“The most consequential of all human decisions: Choosing to embrace either Fear, Lack & Limit or Love, Abundance & Opportunity. One option is to compete, the other to collaborate. This single decision determines the course of one’s life and the destiny of one’s society”
America was seen for a time, as a beacon on a hill. A mythological place where anything was possible. If you had a dream and were willing to work, you could make something of yourself. America never lived up to that aspiring vision, but in an often violent and sometimes unforgiving world, a world where might rules, America offered hope.
Hope opens the door to opportunity. Opportunity leads to prosperity when people are willing to move past ego and together do what needs to be done. Americans, relying on the promise and potential of liberty maintained by the rule of law, strived to improve, strived to achieve, and strived to make the most of themselves. Americans brought a magnificent dream to life. And yet, we have nearly squandered it all.
The answer to my deliberately provocative question: “Are Americans really this stupid?” is yes and no.
Consider the oft-cited definition of insanity: ‘Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.’ While we aspire to opportunity and prosperity by means of self-governance, we Americans keep screwing up. We keep making the same mistakes again and again. When will we learn? Can we learn?
It is not that Americans are stupid in the sense that we do not have the capacity or capability to make sense of reality, recognize a mutually beneficial path and do the right thing. Rather it is that we lack the will to see clearly, to think reasonably and to act rationally for a greater benefit. We instead see an opportunity for advantage now; a chance to get ours; the prospect to win in the moment and we seize it. Good for now. Not so good for what comes next.
We deliberately choose an every-man-for-himself, survival-of-the-fittest path and mistakenly expect that path will lead to prosperity. Every-man-for-himself always results in pain and suffering. This is the way things are. But is it the way things have to be?
Something else is afoot; something bigger than us as individuals. We are in the chaos and crisis phase of our natural 80-year social cycle, the creative-destruction phase. Individuals are being moved. The great sweep of society is experiencing a plot twist. Caught unaware and off-guard we never saw the plot twist coming. America is dying. This fading seems to be the next step in the natural cycle. However, if we play our cards right, rather than destruction leading to generations of despair we can usher in a rebirth to even greater achievement.
The crisis is an opportunity to change course, an opportunity to awaken from a self-destructive path.
In the chaos and crisis phase of the social cycle our natural human capacities for fear and greed, and our natural tendency to conserve energy – our seemingly inexhaustible, sometimes obsessively compulsive attempt to get something for nothing – express themselves most fervently. We collectively suffer under a cloud of delusion. It is as if most of us have drunk an elixir putting us in a trance or under a spell. A self-serving, delusional, self-righteous virus has taken hold. Completely unable to see beyond our immediate selves, we suffer the “zombie apocalypse.” People scramble about anxiously trying to find brains.
We did not get here over night. The state of nature is to compete. Human beings have been competing, violently, for millennia. Somehow however, we came to see an advantage in cooperating and collaborating rather than competing and killing, and civil society began. Yet civil society, like all things in nature, ebbs and flows in cycles.
A contemporary social cycle begins with people recognizing the advantage of cooperating and collaborating and pulling together. Over time however, people find the conformity of community restrictive. Individuals begin to break out to discover and express themselves. Once on their own, and gaining confidence, people instinctively begin to compete against one another. Eventually friendly competition devolves into every-man-for-himself, back to the fundamentals of nature, which always culminates in a crisis. The social cycle is as regular and predictable as seasons.
Chaos and crisis is creative destruction; the death of self-serving competition. The end can be slow, painful and ultimately damaging or, if the people embrace the opportunity, can lead to a rebirth, a resurgence of community. Where the cycle begins again. It is a magnificent ride, except when we are immersed in the turmoil of chaos and crisis. Then it seems like the end of the world.
The social cycle advances methodically and predictably. As people move from the “pulling together” phase of the social cycle into the awakening phase some naturally compete better than others. Cunning competitors divide and conquer, misdirect and play to others’ fears and weaknesses. Over time cunning and clever competitors concentrate political, social and economic power in the hands of a few. The few live like kings, the many, like peasants or slaves.
The powerless – the men and women who feel they have lost – get squeezed into a corner. In the chaos and crisis phase of the social cycle people, sensing they have no attractive options, fall back to the seminal law of the jungle: kill or be killed; us against the world; survival of the fittest. Collectively the attitude becomes: Truth be damned. “Reality is what I say it is; whatever is good for me.” As competition usurps civility, society’s prospects dim.
Americans are not incapable of seeing the truth or seeing a better way. We are just willfully ignorant. Painfully the social cycle exists to make us see the light. If you think I am employing hyperbole, consider the state of these United States.
Fear, hate, violence, lies and deceit, a deadly pandemic; the United States Capitol ransacked by Americans; democracy under siege. Welcome to the United States in 2021.
