeveloped, we can derive from here, that they are far from recovering and we can surely say that they are far from advancing anytime soon. Again, some Arab nations serve as prime examples of sexual perversion. Child marriage, oppression of women, rape and zoophilia all hint that those societies are greatly imbalanced and that the search for meaning beyond our natural instincts is on halt.
Today, we have several societies, that face such tendencies. Maybe most glaringly, the United States of America shows significant levels of sexual perversion. Whether we think about the increased role of homosexuality, polygamy among Mormons or its huge dominance of the porn industry, the society shows clear signs of societal decay. We cannot, however, derive from this what exactly is driving this decay, but only conclude that there must be something wrong which might lead to systemic failures in the future. As a positive example, we can think about Japan. The Japanese society never showed increased levels of sexual imbalance. Further, the society was subject to continuous growth, high resilience against crises and great production of added value to mankind in terms of culture, arts and science.
Sex, therefore, can be considered an important aspect within any society. A healthy society has a healthy sex life, we could say. Even in dystopian literature, the most prominent factor, that is used to describe ill societies is sex. It is maybe also the reasons why religions are so keen on regulating sex life through their teachings, as this a commonality throughout all religions. However, this will remain a topic for another article – for now.