This has been a discomfiting year for me.
Too many friends died. Perhaps by the power of suggestion, or just the grinding forces of time and nature, I have become keenly aware of my own years piling up as the unwilling compromises of age accrue in body and mind. My job has begun to eat away at my soul. And, more than ever, I feel hope dissipating like a doomed cumulus cloud in June—too early for the monsoon, isolated and ultimately overwhelmed by the withering sun.
All of which is quite holiday-maudlin, I guess, but that last thought is not necessarily a bad one. Hope has its place, but too often, it serves as a palliative narcotic for the defeated. Considering the state of the planet and the decay of our American empire, this is no time for hope. This is a time for grim determination, or nothing.
Empires die like people: The decline is not necessarily an obvious progression, and it often goes unnoticed internally—or at least unacknowledged—until it reaches the proportions of crisis. Lately, the clues have been hard to ignore, as our dirty diplomatic laundry writhes in the breeze for all to see, and we offer up our corporeal "junk" to be fondled by uniformed strangers in return for the illusion of aviation safety.
Between the endless ads for diamonds, electronics and digitalized automotive fantasies imploring you to internalize the nonsense that your life is meaningless without the trappings of wealth and power, perhaps you have noticed lengthening cracks in the American façade, the imperial edifice listing slightly, the brittle plaster of our democracy littering the ground.
The cyberwars that Pentagon gearheads and professional paranoiacs at the CIA warned of have begun. Unfortunately, as is too often the case lately, the United States is on the wrong side of the fence. It's not just that our diplomats have been exposed subjecting foreign dignitaries to some very undignified intrusions—collecting biometric samples, no less, like some creep who follows you into a restroom, tweezers in hand, seeking little bodily bits with which to compromise your privacy once and for all—it is also the spectacle of a small army of anonymous hackers boldly scrambling to preserve free speech and democracy on a global scale, while the erstwhile copyright-holder of such romantic notions seeks to crush not just their efforts, but all voices of dissent.
As the flow of Wikileaks threatens to overtop the tub, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton increasingly resembles the pathetic little manipulator in the Land of Oz who is suddenly exposed and can only squeal, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" The president's mouthpieces mouth "peace" while their boss leads us into a global war, in the process demonstrating a profound disrespect for the people alongside whom we are fighting and the principles we purport to be upholding. In climate talks, the U.S. continues to evade the burden of global climate disruption, choosing instead to blame and punish the poor nations of the world for the fallout of an industrial revolution that made our nation incalculably wealthy while relegating their nations to serfdom in the global marketplace.
The official response to such revelations is arguably more disturbing than the crimes committed. As with the torture scandals, our government stubbornly refuses to accept responsibility, preferring instead to ignore the facts at hand and rely upon absurd denials and twisted rationalizations. It's an unprecedented degree of hubris and a new paradigm of moral relativity. Any government that refuses to be held accountable for such despicable violations of international protocol—not to mention common decency—can be counted on to repeat its crimes again and again.
It is often the case that the more one has, the more one is afraid to lose. In this king-of-the-hill context, it's no wonder that we let fear rule our politics and our minds. Perhaps it's time that we come to the realization that being the world's sole superpower is not good for one's physical, mental or spiritual health. We need professional help—or, at the very least, the wise counsel of some kind-hearted Yoda in a dripping cave somewhere.
Admitting that we have a problem seems like a good first step. Then, rather than fooling ourselves with imaginary finery and the pretense that we are without sin—and therefore qualified to cast stones all around the world—we could come right out and state that our empire is indeed naked, our actions have been wrong, and we'd like to apologize and make amends. What a holiday gift to the world that would be.