Therein lies the rub. Our lifestyle isn’t as comfy as it used to be, and it seems to be getting less comfy each year. In fact, I don’t think the Empire will be capable much longer of keeping us in the manner to which we’re accustomed. And that may be the most decisive factor in my political radicalization: the failure of the American Empire to give me the share of the American Dream that I believed was my birthright.
I would like to believe that I would’ve been aware of and fought the evils of the American Empire even if I'd lived through its Golden Age, as my parents did. But my track record implies otherwise. Despite being aware of my imperial complicity for a decade, I’ve repeatedly returned to the corporate world, trying to preserve and then, after quitting my cushy job, recover that cozy corner of the American Dream I’d been looking forward to since childhood. If I’d managed to stay on Easy Street, I’m not sure I would’ve been willing to abandon my creature comforts in an effort to undermine the imperial system.
I’m forced to admit that this historical period has catalyzed my awareness of the crimes on which the Empire, and my comfortable existence, is based. When you’re sitting pretty, you’re less likely to question the socioeconomic structure of your society, and you’re far less likely to indict that structure. After all, you deserve to be successful, right? You’re a good person, and you’ve earned everything you've got. That seems to be the default self-image of the middle class.
It’s much easier to condemn these luxuries as they slip away. When your bed isn’t as comfortable as it used to be, you’re more likely to lie awake and question the assumptions by which you’ve lived. You’re more likely to think that things are headed in the wrong direction and may never have been just and fair in the first place. When the luxuries your class once enjoyed are now enjoyed by others, it’s much easier to question those people’s worthiness and the justice of the system that is creating this new disposition of wealth. Of course, not everyone reacts to insecurity this way.
Many people employ xenophobia to scapegoat marginal groups, e.g. immigrants and ethnic, racial and religious minorities. One or more of the “alien” groups is blamed for the “Real Americans’” loss of status. This often leads to the demonization and further oppression of these already-oppressed groups. It’s an approach that exploits the ugliest side of human nature and unleashes destructive forces that are not easily controlled. (For a prime example, see “Third Reich, The.”)
Unfortunately, the U.S.A. has a long, not-so-proud tradition of this brand of politics. We have a disturbing habit of fearing and then persecuting the most-subjugated groups in our society: slaves, immigrants, the poor, etc. Our history and the state of the economy have established the conditions in which this kind of movement could be reborn with a vengeance.
I’m pretty sure the path I’ve taken is the one less traveled, and with good reason. It’s the path that leads through the looking glass, and what’s on the other side is horrifying. You see the victims of the American Way of Life: the human beings killed in our “humanitarian interventions;” the children worked to death in the sweatshops that keep us looking hip; and the unborn poisoned by the toxins released in the manufacture of our gizmos. Worst of all, you see that their suffering is caused only by our greed, fear and ignorance.
The urge to blame outsiders for one’s own misfortune is strong and will likely get stronger as the Empire unravels. But the consequences of that choice are too terrible to imagine, much less to take the chance of resurrecting them from the darkest periods in history. We must face the demons that haunt the American conscience, or they will complete their conquest of our souls and turn our inheritance into a graveyard.