Are You Stupid? by Mihai Nadin - Read Online
Are You Stupid?
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In the most dynamic and prosperous country on Earth—the USA—stupidity overshadows the intellectual and technical accomplishments that other nations envy. If Americans continue to delude themselves about their country, the USA will end up like the USSR: imploding from within.

This work analyzes the systemic aspects of America’s current condition: across-the-board-dumbing down through media and in education; growing dependence on and demand for entitlements; corruption in the private and political domains; chronic cronyism; the opportunistic engineering of reality. Consequently, individual and collective stupidity not only leads to crises, it renders the USA impotent in dealing with the challenges of the fast dynamics characteristic of our time of post-industrial capitalism oriented towards consumption. The causes for this state of stupidity are examined: the people’s willful ignorance of the nation’s true history and development; an economic system that does not foster a sense of citizenry; cultivated mediocrity in education and entertainment; corruption of justice; rampant consumerism; a state of prosperity that lulls the people into complacency.

Taking the rewards of change for granted, Americans no longer understand what change entails. Gazing into the rear-view mirror of history in search of answers, they forget that the USA was founded in a world more similar to the 1st century than the 21st. Americans will have to start fighting their own stupidity instead of further exhausting the country’s (and the world’s) resources in wars and entitlement measures. America has to “reset” herself, within an authentic democratic process, on a foundation appropriate to the integrated world of the global information age.
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Are You Stupid? - Mihai Nadin

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Mihai Nadin is the author of:

Sign and Value

The Art of Art

Adventure in Shakespeare's Universe

The Civilization of Illiteracy

Mind – Anticipation and Chaos

Anticipation: The End Is Where We Start From

Return to Zero

EXIT

A Day for Jewels

Suspension of Gravity

The Privilege of Memories

and others.

For more information, see www.nadin.ws and www.areyoustupid.us

Copyright © 2013 by Mihai Nadin

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any other information retrieval system, without written permission from the Author.

Cover design by Johnathan Seime-Raven

Typesetting & editorial support by Studioable

Cover image is the copyrighted property of 123RF Limited, its Contributors or Licensed Partners and are being used with permission under license. These images and/or photos may not be copied or downloaded without permission from 123RF Limited.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2013941433

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at <http://dnb.ddb.de>.

© 2013 Synchron Wissenschaftsverlag der Autoren

Synchron Publishers GmbH, Heidelberg

Bahnhofstr. 21, D-83139 Krottenmühl

www.synchron-publishers.com

Printed in the United States of America

Print: ISBN 978-3-939381-56-3

Electronic: ISBN 978-3-939381-61-7

None are so hopelessly enslaved, as those who falsely believe they are free.

Goethe

TABLE OF CONTENTS

A Portrait in Contrast

The Democracy America Never Was

What a Country!

Nation or Economy?

We the People...But Where Are the Citizens?

Only In America

Politics in Red and Blue

The Right to Media-ocracy

No Business Like Law Business

Will Harvard Go Bankrupt?

A Crisis Like None Before

Nobody Is Born Stupid

Production and Reproduction (of Stupidity)

Learning to Live with Huge Numbers

The Empire Strikes Back: We Create Our Own Reality

Why China Won't Buy America

A Tale of Two Superpowers

A Second American Revolution.

The Need For a Constitutional Convention

Nobody Can Un-Ring the Bells

By the People, For the People

An America Worth Having

Acknowledgements

Bibliography

INTRODUCTION

A PORTRAIT IN CONTRAST

Somebody (not de Tocqueville, the usual suspect) said it: America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. While still great, America is getting less good, noble intentions notwithstanding. There are many reasons for this. Stupidity—a strong word, easy to misinterpret—is one of them. This book examines the American system in order to understand how and why stupidity is stimulated in a context of prosperity (more illusory for some Americans than for others). The focus is on the process leading to the alarming, but inevitable, stupidity of the most free and successful society on Earth. This introduction—a portrait in contrast—suggests a context. I wish I could offer the reader a juxtaposed, parallel text: The Good American in Action and The Stupid American in Action. Against all the odds, they belong together.

