America in Decline

America in DeclineA plethora of new books suggest America has entered a state of rapid decline. Two recent works on this subject, both heavily footnoted, are worthy of attention. One is by an elitist on the right and the other by one on the left. In contrast, a third new book is full of hope.

The first to consider is Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by sociologist Charles Murray, whose work I’ve been reading for years. He refers to himself as a libertarian, although a better characterization might be that he is an ideologue’s ideologue. For decades he’s argued in a subtle and often guarded tone that some of us are just morally and genetically inferior to others, and he has become rather adept at appearing to stumble accidentally onto his biases. In other words, his narratives contain a thinly disguised philosophy that is implied rather than stated outright.

Coming Apart offers lots of good data, and the contents could make a really good book if the author had been intellectually honest about what has driven us apart. Murray, however, has never been quite smart enough to avoid the transparency of his biases, even when they are cloaked in his data. He submits a two-pronged account of how America is fracturing into enclaves of upper class and lower class, portrayed as Belmont and Fishtown respectively. We are asked to pay no attention to the cause.

Instead Murray lays the book out so the unsuspecting will discover his predetermined conclusions embedded in his statistics along with him. He wants us to ignore the greed and lobbied power that have in effect looted the country from the top down. He wants us to concentrate instead solely on the moral failings of inferior folks and to recognize once again that big government is destroying the moral fiber of America. New York Times columnist David Brooks declared Coming Apart the most important book of the year and said he would be “shocked if there’s another book that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society.” This should be tempered by realizing how easily Brooks is shocked. That Murray does not want to discuss the reason for society’s coming apart is what is shocking. For more on Murray’s book, check out Joan Walsh’s brilliant review at salon.com.

The second work is Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline by social critic Morris Berman, who throws all subtlety out the window. He’s concerned not with moral failings of the poor, but with what he regards as the mindless aspirations of those we deem successful. He characterizes the New Deal not as a restructuring of the economy, but as “a few concessions to the poor and working class.” He warns us that when hustling and technological innovation become the purpose of life, there is no purpose, and he sees little hope for course correction. According to Berman, we are a country where people throw their lives away for toys. Our obsession with connectivity results in social isolation as we destroy the planet through what amounts to disingenuous acts of trivial pursuit.

Now contrast the views above with another recent book, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. They write: “Humanity is now entering a period of radical transformation in which technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standards of living for every man, woman, and child on the planet. Within a generation, we will be able to provide goods and services, once reserved for the wealthy few, to any and all who need them. Or desire them. Abundance for all is actually within our grasp.”

They lay out their argument in nineteen impressive chapters. So, we have here two cases for a dystopian future due to moral failure and one utopian argument that, even if such a future were possible, would require an ideological remaking of society that goes far beyond simply offering a few concessions to the poor and the working class. The first order of business is to favor work over capital, or Main Street over Wall Street, and that would take an effort just short of a political revolution.

Our dilemma comes to this: The only way to a future worthy of our highest ideals is to get beyond our Stone Age political mindsets, in which millions of people are so fearful that someone else might get something underserved that they would rather see most have nothing. The biggest obstacle to a bright future is adolescent politics.

As I advocate in September University, it is time for adults to speak up or forever lose the opportunity to do so. What a predicament: to choose spite or infinite possibilities.

Charles D. Hayes
Self-University

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

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Comments

  1. JoeWeinstein says

    As described, all three books sound familiar – echoing and scarcely updating themes of like books that were available and widely discussed in the 1950s-1970s. American society was going to pot. Its ‘grey-flannel-suit’ conformists and its other wealthy unhappily spent their fortunes on garbage and toys. Its ‘other America’ was exploited and poor beyond the imaginings of the protected classes. But meanwhile a ‘triple revolution’ and then a ‘third wave’ was going to save the day, and make everyone in the world amazingly wealthy, happy, rational and articulate.

  2. Ryder S says

    I’m not sure how interesting I find this… technology has always lead to the betterment of man on the whole… technology is nothing special. It’s just a tool. There has always been us, and our tools. We learn to make better ones, we advance.

