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America and the Long View of History | davelovell.net
Aug 062010

A cou­ple of years ago, at the onset of the present finan­cial cycle, I wrote a rather long and tedious arti­cle about the period of Amer­i­can global finan­cial dom­i­na­tion that began at Bret­ton Woods.  I’ve been think­ing about that piece as events have unfolded since then – and I would like to revisit and revise some of those remarks.

One thing that I’ve learned from my years in the his­tory class­room is that most people’s sense of his­tory is only about ten years deep, they folks may have some vague notion of the times that their par­ents lived in, but not much more.  This must partly explain the death grip which many peo­ple clasp around their world­view, they really believe that the world they inhabit is as it has always been, and those who speak of change are anar­chists, or worse.

I’ve always been a bit odd (in any num­ber of ways) in that I have always had a fas­ci­na­tion with what went on before.  From fam­ily his­tory, to local his­tory – how did our ances­tors get here, what build­ing was here before this one.  I will never for­get a grade school trip that took us around our own town; a local his­to­rian was talk­ing about var­i­ous things when I asked him about the old­est build­ing around, and what had been there before it’s con­struc­tion – he thought for a moment and then said, “…noth­ing, just the prairie.”  I will always remem­ber that answer and how it made me real­ize just how young a coun­try I live in.

Most middle-aged Amer­i­cans live in an extremely rare win­dow of time.  Our par­ents lived through the great­est period of eco­nomic power the world has ever seen, but they them­selves were raised by par­ents who had suf­fered through war and depres­sion.  Our grand­par­ents were loath to talk of the hard times, and our par­ents did lit­tle but extol the virtues of a soci­ety that would allow them to ascend so far, so fast.  So it’s hard to blame 40 to 80 year old Amer­i­cans from believ­ing that they deserve a place on that con­tin­u­ing upward spi­ral of Amer­i­can finan­cial superiority.

And with belief comes action – a per­son who believes it is their right to reach even greater finan­cial heights than their par­ents, because their par­ents had… will act accord­ing to that belief, no mat­ter how many facts get in their way.  Blind belief in some­thing that we want to be true may be the hard­est human trait to contain.

Many of this age and back­ground see changes that they nei­ther like nor under­stand.  The US is no longer the finan­cial ruler of it’s own des­tiny, nor the super­power to which the rest of the world pays due respect.  Domes­ti­cally, the recent elec­tion pointed out the obvi­ous cul­tural and eth­nic shifts that have been tak­ing place, and the fact that the hege­mony of the white, protes­tant male is com­ing to an end.

No titled class goes down with­out a fight, and the lines are being drawn.  From the Neo-Cons of the Bush years to the Tea Party of today – if you lis­ten past the sound bites and failed attempts to dress fear as Con­sti­tu­tional defense – they feel the great curve of his­tory begin­ning to swing away from them.  They have a sense that their chil­dren may not do as well as they, or that what they have may not even be enough for their own remain­ing years.  I have to won­der how many mem­bers of the Tea Party had grand­par­ents or great-grandparents that voted for FDR and all his ram­pant Social­ism dur­ing the dark­est days of the 1930’s

Fear brings a desire for blame – Social­ists, ille­gal immi­grants, wel­fare cheaters, abor­tion­ists … the French (!).  Some­one who is afraid and angry needs def­i­n­i­tion, they need to be told that what is hap­pen­ing is not their fault; they do deserve all that they want, and they would have it, except for….them!

Fear needs a them.  Those who inter­fere with what we should have and deserve, those who take from us, those who are different.

Every dic­ta­to­r­ial ruler in his­tory knew this, and rose to power by pro­vid­ing that one sim­ple answer: who they are!

From Nero blam­ing Chris­tians, to Chris­tians blam­ing Mus­lims, to Mus­lims blam­ing Infi­dels.  There is always a them around to point to, and point­ing to some­one else is always bet­ter than point­ing at ourselves.

But turn­ing the fin­ger inward may be our last best hope, we must break the his­tor­i­cal cycle of soci­eties that col­lapse under the weight of their own suc­cess, we must let go of some of the nuts, or our hand will never come out of the tree.

The long view of his­tory shows that the afflu­ence of Amer­ica from the end of WWII until fairly recently is com­ing to an end. Not to say that Amer­ica is going to fail, like some weak Roman com­par­i­son that pseudo-historians are so fond of.  But that our level of con­sump­tion will end — by choice, or by the forces of the very mar­kets that we have cham­pi­oned for so long.

Did we really think that the rest of the world would con­tinue to let us con­sume the way that we have been for long?

We have no inher­ent right to more than we need.

We can restrain our­selves, or wait to be restrained by others.

 Posted by at 10:31 am

  One Response to “America and the Long View of History”

  1. […] peo­ple are afraid.  As I touched on in an ear­lier post, Amer­i­cans see their place in the world slip­ping away. They see their stan­dard of living […]

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