I’ve never been to America, and, with luck, I’ll never have to go. My assessments are based almost entirely upon “information” gained from media reports, never the most reliable of sources. I’ve also taken account of cultural aspects including literature, music, film and television, in order to create in my own mind, a more comprehensive, but still very limited picture of American society.
I believe that, in order to gain an accurate insight into American society, I would need to live there, and make a concerted, and more scientific, study. I don’t want to do that, partly because my opinion of American culture would be meaningless to the world at large, and partly because I can’t stand listening to them talk.
I’ve worked with Americans, and met Americans who were travelling in Australia, and they appeared to be very normal people, but were they representative of the society as a whole? I can’t say, but I suspect that “typical Americans” are very much like “typical Australians” and that there are many of the 325,000,000 Americans who are very dissatisfied with their own society, its social practices and its performance on the world stage.
If there were a god, would he, she or it, look favourably upon the good ol’ USA?
I doubt it.
With Australia fast becoming the 51st state of the American union, it’s equally debatable as to whether any god would smile upon us. If you doubt my assertion, look around you.
Our social tapestry is emblazoned with American images – youths who are too stupid to wear a cap with the peak facing forward to protect the eyes from glare, others who wear their jeans with the crutch between their knees, making escape from the scene of a crime most challenging, and who are willing to advertise the manufacturer of their underwear at no charge.
Wait! I’m doing it again! I start writing about one issue and rapidly digress into another related rant. I’ll save my whinge about the Americanisation of our culture for another time.
Back to the argument – would any god bless America?
Given that America has created one of the manifestly sickest societies on the planet, (rivalled only by the minority, fanatical, lunatic, fundamentalist elements of Muslim society), it’s doubtful that, if there were a god, America would find itself in favour.
This is primarily due to its critical failure to display the types of behaviours promoted, but not necessarily displayed, by most religions. Their actual behaviours are perhaps typified by the American propensity to “kill thy neighbour”, both domestic and global.
The contemporary American adherence to religion (around 80% claiming a belief in Christianity, alone), rather than being an asset, is in fact, a liability. It would seem to stem from the nation’s history. Founded by Protestant Christians who were seeking escape from religious persecution, the national identity, centuries later, still reflects those values.
Despite advances in knowledge and understanding of the workings of the world, most Americans still cling to beliefs that have been tested and discarded by many people in many advanced countries. The tenacity of that grip is almost frightening, especially since it supports, and even promotes, the aggressive American stance in world affairs, and the formation and proliferation of fanatical home-grown religious cults, which are capable of doing enormous harm.
From any examination of American social and political values, it would appear that, in the 21st century, many American people are both religious and convinced of the fact that they are still being persecuted.
It is not my intention to denigrate the beliefs and practices of genuinely religious people, who may in fact practise what they preach and serve society well, but it cannot be denied that religion in America is very big business. Whilst not representative of all American purveyors of religion, “televangelists”, for example, are capable of reaping huge financial benefits from donations made by their followers. Some of these people may be genuine, in that they actually believe, not only in the existence of one of a number of possible gods, but that they are doing good work by inspiring the same beliefs in others.
What is fair reward for this work? Of course, there will be the ultimate reward of everlasting life, in a hereafter managed by a beneficent god, but you still have to live in this life if you are to continue doing good works, and a personal fortune of $760 million, the estimated wealth of one noted televangelist, would seem to be an adequate earthly reward.
Ten or so of the less financially successful promoters of a god possess wealth ranging between a reasonable $150 million and a paltry $3 million.
It would be interesting to know just how much of the income which they gain through preaching and associated activities, is utilised in putting their words into practice.
A significant number of prophets, preachers, pastors and evangelists have been found to have done things which might be considered irreligious and even un-Christian. Just a well-known few:
Jim Bakker – imprisoned after diverting donations into his own account.
Kent Hovind – 10 years gaol for financial crimes.
