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America approaching the stage of decay
Carroll Quigley, a scholar of civilization and Bill Clinton’s favorite professor at Georgetown University, wrote in his book “Evolution of Civilizations” that: “The Stage of Decay is a period of acute economic depression, declining standards of living, civil wars between the various vested interests, and growing illiteracy. The Society grows weaker and weaker. Vain efforts are made to stop the wastage by legislation. But the decline continues. The religious, intellectual, social, and political levels of the society begin to lose the allegiance of the masses of the people on a large scale. New religious movements begin to sweep over the society. There is a growing reluctance to fight for the society or even to support it by paying taxes.”
Many believe that U.S. society is entering this phase now. The frustrating wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined with the banking failures of 2008, the resulting recession, the foreclosure crisis, and jobless recovery have shaken our faith in the system to the core. The political institutions of the United States once seemed invincible; but now people are not sure. Although most are still proud to be Americans, there is a growing doubt about our nation’s future.
The “change” that President Obama promised to deliver remains elusive. His administration, like that of George W. Bush, has been marked by militarism, Wall Street cronyism, an obsession with secrecy and security, and much borrowing against the future. The national debt continues to soar. Our trade deficit cannot be cured if we no longer “make things”. Americans no longer trust their government. The American people are brazenly betrayed by their leaders.
two recent experiences
The betrayal extends to every level of government. Let me personalize this observation by recounting what happened to me last week. On Tuesday, a team of inspectors from the Minneapolis Fire Department showed up at my house. Led by an aggressive female, they first complained about the clutter on my front porch and then demanded access to my basement. The clutter there was even worse. In my defense, I would point out that most of it belonged to tenants in my building rather than to me.
The lead inspector said she would bring back an inspector from Housing inspections to issue work orders. She predicted that the work might take me six months to complete. She also muttered something about a crack in the foundation which, based on other people’s experience, means that I might be put through a lengthy process of hiring a structural engineer to certify that the foundation is sound. Failing that, the city of Minneapolis could condemn the house and force me to tear it down at my expense.
Then, on Thursday, as I was reviewing charges in my bank statement, I noticed four withdrawals that I had not authorized or made. Three were payments to Sprint - which is not my cell phone provider - and one was a payment to Qwest. The four charges totaled $1,128.47. I called the fraud department of both Sprint and Qwest, wanting to know who had charged my checking account. Neither was willing to divulge that information, citing “privacy” concerns. The privacy of their non-paying customers needed to be protected and I had no right to know who had charged my account. The charges were made over the phone using my bank’s routing number and my own checking-account number.
Both Sprint and Qwest advised me to get in touch with the bank’s fraud unit, which might refund what was taken out of my checking account. But first I had to close the account and open a new one. This process wreaked havoc with my many automatic payments and bills that had recently been paid out of this account. I was sustaining real damage as a result of their easy-payment policies for thieves.
I thought government was there to protect people from theft and other assaults on their person or property. It turned out that Sprint and Qwest would not be telling my bank who had robbed me. If I wanted to know that, I needed to file a report with my local police. If the police chose to investigate the theft, they could then subpoena the two companies, forcing them to divulge that information.
I contacted the state Attorney General’s office hoping to learn what laws protected the privacy of thieves. That question could not be answered, but the representative did promise to send me a pamphlet listing the steps I needed to take after I discovered the theft. I would need to contact the FBI, the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, and the three major credit bureaus.
An FBI representative directed me to a website where I could submit a report. The Federal Trade Commission had a similar site. My complaint could be delivered electronically. I had the feeling that nothing would be done unless I wanted to spend time lobbying government agencies to crack down on this type of crime.
I later filed a report with a Minneapolis police officer at precinct headquarters. Unfortunately, the officer told me that the police were swamped with reports of white-collar crime and could not investigate thefts of less than $10,000. This meant effectively that the thieves would get away. No one seemed interested in learning who they were.
I could not blame the local police. Yes, it is more urgent to investigate murders and grand larcenies than what I had experienced. Given limited resources, the police must prioritize. But I could not help comparing the resources that the city of Minneapolis was providing to investigate thefts with the resources to check the clutter in my basement or on my front porch.
Yes, I could have made a greater effort to keep a tidy house but, in my opinion, this was basically my business, not the city’s. At least, I had not robbed anyone. My tenants were not complaining so far as I knew. Why was the city of Minneapolis so interested in my and the tenants’ living habits and so little interested in criminal activities that directly harmed city residents?
The opinion on the street is that Minneapolis city government is motivated primarily by money. It has devised an elaborate structure of fines and fees to punish property owners who fail to complete inspectors’ work orders. Often, the fines increase exponentially if inspectors decide to make repeat visits to check the progress in completing work orders. In some cases, the harassed building owners walk away from their investment allowing government to acquire the property. City council members can then steer it to developers who had contributed to their reelection campaigns.
