End of the Empire

If the top 1/100th of 1% crowding airports with their private jets isn’t afraid of impoverished, disenchanted debt-serfs with pitchforks, they should be.

By End of the Empire I refer not to the collapse of American Imperial power but to the excesses and anxieties that characterize the decay of Empire. I have covered the dynamics of Imperial decay before: How Empires Fall (April 17, 2013): The imperial tree falls not because the challenges are too great but because the core of the tree has been weakened by the gradual loss of surplus, purpose, institutional effectiveness, intellectual vigor and productive investment.

What I want to address today is the psychological characteristics of Imperial decay: a jaded populace that seeks distraction from their anxieties in excess. We know what characterizes empires on the make: a populace that is vigorous, confident, brimming with abilities and more than willing to engage in spirited intellectual debate on key issues.

What characterizes the American populace today? Jaded, unwilling to sacrifice comfort and convenience for long-term gain, incapable of honest debate, brimming with resentful excuses, insecure, anxious, fearful, depressed, distracted, self-absorbed. These last seven are of course the key traits of permanent adolescence, the state of arrested development encouraged by consumerism.

But they also characterize an Empire that has lost its edge, its ability to sacrifice for a common good, its confidence in its leadership and institutions, and its focus on building value rather than consuming.

Longtime correspondent Kevin K. recently submitted a comparison of the cost for a family of four to attend an NFL football game. San Francisco led the pack at $641 per game for average seats and a few drinks/hot dogs. (Scratch the $10 program and the $22 hat and that drops it all the way down to $609.) 49ers stadium priciest in NFL for a family of four: $641

The cheapest outing in the league came in at $345. I confess I’m frugal (hey I’m a writer, frugality is part of the package), but $345 doesn’t strike me as particularly affordable. That’s two months’ groceries in our abode, and $641 is the cost of a 3,000-mile car-camping trip.

It’s remarkably easy to drop $600 on a dinner for four at a high-end eatery (with wine, of course). It’s almost laughable to look at archived menus of top-end restaurants in the 1960s; even in major bastions of old wealth like San Francisco, the fare at the best restaurants in town in the 1960s would barely pass muster at a decent cafe nowadays in terms of sophistication and complexity.

There is no way to parody current high-end restaurant fare: it is its own parody.Whatever bizarre combination of ingredients you might propose in a parody is on the menu at some fancy bistro–with a straight face and hefty price tag.

You know we’re in trouble when parody has been rendered impossible.

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