When A Civilization Crumbles

Copyright © by Len Holman, 7/23/13


  When Athens came apart, there were some who saw it, knew what was going on, said something about it, but failed to prevent it.  When the Roman Empire stopped carrying and demonstrating the values of the Republic, there were some who noticed and wrote about it, but failed to prevent Roman decline into barbarism.  Much the same could be said for Paoli’s Corsican republic or the Republic of Dubrovnik.  In fact, one wonders if the people on the inside of a great civilization ever really notice the subtle hints of the End of an Age. 

  I wonder, now, if Americans are at all concerned with the state of their country.  I don’t mean the daily, hourly, ranting of politicians who spew their shallowness all across the electronic band, throwing out their mostly worthless opinions like so many treats to a herd of cats.  The cats will chew up those treats, find a tingle of taste, and forget the flavor almost immediately. Let’s go over a few things: we have the beginnings of a major shift back to states’ rights, in which the Voting rights Act has been basically gutted; states are busy jumping on the abortion bandwagon so that—no matter what the circumstances of pregnancy—few abortions will be available, and certainly not many to those women who can’t afford to go out of state; the Supreme Court has killed the Defense of Marriage Act, let California have it’s gay marriages, but in doing so, affirmed that states may restrict marriage as a state issue, if they please. 

  States seem to have no interest in federal mandates or federal guidelines or federal efforts to standardize anything, including education, healthcare, or who may walk on the street with a bag of Skittles—especially those states which are called the “Red States.”  Soon there will be Dollywood and Hollywood and the Statue of Liberty.  The best beaches and stem cell research versus the Deep South Paranoia, Liz Cheney and Michele Bachman—in short we will be a nation divided because if we put both houses of congress in a room with fifty tons of horse manure, there would be no consensus as to whether the room stunk.

  The Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently announced that it has just re-approved the mandate of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), to which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appoints all eleven members, and it has recently been announced by the ACLU that cameras are watching drivers in cars and trucks—ostensibly just the plates, but once information is obtained, who knows what will happen with it?  So if you make periodic trips to that adult bookstore, don’t be shocked if officials of the Prude Police show up at your door. 

  Our bridges are falling apart, our roads are crumbling, our cities are financially shaky (Detroit just declared bankruptcy), our transportation system is a bad example for the third world, and our “leaders” don’t lead—they pontificate, judge, offer their already-formed opinions to those who have had those same opinions ready to hand for a long time.  We are awash in a mindless swirl of factoids, false and misleading information, noise and confusion—and have no space or time to think, and have no training in critical evaluation.  The Shining City on the Hill is in disrepair and the very few who notice and proclaim it and warn about it are marginalized in a tsunami of invective and video games.  Our poor are getting poorer and our rich are getting more beach homes.  There is little, if any, regulation of our financial institutions, and the people pushing carts around the Wal-Mart parking lots have trouble feeding their babies. 

  We spend more money on defense than the next 20 countries combined, but we can’t seem to spend a few uncontested bucks on well-baby care.  Fewer doctors train to be primary care physicians because that’s not where the money is.  Legislators whine about the Affordable Care Act, but stand in line for federal funds when wildfires or floods ravage their communities.  We are about to send some “assistance” to the Syrian rebels, and who knows where that stuff (money, weapons) will end up, since the heart of the Syrian resistance is affiliated to Al-Qaeda.  We can’t get Israel and the Palestinians to talk to each other without snarling, and our influence in the world is predicated on our military might—but how long can that last? 

  We are Polyphemus grabbing at sheep as they slip past us, once secure in our size and strength, now reduced to blindly grabbing for Odysseus, and not doing a very good job of it.  It’s not that we are not rich and still powerful: we are.  It’s that we have been riding that train for a few generations and have no Socrates to point it out.  Yes, we have commentators—sophists who get paid to tell us what they think.  We have leaders who like to talk to reporters but don’t like to be questioned.  The house can be repaired, maybe even rebuilt, since the foundation is still good, but it will take acts of courage and strength and a commitment to the public weal.  Do we all have the strength and courage and will to do it before we disappear into the history books?  The hope for it is out there among us.  Are there people out there to implement it?


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