On the other hand, there is no money in prosecuting a thief of limited means, especially if this person lives out of state. The government will have to spend money prosecuting the criminal and maintaining him in prison while his sentence is being served.
In short, city government is using revenue generated by inspections as a substitute for revenue generated by the property tax. Hikes in the property tax are seen as local government’s fault, but increased revenue from inspections is seen as the fault of the property owner who had neglected building maintenance.
In this case, the city of Minneapolis was facing a severe budget crunch due to the declining level of aid from state government. Minnesota state government has held the line on spending during the administration of a conservative Republican governor, now running for President, who pledged never to raise taxes. The failure to raise the state’s income-tax rate has meant a reduction in local government aid, shifting the burden of taxation to local property owners. In those circumstances, creative politicians in local government have made building inspections a fruitful profit center.
seeds of our downfall
All this causes me to doubt that government is still representing my interest. And my complaint is far less significant than that of a returning veteran who is denied adequate medical treatment for his combat injuries or a family whose head of household returns from Iraq or Afghanistan in a coffin. We are not, as Obama claims, “one people” but a collection of selfish though diverse interest groups.
The races are divided as are persons of differing religious persuasion. Democrats are divided from Republicans. Public-sector employees are divided from private-sector employees, union members from non-union members, and employed people from the unemployed and persons too discouraged to look for work. The rich are getting richer at an increasing rate while many Americans who were once in the middle class are sinking into poverty.
There is still an enormous residue of good will toward our national government. Americans still revere the nation’s founding fathers, our successful war of independence from Great Britain, the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights. The memory of Abraham Lincoln and the great Civil War generals is still revered. We can take pride as Americans in having helped to defeat the Axis powers in World War II. Our “arsenal of democracy” outperformed what the enemy had. We Americans have initiated new types of industry. Our entertainment industry transformed world culture. We were and are a nation of many nations, races, and religions. Americans can take pride in all that.
Still, there is a danger in believing that the United States is historically exceptional or uniquely blessed. It takes just one ill-conceived administration like George W. Bush’s to put us firmly on a downward path. Rome was over a thousand years old before it fell to Germanic tribes. Our national downfall can be accomplished in much less time.
Think of the political assassinations that have taken place in the last half century: John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy, and, some think, Mel Carnahan and Paul Wellstone. So-called “conspiracy theories” abound regarding each such event. The rot of hidden violence may be festering within the body politic of America.
A conspiracy theory about the events on September 11, 2001 has also attracted a growing number of believers. While airplanes flew into the World Trade Center towers and set fires in the upper stories, the so-called “9/11 truthers” argue that the buildings fell because of controlled demolitions. Steel does not melt at the temperature produced by jet-fuel fires, yet molten steel was found in the sub-basement. Even more compelling, a nearby skyscraper - “Building Seven” - fell to the ground in the same manner on the same day even though no aircraft struck it. All three buildings were owned by the same man who cashed in on a multi-billion-dollar insurance policy.
To date, the government and major news media have succeeded in stifling any serious inquiry into the events of 9/11. The 9/11 Commission report, manipulated by its staff directory, is so faulty that even its co-directors, Gov. Thomas Kean and Rep. Lee Hamilton, have distanced themselves from it. Meanwhile, the public outcry against the report continues to grow.
Predictably, a key insider, risking his or her life on behalf of country, will come forth and reveal what happened. If the media choose to cover such a confession (which is not a foregone conclusion), the American public will become directly acquainted with the evil forces lurking within their own government. Disillusionment with the American government will come to a head. Many Americans will withhold their loyalty to the state.
The main question is whether this state will continue or whether America will break up into regional or local communities as the Soviet empire did. My opinion is that the American state needs martyrs to seed its continued existence. Blood must be shed, and it must be the blood of the high-level perpetrators of violence and betrayal rather than of the young men and women whose lives are being sacrificed in foreign wars.
If it can be proved that President Bush, or Vice President Cheney, or any other top-level administration or intelligence official knowingly permitted the horrible events of 9/11 to take place, only their prompt executions could cleanse the stain of our national shame and restore confidence in the moral legitimacy of the U.S. government.
Think of it. Our nation began with the shedding of martyr blood. A young Yale graduate, Nathan Hale, said with rope around his neck: “I regret that I have only one life to give for my country.” General Washington ordered the hanging of two miserable soldiers who had tried to desert. America was worth dying for before it became a nation. Then, after much blood was spilled in the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln became through assassination a martyr to the cause of national unity.