The Good and the Great

You can't find a more dynamic society. Still a young country, America is home to some of the most impressive accomplishments in the history of humankind: inventions, works of art and writing, athletics. Its museums are among the world's best and best known. Its symphony orchestras, operas, and theaters rank high on the international scale. The best conductors, soloists, and ensembles seek to perform for the American public. Hollywood remains the international capital of moviemaking. On television screens around the globe, including in countries that hate the USA, American programs are still the most popular. In the best-of category (or close to), one can point to computer technology (conceived, but rarely produced here), design, fashion, and definitely shopping. America is the leading exporter, and might increase its share on account of its vast energy resources (shale oil, natural gas). American farmers feed a large portion of the world. Every business has or wants a foothold in the USA. Even after the Great Recession, the market called America remains more attractive than any other. Direct foreign investment, seeking security and profit, increases steadily. The world buys American know-how at an even greater rate. American universities—with over 700,000 foreign students—and research facilities are successful beyond belief. Many have branches abroad. American healthcare might be the world's most expensive, but its medical achievements, at peak performance, are spectacular. Kings, sheiks, presidents, and whoever can afford to seek treatment here. Every year, the greatest number of Nobel Prizes is awarded to Americans. If Europe holds the birth certificate of the Industrial Revolution, the Post-Industrial Age—the Information Society—has Made in the USA stamped on it. American laborers are more productive than any others. More people own their home, cars, businesses than in any other country; more go to college, more (still) attend church.

Statistics qualify Americans as the most charitable people in the world. They help in Africa to fight famine, AIDS, and HIV. The donations sent to the people of tornado-devastated Joplin, Missouri, to Japan, hard hit by earthquake and tsunami, and to Pakistanis suffering from floods are only recent examples of this generosity. The earthquake in Haiti prompted an outpouring of donations and aid. Even the poor share the little they have with those who have less, not expecting any reward. In a heartbeat, Americans help the friendly and less friendly-minded, none of whom they've met, in countries that they'd be hard put to locate on a map.

The awesome beauty of this paradise on Earth continues to impress everyone. And it makes a contribution to the trade balance (over 150 billion dollars worth) through the foreign visitors anxious to see its natural wonders. America's shores are still the most welcoming in the world, even after repeated perfidious attacks. America proclaims freedom and the pursuit of happiness as its goals. The liberties here are equal to none. So are the inequities. But they are subject to public debates with openness inconceivable in other parts of the globe. Diversity, of which Americans are entitled to be proud, and tolerance, often more preached than practiced, reflect the population's willingness to address the darker side of their history. America has done a lot of catching up in quality of life, civil rights, and social programs. Americans have come up with many noble initiatives that were later adopted by other countries and societies. Violations of liberty and human dignity often become American causes, no matter where they arise.

In a recent attempt to define what characterizes America, a young foreign-born political scientist listed the five great virtues of its people as follows.¹

Philanthropy: Americans give more and in greater proportion than any other people in the world.

Volunteerism: Each year, more than 60 million Americans volunteer their precious time to help address every conceivable social ill under the sun.

Faith: People of all creeds cooperate, not merely coexist.

Tolerance: No other nation has allowed minorities to go as far as in the USA.

The sky is the limit mindset: With 272 self-made billionaires, who can argue with it?

Of course, successful and less successful Americans (not to mention foreigners) would not take this at face value. Americans are critical. They know that their fellow Americans give, but they also point out that philanthropy is not always without ulterior motive (if only as a tax deduction). They openly ask for due diligence: the monies contributed should not go to overhead and waste, but contribute to improvement. No other country has more hospitals, universities, museums, symphony orchestras, and charitable foundations established by people who made their wealth in the USA and decided to give something back.

Americans volunteer. They distribute food to people in need. They travel at their own expense to flood or storm ravaged places to help out the local population. They spend weekends building homes for the poor, for soldiers returning from wars, for people with special needs. True, some of this effort is cleverly monetized to favor the companies that contribute to the effort. This is part of the American success story.

While faith is no longer what it used to be, it remains an American phenomenon that many foreigners do not understand or consider primitive. More often than not, religious belief is the foundation of the positive deeds that Americans carry out in their daily lives. Parents prefer to send their children to schools sponsored by their religious groups because they agree with the values taught there. Religious hucksterism, perfected in the USA, fills giant cathedrals with congregants looking as much for catharsis and entertainment as for spiritual guidance. Stadiums overflow when a major evangelist comes to town for a revival meeting, which is often televised worldwide.

Tolerance means more than progress for minorities. It applies to ideas, views, actions, and values. More laws are on the books that protect minorities, the handicapped, women, children, homosexuals, than in any other society. Laws provide for equal employment and equal housing opportunities; they protect against sexual harassment and age-based discrimination, and they protect the environment as an expression of responsibility towards future generations.

