John Gray, an author of big ideas with a focus on the apocalyptic and the grand sweep of history, has a must-read article in the Guardian. He calls it “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power.” He writes as if history is already written – and his examples are often petty and overblown. His piece reeks of self-importance and schaedenfraude. His big ideas seem more glib than profound.
And yet, his piece demonstrates two things.
First, his view is, I think, broadly reflective of how much of the world sees what is happening – with regional and cultural factors leading to the emphasis of slightly different aspects of the story. The Chinese would focus on the lack of centralized government oversight of the economy; the Europeans would see the lack of regulation and welfare programs; the Arabs would see the decadance. But in every telling, the story is the same – an empire is felled by it’s arrogance; the forces that led it to worldwide domination came back to destroy it.
That is what I found profoundly interesting about John Gray’s piece – that he was able to convey to me a sense of distance from the events taking place just a few blocks from where I work – a distance that allowed him to be smug and to “see” the future – a future that is very bleak.
Second, his piece does accurately reflect one way we could go as a nation. It can serve as a warning. Not a warning like Warren Buffet who called mortgage-backed derivratives “financial weapons of mass destruction” five years ago – but a warning that, like any real prophecy, is a vague and distrubing vision. The details may be wrong – but the vision is powerful – and it is entirely plausible.
It is a piece I would reccomend partisans of both the left and right read – and the muddled pragmatists in the middle too.
The trends Gray sees are really there – even if he uses a bit of poetic license in describing them.