It only because of the tiniest weakness of Dick Cheney's will that we escaped blatant totalitarianism. Had he pushed just a bit harder, he could have quite easily implemented a totalitarian regime immediately after 9/11. Our political system does tend to promote those with weak character, but a sufficiently intelligent, ruthless person can find a way to rise. Our congress will not protect us, our courts will not protect us, our police and military will not protect us, and our press will not protect us. So it goes.
Arthur Silber correctly identifies the root of our national flaws in the character of our citizens. It is not just our misogyny and homophobia (in the literal sense: the irrational fear of being homosexual or being thought of as homosexual), but our thoroughly martial, violent character, hardly surprising for a nation conceived in slavery, grown in genocide, and marked since by ceaseless aggression and intervention. It is no excuse that the rest of the world, historically, has been no better. So it goes.
Silber's analysis is correct, but I think his suggested remedies are—with all due respect for a man I admire tremendously—naive.
Blogging, advertising, voting, writing one's "representatives" and demonstrating are completely ineffective. No actions of the tiny minority of the population both capable of sophisticated abstract thought and possessed of a truly universal humanistic ethic can overcome the propaganda of the now unified commercial mass media and the mass movements of fascist Dominionism and Christianism, and the absolute power of the wealthy elite. As Tim Kreider so eloquently states:
History has shown that [protests] accomplished jack shit. Protests are an obsolete tactic, routine and impotent now, and the media renders them invisible by pretending they never happened, anyway. Letters to our elected representatives have the same effect on public policy as prayers to Jesus do on cancer.Or as Kurt Vonnegut has Harrison Starr put it, "Why not write an anti-glacier book?" (An ironic metaphor given global warming.) We can vote all we want, but our elected representatives know that they are answerable not to us, but to those who fund their campaigns and who, with a word to Maureen Dowd and Chris Matthews, will with lies and bullshit eviscerate any candidate who might even think about compromising their absolute power. So it goes.
The economic elite has decided to abandon any notion of ethical and economic progress in favor of mindlessly raping our national economy and our global environment, and offhandedly killing not only our own sons and daughters but any sufficiently weak brown people available to violently demonstrate our "manhood". The rapine and slaughter is so pointless (how many billions of dollars can a person usefully spend?) that the inescapable conclusion is that the economic elite, possessed of virtually unlimited power, has found that this power has not made them happy, has not assuaged the neuroses and pain which drove them to become powerful and wealthy. They are thus savagely taking revenge on the world that has so wronged them by making them rich. And perhaps we—especially we Americans—deserve such retribution: It was we ourselves who made these twisted and desperately unhappy people wealthy beyond the dreams of Croesus. So it goes.
There's no hope of restoring our country's greatness: We have never been great in any moral sense, only violently powerful. There's no hope of establishing any greatness, or even moderating our intrinsic evil. Not only our economic overlords but the nation itself is too powerful, almost absolutely powerful. And it is inevitable, inescapable that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The only hope to which a thoughtful, humanistic American can reasonably aspire is to work for a more graceful degradation, to insure that, as we slowly destroy ourselves, we do not take the rest of the world with us in a nuclear holocaust, and that we retain a shred of national dignity (as did Great Britain) and not devolve into chaos and kleptocracy (as did Russia).
It is inevitable that millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of people are going to die, both in the pointless wars squabbling over first the remaining oil and then later the remaining unpolluted fresh water. Hundreds of millions more will live in desperate misery, displaced by these wars and by the consequences of the inevitable global warming. It is logically and physically possible to prevent such immense tragedy, but it is politically impossible to do so. This is the best case. The worst case is that all of humanity, and perhaps all life on Earth, dies in a nuclear holocaust. So it goes.
You can either live with the inevitability of this tragedy or you can't. If you can't, your only alternative to setting yourself on fire on the steps of the White House is to live in a big city. Reside in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. (or any large city in any country); you will probably die sooner rather than later, or, at best, live as a miserable refugee. There is no better way of escaping moral culpability for an enormous tragedy than to be among its victims.
If you can live with this tragedy—even if you don't approve of it, but you might as well disapprove of earthquakes—then start looking for a way out. Just moving to a third-world country will not help, though. They're going to be just as fucked as anyone else, perhaps more so, and as not only a non-citizen but guilty by association of wars and global warming, you'll be the last to receive any charity.
Don't bother learning Chinese, or Arabic, or Hindi. The Islamic states are already screwed, and China and India will have at best only a fleeting moment as superpowers before they're overwhelmed by global warming and their own regional wars.
There are some things we can do to soften the decline of America and the world. Possibly the most important is to keep up the challenge against the Islamists, Christianists and Dominionists. Members of these mass movements, and any political leaders beholden to them, are the most likely, given their apocalyptic theologies, to simply nuke the world just for the fun of it. We must not only pressure these fanatics directly, but challenge and encourage the religious moderates to pressure them—it is only by means of persuading religious moderates that these fanatic mass movements can become a real threat to the survival of humanity.
Vote Democratic. The Democratic party is a creature of the economic elite just as is the Republican party. There is, however, a dialectical struggle within that elite, between the Republicans, who want to destroy the country as quickly as possible, and the Democrats, who want to destroy it more slowly. We're fucked either way, but the Democrats will at least sweet talk us and use more lube. The Democrats are also not nearly as beholden to and infiltrated by the Christianists as are the Republicans.
Write. We marginalized bloggers are not going to change the world, we're not even going to stop the obviously insane war in Iraq or prevent the next one in Iran, but at some point, after everything collapses, people will be looking for new ideas and ideologies. History is littered with unemployed, marginal bums (e.g. Marx) whose ideas later shaped civilization. We can at least bestow our ideas on the future.
In the meantime, live as your conscience dictates, and don't be afraid to live well and happy. We are all snowflakes in the avalanche. The best of us have no more objective right than the worst to impose our ideal of civilization on the unwilling masses. We can merely act as we will, live as we will, speak as we will and let the chips fall where they may. So it goes.