For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”John F. Kennedy – Commencement Address at American University, June 10, 1963
If the bullets hadn’t flown, John Fitzgerald Kennedy might have been one hundred years old today. Granted, it’s not likely, put definitely possible. If the parade route hadn’t been changed, and the roof taken off the limousine, and the secret service ordered to stand down, the world would likely be a very different place. If the man had safely negotiated the last 54 years, and was still breathing today, what would he make of this mess?
A war on heroes
The American conscience died with Robert, Martin and John” Perry White, Batman vs. Superman
America, a country on the rise in 1963, is now an Empire in decline. Not just a decline in prestige and power, but a decline in intelligence and quality. Even the thin patina of pretend values has tarnished, as America’s ruling class now lack the imagination to even play-act morality. Even their dreams are limited by their own smallness of mind.
Where once we had educated men giving speeches about the nature of peace (see above), about aspiration for the future, or citing Aeschylus to balm a nation’s grief. We now have freeze-dried harpies hurling abuse across the floor of the UN, knuckle-dragging cowboys staggering over basic idioms, entitled lunatics demanding recognition for qualities they barely understand, let alone possess. Semi-literate presidential addresses, in 140 characters or fewer.
Nixon, for all his paranoia and corruption, at least understood the world he lived in whilst Hillary Clinton was, and is, dangerously out-of-touch with reality. Ronald Reagan was a senile fool, a glorified advertising mascot for mega-corporations, but Trump makes even him seem a polished and educated statesman.
Is this decline deliberate? The acting out of a policy, by unspoken powers, to limit public intelligence, education and discourse? Are we deprived of political heroes to engender apathy? Maybe.
Or maybe it’s a simple byproduct of a corrupt system that encourages stupidity and stamps out individual thought. Where the worst among us are artificially raised above the level of their ability, character and intelligence.
The decline is not just in the people or character of politicians, but understanding and conversation. Political debates are now little more than slanging matches. Morality broken down from a societal set of concrete values, to a relative abstract. Acts are right or wrong depending on who does them, and how, rather than the act itself. Wars of words are fought across the internet, by volunteer forces armed with little more than labels.
The very nature of truth is under threat. The scientific method as a pursuit of truth is abandoned, as science is converted into a quasi-religion. A broad set of consensus truths, the public understanding of which is limited and flawed, but adherence to which is mandatory. Enforced under penalty of banishment.
An empire is falling, and under the weight of a collapsing tyrant, words themselves crumble. College campuses ban speakers in the name of freedom. We are lectured by paid propagandists on the “tyranny” of Free Speech, the “unfairness” of direct democracy. Fascist. Sexist. Racist. Words deprived of meaning and impact by overuse, while true fascism – the unimpeded cooperation of business and state – goes unchecked in practically every corner of the Western world.
This can all be traced back to the systematic removal of our heroes. That war is still carried out in attacks against every man, woman, party or group that tries to speak up for high-mindedness, encourage societal cooperation, or place people higher in priority than profit.
Empires Eat Themselves
I love studying Ancient History and seeing how empires rise and fall, sowing the seeds of their own destruction. Martin Scorsese
In a sane world, a just world, psychopathic non-entities like Theresa May would never sniff high-office, and would be condemned to live out their days in middle-management positions at insurance companies. As severe and sadistic deputy head-teachers at private schools. Being traffic wardens. Venting their self-limiting malignity on any unfortunate people who happen into their tiny spheres of influence.
Sadly, this world is never sane and only rarely just.
I have written before about the temptation to view great power, and great evil, as a monolith. There is an assumption that direction and movement require cooperation, and that the corridors of power in Langley and the Pentagon hum with the activity of an ants’ nest. A million minds with one thought and one goal, working with unspoken bonds of purpose.
A less flattering, but more accurate, metaphor might be a swarm of rats in a sewer. Yes, they’re all headed in roughly the same direction, and yes they’re all making the same noises, but there’s no organization, no long-term thinking. Temporarily aligned self-interest is not the same as working together. Ruthless opportunism is not the same as a plan. To us it seems a collective, but to the rats it’s a race.
Psychopaths rise to the top of every power structure eventually. In a game with no rules, those with no morals will always have an edge. A man who will do anything to win has a decided advantage over a man with limitations. That is sadly true, and it’s been used to argue that psychopathy could be the next step in human evolution.
This glamorization of psychopathy is, ironically, a general symptom the degradation of society. We are encouraged to think of morality as “old-fashioned”, a vestigial remnant of the religion we’ve left behind and are likewise supposed to despise. That a free thinking man has no need for the false gods of good and evil.
But Psychopathy is more than a simple disregard for morality. Its lack of recognition of other people’s feelings carries with it a lack of understanding of their experience – meaning psychopaths expect to tell, and get away with, absurd lies. Their inherent narcissism makes them furious when people don’t believe their lies, but unable to learn from the experience. A pathological need to deceive translates into telling lies, when the truth might be more beneficial. They lack impulse control, cannot plan in the long-term and tend toward self-destructive behaviour (drinking, gambling, financial recklessness). They can be superficially charming, but give themselves away with inappropriate emotional reactions.
Think about that list. These are the kind of people in power positions. Barely-there souls driven by goals that aren’t even confinable to simple self-interest, pushed forward by a deranged internal drive toward chaos. Sociopaths and narcissists run the Western world, and have since the US deep-state took a rifle sight to the men that embodied the American conscience, if not before.
Put into this context, the decline of American Empire – both intellectually and morally – makes perfect sense.