"Like the people still trying to go to the bank after the dollar collapsed. They peered in the windows, punched the buttons of the automatic tellers. Still believing they could make things happen just by wanting them, still acting like Americans, though America was gone."
- "Liberation" by Brian Francis Slattery
In the long term I'm an optimist when it comes to the survival of humanity (those resilient buggers) and even of civilization. The rise and fall of empires in the course of history is as natural as our breathing. The American Empire is only the latest in the genre, and may turn out to be one of the shortest lived. Then, everything moves a bit faster these days. In the short term, faced with oncoming and ongoing earthquakes of disruption, we cling to the life we've had and stare out at the world in a sort of numbing fear. The fear is a virus that spreads through our media in an explosion of virulence unmatched by any other disease.
There is nothing we can do to bring the fever down, except to let go of what brings it on. Only when we stop grasping that which causes us pain do we allow anything new to break through. As long as we deny the fact of our addictions they have absolute control of us. This summer, with the Occupy Wall Street movement there was a glimmer of the future, given off by the young and those who accept that they have nothing really to loose. Only when we arrive at that place (where the young have an advantage) can we truly change.
There is a cure for our disease. It's an extrapolation of the cure for any given virus or addiction: quarantine along with the administration of whatever suitable serum may be at hand. The rest of the world is quickly realizing that our collective addictions are hopelessly out of control. To pay the price of governments collapsing as people rise up in anger while we wage drug wars along borders serving our limitless need to snort and sniff and inject our way to an illusion of happiness is too high a price for some fleeting illusion of prosperity.
The problem is that the whole world is wrapped up in America's addictions and to its fantasy of Corporate Capitalism. Like any Ponzi scheme, being the first ones aboard the bud, Americans will probably be the last to go down. Nations will desperately try to disentangle themselves before hitting bottom as the whole scheme unravels. In time the borders we so passionately defend could be effectively closed as trade dries up along with our ability to suck the rest of the word dry. Thus, the quarantine will have effectively begun. As the empire declines we go at each other like crazed junkies, tearing apart whatever institutions we've got left. The question in the back of everyone's mind is whether we will come to our senses in time to save ourselves.
On one side of the equation are those who represent America in truly noble terms. Not only great and inspiring leaders, but those who put their lives and imaginations on the line. These are the people out on the streets, in classrooms, in laboratories, in government and in business, trying to find rational and democratic approaches to a survivable future. On the other side of the balance is a nation of adolescent NASCAR dads and desperate housewives whose vision goes no farther than Fox News, the Super Bowl and Reality television.
My study of history tells me that from the beginning America has been on a razor's edge, caught in a struggle between idealists and a den of thieves masquerading as True Believers. Being a religious nation, we want to believe in something greater than ourselves, but we are too easily swayed and intimidated by holy crap. Our dreams of a better world set up a negative feedback loop that has an unsupportable dissonance with reality. We are told that we are "exceptional," not only in terms of natural law but in terms of common sense and responsibility to others. Being worshippers of the cult of the individual, our institutions are too easily distorted by greed. As a result, our Constitution was set up partly to protect ignoble institutions like slavery, and when that went down it was redesigned to feed the huge and insatiable maw of Corporations.
We've now devolved to the point where an entire political party advocates the repudiation of science and rational thinking in the name of archaic religion. They approach the rest of the world as they do their children: Get in line or be punished. They advocate allowing the sick and the poor to die, electrocuting foreigners crossing the borders to work, making war on Iran and their audiences stand up and cheer. How telling is it that the only viable candidates a sane person would vote for in the coming presidential elections is either someone who doesn't really believe in anything, at least to the degree that any shift in the polls won't change his mind, or in a charming technocrat who won't accomplish much but might keep his hand off the trigger?
The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous. - Garrison Keillor
I once had a hope that Americans would one day wake up and lead the world to some new level of cooperation where we would all support one another's prosperity and well being. That was the Star Trek dream of a generation who got a glimpse of the sun in the 60's. I hadn't considered at the time that the only thing that made the Star Trek universe work was the fact that everything and everyone in charge wore a military uniform and had no illusions about their place in the chain of command. The trouble with hopes and dreams is that everything in them comes out looking too neat and taken care of. The truth of the grown up world is that everything is messy and nothing ever turns out the way we plan.
The world will survive in spite of us. Humanity will survive in spite of ourselves. By the end of the century there will be less of us. As the world heats up and populations migrate and clash, as natural disasters devastate our societies and new plagues rise out of the seething jungles our resourcefulness and will to survive will be sorely tested. In this reckoning it will be our ability to cooperate with one another and understand our interrelationship with everything that will save our bacon. Meanwhile the bogus religions of America will fade as they fail us. Many, if not most, will leave them behind.
Only then will we truly Occupy the World.