Voyage through the Collapsing Empire

Posted on 05/07/2011 by

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Much of my silence of recent note has been due to the pre- and post-effects of taking a trip across the United States. The rest is because of the trip itself, and a computer which broke very early on in the proceedings. I’ve seen quite a lot over that ~8,000 miles, much of which I hope to share with you. This will involve many different posts, which I hope to be publishing in fairly short order.

Today, however, I wanted to share a few general thoughts, which I hope to expand upon in later posts. Long story short: the USA, as a political entity, is over. As in, the political superstructure no longer has the economic and social support it needs to survive. The political USA has collapsed, but no one has realised it yet.

Returning to the long story.

The most jaw-dropping thing I saw was the pure level of socioeconomic devastation. It is so pervasive, that any example to the contrary is the exception which proves the rule. For every North Dakota, there is the Midwest. For every Brattleboro, there is an Upstate New York.

For whatever reason — avoiding that detail for the moment — the physical infrastructure of these United States has seen a near-complete lack of maintenance for at least thirty years. This slumming goes beyond mere roads: it includes the very towns and cities in which everyone lives. Suburbs — or, as I prefer, Slumburbistan — are not immune to this either. Their degradation is masked by the manufacture of new developments, like metastasising cancer.

Whatever has been done was reactive, not preventative; the very idea of preventative maintenance is spurned as ‘inefficient’. Now, three years after the beginning of the 2008 Depression, even the reactive maintenance has all but dried up. Overall, the only remaining work is the proverbial ‘shovel-ready’ projects, which are centred almost exclusively around keeping the Eisenhower Interstate System limping along. And that complete lack of any sort of maintenance is showing with glaring clarity.

It isn’t just paint looking a little tired, it’s entire towns being boarded up and abandoned without any attempt to sell the real property. The most spectacular was Florida, Massachusetts. Four years ago it was a quiet little exurban hell with a few stores and an expensive SUV for everyone over 18. Now it is empty save a mere handful of houses, and one, probably unlicensed ‘general store’ out of someone’s front yard. Everything else is literally boarded up and falling into ruin.

There is another example of this: Marmarth, North Dakota. Highest population: 1,318; present population: 136. Although much of North Dakota is doing fairly well, thanks to the State’s fiscal responsibility and ever-helpful oil revenues, Marmarth is a wreck. The view of the city from US Highway 12 is one of a late 19th Century boom town, all boarded up.

This story is repeated across these United States, in varying forms of severity. However, the situation is dire, and is beyond the ability of the US society and political apparatus to reverse. These towns which have dried up and blown away are permanently dead, simply because the boom-economy which built them is itself long since dead.

The biggest problem which these expired and expiring face is that their problems are completely unrecognised at all levels of society and government. They face what I call ‘service desertification’; that is, the contraction of the services network necessary to support habitation. Fuel stations, grocery stores, coffee shops, and so on… these are necessary to support a town, and when they go away, the town is no longer going to survive. These places have no industry or resources, and no prospects for gaining either in the future. They are, simply, the leftovers of a failed way of life, one which has become utterly unsupportable.

A lot of commentators are taking two general sides to ‘solving’ the economic and structural problems of these United States. One side is returning to some Golden Age; the other thinks that reform will bring a Golden Age. The situation has gone beyond that. It is not merely that the past is too expensive to recreate, and that the hypothetical future is likewise unaffordable. Rather, it is simply that these United States, and the political USA, have reached the end of the line, and what we see is how it’s going to end.

Pinning down that end exactly is not possible, but I expect it is much closer than anyone — even myself — expects. The political USA is heading toward a quiet and unexpected dissolution, sometime in the near future. We will all wake up one day, and there will be no more USA; the phones will ring, but no one will answer. These United States will be united no more. It will be a blessing for many if they can remain States.

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Posted in: Field Notes, General