America’s Inevitable, Yet Preventable, Decline

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Much has been said on the topic of America’s rise and its inevitable, although preventable, decline. But most of what has been said or written uses empirical evidence, specifically historical observations, of the rise and fall of empires, most notably the Roman Empire.

Here on TBP, the Washington Blog recently published a post, called All Empires Crash Soon After They Reach Their Peak. The post notes several common symptoms of empires on the verge of collapse:

  • The financialization of the economy, moving from manufacturing to speculation;
  • Very high levels of debt;
  • Extreme economic inequality;
  • And costly military overreaching.

These are interesting and important observations that can use a few more thoughts.  For disclosure, I’m not a scientist, nor am I a historian or empiricist; I’m a philosopher. Therefore I don’t care to make prognostications based upon observations of history, where I am most likely to arrive at only correlations. I like to search for causation by non-scientific means. I’ve provided my own thoughts in The Decline of America Part I: What Consumes the Consumers?

Philosophy does not begin with Knowing (at least not from the Rationalist view, ala Plato, and most of Eastern Philosophy, such as Taoism and Buddhism); it begins with Being; before you discover, you must uncover. It is only then that you may recover. But much of Western Philosophy is obsessed with Knowing and thus Being is covered.

With regard to the decline of America, one can easily find correlations to past empires that rose and fell spectacularly. But what is the causation? To begin with Being, consider the meta-physics, not the physics:

  • Awareness/Attention: This is the center of an individual’s Being; it is consciousness; it is spirit; it is the mind; and if there is no mind, there is only brain. When the individuals of a society lose awareness, consciousness fades and thus the society fades. As America becomes more “civilized” technology creates an environment where consciousness is less necessary to function. Compounding the reduction of awareness is the loss of attention due to constant distraction. Technology makes things easier but it also reduces the need for individuals to think, to use their minds. Therefore more technology equals less mindfulness; the society has more discretionary time but this time is consumed in such a way that it consumes the individual. As Herbert Simon said, “… in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention…”
  • Illusion: In absence of awareness, illusion thrives; and when there are many who do not recognize illusion, there are many illusionists (i.e. politicians, media, extreme religion). For example, politicians are no longer philosopher-types like Ben Franklin, finance-types like Alexander Hamilton, or working class-types like Andrew Jackson; they are now marketers and public speakers; they are illusionists. As the appetite for illusion grows, the demand for illusionists grows. To get elected, politicians must have a great marketing campaign, which costs money, which is just another form of illusion.  Andrew Jackson likely couldn’t get elected today. His appearance, demeanor and ideas would cast him as “fringe.”
  • Fragmentation: Even as the world becomes more “connected” with the Internet and social media, it becomes increasingly fragmented. There is no “oneness;” there is separation into categories. Each individual can create their own “reality” with personalized news sources, radio stations, television, and wardrobes. There is no “us” to speak of; there is only “me.”
  • Ego: Combining the previous three points, Ego thrives. People have nearly endless supply of information sources to confirm their biases and preconceived notions. I reiterate, this is creation of a reality, not the reality. Even the most popular gadgets are named in egocentric ways (e.g. iPhone, YouTube).

The primary theme here is not deterministic nor is it anti-American; we do have the capacity to save ourselves but we won’t. In the so-called free society, individuals have the ability to succeed wonderfully but there is also equal potential to fail miserably. At our fingertips we have the capacity to learn all the teachings of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Jung, Freud and Maslow. But there is no demand for depth; all is superficial; there is no Being; there is only Knowing.  There is greater demand for escaping into the self-created reality with Facebook and the ironically named “reality television.”

“Order is not the order that is imposed by society, by a culture, by environment, by compulsion or obedience.  Order is not a blueprint; it comes into being when you understand disorder, not only outside you but in yourself.  Through the negation of disorder is order.  Therefore we must look at the disorder of our life, the contradictions in ourselves, the opposing desires, saying one thing and doing, thinking another.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

In philosophical terms, individualism consumes itself. The health of the social organism is a total measure of the lower parts of the organism, which will continue to erode as awareness and attention disappear.  There is no incentive to change course. The means to escape is in high demand and thus the incentive create more means to escape persists. As Jiddu Krishnamurti taught, attention is everything. Without attention, we are not ourselves; it is where all of our energy comes from.

The Roman Empire did not decline this way. However, like all declines of nations, societies and civilizations, are preventable.


Kent Thune is the blog author of The Financial Philosopher. You can follow Kent on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.

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