It was nice while it lasted, but the United States of America is gone now. For anyone over thirty-five or so, the country you knew in your formative years has been shoved so far back into the last century you’d never find it. Nor will that period — or anything resembling what we had — ever return.
Is this dissolution a good thing or a bad thing? From the point of view of our failures, it could be seen as a good, but when you look at the successes of the United States of America, this Vast Implosion is unutterably sad; each new failure will bring new sorrows for some. For others, bent on revenge, you can almost envision a sea of fists raised in wrathful joy.
Yes, as many have done, America’s failure can be likened to Rome’s decline and fall, but since we in the West believe history to be linear, the most we can do is point to similarities and differences. Compare and contrast, class.
Perhaps most importantly among our failures is how widespread and rapid was our fall. Nor is it just the United States of America whose wheels are coming off: all of what we like to call The West is breaking down rapidly as we lose (to continue the metaphor — yes, I’m paying attention, Mr. Auster, wherever you are) the various parts which allowed us to function more or less smoothly. The engine of our desire is rusting out. We’ve lost the use of several cylinders now and no one who is able to fix this machine is willing to do so. Those who are willing to get things up and running don’t have the opportunity to do so, lacking as they are in experience or accommodation by those in charge.
However, this failure of Will on the part of those placed to make a difference may be the saddest aspect of all: those who could make a difference refuse to do so. For America and the rest of the West, our leaders appear to prefer euthanasia via benign neglect to putting into place “heroic measures” for someone who is old and soon to die. If Grandma needs an oxygen tent and we somehow fail to notice her needs, is that really murder? By post-modern calculations, no. Thus, we need to redefine the situation in this manner: ignoring Grandma’s need for oxygen means her inheritance becomes available more quickly and can be used
to lower our frightening debt levels for other, more deserving folks. In this new moral equation, failing to pay attention to Grandma is not a failure; it’s a success of a different color. The moderator at her funeral service will remind you we’re merely #MakingRoomForTheFuture. And yes, in the West the quaint custom of funerals for the non-famous will be permitted to continue — at least for a while. Even longer if China wins the war of All against All.
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The original uniting of thirteen quite diverse colonies into one federation was always dicey at best. Benjamin Franklin and Alexis de Tocqueville both warned us of the fragile nature of this project. The latter particularly warned of the consequences of universal suffrage: let everyone vote and “everyone” would vote for themselves. As a realist he understood the quicksand foundations on which utopias are built and, even more so, the ways in which they sink, unmourned.
The federation was always fraught with problems. So when the slave states tried to bow out of what they considered a union whose First Principles were being ignored, a way was made for the first truly modern war: thanks to advances in the making of machines, we were able to kill one another in massive numbers. Seven hundred thousand (or more) poor wretches died in the name of freedom; genuine liberty died, too. Lincoln rolled up the Constitution and locked it away for a while in order to let loose such fierce dogs of war that none could survive with integrity intact.
In other words, Lincoln was caught in the same bind as the Original Rebels. Our Founders knew they faced death and worse if they lost the war against England. Their compelling need for the southern states to be part of their Rebellion in order to avoid their own ruination caused them to lose sight of their First Principles; backs against the wall, the North made a truly Faustian bargain with the slave-holding states.
Slavery was (and remains) an abomination. Many historians have said it would have died out in America as an economic force with the onset of technology. Ironic, since the Machine Age was just gaining steam (pardon the pun) even as the Civil War began in earnest. On the other hand, the keeping of slaves was merely part of a whole caste system that included a strong concept of honor and family. The Arabs have a culture similar to the one extant in the American South from the earliest colonial times. They clothe their laws in “religion” and play the old shell game; amazingly, it still works.
In contrast to Jefferson’s ideal of the agrarian farmer, the much-vaunted small landholder, the Cavaliers of the South (including Jefferson’s Virginia) looked down on those who ‘labored’, who worked with their hands. In the South, the middle class was small and precarious, mostly merchants. The upper class, known in Virginia as the FFV (First Families of Virginia) ruled the state’s legislature and intermarried. This concept was carried into other states but in Virginia particularly, the notion of class reigned. For FFV, it was the Lees, Carters, Tazewells, etc. As other states took up the practice, they too adopted the “First Families of ____________”. And back when it mattered, you couldn’t nominate yourself for inclusion in FFV; you had to be invited to join.
We still haven’t healed from that War, neither side. Despite its caterwauling, the North is equally wounded, but as the purported victors, they can and do project any shame that comes to the surface onto the “bigoted South”. It’s the same dynamic you see in abusive families where wives and children are forced to stay in a dangerous union on pain of death. That works until the kids grow up, but eventually it implodes.
Thanks to central air conditioning which allowed manufacturing to move out of New England and the Midwest, the American South grew up; the union is now imploding and the children are scattering, taking sides as they go.
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The next great mistake, after the Civil War, was adopting the rules of the Welfare State. We started small with Roosevelt’s projects, and much of that work still remains. Back then, the economic depression ground on but the work ethic among average Americans remained strong. As a result, you can still see the places built by the CCC. One of the country’s favorite ‘relics’ is still the most popular destination for travelers and has been so every year since 1946. If you come to America, skip Disneyland and visit the Blue Ridge Parkway. Of course since it was a government project it took forever to finish, the last section completed in 1987. With all the conflict in which it was enmeshed, and the beauty surrounding it, you could think of it as Americana personified: