The American Empire was not like other historical empires, for from the very first it has been made up of various different ethnic and cultural groups. Initially French and Spanish. Then Dutch and British. With other nationalities coming later. Irish and German and Russian and (in my case) Finnish.
Like all other empires though it was doomed to fall at some point. History as well as statistics tell us so. As Chris Hedges points out here – citing such figures in the the field as anthropologist Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress”.
“There is a pattern in the past of civilization after civilization wearing out its welcome from nature, overexploiting its environment, overexpanding, overpopulating,” Wright said when I reached him by phone at his home in British Columbia, Canada. “They tend to collapse quite soon after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity. That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the Romans, the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what I called in ‘A Short History of Progress’ the ‘progress trap.’ We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature. We have failed to control human numbers. They have tripled in my lifetime. And the problem is made much worse by the widening gap between rich and poor, the upward concentration of wealth, which ensures there can never be enough to go around. The number of people in dire poverty today—about 2 billion—is greater than the world’s entire population in the early 1900s. That’s not progress.”
Hedges essay deals with what he calls the Myth of Human Progress but I see it as very key to empire itself. That the bigger myth is that of a single American culture. We see evidence of it especially today with the fracturing of even the right wing movement. That what has bound people together was not some American history but rather a myth of American history built around some mythical culture.
Dmitri Orlov brings this up in this interview he did lat last year on Businessmatters radio. You can download and listen to it here. One of the things he (Orlov) brings up is the lack of community and the collapse of community standard,s as it were, in especially those areas that were hit hardest by Sandy last year. This is not surprising since community was weak at best even in those more upscale areas that were hit and was organized almost entirely around economic status and materialistic values. So when those were destroyed, so were the symbols of the “community”.
Communities as we here knew them in the past were organized almost entirely around some ethnic or cultural group. Sometimes religious but mostly ethnicity and culture of those who live there. The Italian or German or Irish or Chinese or etc. sections of nearly every metro area. This was also the case in the rural areas. The farmers were of similar cultural groups.
But as these people had children, fewer and fewer of these children would cling onto the cultural heritage of the parents and grandparents. Because of this the sense of community began to be lost or at best was some superficial aspect, such as their financial status or the suburban area or car they drove. It has no real roots. It was manufactured and sold by the media. The generic white anglo saxon male dominated family. Leave it to Beaver. My Three Sons. The Brady Bunch. Etc. And it was based almost completely on some personal self-centered agenda rather than the greater good. A product of Madison Ave. and Hollywood.
Orlov in this interview and his previous entries on his blog likes to compare the ex-Soviet Union with the US but I think he misses a key point. That is that the Soviet Union was make up of ethnic and cultural Russians for a large part. It was Russians fighting for other Russians during WWII, which is why they won it. This deep clan or tribal bond. Very like a family bond that America really does not have.
Which is why nearly all the war propaganda was about either fighting against something or some one. IE Nazis or Japs or Commies. Or for some vague ideal. Freedom. liberty…etc. Rarely – if ever – for America. That attitude or belief in always helping your fellows has never really existed in this country outside of one’s ethnic/cultural enclave. The superficial suburban groups never had it since it was based almost entirely on material standing. And once one lost this, one was out, so by definition there would be no help.
So with this economic grouping quickly falling by the wayside as the downturn accelerates, what we are seeing with the gun nutz and tea party right wing is a last desperate attempt to maintain some kind of cultural identity where none actually exists.
It’s this lack of any real cultural identity that the Washington/Wall Street cartel is taking advantage of and to an extent trying desperately to preserve. It’s also why the coming collapse of the American Empire will not look like those in the past as there is little to bond us together in it except mutual hardship.
Whether this will eventually bring people together as a whole and when this will occur is anybody’s guess. I am sure there will be more and more communities formed on an isolated and small scale, but a larger unification is at this time doubtful. It would take a great deal of time. This culture of personal gain and benefit over the greater good will be difficult at best to overcome.