Our Founding Patriarchs understood the economically destructive and corrosive effects of foreign entanglements and war on freedom and democracy.1 President after president has warned about the special interests and the usurpation of power in our republic.2 Yet, we continue to ignore the costs of militarism, nationalism and unchecked capitalism in our lives and on our freedoms. These costs include our health, civil liberties, wealth and quality of life, and indeed the future of all coming generations. Still, we don’t look; mired in materialism and ignorance, we continue to embrace violence and aggression, going steadily down the path to our own destruction. Or, if we do look, we turn away, assuming we are not powerful enough to affect change, determine our own lives or even take a moral stand. It can’t go on—It is not sustainable.
Some of you will argue that American power and dominance in the world is at its highest point, a position unprecedented in the history of the world. I would not disagree, but I would ask you to consider that probability and history would say, “It’s all downhill from here.” We are not the first empire to believe ourselves all-powerful and indestructible. Angkor Watt, the Egyptians, Mayans, Mongols, Persians and Romans were all deluded about their greatness and ended in chaos and poverty. We will be no different, unless we are willing to look at history and the collective wisdom we have accrued as human beings. The studies of people like Jared Diamond give us insight into the causes of the failures and collapse of civilizations and societies in the past. There are several very distinct factors in these seemingly unpredictable downfalls. According to Diamond, those factors are: 1) Environmental degradation 2) Climate change 3) Foreign Relations 4) Internal political, economic and social factors within the society or culture. It is seldom one factor that causes collapse, but certainly it could be one of several that trigger it.
To see our future, we have to be willing to look honestly at our past. We have to be willing to set aside our collective American ego and take a hard look in the mirror. What do we see? It isn’t very pretty. We have been exploiting people and extracting resources since the moment “we” stepped foot in the New World. 1492? The celebrated Christopher Columbus was operating under the charter of the nobility of Spain to exploit natural resources and start slave colonies while exporting Western religion in the wake of the genocidal elimination of native populations.3 This was the economic model of the European colonial powers in the Americas and around the world for centuries, and the United States adopted this model from its inception. These policies exist in some form to this day. The Pentagon is the enforcer of economic and foreign policy, and has the distinction of, not only being the “greatest purveyor of violence”4, but also the largest polluter and the greatest sinkhole of tax dollars of any entity on Earth.
Our record on the environment does not reflect well on us. Americans consume 25% of the Earth’s resources and represent only 6% of the Earth’s population. We are consuming and degrading natural resources at an unprecedented rate with no sign of letting up. Agricultural land, forests, water and air are degraded and polluted; species are dying at an alarming rate, in what is called the 6th Extinction.4 The newborn infant in America is born with 200 toxins in its blood.5,6 Our ocean fisheries are being depleted, and many will fail as sources of food for millions of people in the next century.7 Huge areas of the Gulf of Mexico are devoid of life due to our massive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.8 Unregulated corporations continue to operate to our detriment despite the obvious threats to the environment.9
At first glance, our reflection is looking sickly, suffering from collective toxicity. Even this quick glance at our environmental record is enough to make us consider if Jared Diamond’s prediction of our societal collapse10 within the next few decades is more probable than we might want to consider. In Part 2 of this article, we will look at the other factors that will determine our future as an Imperial power. Until then, I urge you to fact check me and think on the other factors that affect us. Where are we headed? We have the ability to change, to deal with our future.