Ask the mineshaft: what’s gone wrong with America? The decay spreads faster than I imagined possible.

Summary:  We have reached the point in the “s” curve where the trend — the decay of our political regime — accelerates.  When the decay spreads throughout the system.  When the cancer metastasizes.  The cure does not lie beyond our grasp.  But first we must understand where we went off the path.  Can you suggest an answer?  {Aka ”ask the community”, from the German “Gemeinschaft”. See Wikpedia}

The mortgage settlement by State attorneys general marks a new low for America.  A massive criminal conspiracy — the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERs, see Wikipedia), plus large-scale perjury (“robo-signing” foreclosure papers) and fraud before our courts.  All settled with a slap on the wrist to the banks.  It teaches large corporations thay they lie beyond the law, a large step beyond the traditional lax enforcement of laws against big businesses.

It’s another step in the decay of our political regime — the second Republic, founded on the Constitution — occurring at an ever-accelerating rate since 2000.  The ammendments in the Bill of Rights crack and fall like the withered branches of an elderly oak tree.  The election system becomes a farce.  Endless warfare without plan or even pretence of benefiting the nation’s interest.  You can continue the list in the comments; each citizen can describing the symptoms most obvious from his perspective.

This is like syphilis — a multitude of symptoms which must have a common cause.  Continuing the medical analogy, successful treatment first requires accurate diagnosis.  So what ails America?  Until we have that flash of insight, our efforts at reform will lack coordination and the strength provided by a common vision of the problem.

Whatever the cause, the pursuit of political power has become the game of well-financed special interest groups — mostly serving various factions of our ruling elites.  They finance think-tanks to advocate their policies.  The news media consists largely of courtiers .   Candidates for office represent different factions of our ruling elites, amongst which we get to choose.

Meanwhile the economic base of the middle class melts like last winters snow, a fading dream.  Wealth and income concentrates in fewer hands, social mobility slows from its current low levels.  These things make reform more difficult with each passing year.

I have written 271 posts about this problem, examining its many dimensions. My guess as to the problem with America: we have lost the will to govern ourselves. Loss of self-confidence? Complacency born of affluence and security? Perhaps we have more interest in money than liberty, so that we have little time for politics.

Unfortunately this diagnosis suggests no obvious cure.  New ideas are welcomed!  The comment section is open.

About the mortgage settlement deal

Follow the links provided in these articles by David Dayen at FireDogLake (one of the best sources covering this long-running op by the organized crime syndicates called “banks”):

For More Information

For all posts about this see America – how can we stop the quiet coup now in progress?

About the American spirit, the American soul

  1. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy, 1 March 2006
  2. Diagnosing the eagle, chapter IV – Alienation, 13 January 2008
  3. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders cry), 20 July 2008
  4. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  5. A philosophical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
  6. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  7. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  8. Symptoms of a fever afflicting America’s culture, 5 November 2008
  9. All we have to fear is our optimism, 12 November 2008
  10. The corruption of a nation is usually hidden, but sometimes becomes visible, 21 November 2008
  11. This crisis will prove that Americans are not sheep (unless we are), 8 January 2008
  12. About security theater, a daily demonstration that Americans are sheep, 25 January 2009
  13. Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009 – The Law of Equivalent Exchange
  14. Dispatches from the front lines in the war for America’s soul, 11 May 2009
  15. Are we citizens? Or peasants?, 21 May 2009
  16. A famous guest speaker visits the FM site to tell us that we are not weak — we are strong, 8 June 2008 — Patrick Henry
  17. A great artist died today. We can gain inspiration from his words., 26 June 2009 — Michael Jackson
  18. A wonderful and important speech about liberty, 23 July 2009 — Judge Learned Hand
  19. Know thyself, America, 2 March 2010
  20. It’s a national emergency, so an opportunity to watch much of America get hysterical, 27 May 2010
  21. Matt Taibbi helps us see ourselves, and the leaders we elect to run America, 29 May 2010
  22. Who can we trust to defend our liberty? Will our culture’s rot spread to the military?, 17 June 2010
  23. Pain and misery builds discipline!, 12 October 2010
  24. The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes, 2 November 2010
  25. Why the Turkey is not our national bird, and a reminder that America belongs to us, 26 November 2010
  26. Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit, 12 March 2011
  27. A Washington Insider looks at America, but does not understand what he sees, 7 September 2011 — Will the American people revolt?
  28. Hear the cattle bellowing in the chutes.  Will they revolt?, 8 September 2011
  29. No longer a danger, but a reality:  bloodlust in our minds, an inevitable side-effect of a long war., 25 October 2011

49 thoughts on “Ask the mineshaft: what’s gone wrong with America? The decay spreads faster than I imagined possible.”

  1. I see two somewhat interrelated issues in

    1) essentially unchecked lobbying of Congress by special interests, and
    2) the deregulation craze that took root in the 70’s and flowered under the Reagan Administration.

    I’m not an expert about the subject, but it seems to me issue-advocacy had a great deal to do with well-intended deregulation of various industries, but those industries then were able to mass their power and crowd other voices out of the debate. Deregulation become a mantra (dogma?). I think this in part explains the symptoms. I’d like to know what others think about it, though.

  2. Lack of interest or caring is what led to the decay of the Republic. I could barely get a handful of friends to take this civil literacy test, thankfully all of them earned above an 85%. Here’s the link: Full Civic Literacy Exam (from our 2008 survey) of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

    1. BOOOM!

      “You answered 32 out of 33 correctly — 96.97 %”

      The one I missed:

      Question: If taxes equal government spending, then:
      Your Answer: government debt is zero
      Correct Answer: tax per person equals government spending per person on average


      1. Their answer is correct, and this is an important and widely misunderstood point.

        If taxes equal spending then the deficit is zero (deficit is a flow). The debt results from PAST spending (it is a stock).

