“Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
- Winston Churchill, 29 October 1941
In 1941, humanity stood at the precipice of a great turning — the ravenous, overwhelming forces of Nazi Germany and its Axis allies were steamrolling through Europe, Africa, and Asia. The French had surrendered in the year prior, and Britain more or less stood alone on the western front of the Second World War. The US had not yet entered the war militarily, though the signing of the Lend-Lease Act enabled financial support to be provided to the Allied forces.
The eight-month-long “Blitz” of London by the Nazi Luftwaffe had destroyed or damaged more than a million buildings and killed more than 40,000 Brits. The once-proud capital of the United Kingdom was in ruins, a hollowed-out mass of crumbling brick and fire-blackened timbers. Yet, the famed resilience of the Brits endured, the faintest flicker of hope in the darkest night of Western civilization.
On the 29th of October in 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stood before a collection of his countrymen at the Harrow School, and delivered a speech that would become the cri de coeur of the Allied forces. The most famous quote from the speech is that one quoted at the top of this article. However, it is the concluding sentence that most rouses my spirit each time I read it:
Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days — the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.
Just thirty-nine short days later, the Japanese navy attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the US and all of its latent industrial and military might into the conflict. And that, as they say, is history. Yet, on that day that Churchill spoke at his alma mater, he could not have known of the impending “black swan” that would arise to re-weigh the cosmic scales in his nation’s favor.
On the precipice of a civilizational abyss, his words carried none of the fatalism for which his present circumstances seemed to overwhelmingly justify. Churchill, resolute and defiant to the last, proclaimed that the Almighty Himself had granted the British people an opportunity to play a part in the greatest days of one of the mightiest empires to ever bestride the earth.
Complicating his efforts, though, were the notorious Nazi sympathizers and collaborators in English high society. Ranging in opinion from “the Nazis aren’t so bad” to actively undermining efforts by Churchill and the Crown to resist Hitler’s devastating successes, these sympathizers had embraced a nihilistic view of their own nation’s survival. They performed their mental calculus, and had concluded that destruction was inevitable. And so, they worked against their nation to facilitate (or at least mitigate the impact of) that “obvious” collapse towards their own benefit.
“The decline is certain, so we should benefit from it”, they told themselves.
There is a term given to men and women such as these — “Fifth Columnists”. Working overtly or covertly from within the metaphorical walls of the city to undermine their countrymen, these fifth columnists mock the efforts of their fellow man to reverse the fortunes of a bleak future. They make their deal with the devil — trading a little comfort and self-assurance now for the death of a civilizational way of life.
FREE TO CHOOSE
T o be sure, it is of course an individual’s right to choose this path. Who am I — who are any of us — to tell another person how to live their life? This is of course quite true. “A man chooses, a slave obeys” goes the refrain from the greatest video game of all time, and broadly, I agree with that sentiment. It is the choices of many million individuals that form the shape and color of our cultural character, economy, and body politic.
So what right then do I have to castigate the choices of another man as “immoral” or “unethical”? Further, what happens when two individuals cannot even agree on a mutual ethical framework from which to derive individual action that benefits both people? How do we navigate this tension between individual self-interest and collective well-being?
From a previous essay:
And certainly, it’s true that any stimulus can be ignored to a certain point by enforcing self-discipline, focus, and secondary means of mitigating its effect.
But a stimulus cannot be ignored forever.
If nothing else, entropy cannot be disregarded. Time and the natural frictions of the human experience will whittle away the capacity of any man to withstand stimuli. Thus, a stimulus demands that whatever is being acted upon must eventually take action.
From this axiomatic frame, we must then accept that we are not purely-sovereign individuals, our actions and thoughts and words completely disconnected from the reality of those around us. Rather, it is the tension between our internal worldview and behaviors and that of all other individuals’ own worldviews that shapes our common reality. There is no purely-objective reality discernible to the individual, because no man has a completely-transparent lens. It is arrogance and lack of self-awareness that drives us to believe we are bias-free.
Thus, a rational and honest person would accept that at some level, his or her actions have an impact on those around them. This, of course, begs an obvious question from a certain mindset — “Why should I care if my actions are solely self-interested?”
