August 6, 2011
“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping.
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why,
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike;
They’ve all gone to look for America … ” – from Paul Simon’s, “America”
We are in deep trouble. We 330 million Americans, though making up only five percent of the world’s population, have built a financial and military empire that spans the globe by sucking up 25 percent of the oil and more than 40 percent of the world’s other resources. Now, as resources peak and begin their inevitable geological decline, this global Empire falters and everything the financial, political and military leaders do in trying to address its many problems seem to bring only further instability, both at home and around the world.
For the last month, that Simon and Garfunkel song has been rattling around in my head, especially these past two weeks as we witnessed the death throes of the American political and financial systems and millions of Americans suddenly woke up, blinked their eyes and looked around in dread, wondering what happened to “America”.
Part of the problem is, “America” doesn’t really exist – at least, no single America that all 330 million of us seem to agree on. There are only those 330 million images of America – each slightly, or not so slightly different – we carry around in our heads. Of course, every two to six years, with a fair amount of time, money and propaganda, enough people with those slightly and not so slightly differing images can be conned into believing that this group or that, this party or that, this economic, political or spiritual image or that, really will bring their particular, individual vision of America to fruition.
To be sure, a legally bounded land mass that constitutes the nation called the United States of America exists, just like a legal document called the Constitution exists and a 5 volume tome on economics titled, The Wealth of Nations, exists. But none of these three entities justifies or disproves any of the 300 million visions of America – let alone the ideological images of the three main political theaters of the absurd currently vying for control of “America” right now.
There are, if we would look for them, commonalities among the various visions that we could all reach some sort of consensus on. But they will not be found in the political, economic or religious wranglings that currently pass for leadership today.
I point this out because over the previous week, in a political dispute about raising the debt ceiling, a small caucus in the House of Representatives, comprising less than 20 percent of one half of the one third of the tri-part American government we call Congress, held a gun to the head of the entire nation and promised to pull the trigger if their demands were not met. Not Constitutionally cool, but that is how certain they were that their particular ideological vision of “America” was the only proper and right vision – not just for themselves, but for all 300 million other Americans. And, as we hurtled toward the date accepted as the end of the Treasury’s ability to meet obligations already owed, the rest of Congress and the President gave in to more and more of their demands.
Nowhere in those demands did they ask that their bloated salaries and perks be cut, or that benfits in their gold plated medical plans be decreased or that their sumptuous retirement plans be tampered with. Nor did they ask that the large international corporations or the wealthiest citizens who have prospered the most from the Empire, in any way share in the austerity they were demanding of the rest of us. Think about that, because it is still very much up in the air as to whether anything reached in the final compromise will change that.
The Empire continues to fail in numerous ways pointed out on this and other blogs because of the constraints placed on it by diminishing supplies of energy and resources. And with the increasing costs needed to “grow” the economy in an ecologically plundered environment, the economy will contract further. There will be increasingly shorter periods of time when demand destruction frees enough resources to grow in increasingly smaller amounts before hitting the resource ceiling again. The cycle will repeat, until there is not enough energy to recover another time.
With each turn of the cycle, less of the economy remains and the burdens on the average American will increase as each attempt to salvage the Empire destroys a little more of the nation. We will, everywhere, be urged by charlatans and rogues to unite around increasingly distorted versions of “America,” shared by fewer and fewer people – until finally, only the loudest and most violent voices are heard.
Unless we face the impossibility of infinite growth in a finite system and come together in a shared picture of America that is both more realistic and fair in light of that impossibility than our current consumerist, every man for himself economic and political system is, they will crumble. The danger that they will be replaced by rule of those most violent minorities is real. And those who survive will be left to wander through the detritus of the nation, looking for the remains of “America”.
We just don’t have much longer to work this out, folks.