    2. Agreed, Hoyticus. I’ve linked to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s 2008 civic literacy findings many times myself on other sites…because the truth is that if the American people want to know who to blame for the state of our government, the first place a lot of them need to look is in the mirror. This is supposed to be a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”…and yet if the results from the 2008 civic literacy exam are any indication, only a small minority of Americans have bothered to learn about their own history (and as if that wasn’t bad enough, elected officials apparently know even less about it than ordinary Americans do!). Election results also indicate that a majority of registered voters have become too apathetic and/or too cynical to take advantage of the (relative) freedom to choose their own leaders and choose those people who tell us what we need to hear instead of those who tell us only what we want to hear.

    3. That was a pretty easy test. Could it be too much to recommend that passing a similar test- 60% to pass, one chance, 10 questions randomly chosen from a bank of 100- be the requirement to get a ballot in a national election and that a 95% result on the entire bank of 100 be required to stand for election?

      The above and flipping a coin at the presidential inauguration to see if Ivy League grads (including the incumbent) can run for president in the next election may be a start to sorting out the problems the US has.

    4. That was a pretty easy test. — M Shannon

      That’s what makes the results from this test — nearly 90% of the 2,508 adults who took it unable to answer even 70% of the questions correctly(!) — positively terrifying, since it is suggestive of an extremely high level of apathy and indifference among the American people and only serves to demonstrate the truth of FM’s repeated argument that the reason why our country is failing us is because we have failed it.

      Could it be too much to recommend that passing a similar test — 60% to pass, one chance, 10 questions randomly chosen from a bank of 100 — be the requirement to get a ballot in a national election and that a 95% result on the entire bank of 100 be required to stand for election?

      I think the suggestion that candidates for political office should be required to pass a civic literacy test is a good one…especially since the results from the 2008 Intercollegiate Studies Institute study show that those subjects who held or had held public office (164 out of the original 2,508) actually performed slightly worse than ordinary Americans! The average score for former or current public officials was 44% compared with 49% for ordinary citizens.

      However, given that over 70% of the people who originally took part in the study were unable to answer even 60% of the questions on this test correctly — and that nearly 90% were not able to answer 70% of them correctly, despite the fact that many of the questions should have been easy for anyone who even remotely bothered to pay attention in history class — it should be clear that establishing a civic literacy test as a prerequisite for voting privileges is quite simply out of the question because it would be contrary to the principles on which this country was founded (and no, the irony of that has not escaped me). Even if you overlook the fact that a significant number of Americans already don’t bother to vote regularly (or at all) — and that even more would probably decide not to vote if you required them to pass a test in order to prove their eligibility — we already have enough problems with a majority of the people in Congress increasingly making decisions on behalf of a minority group within our society (lobbyists, special interests, etc.) and ignoring the wishes of the majority as represented by the polls. We simply cannot allow — we cannot *afford* to allow — input on the political decisions which affect a majority of the people to be restricted to 30% or less of the population (especially since that would most likely only make the current problem worse rather than better). Do that, and we might as well do away with the Constitution altogether and officially become a neo-manorial state…it’s not as if we aren’t moving in that general direction already!

  3. I’m going to go further than mike j. The heart of our problem is that the wealthy realized some time ago that they could do anything they want so long as they do a good job of selling it first. Advertising and spin are everything now and the news media is part of the game because it is much more cost-effective than standing up for the truth.

    They are further aided by the fact that the circumstances they are operating in are similar to the Gilded Age, which gives them some understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

    This is all likely to end the same way the Gilded Age ended, a monumental series of booms and busts with the booms getting shorter and the busts getting longer (sound familiar, anybody?).

    I’m strictly an amateur historian but here’s my take on the 1890’s. The wealthy concentrated far too much money in the hands of far too few who locked it up instead of spending it (does this look like the banks today?). This pulled increasing amounts of money from the lower economic strata and left them hanging in the economic wind and set the stage for the populist radical Republicans (sound like the Tea Party?), led by Theodore Roosevelt (okay, there’s no TR waiting in the wings of the modern Republican party).

    1. I agree with your description. Our ruling elites sense our weakness, and respond by expanding our power. As they say in the Disney films, that’s the great circle of life. Tigers hunt. Wealthy people lust for power and money.

      But why have we become weak and passive? How do we reclaim our strength?

    2. Fubar (unattended gmail)

      Rabbi Michael Lerner, of has written extensively about how the Left became discredited in the 70s, and how the right then filled the resulting vacuum of social “meaning” (with appealing lies, shallow flattery and “fake patriotism”). Lerner includes some vivid descriptions of political fatigue and psychological trauma in his work. As the majority of people have seen decade after decade of (mostly) broken promises by politicians of both parties/ideologies, they become averse to emotionally committing to yet another short-term burst of hope about the possibility of deep change away from dehumanizing corporate values.

    3. Things will eventually get so bad that somebody will HAVE to change things or face total system collapse (which doesn’t benefit the rich in the slightest). Take a look at TR’s legislative record and you’ll see a man determined to change things at all cost, much like his cousin, FDR, 30 years later. And they were fighting the same demon. TR, for all of his successes lost the last few rounds and set the stage for the Great Depression 30 years later)

      The big questions are how long it will take for us to get to a catastrophic state (I’m guessing 2-10 years but would be surprised if I am right) and what kind of person will finally take a stand. If we get a Lincoln or a Roosevelt (either) we’ll be in good shape in the long run. If we get a Nixon or a Johnson (either) we are going to be in considerably worse shape for the long run. If we get a Cheney or a Mussolini we’re toast.

      We will NOT have a Bush or an Obama making these changes because they weren’t strong enough personalities to start making the kinds of changes necessary to stop us from going over the edge.

