Signs Society Has Reached a Dangerous Tipping Point
A number of years ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. It’s an interesting book that talk about how things change from being X to being Y, and how rather than being a smooth and gradual change, things are often instead a sudden swing as a tipping point is reached. It’s as if there is finally too much weight on the other side of the balance, and suddenly it shoots up way more quickly then you would expect.
The book is certainly a worthwhile read. I remember there being some controversy because some of the subject matter was a bit coarse for some people, such as discussing the tipping point for sexually transmitted diseases. It was shocking for the time, but now seems like a pretty reasonable line of discussion.
However, sitting here near the end of 2014, I have a feeling that we are reaching a tipping point as a society and as a planet, and that like it or not, it’s not going to turn out very well. It’s the tipping point of civilized living.
There have been many jokes over the years about the decline of our civilization. I particularly got a laugh out of the mocumentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. However, while that movie was tongue in cheek most of the way, the reality of our world today isn’t that funny. The level of decline in the last 4 or 5 years has been sharp and nasty, and it really does look like the world is heading towards world war 3 soon enough – although I really hope that’s not where we are going.
I moved from Canada to Asia a few years ago, and that change has helped me to understand the underlying problems of Western society as a whole. I realize that in much of Asia, the manners and the respect for others is in part very old style, perhaps early 50s American. That is to say that while there is crime and there are issues, generally people live good enough lives and are reasonably safe. There is a certain amount of respect for others, respect for their space and their things. Generally you don’t have to nail everything down and pad lock it twice to keep it secure. Having a brick wall on a building is not an automatic invitation for graffiti, and so on. The little things.
While the theory has it’s detractors, I think that the Broken Window theory does hold some merit. People react to the space around them and it’s condition. Most American (and Western) societies are both poorly maintained by their owners and heavily abused by the public at large. Graffiti, while for some an art form, is also a first indicator of decline.
That many western cities look the same as this is a real issue. It’s a visible symbol of decline, and one that people tend to latch onto without even realizing it. As a result, people tend to respond to the world around them in the same way as they see it, so the graffiti goes from abandoned building to the back and sides of commercial and residential buildings, onto the park benches and street signs, and so on. The decline grows. Literally, that by itself reaches a tipping point. You can look at places like New York City where they fight a daily war against this sort of thing. The tipping point was passed a long time ago, and they are fighting hard to try to get back from it. It doesn’t help that some consider this to be art and encourage it. It also doesn’t help that many of today’s popular music culture icons, like girlfriend beater Chris Brown or pop tart Justin Beiber do very public graffiti pieces and act like it gives them street cred.
Ahh, street cred. That’s another tipping point issue. Street cred (as in street credibility) is making your friends (posse to some, gang to others) feel you are worth, true, and right to them. It doesn’t matter if you broke the law to get it, except that breaking the law is of course a bonus and gives you more cred. The result is a sort of social tipping point where not respecting the law is key to being accepted socially.
In a deeper way, it touches the key point of the decline of society. It’s the feeling that everything today is about me, the brand of me, the street cred me, the celeb status of me, what I have, what I got, what money I got, and so on. If you got any or all of those things by flaunting the law or even out rightly breaking the law, then you are king. We celebrate and make famous those who give the system the finger at every turn.
It’s funny to think that World War III is just around the corner because Justin Beiber loves his sizzurp, but it’s the attitude that is causing the problem. The total lack of respect for one another creates the friction, it is the sandpaper slowly eroding away the structure of life itself.
Perhaps the best worldwide example right now of this sort of lack of respect comes from one Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader, who essentially manipulated the system to install himself as the effective president for life, has shown a total lack of respect for the will and desires of others. He is constantly flaunting his country’s power and new found wealth as an oil and gas producing nation. He has used that money and power to take over countries, to bully others, and recently to pretty much turn Ukraine against itself in a bloody and ugly civil way. Russian planes and fighter jets continue to violate the airspace of other countries, and Russia tends to be the one nation who blocks much of the business of the UN, siding with those who seek to destroy the western world or to destabilize things – mostly to keep the US busy cleaning up the messes.
Putin’s personal desire seems to be to rule the world, period. His lack of respect for others, for rule of law, for common decency, and even respect for the laws that his government are suppose to uphold is incredible. Over the last decade the Russian government has used trumped up legal charges to take over vast amount of the gas and oil business inside Russia, transferring ownership to Putin allies and cronies who support him. It’s a street gang mentality, where the rules don’t apply and their street cred is way more important than anything else. They have reached a tipping point where soon, there will be no other possible result than a really big war.
So just like in the Tipping Point book, it can be said that Justin Beiber and Chris Brown may be the ones causes World War III. It’s not their direct actions, but rather the attitude that they support and the lack of respect for others that is part of the big issue. It’s where we will tip.