Sunday, February 07, 2010

Dying Cultures

A few days ago I finished reading “Friday” by Robert A. Heinlein for the third time.

It is now the middle of the night. I awakened thinking so much about this book that I decided to get up, get dressed, and commit my thoughts to writing.

Back in the bad old days one had to write many, many papers in school before graduating. High school and college both. Apparently this is no longer so. I have heard of people who are getting near to graduating from University who are now having to write and turn in their very first paper. Can you imagine? This can’t be accurate, can it?

I find that when I write something down it forces me to greatly clarify my thoughts. It seems to help save these thoughts as memories too; in some other sort of backup memory. Many times I use my diary (the modern word is blog) as a place to deposit these written thoughts and memories.

In thinking about reading the book called “Friday” for the third time my initial thought was, How can one possibly enjoy re-reading books? I don’t know, but on TV last night I watched the first Harry Potter movie again for at least the third time. Of course I read the book first too.

With “Friday” I was in my late teens or early 20’s when I read it the first time. Just like “Stranger In A Strange Land.” Then I very much enjoyed re-reading them both when I was in my 40’s. Yes, of course I remembered many of the details, but over the years I had forgotten enough in these books that I really enjoyed reading them a second time. Then again in my early 60’s I got to enjoy the pleasure of reading them a third time. I works just fine. Actually the 2nd and 3rd times one sort of gets more out of a book.

Specifically what I was thinking about in the middle of the night was Heinlein’s analysis of what are the marks of a sick culture. He went into this in some depth in chapter XXIII. Much of the following should be directly attributed to Heinlein.

“It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population.”

Over the last 60 plus years I have travelled to many countries, lived for years in various parts of the USA, Germany, and then The Netherlands. I can see the above phenomenon in most modern cultures, and most certainly in American society and culture.

“Dominance of males over females seems to be one of the symptoms.” Just look at the dark age culture of the Muslim religious fanatics in Afghanistan or in parts of Africa. America is also afflicted with this but far less so. In fact, over the last 40 years things have turned around in America to where females now have a significantly higher graduation rate from university and some professional degrees than males.

“...before a revolution can take place, the population must lose faith in both the police and courts.” Just look back a little. The 55 mph speed limit was not accepted by the people, it was imposed upon them. The same with prohibition of all consumption of alcohol in the 1930s and then much the same with marijuana from the late 1960s onward. Rule-of-law begins to break down when the general populace of a democracy strongly disagrees with, and ignores or violates various laws. People begin to think that the laws of the land are only for other people, they should not apply to me.

Open corruption of law enforcement personnel is deadly to loss of confidence in one’s society. Corruption among one’s elected representatives is much the same.

When there are a zillion silly laws which are no longer enforced but which are not repealed either, it makes people lose respect for the importance of, indeed the absolute necessity of laws. The same thing happens when noncompliance doesn’t have any meaningful consequences.

“…one of the obvious symptoms: Violence. Muggings. Sniping. Arson. Bombing. Terrorism of any sort. Riots of course - but I suspect that little incidents of violence, pecking away at people day after day, damage a culture more than riots that flare up and then die down.”

Growing up in the 1950s we never ever locked our house. We couldn’t. We didn’t even have a key. Then one year somewhere in the early 1960s things had begun to break down with society. Before we went on our annual family vacation we went over to the dime store and bought a skeleton key, so that we could lock the house.

“Imprisonment without bail and without speedy trial.” Think about all the innocent people the U.S. military/government has killed or imprisoned and tortured, and then the individuals are not even ever charged with any crime. Certainly not ever actually convicted. The government blatantly ignoring the provisions and protections of the U.S. Constitution.

“Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms…such as you have named. But a ‘dying’ culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”

Think about the nightly news and the way that the political right wing and it’s gang of self-righteous racists are behaving. Look at how rude the majority of people are when they are driving in their big, anonymous, fuel wasting SUVs, and think about the people trying to openly cut into line ahead of you at the check out counter of Wal-Mart.

It seems to me that the United States of America very easily fits the definition of a sick culture. Had it gotten so bad that it would be realistic to view this as a dying culture? When one looks at the millions of people who are excluded from health care in America one also sees that there are plenty of folks who not only don’t care, but for whom it even makes them feel superior in a sick sort of way. Yes, the USA is well past its peak. The country and the American culture are now sliding down the declining part of the curve.

Is America the very worst? No, not close. Just look at Mexico or Afghanistan or Iraq. Are the American Way and the American culture any longer the best? Nope, as before, not even remotely close.

I am now an old Geezer in my 60s. I have travelled widely, lived abroad for many years, and I have been fortunate and lucky enough to have lived an amazing life. Whatever happens won’t have much impact on me personally. But if I were in my 20s I would take a cold hard look at what is happening in America. The choices are: Be lazy and do nothing (most will choose this option); try to reverse the political and cultural decline (hopeless? Maybe so); or emigrate to some other country where your chances of leading a happy and rewarding life will be greater.

We each have to make these decisions for ourselves. Most people just go along and don’t ever make any real choices. They are like corks floating down river. But there are a few special individuals who have the strength of character to set goals and follow through. I guess just like it always has been, there will be a few survivors and a few who are fortunate enough to lead satisfying lives. But I am very sorry to say that it is almost a certainty that most citizens of the United States of America are going to lead much shorter, poorer and less satisfying lives than their parents did. How sad.