We live in an age where the words decadent and awesome are used interchangeably. Think about it: This chocolate cake is decadent, this chocolate cake is awesome. Now you may say the words are knowingly used out of context, but the more words are misused the less their original meaning has value. When was the last time you heard the words awesome or decadent used in their original sense? I’m sure the last time I came across either of them is while perusing an old book. I can’t recall ever hearing them on television.
When we lose the meaning of such words, the very insight they give us fades away as well. Awe: a mixed feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder, caused by something majestic, sublime, etc. Decadence: a process, condition, or period of decline, as in morals, art, literature, etc. ; deterioration ; decay.
Does anybody see through such eyes anymore? Perhaps on the fringes of society, but even there it is rarer than we would like to think and has less in common with the original intent than those who use them would like to believe. If those in the evangelical movement speak of an awesome God, they do a poor job sharing such an awe through their words and actions. But such words as awesome and decadent and, hence, such insights are utterly absent in our mainstream culture. Concepts that have clung to civilization and have been a major part of what it means to be civilized have vanished, or else been bastardized by advertisers looking to push product.
How did it happen, where did we go wrong? How did we lose understanding of such basic terms? It’s not like we have to agree with them, it’s not like we have to go about using the words decadent and awesome in their correct meaning, but we should at least understand their original meaning before dismissing the ideas the suggest.
It began, I guess, with the advent of modern advertisement. The abuse of language has given us such abominations as “Wessonality” and “manscaping”. It began in a different sense in the 60’s, when a young generation began to question the institutions upon which our society was built. It was a necessary questioning, but the problem was they never got past the questioning stage in order to find answers. As the Baby Boomers grew up, they put aside their quest for answers, settling instead for a reluctance to judge. Judging was what their parents did, and they weren’t going to be their parents.
So they didn’t judge, they accepted. They accepted everything. Instead of forging anew standards and ideas upon which a society could exist, they let it grow wild. Finding no other moral precept than tolerance, which was just a lazy way of avoiding building new ways of building a better society, we abandoned society’s moral structures. But abandoned buildings are breading grounds for vermin.
With no moral guidance from the Baby Boomers who were now in positions of power, money became the only motivating factor. With Boomers unwilling to become moral leaders, to say after lengthy contemplation and discussion that “this is good for us” or “this is bad for society”, profit was the only morality left standing. If you could make money doing something, it was good. If you couldn’t, it was bad. A nice simple replacement for those complex moral problems mankind has been grappling with since the beginning of time. Let the market sort it out. When you think about it, there really is no difference in saying “Let the market sort it out” than “Kill them all, let God sort them out”. Both take away any responsibility from the actor and his behavior and place it on an invisible and unknowable agent.
So money became the new morality. And English majors fresh out of school, their minds swimming with the deepest thoughts of the wisest thinkers, were thrust into a world that cares not a whit about Plato, Shakespeare, or Goethe. But there are people willing to pay graduates who know how to argue persuasively: advertising and marketing firms. Thus, those who are entrusted with holy and meaningful words such as “awesome” and “decadent” find different purposes for them.
When words like awesome and decadent have no more relevance to society than words like “crunchewy”, we have lost a vital insight into our world, our society, our existence. We can no longer see the world through the eyes of the world’s greatest thinkers, we see it through child’s eyes. For marketers have long ago learned to speak in emotional rather than intellectual language.
Again, it is up to the individual to accept or reject the ideas that such words suggest, but it is crucial we understand the terms and what they mean. It is crucial we gain the perspective that seeing from such a lofty height gives. The world we live in now is one built upon a single and simplistic notion, that the pursuit of money and what it can provide is the answer to all of humanity’s deepest needs and aspirations. There needs to be individuals and institutions willing to give a counter-argument to such a powerful and, yes, decadent notion.