Lately we have asked little of our leaders. Is it because the American nation is no longer worth asking its leaders to make the supreme or any sacrifice? Yes, fresh blood may be required to keep this nation intact. It must be a meaningful sacrifice to atone for the serious government mistakes. The country is worth it.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves in supposing that government insiders orchestrated the 9/11 events or that someone in such circles will confess. This is now merely a possibility - one which could lead to redemption. A more evident possibility is that the machinery of the state will grind on as the same lies are repeated and the American people suffer. The same politicians will be receiving donations from the same interest groups. Rich people will continue to escape their fair share of taxation but wield inordinate political influence. The media will continue to filter the news. People will lose faith in the system even as professions of patriotic loyalty become more hysterical and frequent.
Will the American state continue? If the appropriate sacrifice is withheld, it may not. What happened to the Roman empire after it fell? The population did not disappear. Instead, outside tribes infiltrated the imperial lands. Germanic barbarians staffed the Roman army. In time, they simply pushed the Romans aside. The empire became split into regional fiefdoms led by chieftain kings. No single emperor but a multitude of strong men exercised political control. The “dark ages” had arrived.
a stark view of America’s future
Paul Craig Roberts, formerly Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, has speculated that “clans” will be governing the United States by 2017. It is a grim future:
“ The first clans organized around local police forces. The conservatives' war on crime during the late 20th century and the Bush/Obama war on terror during the first decade of the 21st century had resulted in the police becoming militarized and unaccountable. As society broke down, the police became warlords. The state police broke apart, and the officers were subsumed into the local forces of their communities. The newly formed tribes expanded to encompass the relatives and friends of the police.”
“ The dollar had collapsed as world reserve currency in 2012 when the worsening economic depression made it clear to Washington's creditors that the federal budget deficit was too large to be financed except by the printing of money. With the dollar's demise, import prices skyrocketed. As Americans were unable to afford foreign-made goods, the transnational corporations that were producing offshore for US markets were bankrupted ... The government was forced to print money in order to pay its bills, causing domestic prices to rise rapidly. Faced with hyperinflation, Washington took recourse in terminating Social Security and Medicare and followed up by confiscating the remnants of private pensions.
"Organized food deliveries broke down when the government fought hyperinflation with fixed prices and the mandate that all purchases and sales had to be in US paper currency. Unwilling to trade appreciating goods for depreciating paper, goods disappeared from stores. The government sent troops to confiscate goods for distribution in kind to the population. Much of the confiscated stocks became the property of the troops who seized the goods.
"Goods reappeared in markets under the protection of local warlords. Transactions were conducted in barter and in gold, silver, and copper coins. Other clans organized around families and individuals who possessed stocks of food, bullion, guns and ammunition. Uneasy alliances formed to balance differences in clan strengths. Betrayals quickly made loyalty a necessary trait for survival. Large scale food and other production broke down as local militias taxed distribution as goods moved across local territories.
"Most of the troops in Washington's overseas bases were abandoned. As their resource stocks were drawn down, the abandoned soldiers were forced into alliances with those with whom they had been fighting. Washington found it increasingly difficult to maintain itself. As it lost control over the country, Washington was less able to secure supplies from abroad as tribute from those Washington threatened with nuclear attack.
America's collapse occurred when government ceased to represent the people and became the instrument of a private oligarchy. Decisions were made in behalf of short-term profits for the few at the expense of unmanageable liabilities for the many. Overwhelmed by liabilities, the government collapsed. Globalism had run its course. Life reformed on a local basis.” (Counterpunch, July 26, 2010)
learn to disobey authority
Following this scenario, we may anticipate that the American people can gain freedom from an oppressive government through the formation of local communities. The national government, once ascendant, will lose its credibility and power. The replacement power may well be amalgamation of military or security personnel and local police. The people with the guns will always have power. Eventually, however, new ideologies may arise to put the arrangement on a more spiritual basis. A large and sophisticated society cannot be ruled by force alone. How can outsiders who do not possess the instruments of violence prosper in this new, post-national society?
An armed insurrection against the government is not to be desired. Too many people would be killed while gains would be limited. Instead, launch a “quiet rebellion” against oppressive government rule. Simply decline to obey the laws. The key to success is not to do this alone. Do it with your friends. If you and your friends and their friends quietly defy governmental authority and support each other, the courts will lack the capacity to prosecute all the law violators. The prisons will lack space to hold them for punishment. The system will eventually break down. Large-scale power will devolve into small-scale power. Freedom will bloom again.
Perhaps, as Paul Craig Roberts suggests, the political system will break down on its own accord as the Soviet bureaucracy broke down twenty years ago. The trick is not to fight pitched battles with the military and security forces, who currently have all the power, but instead wear them down by repeated acts of evasion. Better still, infiltrate these forces. Plant persons who have the community interest at heart within their ranks. At an appropriate moment, such persons can defy the political high command. First, there needs to be an ideology of acceptable defiance. There needs to be hidden groups of sympathizers that will defy leaders who go against the people’s interest to gain power and wealth for themselves.
