When I see the US on the news, I feel like I'm watching it disintegrate into a third-world country. The disaster after Hurricane Katrina - that is, the human-made disaster - brought this into sharpest focus. The rampant un- and under-employment, the shrinking middle class, millions without health care, the sad joke that is public education, the continued consolidation of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people, the ascendancy of superstition over science, of fear over rationality - the whole mess seems to be imploding.
I'm not suggesting this is an original thought. Just a thought I'm repeatedly having.
I just read an extended essay in The Walrus magazine called "America The Beautiful," one journalist's impressions of his US travels over the decades. The subtitle is "Reflections on the decay of the US mystique". (Good essay, worth reading.) The author could have omitted that last word. The mystique has surely decayed, but the country has gone along with it.
Off in another corner of my brain, I'm writing about ancient and medieval civilizations, some of them wealthy and powerful beyond anything the modern world has ever seen. All vanished. The parallels are often obvious. For example, uncontrolled military expenditures while domestic infrastructure collapses is a repeated theme. Sound familiar?
I haven't read Jared Diamond's Collapse yet, but I definitely will. (And if you haven't read his Guns, Germs And Steel: do.) Maybe after I read Collapse, which investigates why societies succeed or fail, this vague feeling will take a firmer shape.
I don't think any of us have the historical distance to fully describe what's going on around us in global terms, even less so to predict what the next 100 or 200 - or for that matter, 25 or 50 - years will bring. I have no bold theories or big statements to make. I just watch the US news with increased distance, and I feel like I'm seeing the whole thing implode.
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In yesterday's Globe And Mail, there was a story about those Nigerian e-mail scams. Allan pointed this out to me, and here's what I find truly amazing:
People involved in the scam -- known as 419 after the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that prohibits it -- say that they get one or two genuine replies for every thousand letters they send. And of those handful of replies, every month or so, one yields a few thousand dollars, and one yields substantially more.I realize that if a scam doesn't pay, no grifter is going to bother with it. Yet it still boggles my little mind that people fall for things like this.
But here's why Redsock mentioned it:
Their favourite targets are Americans, who have the perfect combination of greed and gullibility. "The Americans always go for it," according to a senior member of one 419 ring, who gave his name as Sunny. "But Canadians never do it. It's difficult to hook a person from Canada."I don't doubt Americans are more gullible than Canadians - one only need turn on Fox News for proof. But hmm, could there be another factor at work here...? I won't say it. You know what I'm thinking.