As the year began a new political administration rightly called for civility; unfortunately, civility, while a good start, is not enough. The unvarnished truth about the state of these United States is that we have dug ourselves a deep hole and we are still digging.
All great empires come to an end. The American empire is no different. Most people however, are surprised at how quickly this empire is collapsing. The American empire, while aided by unsympathetic competitive outside forces, is dying ultimately by way of suicide no less. This is the reality we face. This is where chaos and crisis dictate we be.
Is this really the end of America?
These are dark days in the United States of America; not brought on by an outside power or a foreign invader. No, rather we are experiencing rot from within; an assault on truth; fear and hate on a national scale. We are taking ourselves down. And we cannot seem to recognize this reality. That is the culmination phase of the social cycle manifesting in real time.
Life advances through cycles; like seasons. Life blooms, grows, matures, declines and dies. And so too do societies. The United States of America is dying. But death is not the end. The United States can be born again. Americans, if we have the will, can find a way.
It is possible to advance boldly together, united in purpose to make the most of ourselves. But to progress we must make some changes – we must ultimately change. We must put an end to our fear and hate ways and embrace enduring timeless principles. This need not be the end of America. It is up to Americans to decide.
Ultimately this transition is not about changing the world out there. Trying to control circumstances and people is what got us into this mess in the first place. This transition, this transformation is about fundamentally changing ourselves. When we change ourselves our politics and our economics change as well. We can begin anew.
Before I go on, you may be sifting for political party bias. So, I want to be clear. The foundation of our economic and social problems is not political. Our problem is inherently and fundamentally spiritual. If you are one of the many people who reject out of hand, some quite automatically, any notion of spiritual redemption or spiritual alignment, I say to you – the spiritual is inherently and fundamentally practical. Spiritual is not other-dimensional, divorced from this reality or the pragmatic challenges of everyday life. The spiritual determines how we progress through the physical. Please bear with me.
The task at hand, the challenge ahead is not fundamentally political, economic or social – the challenge is fundamentally spiritual.
What we see as a power struggle – a struggle for political power, wealth and money; control over the world out there – is actually a power struggle for personal power; control of the world in here, within each of us. We, most of us, keep focusing on the wrong thing. Because we misplace our focus, we keep making the same mistakes. Conquering the world – the environment, circumstances and people – is not the way to harmony and prosperity; making the most of ourselves is.
What we see as an attempt to conquer the world out there is the manifestation of our failure to conquer the world in here; within ourselves. This is ultimately and fundamentally where we always go wrong.
Political, economic and social turmoil are what we experience when we fail to master ourselves. We lose our way. What we see in the failings of the system are failings of our focus. We end up fighting over scraps out there, when in truth we can have it all if we would just orient ourselves properly, get ourselves right – our attitude, our understanding and our focus.
Reality would be quite different if we would focus on and accept the truth: We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. It is not “us against the world.” We have the opportunity to explore and experience, learn and grow, create and contribute together, to express more life.
Unfortunately, we often lose our way. Seemingly lost and alone in what we perceive to be a dangerous world we seek power. We seek to control the world out there. We mistakenly put power over principle – over truth – and the trouble begins.
Here in the United States, I believe both political parties, both political parties Republican and Democrat are tools used by the few to take from the many. The political parties are instruments used to compete; power instruments used to conquer and control others. The game – the game of politics – is power: control over the world out there, control of other people. In this game there always appear to be few winners and many losers. Ultimately, played this way – for external power – politics is a losing game.
Power corrupts. And due to the corrosive nature of power, the powerful always succumb and abuse power.
The answer to the second deliberately provocative question: “Are politicians really this inept?” is also yes and no.
Politicians are human beings overcome by the weight and conditions of this physical reality. Somewhere along their journey they embrace a mission to compete for power. What the people see as incompetence and corruption is politicians playing a game with few rules and one objective: to seize and secure power. How that objective is achieved is of little consequence for men and women seeking to win.
Politicians are hired by a few to consolidate power for those few. American politicians have proven to be masters of the game. As most Americans are not benefitting from politicians’ work, most Americans consider politicians inept. This is by design. Politicians take from the many to enrich the few. Determining whether politicians are inept depends on where you stand. If you are among the few, politicians are extremely capable; some might say ‘stable geniuses.’ If you are among the many, politicians are corrupt and inept.
In a democratic republic where, in theory, the power rests with the people, my bias is toward the people. It is us, we the people who let this abuse happen.
Delusions, fear and hate dominate American politics. Through ignorance and a misguided self-serving tendency we have cast a once great nation, an aspirational nation, a nation founded on inspiring ideals, into a dismal state.
We Americans love to wrap ourselves in the flag and say how great we are. ‘We are number one.’ I think it is time you recognize we are not number one in any category anyone should aspire to be number one in.
