As he named these countries, I noticed that almost all of them were European nations. Some of the names surprised me, particularly Great Britain. I had to ask myself whether Britain had ever been "normal." It is true that over the last 100 years or so, Britain went from a globe-spanning empire to a political entity ostensibly and nominally centered on one island nation. But there is plenty of evidence that the aristocrats and politicians of Britain bitterly resented every step of the journey from "empire" to "normal," and that they fought against it at every turn (and are still fighting). It also seems obvious to me that Britain is living vicariously through the exploits of the United States, and that its status as one of the "Five Eyes" is the vehicle of its vicarious life, and that if Britain could once again make itself the center of an empire, it most certainly would. I also thought of the resurgence of an almost fascist nationalism in many European countries, fueled and financed by American and British government agencies and NGO's (some of them religious) with deep pockets. The result of that resurgence is the emergence of several nations who desperately want to believe that they are All That And A Bag Of Chips, and the creation of a climate in which, sooner or later, they'll get around to trying to smash each other's chips as they have throughout most of their history. Indeed, some have already been hard at work at it. (Talk about the outworkings of damnation!)
I thought of what a "normal" nation would look like, and the first word that came to mind was "humble." I thought of the ingredients that seem to be required in most cases to bring a nation to humility. One hugely necessary (but, unfortunately, not sufficient) ingredient seems to be suffering. That made me think of Germany in the decades immediately after World War Two, and the periphery nations (Spain, Portugal, Greece, and, to an extent, Italy) who are being squeezed by the power center of the EU right now. I also thought of the many nations on earth whose history is not grandiose, people who have accomplished very little more than "being quiet, and working with their own hands, and minding their own business." (Maybe they knew something the more grandiose nations missed?)
And that led me back again to considering the Big Kahuna, the United States of America, as I asked myself, "Can the United States actually make the journey from empire to 'normal' without cracking up like a drug-crazed perp flailing around on the ground and needing to be physically restrained?" I thought of another podcast I heard this past week in which Professor Ama Mazama, a Black homeschooler who is also a university dean described the harmful effects which an Anglo-centric school curriculum has, not only on minority students and students of color, but also on the students of the majority culture. For such a curriculum wrongly inflates such students' views of themselves and their culture, and prevents such students from understanding the true place of themselves and their nation in the world, as it hinders them from preparing for the inevitable emergence of a multipolar world in which bullying and throwing one's weight around simply will not work.
That is the curriculum by which generations of Americans have been brainwashed, and, together with American mainstream media, it has created a kind of American "citizen" who is peculiarly unable to comprehend present realities. This "citizen" therefore is still conditioned to look at the world in the same way that a cowboy of the late 1800's would have looked at an unconquered wilderness. And this is the reason why the dominant culture in the United States can't seem to get along with anyone else in the world. Nor can it adjust to the obvious signs that it is losing its empire. One of those signs is that because of the current crash in commodity prices, it is no longer economically viable to station U.S. troops in resource-rich regions of the world. An empire whose armies cost more to station in faraway places than the empire can "earn" from those faraway places will, sooner instead of later, lose its claim on those faraway places. There are many other signs, but I don't have time this week to go into them.
Returning to the blogger whom I quoted at the beginning of this post, I was struck by a question he asked: "When is the last time the United States showed leadership in anything? I don't mean bullied somebody to applaud or agree with the United States. I don't mean this. I mean actual LEADERSHIP. Where you don't force people, you actually inspire them and you make it possible for them to do something. To get something done." If we're going to ask about leadership, let's ask where the world ought to be led. The world that is emerging is a world in which the natural resources and raw materials needed for the kind of global industrial economy we have enjoyed are in short supply. Rather than wrapping ourselves in ever more consumerist junk as a display of "status," the task will be to learn to live well on less. That will be the material part of a higher task, namely, to learn what we were brought into the world for. The outcome of that kind of wisdom is that we learn how to properly relate to one another as fellow human beings, and not as one group of people trying to turn other groups of people into property or into toilet bowls into which the first group of people can vomit their unresolved hostility.
The thing is, the United States has had repeated opportunities to demonstrate that kind of actual leadership, and has blown them all. One recent chance for genuine leadership came with the publishing in 2009 of a "National Strategic Narrative," a policy document which advocated a shift of U.S. international policy along the following lines (sourced from Wikipedia):
- From control in a closed system to credible influence in an open system
- From containment to sustainment
- From deterrence and defense to civilian engagement and competition
- From zero sum to positive sum global politics/economics
- From national security to national prosperity and security
In the United States, however, instead of wisdom, we have a society containing many members who are in mortal terror of the world that is now emerging. They are reacting to the terror by choosing for their leaders a cadre of extraordinarily creepy characters, with Gollum's half brother being a chief among them. Thus they have become a terror to the rest of us.