(Oh, and I didn’t say, but it’s understood — I’d be relieved if you can credibly tell me none of these, and no combination of them are likely. Of course, telling me “this won’t happen because socialism totally works and is teh-awesome” is not credible.)
America has never experienced a collapse – economic, order or sovereignty collapse.
The closest the US came to a collapse of the economy was the thirties, and compared to the rest of the world, as Grapes of Wrathy as it got here, it wasn’t that bad. The closest one came to a collapse of order was the race riots, and even those one expects were more exaggerated by the media than anything else, and for many (even European) cities would be known as “Saturday Night.”
When I hear people talk about being hungry in a year or two, it doesn’t sound “right.”
On the other hand, we’ve never watched the collapse of a country as large as the US, a country that in many ways has made the other countries collapses in the last fifty years slow mo and practically painless.
There are three things to consider in collapse, no matter how the collapse is brought about, keeping in mind that economic is the one we’re headed to at speed.
Economic – an economic collapse can range from people losing all their retirement, all their wealth, and having to accept a diminished lifestyle (we’ve been in this for four years or so) to real collapse, which I understand Portugal experienced in the thirties (I only have my grandmother’s stories for this, but she claimed some families survived by boiling weeds from the side of the street for soup, when nothing else was available. I don’t know if people actually died of hunger, or if it would have been recorded. I know my mom grew up barefoot and gleaning both from fields after the harvest, and coal from the railroad side for cooking – heating is not an important consideration in most of Portugal.)
Order – I don’t think any of you have any idea how law abiding Americans are even compared to Europeans. I know having grown up in a southern European country, I experienced the other extreme, but even the Northern European countries are less law abiding In The Absence Of Enforcement. The most astonishing thing about the US when I came here as an exchange student was not how much wealthier than Portugal it was – though my jaw dropped when my host mother bought a small TV on a whim – but how people could put Christmas décor outside and NO ONE STOLE it. And how houses had no real protective fences around them and no one destroyed the gardens.
Part of this is cultural. The US is extreme and past Germany for this, but it is a northern-European cultural thing. BUT part of this is that Americans have bought into their own laws… up till now. If that changes (and it’s almost impossible it won’t if regulations keep getting piled) it will destroy the culture. Things could get very Ugly.
Territorial Integrity – 9/11 was, other than Pearl Harbor to an extent, and attacks on our embassies, the first violation of territorial integrity. Going along on this scale can be … bad. Really bad. And can exacerbate all the rest.
So, here is a scale of “fears” from the “best” to the worst case scenarios for the next four years. I don’t claim to have a crystal ball, and I doubt ANY of these will work in exactly this way. The thing we SF writers don’t tell you is that predicting the future is hard because – like other complex systems – there are too many variables going on to say “this will go this way for sure.” We get away with it, when writing, by scaffolding vast portions of the world and letting you imagine whatever.
Again, I doubt any of this comes true this way. Likely we’ll have a combination of all three, and all of it muffled under another scenario I won’t bother putting in, which is “Everything goes to h*ll but no one knows it, which looks kind of like now but worse. AKA “p*ssing down your neck and telling you it’s raining.” In which we don’t even KNOW everything that’s gone wrong, and things are masked by other things.)
So, here goes.
The New Normal
In many ways this is what has happened in Portugal since it pulled back from the madness of 78 and the still crazy times of 79.
It’s not exactly collapse. Or rather, it’s collapse in such slow mo you don’t see it. You just rearrange your mental furniture to where you expect next year to be worse than this.
As energy restrictions kick in – and please, those of you who are going to argue, google the video of the president saying under his plan “energy costs will necessarily skyrocket” and that he will bankrupt coal plants. – because the privileged children running the administration think energy is used only to run cars and planes for the sort of pleasure jaunts they undertake, they’re baffled by the side effect of EVERYTHING becoming more expensive. Greed is blamed. The excuse is growing prosperity and competition from the rest of the world, too. “Everyone is becoming richer, because we’re a little poorer” will be the thought.
