When we think of the rise and fall of empires, Rome comes first to mind, but others have come before and since. The parallels between Rome and the U.S. are best known to me from my studies, and some of the features of Rome’s decline, specifically the overspending and overpromising of the government and the shift of the culture of the people from a state of self-sufficiency to institutional dependence, are strikingly similar to our own. For better or worse, in this digital era of instant communication, change occurs far more swiftly than in the era of chariots. So we have much less time to right the course of this gargantuan ocean liner we call the U.S.A., as the sea of time has become more a lake.

The only encouraging sign I’ve seen is the emergence of a large, vocal segment of society now clamoring for change. Some are calling for the radical realignment we need, and are trying to work through the system, one that has become progressively more divisive and ineffectual. Others have taken a more unfocused and unproductive route, squatting and parading and decrying a corrupt segment of the system without any clear sense of the totality of the problem, or any cogent ideas how to fix it. In any case, a sense of alarm has belatedly surfaced. Whether it’s a case of “too little, too late” remains to be seen through the perfect lens of history’s hindsight, but a best case scenario, in my mind, is five to ten years of recession, or even depression. A worst case scenario is system collapse and social unrest. The veneer of civilization can be thin and the supply lines in our digitalized, electrified and mechanized society even thinner, so the potential for catastrophe is dire. But there is hope.

Out of the ashes of each great civilization something new has arisen. If we don’t have the will, or are simply beyond the point, of being able to take the difficult steps necessary to repair our broken system, no doubt there will be much pain and many lives forfeit. But on the other side of the tunnel is the bright light of rediscovery of the human values that made this nation so exceptional: Morality, frugality, self-sufficiency and a resurgence of the family will be reborn to fill the void artificially occupied by a massive, progressively corrupt central government. When there is no infrastructure of nursing homes and day care, family and friends will need to rely once again on each other. Where there is no government subsidy, charity will need to rise up in its place. On the decimated field of an erstwhile stable currency, fledgling, vibrant local currencies and barter will sprout.

The cycle of rise and fall and rise again will likely continue until we as people change fundamentally, and I don’t see that happening soon. The writer and philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  We do remember; we just can’t overcome our human nature enough to change it.

Until that day comes, keep moving toward the light. If you squint, you can see it. It’s just beyond the end of the tunnel.


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