For the tech-savvy, willing to outgrow American self-sufficiency, the competitive global market is an opportunity no less significant than the Go West! call of the pioneering era.

The Stupid American in Action

The stock (and trade) in apocalypse is higher than ever. The USA owes almost more than what it's worth, yet Americans spend furiously on what they don't need. Drag racing, NASCAR, and air shows burn fuel paid for with a credit card that benefits America's enemies, never mind the carbon footprint associated with excessive energy consumption. By now over thirty years old, the Carter Doctrine, intended to secure the free flow of oil from the Middle East, extended American hegemony into the Persian Gulf. It has already cost Americans over one trillion dollars. The money could have been spent on developing alternatives to oil, or at least on ecologically responsible use of resources at home.

Local governments were downsized, towns and cities have declared bankruptcy; some still juggle the books in order to postpone it. Teachers, firefighters, and police were laid off, joining the almost twenty percent of the nation's unemployed and underemployed. Pension plans, worth less than the paper on which commitments were made to those who paid into them, are reneged. Bureaucracy, however, is thriving. Hundreds of redundant agencies, meant to protect the public, act in ways that recall fascism. Trampling the rights of ordinary Americans is the rule, not the exception. By no means the example of highest culpability, the Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) defies the Constitution: The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated. The scariest fiction on population surveillance pales in comparison to Homeland Security, which allows the government to continuously best its own violations of the right to privacy. This goes on while some of its agents smuggle narcotics and illegal immigrants into the country. Selling fast and furious guns to criminals, even prompting asylum applicants with the most effective lies to be told under oath is not uncommon. Even the military, through whose strength America cows the world, is barely making it. Between opportunistic pulls—rein it in vs. let the warriors loose—it can only hope that more borrowed money (46 cents on each dollar spent) will continue to finance it. The most recent GI Bill is a get-rich-quick opportunity that the owners of newly minted for-profit colleges and universities are not missing. They took the hint from the new millionaires of the old contract tradition: some fight, others take the bounty. Talk about equal opportunity!

The family life of poverty-stricken Americans is disintegrating: forty percent of their children are born out of wedlock. The divorce rate exceeds the marriage rate, a consequence of means tested welfare. Yet homosexual marriage—a stamp of approval in a society that accepted civil union—dominates the public agenda. A loud minority (undeserving of discrimination), comprising 3.9% of the population, turned its economic interests into a civic cause and a major media topic, to the detriment of life-threatening challenges. A much higher number of Americans (almost a quarter of the population), gay or not, are getting old and frail. Society is not prepared for this. America has the most expensive medical care in the world, and the most expensive public school system. They are as inadequate for the average American as the country's crumbling infrastructure. The generational contract has disintegrated into confrontational inheritance laws and a slew of child protection agencies, which often operate to the detriment of those they are supposed to protect. Meanwhile, one child in five goes hungry, while almost half of the food produced is wasted. Americans dump more food than what many people around the world can afford just to survive. The American Dream, broadcast worldwide, is paid for by the poor in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Their income is a penny to the dollar an American would make for the same work. To get to the USA, where life is never worse than in their native lands, whether they eventually find work or not, they try everything, legal or otherwise. Hope and desperation keep them patient.

Plutocrats and interest groups (to which members of the exclusive gambling club called Wall Street belong) own the USA. They invest in the business of politics, engineering the outcomes of the government machine, their most reliable client. Politics, as they see it, are supposed to help them achieve the highest profits in the shortest time. At whose expense? The question is never posed. America is the sweetheart deal. Revolving-door appointments perpetuate the power of a corrupt political class in full servitude to the super entity that controls global wealth.² Unions, as rich partners of bailed-out industries, act likewise. The ACLU's pursuit of Constitutional correctness has resulted in actions that defy common sense. Its name strikes fear and loathing in every level of society. In its footsteps, the NAACP and the Urban League confuse civil rights—by no means effectively extended to all—with discrimination due to gender, sex, or illegal alien status.

They turn their backs to their constituency: the unemployed, the failing Black family, the victims of gangs and drug dealers, children born out of wedlock (seventy-five percent of all Black children). Already sentenced to grow up in poverty, ignorance, and violence, these youngsters often end up in jail.