If this sounds familiar, perhaps it is. There were communist cells in government and other institutions at the time of World War II. There are demographic-interest groups in our institutions at the present time, agitating for themselves. Whether this is good or bad depends on where one stands in relation to these groups. The politics of group identity is not all-inclusive but favors or disfavors particular types of persons. The so-called “majority population” is at a disadvantage in such situations. It need not be so. If the government will not fairly represent everyone, the disfavored persons or groups, whoever they are, can turn to internal subversion.
To the disaffected ones, I would say: Arm yourself with ideas, not guns. Attract others to your cause. People must first believe in the legitimacy of your cause. If the media demonizes you, find ways to bypass the media. Get your message out by word of mouth, social-networking, the internet, or whatever else works. There is already a sense of the rottenness of American society as it exists in the hands of the current power structure. Your message, if presented openly and honestly, will have credibility. Seek soft power first and the rest will follow. Therefore, express yourself.
the challenge of identity
The problem with America’s so-called “majority population” is that its identity depends so heavily on being an American. Jews have Israel as their “shining city on a hill.” African-Americans have their African heritage. Most white Americans have largely been absorbed into the American melting pot. Their European ethnicity no longer matters so much with respect to their personal identity. America is their only spiritual home and they feel obliged to support it whatever moral failings might be attributed to the United States of America.
That is because the national government has effectively usurped American identity. Politicians have dragged the American people into horrible situations and convinced them to take ownership of those situations. The blame should really rest with the politicians. Americans need to separate their identity from deeds associated with the American government.
In other words, we need a shift of consciousness that redefines patriotism in terms of the people’s rather than the government’s interests. It is patriotic to support the American people. It can also be patriotic to go against the American government when that government has betrayed the people’s interest.
War is the primary form of betrayal. The American people do not need or want a worldwide empire; it exists primarily because of persons and groups that have a controlling influence over the government. Dwight Eisenhower, a true patriot, warned against the influence of the military-industrial complex. Today, patriotic Americans should be concerned with neo-conservative influence which uses U.S. military power to serve a narrow set of interests.
If American society should fracture into local communities, those communities can themselves become abusive unless they represent and serve the interest of individuals living within them. They exist to enhance the identity of residents. This poses an unresolved ideological question. How should political communities be formed to enhance personal identity? What are the majority and minority interests in this situation? Am I entitled to live with people who share my values or must I learn to live among strangers and even enemies? These are the new questions of political theory. Discuss them rather than issues debated two hundred years ago.
To be honest, I would not want to live in a community comprising my current neighbors. I am a white person. Most of them are racial minorities. And among my white neighbors, most are “anti-racist” whites who quietly despise persons of their own skin color. I must confront the fact that race is a salient feature of my personal identity.
Fifty years ago, I might have had the luxury of disregarding this aspect of myself, but no more. The black struggle for advancement has polarized American society to create separate groups. Even if white people remain in the majority, they have been put on the defensive, becoming objects of ridicule and contempt. I would not want to live in a local community reflecting those values.
I would, however, willingly live in a multi-racial community where individuals are not disrespected because of their race. I would not want white children to learn in school that their ancestors were bad people or that they themselves are inherently bad because of “racist” tendencies. Neither would I want black school children to be taught disparaging lessons about themselves. We need a balanced and open discussion about such matters before mutual acceptance can be achieved. Maybe such a discussion will open people’s eyes to the other person’s point of view; or maybe the participants will simply grow tired of arguing.
However, race is not the only component of personal identity. In our society, educational status also matters. The prestige of one’s occupation and the size of one’s bank account serve to distinguish one person from the other. Then there is religion. There are the politicized categories of gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, and immigrant status. Beneath all those layers of identifying elements there is a core of personality that speaks to the nature of who we are. This is what we learned to be as small children, modified by subsequent experience.
preparing for the deluge
The political requirement is two-fold: First, decide who you are. Determine your own personal identity. Second, find others of a similar nature or set of values. They may become partners in a mutually satisfying community. When the larger society breaks down, such people will be there to give aid and comfort.
Speaking for myself, I would prefer to strip away all the identities that other people have given me and search for my own authentic self. That means dispensing with religious teachings about who I am or ought to be. It means ignoring the identity given to me by educational institutions. It means challenging what government wants me to do. It means tuning out personal messages from the media.
In the quietness of my own thought, I probe my inner self and reach certain conclusions. Then I can accept or reject those other influences that have been pressed upon me. We are each in charge of our own identity and, given sustained effort, have the power to become who we want to be.
Politics, however, depends on collaborative effort. We must deal constructively with like-minded persons. The initial challenge is to find those persons. Then it is to decide collectively who we are and want to do. Discussions of this sort lay a foundation for healthy communities. When the deluge comes, we will be ready.
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