Complacency and the Fall of America
“Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance (natura-liter maiorennes), nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me.” ~Immanuel Kant
Can the spark of passion from the recent upheaval in Egypt and the Middle East spread to the United States? Are Facebook and Twitter enough to rally the masses in America? Lucky for the American elite, revolution is not likely in a country so full of apathy, complacency, and addiction. Yet something must change in America before it crumbles like so many morally vacuous empires have before. This nation is now controlled by greed, prestige, power, and false beauty (Editors, the Economist, 2011). “The top 1% now controls 25% of our wealth” (Editors, the Economist, 2011). Is the greed of the top 1% in America any different from the greed of Mubarak? The United States is teetering on the brink of social collapse, but Americans have become too complacent to notice or care.
Greed is God
“The mother of excess is not joy but joylessness.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
“Greed is an addiction. There is no logic, only the creed that “more is better.” Anything they have to do to put this in place is the only considerat-ion. When you think that the so-called bonuses are nothing more than contrivanc-es to legally steal; it’s no wonder this huge mess has been created. This is the benefit of deregulati-on, and what it has sponsored. Leave it to the banks, and investors to watch what’s going on. it’s the old “fox has the key to the hen house,” adage in full swing. If it takes a moral conscience to put things right, who knows when and if it’ll ever happen. Hopefully there’ll be some divine interventi-on, because it’s so far off the hook, it seems irretrieva-ble. What a world!” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mac33z/capitalism-and-moral-sent_b_177637_22191854.html
In America, it seems the poor are convinced that the “American Dream” is available for all people, that great riches can be theirs with the purchase of a lottery ticket, and that wealth comes from the right idea or the next “get rich quick” scheme rather than hard work.
But the reality for 99% of Americans is that wealth — even middle class wealth — is moving further and further out of reach as government, big business, and banking join hands. Greed has become not only good but Godly, and the effects on the country as a whole are startling; in fact, “much of the country’s population [is] living in conditions that are closer to the ‘Third World’ than to the ‘American Dream’ (Martin, 2008). A comprehensive report conducted on the conditions in America in 2005 (even before the onset of the current economic crisis), found that: “in terms of the human development index, the United States has fallen from second place in 1990 (behind Canada) to 12th place” (Martin, 2008). In addition, America has an infant mortality rate comparable to Cuba and Croatia, a 14% illiteracy rate, a 15% poverty rate among children (the highest of the 30 wealthiest nations), poor school performance compared to other advanced nations like Canada and Japan, ranks 42nd in overall life expectancy (considered the result of obesity and inadequate healthcare for the poor), and houses 24% of the entire world’s prisoners (Martin, 2008). Moreover, that 2005 study found that: “The top one percent of households possesses at least one third of the national wealth, while the bottom 60% possess just 4% of the total” (Martin, 2008). The middle class is rapidly disappearing.
Complacency and Killers
In addition to the aforementioned statistics reflecting America’s steady decline and social decay, the 2005 study found that two of the top 15 leading causes of death in the U.S. are homicide and suicide (Martin, 2008). Even worse, killers are growing younger and more devoid of conscience. One author lists just four examples of the most gruesome crimes in recent years, all committed by adolescents under the age of 18, and all within the month of June 1997:
“A New Jersey teenager, Melissa Drexler, stepped into the bathroom during the high school prom and delivered her baby by herself which she left for dead in a trash bin. She then went back to her table, ate a salad and then returned to the dance floor. After the bloody stall and dead baby were discovered, she was approached while in the process of making a song request to the disc jockey. She later pleaded guilty.
Malcolm X’s 12-year-old grandson set fire to the Yonkers, New York, apartment of his distinguished grandmother, Betty Shabazz, where she was burned over 80% of her body. She lingered for days until she died. It was believed that his only intent was to create a situation where his grandmother would be so upset with him that she would let him move back with his mother, from whose home he’d been removed for neglect. He eventually pleaded guilty.
Jonathan Levin, a very popular young New York City public school teacher and son of Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, was allegedly tortured and then shot fatally in the head by a teenage former Student who wanted Levin’s ATM card and password. The former student was found guilty.