The greatest economic disparity among White, Black, Hispanics, and Asians just became a matter of record: the average wealth of a white family is $113,000, of a Black family, $5,677, of a Hispanic household, $6,325.³ This follows forty-seven years of the War on Poverty, with a price tag of over 17 trillion dollars. (All the military wars won, or lost, during the same time cost less than 7 trillion.) Not an encouraging premise and promise for social and racial harmony. The record shows that in 1975, the Congress was paid an average of $42,000 per annum. At that time, the average American wage was $30,000 a year. More recently, wages average $28,000 a year, while Congress members are making over $174,000 a year.

After one trillion dollars was spent on the War on Drugs, more illegal substances, affecting many destinies, are there for the asking. Legal marijuana is dispensed through the new compassion start-ups in many states. In California, growing and selling marijuana has become one of the most successful businesses. Of the forty-two percent of Americans who get stoned, only those few who are apprehended for drug dealing end up in jail. In America, the real crime is getting caught, whether it's cheating, lying, theft, rioting, vandalism, child and sex abuse, corruption, blackmail, or bribery. Perjury keeps you in good standing as a president, Congress member, or government official.

Historically, Americans have acted in (relative) unity only under extreme circumstances, mainly wars. The American Revolution, driven by principles, not need, was such a moment: only a minority supported independence from England. In the discourse leading up to the Constitution, the founders affirmed a new order for a new world. New also was the Union of States as an economy—a market, not a country or a nation. Though democratically inclined, America never effectively became what it was never intended to be: a true democracy.

Voting became a matter of money and social engineering. Now, the outcome is not a mandate, but a return on investment. Votes were not and are not equal. Equality before the law is impossible as long as justice remains unaffordable for the majority.

Through well-timed tax reductions, economic stimulus measures, and unemployment benefits, incumbents bribe voters with their own money. Voters, a minority of the population, don't seem to mind. Adam Smith's American progenies, pursuing their own interests—which they magically pass off as social well-being—reject sharing. That would be socialism, a system they do not understand, or intentionally misinterpret. Their system, based on self-interest, is supposed to do the opposite. Paradoxically, they do not reject entitlements: more than half the population—from rich to poor—is dependent on them. Self-reliance became a joke. Dependence on government is premeditated and deepening. Subsidized housing and agriculture, cash welfare, food stamps, and healthcare for the poor (those claiming to be so) have almost doubled in the last 30 years, as have subsidies for the rich. The ship is sinking; the coalbunkers are empty, the crew is hoarding what's left. Unfazed by reality, the cruise crowd is singing and dancing. It demands more entertainment: wars (at one time, three simultaneously), human-made catastrophes, pornography and pedophilia, media-made disasters, political duels, murders and divorces among the rich and famous, mind-numbing violence and brutality. Accountability has practically been eliminated. Willful damage to society and the incompetence of those in power are covered by an immunity that monarchs would have envied.

Deliberately blind people, ignoring the consequences of their choices, can only be called stupid. Wisdom can't be expected from such a crowd. The majority of Americans form opinions based on what they are fed by politicians and the media. World champions in meth cooking, Americans assume that the next dose will bring them the happiness that real life (including mindless shopping) refuses them. The threshold of excitement is higher than ever: no TV show is without despicable crime, no games are without wars, no wars without adrenaline highs. Addiction to violence and brutality parallels the seduction of glamour and drugs. The latest thrill is destruction for the fun of it, such as flash mob attacks, organized via social networks (invoking freedom of expression). It's no wonder that a Director of Facebook Activities for Government Agencies receives a salary higher than a university professor or researcher. Hot air in social media is expensive.

For the stupid, facts and details don't matter. Stupid also is the acceptance of the pervasive corruption that taints politics as inevitable. Bribing the public with the public's money—another quotation misattributed to de Tocqueville—describes stupidity in action, as the public embraces policies that end up worsening its condition. Polls reflect the degree of ignorance and lack of interest in matters concerning the public good. Politicians use poll numbers as an alibi for pursuing their own economic agenda, passed off as good for the people.

Those unwilling to assume responsibilities for the well-being of the whole of which they are a part qualify as idiots. Pericles, the statesman of Athens during its Golden Age, characterized his fellow citizens who focused on themselves as idiotes. He had no way of knowing that, at some time in the future, a land to be called the United States of America, so keen on invoking Greek democracy, would trade freedom for the liberty to ignore civic duty.

