- People and culture
- Domestic factors
Since its independence, the evolution of the US has been negatively influenced by three things: extreme individualism; violence; and bigotry.
As stated in the US Declaration of Independence, the aim of the liberty of the individual is the pursuit of happiness, as opposed to the equality and fraternity made possible by the French ideal. This pursuit of happiness is not limited by anything. Thus, your happiness cannot be limited by the happiness of any other individual and you exist in constant competition with others. This results in the alienation of many individuals and increasingly dysfunctional families and social networks. In many cases, religion takes on the role of the family network but in many poor areas, gangs increasingly fulfil this role which, in turn, increases the violence of the area. In a country where winning is the key to success, you end up with few winners at the expense of many expendable losers.
The right to keep and bear arms was enshrined in the Second Amendment to ensure that a militia could be called upon to support the rights of everyone against any infringement, be it by government or any other force. While this was probably an urgent need within the hostile environment of colonial times, there is today no reason for the number of weapons in the hands of US citizens. The US is today the most violent society in the world and the number of gun-related deaths is not comparable with any other developed society. Moreover, this increased violence spills over into some neighbouring states that become caught in a spiral of violence created by the guns, vice, and gangs that originate in the US. This violence is not only ingrained in individuals but also goes on to dominate many sources of influence on human relations such as schools and, noticeably, an entertainment industry that uses violence in games and films, crafting heroes and winners that become the role models and ideals we aspire to.
Finally, although the Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal, throughout its evolution the US has witnessed a division brought about by the existence of slavery at its foundation and the violent struggle for abolition, evidenced in more modern times by segregation and the fight for civil rights. While the US is a country of immigrants, where the native population has been practically eliminated, the constant exercise of bigotry by white Americans, against Africans, Jews, Hispanics, Italians, Greeks, Arabs, Chinese, Asians and others, has always permeated social relations. In the case of African-Americans and Latinos, the level of tension and conflict has continued to increase to reach extreme levels, made evident by several recent events.
That such a developed country with immense riches and natural resources, with the most sophisticated educational system and incredible opportunities for creativity is mired in a swamp of extreme violence, racial prejudice, alienation and fear is indeed a pity
That such a developed country with immense riches and natural resources, with the most sophisticated educational system and incredible opportunities for creativity is mired in a swamp of extreme violence, racial prejudice, alienation and fear is indeed a pity. This is compounded by a system of information and entertainment designed not to educate, but to distract and excite.
On top of all that, the development of an industrial society which to satisfy its need for constant growth has created a system of material production and consumption that is totally unsustainable, and is killing the very planet on which human societies were able to develop and thrive. The recent encyclical by Pope Francis is evidence of how serious the situation has now become and his warnings, more than any arguments by scientists and leaders over the last quarter of a century, are those that will frame the future discussion on the destiny of human societies faced with a system of indiscriminate exploitation of limited resources, whether we agree or not.
I want to stress that the conflicts I have mentioned as a negative influence on the further evolution of the US and the parts of the world that adhere to its principles and leadership in values, lifestyles and vision, are the downside of the failure of other tendencies and movements to prevail. In direct opposition to these negative influences, and on a positive note, the US has been the cradle of enormous achievements in the arts, in science and technology, in the exploration of human creativity, in the defence of individual leaders, and in the creation of strong collective movements that have shown the potential for a better future, both for US society and the rest of the world.
On a final note, I also want to stress that this is not an apocalyptic vision, but an honest appraisal of the events of the past century and the result of a thorough study of many documents, papers, literature, and news from this period. I have also made more than 20 trips to the US over a period of close to 40 years, including one recent visit to Philadelphia and Washington DC, knowing I would be writing this piece. I would also like to emphasize the benefits I’ve gained from my friendships with several educated and sophisticated US citizens, with whom I have had many enlightening discussions. Lastly, my views have inevitably been shaped by 64 years of living under the shadow of a very big neighbour.