End of Empire

While I have been reading books and articles heralding the end of the American empire for a couple of decades now, the points they made have increasingly made sense. The fall of Rome is conjured up, too, with it’s increasingly militaristic obsessions, narcissism of exceptionalism, violent gladiator games used as public distraction, erosion of civic virtues, and sweeping changes to the religious make-up of the empire. These do seem to have many parallels in American culture with endless warfare, geopolitical hypocrisy, violent sports (including esport) and cruel reality tv, divisive politics, and liberal multiculturalism.

Critics will likely say that pointing to these things is overly simplistic but I think we must bear in mind that any one of those individual strands interplays with other strands and that is is the combined effect of these forces that put pressure on a system over time.

For example, I recently listened to the highly recommended “Running from Cops” podcast produced and narrated by Dan Taberski which made me think about how public opinion can be shaped by a single tv show over an extended period of time. A main point of the podcast is that the reality show, “Cops”, is not reality but highly scripted and choreographed in the editing room (sometimes even during the event itself in real-time); that the institutions and individuals whose agenda are in alignment (police and media) create a narrative that serves their political interests and profit motives even when it has very little to do with actual facts on the ground. It is essentially propaganda put on the air practically 24 x 7 over many channels over many decades and which slowly shifts public perception.

When you have forces such as these exerting pressure on the populace from many different directions, do they not have a cumulative effect? Cops is but one of many examples of power essentially, “getting away with murder”. President Trump while still a nominee even said he could shoot a person on Fifth Avenue and nothing bad would happen to him. Watching other people “get away with it” whether it’s white collar crime or presidential races erodes trust in the system. It justifies cynicism and makes optimism highly unfashionable at best and dangerous at worst.

It may seem simplistic but I find that there is an undercurrent to both the fall of the Roman Empire and the current US predicament, possibly similar to what’s also playing out in Europe, and that is fear. When people are motivated by fear they become extremely cruel, especially to those closest to them. A lot of the aggressive entertainment we have, our sport, our politics, our military misadventures, our ignorance of climate change and other calamities, stems from anger brought on by fear.