America. Contemplate the name. Let the word echo through the recesses of your consciousness. What does it mean to you? To some, the word evokes visions of freedom and prosperity. To others it represents a vulgar display of wealth and excess; a people wallowing in ignorance. Perhaps you envision grand themes such as these, or perhaps not. Maybe something a little more mundane strikes you. Pepsi, blue-jeans, and McDonald’s are nearly synonymous with the United States, and unmistakable in origin. Indeed, the connotations associated with the word, and the country proper, are as diverse and contradictory as the history behind it.
No matter the impression America leaves upon you, there is no denying the universal familiarity it garners, and the dynamic impact it has had on the planet as a whole. It is at least partially responsible for many of the staples of everyday life, from inventions such as the space shuttle, to academic research, to technological innovation. Its culture is infectious, its wealth exceptional, its military sublime. For decades it has enjoyed the materialization of its will, and the precipitation of most of its ambitious goals.
Yet, despite the success story that is America, the cracks in the structure are beginning to show. America, once unparalleled in categories such as education and infrastructure, has been surpassed by a stunning number of countries. In a recent study by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), the educational apparatus in America was ranked 14th in literacy, 25th in mathematics, and 17th in science. The performance of the American educational system is comparable to that of Estonia, who’s current GDP is one 1/600 of the United States. Also, the American healthcare industry fares even more poorly. Of 191 nations examined by the World Health Organization, America ranked 37th, despite devoting more of its GDP to healthcare than any other country on the list.
It seems that America is indeed subject to the demons of empires long dead, despite the proclamations of those who wish to paint the United States as something exceptional. The story is the nearly the same with most of the great nations of human society, dating back to the Roman Empire and before: A country, burgeoning with potential and stringent in its morals and work ethic, finally succeeds through the sheer force of its will and the collective contribution of its people. It dominates the competition, through methods either economic or militaristic in nature, and enjoys a period of prosperity not known to it previously. The quality of living skyrockets, and the collective culture flourishes. Into this new, opulent environment, generations are born, and acclimate themselves to the current conditions, as the older generations, the ones who had contributed in the rise of power, grow old and die. The young generations, fed the success of their ancestors, and the inevitable mythology that arises pertaining to the supremacy of the country in question, are led to believe that they are exceptional, and that nothing less than the status quo is acceptable. This complacency feeds a drastic drop in work ethic and educational standards, as hedonism roots deep. Throughout the course of world history, no nation has been able to elude the grasp of this seemingly axiomatic evaluation of human nature.
Today, America is the poster child of the entitled nation mentioned in the previous paragraph. As a plethora of institutions lie stagnant, desiccated by the ravages of neglect, the population adopts a stance of apathy through ignorance. Infrastructure, once the pride of the nation, has recently been rated a solid D by an international team of engineers, and there is no relief, whether it be immediate or long term, in sight. In another trend eerily reminiscent of the Roman Empire, much of the budget has been focused on the military, with America spending more on its martial forces than every other sovereign nation combined. The depressing fact of the matter is: We have seen all of this before, time and again, and yet nothing is done to acknowledge the problem. America as a whole has only just begun to address an issue that has long been festering, and its efforts are feeble. It seems that despite the overwhelming access to education and information, and the prevalence of articles and forewarnings such as this, the repetition of history is ignored, shelved in favor of the here and now. Once history reasserts itself, it will not be pleasant for the parties involved.
In light of all of this, the issues facing America, and the world as a whole, seem much too daunting to fix. However, it is not impossible to remedy the conundrums we now face. Perhaps we could shed our unsustainable obsession and requirement for economic growth, (which is absurd in its own right, as we cannot keep expanding into infinity. We are merely setting ourselves up for failure) and try to maintain and optimize our economy. We could still focus on technology and innovation, but the shackles of greed will have been broken. A recession in the current system is a calamity, yet in objective matters it seems quite trivial. In any case, we could certainly take a few lessons from the Roman emperor Hadrian, who recognized the absurdity in the belief that the Roman Empire could expand to conquer the entire world, and set about to change that misconception.
In the end, America, just like anything else, cannot escape the ultimate equalizer: death. However, it can certainly do much to maintain its level of prosperity and age gracefully, rather than perishing in a horrendous catastrophe brought on by serious underlying complications. Ultimately, the decision rests with you, the people. We can either fight to succeed and sustain, or ignore our problems until they corrode us from the inside out. After all, would you rather fail in your efforts to make this world a better place, or be ashamed to never have tried?