Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Decadence | 1

I’m thinking about decadence – not as a personal lifestyle choice, but as a sociological phenomenon. Certain sub-cultures or even whole societies are decadent (think the Bohemian enclave of Montmartre at the turn of the last century, or the last days of Ancient Rome). Such societies are typically marked by an extreme socio-economic imbalance, a massive gap between the wealthiest and the poorest, resulting in the rich living a life of laziness and self-indulgence, and the poor living a life of hopeless despair.

Both ends of the spectrum lead to lifestyles which may be considered to be immoral (e.g. financial deception, sexual promiscuity), what we more commonly think of as decadence. But while we need to own personal responsibility for our actions, decadence as a sociological phenomenon calls into question the degree to which decadence is a personal lifestyle choice: I would suggest that as a society becomes more and more decadent, individuals within that society become increasingly decadent by default position, not active choice; and that the active choice becomes choosing not to live a decadent life – that is, to begin with a few counter-cultural individuals opt into decadence, until in time a few counter-cultural individuals are opting out of decadence.

It is worth noting that history tells us that societies that have arrived at a state of decadence generally implode. It is also interesting to note that recent studies suggest that the mental and emotional health of a population is highest in nations where the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest is smallest – suggesting that the secret to happiness is neither material riches nor the renouncing of possessions, but equality and fairness…

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