“War, children. It’s just a shot away.”
– Gimme Shelter, Jagger/Richards (1969)
The physical evidence of now-dead civilizations, some civilizations we still consider ‘great’ among them, quite literally circles the globe and populates our kids’ study-sheets and textbooks.
Athens. Rome. Great Zimbabwe. Machu Picchu, Sukhothai.
Ruins. Grand palaces repurposed as stores, stables and shithouses. Formerly powerful imperial cities of gold buried under strata of the refuse of succeeding societies and generations.
Think it won’t happen here? Think it can’t? That we’re too great, too special? American exceptionalism? “Don’t make me laugh,” says history to every civilization since the dawn of time.
Only a fool thinks himself the endpoint of evolution.
If there are any lessons to be learned at all from history, this is its primary lesson.
And yet, we Americans behave as if everlasting world dominion is our rightful inheritance. We project our military power around the globe willy-nilly, with the flimsiest of pretexts. When the pretexts are exposed as wrong-headed, ignorant, or just plain false, we don’t withdraw; we persist.
We extract the earth’s resources as if we had the key to a private, bottomless storeroom.
We have all but abandoned the decades-long compact between citizen and state that had as its foundation a high-quality, robust and universally-accessible system of public education. Go to the schools our tax dollars fund, it said, and become the engine of our economy; you’ll be more affluent and we’ll get better citizens. We’ve underfunded these schools, allowed them to bleed to near-death, made them inaccessible to those with no alternatives and unattractive to those with many.
We murder each other with reckless, yet increasingly efficient, abandon and argue against any attempt to control our unfettered access to the instruments of our very own deaths.
Relying on the mass marketing of deliberately ahistorical fantasies about the American characteristics of self-reliance and individualism, we distribute ever more of our economic wealth to ever fewer people; in so doing, we squeeze the life out of the very middle class that created our society’s wealth and stability to begin with, and inflate the economic and political power of a class with seeming indifference to all that live below it.
Decaying streets, sewers, roads, bridges, schools. Declining economic opportunity. Increasing concentration of power among the proudly-ignorant. A ratcheting up of violence. And internecine warfare over the scraps.
This is the way all empires die.
There will come a time when the people of this country will look around with slack-jawed wonder and ask how it could have come to this.
As if they didn’t know.