A 15-year-old daughter of a millionaire businessman and her friend sat drinking one night in Central Park in New York City. In the evening, it’s a secluded, dangerous area of paths and clearings where frequently estranged youths are curiously drawn to the shadowy world of drunks and vagrants who congregate there. The girl and her friend shared some beers with an older man, then slit his throat, stabbed him fifty times, hacked off parts and tried to gut him before cleaning out his wallet and dumping him in the lake. She pleaded guilty and her accomplice was found guilty after trial.” (Elikann, 1999, p. 3)
These examples reflect a growing moral numbness in America, an alienation from conscience, a culture where violence and sociopathy have become as good at selling video games, television, and movies as sex.
The Decay of the Family
Statistics on the state of family life in America are just as disturbing, reflecting generations of children growing up “deprived not just of resources, but of hope and nurture, of principles and values” (Kemp, 1995). In 1970, only one in 10 children were born into a single-parent household; today, that figure has skyrocketed to one in three (Kemp, 1995). Moreover, single-parent households have a poverty rate nearly 50% higher than two-parent homes, and 70% of juvenile offenders grew up in a home without a father figure (Kemp, 1995).
Let Them Eat Cake: Quick Fixes
Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism. ~Carl Jung
So why have Americans become so complacent? Why is the nation decaying from its core and no one seems to notice? The answer may lie in addiction. Today, it seems everyone is addicted to something: food, alcohol, drugs, coffee, sex, shopping, credit cards, religion, pornography, television, exercise, supplements, chaos, sports, gambling, beauty, plastic surgery, social popularity, celebrity gossip, Prozac, social media, the Internet, gaming, work. This sense of “entitlement to addiction” is really an “entitlement to apathy.” How can people get really angry about the state of affairs if they have a “Coke and a Smile” around every corner? Anyone can stroll into their doctor’s office and get a prescription for the latest anti-depressant as long as they know the right “passwords,” and one of the side-effects of anti-depressant medications is “numbness” (Rose, 2009). Needing a “fix” in order to get through the day is now considered normal; people who don’t drink coffee or eat junk food are often ridiculed by coworkers for being “health nuts” (Boghosian Arden, 2003). Americans are not supposed to feel negative emotions, they are a sign of weakness and the hallmark of a “loser.” So instead, Americans numb their true feelings and walk around with plastic smiles and plastic relationships. But this denial of negative emotion is tragic, not only because it causes the apathy that is destroying the moral fiber of society, but also because: “The emotions of pain, anger, and fear arise to tell us to pay attention. They come to us as friends, to pull our hand away from the flame. In heeding rather than repressing them, we can let them go, and also let go of our addictions” (Rose, 2009).
Another addiction plaguing America is an addiction to laziness — to taking the “easy way out.” This means commitments — to a marriage, family, job, city, religion, morality, doing the right thing — go down the tubes. And many spiritual leaders would argue that a life without commitments is a life without meaning. So what do Americans do to fill that void? They take on another addiction — which leaves them feeling even emptier — and the vicious cycle begins. Some activists even claim the result of living in such a morally-vacuous, alienating, consumer-driven culture is an entire nation suffering from “a collective wounding” (Shaw, 2008). Author Chellis Glendinning wrote in 1994 that our primary needs are “those we were born to have satisfied: nourishment, love, meaning, purpose and spirit. When they are not met, we turn to the ‘secondary’ sources, which include ‘drugs, violence, sex, material possessions and machines.’ Eventually we become obsessed with the secondary sources ‘as if our lives depended on them.'” (Shaw, 2008)
Behind the Mask
“Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without feminine upheaval. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex, the ugly ones included.” ~Karl Marx
“Deception, flattering, lying, deluding, talking behind the back, putting up a false front, living in borrowed splendor, wearing a mask, hiding behind convention, playing a role for others and for oneself — in short, a continuous fluttering around the solitary flame of vanity — is so much the rule and the law among men that there is almost nothing which is less comprehensible than how an honest and pure drive for truth could have arisen among them.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