The corona virus debacle and an attack on democracy perpetrated by a sitting president, a political party of enablers and a hateful mob speak for themselves. Now beyond the obvious…
We have accumulated more debt than any nation in human history. We are racing toward thirty trillion, that is trillion with a “T”, dollars of federal debt. Debt is a tax on the future; play now – pay later.
I know, we Americans say, ‘It is not a tax we will have to pay – it’s on our kids and grandkids. Too bad for them.’
To understand how fast we are accelerating to greatness, consider that the 2017-2021 Trump administration, in four years, accumulated more debt faster than any previous administration in U.S. history. You have to love those conservative, fiscally responsible Republicans. Democrats never claimed to be fiscally responsible, so the debt orgy continues as the Biden administration seeks to break Trump’s record. Add state and local government debt and pile on an additional five-plus trillion dollars.
But wait you say, that thirty-five-plus trillion and counting is government debt, “That doesn’t matter.” Our personal debt, things like credit cards, auto-loans and student loans, amount to another sixteen trillion. And I have not even mentioned corporate and financial debt and unfunded obligations. Debt is a ball and chain. Play now, pay later. ‘America is number one.’
Finance: what once was a supporting component of the economy – enabling the real economy: infrastructure, transportation, communication, energy, manufacturing and so on; finance now comprises one fifth of the U.S. economy. And finance is a closed system. We print money as fast as we possibly can to further enrich the few. Thousands of people dying every day from Covid-19 and the stock market surges higher. Insurrection and the stock market surges higher. ‘We are doing great.’
We are running a trade deficit in excess of eight hundred billion dollars a year. Print more money, get more stuff.
While the government reports unemployment hovering near six percent we now have more than one hundred million able-bodied American adults sitting on the sidelines outside the labor force.
The government tells us annual inflation is near one percent. The real inflation rate, for things you actually need and buy, exceeds ten percent.
We have forty-five million American families on food stamps.
Two out of three American adults are overweight or obese.
One in three American adults are addicted to poisons: cigarettes, drugs and alcohol.
We use more drugs in America for everything from recreation to weight loss to stress relief to actually treating disease than any other country.
Our health system represents close to twenty percent of GDP. On a per capita basis we spend more than every other developed nation in the world by a wide margin. And except in a few areas we get terrible results. Our healthcare system itself, in a normal non-pandemic year, is the third leading cause of death in America.
Life expectancy is on a downward trajectory. Suicides and deaths of despair are growing at alarming rates. ‘We’re number one.’
Right now the United States has more than two million three hundred thousand men, women and children behind bars. The United States has assembled nearly one quarter of all imprisoned human beings on the planet.
On a Freedom Index ranking all countries based on such factors as rule of law, security, rights, sound money and so on, the United States does not even break the top fifteen. ‘We are doing great.’
Recently Transparency International a global coalition against corruption ranked the United States as twenty-third. In the neighborhood of Bhutan and Chile. More corrupt than the United Arab Emirates. And we are sinking in those rankings fast.
If that is not enough, now the big one:
Healthy, productive, prosperous relationships, communities and societies are built on a foundation of trust. With an assault on truth, the United States, at home and abroad, ranks among the least trusted and trustworthy of all major nations in the world. Less trustworthy than China, India, and Saudi Arabia by a wide margin and even Argentina. We are rolling in the muck with such stalwarts of trust and integrity as Russia.
Plato once observed, “Whatever deceives men seems to produce a magical enchantment.” America is certainly enchanted as it is greatly deceived.
Thirty years ago I read a prediction that the United States would stand alone as a pariah nation on the world stage. I did not believe it, but now here we are. Welcome to America in 2021.
We, these United States are in a mess, a mess. The state of our union is precarious at best.
Americans fundamentally misunderstand politics. Unless we carefully guard against human nature, politics always becomes a game of taking from the many to enrich the few.
Awash in lies the many are easily deceived and pitted against one another. Divide and conquer is the political strategy. Fear and hate are the political weapons.
Knowing we love to play the victim, politicians, masters of misdirection, spin people up over hot-button social and economic issues: immigrants, guns, abortion, race, taxes, while the few consolidate wealth and power. It is working great. Every man for himself. People gladly jump on the fear and hate, victim bandwagon. It gives them someone to blame.
I will tell you who is to blame: us, we Americans. There it is. There is the unvarnished truth.
The decline of these United States is accelerating because of us – because we the people refuse to see what is happening right before our eyes. Instead of facing the fact that succeeding is up to us – all of us together – we play the victim and run from responsibility.
We forfeit our power. We give it away. Because the responsibility of power is too great for most of us to bear. We give power to the bold and the cunning so we do not have to be responsible – we can blame someone else.
We are not making America great again.
So, let us figure out first, what is going on. And then let us get to the truth. If we cannot deal with the truth, then we deserve whatever we get.
Chapter one coming on Monday. Enjoy the weekend!
Scott F. Paradis