8 Unsustainable Delusions of the American Way of Life

(By Tom Giesen)

The ideal of the American way of life as formulated in the twentieth century has collapsed early in the new Millennium without most Americans even realizing it. Its basic tenets are either by now just false, or are unsustainable, so that we’re in a barrel and about to go off the edge at Niagara Falls.

1. Upward mobility. It is no longer an expectation for middle class or below. The top 5% has almost all of it. As growth stagnates, unemployment rises and mobility is downward, not upward. The Old World societies of Europe have more upward mobility than the US.

2. Privacy? Gone – even the corrupt MSM (mainstream media) acknowledges the end of privacy. What we buy, write, email, text, think – not to mention our accounts and whereabouts – is recorded. Nothing is too trivial to store in the data banks. We are an open book, and the spooks (government and corporate) read us and manipulate us.

3. Abundant energy? Crude oil, the key resource, became 4.5 times more expensive from about 1990 to now. That is “supply shock”, which is the fear and the reality that supply won’t meet demand. With crude oil, we have been teetering on the brink of diminished supply since 2004/5, and one day soon we’ll be there. Imagine a world with oil most of us cannot afford – what then will gasoline-powered cars be worth? Five cents a pound?

4. Markets – the key to efficiency and abundance. To be anything like a blessing, though, markets must be perfect, and include all costs and all benefits – the upsides and downsides. But markets are grossly imperfect – a corrupt mess, actually. Would you let your neighbor heave pollutants over your fence and onto your yard? No – you’d call the cops! But it is the business model of energy companies to burn fossil fuels and simply dump the resulting CO2 into our common atmosphere with zero effort to mitigate the catastrophic results. They make all the money; we get the pollution and global warming.

5. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are safe. We have a “risk paradigm” to protect ourselves against these deadly and alien poisons. The risk model assumes our ecosystems can contain and absorb these toxins – but that premise is false! POPs are neither absorbed nor contained – they persist and spread! What is worse is that they bio-accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals – like you and me. The half-lives of POPs (synthetic substances – not known in nature) range from 7 to 1,800,000,000 years. There are no earthly environments or processes which safely destroy these poisons. You get these alien compounds in your body by breathing and by eating. Good luck!

6. We are a peaceful nation. No, we’re not! We spend more on the military ($684bn in 2011) than any other country by a factor of 4! (US = 39% of world military spending, China = 9.5 %. (2011 data)) (That total US spending is probably an understated figure – the real number is surely top secret.) We are seldom without military engagements, and, in any case, have been continuously at war since 2001. We conduct assassinations (often via drone) at will across the globe as part of the “war on terror” whether a war is declared or not. We imagine we are above the law – “exceptional”.

7. We value education. But if we value it, why are we radically defunding it at the local, state and federal levels? Outrageous military budgets, and huge agricultural and fossil fuels subsidies persist, but education is slashed year by year – and contempt for education and teachers grows.

8. The greatest delusion is that we can ignore global warming. The catastrophic changes warming brings last thousands of years. Our descendants will justifiably vilify us – we are the generation which selfishly and ignorantly turned our backs on the future.

Tom Giesen is an environmentalist.


related video:

Glenn Greenwald on Democracy Now! “The End of Internet Privacy”

7 Responses

  1. When you read this well written article you realize the America we knew and were happy to live in, no thanks to bad political moves by our leaders, is unrecognizable, and not the same anymore. I arrived in the US decades ago, and had I known what it would be today, perhaps I might not have stayed. Perhaps my expectations were unreasonable.

    • Our business and government people have never assumed the full costs of their operations and passed them on to the public in the form of higher prices and taxes. They have always had to face competition from domestic and foreign dumpers. This worldview is probably ineradicable.

      My generation, the one born as WW II was beginning, was the first to rebel against it on a mass level. It really became quite obsessive. We understood each other, coast to coast. Many of us also raged against the Vietnam War. They were often shared causes which added to the nearly unfunded exhaustion.

      Eventually it became apparent that though we won many very fine individual victories all over the country we could really only slow down the retrograde process, not reverse it. We had to win them all to avoid falling behind. That just wasn’t possible, for us anyway.

      And now environmental problems are understood to be global and deadly in the short to medium term, a major additional discouragement.

      I gradually fell away from the movement and put my full efforts to making a living in the fashion of normal people.

      Does anyone here believe that the price we will have to pay to arrest and correct these degenerative developments at the global level is anything less than the imposition of totalitarian systems?

  2. “We are a peaceful nation” was part of the American way of life, the American self-conception, in the 20th century?

    When was that?

  3. “The ideal of the American way of life as formulated in the twentieth century has collapsed”…no it ain’t, you can still go shopping at the mall!

  4. At least we have calmed the anxieties of those who were concerned that USA was a Christian nation.

  5. One misconception is that we have time to fix it. We don’t.
    In this increasingly barren world, when the petro based fertilizer is gone…we’re toast.
    History will repeat while we all know things are going wrong. Ecological collapse is already here. If every frog and turtle dies from imported ranavirus, who cares? That’s happening now.
    The collapse of civilization is a spectator sport.
    We’ll never regain the wealth thrown away in wars. Wealth we desperately need, wasted. Pissd away.
    Fighting over the silverware on the Titanic.
    Bacteria will colonize a Petri dish, breed to fill the space, then die on it’s own waste.
    I wish it weren’t true but people are as dumb as bacteria.

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