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tv   Ross Douthat The Decadent Society  CSPAN  April 18, 2021 10:00pm-11:03pm EDT

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are qualities i would point to in anthony and pedro. it's on a level of values i believe this essay collection has importance. i know we will move on to topical matters but that's the way that i wanted to set it up. if we cannot talk to people as each other that we can't get anywhere. to which the rest of the program visit booktv.org and search for the title of the book "now what" in the search box at the top of the page. ..
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>> welcome. >> it is great to be here. thank you for having me. >> for those of us who have yet to read the book what do you mean by decadent? >> surely you have a copy by your nightstand. >> so decadence just means
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family doesn't mean anything as basic in las vegas or chocolate covered strawberries i use it to mean stagnation and risk and reputation on - - repetition reaching this proficiency so in order to be a decadent society first you have to be a successful society and the argument is basically starting around the moon landing which is a hinge point in modern history the western world that the pacific rim has entered into this decadence with disappointing technological progress outside of the internet and the graphic decline the kind we
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are all very familiar with in the cultural repetition having what seemed the same arguments or the same star wars movies over and over again. >> one of the arguments in the book is of technological progress pretty or you that the techno- boosters would have us believe the exception in the realm of digital entertainment i am interested in your larger thoughts how twitter or social media at large or blogging have changed america's intellectual culture and contributed or challenged the larger decadence. >> when i try to make in the book is the internet is the big exception to decadence. question those innovation that
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we could not have that conversation and to come out of social change but then i go on to argue persuasively that this technological change because the main social effect pushes us deeper into decadence and other ways. to the case of mass media if you just stick with newspapers for instance the internet era has been very good ultimately for a set of national already significant newspaper plans like the wall street journal the "washington post" and publications that cover
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national politics. it has been terrible for news and information gathering at every other level of american society it has hollowed out daily newspapers my wife worked for one as it was going to the process five or ten years ago from this institution that employed hundreds of people and has been reproduced all over the country with local media landscapes. 's even up with the media environment that is transformed in a way that is more consolidated effectively more conformist and also more superficial in other ways that was paid for out of the pre- internet surplus.
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so my wife did i know that fairly well and then it goes away there is a brief window like blogging basically that united together once upon a time. to have new platforms and conversations with a net goes on five or ten years beginning in 2000. and then social media takes over that is the argument that is by try ballistic and broad-based with predictably negative effects on discourse. that may be changing again.
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and then i had a paperback for this book maybe there is some revival of argument that the internet has been bad for midsize newspapers, geographical distribution of information gathering, considered argument and outside the media landscape for the midsize rock concert. whole range of cultural institutions the internet driven economy doesn't have to purchase so it's not necessarily that google makes us stupider that makes us more boring. >> because of the consolidation that stems from these technologies quick. >> there is the superstar
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affect than those that can make a decent living in 1997 struggle to make a living in the environment that is mediated the rewards for the super famous are large. and not to have a widely distributed network of magazines and also the internet right now drives and amazon has a homogenous take force the people on amazon don't like that like the
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encyclopaedia britannica but even there there is a homogenization. at the outset of the internet you have the while diversity of viewpoints and the army of david taken down the media goliath and instead those are the only company still standing. >> when you release the hardcover edition the breakout of the stagnation and reputation of the near apocalyptic events what you think of the covid-19 and that pandemic context? good this break us out or not quite quick. >> i feel bad because i