  4. we have lost the will to govern ourselves. Loss of self-confidence? Complacency born of affluence and security?

    Those who are motivated to cheat and game the system are often more motivated than those who are expected to remain vigilant in its defense – because those people generally are constituted, morally, to look for enemies outside the fold rather than rot from within. The warriors who know how to build and defend a mighty state don’t necessarily know the sneak-craft of the corrupt lawyer, the venal smarminess of the lobbyist, the arrogant self-indulgence of the congressman, the cynical self-interested manipulativeness of the banker, or the smouldering self-justifying greed of the defense contractor. It’s not because we are complacent, it’s that we: a) are constrained from killing them because they act within the laws; they bend and manipulate and re-interpret and loophole – and b) we don’t know how to think like they do. Because, if we did, we’d be doing what they are.

    The cheats and carpetbaggers are the inevitable parasitic load of a successful society. And, like all true parasites, they generally only siphon off enough blood or food that they don’t harm their host – at first. Until they become so successful that eventually the poor host is staggering under the onslaught of a billion little leeches, fleas, beltway bandits, contractors, and glad-handing favor-traders. In Imperial Rome, it was the parasitic load that finally evolved into its most deadly form, Crassus – and the transition from republic to imperial dictatorship was triggered as combination of the Roman system trying to shrug off its parasites, and its fear of Marius that made a dictatorship look more appealing than it was. So, it could be with the United States. I don’t think we are ripe, yet, for a deranged demagogue like Ron Paul who promises radical change to repair the situation – things have to get worse, Weimar Germany worse, before people will be spooked into saying “screw it, it can’t be any worse than what we’ve already got.”

    What you correctly identify is that the parasites have now eaten through the last muscles that powered the justice system. When there were no legal repercussions for the Wall St collapse of 2008, it declared “olly olly all in free” to anyone who was even slightly pondering a bit of white collar crime. A few of us predicted in 2009 that the lack of bankers getting perp-walked meant that it be “apres moi, la deluge” for financial crimes; I fear we were right. But things will have to get vastly worse before the people will stir into action. When they do, it will be tumbril-rides not perp-walks for the Wall Streeters.

    At this point, it may be beyond repair and the only remedy is another constitutional convention. Unfortunately, the parasite analogy still holds: when a mother that is severely infested has a child, the child is often born with its own parasites already eating away in it. Any attempt to repair the constitution would be mediated, moderated, and controlled by the same parliament of whores that is overseeing the current state of affairs. We will not be able to shrug off this load without – and I am not speaking metaphorically, here – stringing our representative government from the lamp-posts. And they would be likely to show amazing bipartisanship in voting against that particular measure…

    If we were to start again, I would say that a 3-part government (congress, judiciary, executive) would need to be reconstituted as a 4-part government consisting of congress, judiciary, executive and inspector general/ombudsman, with divided and opposed powers (perhaps give the office of the inspector general the power of life and death over the other branches and an absolute veto over budgets) and we’d need to do away with the notion of “representative” democracy entirely. Our telecommunications infrastructure is robust enough that we could go to direct plebiscites on certain significant issues, in particular the decision whether or not to go to war should rest with the people, not the executive or the legislature. Indeed, the taxpayers should approve the budget that they are expected to provide the treasure for, just as the people should approve any wars they’re expected to do the dying and bleeding for.

    It’s not that we sat around apathetic while our republic was taken! Our republic was quietly, surreptitiously, and greedily undermined by termites while men of good faith manned the watchtowers looking for an enemy approaching from a distance. It takes tremendous strength of arms to kill a Tyrannasaurus Rex – but a tiny flesh-eating bacterium or a little free-floating cancer cell can bring the strongest animal to its end and the T-Rex can’t fight it because the enemy is part of itself. Our Republic was stolen from us because it succeeded so well that it evolved a bacterial form of hyper-capitalism that doesn’t know how to rein in its own greed and will never be satisfied until it kills its host. Then, it will leave and take up residence in its 5-star hotel rooms in Biarritz and Monaco.

    What do we do? Nothing. It’s too late. Those of us who care can try to fight the infection point-by-point but the reproduction rate of parasites and bacteria is a sure winner against a compromised immune system like ours. When FM writes about the constitution being shredded? That shredded document (along with the idea of an executive branch with limited powers) was our immune system; and the worms that are eating the rest of the body politic had to shred it first before they could begin to really feast.

    I console myself that it won’t get Weimar-bad here in my lifetime. We are so powerful that people will continue to lend us credit and oil out of fear, for some time. We will become the “third world country with nukes” that we used to fear Russia would become and – eventually we will welcome our own dictatorial monster gangster – our Putin – and cynical empty promises of reform. The revolution won’t come until decades after that, when the dictators don’t deliver and their grip slips for a second. Then the tumbrils will roll. It’ll be tumbrils, again, because the Hummers and pickup trucks will not have any gas.

    1. I like the metaphor of parasites, but there’s a perfect example: The toxoplasma gondii organism infects the brain of a host rat, causing it to lose its fear or even become attracted to cat urine, cats being the host for the parasite reproductive phase. Broadly, the parasite infects the mind of its host, altering its behavior to benefit the parasite. The rat’s representative government (brain) sells out, to its doom. No point here except pathobiology is kinda cool.

    2. Fubar (unattended gmail)


      Please elaborate, as appropriate.

      Here is one example of an attempt at political reform:

      ESRA: Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
      (As proposed by Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives)

      In its last “missionary project”, the west’s social engineers attempt to clean out the “nests and snakepits of human culture” , replacing it with “sterile wards of professional services” (Ivan Illich on: transnational therapists, pedagogues, planners).

      In my opinion, the “parasites” and their allies (see below for some science on the topic) have flourished because of a deeper problem, the crisis of modernity, and the changes to the economic mode of culture that resulted that have no corresponding improvement in the inner life (contemplation, aesthetics, spirituality) or *sufficient* systemic improvements in collective ethics or morals.

