Summary: Our heroes reveal who we are. Under economic stress not seen since the Depression, we display the same powerlessness — and revert to the same heroes.
In some ways we are back to conditions like the Depression era. High unemployment. High school graduates entering a crowded job market with little hope for most. College graduates entering with massive debts Income inequality back to levels of the Gilded Age, and still rising. Many boomers approaching retirement with few savings and only social security — facing the prospect of cat food for dinner. Corporations boosting profits by firing employees and cutting their pensions.
One aspect of our response is the same: we acknowledge our powerlessness and passivity — our lack of agency — by our choice of heroes. Just as we did in the Depression. We hope for some of the rich to save us, since we cannot do so ourselves. Such as Green Arrow and Batman — billionaire Jesus figures who sacrifice themselves for the peons. And actual gods like Superman and Thor.
Meanwhile in the real world we remain sheep. Our leaders distract our attention from domestic problems with one of the oldest tricks — bogus foreign foes.
- Iraq’s primitive military (their air force lasted minutes in the first Gulf War) becomes an immanent threat to America’s security with its non-existent WMDs and delivery systems.
- China, emerging from the Third World, becomes a serious threat to our military (US and its allies are roughly 3/4 of world military spending).
- China, relying mostly on copycat technology, becomes a serious threat to the lavishly funded electronic systems of the world’s technology leader.
- Primitive North Korea frequently sends our geopolitical experts into a tizzy (as in their recent bout of hysteria, until the Boston bombing gave them new fodder for foolishness).
The government lies about foreign threats, from Tonkin Gulf to Obama’s drone wars (“no civilian deaths“). We always believe their next warnings of our dire peril.
Meanwhile America’s economy evolves to destroy the middle class, the political system fails to respond, and we do nothing. We appear incapable of learning from our experiences.
Now for the bad news
19th Century America was a horror show. Much of the wealth of the antebellum era was created by slaves (then America’s largest capital asset, other than land). Much of the wealth generation of the postbellum 19th Century came from disenfranchised Black Americans and land stolen from Native Americans — boosted by wages kept low by private and public force crushing workers.
When we think of America as a City on a Hill we usually refer to the civil rights revolution, the victory over Fascism, and the creation of a middle class. The first was a century late. The US and UK share second place in WW2 win (Russians did most of the fighting and dying). The third is the genuine article, an accomplishment with few historical precedents.
It was an accident. We fought to achieve American independence and end slavery. But by 1929 our elites had successfully domesticated populism (exhibit #1: Woodrow Wilson), crushed communism (e.g, Palmer Raids), and beat down the unions. Until the Great Depression and success of fascism terrified our ruling elites.
The middle class was a side-effect of the WW2 mobilization and the use of veterans benefits to kickstart the post-war economy. But our elites had regrouped by the mid-1960s, and resumed their work to domesticate the American people. Five decades of well-funded, skillful programs have reset America back to its base course towards oligarchy.
Now the last stages of the game have begun. Probably you — certainly your children — will see the shape of New America. It’s up to us. There are no superheroes to save us.
For More Information
- A philosophical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
- Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009 – The Law of Equivalent Exchange
- The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes, 12 November 2010
- Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit, 12 March 2011
- We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America., 11 January 2013
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