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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Decline of the American Empire

Empires rise and fall. The ancient ones maintained their power for many centuries while the more recent empires, now called "superpowers", have reigned for briefer periods. Empires have declined due to gradual cultural, political, and economic transformations. In most cases, the people became complacent with their power, became lazy, and seem to forget the societal values that brought them to power. When these things occur, once-powerful empires become ripe for conquest.

The USA has been a major world power since our victory in the Spanish-American War around 1900, and now there are signs of decline. Recent events (over the last half century) have knocked us down several pegs and our status has become more precarious. Our investment of lives, money, and world image in Viet Nam was a major example. Of course, we lost both at home (cultural and political dissent) and on the battlefield. Another major example was the 9/11/01 attacks by terrorists. We all learned quickly about the power of terror, about Islam and its extreme elements, about airport security, and about how vulnerable we are to those who possess far less military force, especially if they are willing to sacrifice their lives to get to paradise. Even though President Bush vowed that we would not allow 9/11 to change our way of life, it has. Our military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been yet another sentinel of American decline. We haven’t captured or killed Osama, we haven’t stopped the threat of terrorist attacks on our homeland, and we seemed to have kicked the hornets’ nest, making Muslim extremists even angrier about our attitude and way of life.

The latest threats to our status as a superpower are economic ruin and cyber attack. China, with its population of 1.3 billion, has become a major player in changing the balance of economic power at a time when we have weakened ourselves by the greed of Wall Street and naïve home buyers, continuing dependence on fossil fuels, escalating health care costs, and the failure to make major adjustments to protect our planet. We now hear that countries such as North Korea and China, and some terrorist groups, have been developing the technology to damage our power grid, our banking system, and our military security through cyber attack. In view of the American mentality to meet force with greater force, we would not even know who attacked us, thereby making it impossible to counterattack.

Here is my list of the top 6 signs that America is on the decline as a world power:

1. Anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism and an overall decline in respect for knowledge. After all, as Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “Knowledge is power”. The “dumbing-down” of our schools and universities is a major indicator. The election of an anti-intellectual such as George W. Bush and his re-election after we observed how limited he was, demonstrated that large segments of our population don’t mind being led by an ignorant, inarticulate, uninqiring person. The considerable support received by a severely unqualified Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential candidate is yet another recent example. The fact that I have to be careful about writing this paragraph because many would consider this to be politically incorrect, is a trend that has severely limited the public exchange of ideas and debate.

2. Declining standards in schools and universities. The need for basic scholastic skills testing in most states because our schools aren’t getting the job done and they need to be monitored. Grade inflation and the growth of for-profit universities are especially noteworthy because they show that the tail is wagging the dog. As long as students are viewed as customers, they will have an inordinate impact on what is taught and how it is taught. The shortage of people entering the “STEM” courses (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) means that we are losing our competitiveness in the world economy. It is unsettling that we increasingly need to import our best STEM students and workers from other countries, primarily Asian, making our strength and security more precarious.

3. The decline in critical thinking skills as indicated by the epistemological equivalence of faith and science for large numbers people who pit “Evolution” against “Creationism”. As a corollary, the inclusion of “Creationism” or “Intelligent Design” in science textbooks casts doubt on education administrators’ and citizens’ critical thinking skills.

4. The bankruptcy of newspapers and decline in ratings of TV newscasts. It seems that fewer people have interest in national and world events, thereby making them less informed as activists and voters in a participative democracy. The internet, in which anybody, including me, can write whatever they wish, has some advantages. However, the internet does not appear to replace well-trained, ethical journalists who understand their role as a check and balance on the power of corporations and government.

5. The obesity and diabetes epidemic involving sedentary people and bad diet. The excessive use of cosmetic surgery, useless supplements, medications, and other medical interventions in a superficial attempt to counteract poor lifestyle choices and unwillingness to exercise a modicum of self-discipline. I don’t know for sure, but I worry that this weakens our society.

6. The decline in the traditional nuclear family. High divorce rates, high cohabitation rates, and rapidly increasing single parenthood rates all contribute to children being raised by one parent. Such parents are often poor, uneducated and ill-prepared to guide their children’s moral development, keep their children healthy and safe, maximize their children’s educational and vocational potentials, and help their children make the most effective life choices.

Register your vote regarding America’s decline in the world community in the poll, located above and to the right.

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