From Jared Diamonds book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail, Americans of today should learn one main thing: that a civilization whose leadership chooses a wrong-headed course on the basis of defective ways of thinking can destroy itself.
Americas present leadership has sought to cultivate our fears-- and indeed we should be afraid. But our fear should be directed much less toward the terrorists against whom our leaders have made their much-heralded war than toward the possible disasters toward which these leaders themselves are taking us.
We should not delude ourselves, in our complacency, that history can give us nothing worse than gasoline at $5 a gallon, or too many people in our midst who do not speak our language.
Indeed, with todays America as the dominant nation in this much more shrunken and interdependent worldthe catastrophes with which we should be most concerned could entail the collapse not only of our own society but of the entire civilized system of humankind.
For there are two great threats that now endanger the human species at our point in history: 1) environmental catastrophe as the result of reckless human activity in the biosphere; and 2) the perpetuation of the system of war of might makes right rather than lawin the intersocietal system in an era when weapons of mass destruction are spreading among nations.
The Environmental Threat
Human beings have become so much bigger a bull in the ecological china shop so many more people, within an industrial civilization with so much larger an impact, wielding new technology whose repercussions are so uncertainthat it is unclear whether civilization can adjust its ways of dealing with the earth in time to avoid environmental catastrophe.
For all our technological development, human life still entirely depends on the health of the larger biosphere. But Americas present rulers act as if they either do not understand, or do not care about, this basic reality.
This Bushite regime has not only failed to advance the already troublingly slow human adaptation to this new challenge. It has actively worked to turn back what progress this nation, and the wider global society, have made toward meeting that challenge.
At home, it has turned environmental policy over to the corporate industrial giants whose ecological impact is most urgently in need of regulation. It has actively abetted those vested interests that seek to sow confusion in the public mind with the promulgation of pseudo-science, so that the people will not be able to see clearly the true nature of the choices we face. And they ridicule as inconsequential and un-American the ethic of resource conservation.
In recent decades, a much deeper understanding has emerged concerning the synergies by which all the various elements of the biosphere work together to maintain the viability of the earths living systems. But the Bushites either care more about short-term profit than about long-term viability, or they lack the flexibility of mind to understand that ways of thinking that served adequately in earlier eras will likely prove disastrous under our present, changed conditions.
These rulers, and the greedy forces whom they serve, persist in seeing the relationship with nature not in terms of synergy and sustainability but in terms of dominance and exploitation. It seems as though the only games they know are win-lose games.