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America The Aged Teenager

America is not an adolescent. It is far too old for that. It is more like an old man who dreams of past glories and wants to live it up one more time. That is what America is doing right now — reliving the glory of World War II (1942-1945) in Iraq and Afghanistan; trying to get that mass adrenaline rush of the Cold War (1945-1990) in the so-called War on Terror; and thinking that it can bring back the Great Prosperity (1945-1975) with other nations' money.

The problem is that, unlike the original pre-World War II United States, the current United States was built on a foundation of sand — an external threat in the Soviet Union and unbounded prosperity of being both the only intact industrial nation and the biggest market in the world. And then there was that arrogant public attitude, that dispensed with that hocus pocus filiocus our ancestors indulged in when we have the latest social science to keep ourselves and our economy humming.

That was before we consumed our spiritual and cultural capital, leaving us a vicious, hostile, greedy and lustful urban citizenry with trashy literature, with crappy music and television, and with ugly, kitschy art. That was before we consumed the technological capital of the 1950's through 1970's; we are reaching the limits of that capital, and with the loss of basic research and the plague of patent trolling to ensure that the capital will not be replenished. Now all we need is the exhaustion of our economic capital — and with all that public debt in East Asian hands and our industrial and technical base largely destroyed, such a collapse is long overdue.

And, frankly, I try not to think about it too much as I go about my daily life. It is hard to live in a country that is about to fall out from under one's feet. And seeing all those red NO MORE signs about (You want America back? What America? What are you talking about!??) really makes me mad.

But it turns out that is not what the BBC article, that provoked this commentary, was about. It was about the soft power being pushed by America's entertainment and political elites. The author of the article directly challenges the idea that America benefits from soft power — the worldwide appeal of its ideals and culture. The problem is that there are no ideals and there is no culture. It is cruft; it is kitsch; it is indeed crap. The current elites of the United States are slandering us and are too befuddled by their own delusions to realize it. Then we wonder why the rest of the world mocks and sneers at us.

All that teenage boob-jiggling and ha-ha-hoo-hoo-hee-hee coming out of our culture is not a manifestation of adolescence. It is a sign of senile dementia in an old boy who never really grew up and now refuses to realize that he has grown old.

Written by Andy West on 7 November 2009 from text written in October 2009. Updated 6 April 2010.