Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Self-Destruct in 3,2,1...

What happens to the society that has everything?  In our happiest daydreams, we think that this society would philanthropically solve the problems of the world.  But in the grimmer pages of history, we find time and again that such a society turns to imperial domination of others and, at the same time, self-destruction.

The Roman Empire, that pinnacle of ancient civilization, the melting pot of every culture it encountered, slowly conquered the known world and blazed trails into the unknown.  At the same time, its cities were filled with aristocrats and peasants, all alike seeking entertainment.  The peasants still had to work hard for their living, but in the off-time, they watched blood sport and sought the exotic or the supernatural as sold to them by the upper classes.  The upper classes, though seemingly in control, themselves succumbed to their own wealth, channeling their energies into ever evolving debauchery.

The British Empire, on which it is said the sun never set, took a slightly different approach.  They took for themselves the luxuries of the cultures they subdued, then sought to impose their own culture as far as possible. It was not the obvious excesses of riotous living which was their moral fault.  Their own refinement and sense of superiority, their arrogance and the delicacy of their frivolity were all manifestations of their peculiar Achilles' heel.  They had attained the height of civilization, they thought, and thus they spent their energy demonstrating their own superiority.  But it was not barbarians who overran this Empire.  It was other empires, other nations, and sometimes the colonialized peoples themselves.  Each chipped away at the construct of this superior race, until it collapsed in on itself.  Britain's own superiority complex demanded that it grant the human right of freedom to the subjected nations, and so it retreated, little by little, dignified as always, surrounded by the intricate refinements of its cosmopolitan civilization which offered it no salvation.  This was a decay in style much different from that of the Romans, but in essence the same: in her very strength was her downfall.

And now, the United States and its cultural brotherhood across the world has reached advances of affluence and technology never before thought possible.  Our imperial domination is more low-key than Rome or Britain. We expand cultural homogeneity through corporations, throw around our weight with big weapons and bigger dollars.  And each and every American is given the chance to waste his or her life away on entertainment, frivolity, and an ever-expanding list of the latest and greatest developments of sex, drugs, and labor-saving gadgets.  Being Americans, we are not content with the refined superiority of Britain.  We are more like the Roman empire, a teeming mass clamoring for violence and sex, the richest and the poorest alike addicted to the "bread and circuses."  The average American, statistics tell us, is richer than most of the people who live or ever have lived on this earth.  And the average American is proving once again that those who have it all choose self-destruction and waste.

Perhaps this is why we are all so fascinated by each impending apocalyptic scenario the entertainment complex sees fit to throw at us.  Zombies, aliens, global warming...  If only the whole world blew up, if we were overrun by the uncivilized, if the constructs we were born into crumbled around us, we might all be motivated to get up off our fat asses and become the heroes we know deep within we could all be.

The good news is we might just get our apocalypse after all.  At the rate technology is advancing, especially in places like Iran, we could all get blown away sooner rather than later.  And our ancestors might rise from the ashes wiser and better people than we were.  One can only hope.