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Americans are living on borrowed time, economically. Like air conditioners, copper pipes and aluminum siding of a foreclosed home, what remains of our prosperity will be violently stripped away. There is no economic recovery because the foundations for such are simply not there. Jobs still leave the country, and the only way we can compete with foreign slaves is to become slaves ourselves, and don’t think for a moment that this isn’t by design.
We fancy ourselves indebted middle-class, but this mirage is quickly evaporating. Most of us are indebted slaves. Banks conjure money out of thin air to enslave most of us for life. We must go into debt to buy a house, a car or go to school. Many of us go into debt just to eat. Like you, you and you, I will carry my shitty credit score to a mass paupers’ grave, with my hearse a U-Haul. There is a renewed emphasis on going to college as a means to success, but in this economy, a degree will likely only impoverish you further, since you will be in hock to the banksters even as you work a job completely unrelated to your dubious education. If you can even get a job, that is. Joining winos and bag ladies with smudgy and off-target makeup will be legions of useless scholars.
Still, there are perks to being house slaves of the empire, since even homeless Americans sport brand name shoes, and our poor are generally the most obese, meaning they have enough to eat, even if what they’re ingesting may shorten their lives by decades. We are unique in having thousands of fat people moving about on so-called mobility scooters, though their only handicap is overeating. Some of our grossest even star on TV, where they can sob in self-pity while competing to lose tonnage.
Though we may be stuffed and surrounded by stuff, our lives are not quite secure, because few of us own outright the roofs over our heads, as in many other countries, even if theirs are of tin or even grass. And since most of us owe more than we own, any financial slippage can mean an instant catastrophe. Surrounded by gadgets, an American can go from wealthy, by
global standards, to being worse off than a Third-World slum dweller, if this Yank suddenly finds himself sleeping on a sidewalk, under a bridge or in a tent, when he’s not being shooed away by cops. With no floor under us, what good are our cumbersome arrays of possessions?
In Philly, there is an elegant and homeless woman of about 55. Since shelters don’t let you in until evening, if they accept you at all, and promptly kick you out by dawn, this woman has to spend all of her waking hours outside, like most homeless folks. What makes her unusual is the amount of stuff she’s still trying to hang onto to, and I’ve seen her outside for nearly three years now. With a dozen or so boxes and bags, and an odd suitcase, she can only walk about 30 feet at a time, shifting each container one by one without losing sight of any of them.
Like individual Americans, America also spends more than it earns, a situation made possible only because this is an empire with military bases worldwide and war ships off every shore. We are an extortion racket the world is trying to shake off, and when that happens, our living standards will truly plummet. Many Americans like to depict themselves as the oppressed 99%, but from the world’s perspective, we are an insufferable 5% that are milking the world dry when not bombing it into submission. As long as we partake in the ill-gotten fruit of empire, we are complicit in its crimes. We! Are! The 5% that will pulverize you if we don’t get our ways!
Foot soldiers of empire, we do our share to prop it up, everyone from the poor who enlist to kill foreigners for bogus reasons, to spineless academics who stay clear of political taboos, to cynical journalists who mouth obvious nonsense daily. The Obama-voting liberal who drives an SUV and frets about gas price is a clear beneficiary of empire, but so am I, though I attack its bloody policies and own next to nothing. What I do buy would cost a lot more, however, if America withdrew all of its overseas goons. Without American missiles pointed at the world’s temple, the dollar would become asswipe overnight. That’s why even domestic foes of Bellum Americanum should be prepared to suffer personally for its cessation.
There are those who think that we can power down, trim our holdings and lose weight gracefully, that as this murderous edifice crumples, a saner arrangement will rise up, and I, too, hope that a humane revolution is in the offing, though I suspect that as the physical empire goes down, its worst mental aspects will blossom. Its ideology will harden and shoot. Deprived of their toys, many Americans will demand that their government does whatever is necessary to restore the good old days, so there will be more desperate wars, and more repression of those who oppose this American of life. Meanwhile, the media will serve up opulent fantasies to feed a nostalgia for this lost and glorious past. The poorer we become, the richer we will look on television.
Americans will have less, and our lives will be harder, but no one wants to talk about this decline, least of all politicians, since that would be the quickest way to not get elected, but even if we had a wise and ethical leadership, our country will still go into decline, because the resources for infinite growth are simply not there. They never were, of course, since this is a finite planet, after all, where natural limits must be reached sooner or later. That moment is now, unfortunately.
Don’t kid yourself that the fiery anger burning through Greece, Spain and elsewhere won’t be but a tame prelude to what will happen here, what with our robust sense of entitlement, deep alienation and trigger happy ways. Our government seems to anticipate as much, for it has put into place all of the physical and legal means to clamp down on us hard, when things do explode.
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a just released novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.