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What Changed our simple societies over time, and where are we heading?

What Changed our simple societies over time, and where are we heading?

I enthusiastically listened to the 2024 State of the Union address.  Two ideologies were on display with the country divided.  Just the same as in the Island I was born in all those years ago.  I was born in Sri Lanka in 1956, less than a decade after the independence from the Brits.  It was Ceylon then, and now Sri Lanka.  I grew up in a simple peaceful village on that Island in the mid-Fifties to Seventies. 

The romantic notion I now have of my village is that it was simple then. People went to bed at 7 PM as there was no electricity. The last bus passed the village at 7 PM. We studied using oil lamps and wiped the black soot from our noses in the morning that emanated from the kerosene lamp with faulty oxygen supply during the night. The native healer treated all ailments free of charge but the villagers paid him with their produce. An egg, some veggies, a coconut or two, you name it. The school teachers led exemplary lives. The village priest and the local politician were decent and educated people. The villagers helped each other at troubled times and or at busy times such as changing the old roof covers or bringing the harvest in.  Neighbors disciplined the kids and the parents thanked them. I watched my society change over time as it is inevitable.  Then I migrated to the U.S. in the late Eighties.  

Over the years, I saw that the village priest and the local politician becoming the biggest crooks. Healers gave faked medicine to make a buck. The Minister of Health and his secretaries are still in jail for alleged involvement in the procurement of counterfeit intravenous human immunoglobulin, which is used to help fight infections and cancer.

A man who is considered to be a former gold chain snatcher in public trains, (a claim that he has denied) was elected in March 2024 as the chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises, a key parliamentary committee to fight corruption.  Teachers do not teach much in the school but teach the same kids for money after work and on weekends and holidays. Everyone is for themselves.  Yes, the village is now divided.  As the ancient Greeks said, we have more idiots and tribesmen, than the citizens. 

The factors that changed the Sri Lankan society over time, as I see, are several.  

  1. Historical and cultural influences such as migration of people from neighboring countries and the arrival of major religions; 
  2. Colonialism and foreign influence by the European invaders and then the economic invasion by China; 
  3. Religious and ethnic tensions created by the local politicians; 
  4. Civil War and the reconciliation came out of the above; 
  5. Large-scale corruption and the decline of morality in the religious and civil order; 
  6. Globalization and modernization (i.e., internet and social media); 
  7. Economic factors such as the crisis brought through the widespread corruption; and 
  8. Educational system that does not address the local needs.

As we are facing elections in both Sri Lanka and in America, I asked a good American friend (Dave Kerr) of the same age what he thought had changed American society in the wrong direction. He has been to Sri Lanka in the Seventies and he said the following:

‘I would say the reasons the US has changed for the worse over time include most of the same ultimately detrimental influences that you have outlined in Sri Lanka, although they may have affected the US in different ways or by different mechanisms than in other countries. Some changes that have affected the U.S. more than others include:

  1. IMMIGRATION: The influx of large groups of migrants — both legal and illegal — from very different cultures and moral backgrounds has had both positive and negative effects on the moral foundation of the country. Immigration literally built the US, and generation after generation of migrants have integrated successfully into American life. In recent decades, however, there has been a sizable influx of immigrants that have not integrated well, establishing homogenous enclaves that held themselves culturally separate from American melting-pot culture, often openly rejecting the morality and societal belief systems that millions of Americans have adopted over the years. The very nature of America and her morality is based on the peaceful integration of many different kinds of people into one unified whole. The arrival of groups of individuals who reject American morality but still choose to migrate here — often choosing to demean or destroy the things that Americans cherish — has had a significant detrimental effect on our society.
  2. IDENTITY GROUP TENSIONS: Religious, sexual/gender, ideological, and ethnic tensions created by the media, politicians, and a very aggressive activist and lobbyist class. We’re far from a perfect society, but there is a growing and very vocal group of people and organizations that exist to promote grievances of every possible kind. Politicians and most media thrive on these grievances, pushing them front and center of every political campaign and media story. A culture of victimization has bloomed from these heavily promoted grievances, convincing large swathes of the population that racial, sexual, ideological, or religious victimization is the reason they have problems or lack the kind of success they feel they’d like. This not only degrades the morality of a country that was built on principles of equality and opportunity, but it can destroy the motivation and resilience of people living in a country where self-starting and individual responsibility are the true pathways to success. Instead of overcoming obstacles and persevering through headwinds, the constant refrain of victimization can understandably cause some people to believe the American Dream has been unfairly denied them because of characteristics they have no control over, and morality suffers when you are told over and over again that your country as a racist, sexist or ideological nightmare that will never let you succeed.
  3. GLOBALIZATION & MODERNIZATION (particularly the internet and social media): While there are universal moral guidelines that most of humanity has embraced, including things like murder and child abuse, much of our morality is a local — or at most national — construct. Different groupings of people naturally have different beliefs, organizational structures, and religions, and they therefore develop different morality. Globalization tends to throw all those different local and national identities and moralities together as part of a single global entity, which by nature minimizes regional differences by throwing different cultures into potentially profitable contact with each other.
  4. But modernization — particularly the internet and social media — has changed the social fabric of all modern societies more than almost any other factor. Not only does it throw different people into direct personal contact with other people around the world who hold dramatically different belief and morality systems, but it is designed to make those interactions addictive and self-perpetuating. In addition to exposure to knowledge, positive human interactions, and inspirational writings, in a shockingly short amount of time, the internet has made it incredibly easy for anyone of any age to get access to a wide variety of harmful ideas, pornographic images, and situations, and a drastically different morality than they have been raised with. Worse, the internet and social media are where predators and people of ill will tend to hunt, and their very presence has a negative effect on morality.
  5. EDUCATION: The American educational system has largely failed to educate and promote our historical morals to our youth. In many cases, education has become indoctrination, some mild and some quite aggressive, and over time it has attracted more and more educators — and particularly administrators — who are focused on indoctrination more than on education. This fire hose of contrary indoctrination causes our youth to be angry, divisive, dissatisfied, anxious, depressed, detached from the principles that make the country free and successful, and totally unprepared to compete with people educated in countries that focus on actual learning (i.e. Japan, China). Today, American students are largely unable to read or do math at their own grade level, and a plurality of high school graduates in large swaths of the country can barely read, write, or do math at an elementary school level. Schools in many areas are actively usurping parents’ ability to influence the morality of their children, which interferes with the social contract that has been effective for centuries all over the world. History, Civics, and Citizenship are either taught poorly, negatively or not at all, which can make an angry, divisive youth both ignorant and disconnected as well. Protests by educated, informed individuals are protests. Protests by ignorant, uneducated individuals is a mob, and the January 6th Capitol Riots and the Summer of Antifa and BLM riots are both horrifying examples of this disastrous, accelerating trend, by their very nature a collapse of morality and American social values.
  6. TRUST IN INSTITUTIONS: These and other issues have caused a near-total collapse of trust in every major institution, including religion, government, media, technology, and education/ colleges. Most of that distrust has been well-earned, as too many public institutions have been poorly run, lacking in any sense of duty to the public good, and rife with corruption and ideology. Without trustworthy institutions to act as the skeletal infrastructure of morality for the country, the population becomes cynical, lacking in belief, and disassociated from the things in society that bring people together. Without trusted institutions, people become focused solely on themselves and their immediate family, and a focus solely on the self has historically been considered immoral in and of itself. Instead of a country of 300 million people aligned in common affiliation with America and her institutions, we are becoming a country of 300 million siloed individuals lined up in opposition to other Americans and most American institutions, working solely towards their own selfish needs and guided by 300 million different moralities.