      Voltaire’s wish for a society that is based on scientific rationalism has gone bad for reasons not clearly understood (John Ralston Saul _VOLTAIRE’S BASTARDS The Dictatorship of Reason in the West_ 1992).

      The spirituality that remains is mostly backward/fundamentalist, or weirdly, a revival of superstition and metaphysical lunacy (new age “feel good” fluff or postmodern deconstruction).

      Politicians pander to people’s lowest instincts, and corporations sell conveniences that erode integrity and destroy “real” community (while maximizing the profits and power of corporations).

      The following is NOT an attempt at a comprehensive survey of the relevant science.

      Scientific evidence of social parasitism:

      Psychopaths/sociopaths are 1% of the population, and are most likely significantly overrepresented in the managerial and executive classes:

    3. Fubar (unattended gmail)

      Wasn’t Ronald Reagan a deranged demagogue (but very skilled puppet)?

      Hard to understand the comment about Ron Paul being a deranged demagogue. Please cite one historical instance of an anti-war libertarian leading a fascist or totalitarian movement. It is far more likely that someone from the Left will trigger totalitarianism, either by claiming a need for “order” to preserve State-Capitalism (Big Government controlled by Big Business), or by a Leftist morphing into a Fascist (Mussolini/Hitler).

      I. Background to the contrary?:

      (I would argue that Ayn Rand’s most famous acolytes, such as Alan Greenspan, were libertarians that were assimilated by Big Business State-Capitalism)

      II. Background in support:

      Widespread fear due to economic crisis and traditional religion mixed with politics is a sign of increased risk of totalitarianism:

      The Origins of Fascism
      Professor Gerhard Rempel


      1. The liberal breakthrough of the mid-nineteenth century generated the intellectual raw material of fascism. Liberalism was largely the work of the educated middle classes.

      2. The old elites of Europe (aristocracy, landlords, churches) nursed their wounds and meditated revenge ont he upstart bourgeoisie.

      5. But circumstances would change. The bourgeois triumph would become a bourgeois retreat. That same European bourgeoisie, which had been liberal in its days of triumph, would, in its days of retreat,

      [***] borrow and reanimate these phantoms generated by the retreating forces of an older regime.

      [the] new masters, unlike the old ruling dynasties, would be Gewaltmenschen, terrible simplifiers who would “rule with utter brutality.”

      From 1917 to 1923 the Russian Communists preached not socialism in one country but world revolution. This was the catalytic force which gathered up the intellectual debris of the Gobineaus and the Gongenots and rearranged it in a new, dynamic pattern. Faced by the terrible threat of bolshevism, the European middle classes, recently so confident, took fright.

      So, fascism as an effective movement was born of fear.

      Each stage in the rise of European fascism can be related to

      [***] a moment of middle-class panic caused either by economic crisis or by its consequences, the threat of socialist revolution.

      European fascism, then, was a political response of the European bourgeoisie to the economic recession after 1918, or more directly tot he political fear caused by that recession.

      … Behind the vague term fscism there lie in fact two distinct social and political systems. These are both ideologically based, authoritarian, and anti-parliamentary liberalism. But they are different and the confusion between these essentially different systrems is an esstial factor in the history of fascism. These two systems can be described as

      [***] clerical conservatism and

      [***] dynamic fascism. Every fascist movement was compounded of these two elements in varying proportions and the variety of mixtures relates in some degree to the class structure of the society involved.

      the Catholic Church played a significant and positive role. it did so because with the conservative classes generally it supposed that dynamic fascism could be used as the instrument of clerical conservatism. In each case the calculation proved to be wrong. The Church by its opportunism gave itself not a tool but a master.

      Both in Italy and Germany the fascist party moved into power through a similar door. The door was held open for it by the Catholic Church. Like the church, the conservative classes in both Italy and Germany supposed that, by patronizing Mussolini and hitler, they had enlisted mass support for a conservative program. These vulgar demagogues, they thought, could be used to destroy socialism at the grass roots, or rather, in the streets. Then they could be discarded. In fact the reverse happened.

      neither Hitler or Mussolini were interested in being conservative rulers. Both were revolutionaries who relished the possibility of radical power.

  5. Fubar (unattended gmail)

    Besides the institutionalized, structural conformism in the public school system and many other social institutions that discourages non-conformance, criticism of the status quo, dissident of social injustices, etc., we now have a country with a large percentage of people that are being prescribed psychiatric medications because their personalities are different from those that are successful in the educational establishment!

    One possible implication is that medical and research centers, as well as academia, have become echo chambers rather than places where compassion and social criticism (especially of the corporate model) thrives.


  6. Fubar (unattended gmail)

    Evolutionary theory, based on historical artifacts, indicates that human beings are superb imitators. Social learning is one of the most powerful adaptation of the human species, and largely replaced and then wildly accelerated biological evolution.

    However, human beings are not always good cooperators, and unless others are already cooperating, people tend to not join in cooperating.

    (see Richerson/Boyd on dual inheritance theory, or gene-culture co-evolution.)

  7. Another issue is the way the criminal judicial system and prison system have been turned into a profit center to farm and maintain a growing, permanent, underclass. Rome also had such a system, in the form of the gladiator/slaves that provided a (short) lifetime of reality-TV style entertainment. Spartacus’ rebellion probably caused the smarter Romans to regret the establishment of that system. Our prison system is a bizzare monstrosity – it no longer even pretends to rehabilitate and is only interested in punishing people for, increasingly, being too poor to lawyer their way out of their problems. A black male from the inner city gets hit with “3 strikes, you’re in for life” for passing a bad check, but a hollywood actor with a history of being in and out of rehab gets public congratulations for his current short ride on the water-wagon. And, of course, there is the scandal that the United States – one of the self-proclaimed beacons of freedom – feels it has the right to take its citizens’ lives. Again, coincidentally, that capital punishment is applied disproportionately against the poor, uneducated, and dark-skinned.