It’s stupid economics, but a lot a people will buy it. This will be wrapped in declinism and in how the US has had its turn, but now…
It will be used to bring a lot of UN law and regulations over here.
Meanwhile new taxes will decimate the middle class, till we ALL can’t survive without some form of assistance.
We get attacked, but primarily abroad, and it feeds into the declinism, and into our pulling in.
As for order in our territory, it will be viewed as oppressive. After all, people are hurting, it’s no wonder that there’s more crime.
This scenario is the most likely. It’s also bad enough. Look, under this scenario, people get to believe that they need the government and that there’s no salvation without “help” – it’s the “you didn’t build that” scenario.
It doesn’t look so bad from here, but twenty years down the road, the same people are still being voted in because at least they care, and the downfall is not their fault, it’s currents of history, and we’ve had our turn, now it’s someone else’s, etc. It will all be sold in the name of fairness, and with the media spinning, those who feel bad about their living conditions will feel guilty of protesting. After all, would you want the Indians or Chinese to be poorer so you can live high off the Hog, you greedy capitalist pig?
The fact that it’s nonsense, doesn’t mean it won’t be believed.
Twenty years from now, it means what I’ve seen in Portugal at my last visit. MOST young people are unemployed, still living at home. Making drugs legal at this point means most of them are also addicted to something. The only people doing well work for the government at some level. There are massive public building projects but the private homes are falling apart. And even in the good neighborhoods you have to have strong fences, alarms, etc, and no one is safe. Instinctively, people know the law doesn’t make sense, and therefore there’s a lot more crime. Also, of course, young people have nothing better to do.
This scenario we lose our liberty on the installment plan, each pathology caused by statism papered over with declinism and “it’s their turn.” I think this is the scenario we’re being eased towards, and whether they manage to do it or not, I don’t know. They’ve managed this in most of Western Europe.
(BTW in most of Western Europe, the new aristocracy is descended from the old. All the sons and daughters of “good families” became communists. This is because if you look at the end scenario of this – maybe thirty years from now – you see these people as the hereditary bureaucratic rulers of a sort of post-industrial feudalism, managing the herds of semi-literate peasants with media and just enough food and clothing to keep – some of them – alive, but not enough to allow them to get ideas and revolt. We could call this “they think 1984 is an instruction manual” Brave New World too.)
There is one big difference, here, though. Europe has managed this soft declinism because we remained the world’s police, the world’s consumer and the world’s parachute, providing aid in massive amounts all over the world.
We don’t have an America to do that for us. (Though we’re trying by buying our own treasuries.)
So we come to scenario two, which is I think somewhat likely:
This is quite possible, but if it happens it will be SO sudden I don’t know how to give you signs to watch for.
Things ratchet up until normal American families know what hunger is. Say nineteen thirties level. This is combined (and this is quite likely) with random interruptions of electricity, besides its being unholy expensive.
It’s the “let the bastards starve in the dark” scenario. People can’t afford to drive to work, even if there were work to drive to.
And suddenly the government checks stop.
I think to get there, you need to have our inflation so high that government checks count for very little anyway.
Under this scenario, what I call the “glossy bastards” of the media lose their power. When you’re rationing your electricity because you can only afford so much, you’re not going to spend the day in front of your TV.
In this case we break in pieces. Literally. There are food crisis, and how your local area goes depends on who is in your area. The government has no way of maintaining order except using force, and that won’t go over well many places.
Is this likely? I don’t know. I’d have told you no, but the small arms thing with the UN which the administration initiated the day after the election leads me to believe THEY find it likely.
Under these circumstances, anything can follow and my fear is that if order is restored (a big if) what will follow is probably what most lefties fear. A “law and order social conservative” regime. Aka, kind of the anthetisis of my ideas. The economy will be regulated, but so will social life.
