What Is Declining When A Civilisation Declines?
From 'A Study Of Our Decline' by P Atkinson (November 2001)

Professor Mark Cooray was so appalled at the communal decay he witnessed that he wrote "The Australian Achievement" published in April 1988. The work explains in detail how the institutions responsible for the evolution of Western civilisation are being destroyed; that society is deliberately abandoning the ideas and enterprise that lifted Australia out of the grinding poverty of two hundred years ago, and instead is adopting practices that must return us to penury.

While the author is meticulous in his examination of the process of collapse, he is vague about its inspiration. Why a people elect to accept nonsense instead of sense is left unanswered. This is unlike the author of "The Hellmakers", who claims it is all a socialist plot. In his 1988 publication John Grover confirms our community is going insane, but cannot discover a sane explanation.

Both these works share distinct similarities to an essay completed over two hundred years ago by Edmund Burke. The 'conspirators' of "The Hellmakers" and the 'coercive utopians' of "The Australian Achievement" seem very like the 'social critics' of "Reflections On The Revolution Of France"; all are deluded advocates of social change whose proposals fail to withstand serious consideration. (Why such social engineers must always be dangerously wrong is explained by Joseph Butler. )

Had these authors read "A Study Of History" published in 1954, they would have known just what process they were observing. The dissolution of society is clearly described in that part of the work headed "The Disintegration Of Civilizations". Professor Arnold Toynbee's scholarly treatise, based upon consideration of numerous civilisations, sets out the symptoms and prognosis of our condition, and it leaves no doubt that our society is disintegrating. A fate we have been slowly succumbing to ever since the French Revolution, which Toynbee claimed marked the start of our slide into decay. (A fact presumably unrealised by the French government that recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of the event.)

Unfortunately professor Toynbee still failed to explain what exactly is expiring, and why.

Over the last ten thousand years humanity has changed from an extended family of grunting wild animals to a society of immense power and understanding. This huge improvement is not the result of any physical change to the species, but to the evolution of communal intelligence — that universal perception allowed by the set of values common to each member of the community; that is, the development and enhancement of a single intelligence superior to and out-lasting those of its individual members.

By having the initial mental ability to develop tools we launched ourselves onto an ever-improving spiral. Their use reduced the effort demanded by survival and increased the time available for reflection. Which in turn allowed better tools, and more free time.

To a social animal like man, the invention of language was an immense improvement which exploded the power of groups. The accuracy allowed in communications broke the barrier posed by grunts and gestures. The invention is so significant that the development of infants is measured by this ability.

Speech was further enhanced by invention of a written version. Communal memory was extended indefinitely; it no longer depended upon individuals passing it by word of mouth. Laws could be set down, owner title was created, arithmetic could be developed, accuracy could be maintained, allowing communities to become ever more complex and powerful.

The growing sophistication of human societies was reflected in their structure. The family/tribe formed nations, villages became towns, towns became cities, and cities became civilisations. All developments giving greater power and comfort to the people, and all based upon growing shared understanding — for this is the source of our power. Every technical innovation or improvement first occurs in the mind of the community, before it becomes a reality. Roads, schools, governments, everything we use, are merely the solid results of the thoughts of the society.

Unfortunately the rise of comprehension has not been steady; often it has regressed. Communities have gained enlightenment, thrived, faltered, and then disintegrated into ignorance and misery. The rise and fall of civilisations is the blooming then shriveling of group intelligence, for they are one and the same. That thing we call civilisation is the tangible expression of a society's intelligence; what is decaying in our community is our mental powers; as individuals, as groups, as communities, we are losing the ability to think clearly. Naturally as our perception decays so does the effectiveness of our administration and the impact of our technology — our strength and understanding. Discovering why a civilisation rises and falls, is learning how a society gains then loses comprehension.