    The clouds of social collapse and revolution are still a long way off (I’d say they’re just starting to show over the horizon) but one of the worst things you can do is have a reservoir of legitimate hatred and violentized people who no longer have anything to lose. The United States has over 700,000 such people in its prisons – call them “inmates” or “potential shock troops” or whatever you will, but that represents a significant force. What happens if, someday, the prisons become too expensive in a time of general economic collapse? They’ll either be squeezed to make them pay for themselves (right now they represent transfer of public wealth to prison corporations, but they could be turned into ‘Compagnie Todt’-style slave gulags) or conditions could get bad enough in there that they start melting down. There is literally no exit-path toward having the prison situation get less bad; it would be expensive to try to fix and nobody is going to want to spend money on rehabilitating the gladiators.

    1. Marcus, I applaud your efforts to point out these sins but feel the need to point out that America has always been a country of extremes, both economic and legal.

      For example, you ask what will happen if the prisons get too expensive. Either the prisoners will be freed or executed. I lean towards expecting the latter because the potential for turning them into some sort of nasty Brown Shirt militia is too high. So you can see that our leaders DO learn from history! Just, perhaps, the wrong lessons.

  8. I would say that the smart/stupid ratio is falling below .50 and moving south. Consider the following quote from The Week:

    Some parts of America are more dependent than others, said George Packer in “A map showing areas of greatest reliance on public benefits corresponds with weird exactness to the map of red America.” The South, Appalachia, and rural areas receive the most government help—but these are the same regions that gave birth to the Tea Party movement and are the most rabid hotbeds of anti-tax, anti-government rage. There’s a lot of self-delusion out there, said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. One recent survey found that 44 percent of people on Social Security, and 43 percent of those on unemployment, insist that they have never “used a government program.”

    I am an engineer and in my 60s. My inspiration came from President Kennedy and the space program. The forcing function for that kind of progress in science, industry, and education comes from the government and not small businesses (AKA “job creators”). Small businesses make pizza not inspiration and civic minded commitment to progress.


    1. “Forcing function”? President Kennedy was dead before I was born, but I don’t recall seeing that term in any of his speaking or writing. Possibly I’m not as proficient in history as I thought; or possibly you’re just no Jack Kennedy. He certainly didn’t stoop to inform Americans how stupid they were while trying to inspire (not force) the country to enter space.

  9. FM,

    I know that Oswald Spengler is not new to you, and probably not to any reader of your site. And please forgive me if Spengler has already been discussed, but just in case I have included his Wiki intro, if only to serve as a refresher:

    “Oswald Manuel Arnold Gottfried Spengler (29 May 1880 – 8 May 1936) was a German historian and philosopher whose interests also included mathematics, science, and art. He is best known for his book The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes), published in 1918 and 1922, where he proposed a new theory, according to which the lifespan of civilizations is limited and ultimately they decay. In 1920 Spengler produced Prussiandom and Socialism (Preußentum und Sozialismus), which argued for an organic, nationalist version of socialism and authoritarianism. He wrote extensively throughout World War I and the interwar period, and supported German hegemony in Europe. Some National Socialists (such as Goebbels) held Spengler as an intellectual precursor but he was ostracised after 1933 for his pessimism about Germany’s and Europe’s future, his refusal to support Nazi ideas of racial superiority, and his critical work The Hour of Decision.”

    That said, I pulled out (also from Wiki for speed) Spengler’s description of some of the elements associated with the depressing end to a great civilization, namely the “Spiritual Winter”, and I comment on each element:

    1. “Dawn of Megalopolitan Civilization.”

    A megalopolitan is an inhabitant of a megalopolis which is a large conurbation, where two or more large cities have sprawled outward to meet, forming something larger than a metropolis; a megacity. (all from Wiki). It would appear to speak to an alienation from nature, due to both remote proximity – urbanization and man-made infrastructure in every direction – and super-specialization. Marx spoke of a similar alienation, wherein the modern worker is alienated from his creation, unlike for example a traditional farmer, an artist, a craftsman, etc. who can embrace the complete creation of his work.

    This is definitely where the majority of America is at I believe.

    2. “Extinction of spiritual creative force.”

    In our technology-dependent/addicted society the creative force is dead or dying. Kids do not create anything. They take others’ fully developed creations (electronic games and toys) and experience instant gratification. Nothing physically hard or intellectually challenging is sought – paths of least resistance for kids. Therefore, anything that requires creativity doesn’t sell, a vicious cycle. We are now in the second, and in some cases the third human generation of this instant gratification in childhood. Parents therefore have no have no credibility when they encourage their kids to “be creative” – another vicious cycle. Starved in childhood, the creative spirit can only be revived in response to extreme hardship and danger later – a bad omen.

    For now this is also definitely where the majority of America is at.

    3. “Life itself becomes problematical.”

    This one I don’t completely understand, but what he may be saying follows. In traditional societies, which included our own even as late as the 19th Century, certain things were obvious. Be trustworthy. Otherwise there are direct consequences. Work hard. Otherwise you and your loved ones will not eat. Show humility and be polite. Otherwise you will be an outcast and unwelcome. Etc., etc. There were real and predictable consequences for being an unproductive member of society. There was no net, no moral work-arounds. People were God-conscious and his Commandments generated guilt (not a bad thing). Today it is often all a hollow show. People do what they can get away with, and there is little shame. But the result is that institutions and practices that were taken for granted before (family, service to society, frugality, knowing ones place in societal hierarchies) are chaotic and at risk.

    The safety net and moral relativism saves anyone from starvation or retribution for now, but life has become extremely problematical in America.

