Is the sky falling on this Beacon on the Hill, ending a century of Yankee dominance, crushing the greatest, most brashly exceptional nation known to mankind? Is this worldwide wonder of freedom and democracy, the intersection of divine history and human destiny, kaput, on its last legs, about to implode? Not quite, not yet, and that's no endorsement of the status quo: powers-that-be hold high trump cards.
Every generation endures end-of-the world scenarios, and we still dread last century's, nuclear holocaust. Drama -- let alone anxiety -- commands our attention and heartstrings. Pandemics, portable nukes, fiery asteroids, religious mania, starvation, rightwing nuts, and looming climate change, all threaten millions. But anxiety, even nightmare projections, do not mean Armageddon is upon us, nor that pundits suddenly clasp reliable crystal balls. Discretion is the better part of this valor.
Global warming looms, likely to cut world population and food production, but that's not extinction or end of times -- or displacing destructive capitalism. Want good news? Harvard professor Steven Pinker argues our belligerent species has cut our wartime-violence killing sprees. Are we not exiting Iraq, sort of? Life expectancies, even for the impoverished, grow annually, if you count enough people. Only 43 Americans endured capital punishment in 2011 (half the 2000 totals), mostly in W's Texas. Okay, we live in grim times but take heart: we don't guillotine yet. And most of life's simple pleasures haven't been banned, yet.
Centers hold on
No doubt, systemic cracks abound, thanks to myopic leadership blunders, not just across state and national politics but corporate's best and brightest, sports leagues, and fundamentalist denominations that turn Jesus into racist warmonger. Pedophilia, misogyny and reaction still stalk the west's oldest organized church. But even wobbly, distrusted centers, like moons and planets, can wobble in place a good long time. History testifies to the resilience of status quo, by definition adept at deflecting reform. Consider how long it took to resolve slavery (or civil war, if we have), enfranchise women (and minorities), or protect laboring children and the gamut of civil, gender, human and gay rights. Today's well-funded, defensive elite, armed with police forces, high-tech weaponry and media propaganda, so dreads systemic change that this is equated with "the end of its world."
Fortresses are designed for sieges, and things may well get worst before they get better. Yet does that justify the countless catastrophes predicted if that slick liberal, drone-friendly, Wall-Street-friendly president doesn't get re-elected? Even more earth-shaking disruption is guaranteed by fringe hysterics: national self-destruction descends if that slick liberal, non-citizen (let alone alien, socialist anti-Christ) defies divine will by staying in office. What a quandary: one election that decides which of two ways our world will end.
But anxiety aside, where's compelling data that today's enfeebled "Dying Empire" is expiring, and isn't there equivalent evidence proving retrenchment, shoring up weak spots and securing walls that resist reform? Few imagine violent domestic insurrection (despite guns galore) but many would project bloody retribution by armies of police helped by drone surveillance. Though whistleblowers are punished, gun sales flourish as do third political parties, and the Internet remains free, though gigantic computers approved by Obama violate our privacy. No doubt, were the belligerent, intolerant right to commandeer our entire government, brace for dreadful "systemic reforms." But odds greatly favor more status quo -- and 40 in the Senate trump nearly everything.
Mythic hill to die on
Our western culture has one predominant catch-all for the end of the world, courtesy of the New Testament finale: Armageddon. Ar-ma-ged-don is "the battle between the forces of good and evil predicted to mark the end of the world and precede the Day of Judgment." (Revelation 16:16). With "ar" meaning "hill," derivation is less epic, an earthly hill called Megiddo where our species gets its comeuppance. High time, say today's angry moralists, echoing the irritable Old Testament chief.
What, is human history not already a fierce battle between perceived good vs. indicted evil-doers? Have we not moved, however haltingly for 200 years, from widespread dictators to greater distribution of goodies to wider audiences, respect for law and judicial processes, even expansive self-determination? True, our three-decade Yankee regression by fanatical believers in cahoots with business reactionaries is gumming up progress, but I trust the long-term, positive arc of history endures. Yet, where are alternative visions or philosophies to trigger serious, left-leaning systemic reform? Successful revolutions have definite contexts, especially breakthrough concepts (like democracy) that upset fixed communal mindsets. What revolutionary ideas can persuade our variegated masses to become rebels with a cause? In that absence, let us assess the daunting task:
1) Economic status quo is besieged but is hardly buckling. Despite ungodly concentrations of wealth, the core capitalistic order -- reflected by healthy world stock markets and international business as usual --is accelerating from recession. Occupy protests urge more equitable distribution I don't see key strategies that could gain critical mass support. Has this admirable protest even impacted national voting, as did the Tea Party? Though a bruised candidate and lousy campaigner, Romney the patrician quickly overcame high negatives to pull even with a charismatic, personally-popular president.
2) World leadership, with few exceptions, stands with high growth and big business, whether here, struggling Europe, booming South America, Middle East (dictatorial strongholds), or across highly productive Indian-Asian powerhouses. China represents state capitalism on steroids, with autocratic leaders restraining mounting internal contradictions and income discrepancies.
Where's the legitimate, unified alternative -- even a major movement -- that challenges the world's ever-evolving capitalist systems paying homage to private property, profit incentives, centralized corporations, and monopolistic expansionism? Despite population surges, resource restraints and natural warnings galore, our president merrily targets 3.5% annual GDP growth, as if it's 1950.
3) Yes, America is faltering, mainly against China, rising Asian producers, and South American bright spots, like Brazil. Yet power shifts don't promise either the end of the world or power to more people, and China, with insatiable needs for oil, resources, and factories, is buying and/or financially colonizing the third world. Copycat top-down ownership plus exploitation of the environment drive Chinese growth, mimicking all the excesses of late-western capitalism. Backed by wildly expensive military prowess, America and our large corporations will hold their own, vigorously ignoring resource externalities (what progress truly costs), just like 1950.
4) In fact, military power balances haven't drastically changed since WWII, except that ex-communist Russia stumbled, displaced by quasi-communist China. Western militarism (with religious commitment to violence, whatever the threat or foe) plods on, without budget cuts for guns, tanks or drones. Yankee militarism morphs into narrower, "smarter" conflicts, less costly in money and lives, perhaps even more cautious about killing enemies, not non-combatants.