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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Politics 2012: Some Predictions


I’m not a political analyst.  I’ve taken some political history classes and a political communications class, but I don’t have the background of paying very close attention to the news which would help me really say something extremely intelligent on the topic.

Still, as we begin to gear up for the election next year, I have a few thoughts (as usual).

I think the main thing that politicians need to keep in mind is that the American populace feels unrepresented.  From the Tea Party movement to the Occupy movement, people who have something to say feel that they must say it with their own voices.  People with power, people chosen to represent the populace, are apparently not saying what their constituents want said.  The government is stalling on details of economy bills and wasteful foreign wars, gridlocked in a powerplay, and so the chaotic voices of the discontent must take to the streets and call attention to themselves.   A politician who wishes to make a truly successful run for office must demonstrate that she or he will accurately represent the concerns of the American public.

It’s true that there is debate among political theorists whether a politician is supposed to accurately translate the voices of the populace or is supposed to do what she or he believes is the best for her or his constituents, but Tea Partiers and Occupiers are interested in the former.  Personally I think a politicians’ job is a mixture of the two, but in this particular opinion climate, it seems that Americans are tired of experts, and just want their voices to be heard.

Unless a particularly polarizing candidate emerges from either side, I expect that third parties will see a surge in popularity.  Not, perhaps, enough to actually disrupt the election (the two-party focus has too deep a hold on America to be disrupted by only a few years), but enough to cause worry for Republicans and Democrats.  Especially with the younger generation, a faith in one particular party seems to be waning. 

Unfortunately, the average American is hardly the driving force behind politics.  Perhaps that is why many average Americans are expressing so much disillusionment with the system.  In a world where money is power, we know that politics is driven by corporations, banks, anyone with enough cash to back increasingly expensive campaigns or to wine and dine the elite.  This is also, perhaps, why we distrust politicians’ attempts to levy harsher taxes on the wealthy – we feel that the powerful always grow more powerful while those in the middle or on the bottom like us are just a vast sea of nobodies in the grand scheme of Washington.  Ultimately, politicians will choose to make things uncomfortable for us rather than for the wealthy and powerful whom they do not wish to estrange.

So although a really successful campaign could be run by someone who supports the American populace, it’s doubtful that such a campaign would have access to the money it would need to really compete with the big dogs.  I don’t believe that 2012 will see any earth-shattering differences from earlier elections.  I expect reasonably insipid candidates spouting non-answers to non-issues and crowds of frustrated voters who feel they have no good choices.  Hopefully we can avoid the mud-slinging three-ring-circus we’ve seen in the past few elections, but I doubt it.

Am I cynical?  Yes.  But I think that’s the way we all feel, now.  So, politicians of America, what are you going to say to a group of disillusioned, cynical people who are desperate for their voices to be heard?