The tag line for this blog is "Up is down. That's just maddeningly unhelpful. Why are these things never clear?" The problem is that so many things are clear, what is right and true vs wrong and ridiculous is often as plain as the nose on your face. Yet popular culture, your teachers, your leaders, your bosses and even your family and friends ignore it or outright deny it. Or... They are too afraid to say it. It is an ancient problem, the story The Emperor’s New Suit was not written yesterday.
Many things have been written about the rise and fall of empires. As empires go the United States is the oddest by far. That it is an empire is not really in question. Since the end of World War II America has clearly been the prime influencer of the world. Initially this was simply the result of the devastation of world war. The U.S. was largely intact and ready to help rebuild the Western world - which it did. Even as the Cold War raged the influence of the U.S. trumped the Soviets wherever a modicum of freedom was present. The Cold War ended with whimper rather than a bang and the default for the world was one where business, trade and the successful exploitation of natural and human resources reigned. This came about not so much by the military conquest of the U.S. but the 800 pound gorilla clearly dictated the general outcome.
Glubb Pasha, a British soldier, scholar and author famously generalized about empires having seven stages: (1) the age of outburst (or pioneers), (2) the age of conquests, (3) the age of commerce, (4) the age of affluence, (5) the age of intellect, (6) the age of decadence, and (7) the age of decline and collapse. Now if we were to place America circa 2013 we'd probably choose stage 6 or 7. Stage 7 is probably terminal - the question is: is stage 6 terminal too?
The good news is civilization itself will not end with the fall of a post Obama America -- any more than it ended when the British Empire collapsed or the Roman Empire faded or when the Pharaohs succumbed to invaders. The torch that was lit at the dawn of human civilization will be picked up by someone somewhere else, and the human race will eventually move forward again. Is it better that the world be dominated by a profit seeking state like the United States or a totalitarian state like China or a dysfunctional state like India, a theocratic state like the Caliphate of Islam or a dying state like Russia? (Gee, America doesn't seem so bad does it?)
This post modern lunacy we see before us now is very sad news for America & the West. It didn't have to be this way, we have been betrayed by the leaders we allowed to grab power. Perhaps it is inevitable anyway, I don't know, perhaps Glubb Pasha is exactly right. Empires rise and empires fall.
Part of me blames the people as much as the leadership - we get the leaders we deserve. It's clear that poor leadership and poor parenting has failed us and our children. We also bear responsibility for the apathy that has permeated society. Sure life has become complicated and its hard to stay on top of the millions of issues that face modernity, but there is no excuse for the belief that we can do well enough in life despite exerting no particular effort to learn the truth behind the issues. By accepting what politicians, scientists and the media tell us without questioning or even having a modicum of curiosity - then indeed, we get the leadership we deserve.
What is really astonishing is how the U.S. has structured itself into a well educated elite ruling over the poor and stupid. But the odd part is that the really stupid are the well educated elite. What Obama says, what so-called Republican leaders say is more often than not vacuous nonsense. What the talking heads on TV say is often worse. They are not intellectual giants, they are master manipulators that's all. Our true intellectuals may be technically brilliant, this does not necessarily make them suitable to lead the world or even a car wash. What we end up with is the lunacy of ego.
It's the average people acting with the freedom of their own self interest that gets things figured out. Entire systems grow up and function without central planning, and if there is value it sustains, if not it dies. Government has a role in keeping the playing field level and mediating disputes through practical law making and through the courts if necessary. Unfortunately government is used to tilt the playing field in favor of its cronies and to feather the nest of the politicians.
They do it by creating one artificial crisis after another. The energy crisis, the population bomb, the S&L crisis, the education crisis, the Gulf War, the global warming crisis, the terrorism crisis, the Gulf War, the mortgage crisis, the debt crisis, the health insurance crisis, the looming entitlement crisis. Almost to a "t" these are actually a failure of leadership and made-up political crisis'. The solutions are nearly always worse than the problems and lo and behold the rich and connected come out smelling like a rose - every time.
Are we in last stages of decadence and decline? Are we in stage 7?
Economics is only part of the picture...
In past empires the people often thought most highly of the athletes, musicians, and actors, regardless of how corrupt these celebrities’ private lives were. Sound familiar? The precipitous decline of sexual morality, a dearth marriages in favor of “living together,” and a skyrocketing divorce rate all hurt family stability - the very bedrock of any healthy society. This is what happened to the upper class of the Roman Empire in the first-century A.D. The birth rate declined, abortion and infanticide became common and family size was deliberately squelched. Is this that much different than what has happened here and now? It was clearly one reason for Rome’s decline. This is followed by gay sex becoming celebrated as publicly acceptable, such as it was among the ancient Greeks before Rome conquered them - is that not also happening here and now?
These patterns repeat, piling one on top the other. Maybe we can defy the odds. It's not looking too good.