In other words, I see the decline of our countries — and most other relatively free states– to be caused by the same factors that are happening everywhere, on a global scale, although it progresses (or declines, actually) at a slightly different pace in each given country. While ideology certainly plays a part, it is more due to all the other factors listed above, and the different ideologies just tend to align themselves in arbitrary opposition to each other in each of those factors.

Do I have hope we can return to the simpler, more moral societies we had in the past, without also reviving the immoralities that even those eras labored under (ie racism/slavery, social caste systems that allowed the powerful to take advantage of the less powerful)? No, that is probably a forlorn hope. We can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube: technological advances have changed the way humanity learns, interacts, politics, entertains themselves, and experiences sexuality, and those things are changed forever.

Also, we struggle with racial/ethnic politics that refuse to be resolved and disarmed; the gradual dominance of most of our institutions by the left, many of which used to be imperfectly dominated by the right years ago; and the effect of globalism that has undermined — and often openly wants to obliterate — the concept of small gatherings of humans living under their own morality, operating a small local economy loosely affiliated with the larger regional and national economy.

The more globalized the world gets, the more we all share the same information, technology, morality, and economy, and the more homogenous the nations, institutions, and people of the world become. Theoretically, that could benefit countries that weren’t doing so well, but it brings down the most unique and successful countries that no longer have the unique identity and morality that made them successful.

The end game of this progression into globalism — i.e. one world government — is already being devised and openly talked about in centers of global power such as Davos, the WEF, the WHO, and the UN. Our simple, relatively moral small towns are probably gone forever. Sadly, our distinct national identities are heading in the same direction.

I believe our best hope is what I’m calling “benign nationalism” — the unwillingness to let go of the things that make our countries, regions, and towns different from other places, while at the same time accepting and even celebrating those cultures, nations and peoples who are different — without the expectation that importing millions of those very different peoples into our own unique, benign culture will naturally make them drop their own beliefs and morals and assume ours.

That simply has not been happening often in today’s world, and many countries are harming themselves trying to prove that it still CAN happen. Nationalism has had an occasional history of turning into something that is far from benign, and what I’m calling “benign nationalism” is so little like those systems that I’m sure we need to find a name for it that doesn’t include the loaded word “nationalism.”

For instance, I think every healthy country needs robust immigration, with policies that benefit the country first, but that can also benefit those with genuine need and equally benign intent. Perhaps this too is a forlorn hope. But I applaud any effort to slow or stop the slide into moral bankruptcy, widespread corruption that is fully integrated into all our institutions and economic systems, and the globalized homogeneity of a world government.

And those efforts can only start at home, with neighbors and local government, education, religion, and media. Benign nationalism isn’t a weapon to be wielded against those who believe different things. It is a virus that infects people of goodwill in every country, providing a small example of a better way to do things that gradually infects other people of goodwill, until the entire organism of the state is infected with goodwill and a belief in the things that make that particular gathering of humans unique, effective and moral.

And it can’t be organized; it can only happen organically from the bottom up unless we are blessed with an impossibly rare appearance of a truly moral, inspiring leader who can act as a signpost for the populace. But let’s be honest — it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen in our lifetime.

The quality of our leaders in recent decades makes the appearance of a truly inspiring, moral leader unimaginable, at least one that the whole country can support. They either don’t exist in today’s world, or they refuse to subject themselves to the gauntlet of horrors that is our modern political process, or the lousy leaders we have in most governments and institutions of power and influence make sure no one of high morals and inspirational talent ever gets close to a position of power.

So, in summary — yeah, we’re all pretty much screwed. But no matter how bad it gets, I can’t help but live in the pale light of hope’.

Dave’s analysis of American society begs us to deep dive into what exactly happened in Sri Lanka.  I invite people who are more informed in these areas to share their thoughts. 

Dave Kerr is a retired Media Executive who has visited Sri Lanka.

View Comment (1)
  • A self loathing native informant who blames immigrants and their lack of integration rather than examining his own fascism and bigoted ideology.

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