We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

American Identity Crisis

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The artificial "American" nationality created as an assimilating force is beginning to break down due to inequalities of education within the dominant ethnic coalition.

Many Americans are humorously reluctant to even approach the topic of race and cultural integration. When the French and Swedes (with far lower % of non-whites and immigrants) are actively discussing these issues, the citizenry within Home of the Brave runs for the hills. That's not necessarily an issue of an elephant in the room or fear of seeming offensive. There is a sustained historical reason for every American citizen to suppress his own thoughts on ethnic/racial groups. That reason is state ideology.

Lets briefly review the ideological process that has so far driven national integration in this country.  Ideological "equality" until 2009 has referred to cultural assimilation that expanded beyond Germans and Irish and moved onto all whites as well as select ethnic groups like Jews and Asians. For most of the 20th century, as long as whites remained the vast majority of the total population, neutral terminology like "American" (that didn't refer to any tribal/national origins) could be used to try to consolidate the vast geographic territory into one national fabric. Creation of a neutral national identify to serve as an umbrella nationality for many diverse peoples is standard practice for leaderships of very populous states. In this sense American is no different than the terms Chinese, Soviet, Indian (and these days European).

However, even in very diverse federal states like China or the Russian Federation, there is a ruling ethnic group or a coalition of a few groups that make smaller nationalities cluster around them by the use of force. In China it is the Mandarin speakers and in RF it is of course Russians (with 75% of the population). In US, the native Englishmen have long stopped being numerically dominant in the 19th century (although they remained qualitatively dominant in wealth and education). This pushed them into gradually expanding the ruling coalition by accepting Germans, Irish, Poles, Italians, and so on. Since "English" could not be used for numerical reasons for national identity building the way "German" or "French" is used today, the artificial concept of American had to be bolstered and gradually strengthened.

The power of the artificially constructed nationality rests on the ideology/reality that backs up its promises (how equal are all Europeans in EU, how equal are all Soviets, etc) as well as how much physical power those assimilated into the idea of the umbrella nationality really have. For most of the country's history, there were certain minority populations with whom assimilation was never tried (integration of relatively recently freed slaves and conquered ethnically cleansed natives). This was because it would drain national energies and political capital of elites within ruling ethnic groups and deprive them of divide and conquer tools for new arrivals (gradually offering the umbrella "American" and its promise of equality to some new immigrants like the Germans, Irish and Polish first but not to Italians and Jews until much later). This was not any conspiracy but a natural path of least resistance and an organic way for concept of American to really put down its roots (as opposed to just covering everybody with a term American right away). The gradual and imperial manner of rewarding the title of "American" allowed US leadership a tighter leash than the one Soviets possessed since the term felt and was more real psychologically to those who "earned it" (see the number of Irish and Germans who died in US Civil War, WW1, etc).

In the past few decades a couple of things began to strain the process of national integration that has worked well so far in terms of political stability:

A) Emergence of new culturalism for 20%-25% of the population which is based more on higher education and less on racial/ethnic affiliation.

This first factor was the increasing division amongst assimilated Americans in terms of education and consequently wealth. There was always a large wealth gap between tycoons/descendants of British elites and the rest which was heavily correlated with ethnic lineage. However the GI Bill and mass access to college in second half of the 20th century (particularly by 1960s) really gave a large number of whites of all stripes a way to leap into the power demographic. "Middle Class" as a term actually began to partially stop being an early 1950s cold war propaganda tool to mask and ease class tensions (by putting into peoples minds the idea that wealth is on a continuum with a fatty middle rather than a narrow pyramid with a wide base) and began to become a reality for a number of white Americans.

Higher education put pressure on the previous method of rewarding the title of American. It brought about higher states of consciousness that:

1) Increased perception of physical material national inequality within dominant ruling white coalition on the one hand

2) Brought a new form of knowledge based culturalism as prejudice to increasingly large amount of people within the ruling coalition on the other

Old culturalism (in place for most of the nation's existence) consisted in acceptance to assimilate some select ethnic groups and view them as co-equal Americans while rejecting non-whites and natives as other/excluded/subjects. Until 1950s, vast majority of the population was technically illiterate and racial physical differences made it easy to have rule of thumb for the masses. Lack of higher education for the assimilated really compounded old culturalist prejudices. The old culturalism as a tool of control, although undermining national integration for some ethnic groups, made up for it in the minds of US leadership by accelerating assimilation amongst other groups. For example it was politically easier to betray the interests of blacks at say, 5% of population, to gain an Italian voting block of over 13% and sell this idea to older Anglos/Irish/German majority in a specific area. The divide and conquer routine for electoral politics was of course an organic and natural outgrowth of British rule.

[note: Racism as a concept is a new phenomenon in Britain because classism was so strong there historically. To the elites it never made any difference what color the poor peasants were. It seems the current American oligarchic leadership emulates old Britain in that regard.]

