Tuesday, June 21, 2016

When America falls

Contemplating the looming collapse of the United States of America, I reflected that the Vietnam War was the death blow. The civil rights movement contributed, because of endemic racism, but the Vietnam War really shattered trust in the government that had been painstakingly built through the mid to late 1930s.

We had come out of World War II feeling pretty good about ourselves. The Cold War set up a climate of constant anxiety that gave the military-industrial complex a huge boost, but it was Us against Them. McCarthyism cast doubt on loyalties within our country, but still fell short of discrediting our entire government in the broader public eye.

Vietnam was the turning point. We've been on the long slide ever since.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the protracted war that followed, was referred to at times as the USSR's Vietnam. It was cited as a contributing factor to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia emerged from the wreckage of the USSR in pretty rough shape, but has now managed to make itself a threat as a strong-willed and well armed world power. Russia existed before the Soviet Union. It exists after the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was in many ways just a rebranding of the Russian Empire. It was good while it lasted, but not vital. You could say we won our Vietnam War because it has taken us so much longer to crumble from the structural damage. But Russia has regrouped and regained power. It has even regained some territory.

After the United States collapses, we have no mighty former identity we can resume. Everything was tied up in the myth of the Land of the Free, the exceptional nation composed of immigrant land thieves pushing a wave of genocide from coast to coast, and then settling in to be the tech nerds and cowboys to the world. It's a giant bullshit souffle that has stayed up a remarkably long time, considering that it depends entirely on hot air.

An uncharitable view? Ungrateful to my forebears? Change very few things and I ever exist. Now that I DO exist, I want to avoid pain and misery. Do I owe anything to future generations? I can only take my best guess as to what humanity will need -- aside from mass sterilization -- to enjoy life in The Future.

We developed our national identity at a time when humans could believe that a winner really could take all. I'm sure realistically deep thinkers realized that such a victory, if ever it came to pass, would be short lived. Aside from the ponderous difficulty of conquering every square inch and keeping subdued areas under control while the tyrant's forces moved on to the next target, even when all was under the despotic thumb, little wigglers would be slithering out to bite the hand that grips them.

The idea of a big winner persisted into the latter part of the 20th Century. For a time, the United States looked like it. But of course we weren't, and didn't really claim to be. Sure, we were the last superpower (Don't look at China! No fair looking at China!), but we were nice guys. We were basically your big, strong, older brother, who will slap you upside the head if you get out of line, but otherwise is looking out for you against the real bullies.

Thing is, we aren't the older brother. We are a work of fiction, a creation of philosophy, rather than tribal boundaries blended with evolved concepts of nationalism.

To a large extent, every nation is a work of fiction. When humans grouped by clan on hunting and farming lands they had evolved on for longer than they had language to describe it, their identity as creatures of their piece of Earth had some merit. As language and the ability to dissemble evolved, government and group identity became more cerebral, even though the effects are concrete, and can be deadly.

There are younger nations than the United States. None of them have been -- or likely will be -- superpowers. Indeed, what is a superpower? It must be both an economic and a military powerhouse. But a military powerhouse is not a land of free people. But we have to defend our freedom from the outsiders who would take it. So we must be a military powerhouse. But a military powerhouse alone does not guarantee a vibrant economy, unless your power is so much greater than anyone else's that they pay tribute to your nation rather than face your wrath.

That still doesn't sound like the Land of the Free. It sounds like a crazy man sitting on a powder keg. Nobody wants to rile him up, but no one is happy or serene, either. Is that the best we can do? Maybe so. It's worth considering. Is the challenge of the pursuit of happiness that we have to do it under threat of annihilation by the forces of paranoia? As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be?

Every living thing faces its eventual death, so you could say we already pursue our happiness under that considerable handicap. As far as I'm concerned, that does not excuse the aggressors who threaten anyone they don't like.

We're going down, arguing bitterly about the right of ordinary citizens to own high-powered firearms, the right of corporate titans to buy government, and the full acceptance of the wonderful and terrifying diversity that our founding documents have unleashed.

We've run beyond the simple idea that merely requiring every young adult to put on a uniform and be trained as a soldier will miraculously produce the kind of national unity that will propel us and our species forward into what could have been a relatively comfortable and entertaining future. That's still the winner take all mentality. We have to force ourselves to evolve beyond killing each other. A large percentage of people believe that is impossible. They may be right.

As far as the future is concerned, everything is optional. That means anything is disposable. Winning that mess could look a lot like losing.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Deadly, self-centered attention whores

The shootings in Orlando are just the latest act by deadly, self-centered attention whores who want to end their lives in spectacular murder-suicide. They probably won't be the last. Murderous suicide is an increasingly common emotional disorder with deep roots in the human psyche.

This latest performer has done a great service to the Stanford rapist, Brock Turner, by pushing him out of the internet's spotlight of shame. The sole imperative of the attention whore is to get attention, to the detriment of whatever else might still deserve consideration and detailed, careful discussion.

The attention whore is irrational. The motives of the attention whore are also irrational. This is particularly conspicuous now, when atrocities are committed by home hobbyists claiming cosmic motives of religious devotion. They are condoned by the manipulators of such passions, who themselves see only a new way to operate a global power play. Religious militancy is nothing new at all, but using it through widespread media and communication to launch attacks here, there, and everywhere is up-to-the-minute use of technology. No need to gather troops and transport them to a battlefield. Just broadcast suggestions and let the volunteers create the killing ground at any convenient location.

Attention whores never realize that they are pathetic. They have no shame, because they are the innocent, the aggrieved, the brave martyr. It's a seductive role. Never worry about old age, retirement, sickness, a bad credit rating, a failing marriage, or any other stressor in modern life. You're going to die anyway. Why not go out in a blaze of glory? Strike a blow for something noble, best expressed by slaughtering defenseless people in an undefended environment. If you have properly dehumanized them before you start, the rest is truly easy.