Living with the illusion of freedom and justice commands a high price. Ethical bankruptcy is part of it. Using civil rights as a cover, the litigation machine discovered the shortest path to easy money. A lawsuit is filed every two seconds in the USA. There is no aspect of life where lawyers will not play ambulance chaser. Class action suits have become paths to wealth, but not for the stupid on whose behalf they are pursued. Not even innovation is spared: patent trolls trap inventors in a mire of litigation. With the law, No good deed goes unpunished. The fear of a lawsuit makes well-intentioned individuals who want to help now rush by the scene of an accident. Even doctors fear helping out.

In the age of information, Americans grow even more ignorant of history and geography—their own and of other countries. They are not interested in the condition of their homeland, except when they fall for the delirium of conspiracies (9/11 as a government plot; the Kennedy assassination as a political ploy; the moon landing never happened; Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson are still alive). Despite America's deplorable indebtedness, people prefer to hear the story most amenable to them: how to get the most, including what they don't need, at the lowest price. Self-interest overrides principle. There are 56 federal government programs on financial literacy, but responsibility for one's actions is out of the question. Americans expect more and more from the government, which has doubled in size in the last ten years. It currently employs more people than industry does. The economy has to be stimulated. Everything from bailouts to subsidies for wealthy industries (too big to fail) is considered legitimate. Entitlements for energy costs, for housing, for bringing one child after another into the world, for cell phones (a new civil right to be complemented by the right to game consoles, large TV screens, and GPS devices) are never challenged. One in 18 Americans draws a disability check—meager in comparison to the checks drawn by speculators who, in flagrant dereliction of duty, drove the country into recession.

Almost 50 million Americans get food stamps. If sturgeon and champagne could be dispensed through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—the government pays well for catchy acronyms), millionaires would get them. Some actually do. Close to 1,500 millionaires pay no income tax (according to the IRS's record of tax returns for 2009). Companies pay more for their executives, consultants, and lobbyists than they pay in taxes. On billions of dollars in revenues, General Electric paid not one penny, taking advantage of every loophole the tax code offers. Fifty percent of Americans pay no income taxes, and don't care to be represented. Some get refunds on taxes they never paid. That is even better than representation! These Americans still do not know who is in power, and couldn't care less whether their representatives deserve their many privileges. Caught stealing, lying, indulging in questionable sexual behavior, shamed (Are they really?) congressmen (and women) have their own justice system, just as they have their own healthcare system and their own retirement plan. Even the most corrupt in Congress enjoy retirement benefits that after only five years in office are higher than the lifetime earnings of many taxpayers. Elected or appointed, they play golf, wine and dine, entertain and get entertained, and go on lavish vacations disguised as fact-finding missions, all on the public dime. It is in your face privileges that bear no relation to performance in office, with no effective liability for risking the well being of the taxpayers who stupidly keep them in power. They vote for increases in their own salaries and benefits. Checks and balances do not exist for the privileged. When the government needs more money, for wars or for spoiling its members (living like the royalty Americans freed themselves from centuries ago), it steals from trust funds paid from the people's pockets. Consequently, Social Security and Medicare (for which everyone but the political class must pay) are expected to go bankrupt. The thieves who left behind useless IOUs want even more money to save what they ruined.

Corresponding to expectations of democracy, some Americans have the delusion of control or influence, through their votes. Like children on a merry-go-round, they pay for the privilege of holding tight to the reins of wooden horses, with the illusion that they're steering. Someone else is in control—bought at fundraisers where a dinner costs more than $35,000. Mind you: the poverty threshold for a family of four was set in 2011 at $22,350. In 2011-2012, the price tag for the Presidency was over one billion dollars. This gives the president (no matter which party) out-of-this-world privileges. He—still a man, and mortal—goes to the golf course, jogs, bicycles, clears brush, or rides a horse accompanied by motorcade and security guards. Receptions at the White House of the people's president reek of royal tradition, but at a scale no king or emperor can afford. Presidential vacations add up to millions, while the tax-paying public is unable to prepare for retirement or pay for medical care. Presidential offspring qualify as senior staff while still in grade school. Politicians can have it all only because Americans, and those on whose labor Americans live (the Chinese, Indians, migrant workers), are stupid enough to pay for the favor.

Voting for the political class, against one's own interests, is symptomatic of stupidity bordering on insanity. Demonstrations against the powerful institutions that brought America to its knees—Occupy Wall Street is the latest, but by no means the last—leads one to hope for more political engagement. To demonstrate against the fat-cat elite, however, while endorsing the politicians that the fat cats funded into office and tether through their lobbies is stupid. How else could you qualify all those demonstrators calling for more secure jobs from the government after wasting their lives in pursuing the useless? Einstein described the condition better than anyone else: doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. It describes the American status quo to a T.