The new culturalism is more individual based and springs from a person's access to information that most lack. Currently its physical manifestation is one of educated whites (20-25% of the population who went to college) migrating to urban areas (reasons for migrations are outlined in Death of Suburbia) and the socioeconomic power increasingly concentrating in their hands. When vast majority of ruling ethnic group's population are undergoing a split between those with basic literacy and those with more advanced tools for political influence, when that manifests into real inequality of opportunity (which always existed but is now underlined by educational background), then the "equality" offered by the idea of being an "American" begins to lose its strength. When a college educated white has more in common culturally with his/her counterpart in France or Australia than with a rural religious white in his own country, then the term American begins to lose its strength as a tool of national integration just like the terms Soviet or Yugoslavian did. Sub-American identities thus begin to gain power as they are at least connected to tribe, blood, and cultural/regional peculiarities. The bonds of a federal national structure and control from above begin to weaken.

B) Demographic shifts due to migration and same as before fertility resulted in greater number of people (proportional to the overall population) who were always excluded.

Non-white Hispanics and blacks combined at 25% of the population ( and burdened in large parts not only by original cultural prejudice but also the newer overlapping culturalism from urban educated). The culturalism against these two groups is rarely manifest by hostile acts or words but by typical and effective way of depriving anything of power, which is excluding and ignoring.

In recent times, racial solidarity and inclusion began to truly occur amongst the equally educated with mostly the cultural inertia of the older first form of culturalism hampering the process. Higher education brings its own cultural soldiarity and identity that can be much stronger than having similar physical likeness. There is little incentive for educated whites to break unity with equally educated non-whites for the political, economic, and cultural benefit of uneducated rural whites. Educated blacks and Hispanics are not numerous enough proportional to their population and too geographically splintered to really form their own communities so there is little option for them but to assimilate into expanding white dominated urban educated class. The most similar people conspire for power.

[note: Poor rural whites, blacks, and Hispanics have a lot more in common than they think and future American populist movements will have to tap into that if they are to be successful. GOP of course blew that chance due to regional and internationalist oligarchic controls over their party.]

Obama's election has shown these emerging rifts and alliances with remarkable clarity. The new updated integration with an educational filter is not confined to ethnic/racial groups and creates enough new inequalities to start to rot American ideology from within. Concepts such as equality of opportunity, rags to riches, free farmer individualism, and self government begin to not work as effectively as state propaganda if country is sufficiently culturally and ethnically splintered and increasingly ruled by one tiny successful multi-ethnic urban faction with PhDs. With rural ghost believing evangelical whites at 25%, blacks and Hispanics each at roughly 13% each, whites at 70% (and dropping due to lower birthrates compared to other groups), those with Bachelor's at roughly 25% (obviously the factions overlap often), we begin to see the serious splits occurring that cannot be rapidly or practically cured with higher education for all (due to these splits preventing effective political national action).

Politics increasingly becomes a matter of what faction will make enough alliances with others to dominate the rest. Obviously that's how it always works but with the national identity of "American" weakening, each election increasingly brings a sense to the loser that the winner is illegitimate and is a cultural interloper. The hysteria of the opposition will increase every time with elites on each side undermining the other in nationally unhealthy ways seen in unstable states.

This has slowly turned United States into an increasingly weak splintered federal state like Brazil or a few other South American countries.

The educated and wealthiest 20% (who are in their own battle with the richest 0.1% internationalist faction) increasingly rule through corporate power from the cities and create blatant cultural exclusion internally. The last American frontier ended in suburbia. Now American people will have to finally face each other and grow up. The country is still spending enormous resources on promoting an ideological agenda around the world with no equal opposition to counter it. The rest of the world is becoming more pragmatic while American society sharpens its ideology (recently demonstrated by rising popularity of libertarian ideas amongst educated whites and amongst defeated republican opposition) and continues to rot from within.

The current process of United States transforming itself from an ideological society into a pragmatic realist society will be gradual and painful.

The rot, so far, is effectively masked by America being an ideological empire and focusing its people on spreading and defending a rigid one dimensional point of view that obviously cant be one size fits all for all societies in the world. Although the process of decline sped up and slowed down at times, discussion and assessment of the situation was muted by how gradual it has been. Societal inability by politicians to address race and ethnic factionalism is a sign of how important the issues are (as if mere utterance of the issues will create social disorder). Soviets were also unable to really discuss the simmering ethnic problems in their midst until too late for similar reasons. Violence is unlikely as American artificial nationality had enough time to partially infiltrate the consciousness of residents living here and as the various American peoples are not specific to certain states.

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What is very likely however is America beginning to mean no more than what Brazil or Argentina means when the price of the military catches up to economic realities. When that occurs and contradictions of state ideology and social reality are exposed to the world (Obama's election has done a lot to slow the process and repair the international image), there will be probably be a painful multi-year period of re-organization from super-power into a normal power. It should all be over by 2020s within our lifetimes. Who knows? If a radical solution is not found to reverse the decline then perhaps we could be a good source of raw materials, religious hardworking immigrants, and weaponry for United States of Europe.

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