    “Ethical-practical tendencies of an irreligious and unmetaphysical cosmopolitanism.”

    4. This one goes without saying, no need to elaborate – this is the America I live in today.

    I suspect that you and other readers might share some of my interpretations. My overall conclusion is that the inevitability of Spengler’s civilizational cycles/seasons does not point to an easy transition to an “American Spring” or even that what follows our current winter will even resemble what we know as America today. The future in America as the winter progresses is very frightening indeed. A “tumultuous” (purposely softened and understated as this is a public forum) natural selection could come into play as we strive to get back to traditional, spring-like strengths in the absence of ANY sort of net.

    1. Thank you Franz for posting your inspiration.

      I agree, Spengler has hit on a very real observation and, given the time of his life, has a lot to offer us as we consider our path.

      A nihilistic search for the übermensch cannot be the correct approach to what is ailing us. We are clearly suffering from a chronic soft despotism — arguably accelerated by LBJ. What we need is a chance to prove our worth, as individuals and institutions. We need to be allowed to fail, we need to witness failure, and we need to gain confidence from the success of not failing.

      It is disappointing to read:
      “The cheats and carpetbaggers are the inevitable parasitic load of a successful society.”

      If the ‘parasites’ are the average citizen who has little time to read the dozens of articles linked to on this site daily to make an informed opinion, then we are making society to complicated to navigate and eliminating natural confidence. People can be dumb, but they are smart enough to know that life is short, too short to deal with millions of laws that enable the elite class to rule.

    1. Television is fine if used in moderation, like all tools. We can learn to be cool in demeanor and dress, like Crockett and Tubbs of Miami Vice. We can learn to be brave and adventerous, like Captain Kirk.

      Complaining about mass media is an age-old pasttime. Medieval priests complained about romantic ballads and new forms of music (Council of Trent banned “lascivious or impure” music from Church services). People probably complained about the effect of Homer’s poems on young folks, as they wasted their time singing about those silly stories.

  10. Did I hear somehere , a throwaway line on radio ,the Chinese gov was experimenting with some sort of idea feedback loops with the population -?
    Perhaps we need to face up whether ‘ democracy ‘ could be improved on. I wonder if every department , every policy , could be subjected
    to some sort of jury system ..but the jury , of 12 randomly chosen
    citizens might give good verdicts , but who would pay the prosecution and defence , since he who pays the piper calls the tune ?

  11. Perhaps the “Republic” has not decayed in any meaningful sense. I find it hard to believe that there was a golden age of democracy when a well informed citizenry made rational choices. In fact, people today are, or should be, better informed than our predecessors. The idea that things were better “back then” is simply wrong. Back then we were killing Indians by the bucketload, blacks were slaves, women couldn’t vote, and the quality of life was much lower. “Back then” we were bogged down in Vietnam or the Phillipines or wherever. Sure the 1950s and 60s were salad days in terms of real wage growth, but the United States was in a unique economic position. That economic condition does not exist now.

    While I do not disagree with the idea that our government is complete mess, I am very skeptical that it was ever any better.

    1. I can offer a reasonable proof for the theory that the government used to perform more effectively. The proof is simple: the government cannot possibly have survived for 220+ years with its current level of efficiency.

      If you take a look at the statistics (and I’m sure FM has a lot of them), you’ll find that the current astonishing level of inefficiency is less than 10 years old. This is why I believe we are getting reasonably close to a breaking point but have no idea what will happen when we reach it.

    2. Ten seconds of thought provides several counter-examples: torture, unlawful detainment of US citiznes, assassination of US citiens, sequential illegal wars — there is no precedent in US history for such activities on the current scale in peacetime or wartime (with a few exceptions, such as confinement of Japanese-Americans during WWII).

    3. Dear Fabius:

      While you do a good job of rejecting the propaganda of the present, you are blinded by the propaganda of the past. Things were not better “back then.” They were worse in every measurable sense. Torture, extrajudicial killing, illegal wars of aggression, unlawful detainment…all run of the mill Americana.

      Arthur Silbur sait it well: {from Hardhitting, Dissenting Journalism — Without the Hardhitting, Dissenting Part}

      “A translation of these gibberings would seem to be required. Wasn’t there an idyllic period of comparative innocence, asks our babe in the woods, when the lies were better? When the lies weren’t quite so transparent? No, Taibbi, there wasn’t.” He then goes on to give many examples…

      Factually, your counterexamples all fail, and there is precendent for all of it.

      “Illegal wars” — Whatever your definition of illegal, trumped up wars of aggression are common in our history…Mexican American Wars, Spanish American War, Wars against the Native Americans, Vietnam, Wars of Imperialist expanshion (Hawaii, Phillipines, etc.) it goes on and on

      “Unlawful” detainment — Besides the Japanese internment, slavery, native reservation system, recognize that the rights you cherish have only existed in something approximating the present form for about the last 50 years.

      Rights like Miranda (1966), right to have an attorney even if you cannot afford it (1963), exclusion of evidence seized in an unlawful search (1961) all come from recent Supreme Court law.

      Torture—We can go on for a hundred years about torture. Torture of slaves, waterboarding of Phillipinos, the torture of prisoners by police (i.e. the third degree), U.S. extraordinary rendition starting under Clinton.

      Extrajudicial killing–Wanted dead or alive….

    4. Mark Twain on the Phillipines {in the New York Herald, 15 October 1900}:

      I left these shores, at Vancouver, a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. It seemed tiresome and tame for it to content itself with the Rockies. Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? And I thought it would be a real good thing to do.

      I said to myself, here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves.

      But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem.

      We have also pledged the power of this country to maintain and protect the abominable system established in the Philippines by the Friars.

      It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.

    5. Zemtar,

      Most of your reply is fallacious.