The political scene is a painful example of a jungle taking over what used to be a garden of contrasting but accommodating varieties of opinions and choices. America was different and accepted the different, but now less. Multiculturalism is loudly promoted, but too often veneer-thin, more of a politically correct show than a substantial reality.

Now that the scale of wealth has changed (along with the scale of the national debt), the billionaires are heading towards the trillions. Their wealth was made on the backs of the millions, not only in the USA, whose wages for honest work have not improved in the last 50 years. Still, it's true that in the USA, the poor live better and are more protected than the middle classes of most other countries.

The rich, politicians, media pundits, entertainers, educators, drug dealers, hip-hop artists, the poor, single mothers, homosexuals, academia, and Hollywood, among others, are often castigated for the sad state of civic and personal responsibility, and for so many other shortcomings at home and in the global economy. Pointing a finger at those who push Americans into a condition of generic stupidity is less dangerous than looking truth in the eye. The American people as victim—of the left or right, of religion, of the media, of crooks—feeds self-righteousness. Given the American crisis, it's time to face harsh reality. Let's examine the stupidity of Americans, all too eager to give up rights and responsibilities for the illusion of freedom and prosperity. A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage turned into A home for everyone (Clinton's American dream of 1994, and Bush's rendition of 2002). On the horizon are new rights: a vacation home, an airplane, servants, surrogate mothers, fame. Spurred by greed and obsession with moving money so fast that everyone imagines having some, the recent recession is only one example of what happens when illusions take over. The poor, served sub-prime mortgages—which made their pushers (some in the government) rich—are now poorer. Indentured forever, ordinary Americans live on debt, like America itself, not realizing that what they assume they own is only the shadow of riches that give the powerful a lien on their lives.

When it is not the target of disdain and hate, America appears as a high-minded promise not kept. Down-rated by Wall Street and its foreign competitors, the government feels betrayed by the big business it protected, and to whom it gave fast access to other people's money. In reality, America is down-rating itself through greed, irresponsible behavior, and moral depravity. The invisible hand of the market reaches deep into the pockets of those on whose account America is envied, but it's deceptive, prosperity rests. Under the heavy weight of its own decadence, the empire it was never supposed to become is beginning to implode.

This is no longer a periodic readjustment of opportunity and risk—casually described as cyclical crisis—but a deeper-reaching process. To ignore its implications could mean irrevocable damage to America and Americans and, by extension, to the rest of the world. Some might take offense at what this book spells out in harsh strokes. To face reality and to suggest a course of action should be more acceptable than complaining.

A Difficult Promise to Keep

The incomplete portrait of the good (and often great) American and of the stupid American provides a context if we want to associate meaning to America's current state of turmoil. The world experiences the USA more through the life patterns of Americans—eager to show what they can do—than through its genuine accomplishments. Despite the failure of what is defined (and idealized) as American democracy, the USA tries to impose it on the world. In a 2011 poll, seventy-seven percent of Americans said that, Whatever its faults, the USA has the best system of government in the world. Gunboat democracy defines American foreign policy, as much as its demagoguery. Unbridled sex, violence, drugs, asocial behavior, compulsive consumerism, the arrogance of power are just a few aspects of American life that prompt criticism, even from nations friendly to the US (by choice or interest).

Light One Candle

Breckenridge Long is cited as saying, Shame on him who points at America the finger of scorn. Indeed, the sons and daughters of America have pride in their accomplishments and will resent the utterance of those who do not tender her full glory for it. Carping at the rosy image does not change the fact that Americans, by and large, feel good about themselves and get quite upset at their critics: They just don't understand, They're just jealous, They don't know what freedom is.

Americans are less inclined toward introspection and self-evaluation. Rationality, integrity, honesty, and even productivity are rather the exception in characterizing Americans in action today, or in defining the goals they set for themselves.

Truth be told, Americans of the first-hour of the Republic and Americans of our time share only a label. Americans believe in the myth of exceptionalism. In 1840, de Toqueville described America as exceptional because it was a first in many aspects. Yet everyone realizes that something is not right in the shining city on the hill, whether under God's protection or tended by its own genius. Hundreds of solutions have been proffered, most emphasizing a return to the founding principles, to the ethos of 1776 and 1789. These Americans don't realize that the USA was founded in a world more similar to the 1st century than the 21st.

