The beginning of the end for the United States?
(published as a commentary on October 15, 2017
Copyright 2017 (all rights reserved)
in the San Antonio Express-News)
In 2012, Peter Diamandis published a best-seller, “Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think.” At 56, Diamandis has led an extraordinary life and brilliant career.
Citing strong evidence, he writes persuasively that the world is getting better. He posted a blog recently in which he provides more evidence, maintaining that we are living in the most exciting time to be alive.
Driving Diamandis in his writings on this subject is his observation—with which I agree—that we are constantly bombarded by negative news. “If you turn on CNN,” he writes, “(what I call the Crisis News Network), you’ll predominantly hear about death, terrorism, airplane crashes, bombings, financial crisis, and political scandal.”
The reason for this, he claims, is that we are wired to pay 10 times more attention to negative news than positive news. And, he says, it isn’t that the news media is lying. But “it’s just not a balanced view of what’s going on in the world.”
I share Diamandis’ view that our world has indeed improved technologically, economically, socially, and in many other ways in the last 200 to 500 years. According to him, we’ve seen marked decline globally of absolute poverty, child labor, infant mortality, and crime.
Additionally, literacy rates, as well as the number of years of education received by the average person, have increased. Finally, in the past 50 years, the percent of our disposable income spent on food has dropped by more than 50 percent.
But Diamandis’ positive claim in these areas is only half the picture. There’s the other side of the coin, which depicts a much different side of life—a bleak one. In these trying times, that, I think, is the world we must focus on.
That’s what I address here—the lack of civility, decency, respect, honesty, integrity, compassion—need I continue?—that seem so prevalent these days. And I speak not only of our leaders and politicians but of the common person. The average citizen—our neighbors, our employers, our fellow workers. In other words, all of us.
I ask myself, were things in the world always so? Have these human conditions existed at the same level throughout history? Or did we evolve by some process—a kind of osmosis—that has brought us to what I perceive as a decline in morality?
In trying to make sense of it all, I’ve wondered if these human traits only appear more prevalent today due to advances in technology.
The internet, for instance, brings us in touch with one another almost instantaneously, via social networks, communication tools, and world news coverage. Our means of conveying the news has changed dramatically because of satellite, fiber optics, and Ethernet communications. We not only read about terrorism, civil unrest, or riots, we view them in high definition and vivid color, often as they are happening.
Diamandis correctly states that the news media dominate the air waves with negative news at a time when there are many good things happening in the world. But, as he observes, the negative events are true, even if they may be slanted or dramatized.
Anyone who knows me, I think, wouldn’t call me a pessimist. Yet I can’t help wondering if we are witnessing the beginning of the end.
British historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee—who believed that civilizations died from suicide, not by murder—once said that “of the twenty-two civilizations that have appeared in history, nineteen of them collapsed when they reached the moral state the United States is in now.”
Toynbee said that over 40 years ago; he died in 1975.
Edward Gibbon, who died much earlier—in 1794—and who might as well have been speaking about the United States, pointed out five marks of the Roman culture’s decline: concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth; obsession with sex and sex perversions; art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original; widening disparity between the rich and the poor; increased demand to live off the state.
In his essay, “Seven Signs of a Falling Nation,” Bruce A. Ritter, maintaining that no government or society lasts forever, discusses seven factors that he claims contributed to the Roman Empire’s demise, warning signs that he believes exist today within the United States and Britain.
One of Ritter’s factors is the family unit. He states that a strong family unit or bond existed in ancient Rome but that as the years passed, it weakened.
In the United States, as well as in other countries, the family is under constant assault. “Broken marriages and fractured households,” he maintains, “are the norm.”
A few years ago, J. Richard Gott published a book, “Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe.” He wrote of a technique he developed that predicted how long something one is observing is likely to last. Gott’s theory is predicated on the premise that everything in the universe has a beginning and an end. He used his technique in 1969 to predict that the Berlin Wall was likely to last another 24 years. Twenty years later, the wall was torn down. He also determined the likely future longevity of humanity.
Based on Gott’s theory, the United States as a government and society also had a beginning and it will have an end. That got me to thinking: Will what I’ve noted here have an impact on the cause of that end? I hope not, but if there may be such an impact, possibly we can do something about it.
I want to end on a positive note. Maybe it’s high time we give this possibility serious thought. As a focal point, we should explore ways that we can bring back the family unit that, according to some experts, was so important to the development of society.
That’s easier said than done, though.
The fear I have is that we’re so wrapped up in our own daily lives that we won’t take the time to prevent the inevitable.
Is this the heavy price we must pay for the many freedoms we’ve come to enjoy in our country? I hope not.
As a buddy of mine used to say with a shrug whenever he managed to get in his two cents worth into whatever we were discussing, “just saying.”