The Collapse of the American Model

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    Featured Columnist – Meditations
    Martin LeFevre

    On a gloriously beautiful day Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the United States, one could almost see the outlines of a new way of thinking and approach to life, as families and friends gathered to share a big meal and a little gratitude together. But that perception looked illusory on ‘Black Friday.’

    Without a hint of irony, America celebrated the return of senseless consumerism on “Black Friday.” People camped outside of Best Buy and other “Big Box” stores to be the first fools to stampede through the doors and gobble up the cheapest high-tech toys the day after Thanksgiving.

    You know the country isn’t learning from its economic collapse when the media is agog with headlines like “Shoppers Back in Black on Friday Binge.” Black Friday was followed in mind-numbing succession by “Small Business Saturday,” and “Cyber Monday.”

    Show me a country that views itself in terms of its economy and entertainment, and I’ll show you a people that don’t know what’s important in life.

    David Axelrod, President Obama’s top advisor, said recently, “the truth is, most people in this country are most interested in whether America wins in the competition for the future.”

    The truth is, that’s another lie. On one hand, the majority of Americans are hoping things haven’t really changed, and they can return to meaningless materialism in a futile attempt to fill the bottomless pit of emptiness of this culture. On the other hand, more and more people are focusing on family and friendship, on making better use of their time and energy, and on things that matter as opposed to things they can buy.

    The horns of the dilemma are as old as man: competition or cooperation? In the present crisis, which is more psychological and spiritual than economic and political, there is an implicit, and as yet unasked question: What kind of society do we want to live in?

    Questioning is revolutionary. But the world can only have a psychological revolution when enough people hold the question: After my loved ones and I have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs, what is actually important?

    Successive waves of immigrants came to America and performed the lowest jobs on the ladder. Now those jobs are done overseas in Chinese sweatshops. That has nothing do with ‘outsourcing,’ and everything to do with the borderless flow of capital and labor in a global economy.

    Besides, no son or daughter of an American immigrant wants to toil in the fields and factories anymore. As always, in the United States, the latest wave of immigrants and “illegal aliens” pick the crops, clean the toilets, manicure the lawns, and make the hotel beds. Yet many Americans now disingenuously deride and scapegoat them for taking their jobs, leeching off their land, and sucking their tax coffers dry.

    Such scapegoating is a symptom of and diversion from what actually angers Americans: We’re no longer the undisputed leaders of the world, and we’re adrift as a people and a nation. For far too long the myth of American exceptionalism camouflaged a growing internal rot arising from superpower hubris and supershopper cupidity. Whenever the scales tipped, the actual substance that preceded Sarah Palin’s fantasy of American greatness is gone for good.

    It isn’t just Palin and her Tea Party yahoos. The more President Obama and his team talk about restoring American competitive greatness, the more they miss the point (deliberately or not) of what’s actually ailing this land. Even so, history has shifted its focus.

    Africans are the poorest and therefore the lowest people on the global totem pole. But Africans aren’t fated to go the way of the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Burmese. They’ve already paid their price to human avarice and exploitation in the currency of slaves and colonialism.

    There is no inherent and immutable reason why African countries can’t have strong and prosperous economies. Many Africans are smart and savvy, and God knows, there are enough resources on the Continent.

    So it isn’t a matter of whether Africa will join the global economy; it’s just a question of how.

    With the collapse of the American model, and the dead-end of the Chinese model, Africans can fully enter the world economic system on their own terms.

    But they’ll have to create a new conception of the good life to replace the individualistically competitive (dog eat dog) American pattern that’s become unsustainably predominant.

    Martin LeFevre
    [email protected]

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