    The leftist is contradicting himself on a most basic level, who on the one hand harbors ill-will toward those with wealth, and one presumes would have that wealth taken from their undeserving hands, and then directed to the less fortunate… who will then consume it… in the most materialistic fashion, a habit he also claims to dislike. He should make up his mind.

    We live in an age where the progressive has won… attaining most every goal, but especially the fundamental ones.

    Income redistribution is massive in the US… with military spending dwarfed by entitlement spending, the two having crossed back in the 70’s. Civil rights, decades of curbing the 2nd amendment, and government more powerful than it has ever been, directing and influencing almost every aspect of life.

    In this progressive world, there can be no doubt that the promises made by progressives have not come to fruition.

    Decades of gun controls have not made us safer.

    A century of using money to fight poverty has not made a dent in it.

    Decades of government run education has not made our children smarter, and is rather an embarrassment.

    Blacks hitched their wagons to the progressive train long, long ago, and their lot has changed little in most respects, and tragically in many others, especially in family and dependency.

    Granting the government the power to tax our income has not taken from the rich and equalized outcomes with the impoverished as was promised with the 16th amendment. That was supposed to be THE measure that would force “the rich” to pay their fair share… yet here we are still talking about this exact same issue one hundred years later.

    Our money is not ours anymore… we’ve lost the right to travel freely, and be secure in our person from stray fingers entering our cavities… the cowboys of years past would be horrified to learn the right to ride their horse was a privilege grated by the state… we’re losing the right to defend ourselves, yet somehow the police that get their rights FROM us… have more rights than we do.

    We’re now told that if government directs the entire healthcare system, that somehow everything will be less expensive… they are doing it to save us money… but the opposite is happening… medical costs are skyrocketing, premiums that were promised to go down are shooting up, with no end in sight.

    Technology helps to counter this trend… but it can only do so much… as government uses it to photograph our travels, databases record our transactions with merchants, and every email sent is copied, checked, and retained by government, no different than if the post office opened each letter we wrote, and made a copy for itself to keep.

    No… the progressive achievements have failed to do what they say they would do… in almost every important case and measure.

    The decline is real… and like the debt we’ve accumulated over decades, corresponds very well with the advances of the progressive, who’s grand ideas never seem to pan out… the promises are not kept… and our ability to act and live as truly free people is continually diminished.

  3. says

    Any society can only support so many parasites. And I’m talking about the ones at the top of the financial food chain, who neither toil nor spin but generally did nothing to earn their wealth and power except choose carefully when they were looking for parents. With the Mayan ‘apocalypse’ at hand, perhaps the one thing people SHOULD consider is that the Mayan culture also got too big for its britches and saw the people who actually farmed and built as fodder for the wealthy priest-elite.

  4. Thomas Cleaver says

    Charles Murray is an ignorant racist. Nothing further needs be said about any of his ravings.

    Morris Berman is an example of the decline and fall of Jewish intellectualism into the swamp that thinks the Jewish Nazis and their Wehrmacht currently running Israel is something good. Calling this putz a man of the left is an insult to the left. The Zionists today are Nazis (the Likud was founded by idiots who thought Mussolini was right, and who cooperated with the German SS in terrorist attacks against the British pre-1938; after Kristallnacht, even these Jewish fascists couldn’t keep up with their European allies fascist allies)

    Diamandis and Kotler are talking about the possibility of a worthwhile society that will come after the decline and fall of the American Roman Empire.

    We in America, who have long thought of ourselves as “the New Rome”, have gone from the virtuous Republican Rome of the Punic Wars (our version with a citizen army that destroyed its enemies was World War II) to the failed Rome of the corrupt Caesars within the lifetime of one American born at the high tide of the American Empire – 1944 – from Scipio Africanus to the Rome of Caligula and Nero.

    Hopefully after the failure of Little Georgie’s invasion of Poland, er, I mean Iraq, and the failure of the Imperial Wehrmacht in Afghanistan, and the continuing failure at home, the American Empire will fall (domestically as well as internationally). The Good Emperor Obummer isn’t even as much a dam against failure as was The Good Emperor Claudius (who wasn’t much, since he was followed by Nero).

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