By Mike Meyer
There is a growing realization of opportunity in the collapse of the American Empire. Yes, we are seeing great anxiety and increasing misery in the continuous sequence of failures inflicted by the current, and likely last, national regime.
That is a tragedy and does keep the focus on neofascist bumbling and corruption, but it is also, obviously, coming to end. We will have a recession, or worse, as the predatory capitalist system comes apart. How bad this will be is difficult yet to say. But the destruction of planetary supply chains resulting from ignorant actions on the part of the US regime complicated by a generally weakening economy will make several years of trouble.
Combining this with accelerating and massive climate events will cause fearful disasters and great change. But the future, being transformed by paradigmatic change at the planetary level, is steadily revealing previously unimagined opportunities. The challenges, particularly in managing our climate, are great but the opportunities are at least as large.
As people often say of hard times, if it doesn’t kill you it will make you stronger. That goes with the old curse, may you live in interesting times. We are definitely living in interesting times that will either kill us or make us much stronger.
In fact, most of our immediate social and political problems are the reactions of people who do not understand the forces driving these changes. These forces are historical and structural. This means that the fundamental and defining structures of an age have become dysfunctional. We see it daily in the growing failures of our governmental and economic systems and in our societies as we redefine new identities.
The reaction and rejection of these profound changes are part of the process. We have even come to understand this as a type of species’ test. Our domination of this planet by sheer numbers, our command of energy and technology, our ability to achieve massive destruction means that our failure to reorganize at a planetary level to meet these challenges may mean our extinction.
These are the forces that most of us see only as problems, divergent symptoms, and radical changes. At the most superficial level we attribute these changes to other people trying to replace, steal, or destroy the system that we know. That is the classic opening for authoritarian opportunists to gain power by saving the past, that no longer exists, at great expense.
Those most committed to old vices, hatreds, and problems fight change yet never seem to realize that they are part of that change. Their reaction makes the failure of the old systems brutally visible. They become the final proof of the dysfunction of the old for the majority who see that change is essential for our survival.
Ironically, the reaction of people unable to deal with the changes happening all around them are classically wrong. Anyone who has ever studied revolutionary change understands that crude reaction only hastens that change. If you want to control revolutionary change you need to lead the change.
We are in large scale social, cultural, and planetary change. These changes are continuous. The old order quickly exhausts itself fighting old battles that are now irrelevant. This is very much the mistake of fighting the last war. Meanwhile the paradigmatic changes reshape society and bypass the increasingly irrelevant structures that are no longer needed while all of the attention is on the old order’s heroic defense of its ruins.
Having specifically noted, along with many others, the coming dark age, it is important to remember that what was called the European Dark Ages was the foundation for the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. Within this was included the evolution of new nations, human rights, and artistic perspectives that had been unquestioned for centuries. That is where we are now.
An excellent discussion of this is in the current Atlantic by James Fallows. As his title states The End of the Roman Empire Wasn’t That Bad. The essence of his article is on what is not covered in our pervasive media coverage and is very positive in balancing out the political, economic, social, and environmental disasters that burden us.
The collapse of the Western Roman Empire is very important in American history for many reasons. But it is also so poorly understood at the popular level that it is hard to discuss without going into, at least, a minor and very brief history lesson.
While the series of invasions of the Roman EMpire by northern barbarians was, at times, traumatic, it was part of the life. The final fall of Rome is dated to the Odoacer invasion of 476 CE, this was different than previous invasions, as the current emperor of the West was driven out and not replaced. People and life went on.
The Roman Empire had already been moved to Constantinople, modern day Istanbul, (the Eastern Empire) and continued to 1453 CE. What is important to us is what happened in the West. As Fallows outlines, this was the removal of the dead weight of dysfunctional Western Roman Empire. This is where the similarity is most striking with the collapse of the American Empire.
The cutting edge of 21st century society is not to be found in national governments. These are broadly seen as broken and probably unrepairable, or as emerging fascist disasters at worst. The US is well on its way to a particularly incompetent neofascist end.
A key symptom of this for the US is the absence of any policy in the Republican Party. There is only reaction and ideology. Federal activity is now a process of oppression, destruction, and the scoring of points.
While our climate crisis is the greatest challenge that we have ever faced as a species it is being ignored by our federal government that is actively committing suicide. This incredible crisis is being tackled, along with all of the implications of our conversion to diverse, urban living, by our metropolitan and state governments. State governments are often, now, alliances of metropolitan regions or dual administrations with one or more metropolitan regions. Where this is not the case we have dependency states supported by federal handouts and, usually, in the hands of reactionaries and authoritarian opportunists.
Not only are our cities in the US leading the way with sanctuary policies and formal adherence to the Paris Climate agreement but they and the healthy states are simply ignoring the petty self-destruction of the federal government and acting in the interests of their populations.
As a result while the US population sees little of any value at the federal level and even less with Congress and a massively corrupt executive, they are very positive about their local governments. This is a logical development as we change to an urban, post capitalist, and post national civilization.
At the planetary level it is interesting to look at the Economist’s new Safe Cities Index. While the safest cities are predominantly in the Asia Pacific regions with Tokyo, Singapore, and Osaka at the top, Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles are in the top twenty.
Safety is a complicated issue now with multiple factors but these rankings can be seen as well being and satisfaction with urban administrations. At the local and metropolitan level the focus is on administration and policy before all else. Political ideology as a weapon is not what people want to live with and that is about all that now remains at the national level.
In the context of safety we are facing yet another terminal point in handling personal information in a post industrial, post capitalist economy. The general direction of this today is demands for governmental protection of personal information. In fact the part of the above linked safe cities is the policies on data security.
Our data is already gone and has been for many years. How do we get back what has long been lost? There are two keys to this that are being discussed and gaining awareness as part of the new.
One of these is to give up data privacy completely in favor of totally open data. This is partially the current situation. Personal data has been stolen steadily and almost completely. Corporate, organizational, and government data has been protected by laws and criminal prosecutions. That is wrong.
The most practical solution to si force all data to be open. Predatory capitalist organizations and corrupt government officials will fight this viciously. They need to be forced into the open. But then what do we do?
The other logical approach that is being talked about openly in the Democratic debates and forums by, Yang for one, is paying people for their information. This could be tied to the Universal Basic Income which would be a Universal Basic Dividend for all information captured for public use.
This is becoming a practical focus for successful urban regions as the begin to move out from under the weight of an increasingly corrupt and antiquated reactionary federal politics. We really no longer need the large nation state so it is being replaced. Metropolitan administrations, not regimes, are focused on the success of their populations that are, inherently, diverse.
That success is seen as being shared public services and equitable opportunity. This is being rapidly reinforced by the climate crisis and the realization of the need massive cooperative public action to handle storms, sea level rise, population movements and planetary disruption.
In this future oriented context, the bumbling of opportunists and criminals who have grabbed power in the old national capitals is dangerous and troubling but will be looked back on as much ado about nothing. If we survive.