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summoned into being by releasing a book proclaiming that era of stagnation. and then lays waste to the world also the fundamental existential mistake but the short answer is it is too soon to tell there are areas where the covid era could push that away the speed at which we develop a vaccine is not of decadence and there is a whole set of potential medical breakthroughs from the push the vaccination research gave us and beyond that, you can tell a story where a society that has been through something like this becomes more open to pushing ahead
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with other forms of technology. there are other writers arguing the stagnation will come to an end and it will have a series of breakthroughs with self driving cars. and if that happens we will look back and say covid was a hinge moment out of that decadence in some areas i am more pessimistic with the media trends we are talking about. if you think of not people having relationships are getting married drifting through life reasonably well off and attached with people not being able to go out on dates for one year or get
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married very real covid baby best is a bad sign maybe there will be a bounce back effect on economic that is a fertility bill but right now fishing everybody deeper into their screens away from human contact deepens a decadence i'm talking about. with politics who knows you could say where covid killed off a couple of rebellions. one year ago bernie sanders is about to be the democratic nominee a populist and a socialist rebelling against the establishment now trump is gone and sanders is in the fold of the biden administration which is literal embodiment that seems like more decadence. but then again there are
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certain ambitions the biden administration were not have if not for the pandemic so maybe there is a surprise opening for a progressive attempt to escape from decadence by the power of massive decadence spending. host: you wouldn't call them that was not widely received you were widely denounced as the one in particular is a column in which you made the case united states experience with covid-19 was not especially unique. the notion we were victims of a particularly egregious public policy failure was not borne out by the comparative experience. now that's an argument other people are tentatively willing to make as well because the political environment has changed. yes the united states at large
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western europe had an experience that east asia had a very different experience there can be all sorts of reasons but does that suggest to you that east asia is not quite as decadent in the same ways that there might be something we can learn from their experience? >> absolutely. one of the takeaways from the whole year is that political desk decadence is unevenly distributed within the us basic scientific research is less decadence than the cdc the fact what we did with vaccines was not decadent or testing at the outset of the pandemic reflected all of the institutional failures that i call decadent there is an even distribution within the country within the culture and
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uneven distribution worldwide that east asia looks more decadent than the western world but was state capacity to respond nimbly or those forces that basically enable a cooperation between the state and citizenry which is the thing we associate in the us with how we won world war ii , that seems much stronger in east asia including anglo nations in australia and new zealand men in either the us or western europe. so the story i am hinting at is that whatever went wrong in the west is a general problem not just donald trump problem
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as egregious as they were there was clear commonalities and with the failures we have seen in europe. and then to suggest the trans-atlantic cultural problems that are not shared. and also sub-saharan africa they have done well for age-related reasons but they are also a number of countries in africa that affected measures the rich struggled conspicuously to do. >> how much of this is a reflection of elite self-confidence? to make those decisions it
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could be a reflection of institutional structures but we find ourselves in this anti- elitist move so when you think about that? if i think about the east asian states to be somewhat successful to some dimension with that particular crisis i have brought authorities and legitimacy and that can be part of the story. >> there ways both things can be true. that is overconfident and uncreative at the same time. and you can see that in response to the pandemic and
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the assumption that plagues were happening in a third world country. in china is the exotic pre- modern society so people in the west still think of it that way so look at the initial outbreak in wuhan and say this is something that is happening in china because it is the culture where public health authorities are not capable with the authoritarian regime and they have wet markets. we don't need to worry about it migrating here. that is the overconfident side of things but then that merged with paralysis and uncreative that he was it becomes clear it is actually coming here.
