U.S. Showing signs of decline

Let's not mince words. The challenges facing us in the 21st century are some of the most significant problems our country has ever reckoned with. 2011 is quickly proving to become another year filled with calamity and social stagnation.

While Arabs in North Africa and the Middle East are day-in and day-out risking their lives for liberty and justice, often with perilous consequences, we in North America are drowning in decadence and poverty, and doing far too little to change it.

As the national debt takes on unprecedented proportions (at the moment $14 Trillion), our elected officials tax the already struggling middle class with an enthusiastic abandon. To add insult to injury, the wealthiest corporations and financial institutions in the land are not only often taxed less, but in some cases earn billions in tax credits on top of their halcyon revenues.

Never mind our endless wars, or the climbing unemployment rates, or the unsustainable healthcare system based on the "don't get sick plan." The tragedy faced today is how this is largely considered standard—just business and politics as usual.

Our present day society in many ways resembles 19th century China during the fall of the Qing dynasty. The Chinese empire had vast influence, from India to Eastern Russia. But with the introduction of opium brought by English trade ships, the once mighty empire was brought to its knees.

Our opiate takes on many different forms. Oil, television, debt and pharmaceuticals, there is scarcely an American today that isn't in some way, shape or form virtually dependent on these; and like bona fide addicts, we see our poison not as the sinister and foreign element enslaving us, but as the prescription holding our society and lives together.

The rise and fall of nations and empires is a very real fact, and American exceptionalism is scheduled for a fundamentally rude awakening. As fervent and zealous proponents of this ideology are today, it amounts to nothing but base nationalism, a tell tale sign of a nation dying from the inside out.

Bob Herbert, a New York Times op-ed columnist for 18 years, wrote his last column last week on March 25. In "Losing Our Way," he poignantly illustrates the systemic failure of the present day United States. "The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely."

Living for decades under brutal repression and authoritarian rule, the vast populations of young and old in North Africa and the Middle East have evidently realized that the only way to earn the liberty, justice and sovereignty that they've for so many years been deprived of is to organize, band together and seize it, in some cases we hope peacefully, but in most cases and with no other choice—through violence.

We, on the other hand, with so many manifold problems, with such a wide and seemingly unbridgeable gap between the wealthy and the poor, what do we do? Millions stare transfixed at Facebook and Twitter, not to keep informed with revolutions, but to keep up to date with the frivolity of Charlie Sheen and Britney Spears. Millions tune in to their televisions not to monitor the news, CSPAN and the goings-on of government, but to gaze with a comatose senselessness at Jersey Shore and Dancing with the Stars.

Life shouldn't have to be all about dire seriousness; truthfully, human beings need a respite from the world and all of its endless troubles. But to the extent that we have paved the way towards worshipping entertainment and dissipation as a complete and virtuous way of life, casting aside all the values and principles that have made us great and exceptional, we've created an Achilles' heel; or in other words, we're permanently distracted.