Tony Alamo – sentenced to 175 years gaol for sex crimes.
Jimmy Swaggert, Ted Haggard and numerous others have been publicly disgraced, but continue to influence Americans today. If you’re lazy, or don’t feel that Jimmy’s god will listen to you, you can ask Jimmy, on line, to pray for you. If Jimmy had 500 requests for prayers from his devoted followers, would he do each one separately, or bung them in together as a job lot?
Another question must be asked. If there are no gods, does this mean that 80% of Americans believe in fairy tales, and that they elect politicians who are similarly deluded?
It has been said that the Australian political scene was once dominated by affiliations between political parties and religious organisations, most notably the Catholic church. Given the existing links between politicians and their attendance as students at private and privileged church-run schools, this assertion may still be accurate, but it would seem the “church and state” connection in this country is relatively minor when compared to the situation in America.
American studies have shown that it is virtually impossible to become an elected representative of the people if you do not proclaim yourself to be a believer in a god of some persuasion. If you are a practising Christian you would seem to have the best chance, if you are Muslim you have less chance, but if you are an atheist you have an iceberg in hell’s chance of becoming a successful politician.
Please note that I have stated that a political aspirant need only “claim” to have and to follow the teachings of her/his religion. Given the politician’s predilection for deceit, demonstrated behaviours need not, and too often do not, coincide with stated beliefs.
So, American politicians, in the main, are chosen, not just upon the basis of their stated policies, but on the fact that they claim to believe implicitly in something which might well be called a fantasy.
Donald Trump, the incumbent and alleged “chief” (of political policy, of the economy, of the immensely powerful armed forces), is glaring proof of the inadequacy, and of the corruption, of the American political system – a monstrously wealthy buffoon who wouldn’t know a socially responsible policy if it were grasping him by the testicles, Trump appeals to the lowest common denominator of American society, the rednecks who live in constant, politically-generated fear of invasion by foreigners and atheists.
However, his capacity to make billions of dollars for himself, may give him a broader appeal within the electorate, since most Americans favour the “free enterprise” or “capitalist” system of economic and social management. Students of politics may argue my use of terminology (when is a spade a shovel?), and some recent studies show a small but significant change in the attitudes of young Americans, but my meaning is this:
American society is dollar-driven.
Sadly, so is ours, but perhaps in Australian society, the energy expended in chasing dollars is substantially proportionately less than in the American case.
Back to the Yanks.
The acquisition of wealth is a principal goal of living “The American Dream”. The inequitable distribution of its society’s wealth is the foundation of the American nightmare.
It is apparent that American society is divided broadly into two classes, the “haves” and the “have nots”. Within each classification there exist several further strata. For example, the “haves” can be seen to separate into the obscenely rich, the very rich, the rich, the well-to-do and the comfortable. The “have nots” may be identified as the just-getting-by, the struggling, the very poor, the desperate and the “who gives a shit about them?”
There is no crime, social or otherwise, in seeking to gain increased wealth. Adequate wealth can mean the difference between living and merely existing, between good and bad health, between education and ignorance. Wealth is not an evil, but its inequitable distribution within the society in which it is created, may well be.
It has been stated that, in America, the “wealth gap” between the “haves” and the “have nots”, is greater than in any other of the world’s developed countries.
A tiny number of individuals possess an enormous amount of American wealth. Do a bit of internet research – the figures are staggering! It is suggested that one of America’s richest individuals had a net worth of $81 billion – that’s billion, not million.
Who the hell needs that much money?
At the opposite end of the spectrum, 2016 numbers indicated that more than 43 000 000 Americans, well over 10% of the population, lived in poverty.
They include former military personnel who are residual and lasting victims of America’s burgeoning war industry, tossed aside because they are surplus to requirements or too damaged to be of any further use, the permanently unemployed, and the physically and mentally ill who are unable to obtain health care.
