We now arrive at the final chapter of Ross Douthat’s book The Decadent Society (2020) in which he speculates on a third way our decadent civilization may end; not destruction, not renaissance but providence – the protective intervention of God or extraterrestrial aliens. Douthat’s musings about The “Great Filter” are intriguing. What if there is a spiritual quarantine around our world because we are morally unready for greater power and knowledge? What if the universe is actually crowded with sentient life but we’re just too stupid and sinful to be permitted to see it. Maybe they’re just watching and waiting.
“The Great Filter” is a famous attempt to explain why, with all those vast stars and worlds beyond ours, we haven’t encountered evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations. It theorizes that all advanced civilizations face a near-universal obstacle, some extremely-difficult-to-slip-through filter that prevents them from joining other star-faring species until they’re ready.
Douthat subtitles a section: “When Man Can Do No More”, quoting God’s instruction to humanity in the book of Genesis: “Fill the earth and subdue it”. …..Well……. now what? Our societal decadence feels like the last of a series, without a clear sense of what comes next. Providence, on the other hand, is an optimistic, promising view of human history as an unfolding story rather than just one damn thing after another.
Have a great Fourth of July vacation! We start our next project Tuesday.