Among women today, there is very little distinction between beauty and self-worth. Even men are becoming increasingly concerned about their looks, with more and more men turning to plastic surgery and eating disorders (Boghosian Arden, 2003). The media teaches Americans to worship beauty as power, no matter the price and no matter how artificial the final product may be (Anelauskas, 1999). Among Americans, it is normal, acceptable, and in some circles encouraged to hide behind a mask of: make-up, trendy clothing, trendy hair, fake hair, fake body parts, fake teeth, fake tans, a fake physique from liposuction or an eating disorder, fake nails, a fake smile, fake concern, fake morality, fake happy marriages, fake happy families, fake happy jobs, and even fake friendships. Today, children grow up in the culture of Facebook and Twitter, cell phones and texting, where the “most popular wins” and that popularity has nothing to do with genuine friendship or genuinely virtuous personality traits. People have become commodified like everything else, and use one another as stepping stones to social power (Twitchell, 2002; Goff & Fleisher III, 1999). As one author remarked, Americans “are living in a time of intense extropersonal relationships, in which the focus on things, on people as things, on relationships as things, defines modern meanings” (Twitchell, 2002). Even “romantic” relationships are defined in terms of economics: Is she worth the trouble? Is it worth investing in this relationship? Is he/she “a keeper”? What am I getting out of this? What have you done for me lately? (Twitchell, 2002).
The Fall of the Super-Empire
“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” ~Karl Marx
“As I have looked back across the ruins and landmarks of antiquity, I have been stunned by the parallels between those societies and our own. For most of us the destruction of Carthage, the rise of the Greek city-states, and the Fall of Rome are mere ghosts of the past, history lessons long forgotten. And such things as the capture of Constantinople, the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the collapse of the kingdoms of France and Spain, and the slow withering decline of the British Empire are much less clear and less memorable. Most of us do not remember much from our history lessons about the French Enlightenment or, for that matter, the issues that led to the American Revolution. But this is the legitimate background of our own place in history, it is vital that we reconsider the nature of life in those earlier times. For within those eras and movements are the seeds of the troubles we face today.” ~Jim Nelson Black (Anderson, 2002)
Is America really headed for an apocalypse? Wild stories abound about the world ending in 2012, about a vast conspiracy among the most elite to wipe out the crowding masses in a “great culling,” about the powerful being saved and the poor perishing. While it’s likely the downfall of America won’t be that sudden and dramatic, it is clear that something dramatic must be done soon to change the course of history from repeating itself yet again.
Experts claim the fall of a nation occurs for many reasons, many of which are occurring in the United States right now (Anderson, 2002). These include moral decay, social decay, and cultural decay (Anderson, 2002).
As for cultural decay, the great civilizations of history have arisen out of “cults,” of religions that lead to a cohesive culture (Anderson, 2002), and America is no exception. Anyone who’s travelled across the country knows that there was a church on every block before there was a McDonald’s or Starbucks. As the historian Will Durant said: “There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion” (Anderson, 2002). Yet today, more and more children are growing up in households without any spiritual guidance or belief system to rely upon (Anelauskas, 1999). The stability of a nation, like the stability of a family, depends upon “discipline and custom” (Anderson, 2002). In additon, cultural decay is evinced by a decline in education, cultural foundations, and traditions, accompanied by a rise in materialism (Anderson, 2002).
Social decay is said to be marked by lawlessness, economic immorality, and “rising bureaucracy” (Anderson, 2002). Art loses meaning, adolescents and the elderly are degraded, criticism of all aspects of society is rampant and leads to a general attitude of disrespect (Boghosian Arden, 2003). In just one example from history, Carthage — once considered a rival of Rome — fell to the Romans after sinking into “debauchery and dissipation as a result of great wealth and luxury” (Anderson, 2002). And Rome followed suit, worshipping lust and gluttony as Americans today worship pornography and “super size fries.” As the Roman poet Livy noted before the fall of Rome: “greed and self-indulgence led Romans to dangerous excesses. He said, “For it is true that when men had fewer possessions, they were also modest in their desires. Lately riches have brought avarice and abundant pleasures, and the desire to carry luxury and lust to the point of ruin and universal perdition” (Anderson, 2002).