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you can't possibly shutdown travel. the fatalism that shows up both left-wing and certain libertarian responses or takes different forms. there is a right wing fatalism that says we can't possibly shutdown the economy in these ways even if it means hundreds of thousands of people will die. then there is a liberal bureaucratic fatalism that if it takes months and months to get a vaccine approved we have to trust the experts and trust the science. there were ways we needed to trust the science but also question institutional science and demand more from it that we have not even done from the vaccine is still certain
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passive video about approving vaccines faster literally thousands of lives were at stake affect committee will hold a meeting on a wednesday or a sunday. there just didn't seem to be as much dynamic energy among the elites as you would want. >> there is a strange contradiction do we treat this of genuine urgency or not? and there are many aspects revealed in the behavior of different agencies that suggest to see this as a urgent threat you are an avid consumer you have made observations of the declining quality. so how do you see the state of americans cinema 2021 as
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reflecting ducted one - - decadence it was dead. this was another way the pandemic accelerated the trend didn't just hurt but killed off the venue that culture exist so everyone and was driven back to the internet which was peaked television and everybody was streaming was the trend before that was its own version of consolidation of blockbuster that could pay for the entire company sold to the widest global audience the only major artform still being made in
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hollywood with the inability to escape the baby boom era where with the exception of harry potter all of the stories come from a 1940 through 1980 time. star wars also falls into the category with lesser entertainment has well. i'm not a huge superhero person but i love the original star wars like a child of the eighties but if you're watching the new star wars trilogy they are literally just making the same movie over and over again. that is a particularly egregious case but there has been a weird critical the four
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hour justice league cut released on hbo people are not actually saying this is a really good movie. it's not. but it has the east those with the insane mindset behind it. even that has been leached out of hollywood. the rebuttal to this for a column i wrote decline of sex and romance is this is true but actually all the good stuff has migrated to television cable and streaming this was true in the late 19 nineties and early 2000's with the soprano breaking bad era there is all this happening on
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tv unless sure in peak tv the economics of the tv business have shifted to maximize the content that you can produce to keep people turning over a netflix and hbo subscriptions all the endless streaming services. as a consumer i don't think there is enough writing talent in hollywood to make them equal of the smaller number of shows from golden age tv such a slightly different economic pattern but this effect of going from the sopranos to breaking bad which is fine entertainment but trying to do the same things as the golden age shows with weaker writing i don't know i feel like it has happened a lot.
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that hotspot of creativity has dimmed in the last five years. >> the dimension of prestige tv to be increasingly repetitive. but also the narcotic effect of binge watching and how you see that relating to decadence. there is an article a working paper that was looking at technological advances arguing they are increasingly focused on the attention economy on entertainment and making entertainment more addictive to use a more pointed language so what about the volume of television has increased but that has an effect of sucking people out of the real world to consuming guilty pleasures for more than the sheer volume that is relevant.
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>> that is almost unquestionably happening. we are conducting a massive social experiment with the effects of immersive entertainment with young people's relationship to normal reality to work or family were childbearing projects in the backyard so in the aftermath there was a. the mail workforce participation people were instead of looking for work and when she got to the low level economy they come back into the workforce so the
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attention economy is not powerful enough yet to completely remove the real world romance you don't want to dismiss that either because it does take a long time the birth rate in the marriage rate has not yet bounced back to where it was ten or 15 years ago so with this existence away from real existence people would just say it is the assimilation. but it's possible to imagine a world virtual reality was so potent you have real relationships inside maybe it is a hellish utopia but it is
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imaginable even if you play another videogame you are doing the same type of thing when you played wiffleball with your kid outside that is debatable but certainly looking at online pornography even with the assistance of that top-of-the-line you do not do the same thing as having intercourse in the real world. we cannot just say it is the assimilation it is still the insufficient substitute for what they are supposed to deliver. >> you identify one modern market democracy that is digitally savvy that is all high-tech to defy the larger decadent trends including the sharp decline of the birth
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rate with israel birth rates well above the level and not limited to the ultra-orthodox population what is distinctive that seems to be a partial escape from decadence is anything that the west can embrace from these really experience quick. >> this is a challenge of dissidents because the israeli exceptionalism is that israel is a nation surrounded by enemies. being in a constant state of stress creates a sense of national purpose and religious purpose connected to a host of things that are not decadent with higher birth rates being
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one example. but it's hard to reproduce that in another context it is a professional challenge to say it takes away people sense of purpose and ambition and heroism but the only way to get that back is to plunge back into history with hostile enemies and suicide bombers and global warfare, then that isn't a solution and we both live to the aftermath of 9/11 but especially on the right there was a sense that this was the end decadent moment when the united states and the west would find their sense of purpose with that idealism and people imagined to the islamist strength but what
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happened we ended up in military quagmires and people died. and there was not any kind of great renewal as a consequence for someone that participated in this as a cautionary tale. you cannot will yourself out of decadence. you have enemies as powerful as nazi germany and the soviet union so you have to invent them. but actually to have an enemy that is more serious than while that is potentially bad news there is an on decadence available in the conflict of china we don't have to feel bad about choosing to embrace.
