Five Signs the United States Is Withering Away

Click to view The United States has existed for only a little over two centuries, which is a paltry amount of time when you consider that many nations and city-states have lasted for thousands of years (hello, Rome). Now it's starting to look like this brief experiment with human government is going to fail, and soon. Science fiction writers from William Gibson to Lyda Morehouse have written about a future where the United States no longer exists, or has been so heavily reorganized that it isn't recognizable. And Stanford futurist Paul Saffo recently told the San Jose Mercury News, "The U.S. may not exist in any recognizable form in the middle of this century." Though he didn't offer a long list of reasons, we know exactly what he means. There are good reasons to believe that the U.S. is falling apart, and we've got five big ones for you to mull over as you watch this once-powerful twentieth century empire slowly drip down the drain.

1. Too many internal divisions

People in the United States refer to the country being divided into "red states" (conservative regions) and "blue states" (progressive regions). The division is so extreme that most recent presidential elections have been close calls, with red states voting Republican and blues voting Democrat — the nation is so evenly divided, and the vote so controversial, that in 2000 the presidential election had to be called by the courts rather than by a standard tally. But the nation isn't just divided by red and blue. It's also divided by wealth and poverty, with some states like California boasting per capita GDPs of over $42 thousand, and other states like Mississippi with a per capita GDP at a little over $24 thousand.

Can a nation divided both ideologically and economically survive? It's one thing to disagree over religion, but quite another to disagree over who gets to have a school system in their state next year. When people in some regions of the United States feel screwed over economically, as well as insulted culturally, it may begin to feel as if they have no choice but to break away from a nation that no longer represents their best interests.

2. A decadent culture

The United States has, for a long time, been the world's biggest exporter of popular culture. US movies play all over the world, from Cuba to the UAE, and US television roams the planet as well. Partly that's because Hollywood is such a wealthy industry that its products are just the shiniest things around, but it's also because the nation's pop culture has been inspirational (even if propagandistic at times) and groundbreaking. But now even the most die-hard fans of US pop culture have to admit that the Hollywood machine needs some serious upgrades. It's decaying. The biggest sign of our decadent pop culture is the glut of sequels and remakes that circulate and recirculate through the pop machine. This summer's movie slate, and next season's TV slate, are perfect examples. We've got a Batman sequel, a Hulk remake, a movie version of a comic book in Wanted, and a Hellboy sequel in theaters, plus a remake of a British TV series (Life on Mars) in the works for fall.

How can the US continue to be a nation of innovators and free thinkers if all our pop culture is being recycled from previous generations' pop culture? I'm not saying that there is such a thing as a completely original story, but remaking old stories again and again encourages people to look back to the past for ideas rather than trying to break new ground.

3. Too much military, not enough social welfare

While the US government fights an expensive war that is so unpopular that even former Secretary of State Colin Powell says it's not justified, the country still hasn't set up a public health care system or solved its problems with social security and medicare spending. The wealthy push for lower taxes, and people like billionaire Bill Gates claim they can pick up the slack by engaging in philanthropy. Yeah, philanthropy worked great back in the early twentieth century, when guys like Andrew Carnegie said the same thing. And then the nation fell into the Great Depression, and had to create a sane welfare system.

It's not likely that we're going to see another president or administration that is willing to reboot welfare, and that is only going to add to the problems I discussed in reason #1. Whether or not you think welfare is the answer, it's clear that the government should be spending more money improving the lives of its citizens rather than fighting a war in Iraq. Maybe that money should go towards education, or health care, or space travel. The point is, US citizens feel increasingly abandoned by their national government.

4. Citizens do not trust their government

US intelligence group the National Security Agency (NSA) has acknowledged that it spent the past several years illegally wiretapping and spying on vast portions of the US population. The NSA asked phone and internet service providers like AT&T to hand over all information they had on what every single customer was doing online or on the phone. And AT&T did it, even though the NSA had not gotten a warrant or gone through any of the proper court procedures to get that personal and sensitive data. The US government has repeatedly tried to pardon the NSA for doing this, which sets up an atmosphere of fear and suspicion among US citizens. Most people here in the US know they are probably being spied on and have given up the idea of privacy. Meanwhile, US citizens can't really trust the government to give them truthful financial information either. Many commentators have pointed out that the US Treasury's method of measuring inflation has downplayed the extent to which the country is suffering from a greater level of inflation than the government admits.

So if your government is spying on you, and lying to you about how much more expensive it has become to live in the US, how can you trust that government to care for and protect you? Maybe so few US citizens turn out to vote partly because they feel like the government lies about everything, so they might as well not bother participating in the political process. Obviously the situation is more complicated than that, but nevertheless it's easy to see why a nation that cannot represent itself transparently to its own citizens might be headed for a fall.

5. No science and engineering leadership

What made the US one of the world's most powerful nations during the twentieth century was its focus on science and engineering innovation. The government poured money into developing new technologies to make life easier — and, admittedly, to use as weapons. The president's science adviser was an important position, which the Bush Administration downgraded. Now there is no direct science adviser to the President of the US. Moreover, new US immigration laws keep talented immigrant scientists out of the country, and lack of funding for science education means that fewer and fewer young US citizens will grow up to invent world-transforming technologies. It doesn't help that the US government still refuses to accept scientifically-verified claims about climate change, has banned funding for research into promising areas like stem cell therapies, and refuses to provide basic sex education in schools.

Without a strong focus on science and technology education, as well as a strong science agenda in government, the US is likely to become a technological anachronism. It will wither away into obsolescence while Europe and Asia go to space in their nano-suits with crews of AI robots. In addition, without a strong science agenda, the US will not be able to meet the challenge of dealingl with climate change, and therefore make take the entire world down the drain with it. Image via PlanetXProphecies.