Rollin' Like Sisyphus

A Short Primer On The Social Mood

Posted in A Chronicle Of Decline, The Next Ten Years by Huckleberry on December 12, 2014
It's all coming apart...

It’s all coming apart…

This has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written, not because it’s necessarily complicated or “high concept”, but because it’s something akin to attempting to thread a quite tight needle with an overly thick, somewhat unwieldy thread – basically there’s only one way to get this right and a nearly infinite number of ways to get it wrong in the context of why everything is falling apart.
While the hokey-pokey dance civilization performs with technology is fairly straightforward, and the way that contemporary economic theory-in-practice acts as a security blanket for learned men is easy to call out with their own scholarship, the discussion of social mood(s) and the erratic feedback loop with which it influences the course of civilizations provides for a maddening analysis. Of course, I am willing to stipulate that I may simply not be up to the task of vivisecting the wandering and ephemeral nature of this topic with any meaningful depth, but that has never stopped me before.
The social mood that flows under the current of human events is frighteningly similar to the nature and movement of sub-atomic particles in quantum theory – you can’t see it directly, but must instead rely on contingent expressions to infer its properties, dimensions and machinations; the more you attempt to probe it, the more you corrupt it; you cannot simply put it into a box and say “here it is, The Social Mood” and expect any of it to carry forward.
The social mood presents two distinct concerns; one is a matter of scale, the other of progenation, and the ratio between the two should be mutually exclusive but obviously isn’t. To predict the influence of the social mood, your predictive model needs to present a large enough cross-section of human actors to cancel out the probabilistic errors conceived through individual action – with a large enough pool, no statistically insignificant outliers pose any methodological dangers. Unfortunately, a sample large enough to be predictable is too large to tell you anything useful in all but the most obvious circumstances.
As far as progenation goes, the main sticking point that doesn’t seem resolvable is to what degree events are influenced by the social mood, and to what degree the social mood is affected by prevailing events. Ask 10 well-read scholars and you’ll get 20 different answers. This should be obvious, since we’re dealing with something as volatile and erratic as man’s emotional state magnified across a multitudinous population group, which brings subjectivity into the equation, diluting precision and dragging the analysis from the safe confines of the empirical and concrete into the thicket of abstractions where psychology and semiotics dance beneath the pall of the pale moonlight.
The social mood of any civic order – while complex in its details and finer texture – boils down to two basic categories: complacent or agitated. Or, if you want to really dumb it down for the broadest possible application with a little alliteration to boot, we can call it Extroverted or Introverted. Each should be fairly self-explanatory; Extroverted is a state of, if not “happiness” at least contentment with little volatility or dispossession. Introversion for a civic order, on the other hand, is a mode of great volatility, fraught with fear, anger and anxiety for the big Question Mark representing an unknown and partially unwanted future.


In my admittedly limited and sub-par study of history, I see two major conceits. One is that people in any given time and place blindly assume that once a thing is learned, it is enduring, assuming their society will progress consistently forward. The other major conceit of history is the Marked Man of the Moment syndrome, of which you’re all imminently familiar with even if you don’t know it – basically it’s the idea that History picks its winners and losers as it sweeps along; that the Great Men are elevated to prominent roles by the Fates that govern such things. Without the Winners and Losers, the conventional thought went, there’d be little actual history. Obviously this doesn’t pass the eyeball test; if Warlord A doesn’t marshal his tribe against Warlord B, Warlord C probably will. Individual human action, despite the tales told by our narrative history, holds frighteningly little sway over the levers of the social mood and thereby the masses a Great Man of History hopes to impel.
This is not to say that the Great Men are interchangeable, but the math underlying the probabilities at play here strongly suggest that the Great Men are so not for their influence, but for their ability to read which way the winds are blowing, then taking advantage of that reading. For example, instead of a Great Man standing in front of an idle group declaring “I will lead you all over there now”, history is much more often a Great Man anticipating where the group is headed, then running out to the front of the pack to nudge it this way or that.
It all depends on what the Social Mood is, and what it isn’t.


The Social Mood isn’t intelligent, and it doesn’t have a mind of its own. It isn’t God’s Hammer, the millstone of the Fates or Executor of Karmic Will. It doesn’t have a consciousness; it doesn’t exist as a strictly rational or irrational quantity; it isn’t simply a manifestation of anxiety or an expression of disaffection in times of uncertainty and turmoil; it can’t be legislated against, it cannot be exiled, tortured, imprisoned or otherwise eliminated by those in power; It is not Keyser Soze, Sparticus, Marshal or the Wolverines. Well, maybe a little bit with the Wolverines.


The Social Mood is reactive, and its reactions drive subsequent events. It exists in all civic orders, in good times and bad, though often the pundits don’t even know it exists until the prevailing mood turns noticeably dour. Despite the Keyenseans scholarship, the Social Mood doesn’t drive the prevailing economics of a civic order, but it does impact it through various means. Its volatility derives almost completely from its focus on the present; the Social Mood, while not intelligent, it is cognitively formidable. The comedian Andy Kaufman famously noted that the smartest person in any room was the audience as a whole, and there is something to the idea that applies to human group dynamics more broadly.
So what does any of this mean?
Simply put, one of the most important forces in human society cannot be wholly understood or adequately circumscribed in any meaningful way, and its characteristics in the aggregate essentially doom the types of projects that social engineers love to design for our own good.
There is nothing more Cro-Magnon than a large, diverse group of human beings in a relatively compact space.


One Response

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  1. El Borak said, on December 12, 2014 at 13:29

    I wonder in how many cases the social mood impacts subsequent events merely by circumscribing our perceived available options. While Hannibal is marching somewhere outside the gates, he’s not hurting the city, but our lack of knowledge of what he’s doing can put a damper on the plans for a new arboretum, which might have inspired some new Virgil, who might have lifted us. Instead our sons practice the triple-line on Main Street, which has wholly different effects down the line.

    I also do wonder, in thinking about the Romans, how much damage they did to themselves by finishing off Carthage for good. Africanus put them away and Rome turned on itself pretty quickly thereafter. Maybe knocking off the USSR wasn’t such a bright idea after all.

    It seems that we humans (or perhaps we citizens of great empires) need some existential threat to keep us focused outside ourselves. As soon as that’s gone the Engine of Progress starts shaking and throwing off bolts. And it happens so quickly and unexpectedly that we foolishly name this rattling and thrashing Progress itself.

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