This state of affairs presents a good opportunity to reflect upon an obvious question: Why has all the goodness, never to be downplayed, failed to prevent the current precarious state of America? Let us focus on the American system and the unique way in which politics and economics were interwoven since its beginnings. The chapters to follow will provide a cursory historic perspective of the making of America and Americans. The goal is to uncover structural characteristics that have affected the American narrative. Building upon this, the middle section of the book addresses media, the role of lawyers, education, and the most recent crisis. It concludes with the attempt to show that stupidity is a necessary outcome, in line with the premises upon which America became the most prosperous country in history and the most dedicated proponent of capitalism as the answer to all the world's problems.

It would be easy to blame or to demonize Americans—different in their outlook, different in their respective roles in society, different in their goals and methods. So many have done so and many enjoy doing so. Although this book echoes Tout empire perira,⁵ a much-repeated prediction, the intent is to transcend historic fatalism. Indeed, if Americans do not wake up, the end of the last superpower on record will be quite similar to the implosion of the Soviet Union. Many would shudder at a comparison of the two enemies, at the perspective of a shared doom. In the Soviet Union, the citizens captive to its romantic revolutionary past used to paraphrase St. Jerome: What is safe if the Soviet Union perishes?⁶ Many Americans—together with many people the world over who believe in the ideal of America—would pose the same questions regarding the USA.

Loving this country of mine, which took me in not as a foster child, but as one of her own, I owe it some suggestions for the reinvention of America. The thought is not new with me. America is doing damage to herself, now more than decades ago, because the system she embodies (capitalism, especially in its post-industrial stage) is self-destructive. America, the shining city on the hill⁷ can save herself from her own destructive impetus through a second revolution. Gazing into the rearview mirror might prompt only reform where radical change is necessary. A second Constitutional Convention of authentic, not self-appointed, representatives, could synchronize the USA with the present, so obvious in its many accomplishments, but so lacking in social and political direction. More importantly, it could prepare the country and her people for the future of ever-faster change and new opportunities in an integrated world.

Americans from all walks of life, preparing themselves to meet the radical challenges of post-industrial capitalism, even of post-capitalism, could give the USA a second chance to affirm itself as the better hope of humankind.

It will not be an easy journey, but it is worth trying. The first American Revolution promised so much. The second could redeem the promise. A second revolution—reform will not do—might transform We the People into the reality it has yet to become.

THE DEMOCRACY AMERICA NEVER WAS

I

WHAT A COUNTRY!

In exclaiming What a country! Americans express their pride. They are part of something very special. The country of country music (so different from the country of Cajun music and Creole cuisine, and all so different from Amish or cowboy country, and from sovereign Indian reservations, and from hundreds more, all exciting and unique) can make you feel just great. The expression is also used as self-irony, as in What a crazy place! Only in America are the most daring explorations of the new, as well as dedication to the past (bordering on the primitive) simultaneously acceptable. One does not need to generalize Abu Ghraib—a raw nerve still difficult to live with—as the face of the American GI, or even as the face of America. It would be unfair to do so in view of so much evidence to the contrary: medical facilities and schools built in Iraq and Afghanistan, and numerous development projects around the world. In the USA, What a country! can be a verse in a patriotic song, the name of a gun dealership on the Internet, or the name of a promiscuous transgender sex club. Who can say what is good or bad? Who is to judge what is right or wrong? In the land of abolished authority, everyone knows better. To love or to hate America, to defend her or join enemies in denouncing her are part of a continuum of explicit relativity as old as America herself.

Although the initial euphoria over the freedom experienced in settling the new continent has not diminished, at difficult to predict intervals, the USA manages to hit bottom. When it happens, Americans switch from euphoria to despair, extremes that defined the American character early on. Still animated by the pioneering spirit, they try to lift themselves out of the hole they fell into, either through their own errors or because others pulled them in. Others cry for help, or take it for granted that someone owes them the success they did not achieve on their own.