      (1) “Things were not better ‘back then’.”

      That’s a strawman rebuttal, as I do not claim that conditions were better in the past. That would be daft. Modern sanitation, vaccines, antibiotics, cleaner power sources, the end of slavery in the US — there is a long list of changes that make conditions today far better than in the past. What I said at the start of this post was specific:

      “It’s another step in the decay of our political regime — the second Republic, founded on the Constitution — occurring at an ever-accelerating rate since 2000”

      (2) Your examples are incorrect. I’ll give just a few examples.

      “Illegal wars” – Whatever your definition of illegal, trumped up wars of aggression are common in our history…Mexican American Wars, Spanish American War, Wars against the Native Americans, Vietnam, Wars of Imperialist expanshion (Hawaii, Phillipines, etc.) it goes on and on.

      None of those were illegal wars (a different concept than “unjust wars”):

      • Congress declared war on Mexico on 13 May 1846
      • Congress declared war on Spain on 2 April 1898
      • The “Indian Wars” occurred on US territory; however horrific, they were not illegal wars. Certainly Congress approved. For examples, the Trail of Tears was authorized by the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
      • There was no “illegal” war on Hawaii; legally it was an internal coup (with US government support). It was legally added to the US by the Newlands Resolution in 1898.
      • The “Philippine–American War” was not an “illegal war”. It was a revolt against the US government, which ruled the Phillippines as a colony.
      • (2) More incorrect examples.

        “Torture of slaves, waterboarding of Phillipinos, the torture of prisoners by police (i.e. the third degree), U.S. extraordinary rendition starting under Clinton.”

        This is a medley of confusion.

      • Slavery is a vaid counterexample (as I said, there were “a few exceptions”, but we abolished slavery 147 years ago.
      • Conflating third degree police interrogation with torture done today is absurd. {Update: this is incorrect; see my correction in the following comment}
      • Clinton’s actions are evidence of our decline, not a rebuttal. I said that it was “occurring at an ever-accelerating rate since 2000” – not that it began in 2000.
      • I could continue, but this makes my point.

        (3) You cite one of my favorite myths from American history (one of many, since what we know as our history is largely myth):

        “Extrajudicial killing–Wanted dead or alive”

        That’s mostly a myth. There were some, realtively rare, such rewards. More frequently they are myths or exaggerations.

        Such as the carefully limited reward offered for Harry Mathews and George Ball by the Great Northern Railway in 1914.

        If any of the guilty parties are killed while resisting lawful arrest the Railroad will pay the reward upon proof that that party killed participated in the robbery and murder.

        Most often these “dead or alive” stories are myths. From the Rise and Fall of Jesse James by Robertus Love, University of Nebraska Press (1990):

        Contrary to popular tradition since 1882, Governor Crittenden had not offered a reward of $10,000 for Jesse James “dead or alive.” The official files at the state capital show that the reward proclaimed by the governor was $5,000 for the apprehension of the outlaw and $5,000 for his conviction in any court.

    6. Correction to my previous comment:

      I said: “Conflating third degree police interrogation with torture done today is absurd.” My statement is wrong in two ways.

      First, I meant to compare police “third degree” interrogation done today with torture done by our CIA and Special Ops. That’s wrong, since Zemtar was referring to police methods done in the past.

      Second, Zemtar’s comparison is a valid counterexample. Many investigatons (eg, The Wickersham Commission in 1929) proved that US police used horrific methods to extract confessions. See Torture and Democracy By Darius Rejali, Princeton University Press (2007), esp chapter 7: “Lights, heat, and sweat”. As in page 72:

      “They squeezed, twisted, and lifted men by their genitals.”

    7. I agree with you that my extrajudicial killing point was weak. Obama has really raised the bar with an affirmative acknowledgement of due process free assassination.

      However, I disagree with your other points. I take your thesis to be, “Look at all the lawless, bad acts occurring right now while people stand by and do nothing. It means that no one cares about the Constitution and the laws, and the political system has failed.”

      My point is that you are wrong in your assertion that the complained about bad acts by the government are new things or a sure sign of decline. Besides the points I previously raised, things like corporate capture of the government has always existed (see robber barons

      As opposed to your thesis, Americans are far more secure in their constitutional and due process rights today (because of the progressive movements and court decisions of the 1960s) than they were in 1790, 1850, or 1950. Moreover, far more people are enfranchised and empowered today than were “back when.” Americans also have many more avenues for the redress of grievances now. For example, if the cops beat you, you can file a 1983 lawsuit.

      The fact that normal bad acts (wars of aggression, torture, lawslessness in general) are more hotly debated now is a good thing and not a sign of decay! “Back then,” it was the duty of every Christian American to bring civilization to the savages by beating, killing, and waterboarding them. If the cops beat a confession out of somone, huzzah to them! Not to put too fine a point on it, but desegregation and Jim Crow were debatable issues only 50 years ago. No one (except maybe Mark Twain) batted an eye at the bad acts. The fact of the matter is that our culture and society have advanced in a generally a positive fashion.

      What is going on before your eyes, of course, seems scarier. I won’t deny that since Nixon our country has, in some respects, been on a conservative, reactionary course to the progress made in the 20th century, but, not to be too Hegelian, is the normal progress of history. It also seems scary because economically things are bad right now, and American power is declining relative to the rest of world. However, I don’t see that as necessarily a sign of decline of the political regime, but instead as what was bound to happen as China, Brazil, India, and other important companies get up to speed.

