>> Friday, February 26, 2010
I read an editorial yesterday, someone arguing that Biden was right to pooh-pooh the notion that we are going the way of Rome. After all, Rome was largely agrarian, was politically unstable, and could be overrun with barbarians, whereas our mighty army could keep all horrible foes at bay. He went on about the British Empire, but let's just focus on Rome for a second.
Now, I'm not going to say we're doomed. There are plenty of people out there saying it and, though there are some pretty scary things happening, I'm not ready to throw in the towel. But, I find the notion that we're untouchably at the top just as frightening.
And the arguments they're using are a case in point. The US is not strictly agrarian. It has a great deal of industry, though that dominates far less than it once did, and other countries are picking up. However, nearly 70% of the US GDP comes from the service industry. Stop and think about that. The service industry. The service sector is the part of the economy that doesn't grow/mine/raise/use natural resources. It's the part that doesn't make things from raw materials into something else (manufacturing). It's the part that sells a service to someone else.
Don't get me wrong. Service can be good. We all need services. Banks to manage money, internets to share info, doctors to fix us, and repairmen to come fix whatever manufactured items we have in our homes. But more than two thirds? 81% of those employed are employed in the service industry. I'd like to know how that is more comforting than having an economy based on growing anything. I mean, the service industry is all about moving the things we need, things grown/mined or manufactured, to everyone who didn't grow/find/build it. When no one's making/growing/mining anything, what will those service industry folks have to move around?
As for political instability, we have a government of the people, by the people, where those "running" it give every appearance of being sold at auction to whatever greedy sector of selfishness will pay highest, no matter the effect on the people. A government where vastly unpopular things are routinely passed and things that are vastly popular languish. While once a yearly thing to reach a stalement in government over this or that potential law, the past few years have made it a daily event. True, our government is not changing hands via assassination, as ancient Rome was doing for some appreciable time, but our lawmakers are as self-absorbed and isolated from the public as they were then. And that is troubling.
As for the last bit (army too strong to be threatened), don't make me laugh. Rome had one of the finest armies ever for the time. But barbarians don't fight like the Roman armies did. They don't stand out in the open in large groups and wait to be clobbered. They sneak in in the dark of night and sabotage you. They wait for you to venture out and pick you off one by one. They convince your allies you can't be trusted and leave you isolated. They give you the scorched earth treatment as they scurry off to fight another day. The US spends more than the entire REST OF THE WORLD on defense. That's everyone else in the world, allies and potential enemies, combined. Yet we failed to accomplish our mission in Vietnam, Korea, and Afghanistan, unless the intent was to leave a country shattered in a our wake. In Iraq, we accomplished the mission of taking down Saddam. I'm sure the average Iraqi is very grateful. Documented "unnecessary" violent civilian deaths number near 100,000 while the estimates of unnecessary death go over a million.
And what does can our fabulous defense do against today's barbarians? The kind that leave roadside bombs and take out civilian markets, the kind that turn planes into weapons of mass destruction? Not a damn thing. The people of this nation are safe from armies like ours. Except, who has one? That's not what we should be worried about.
The US has had a large number of advantages - mild climate, a wealth of natural resources, and, in my opinion, our strongest advantage, a plethora of original thinkers. Per capita, there aren't many, if any, countries in history that have moved us forward as quickly as US inventors. In fact, if there's anything that frightens me most, it's the trend that schools move to rote learning to pass tests instead of challenging the minds that could be building the future of tomorrow, sending those potential minds running from engineering and science into something less insulting. If we lose our originality, stagnation may be unavoidable.
I'm not saying all this because I hate America. Far from it. There's a great deal to love here. But I want the best for this country, for my children.
So, if I tear their argument apart, why don't I think we're doomed? Because there are still thinkers here. In amongst varying degrees of inanity, there are thinkers and questioners and dreamers and skeptics. Because there are people who still know how to remind their children to think. Because information and history is still available freely in this country, more available than in any time in history. People in this country, despite a few pockets of the unmitigated greedy, are still largely generous and hard-working and honest, willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.
I don't think there are any problems here that couldn't be fixed with a little humility, hard work (which we do like nobody's business), and clear thinking. Pretending nothing's wrong isn't going to do it. Throwing up our hands in despair isn't going to do it. It's not a binary problem. It's not an either/or. It's a complex convoluted issue and we aren't going to get there by sliding all the way one direction or the other or thinking there's one answer and only one. And we sure aren't going to solve it by playing point the finger.