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>> one more explanation for israel's unique position that i have heard advanced by some israelis that israel is a place the institution of the sabbath is incredibly vital and important in the adf families gather on friday whether a secularist or someone that is observant so it speaks to the larger question of relationships you talk about the pandemic exacerbating this isolation but is that pronounced in the united states or where israel represents an unusual exception with real social pressure they want to know where you will be on friday night will you be having shabbat dinner? you still have grandparents and parents nudging you to
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reproduce is this where it is unusually decadent or is this the trend of a modern society with an external force quick. >> it's mostly just the trend of a modern society part of what's going on it is a small society geographically constrained society that ethnically and religious homogenous society you would not expect in empire of 300 million people like united states to reproduce that social dynamic of israeli society. what you would hope for the us to have a lot of different places and different ways manifest social solidarity in
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the us has that for now at least among other immigrant communities you could expect that based on past experience and in mormon utah which is the other exception from what i cite in the book but it doesn't have in places where it used to have in communities oriented around the old protestant nomination or in most cases my own roman catholic church. you have to dissolve and appear individualism. it's tough to know how to reverse it. >> you mention the old protestant denomination. one ada you advanced is when you look at the discourse of antiracism and the rise of the woke ideology, you see
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something to your mind has a positive dimension to help fill the void can you tell us about that quick. >> almost no question what we call the great awoke it participates in protestant forms of religiosity that used to be powerful now we are no longer powerful that cultural residues and the spiritual desire so calling wilderness it doesn't explain everything about it but it is a useful analytic tool so these emergent progressive structures to provide moral
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frameworks for people especially and then sex and conservatives would make fun of it that is that left-wing puritanism. with that romantic landscape to tear down the structures to organize sexual relations they want to structures that is a conservative impulse. conservatives should be constructed of those structures were deliver what
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they promise and religious conservatives should be skeptical that woke us could focus as a religion incredibly strong moralism but it isn't clear what the moral vision is rooted or the story of the universe with no supervening to balance the scales and the humanitarian aside the great awakening would produce institutions and families and marriages and the intergenerational transmission of baptist communities in a more extreme forms of christian scientist i am
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pretty skeptical. >> if this is chiefly performative and then to motivate real action. so as the escape from decadence does this have to be collective at the level of society are more constructive to think as society being communities and we want to do with the intellectual resources that institutional capacity for other smaller communities to escape decadence serve as a beacon along those lines and has to be both either through a pure
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retreat to localism or must be ended and then to we organize society there is a lot of this argument back and forth among catholic conservatives right now to have people that are on the local list option in the idea we can seize the administrative state and to make a submission and govern america accordingly. so setting aside that caricature. so we are those are not mutually exclusive options. certified decadence constructively. so that struggle against
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decadence so at the same time you run nothing contained guy write a column for a major american newspaper. we are supposed to theoretically give advice to people who are supposed to set public policy in shape society for better or worse so maybe the closer you are to the leverage of power, the more you need to think about what does public policy do? for instance it will not spark a new baby boom but could it create structures or foundations the way the welfare state is designed? to make a baby boom more likely to happen or get off the ground? yes. so the g.i. bill the not cause
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the baby boom precisely but it didn't hurt. see you have to think about it in terms of different people in different fields doing different types of work. anti- decadent means something for as senator and another for running netflix and another running a local business and trying to raise three kids in akron ohio. it is a connection but also distinct. >> your modest optimism for the prospect for major technological change you have become a mild economic optimist at the same time it's fair to say you have a bleak view looking at family life
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and the birth rate of those cultural foundations post decadent society. so the optimism on the one hand and pessimism on the other interacting with the cultural and spiritual in the coming years. >> in a small question. [laughter] a 25 year pessimist in fifty-year optimist. a wild oversimplification there are forces right now with that public policy opportunities with a weird low-inflation environment. if we set close to full employment in the economy.
