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Empire in the Mirror

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Empire - A Tribe on Steroids

Inside the belly of the beast can the harbinger of what is to come be seen, for the internal machinations of the Pax Americana have become rusted and decrepit, its lifeblood infected and diseased by the spoils of its conquests and the narcissism of its hubris. In pursuit of unmatched wealth and power its internal organs have been infected by the malignancies of greed, arrogance and corruption, spreading from coast to coast, a haze of barrenness infiltrating every city and every town, afflicting a society 300 million strong, slowly yet invariably eroding the foundations of an Empire on fast-forward time, as if America's domination has been accelerated, her reign compressed and her demise made absolute. Yet in her accelerated cycle can civilization once more bear witness that while the greatness of man may build empires, it is the deep flaws inherent in our nature that crumbles them as well.

What the genius of humankind helps construct the vices of the human condition will assuredly destroy, for what is history but a written record of our greatness always decimated by our weaknesses, of our vices, corruption and incurable penchant for death, violence and destruction as always laying waste to the marvels humankind is capable of constructing? What is history if not a linear pattern, repeated over and over and over again, regardless of time, location or of cultural differences, of the triumphs of humankind trumped and squashed by the mammalian passions and emotions inherent in our primate species, of our species taking a leap forward only to have us take two leaps back?

The story of America, whether as Empire or as superpower, is one of man's penchant for absolute power, and how that power corrupts absolutely, as always without fail, along with man's quest to continuously expand the power, wealth and reach of the tribe, usually at the behest of the leader(s), as always thanks to our inability to control our ingrained mammalian behaviors and psychology that, inasmuch as we would like to discard from our condition, remain deeply entrenched in our psyches and in our human-primate nature. We cannot compete with millions of years of evolution, after all, an existence based on epochs of survival and natural selection, on instincts and behaviors molded over eons that eventually determined who and what we are today. From our deep psychological need for a hierarchical structure in our societies, one based on rank or caste or socioeconomic status, to our almost universal acceptance - indeed a disturbing desire - in delineating power to an alpha male among us, usually chosen or tolerated as group leader, to the innate quest for wealth and power in men in order to attract the best possible mate for procreation to the primordial need to belong to a tribe, today categorized by the nation-state, to the insatiable protection of and desire for territory and its resources, our primate-mammalian behavior dominates every aspect of the human condition.

For what are we in reality - without the smoking mirrors of religion and the delusions of ego by which we see and judge ourselves - but a mammal that triumphed over all other hominid species, when such was the reality on the planet, destroying and making extinct all potential competitors through the violence and viciousness that are part of our nature and that we have seemingly perfected to an art form, until we alone remained, roaming the lands of Earth, in time becoming like locusts decimating forests and jungles and untold number of species in our quest towards becoming rulers of the planet? What are we if not a species born in violence and evolved through violence, forever bedeviled by our inability to control our animal urges, behaviors and instincts, always enslaved to the emotions of greed, ego, competition and selfishness, easily corrupted by the aura of money, materialism and wealth, frustrated by the always strong urge to copulate, controlled by our hunger to procreate, to attain the power and domination and wealth needed to successfully attract a mate and inevitably pass on our genes?

What is history if not a case study in the human condition, of our inability to cease war, violence, tribalism, destruction and of our inability to control the corruption spawned by power or the fragility of our psyches? What we are, is a species descended from the always brutal and difficult animal world, where survival is a matter of life and death, where selfishness is to live another day, where procreation is the driving force, where our greatest traits and most debilitating vices were first engendered and molded. Where we rose from and remained for hundreds of thousands of years determined who we are today, for 200,000 years as homo sapiens and 10,000 years of civilization cannot compete with millions of years of mammalian evolution nor millions of years of acquired behaviors, psychology, instincts and emotions that have contributed towards creating the most dominant species the world has every known. It is through studying Empire, therefore, that humanity, and civilization, can best be understood, for within its borders lies the greatness of man as well as the worst in the human condition, the reality of our enslavement to our evolutionary psychology as well as the necessary clues to escape our animal bondage.

What is Empire if not the basic human tribe on steroids, a case study into the success and failures of a collection of individuals comprising a vast population that has risen to the top of the human pyramid? Tribes of the past, bonded by and based on blood, ethic or religious similarities, competed with each other for marginal swaths of territory and resources, as far as small segments of land was concerned, relative to the size of Earth. Usually competition among rivals could be peaceful, based on diplomacy, or violent, based on the perpetual state of war humans have always lived in.

As humans grew in numbers so too did the size and numbers of tribes, invariably putting greater and greater stress on both land and resources, eventually creating a push phenomenon whereby weaker, less sophisticated, perhaps smaller tribes, unable to compete with the more powerful, larger ones, were forced out of the tract of land they inhabited. The strongest of these tribes usurped the land and resources they wanted and needed, usually by invasion or conquest, or by assimilation of the lesser, weaker tribe. These strong tribes thereby pushed weaker ones into new lands, as well as those new tribes created through discontent or due to differences among peers.