Therefore, social decay naturally leads to moral decay — the last hallmark of a declining society. Moral decay is not just a loss of morality, it also involves the degradation and devaluation of human life (Anderson, 2002). One historian has noted the parallel between America and Rome in terms of birth control practices: “contraception, abortion, and exposure were common ways to prevent childbirth in Rome. Husbands refused to recognize any child they did not believe to be their own” (Anderson, 2002). Even infanticide became common as children were seen as disposable (Anderson, 2002).
In Greece, as in Rome, as in America today, moral decay could be seen in the arts and sexual practices: “entertainment grew bawdier and more bizarre. Orgies and love feasts were commonâ€¦the music of the young people became wild and coarse. Popular entertainment was brutal and vulgar. Promiscuity, homosexuality, and drunkenness became a daily part of life. And all moral and social restraints were lost leading to greater decadence” (Anderson, 2002).
The Path to Authenticity
“All the spiritual leaders and great minds of history — including the Buddha, Christ, Socrates, and Jung — emphasized the importance of awareness. And contemporary teachers like Eckhart Tolle have made the concept more familiar to people today. However, there remains a great chasm between the desire to practice consciousness and the actual application of it. For most people, living in the present is so hard to do. Nonetheless, it is the single most essential tool of personal liberation available to us.” (Rose, 2009)
One priest noted recently in a blog that the antidote of complacency is solidarity, because solidarity opposes the sin of selfishness and inspires courage through the recognition of all human beings as “interconnected”(http://www.fatherbillsblog.com/heart/2010/09/25/index.html). He also said: “Complacency builds on the vices of greed, self-indulgence and blindness to the needs of others. And complacency’s reward is boredom.” No wonder so many Americans walk around with a look of boredom and disdain.
If America is to be saved, the law of excesses must be replaced with the law of moderation, or as Buddha put it, “the Middle Path.” And the complex and self-righteous religions of the world can distill their message down to the five simple laws of respect (also from Buddha): “Respect for life (no killing), respect for others’ property (no stealing), respect for our pure nature (no sexual misconduct), respect for honesty (no lying), and respect for a clear mind (no intoxicants).”
Conclusion: Is a “Spiritual Revolution” Possible?
“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” ~Karl Marx
America may have a long road ahead of her, but there is still hope. This nation started out on the right foot and she can get her footing back, but only if Americans wake up from their complacent stupor and begin to take a stand. That means replacing addictions and false fronts with honest emotional ups and downs, recognizing the evil inherent in violence and greed, putting the family in its rightful place of sacredness, and taking the Middle Path to compassion and peace.
Anderson, K. (2002). When Nations Die. Retrieved 02-20, 2011, from Leadership U: http://www.leaderu.com/common/nationsdie.html
Anelauskas, V. (1999). Discovering America as it Is. Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press.
Boghosian Arden, J. (2003). America’s Meltdown: The Lowest-Common-Denominator Society. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Editors, the Economist. (2011, 02-02). SamuelAdamssinSpirit: What the Arab Papers Say to the People of Egypt. Retrieved 02-20, 2011, from the Economist: http://www.economist.com/user/SamuelAdamsinSpirit/comments
Elikann, P. (1999). Superpredators: The Demonization of Our Children by the Law. Reading, MA: Perseus.
Goff, B., & Fleisher III, a. (1999). Spoiled Rotten: Affluence, Anxiety, and Social Decay in America. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Kant, I. (1784). What is Enlightenment? Retrieved 02-20, 2011, from http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/kant.html
Kemp, J. (1995). it’s Time for a Spiritual Renaissance. USA Today, 123 (2600), 32+.
Rose, N. (2009, 08-30). A Nation of Addicts. Retrieved 02-20, 2011, from the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/natalia-rose/a-nation-of-addicts_b_272209.html
Shaw, C. (2008, 04-11). Are You Unhappy? Is it Because of Addiction? Retrieved 02-23, 2011, from AlterNet: http://www.alternet.org/story/82013/are_you_unhappy_is_it_because_of_consumer_addiction_?page=entire
Twitchell, J. (2002). Let Them Eat Cake. The American Spectator, 35 (3), 70+.
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