      I have several points in reply to your rebuttal:

      (1) I think your point about the distinction between illegal/unjust war is weak. Do you suggest that the “founders” thought it was not permissible to go to war without a formal declaration, but that it was permissible to go to war with a formal declaration based on falsified evidence and trumped up propaganda? Moreover, I would argue that the wars going on today (Iraq, Afghanistan, recently Libya, and various actions all over the world) are legal in the sense that most legal scholars, Congress, the President’s legal advisors, and likely the Supreme Court would agree that they are legal. While our interpretation of the Constitution is nice, Congress and the Courts make the law, and they say the wars are legal, as evidenced by the complete lack of any response to the President’s foreign policy initiatives. Indeed, if you polled the congress about whether Iraq and/or Afghanistan were legal, the response would be overwhelmingly in favor of “legal,” with your friend Ron Paul and his son being the only dissenters.

      You are the one conflating “legal” with “just” or “correct.” If the question is legality, then all our wars have been legal. If they were not, Congress would have impeached the President or the courts would have stepped in.

      I cite a powerful authority for this concept:

      “The “Indian Wars” occurred on US territory; however horrific, they were not illegal wars. Certainly Congress approved. For examples, the Trail of Tears was authorized by the Indian Removal Act of 1830.” What is notable is that the “Trail of Tears” occurred even though the Supreme Court ruled that Jackson was wrong.

      (2) With respect to torture, my point is that torture has been a regular occurrence in our history. The recent torture of Muslims in our war on terror is nothing new. We tortured slaves and we gave Fillipino prisoners the “water cure.”

      Moreover, your dismissal of the analogy with “third degree” police torture is without merit. Being locked away in supermax solitary for many years (which is completely permissible right now) is torture. Police regularly did things far worse than waterboarding to extract confessions.

      Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278, (1936), was a United States Supreme Court case that ruled that a defendant’s involuntary confession that is extracted by police violence cannot be entered as evidence and violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

      U.S. troops regularly tortured Vietnamese prisoners etc.

      The United States maintained a torture and death squad school.

      1. Expanding on my previous comment: you might be right about our history, but that is unrelated to my post about the deterioration of our political machinery — our regime. The regime’s strength and the morality of our actions are distinct subjects. The US regime might be solid and function well, but the government’s action can be evil or wonderful — dpending on our moral nature and many other factors.

    8. I absolutely understand your point and believe that I have provided a coherent counter-argument.

      Your point is:

      “It’s another step in the decay of our political regime — the second Republic, founded on the Constitution — occurring at an ever-accelerating rate since 2000. The ammendments in the Bill of Rights crack and fall like the withered branches of an elderly oak tree. The election system becomes a farce. Endless warfare without plan or even pretence of benefiting the nation’s interest. You can continue the list in the comments; each citizen can describing the symptoms most obvious from his perspective.”

      I am arguing that the events or bad acts you cite as signs of decay have always existed and therefore are not signs of decay.

      You talk about the bill of rights having decayed. I am arguing that you are factually wrong and that our rights are stronger now than they were 100 years ago.

      You talk about aggressive and endless war being a new phenomenon. I am arguing that you are wrong. America has been a belligerent agressor for a long time. Many of its wars have brought little to no benefit.

      You talk about elections being a farce like it is a new thing. I am telling you you are wrong. What is different about the elections today as opposed to the elections 100 years ago? You still had two people to choose from and the public was still lied to and still focused on stupid non-issues. In fact, it is better now because more people can vote and more information is available.

      The overall point is this: You complain that the Second Republic is dead because of all of these bad things. You are wrong. Those bad things have always been part of “The Second Republic.” Moreover, things are better now with respect to torture, civil rights, etc. than they were before. Heck, things are even better with respect to aggressive war, as now there is at least a legal framework (Nuremburg, United Nations Charter) within which to evaluate it.

      This is important because Fabius Maximus used to say, “what can we do to improve the system?” Now Fabius says “the system is dead and we need a new system.” I point out to you that despite the many flaws in the American system, civil and economic rights have slowly but surely improved since the founding of our country through movement politics. We are in a trough and a conservative reaction right now, but so what?

      I leave you with two quotes and a comment:

      “The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”
      —Oliver Wendell Holmes

      “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
      — MLK, Jr.

      I will make one last point, which is that you are dismissive and arrogant when you don’t agree with a comment. It is your blog, of course, and you can do what you want, but why bother with the comments if you only want affirmation of the views you already have?

      1. Your first two assertions are both deeply wrong.

        (1) “You talk about the bill of rights having decayed. I am arguing that you are factually wrong and that our rights are stronger now than they were 100 years ago.”

        Our government claims and exercises the power to indefinitely imprison and assassiate citizens — without charge, without trial, without legal review. Your statement is delusional. Other rights mean little when the government has these powers, the very essence of tyranney. Considering the trend since 9-11, we should expect the government’s powers to grow, and to be exercised more broadly and frequently. As President Obama has expanded and utilized the almost forgotton Espinoage Act of 1917.

        (2) “You talk about aggressive and endless war being a new phenomenon.”

        I said nothing remotely like that. Also, that assertion is irrelevant to my post. As I have explained to the previous times you said this. I have no idea why you continue to repeat it.

        I lost interest after that paragraph.

  12. There is plenty of precedent in the history of the human race . It might be more illuminating to look at any societies through the history of the world that didnt do these things.

  13. I think you may be wrong this time, when you say that the solution is not beyond our grasp. For a clear perspective from a historian who has made a life tudy of the ills that beset us, I recommend this brief article, and then a read of the works of the subject of the interview.

    Why the American Empire Was Destined to Collapse“, Alternet, 7 March 2012 — “Author and social critic Morris Berman says the fact that we’re a nation of hustlers lies at the root of our decline.”

  14. You are a good observer, but I think you are a little wrong on your thought that there is still time to reverse. Here’s a little different take on the saga of our decline. I commend the interview, as wekk as some works by Berman

    Why the American Empire Was Destined to Collapse“, Alternet, 7 March 2012 — “Author and social critic Morris Berman says the fact that we’re a nation of hustlers lies at the root of our decline.”

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