Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Decline

Recently, I had a vague recollection of writing something when we invaded Iraq. Sure enough, I searched and found that I wrote the attached note on March 20, 2003, the day of the invasion. Unfortunately, almost four years later, no re-write is necessary


I don’t remember when I realized that the rise of the American Age was over and the decline had begun.

It could have been in the late 60’s, when I heard from Indian students that they considered us to be old and passé – not still young and vibrant, which was my lifelong image of us.

It could have been in the 70’s, when our power didn’t prevent us from being kicked out of Vietnam, or when political immorality forced a president to resign.

It could have been in the 80’s and 90’s, when greed and disdain for the world around us seemed particularly in vogue.

I know I didn’t feel that way in November 1963, when I saw thousands of Indians line up to sign condolence books to honor John Kennedy. Why are they doing this, I asked myself? I concluded that he, and by extension his country, stood for hope, a brighter future. And we seemed willing and able to take the lead in making that future real.

Now I see that the seeds of decline have always been there. They didn’t come into existence as a result of an event or because I happened to notice them. They are inevitable. Why? Because unless we are a different species than all who preceded us, which isn’t likely, at a fundamental level we behave like our ancestors.

Our means of expression do change. The dynamics change. The specifics change. But how as a group we behave when we have power hasn’t changed.

There is no question that the 20th was the American Century. We were preeminent. We still are. We’re the only super power. And we’ll remain that way for a while. But at the end of the 21st Century, people will not call it an American Century. By then it will be obvious that the seeds of our decline have borne fruit.

And we won’t even have a place in the top rank of groups that have been preeminent during their time. The Romans did better than we will do. So did the Greeks. And the Assyrians. And the Persians. And the Ottomans. And the Mongols, etc., etc.

The Egyptians lasted much longer than the rest, but they handled it differently. They were strong enough to protect themselves but weren’t preoccupied with conquering others and expanding. Even with that difference, in the end they grew weak and lost their place. But we’re not following the Egyptian way.

We, and the others who used their power like we’re using ours, are like tragic figures in a Shakespearean drama. We’re strong – and we have a fatal flaw(s). Arrogance. Hubris. What difference does it make what others think – we’re right. We have a Divine Right. A Messianic calling to protect ourselves from evil ones – by doing evil. Greed. A voracious appetite for resources, and too bad about others who are too weak to get theirs.
Etc., etc.

To those of you who are cheering in favor of our policies and the use of our power: your cheers won’t help.

To those of you who are upset about what we’re doing: your tears won’t help.

So, then, is it totally hopeless? At the American Empire level, i.e., saving it or changing it – yes, it’s hopeless. The best that will happen will be marginal improvements. The scenario is already written. We won’t see the end during our lifetime, but the end is inevitable.

At the individual level, it’s not hopeless. We can love our family and friends. We can be gentle and kind with our relationships. We can live our lives with personal integrity. We can reach out to others when we are called to do so and perhaps make a difference in their lives.

We can choose not to engage in the meaningless sound and fury that surrounds us. I was going from channel to channel last night to see if I could find any real news. It was like an unending parody. On every station people were yelling at each other. About how to behave as a spouse. About basketball teams. About the Oscars. About war and peace. Finally, I realized what I could do – hit the mute button.

So, everyone, enjoy the silence.


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