29. The American Beacon of Post-Industrial Failure

Amer­ica is a bea­con of failed post-indus­trial civ­i­liza­tion. The bea­con might or might not be a tele­vi­sion mock-up, but for the rest of us (non-Amer­i­cans) this glitzy haze is what mostly blurs our hori­zons. The fail­ure emerges from try­ing to impreg­nate the shiny armour of elec­tron tech­nol­ogy with pre-indus­trial, and even pre-feu­dal val­ues. The bas­tard child of that union is Darth Vader. 

The wit­less dig­i­tal pornog­ra­phers of Abu Ghraib prison in Bagh­dad held up a mer­ci­less mir­ror to them­selves, and they are the trailer park trash of Amer­i­can soci­ety. All the nice peo­ple in Amer­ica – and of course there are tens of mil­lions of them, includ­ing in trailer parks – all these nice peo­ple are not nice because they are Amer­i­can but because, things in gen­eral being equal, that’s the safest and most com­fort­able way to live. There are mil­lions of nice peo­ple in Bagh­dad too, as well as in the African Congo, in Afghanistan, Moscow and Brazil. The Darth Vader face of Amer­ica also has its ana­logues on every con­ti­nent. The espe­cially hor­ri­ble aspect of the Amer­i­can Darth Vader is that it forces its way into the lives of all the Earth’s other peo­ples, squawk­ing with elec­tronic self-right­eous­ness that it is the har­bin­ger of free­dom.

Hmm, free­dom. Now there’s a spin merchant’s dream word. Free­dom in the name of a coun­try with the world’s high­est prison incar­cer­a­tion rate (seven times it’s Cana­dian neigh­bour; 2.1 mil­lion peo­ple, with one of every 75 men liv­ing in prison or jail : Yahoo 28 May 2004 ); free­dom from a coun­try with seven times the mur­der rate of Aus­tralia; free­dom from a coun­try which has forty-one mil­lion peo­ple with­out health cover; free­dom from a coun­try many of whose city’s streets are dan­ger­ous to walk at night, and some­times in the day­time too; free­dom from a coun­try which pays its mon­strous army so poorly in the ranks that thou­sands of GI fam­i­lies have to sur­vive on food stamps for the poor; free­dom from a coun­try where get­ting elected Pres­i­dent costs a bil­lion dol­lars (as if that’s democ­racy …). We could go on, but what’s the point? 

The point of course is that the self-image of Amer­ica pro­moted so brashly by its rul­ing class to Amer­i­can cit­i­zens is rad­i­cally at vari­ance with what the rest of the world sees. What the world often sees is a glut­to­nous peo­ple, eat­ing them­selves to death on junk food at an increas­ingly early age, totally self-obsessed, ide­o­log­i­cally blink­ered, quite with­out the man­ners, civ­i­lized con­sid­er­a­tion or basic inter­na­tional knowl­edge required of adult mem­bers of the global vil­lage. If we applied this descrip­tion to North Kore­ans (though bark and grass are a dif­fer­ent kind of junk food) we could pity the bar­barous brain wash­ing inflicted by a crim­i­nal rul­ing clique. What are we sup­posed to think when such a pro­file fits our daily media expe­ri­ence pro­jected from the palaces of Amer­i­can pro­pa­ganda?

What we think of this sul­phurous Amer­i­can vision is sure to depend a lot on our own par­tic­u­lar cor­ner of humanity’s cul­tures. I do my best to remain opti­mistic, and try to apply the tol­er­ance of a lib­eral edu­ca­tion and wide read­ing, soft­ened by a rea­son­ably com­fort­able (though pre­car­i­ous) per­sonal lifestyle. Yet I am a teacher. In ear­lier lives I have taught whole class­fuls of Iraqi men, sur­vivors from Sad­dam Hussein’s bru­tal regime, and to a man they loathed the abstrac­tion they called Amer­ica. For thirty years I have taught men and women from any num­ber of the world’s so-called failed states, or wannabe states, all hop­ing for some­thing bet­ter out of life. They car­ried the bag­gage of their cul­tures, all the illu­sions, prej­u­dices and often self-destruc­tive habits. Yet they har­boured the hope for some­thing bet­ter, and were doing some­thing to find it.

The Amer­i­can Darth Vader has per­suaded the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and per­suaded itself, that what Amer­ica has is as good as it gets. For Amer­i­cans, there is no else­where – not on this planet. Is that why so many of them are eager join other holy war­riors in that great trek to an Armaged­don in the sky?

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