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Chronicling the collapse of a failed society
Years ago, I spent a couple of summers working in a salmon cannery in Naknek, Alaska. On the base of the Alleutian Peninsula, surrounded by the bleak, brown landscape of the summer tundra, it was a dreary job of 16-hour days spent gutting fish, in a tiny town in one of the most desolate regions on earth.
Among some of my stranger workmates were a handful of proud skinheads from Washington state, including a giant, 6′ 4″ weirdo with a shaved head, scraggly ginger beard, and oversized horn-rimmed glasses. We were often situated side-by-side on the “slime line,” as it was termed, and engaged in conversation on a wide variety of topics whilst ripping fistfuls of guts from the insides of unfortunate salmon.
He was, not surprisingly, an ultra-conservative Republican who loved capitalism, worshiped the mythical free market, and adored the writings of Ayn Rand. As a long-haired hippie fresh from the streets of Portland, we obviously didn’t quite see eye to eye on many – most – issues.
When the 4th of July came and, during one of our paltry 30-minute meal breaks, we were served revoltingly dry barbecued chicken in celebration of our nation’s independence, he looked at me snidely and asked whether or not I considered Independence Day to be a day of mourning.
And it was a fair question. Given all the atrocities that have been committed by Americans since the birth of our nation — the mass genocide of the Native Americans, the systematic suppression of African Americans well into the 20th century and beyond, the widespread exploitation of developing countries around the globe, the wars, the death, the torture — is there really any cause for celebrating the day that the U.S. came into being?
The question boils down to finding the balance between the benefits and the harm that we have brought into the world. Have our positive accomplishments outweighed the vast destruction and oppression that we have reeked? At this point in history, looking at our five concurrent wars, the Patriot Act, the very real likelihood of government complicity in the horrific events of 9/11, I would have to say no. The United States, in spite of being founded on the noblest of principles of human rights and democratic values, has caused far more harm than good, and seems a blight on the face of the earth, a parasite leeching off the blood and wealth of the masses, hindering progress and development for all mankind.
The ideals for which we profess to stand, however, are worth celebrating, regardless of whether or not we actually uphold them. If the great American Empire were to collapse tomorrow — which is not altogether unthinkable — I would breathe a deep sigh of relief, as I’m sure much of the world would do as well. For the countless millions for whom life has been made intolerable by American military and economic oppression, the dismantling of our modern imperial empire would be a cause for jubilation, as the single greatest impediment to world peace and prosperity would have ceased to exist.
But the principles upon which our nation was founded — that all men were created equal, that each of us should be guaranteed the same basic, universal human rights, that government should exist of, for and by the people — are elegant testimonials to the beautiful potential of the human spirit, and of the lofty goals to which we should all aspire.
The American experiment has failed. Overrun by corporate interests, driven to the depths of depravity in our relentless pursuit of profits, we have become the very things our founding fathers despised. But on this Independence Day, let us celebrate the coming collapse, because it is only then that the ideals on which our nation was founded might finally be given another chance to bring prosperity and happiness to the entire human race.