The collapse of Venezuela kicks off some thoughts about the primary importance of culture over bricks and mortar.
Thus, the collapse when it comes is unexpectedly complete. When National Intelligence Director James Clapper says Syria has become an ‘apocalyptic disaster’ it doesn’t simply mean that Syria is a little worse than in 2011, but far, far worse than we thought it was even in December 2013. The husk of Syria has not only consumed its final supplies of food, but also its reserves of comity, good will, human capital and luck.
The real damage was internal. A society can survive the loss of things, but it cannot survive without institutions or the destruction of culture. Culture is to nations what an immune system is to people. Nations under siege fall back on some atavistic condition. Thus, occupied Poland becomes more Catholic, as does Ireland, and as Egypt perhaps becomes more Muslim. They fall back on the known and the comforting. City Hall might collapse and the factory temporarily closed but if culture and identity survive these things can be reopened again.
The apocalypse of Syria means that many people don’t even want to reopen things any more. They hate their neighbors, individually and collectively.And:
The problem with Venezuela is that Chavismo has left people with nowhere else to go. It’s burned the bridges. There’s no reopening the car plants or restarting the factories, or even repairing the power plants. The engineers have all emigrated to Alberta, Canada. The same can be said of Syria. Who wants to open a store in Homs? In ten years nobody left in Homs will even remember how to do it. A whole generation of children is now growing up who know nothing other than war.
One reason why Japan recovered relatively quickly after the Second World War was while the massive aerial assault leveled Japan’s cities it did not destroy the cultural and social institutions of Japan. When the smoke cleared the Japanese were still there and they rebuilt. By contrast destroying culture is so much more lethal. Detroit was untouched by the war. Not a bomb fell on it. But years of public education worked their magic. It dismantled the culture and social institutions which once built its factories. Time reports Detroit had posted the lowest math scores in the history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.