Understand, the connection between our individual Self and the collective Other is explicit. The perceived indifference of the external world was a stimulus that generated a response of retreating to exclusive self-interest.
As we know, humans are innately social creatures, inborn with a natural desire to locate oneself relative to others. Too far one way, and sociopathy defines one’s behaviors and worldview. Too far the other way, and collectivist tendencies grab the wheel. However, despite these being extremes, enough individuals choosing enough times to align towards one extreme or the other creates momentum that pulls the larger cultural body along with it.
The natural human instinct is to find a reason not to do the difficult thing. We create elaborate justifications to avoid taking responsibility for the things we observe as being negatives, while doing our level best to maximize the benefit derived from the same circumstances. Part of this is bluntly refusing to acknowledge that enough people making the same individual choice becomes cultural inertia.
Humans are free to choose. But individual choices, at scale, have consequences.
Rejecting this fundamental truth is either willful ignorance, actual ignorance, or building a solipsistic frame that serves one’s own interests. This is one of the reasons why I have in the past gone hard recently on the “Enjoy the decline” approach to life. It’s a narrative device that encourages conscious exemption from any notion of accountability to anyone outside of oneself.
THE COWARD’S BULLET
Nihilism is the stopping off point for many individuals observing a civilization enduring great turmoil. But like the Nazi collaborators of WW2-era Britain, “rational self interest” rooted in nihilism too easily gives way to active treason, opting out of rebuilding efforts, or mere passivity.
Of course a man should do what’s in his own best interest whenever possible. But in framing the decline as inevitable, he abdicates his own best interest as well. He sets the table for a life of isolation, non-participation, and myopic anger at the world that left him standing at the side of the road. Externalities have shaped his reality, and so instead of summoning the strength to mold his reality into an image of cooperation and self-growth alike, he simply…quits.
Consider the world we live in today — the height of technology, democratization of information, access to sanitation and water infrastructure, plenteous food and energy, the ability to travel great distances in hours, and all the consumer trinkets one could want. But despite all that, the Enjoy the Decline guy wants to obsess over the end of days he is sure will come, and exploit the margins and fissures of society for his own gain.
It is simple weakness of spirit and cowardice that the man is attempting to justify — a pathetic, shriveled will sprung forth from the same poisoned soil that gave root to the collectivist evils and “-isms” that he decries as the source of our decline.
“It is hopeless!”, he brays. “I must serve only my own needs and wants now, and damn the rest!”
And with that justification, he moves from observation of the alleged decline, to becoming a Fifth Columnist complicit in facilitating the endgame. Because this man will not keep his feelings to himself. The emotional and cognitive dissonance arising from consciously giving in to despair leaves him feeling isolated on his intellectual island.
So he recruits and proselytizes, pushing out a message on social media that the world has abandoned men, and so it’s only rational to “fight back” by opting out, leveraging the toxic behaviors inculcated by culture to sleep with as many women as possible, and minimizing his own skin in the game through tax avoidance schemes and reducing his economic footprint. No more kids, because they’re a drain on a man’s flexibility to opt out, and anchor him more firmly in the cultural paradigm.
This, then, is the end state of our Enjoy the Decline hero — an itinerant life of gaming women, living at the margins of society, evading any notion of familial or communal accountability.
A bottom feeder on the carcass of the society that gave him every advantage to lift himself up and make a difference for others at the same time.
No life to speak of, except that which he can extract from others, because a man that creates nothing of value to others can only operate from within a zero-sum frame.
But it’s easier — more logical— to give up.
Thus is the retirement plan of the Enjoy the Decline man. One bullet, a gun, and a life behind him of excess, graft, and the undermining of a civilization that offered all the bounteous resources a man could ever need.
The Coward’s Bullet is his final response to a despair of his own making.
Rather than going down swinging as all of his ancestors did, the coward consents to his own fatalism, and dies long before his body ever does. Because in the moment a man no longer chooses to leave his mark upon the world, the world ceases to remember him. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and naught left behind but an unremembered, insignificant life.
These are not dark days; these are great days.
There is opportunity, and much work to be done, together.
Dum spiro spero,
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