I can pass under this sort of regime. I can actually write wholesome, clean books – as some of you know – and I am technically a married housewife. I just think we’ll lose something vital about America and are likely to stagnate.
OTOH even with economic authoritarianism, let me tell you at least in this scenario, most of us would eat regularly and there would be order on the streets. Think Starship Troopers.
That sort of reassembly is unlikely, though, and would only come about if the American Army goes rogue and decides to establish law and order in defiance of the bureaucratic class. I find this unlikely almost in the extreme.
More likely would be a breakup of the US, with some portions thriving as medium size countries and others becoming Detroit.
Unfortunately though, even though adventurism abroad was started by the “progressives” we now have enough of an history of it that other countries view us as “the foe to defeat” even when we have nothing to do with their particular problem. We’re viewed as the king that must be struck down before the rest of the world can be conquered. Which brings us to scenario three:
Fire From Heaven
Either under scenario one or two, at some point we’re perceived as weak.
Look, like most of you I don’t like adventurism abroad. However, if you think that we can disarm and then no one will attack us, you’re living in dream world and I suggest you do this: go into a bad neighborhood, wearing expensive clothes and carrying an Ipad, with a sign on you that says “I’m not armed and I’m a pacifist.” When you recover, get back to me about how well that worked.
And don’t tell me, “But Sarah, under these scenarios we won’t be that wealthy” – that’s nice, dear. We’re still 40 years behind Europe on this path, and even though we’re overachievers and can get to ruin faster, we won’t be PAST them for ten years, unless scenario 2 ensues FAST. Also America is no longer itself but its legend. “Everyone knows” Americans are wealthy. Also as America collapses, the rest of the world will get unimaginably worse – trust me. My dad says “when America sneezes the rest of the world catches pneumonia” and I can tell you that’s true – and will inevitably blame us. They’ll blame us for not protecting them from themselves, and they’ll blame us for “stealing” from them in some nebulous way they can’t define.
And the Arab world (most likely) will sense fear. It doesn’t matter if you say “it’s not fear. We’re dealing with our own stuff and ignoring them.” They’ll sense fear.
Under this scenario we lose one or two cities to a nuke. At a guess LA and NYC. And then all hell breaks lose and I can’t tell you what happens next. I don’t think we’re so far gone we just sit and take it, no matter what our leaders think. BUT after that, literally, the world is mad.
Japan, South Korea and Israel will probably be casualties of the conflagration, but so will Europe. (I wonder if Russia still has printed street signs in Russian directing troops all the way to Lisbon.)
When this is done, those of us who survive will face a world none of us wants to imagine.
I consider this the least likely scenario, but perhaps I shouldn’t. I now realize that my depression since Benghazi comes from seeing the beginnings of this.
The people in power will never see it coming. They’ve been steeped in Marxism, where the only reason people would attack the US is because they’re afraid of us. (Shakes head.) I learned this cr*p too, but I refuse to believe it over my lying eyes.
And there you have it. The steps of our fears. The most likely is still scenario one. We don’t have anyone to cushion us, but we’ve been wealthy so long there’s an astonishing amount of ruin in this nation, and it might be enough to cushion us down.
Note in all three of them I see a severe threat to who we are.
I was talking to Stephen Green the other day and he pointed out that the French (the English too, but less so) have been a monarchy, a republic, an empire, and now are a republic again but they are still French. And that’s fine for them. The French are a nation of land and blood.
But, as he pointed out, we’re only a nation of belief, proclaimed in the declaration of Independence, enshrined in the constitution.
It was those two documents that made us what we are, and not as our poor youth has been told, greed or theft.
If we lose that, who are we? Where has America gone? And can we get it back?
I don’t know. I’d rather not lose it. And that starts with figuring out what we can do to prevent ALL of these scenarios. Detroit-America which is where scenario 1 ends might be better than “nuclear radioactive America” but it is nowhere we want to live.
So… What do we do, and where do we start. Roll up your sleeves. Let’s talk.