Episode 42: Decadence – Societal Depression and its Symptoms

In this episode, Phil goes through an existential crisis spurred by the research for this episode, discussing what decadence is, what the symptoms are, and what can be done about it.

Not stated in the episode: Decadence appears to be a form of societal depression, where things are doing relatively well, but there’s no purpose, leading to a sense of coping. Using the wealth of the nation or other arbitrary metrics to talk about how well one is doing, but without any sense of mission or goal.


  • Decadence: which at first meant simply “decline” in an abstract sense, is now most often used to refer to a perceived decay in standards, morals, dignity, religious faith, honor, discipline, or skill at governing among the members of the elite of a very large social structure, such as an empire or nation-state. By extension, it may refer to a decline in art, literature, science, technology, and work ethics, or (very loosely) to self-indulgent behavior.
  • Jim Collins’ books: Good to Great & Built to Last
  • Google’s Definition of Decadence: moral or cultural decline as characterized by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury.
  • The Decadent Society: America Before and After the Pandemic by Ross Douthat
  • Marcus Aurelius: “At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
  • Episode 25: Ikigai
  • Symptoms of a decadent society:
    • 1) defensiveness
    • 2) pessimism
    • 3) materialism: 
    • 4) frivolity
    • 5) an influx of foreigners
    • 6) the welfare state
    • 7) a weakened religion
  • Albert CamusAbsurdism
  • Sir John Glub – The Fate of Empires
  • Max Weber: “specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.”
  • (Article) How the World’s Favorite Banana Became Extinct (And the Odds It Will Happen Again)
  • Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus by Douglas Rushkoff
  • GE Capital – Turns out I was wrong, they don’t primarily lend, but they do have a significant financialized side. However, this article (Back To Basics: Why GE Ditched Finance) looks at their more recent progression away from finance.
  • EpicurusEpicureanism
  • Intellectual Properties (IPs): a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect.
  • Theranos – The company claimed that it devised blood tests that required very small amounts of blood and could be performed rapidly, thanks to the small automated devices the company had developed. However, these claims were later proven to be false.
  • (Youtube) Whatifalthist – A Study of Decadence (Be mindful this guy is more conservative than either of us and some of the things he says seem… off. One in particular: he claims that the left thinks that the west will forever be dominant. Like, what?)
  • Confucius –  a Chinese philosopher and politician of the Spring and Autumn period who is traditionally considered the paragon of Chinese sages. Confucius’s teachings and philosophy underpin East Asian culture and society, remaining influential across China and East Asia to this day.
  • Sycophant: a person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain advantage.
  • Champagne Socialists: a popular epithet that implies a degree of hypocrisy, and it is closely related to the concept of the liberal elite.
  • White Saviors: a sarcastic or critical description of a white person who is depicted as liberating, rescuing or uplifting non-white people; it is critical in the sense that it describes a pattern in which third world peoples are denied agency and are seen as passive recipients of white benevolence.
  • Bread and Circuses: a metonymic phrase referring to superficial appeasement. In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction, or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace, by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).
  • The Fate Of Empires And Search For Survival by Sir John Glubb
    • 1) Age of Pioneers
    • 2) Age of Conquest
    • 3) Age of Commerce
    • 4) Age of Affluence
    • 5) Age of Intellect
    • 6) Age of Decadence: living too long in power and prosperity; selfishness takes off; love of money;  loss of a sense of duty
  • Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam

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