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02 February 2010

I had to skim somewhat, but I enjoyed that. I remember the distinct impression I had in the mid 1970s when I was a kid that the world had become A Very Bad Place and that we were living In Dark Times.
posted by JanetLand 02 February | 11:11
It's true that there was a lot of pessimism in the 1970s.

What's different now is trillion dollar deficits projected for the rest of the decade.

So to answer the question: Yes, America is going to Hell.
posted by Joe Beese 02 February | 12:12
An interesting and sweeping piece, which I don't have time to read thoroughly right now, or really comment on cogently. I agree with the argument that gloom and doom about the future is a staple of American culture. But I'm afraid I also agree that we've allowed the government to become very messed up at all levels. What the author doesn't do, which I do, is perceive the cause of that in cultural/societal issues - corporations are running away with our national policy and our representation, but they've amassed the power to do so because the population is too busy, poor, content, or indifferent to do anything much about it. I do think that while America has done a lot of things well in the social arena, especially when it comes to systematically dismantling discriminatory practices and behaviors, we're living in a time of a failure of a basic system of civic values.
posted by Miko 02 February | 12:37
When I look at the tabloid aspects of American culture, I feel like you're already there.
posted by Orange Swan 02 February | 12:38
It's the damn kids these days.
posted by Ardiril 02 February | 13:07
It's amazing to me how good, in comparison, the Recessionary 70s were compared to today. But then, I have been an economical outlier, having my personal best years during National Downturns, so I am not looking forward to the Recovery...

Culturally, there's one thing that makes today far worse than the 1970s and 80s... nostalgia for the 70s and 80s...

Still, Reagan did ruin everything. It just took a little while for it to go into full effect. It was the Ayatollah and Iran that were most responsible for getting him elected. And now they're campaigning for Sarah Palin.
posted by oneswellfoop 02 February | 14:01
"nostalgia for the 70s and 80s..." - Sure, hit me where it hurts. heheh
posted by Ardiril 02 February | 14:05
So was there a time when things were done right that we should be trying to emulate in order to get out of hell?
posted by JanetLand 02 February | 15:33
If we're looking for the beginning of a decline in the 1970s, I think it's Atwater/Nixon we'd have to look at. It was their realization that they could actually turn populist sentiment rightward that started us on the road to deregulation and privatization and the unthinking worship of the free market. Reagan was fantastic at selling it, but it dates a little farther back as a tactical approach to employing government in the service of big business.
posted by Miko 02 February | 16:00
Meh. Declinism.

As to the deficits, it's not like we're alone in that -- the whole globe is spending money to prop up economies, and we're hardly the worst by GDP or per capita ratio. I also view deficit hawkery as a particularly poorly-timed kneecapping of the necessary Keynesian stimulus.
posted by dhartung 02 February | 16:33
in a handbasket
posted by theora55 02 February | 16:59
I definitely understand the resistance to a quick diagnosis of declinism, which is certainly a central idea in the study of history. However, some things do decline. The question being asked, that the article was trying to answer, is whether this is simply a decline narrative, or are we seeing a real weakening and breakdown of a system that will not return to its previous characteristics or level of organization. I think it's a real question, not easily to be dismissed. The end of the idea of American exceptionalism, for instance, is real and is significant.
posted by Miko 02 February | 17:19
Adopting declinist, alarmist, America's-going-to-hell beliefs adds drama and excitement to lives that are, for the most part, even with the current economic problems, dull, prosperous and stable.

This is a country where people actually spend time getting agitated mildly rude and attitudinal cashiers, and writing blow-by-blow paragraphs about those encounters on the Internet.

The appetite for drama and conflict and excitement is pretty deeply rooted in human nature. People want to believe that they're living in heroic and tempestuous times. It makes them, and their own lives, special and interesting.

And when everyday life doesn't cooperate with those needs, you invent these fantastic narratives peopled by shadowy forces working to undermine and destroy you, the Good, Hard-working Citizen, the Taxpayer, the Patriot.

The agitation produced by these narratives is much easier to live with than the thought that you just might be another dullard living a forgettable life in the most peaceful and prosperous society the world has ever known.

posted by jason's_planet 02 February | 17:32
Rap on, brother. Rap on.
posted by fleacircus 02 February | 17:43
Over 12% of 'muricans were at the food bank last year. That's up 40% according to the sub-headlines in today's paper....

But we've got cell phones and HDTV!
posted by warbaby 02 February | 18:30
dull, prosperous and stable.

Sounds lovely. Where can I get some of that?
posted by Miko 02 February | 23:23
The author finds reassurance in the peculiarly American cycle of crisis and renewal, and in the continuing strength of the forces that have made the country great: our university system, our receptiveness to immigration, our culture of innovation.

Yeah, but all of these strengths have been on steep decline since at least 9/11 (a decline which, in my own cultural/political memory, has its origin in the Reagan era). To me, that's what's particularly scary.

But I really do hope that my feeling on this is being influenced by a kind of American mythology of bust and boom that has no direct bearing on the way things actually turn out. There is some evidence for that: as an openly gay man in an openly gay relationship, I sometimes catch myself in doom-and-gloom moments and say to myself "WTF are you talking about? You could never have had even the basic comforts of your extraordinarily-ordinary gay life even 50 or so years ago, and you wouldn't have it today in most of the rest of the world. Stop whining, be damn grateful for what you have, and work hard to ensure that the gay kids in younger generations have even less to worry about."
posted by treepour 02 February | 23:46
Cell-phone coverage, for instance. In other developed countries, and for that matter most developing countries Iíve visited, you simply donít have the dead spots and dropped calls that are endemic in America.

I'm pretty sure Australia can rival you there. Oddly enough, the worst coverage isn't in the most far-flung regions, it's in the suburbs - on my daily commute of one hour in a train, I can only get enough 3G signal to maintain an Internet connection for about 20 minutes. This is a train line running through built-up areas almost all the way. Even at my home (in a fringe area - not heavily populated, but a very well-travelled area) I have to go to the top of the driveway to make a call on my mobile phone. When I used to travel through Indonesia a lot, I never once saw a dead spot, even in the more rural areas.

Considering what we pay for our services here, it is a huge frustration and makes me wonder why we are the largest user of mobile phones (per capita) in the world, given the crap service.

Umm, what was the question again? Oh yeah, America going to hell in a handbasket. Yeah, of course it is, along with the rest of the world. Always has been, in my memory. Must be a long journey ;-)
posted by dg 03 February | 07:29
I see where you're getting at Miko, and yeah, America may be headed into the post-empire stage, and really, that's fine with me. I've been thinking for years that we're experiencing an Empire in Internet Time.

Just as long as we can do it so that we've still got a good national attitude, but nobody cares. Everyone wins.
posted by lysdexic 03 February | 09:55
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