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April 22, 2020 Last updated: April 29, 2020

Podcast #604: The Boring Decadence of Modern Society

On the surface, it can feel like we’ve made a lot of technological, economic, and cultural progress during the past 30 years. But if you look closer, you start to notice that in a lot of ways, we’ve been running on repeat for several decades now. My guest today argues that this is what typically happens to rich and powerful societies: A period of growth and dynamism, such as we experienced after WWII, is followed by a period of stagnation and malaise. His name is Ross Douthat and his latest book is The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success. We begin our conversation discussing Ross’s idea of decadence and how it’s particularly marked by the quality of boredom. We then explore how decadence manifests itself in different areas of our society: Ross and I discuss how even though the realms of the economy and technology might seem vibrant (or at least they did before the pandemic struck), Americans are actually starting fewer businesses, moving less for work, and making fewer life-altering innovations than in times past. We then discuss the fact that clothing styles haven’t changed all that much from the 1990s, the repercussions of couples having fewer children, and the calcification of our political institutions. We end our conversation with how each of us as individuals can fight back against decadence. 

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Show Highlights

  • Examples of decadent societies in history 
  • What is the evidence for economic stagnation?
  • Are people today any better off than previous generations?
  • The Simpsons paradox
  • Has technological innovation actually plateaued the last couple decades?
  • Why hasn’t fashion changed much since the 90s?
  • The unstoppable copying of pop culture franchises and tropes for the last 20-30 years
  • Stagnation in our political, corporate, and even creative institutions 
  • Are we really in an age of entrepreneurs?
  • The forgotten skill of community-building 
  • Why does decadence cause a drop in birth rates?
  • How the pandemic could push us further into decadence
  • Fighting back against the decadence 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Ross

Ross’s regular NYT column

Ross on Twitter

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