Many abuse drugs as a means of escape from the realities of the nightmare, and resort to crime to fund their addictions. For some, incarceration is preferable to a life lived on the streets.
Despite recently enacted legislation mandating healthcare coverage for almost everyone, in America there is still no universal health coverage such as exists in Australia. People can die because they are poor.
The poor are disadvantaged again when trying to access a suitable standard of education. Much the same situation applies in Australia, where inequality is the rule. Although initially “free”, different levels of education are available to students, dependent upon their capacity to pay for “extras”.
For America’s wealthy, if they were to think of the lower classes at all, these human beings might as well live on another planet. They have even less importance than the menial labourers whom they employ to wash their cars and manicure their lawns.
What sort of society can allow that state of affairs to exist? Even our disgraceful Australian situation, can’t match that.
I need to move on from the mind-boggling issue of “rich and poor” in American society, before emotion takes over entirely and further compromises my already vain attempt at retaining some vestige of objectivity.
In addition to its blind observance of religious practices, and its insane drive to accumulate individual wealth, American society is characterised by its need to live in fear, perhaps as a way of justifying its blind observance of religious practices, and its insane drive to accumulate individual wealth.
Fear, and its capacity to control individuals, has been an essential ingredient in the American social mix since the country’s foundation. Today, perhaps more than at any other time, fear, skilfully created, promoted and managed, controls American society.
In Australia, leaders in commerce, religion and politics, hope to use the same weapon against us.
The English who took up residence in America in the early 1600’s were there, in most cases, because they were too scared to stay in England. Their brand of religion wasn’t popular with the authorities.
They were probably also scared of the unknown in their new homeland and so would have been well equipped with weapons to meet any threat from the original inhabitants, or angry animals. Neither the local people, nor the animals, had weapons to match the newcomers, who also brought some previously unknown diseases which conveniently killed heaps of “natives”.
Notice the remarkable similarity with the “first settlement” of our own country?
Anyhow, over time, the new settlers displaced the old, and guns were used to settle disputes. It seems that nothing much has changed. Guns meant power then, just as they do today, when the threats are no longer primitive.
So fear necessitates armed response. Armed response overcomes resistance and reduces fear, so armed response is good, because fear is bad, or, at least, uncomfortable. Here we have the basic precept of the American gun culture, and the foundation of an extremely useful political strategy.
Keep the people scared, but show them that you can protect them. Prove to them how important it is to maintain a military advantage. Encourage them to use guns in order to reduce their fear at a personal level, to give them some small control over their lives. Make sure, though, to introduce new fears which are unable to be controlled by an individual. Show them that is “The U.S. Government” which provides ultimate safety, primarily through the use of bigger and better weapons.
Publicise threats, real or imaginary. Control people’s minds and you can control their behaviours. If they no longer fear one particular thing, introduce another. Keep the cycle spinning and you have unending power over the people.
Whilst the British used war as a way of enlarging and retaining their physical empire, following the vanquishing of the land’s original inhabitants and the settling of territorial disputes, America’s engagement in wars has served as an effective means to remind the American people that they are constantly under threat.
Rather than involving the capturing of vast tracts of physical territory, the American Empire has been established, and is maintained, “covertly”. It’s a much smarter way of doing things than the British approach, which involved a lot of overt aggression – murdering, stealing, enslavement and so on. It’s also probably more socially acceptable, and less likely to attract unwanted criticism from other countries.
The American Empire has been created through the extremely effective use of money and its stablemate, power.
By targeting nations and, in some cases individuals, who are open to influence, and by satisfying their need for money, power or military protection, America has gathered a coterie of allies, both people and countries, then manipulated them to behave in ways which promote America’s domestic and global interests. Australia is a prime example: “All the way with LBJ”.
It is no coincidence that America’s domestic and global management strategy is dependent upon violence. Violence demands weapons production and weapons production means money, lots of it. Some researchers suggest that America has been actively and overtly involved in wars, domestic and international, almost constantly, since its establishment. How much covert involvement has taken place is anybody’s guess.
