Another interesting blog that has been around for some time is Charles Stross’s — you ought to check it out, and the comments are often informative too. One in particular was brought to my attention — it’s a comment made in response to another fellow, Dan, who is something of an American triumphalist, seeing us spiraling upward, ever upward, into glory and a bold Star Trekian future of wealth and prosperity and technology. Maclaren wrote an antidote, which I include below. I don’t agree with it entirely — we aren’t quite as bad off as it says right now, although I can see his word-portrait as a picture of America 5 years from now, easily, and I don’t see anyone trying very hard to put the brakes on our descent into madness.
Sometimes Stross’s blog is very depressing, too.
Dan’s post appears to have leaked through from an alternate universe where life in the United States of Amnesia is a wonderful paradise. However, I happen to live inside that madhouse, and I can assure you that, no, we are not winning in Iraq, Americans are not doing well financially (unless you’re talking about the top 1% of the economic pyramid in America), and virtually everything in America has drastically degenerated to the point of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, or pretty nearly.
Just to hit a few high points: some 30% of Americans currently graduate college with only the most rudimentary reading and writing skills and elementary math skills, as compared to about 15% who graduate high school with similar skills deficits in Europe. Meanwhile, a recent study predicts that most elementary schools in California will fail to meet basic proficiency requirements by 2014. This means skills like reciting the ABCs or the multiplication table. Unless you’ve read those stats, it’s impossible to believe Harlan Ellison’s recent rant wasn’t some sort of demented satire, when he described the Emperor’s New Clothes to uncomprehending UCLA students who had nary a ghost of a clue what the reference meant. It sounds like something out The Onion. But it’s true. This is the level to which America has sunk.
More than half of all U.S. hospitals are now technically insolvent. Increasingly, even Americans who do have health insurance can’t get access to basic health care. America boasts the second highest newborn death rate in the developed world, and the highest child malnutrtion rate and child poverty rate in the developed world. America currently lags ridiculously far in infrastructure and technology, with our broadband speeds and adoption rates far behind those of Europe and Asia. Around half of Americans, most in rural areas, as still stuck on 56K dialup. Meanwhile, Japan just announced a nationwide rollout of 1 Gbps fiber-to-the-home for $54. In America, consumers find themselves forced to pay typical $80 to $100 per month for 3 Mbps ADSL or cable internet, though apparently the recent rollout of DOCSIS3 cable modems has now allowed 150 Mbps service in some American test markets at a cost of $150 per month.
America’s physical infrastructure is falling apart, with bridges collapsing, water mains crumbling, sewage lines disintegrating, and U.S. highways becoming unnavigable due to potholes and sinkholes.
The bill of rights has effectively been erased in America. Innocent citizens are now routinely beaten, tased, handcuffed and pepper-sprayed for crazy reasons, like trying to cash a legitimate check at the bank, or refusing to show I.D. to a police officer without being suspected of committing a crime. If an American actually takes it upon hi/rself to “cause trouble,” (say, by engaging in a peaceful demonstration for worker rights)…why, then the savage fury of police retaliation becomes indescribable. The gloves come off at that point. People get beaten to a pulp, tear-gassed, brutalized with truncheons en masse.
American police now routinely tase grade school children. Adults get brutalized by police as matter of standard operating procedure, tortured with tasers long after they’ve been handcuffed and pepper-sprayed and rendered helpless; tasing and pepper-sprayed is now routinely used by American police as torture to seal the deal after handcuffing and arrest, a reminder that you don’t try to stand up against the State. It’s so common now that no one even comments on it. Americans now accept this kind of routine police savagery against people who are already handcuffed and defenseless and in many cases have committed no crime, just the way that Soviet citizens came to accept without comment KGB head-bashing against innocent bystanders suspected of having made a subservive remark against the State.
Meanwhile, American funding for basic scientific research continues to plummet. Tent cities are sprouting up across America. Out-of-control culture war threatens to erupt into full-scale civil violence…even as a record 258 lavish parties by financial lobbyists have been thrown for senators and congressmen voting for the bailout this yeat. And CEOs of failed banks get $20 million golden parachutes for 17 days’ work.
No doubt in the happy shiny alternate universe Dan occupies, cheerful American zip around on jet packs while popping food pills and enjoying their flying cars. Out here in the real world, the U.S. mint has suspended sale of gold coins “due to exccessive demand,” America is falling apart, and it looks like a Mad Max-style civil war isn’t far off.
Don’t get too smug over in Europe, though. Hypo Real Estate mortgage bank in Germany is close to bankruptcy, and the Bradford & Bingley bank in England, that country’s biggest mortgage lender, has now been nationalized due to uncontrollable mortgage losses. Barclay’s bank is currently leveraged at a ratio of 50:1 and if it goes, its outstanding derivative liabilities are equal to the entire GDP of Great Britain. Meanwhile, the German state banking system teeters on the edge of insolvency and may have to be bailed out by the German government. Then, of course, we get the financial collapse rippling outward across asia with the Little Tigers, Japan, and finally the really big dominos fall, the state owned banks in China. If that happens, it’s Raquel Welch in a fur bikini and One Million Years B.C. redux.
You can argue with some of the details, and it’s bleaker than might be warranted right now, but there are no roadblocks preventing this future from coming to pass…frighteningly soon.