In his world-famous book on America’s fall from glory, Fareed Zakaria spoke of many aspects of the overall phenomenon; many other things he mentioned either barely or not at all. In a Europe overwhelmed by its own problems, we still don’t adequately appreciate the fact that problems are coming to a head more dangerously an ocean away than they are here on the old continent.
I can recall how our hopes were fixed on this land; the memory of tuning in nightly to Voice of America was an important part of my youth. There can be no doubt whatsoever that America, a country originally born in the spirit of religious separatists desiring to build the city of God in a distant land, is by its very psychological composition preeminently equipped for the struggle with “evil empires” of the Nazi or Communist sort.
To this day, a whole array of traditionalist American politicians sees the practice of politics as applied theology. The problem arises at the moment when there is no great “society of devils” in power in the world and an “axis of evil” must be diligently sought so that the war “for democracy and liberalism” can continue (The results are often remarkable: Although I would not want to live in a post-Fidel Cuba, Haiti, nominally democratic and capitalist, it would frighten me even more).
This, “our jihad,” resembles to a remarkable degree the Islamic one in which it glimpses its own Jungian shadow, one that it exceeds in many regards. The world is divided into two halves: the “right” one, where the desired condition has been achieved, and the one where it must be fought for by any means necessary. There’s not a lot of room for commentary on the “right of nations to self-determination” here. And then America is sincerely surprised that it doesn’t just have friends everywhere.
What reaction would it evoke if Saudi Arabia gave a point rating to all the countries of the world based on their adherence to Shariah law or if China were to grade them on maintaining a balance of yin and yang or Confucian principles? Now that the possibility of real outward expansion is over, the power of many societies is turning to self-destruction and America is not faring any better.
It is well known that most of our efforts turn into their opposites over the course of time, and all the more so, the harder we “push the saw.” And the pursuit of maximal liberty on the other side of the ocean has reached the state where everyone perceives everyone else as a potential enemy who might sue and destroy: Teachers fear their pupils, doctors, their patients; and things can turn out badly for anyone who makes the slightest offense against the system of unmitigated security. To compliment a female coworker on her hair style or pat someone else’s child on the head is a ticket to hell; even giving one’s own child a goodnight kiss is gradually becoming risky.
It is good to be mindful of the fact that neither Communism nor Nazism ever destroyed basic interpersonal relations so drastically. The constant imperative of “political correctness” precludes the possibility of meaningfully discussing a wide range of problems. Paradoxically, it was grafted onto legal concepts and on practices that were efficient in the pioneer days, but are anachronistic today. It is a fallacy to think that the more lawyers there are in the land, the more justice there will be.
The crisis in America, which appears to be economic, is in reality a society wide crisis. The middle class, the societal bread-winner, is disappearing like snow in the sunshine, while the domain of the imagination has exceeded all healthy limits: Marketing is everything, reality nothing. President Obama, who certainly hasn’t distinguished himself by his inauspicious beginnings, and who has made no progress toward getting out of the crisis, shows, with his receipt of the Nobel Prize “in advance,” the entire impact of dealing in hope. It is difficult not to think of Coca-Cola, a tasteless sugary solution promoted through a blurring spin-job of propagandistic fables.
For those who used to draw hope from the evening ether drifting across the ocean, it is certainly nostalgically sad, but we should rather be concerned with fending for ourselves in the post-American world.
The author is a biologist and philosopher.