All in all, Americans of all conditions have, over time, progressively surrendered freedom—their privilege—for more help from the government. As time went by, their skills for surviving as free individuals diminished.⁸ Consequently, some of them, not only the poorest, became dependent on the government. Human quality consisting of a moral profile, civic responsibility, initiative, and political commitment is well below the quality of computers, digital cameras, guns, and automatic weapons to which Americans have access. This cuts across all segments of the population. Speculators, billionaires, academics, politicians, construction workers, farmers, the stars, the unknowns, and the anonymous persons and programs that have taken over the digital networks all exercise idiocy as though it were a right granted by the Constitution. They assume that if they are in trouble, somebody will save them, no matter what. For them, liberty means the right to do harm to anyone, including themselves, free of consequences. Their forefathers could not afford this; it would have affected their survival. Today, however, We're Americans means We have the right to behave idiotically. There is no law against being stupid or impertinent. To a great extent, the crises that America is enduring are the expression of a freedom associated with less and less responsibility.

Paradoxically, as we Americans become more skeptical of the government, we are slowly becoming more dependent on it. Abuse and corruption at a scale that has made other nations—England included—infamous are accepted as unavoidable reality, even in the land of freedom and opportunity.

Those very few who went through the Great Depression and who are still alive might see the crises experienced since then as unworthy of the gloom-and-doom attached to them. They were called cyclical, and up to a point, they lived up to this qualifier. The USA did not come to an end when it faced its early economic crises (1783, 1819, 1837, 1873), or when the financial markets collapsed in the Great Depression of 1929. And it will probably survive the dire predictions of all kinds of catastrophes to come. The most recent prediction (with more to come, no doubt) declares America's downfall by 2025.⁹ Fueled by economic arguments, more battles, disguised as political confrontations, will be waged, and might get progressively uglier. Dysfunction, nurtured by corruption, will further corrode the trust that more idealistic Americans continue to have in each other, and even in some of their institutions. To play on someone's anecdote: If the Irish were left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, they would save Ireland; Americans would take the money and run with it—and then go buy, at fire sale prices, what's left of Ireland.¹⁰

Holding Together What's Coming Apart

The expression What a country! or perhaps better, What a people! as in, What a guy! (What a character!), or What a woman! (meaning that she's sexy, more than anything else) is subsumed, with all its implicit prejudices, in What an American!

It is impossible not to notice that with this shift from the aggregate image to the individual—in the most individualistic society in the world—a certain discomfiting realization insinuates itself. What a country! means, in the end, a plural: it means the many countries that Americans experience as the different laws and regulations of each state. Differences go back to the colonial period, when each colony's economy was shaped by geography and the settlers' backgrounds. State sovereignty, advanced in the Articles of Confederation, and a model of a loose union remain with the USA; parallel sovereignties, including the sovereignty of the Indian Nations, are at work. This creates a difficult balancing act. Varied practices of religion, and a very diverse culture make for even more contrasts. It is in the Wow! of What a country! that Americans realize how New England and California are a human continent apart, and the South is a world in itself. Don't mess with us! means We do it our way! Don't try to change it.

Only in America, the title of Harry Golden's 1958 book about the great things that can happen here, could have just as well meant that which does not belong together. Under the American system, Hawaii and Vermont, or California and Maine can eventually become dependent on one another. America, incompatibilities notwithstanding, is an entity without precedent: a homeland to individuals flag-waving to the rhythm of the national anthem, but refusing nationalism. Others make fun of the flag and anthem while making patriotic pronouncements. Only in America! means a place where nothing is forbidden, nothing condemned (unless you are not an American), even if this undermines the nation or her image in the world. Freedom made the project known as America successful beyond expectations, but also extremely fragile. Within a week after the elections of November 5, 2012, twenty states filed for secession from the Union on the White House petition website.¹¹ Within two weeks, petitions had been received from all fifty states.

The inability or unwillingness to hear what someone else is saying, i.e., the impossibility of true dialog, defines idiocy. The idiot acts according to a simple rule of thumb: I am entitled to say and believe whatever I want. If you don't agree with me, I'll make sure no one hears what you have to say. A variety of factors can be identified in the idiotic attitude, ranging from I don't care what others say (or think), to the inability to realize that one is acting in an idiotic manner. Idiocy, as an expression of unreflected freedom, is not the exclusive prerogative of those caught in the painful snapshot of Abu Ghraib. What an American! will be forever tainted by Abu Ghraib, the infamous prison in Iraq where, among other shameful and painful goings-on, American soldiers took photos of Iraqi prisoners in humiliating sexual poses. These kinds of transgressions, there and elsewhere, are proof of the same lack of character and plain stupidity in too many Americans of all military ranks, from foot soldiers to four-star generals. The excuse that the GIs invoked for such actions should be noted: Cool down, we do the same at home. It's part of our culture. They could have added, "This is