Commercial interests that need the proliferation of violence in order to remain profitable, heavily influence the election of America’s politicians.
In company with other organisations that seek to guard their profit-making abilities by having sympathetic governments elected, the armaments industry heavily funds election campaigns, so that it can continue to make squillions of dollars from inventing and manufacturing sophisticated products, exclusively designed to make it easier for people to kill other people.
Excerpts from a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute article provide some interesting data about “money and guns” in America:
US companies still way ahead despite falling revenues.
Companies based in the United States continue to dominate the Top 100 with total arms sales amounting to $209.7 billion for 2015.
‘Lockheed Martin remains the largest arms producer in the world,’ says Aude Fleurant, Director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. ‘However, US companies’ arms sales are constrained by caps on US military spending, delays in deliveries of major weapon systems and the strength of the US dollar, which has negatively affected export sales.’
From the New York Times:
U.S. Sold $40 Billion in Weapons in 2015, Topping Global Market
By Thom Shanker Dec. 26, 2016
WASHINGTON — The United States again ranked first in global weapons sales last year, signing deals for about $40 billion, or half of all agreements in the worldwide arms bazaar, and far ahead of France, the No. 2 weapons dealer with $15 billion in sales, according to a new congressional study.
The interests of gun manufacturing companies is further supported by fear-mongering organisations such as the National Rifle Association, which resists, effectively any moves to limit the control on gun ownership in the America.
From The Christian Science Monitor:
US gun industry is thriving. Seven key figures.
By Schuyler Velasco, Staff writer December 17, 2012 .
As the debate over gun control rages on in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, the firearms industry in the United States is thriving. Profits for gunmakers and retailers are setting records, driven by fear, politics, and recreation.
$31.8 billion. The estimated economic impact of the US firearms industry in 2012, according to data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. That’s up from $27.8 billion in 2009, due to job creation and new sales taxes. 26,325 new gun-related jobs have been created over the past two years, according to the NSSF.
And while tracking concrete sales numbers of firearms in the United States is tricky, federal officials report that they were higher than ever in 2012. Through the end of November, the FBI recorded 16.5 million background checks for gun purchases in 2012 – the highest figure since the FBI began tracking such data in 1998. And the actual number of guns sold is likely higher, because registrants can buy multiple guns.
Two factors in recent history have had a tendency to send sales soaring. As staff writer Linda Feldmann reported in July, gun sales usually spike in the days following a mass shooting. Background checks rose 41 percent in Colorado in the aftermath of the Aurora movie theater shooting over the summer, and sales spikes followed Columbine and the 2011 rampage in Tucson, Ariz., as well.
The second factor is politics. Sales spiked in anticipation of both of President Obama’s elections, in 2008 and 2012, and stock in firearms manufacturers like Smith & Wesson soared, as buyers feared legislation that would clamp down on Second Amendment rights or restrict their ability to purchase a gun.
Is it ironic, or just hideously sick, that the best thing that can happen for an American gun manufacture’s sales is another massacre?
From The Conversation: Michael Siegel, Professor of Community Health Sciences, Boston University.
Americans have blamed many culprits, from mental illness to inadequate security, for the tragic mass shootings that are occurring with increasing frequency in schools, offices and theaters across the U.S.
Yet in our nation’s ongoing conversation about the root causes of gun violence, the makers of guns are hardly ever mentioned. As a public health researcher, I find this odd, because evidence shows that the culture around guns contributes significantly to gun violence. And firearm manufacturers have played a major role influencing American gun culture.
To help spur this much-needed discussion, I’d like to share some critical facts about the firearm industry that I’ve learned from my recent research on gun violence prevention.
