After America: Get Ready for Armageddon

by: Mark Steyn
published by: Regnery Press, 2011
(Read on my Kindle)

In a way, this quote says it all: "We've got a big hole that we're digging ourselves out of."

Who said it? Barack Obama. Generally speaking, when you're in a hole, the way out isn't to keep digging. It's this kind of common sense observation that makes Mark Steyn's books such a pleasure to read. ABC quoted the president with nary a blink; and while Right Blogs picked up and on the obvious contradiction in terms, Steyn actually puts numbers and research - not just mockery - behind his commentary.

In his previous book, America Alone, Steyn uses demographics to demonstrate that Western culture may have already passed the point of no return, given that nobody but the U.S., Australia and Canada seem to be interested in reproducing themselves, and even these states are only just breaking even. Population growth in most of Europe is thanks to Middle Eastern immigration, and along with the immigrants come a whole different way of looking at the world, law, culture, education, and the future.

In this book, Steyn continues his thesis by running the numbers: "It starts," he writes, "with the money. It always does." And the numbers he presents us almost seem like a joke: "What of the future? The CBO ran the longer-term numbers: The 'alternative fiscal scenarios,' which factors in likely changes in policy, calculates that public debt will rise from 44 percent of GDP in 2008 to 716 percent by 2080. Then again, the CBO's 'extended-baseline scenario,' which assumes there will be no changes to current policy, says public debt will only rise to 280 percent by 2080."

It's Steyn's contention that Rome may have taken many years to decline, but the fall was abrupt and possibly even unexpected. And so it may very well go with the United States. "In the space of one generation, a nation of savers became the world's largest debtors, and a nation of makers and doers became a cheap service economy. Everything that can be outsourced has been - manufacturing to by no means friendly nations overseas; and much of what's left in agriculture and construction to armies of the 'undocumented.' At the lower end, Americans are educated at a higher cost per capita than any nation except Luxembourg in order to do minimal-skill checkout-line jobs about to be rendered obsolete by technology. At the upper end, America's elite goes to school till early middle age in order to be credentialed for pseudoemployment (as 'consultants')."

While the picture he paints is dire (this isn't the kind of book you want to read just before bed if you want to avoid nightmares), he also points out that there is hope, in the form of that Leftist bugbear, "American Exceptionalism." Americans have always been a nation of "can-do," of self-reliance and freedom. "Live Free or Die" is literally the motto of one state, and the personal motto of many individuals.

Steyn asks us to imagine a man from 1890 traveling through time to 1950. What wonders he would find in a mere 60 years: automobiles, television, telephone, central heating and cooling, indoor plumbing for everyone, washers and dryers and a standard of health unheard of in his era. Now bring this same man forward another 60 years and what will he find? Well, not much more. People are fatter. Phones are portable, but they're still phones. The one big change is the computer. Airplanes and cars and washers and dryers and indoor plumbing - they were all there.

One of the reasons for the slowdown, suggests Steyn, is that while in 1920 it was possible to go from idea (for example, how to isolate insulin so it could be given to diabetics) to market (literally, insulin was available to diabetics) in a mere two years, the average time to market now for medicines is three to four times that. While in 1961 John Kennedy could declare that before the end of the decade, man would walk on the moon - and he was right - by the 1970's "the human spirit began to be overwhelmed by bureaucracy. The old can-do spirit? Oh, you can try to do it, but they'll toss every obstacle in your path. Go on, give it a go: invent a new medical device; start a company; go to the airport to fly to D.C. and file a patent. Everything's longer, slower, more soul-crushing."

The problem, in a nutshell, says Steyn: "There's your American decline right there: from out-of-this-world to out-of-our-minds, an increasingly unmanned flight from real, historic, technological accomplishment to unreal, ahistorical, therapeutic, touchyfeely multiculti."

One reason Microsoft, Google, and Apple can be the big success stories of the last half century, says Steyn, is that they aren't regulated into oblivion, out of profit, and beyond usefulness. They could, as were industries in the early part of the last century, have begun in the garage or spare bedroom, and didn't require reams of permissions, clearances, inspections, permits, oks, approvals, diversity plans, muti-language signage, and political correction.

If you have not read it, and haven't already made the connection, Steyn reminds you of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, in which future man lives vicariously, through technology, movies, and the odd interaction with "primitives," those "real" people who live out on reservations and actually bear their own children, suffer their own illnesses, and feel their own feelings.

"We do not save," writes Steyn, "we do not produce, we do not reproduce, not in Europe, Canada, Vermont, or San Francisco. Instead, we seek new, faster ways to live in an eternal present, in an unending whirl of sensory distraction. (Writer Alexis de) Tocqueville's prediction of the final stage of democracy prefigures the age of 'social media:'
     'It hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.'"

In essence, we have lost our will: our will to create, to invent, to work, to lose, to win, to suffer, to enjoy. Part of it is our own fault. We've wimped out. Part of it we can  lay at the door of a government that spends most of its time convincing us we just can't handle it alone. "Big Government depends on going around the country stirring up apathy - creating the sense that problems are so big, so intractable, that even attempting to think about them for yourself gives you such a splitting's easier to shrug and accept as given the proposition that only government can deal with them."

I could go on. But I think the point is made - the book is well researched, and it tolls a warning bell for Western civilization. Interestingly much of what Steyn predicted in America Alone has borne out just as he predicted. For myself, I'd hate to think that what he predicts in this book will also come about.

A point Steyn also makes, which many will have difficulty with, is one he made in the predecessor book, America Alone:  that Islam shall inherit the earth. Islamists evidently think so, too, but Steyn is none-too-happy about it. As he puts it, "Islam is playing for tomorrow, whereas much of the West has, by any traditional indicator, given up on the future."

Even if you strongly disagree with what he's written, this is the kind of book that should be read if for no other reason than to arm yourself with the information that refutes his positions. Steyn has stepped out on a limb which few are willing to traverse, and is willing to put research and numbers behind the conclusions he draws. The only reasonable thing to do, agree or disagree, is to head out behind him and prove him right or wrong. The consequences are nothing less than monumental for all of us.


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