The Uncanny Decline

It’s uncanny, but one quick view of the headlines can make anyone’s head spin — Afghanistan is a chaotic shambles, a fog, Wall Street gains, Main Street loses, education is heading in the wrong directions (NY just reported record low test scores) and many schools opting out of the dubiously title Race to the Top.

What else?

WikiLeaks, the Russians want more biotech corn, an 88 year old former Nazi is charged with the mass murder of Jews, health insurance is in disarray–everywhere–and states want Fed help, no energy legislation, muscle flexing — South Korea and the US began their largest joint war games, Sunday, which includes a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, and North Korea threatens retaliation.

And less we forget, Sheryl Sharrod’s story — the bogus notion that we’re somehow in a post-race America, whisked in by Obama’s magic carpet ride.

No one can make this up! This is who we are.

It’s no wonder we want to put our heads in the sand — or into a tall Vodka! There are no jobs and Americans continue to suffer. There is no future, and Americans are worried sick. There is no leadership, and congress continues to bicker, schoolyard kids arguing for who gets to control the swings, each side trying to bully the other. A great example being set by our alleged leaders.

We are definitely and assuredly spiraling downward.

The first to make us aware was Paul Kennedy, in his The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987!). Readers balked, but, nevertheless, were glued to his chapter, “The United States: The Problem of Number One in Relative Decline”:

the United States … cannot avoid confronting the two great tests which challenge the longevity of every major power that occupies the ‘number one’ position in world affairs: whether, in the military/strategical realm, it can preserve a reasonable balance between the nation’s perceived defense requirements and the means it possesses to maintain those commitments; and whether, as an intimately related point, it can preserve the technological and economic bases of its power from relative erosion in the face of ever-shifting patterns of global production.

Of course, the United States has not been able to adjust to the “ever-shifting patterns of global production.” This is obvious. As Kennedy points out, the “decision-making structure that permits a proper grand strategy to be carried out” has to be robust. It’s not, we know this now too. Why? Because, historically, the United States has relied heavily on the mechanisms of “piracy” and protectionism in its development, ensuring the world view of the United States as a predator. It’s not by chance that the single most problematic piece of military hardware is the predator drone.

What we are experiencing in this global paradigm shift is a crisis in Education, writ large. That is, we are having problems synthesizing information, siphoning through the wreckage that is mass media induced information, communication, and, most importantly, we are having great difficulty analyzing and putting into practice our historical antecedents. We forget them, toss these out. We are therefore in a global crisis of knowledge, lead by the United States — we shun it. I mean, let’s be real, Sarah Palin is a character that can sway people, even perhaps elections and she doesn’t even know Geography, for God’s sake. How can we blame children for not succeeding in school when someone such as Palin can become a mouth piece for democracy (lower case) and our political system?

In Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Chris Hedges, says that, “The multiple failures that beset the country from out mismanaged economy to our shredding of Constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Middle East, can be laid at the door of our institutions that produce and sustain our educated elite.” Elite institutions do only a “mediocre job of teaching students to question and think”; their focus, instead, is “on creating hordes of competent systems managers.” All creativity vanishes and hierarchies with clear parameters and highly rewarded specialists blossom. “It destroys, the search for a common good,” says Hedges. In this world, we want TV wrestling and pornography, a reality based on illusion and the notion that consumption is an inner compulsion. The corporation has won.

In 1995, John Ralston Saul already saw this, too, in his The Unconscious Civilization: “What is more contemptible than a civilization that scorns knowledge of itself.” Saul told us that, “The result of such a denial is a growing imbalance which leads to our adoration of self-interest and our denial of the public good.” Historically, then, we have shifted from an American culture of production to a culture of consumption; with it, our values and philosophy — community, self-reliance, equal rights and justice — have vanished and we find ourselves in a new a quite harrowing world that embraces, as Saul says, a dominant ideology: corporatism — junk culture and junk politics.

Where do we go from here?

One thought on “The Uncanny Decline

  1. Pingback: Hope Springs Eternal Amidst Decline: The Bard College Model « The Uncanny

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