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with a few major technological innovations with transportation and energy especially to the extent we have not seen in decades. that could make the 2020 is better in crucial material respect since the internet first came online. >> that rising affluence rolls into decadence. we don't have the same urgency because they tell gloom and doom stories it is a relative affluence for cultural decadence to take root. >> to some extent it is always downstream from getting rich they get rich then they get decadent. that is true but this is the landscape where the reward to
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sit around and do very little is strong but you also have bigger rewards available. the problem for the us economy is mild rewards available from a society with a strong safety net keeping people going to the same rut. but if you have a surge simultaneously bringing people into the workforce with more competition and outside opportunities to build a fortune other than silicon valley maybe you get a little more paul of dynamism and ambition if you can get a 5 percent growth high rewards lead to higher ambitions even the corrupt effects at the
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optimistic story but pessimistic as your point that you get rising affluence from people's finances and gives them more money to spend on the next cool home electronic system but the social dynamics of the most important driver even a small economic boom will not get us out of a low birthrate society getting old quickly that is that one - - stuck it's a pretty important part of the drama in ways beyond the conversation. it's not clear to me they seem to changing nature of work how it affects dating those ideological trends where feminism and progressivism has ended up nine have changed
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with self driving cars so the poll loves simulated existence over real life and drugs and a society coming from china as we legalize marijuana. you can tell a story where we slept on - - slipped back pretty quickly. >> 50 or optimism stems from the fact from the period in which and with those communities and are not fifty-year timescale that's what it looks like quick. >> that is where i would tend towards optimism the shadow over the decadent society is a
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brave new world getting into a dynamic with the level of wealth and technological proficiency. with the mood stabilizing drugs to stable and dehumanized forever. but i don't think reality will work like that. and within a certain point the atomized society is unhappy enough for these communities that need to communal and religious revivals. the intellectual landscape is there enough that there is a premium to read a great novel instead of scrolling twitter. so then there is a low
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birthrate society people having get - - kids how do the sexes relate to one another? in the post- scarcity. >> it doesn't have to be a hyper future like the amish and catholics having 12 kids and as a let calvinists to inherit the country maybe some of that happens but people are more secular or less religious still figuring to communities that work in the way other modes don't. that is the optimism decadence can last forever because people are not just content in dystopia the future belongs to
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the people who form stable communities and families. at some point it has to turn over to something more humane. we are all subjugated by the people's republic of china. >> . >> just building on your mark ship now, arguing social liberalism isn't responsive to the crises of the day loneliness and declining birth rates that this that speaks to the issues. they seem intent on the excess of race and gender. >> that's a really good question i've been thinking about how to write a column about that question. right now social conservative
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is him mostly exist as the bulwark against certain ways that social liberalism is inclined to make those problems worse. i mentioned drug legalization even polyamory like there is a big feature story and the next front tier is polyamory and there is a side to social liberalism that for various reasons just pushes towards a form of social individualism even though polygamy is a traditional sense and you can make a case for social conservativism you just need a force in society that social
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liberalism you don't need to legalize it just yet or euthanasia. this happens in stages but it is clear from experiencing canada and western europe that it tends toward the legalization of suicide not just for the terminally ill that a much larger population social conservatives reasonably see not just leading to specific tragedies that a larger culture of suicide so that is a valuable thing. but it's also totally true it's not enough you don't rebuild society just by saying no and the challenge for conservatives again with a big diverse country is not a single conservativism that would prevail as an
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alternative he's not pushing a conservativism to read the bible. we have these books that were written before 1965 let's see what they have to say. he can appeal to a broad audience because not yet a converted christian or a practicing jew or any of these things. at a certain point you need communities that have to be sectarian. it's very hard to have a society that embodies the social conservativism unless with a religious tradition region by region in a way that