The push factor among tribes, as well as the search for lands full of resources and sustenance, gave rise to human migration patterns that eventually settled all of Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania and the Americas. Over millennia, as tribes settled, grew distant to each other (both genetically and environmentally) and procreated within close genetic blood lines, similar ethnic traits appeared, showcasing homogeneity among populations, whether by the inter-breeding of close blood lines or by environmental evolutionary causes. Over generations various genetic mutations appeared, giving populations the distinctive ethnic or racial appearance we see today. It was the proximity of both genetic lines and tribal lands that created homogeneous peoples in various regions of the planet. It was the vast distances of Earth, or its naturally inaccessible barriers, that allowed multiple tribes to possess the genetic diversity we see today. Indeed, it could be said that Earth, with its continents and natural barriers, is to humanity what the Galapagos Islands are to its birds and lizards. Each region created its own ethnicities, based on distance, genetics and environment.

Once the available land's resources and its habitability became compromised, a tribe would simply move to new land, either bumping into another tribe, where, depending on the size and power of the group, would proceed to invade, wage war, conquer and/or expel (assimilate) the new rival, or, if the tribe was stronger than the invaders, then sidestepping the territory and finding virgin land somewhere else, which would eventually over time run out of resources or be overrun by other tribes. In much the same way our closest primate relatives, chimpanzees, as well as many other mammal species, establish territories that are zealously protected. Indeed, we as humans are extremely territorial, as much as any other mammal, as can be witnessed by the endless conflict over land and resources since we left the jungles of East Africa that has oftentimes resulted in brutal warfare, mass murder, ethnic cleansing and untold levels of human wickedness.

It is humans, in groups or tribes or clans or families or city-states or nation-states or Empires, which compete with other rival groups for the Earth's finite lands and resources, all for the greatest game on the planet, that instinct all Earth's organisms possess, that drive called survival. It is in the world of nature, of which our species has been a part of for millions of years - to be distinguished from that of civilization - where survival of the fittest decides winner and loser, life and death, prosperity and ruin, and where natural selection oftentimes creates brutal and violent competition among rivals, along with all corresponding survival behaviors, that elevates surviving into a joust where living one more day is the ultimate reward. The world of nature is harsh, difficult and oftentimes violent, yet it is the rule rather than the exception, where all of Earth's organisms gather to give great balance to the planet's living world. It is from this context, and this reality, from which our evolutionary psychology rises, where our ingrained behaviors evolved and our undeniable penchant for control of both land and resources developed.

In Empire's Shadow can Humanity be Seen

Throughout human history Empires have risen to the zenith of human achievement, becoming a regional hegemony unmatched by rivals, for years enjoying the glory of power and wealth, the torch of human greatness passed onto its people, only to eventually and inevitably fall to the embedded vices of the human condition, becoming the spoiled, gluttonous, arrogant, greedy, warmongering and deluded society whose foundations crumble below the weight of corruption and decay, creating over time the nadir of our worst failures, a failed state.

With the death of one Empire another will always be waiting in the wings, eager to take its place among the great monuments of civilization, ready to be crowned the next step in our evolution as a civilization, ready to partake in its journey through Empire's stages, rising, maturing and falling, traversing from the principled and humble to the debased and arrogant, once more falling for the trap of humankind's making, destroying itself from within at the hands of its own hubris and corruption. This Empire will in time, guided by the deeply flawed hands of man and by the unshakable reality that is the human condition, inevitably crumble to the ground, crashing upon its foundations, assisted in its downfall by the inertia that is humankind's embedded mammalian psychology.

The inability of man to escape the instincts of the animal world, with our hunger for survival, of power and wealth, our pursuit of domination, comfort and territory, our bondage to ego and competition, with our drive, whether conscious or subconscious, of pursuing and securing the best genes for procreation - just as all living organisms are designed to do - have condemned us to repeat history over and over, forever to disregard its most valuable lessons, forever to remain adrift in the ocean of delusion clinging to the raft of our hubristic and self-deluded greatness.

Our species is impotent to the winds of change for we are and forever will remain slaves shackled to the demons of the human condition, the gumbo of our evolutionary tinkering deeply ingrained into our psyches, from our inception as a species making us who and what we are, making us highly susceptible to the debasement and vices prevalent in modern civilization, especially modern forms of Empire. Unable to see past the foggy mirror placed in front of our eyes by theology and our deluded ego, hypnotized we remain to our self-aggrandized beliefs, destined to forever believe ourselves god-like creatures whose mastery is unrivaled, our denial blinding us to a reality altogether different.

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Manuel Valenzuela is a social critic and commentator, international affairs analyst and Internet essayist. His articles as well as his archive can be found at his blog, http://www.valenzuelasveritas.blogspot.com as well as at other alternative (more...)
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