Moral fatigue. Loss of belief in one’s own way of life, its myth, and its competence. The salient forms of demoralisation are:


1. The loss of self-belief by a traditional society. Contact with a society with a more advanced technology and (so it seems) more comforts for less work has destroyed the confidence of almost all traditional societies which have found themselves in this situation.

Examples: the collapse of culture and skills in the traditional self-reliant societies of Ladakh and Ireland that followed exposure to the market economy.D22


2. The hopelessness following trauma and loss, whether the final result is described as a defeat or a victory. Examples include the demoralisation of Europe following the two World Wars and, more generally, the traumas of the last century. As Chip Ward writes,

There is reason to believe we have been traumatised by our recent history of global war, genocide, environmental dislocation, and fear.D23


3. Disempowerment: the bunker mentality—the sense that you cannot make significant decisions, perhaps because you see nothing you can do to improve your situation, or because you have lost your sense of legitimacy and belonging: “Who are we to act? We don’t really belong round here anyway. Whatever we accomplish will be judged, not by what we have done, but by who is doing it”.D24

Or here is an extract from a conversation about local decision-making being demoralised by the constant prospect of being bailed out, or overridden, from the centre (in the case of local responsibility for police forces):

If we want local government to be accountable to local people, having national governments step in is the worst thing that you can do. It actually ends up by infantilising communities and their local representatives. They will never step up and take responsibility if we always have government taking decisions as a back-stop. The people who take the decisions locally, who choose to get involved, must live or die by those decisions. So local government has to take the responsibility; it has to be held to account, but that only works if it is allowed to make the mistakes and then pay the price for them.

Sir Simon Milton, Chairman, The Local Government Association, UK, 2008.D25

Disempowerment in the form of displacement is discussed in more detail in Presence.


4. Loss of motivation: the sense that there is no point in doing something because someone else is going to do it for you.

Example: In the period of housing shortage after the Second World War, some families illegally squatted in disused army camps, and stayed put, but were never given the right to do so. Soon after this, other families were officially allowed to join them, since space in the camps was abundant, though squalid. The local authorities undertook to renovate the apartments of the legal squatters, but not of the others. Result: the unofficial squatters set to work with a will, improvising partitions, running up curtains, distempering, painting and using initiative. The official squatters, on the other hand, sat about glumly bemoaning their fate, without lifting a hand to help themselves. Until the overworked corporation workmen got around to them they would not attempt to improve affairs themselves.D26


5. The process of becoming good-for-nothing. The classic illustration of this is the fate of Hannibal’s army after enjoying a luxurious winter stopover at Capua in 211 BC. The Roman general Marcus Claudius Marcellus tells us what happened, as reported by Livy. Some of Hannibal’s forces have taken time out to plunder the countryside, while . . .

. . . those who are fighting are enervated by the luxury of Capua and have worn themselves out through a whole winter’s indulgence in wine and women and every kind of debauchery. They have lost their force and vigour, they have dissipated that strength of mind and body in which they surmounted the Alpine peaks. The men who did that are mere wrecks now; they can hardly bear the weight of their armour on their limbs while they fight. Capua has proved to be Hannibal’s Cannae. All soldierly courage; all military discipline, all glory won in the past, all hopes for the future have been extinguished there.D27


6. Lack of stimulus: an education system that fails to inspire.


Demoralisation can be addictive; it is comfortable and non-judgmental and does not need to risk embarrassment by defending anything in particular.

For the good news, see Empowerment.


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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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