The Greatest County in the World

When I was a young child I marveled at my good luck at being born in America, the greatest country on the earth, and wondered at the various degrees of bad luck of others: gangs of hollow-eyed bone-thin children in the streets of the bombed out cities in Europe, Chinese families starving by the millions in a civil war, rebellions in Central and South America; the Japanese could not even be thought about openly even in the privacy of one’s own mind. Photographs in the great magazines of the great country supplied my pre-literate mind, and I had very big ears both figuratively and literally.

Yet, even back then there was a nagging question: America was great, powerful and good, how was it possible that we should have so much, both material and security, and others be so deprived? In my childish simplicity it seemed that my country could, if not fix the plight of others, then improve the conditions of their lives.

As a child I moved to the rural south. There I saw that migrant workers lived in tiny one-room shacks with no plumping, no glass or screens on the windows, often no real doors; I could see thin stacks of cardboard partly covered with dirty blankets on the floors. Blacks lived in isolated “towns” off the main roads, really medieval villages, out of sight, out of mind.

I began to marvel more specifically at my good luck to be born in America as a white child to parents with enough money to buy a little land, build a real house and have a working car. I visited a friend’s house, a small frame place with only exterior covering, the framing still exposed on the inside. In the bedroom, behind a blanket curtain, I saw my friend’s uncle, a skeleton in a bed, skull face with wet searching animal eyes; a man with some terrible degenerative disease. I added to my list of marvels that everyone in my family, including myself, was healthy.

The Korean War (police action) was thoroughly terrifying to my nearly 10-year-old person. I added to my list that my immediate surroundings were not being overrun by millions of bloodthirsty Chinese in very scary quilted fighting suits. At about this same time the sanctity and security of my white, middle class, American, healthy, not in a war-zone life began to be challenged by the Russian Communists, who could, and perhaps wanted to, deliver and drop atomic bombs on my grade school. I felt completely out-classed by atomic bombs; that famous aerial photo of Hiroshima, ‘after,’ would dance up in my mind and I would search it for something that looked like my schoolyard.

Yet, even with all these things going on, the paradoxes of my safety and ease of life compared to those skinny farmers in India, their stick children trying to hide behind their stick mother or the naked little children of a Central American jungle village… I tried and tried to understand how they felt, how they might think about their world, what it must be like to be them.

My life remained remarkably easy by comparison: school, work, relationships; maybe not so much relationships, I wasn’t very good with relationships, but I was bright and quite attractive – like a shiny object that you want to pick up and play with until it proves not so interesting after all – and so always had people around. The rest of the world, on the other hand, also continued on with its incomprehensible inequities: Vietnam, South Africa, Central and South America, the Congo and a hundred other places where human life was not recognized as such or of any particular value by the powers-that-be there.

And the point of this little reconnoiter through personal reflections? It seems the usefulness of the social and economic structures that protected me and many millions more like me are coming to an end. I have come to understand that never was the “normalcy” of my life experience normal; it was a hiatus from the normal lived out in the momentum of a previous time. The experience of South Korean villagers driven from their homes by war was normal. The aboriginal displaced from ancestral lands (pick your country) was normal. The little 400 square foot apartment with 7 people and just barely enough food was normal.

The mineral and biological wealth of the North American continent, supplemented by the stolen wealth of the undeveloped world, was so great that just the splashes from the carrying bucket soaked the people. Those with serious psychopathic greed feverously gathered all that they could get, but were easily seen and somewhat easily constrained, though, perhaps more importantly, they needed the American people and, especially, they needed the people to need them. Not that they always remembered; it was possible to remind them.

But with the last half of the last century has come an explosion of transportation and communication technology, the imminence of peak everything, the obvious near-term end of population growth and consequential end of economic growth binges; it was becoming increasingly clear that the bubble of American popular sanctity and security would have to end for the psychopathically greedy and their attendants to avoid sharing.

And they are frantic to avoid sharing. If sharing were to start, even a little bit, then the gates would be torn open and, horror of horrors, the elites would have to begin to confront the possibility of normalcy. And living like the rest of humanity is not on the table, the options have been thought through and are being put in place. There is always the moment, as a plan begins to be implemented, when all the participants can see what is happening; we may not like it, may be in denial for a time, but we know.

As our certainty in our American greatness and personal safety begins to weaken we cry out our old phrases, the ones that we were taught by the economic and political elite: “economic growth, personal responsibility, free market, free trade, greed is good, pro-life, don’t tax the job creators:” like children who, when they suddenly feel out of favor and in danger of loosing parental protection, search for just the right thing to say and do to return to good graces. But these phrases are out of date, are of no interest. And we are bewildered: one says to the other, “I still love you.” and it is replied, “But, I no longer love you.”

The powerful no longer need us, at least not as they did in the past; the American people have become fungible. Germany still needs Germans; if all the Germans were to disappear there would be no Germany, but if Americans were to disappear they would just be replaced with new ones from all over just like in the beginning, and just like “in the beginning,” stubborn ones who stayed on would have to be reeducated into the new society. The economic superstructure has come not to care who is running around on the streets and fields below so long as the running around is in all the desired directions.

The good cop/bad cop routine of the Democratic/Republican party proves that the people cannot yet be completely ignored, but the time is getting closer when we, common folk in general, will have experiences like the people of Chile, Argentina, China, Kenya, Iraq, Egypt and dozens of other places where the elites don’t feel the need to hide their intentions.

My childhood conundrums have been largely cleared up. The “normalcy” of my youth and early years was really not normal at all, but life in a very special protected community, one over which I either never had or had given up influence. The American Dream of more and better every year should have tipped all of us off to the con game, that we were being used and that there would be a judgment day. All that was required was Life Magazine or National Geographic and a newspaper or a radio.

There is still the opportunity to remake the place that we live, this country; not into the country that it was (or what we thought it was), that was and is a lie, but into something more real. There is still great power in the people, great energy when the TV is turned off. There are ideas and many millions of available ‘man-hours.’ First, however, it is necessary to see ourselves with honesty and reality, and there is where I despair.

James Keye is the nom de plume of a retired academic and small businessman living with an Ecological Footprint of 1.6 earths. He can be reached at Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.