Surging handgun sales
The U.S. is saturated with guns – and has become a lot more so over the past decade. In 2016 alone, U.S. gun manufacturers produced 10.6 million firearms for entry into the market, up from 3.6 million in 2006. Pistols and rifles made up about 85 percent of the total.
There’s strong survey evidence that gun owners have become less likely to cite hunting or sport as a reason for their ownership, instead pointing to personal security. The percentage of gun owners who told Gallup the reason they possessed a firearm was for hunting fell to 36 percent in 2013 from almost 60 percent in 2000. The share that cited “sport” as their reason fell even more.
Stand-your-ground’ laws flourish
Another possible explanation for the uptick in handguns could be the widespread adoption of state “stand-your-ground laws” in recent years. These laws explicitly allow people to use guns as a first resort for self-defense in the face of a threat.
Utah enacted the first stand-your-ground in 1994. The second adoption did not take place until 2005 in Florida. A year later, stand-your-ground laws took off, with 11 states enacting one in 2006 alone. Another dozen passed such laws since then, bringing to the total to half of all states.
These laws were the result of a concerted National Rifle Association lobbying campaign. For example, Florida’s law, which George Zimmerman used in 2013 to escape charges for killing Trayvon Martin, was crafted by former NRA President Marion Hammer.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, an association of state legislators dedicated to limited government of which the NRA was a member, has helped push the laws around the country using a model drafted by another NRA official.
It’s not clear whether the campaign to promote stand-your-ground laws fueled the surge in handgun production. But it’s possible that it’s part of a larger effort to normalize firearms for self-defense.
This overall picture suggests that a change in firearm industry marketing fueled an increased demand for more lethal weapons. This, in turn, appears to have fostered a change in gun culture, which has shifted away from an appreciation of the use of guns for hunting, sport and recreation and toward a view that guns are a necessity to protect oneself from criminals.
How and whether this change in gun culture is influencing rates of firearms violence is a question I’m currently researching.
Of whom are Americans scared?
They’re scared of each other, and of everybody else.
As is the situation in Australia, in America it is the abject failure of the corrupt political system to provide appropriate and effective leadership, which has created a culture of which many thinking Americans must surely be ashamed.
I guess that’s the key – thinking voters.
In Australia we have compulsory voting, which might be seen as an infringement of personal rights, but which probably ensures that more Australian voters are more politically aware than their American counterparts are.
Whilst our system is plagued by corruption and the power of money, the American system seems to be overwhelmed by it.
Why do some Americans choose not to vote?
Since the apparent convergence of Liberal/National Party policies with Labor Party policies in Australia, and their American-inspired practice of making policies based upon market research, I’ve struggled to find someone to vote for, in both state and federal elections. This disturbing paucity of worthy candidates seems unlikely to end in the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the situation in America is the same.
It may also be that the basic and arduous struggle to even maintain, let alone improve their lives, saps from Americans, their energy and their belief that, by voting, they can make a real difference to their own welfare.
Maybe they just don’t give a shit about their country and their countrymen, and devote all of their energies to chasing the almighty dollar.
However, it’s apathy that I credit with having the most destructive effect upon the American political system, and thereby upon American culture, and I believe that same malaise affects us in Australia, where we are inclined to sit on our arses and do nothing. In America, they apparently sit on their donkeys.
I imagine that there must be millions and millions of “rank and file” Americans who believe that, no matter what they do, they can’t repair a system which is so fundamentally broken. Controlled by “big business”, and by other “vested interests” such as the church and the N.R.A., American politics is stuffed.
It wouldn’t be such a problem if the American psyche didn’t also project a belief in America’s inalienable right to rule the world – their commitment to the idea that what’s good for America is good for the rest of the world – or the belief that if non-Americans reject the American Dream, that’s just “tough shit”.
So, the world is now ruled by King Donald Trump (or, rather, by the faceless individuals who pull his strings). The world will probably survive this aberration as we did with Nixon, Clinton and the Bushes, but will any god bless America?
Not a hope in Hell!