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umair haque, Eudaimonia & Co - December 9, 2019

"America and Britain are Textbook Examples of a New, Gruesome Phenomeon: Rich Nations Self-Destructing Into Poor Failed States"

When I ask my European friends to describe us — Americans, Brits, who I’ll call Anglo-Americans in this essay — they shake their heads gently. And over and over, three themes emerge. They say we’re a little thoughtless. They say we’re selfish and arrogant. And they say that we’re cruel and brutal.

I can’t help but think there’s more than a grain of truth. That they’re being kind. Anglo-American society is now the world’s preeminent example of willful self-destruction. It’s jaw-dropping folly and stupidity is breathtaking to the rest of the world.

The hard truth is this. America and Britain aren’t just collapsing by the day…they aren’t even just choosing to collapse by the day. They’re entering a death spiral, from which there’s probably no return. Yes, really. Simple economics dictate that, just like they did for the Soviet Union — and I’ll come to them.

And yet what’s even weirder and more grotesque than that is that…wel…nobody much seems to have noticed. There’s a deafening silence from pundits and elites and columnists and politicians on the joint self-destruction of the Anglo-American world. Nobody seems to have noticed: the only two rich societies in the world with falling life expectancies, incomes, savings, happiness, trust — every single social indicator you can imagine — are America and Britain. It’s not one of history’s most improbable coincidences that America and Britain are collapsing in eerily similar ways, at precisely the same time. It’s a relationship. What connects the dots?

Let me pause to note that my European friends’ first criticism — that we’re thoughtless — is therefore accurate. We’re not even capable of noticing — much less understanding — our twin collapse. Our entire thinking and leadership class seems not to have even noticed, like idiots grinning and dancing, setting their own house on fire. They are simply going on pretending it isn’t happening — that the English speaking world isn’t fast becoming something very much like the new Soviet Union.

So what caused this joint collapse? How did the English speaking world end up like the new Soviet Union? To understand that point, consider the fact that you yourself probably think that’s an overstatement. But it’s an empirical reality. The Soviet Union stagnated for thirty years. America’s stagnated for fifty, and Britain for twenty. The Soviet Union couldn’t provide basics for its citizens — hence the famous breadlines. In America, people beg each other for money to pay for insulin and antibiotics, decent food is unavailable in vast swathes of the country, and retirement and paying off one’s debt are impossibilities: just like in the Soviet Union, basics are becoming both unavailable and unaffordable. What happens? People…die.

(The same is true in Britain. In both societies, upwards of 20% of children live in poverty, the middle class has imploded, and upward mobility has all but vanished. These are Soviet statistics — lethally real ones.)

Politics, too, has become a sclerotic Soviet affair. Anglo-American societies aren’t really democracies in any sensible meaning of the word anymore. They’re run by and for a class of elites, who could care less, literally, whether the average person lives or dies. In America, that class is a bizarre coterie of Ivy Leaguers pretending to be aw-shucks-good-ole-boys on the one side, like Ted Cruz, and Ivy Leaguers pretending to be do-gooders on the other, like Zuck and Silicon Valley. In Britain, it’s the notorious public school boys, the Etonians and Oxbridge set.

That brings me to arrogance. What’s astonishing about our elites is how…arrogant they are…and how ignorant they are…at precisely the same time. Finland just elected a 34 year old woman as a Prime Minister from the Social Democrats. Finland is a society that outperforms ours in every way — every way — imaginable. Finnish happiness is way, way higher — and so is life expectancy, mobility, savings, real incomes, trust, among others. And yet instead of learning a thing from a miracle like that, our elites profess to know a better way…while they’ve run our societies into the ground. What the? Hubris would be an understatement. I don’t think the English language has a word for this weird, fatal combination of arrogance amidst ignorance. Maybe cocksure stupidity comes close.

And yet our elites have succeeded in one vital task — what an Emile Durkheim might have called “social reproduction.” They’ve managed to reproduce society in their image. What does the average Anglo-American aspire to be, do, have? To be rich, powerful, careless, selfish, and dumb, now, mostly. We don’t, as societies or cultures, value learning or knowledge or magnanimity or great and noble things, anymore. We shower millions on reality TV stars and billions on “investment bankers.” The average person has become a tiny microcosm of the aspirations and norms of elites — they’re not curious, empathetic, decent, humane, noble, kind, in pursuit of wisdom, truth, beauty, meaning, purpose. We’ve become cruel, indecent, obscene, comically shallow, and astonishingly foolish people.

That’s not some kind of jeremiad. It’s an objective, easily observed truth. Who else in a rich society denies their neighbours healthcare and retirement? Nobody. Who else denies their own kids education? Nobody. Who else denies themselves childcare and elderly care? Nobody. Who else doesn’t want safety nets, opportunities, mobility, protection, savings, higher incomes? Nobody. Literally nobody on planet earthwantsworse lives excepts us. We’re the only people on earth who thwart our own social progress, over and over again — and cheer about it.

How did we become these people? How did we become tiny microcosms of our arrogant, ignorant, breathtakingly stupid elites? Because we are perpetually battling for self-preservation. Life has become a kind of brutal combat to the death. For jobs, for healthcare, for money, for the tiniest shreds of resources necessary to live. We wake up and fight one another for these things, over and over again. That is what our lives amount to now — gladiatorial combat. Meanwhile, elites and billionaires sit back and enjoy not just the spectacle — but the winnings.

People who are battling for self-preservation can’t take care of anyone else. If I ask the average Brit or American to consider paying for their society’s healthcare, education, elderly care, childcare, increasingly, the answer is: LOL. In America, it always has been. Why is that? The reason couldn’t be simpler. People can’t even take care of themselves and their own. How can they take care of anyone else — let alone everyone else?. ...
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