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is not amenable to the republican party solution that you can push back against access to build foundations. >> in a sense the minimalist path forward to individualize the cultural trend is the way to think about it. >> i think the generic pro familial is him on the republican party is good. abortion is a particular case but having a pro-life political party is obviously valuable but there's a thing social conservativism requires that politics cannot do. >> you previously marked you do not believe there is a left-wing path out of
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decadence what is the shortcomings of the moment and many commentators have argued the fed is the most successful federal institution effectiveness to to insulation from the democratic process but also the cdc had you make sense of the swiftness and the cdc sclerosis? >> on the latter question it's less about the decadence and learning from experience. i think the fed did not necessarily handle the 2007 through 2009. as effectively as it should it was more fearful of inflation for too long and it should have been. and i learned from that experience that informed the more successful response where the cdc with ebola and sars were nothing like covid you
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can defend the cdc the fed had an experience to learn from. that being said there are ways it is a more elitist and less bureaucratic institution. to the extent the bureaucracy towards decadence that specific structure of the fed is a little more immune in the structure of the cdc. parts of the left view the fiscal monetary situation has been vindicated the last few years that conservatives were wrong about the immediate
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risks of inflation and budget deficit and loose monetary policy. in that sense you could say the right learned this and that's why the trump economy was relatively good he was a loose money guy in office. but at least for now and we will hit the horizon at some point for now the left policy ambitions are reasonable the right should have learned from that. what makes me skeptical how far this can be pushed the points i have been making of a social substrate to decadence that is not resolvable just by
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spending money getting the unemployment rate as well as possible. and i am still enough of a fiscal conservative if you look at the economy where your growth is pushed constantly higher by incredible record peace time deficits then the fundamentals of the economy are not as strong as they were with similar levels of growth that did not require those deficits. that doesn't mean that will lead to the inevitable crash but there are some limits rich society paying itself to feel richer is maybe the right policy but not a full escape from decadence. >> last question if hollywood
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is correct there is the unserved market of non- woke americans why do we see anyone entering the market to serve the niche isn't there a large hollywood large and flourishing quick. >> it is a shadow conservative hollywood it's just not as overtly political. if you watch the marvel superhero universe which i spent some time criticizing culturally and aesthetically decadent it has a strong component it is heroism based pro military the way the left would critique just like the night at the museum movies.
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and those family-friendly movies of teddy roosevelt those values that would soon be canceled. through those various genres. that takes the reality of the devil for granted with that supernatural component so hollywood does contain within itself a certain amount of conservative friendly entertainment which is why going outside to say we are setting up shop is not quite as effective a try it on - - strategy is something. what does it look like in ten years? that progressive wilderness takes institutions that were
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liberal but still open to conservative values to make it more ideological and overtly propaganda. i would expect that would have an impact on hollywood it does in certain ways already the movie industry version. at the very least. >> that's all the time we have. . . . . moral values and .
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again progress hasn't seized but it's along a particular dimension that then feeds back into the larger pattern of decadence because it leads people to spend more time in virtual realities and simulations of reality and to retreat from both certain kinds of economic activity but also to bring us to another force, re- retreat from romance, childbearing which is a vast stability basically. >> the decadent society other titles include privilege and bad religion. during the conversation with phone calls, comments and tweets. sunday may 2nd at noon eastern
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on booktv, c-span2. hello everyone and welcome to another session. i am part of the event staff at politics and prose. before we get started with the event, a couple quick housekeeping items. the first being at any time during this event you can go to the chat section and find a link that will take you to the website where you can purchase a copy of white evangelical racism directly from politics and prose and we highly encourage you to do so and of course thank you for you

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