America is a nation built upon myth. If you don't believe me, consider the Florentine merchant-adventurer after whom this country was named. Amerigo Vespucci probably made at least two voyages to the Americas, but he was not the leader of any expedition or the first European of his era to set foot on the mainland. (America named after a self-hyping fraud? It's just too perfect.) Yes, the USA is a nation built upon myth...and the greatest myth of all is that the land of the free is gonna last forever.
I'm sure the Aztecs, the Incas, the Romans, and the Mongols were pretty damn pleased with themselves and figured what they were doing could never end. Yet, like Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias," they are ancient history. (Shelley and his brand of poetry, alas, are also prehistoric.) The Ottoman Empire ran longer than "Cats," for chrissake, and all they left is a place to put your feet after a long day of trading pork bellies.
America the Beautiful. The Declaration of Independence. The Statue of Liberty. Baseball, apple pie, and internal combustion engines built by Chevrolet. All of these are nothing more than the castles made of sand Jimi Hendrix sang about. Hendrix, for that matter, is yet another sandcastle. Take it even further: Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and, as Fight Club's Tyler Durden reminds us: "Even the Mona Lisa's falling apart." Our denial forces us to ignore this reality but, whether we admit it or not, what we call "civilization," is indeed fleeting.
If you don't believe me, I have one word for you: Maya. If that civilization is viewed from Pre-Mayan to Pre-Columbian, it would span roughly 3500 years before collapsing. America is 230 years old. The Mayans had us beat by more than 30 centuries but are now barely more than a footnote for most humans. No one is certain what happened to cause the demise of the Mayan culture but this description from the One World Journeys website has an jarringly recognizable ring:
"History is a continual ebb and flow of civilizations, but the collapse of many great Maya cities occurred within a fairly short amount of time centuries before the Spanish arrived. Archeologists are still trying to answer the mystery of why this happened. Several answers are emerging, with overpopulation and the resulting exhaustion of land resources leading the list. The soil of the rain forest is actually poor in nutrients. Crops can be grown for only two or three years, then must be allowed to go fallow for up to 18 years. This requires ever increasing destruction of the rain forest (and animal habitat) to feed a growing population. Other reasons for the collapse include increased warfare; a prolonged drought; a bloated ruling class requiring more and more support from the worker classes; increased sacrifices extending even to the lower classes; and possible epidemics owing to the dense populations in the urban centers."
It calls to mind the words of jazz legend Sonny Rollins: "What I am more concerned about is whether our whole civilization will be around in the next 25 years."
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.