The world looks towards the United States as a role model in many fields. Young people from everywhere yearn to go and study there. Its wealth and military prowess provide it a major say in global affairs. Its various ‘institutions’ and ‘think-tanks’ lecture other nations on democracy and human rights. It is the standard bearer for ‘successful Capitalism’. Its soft power influences people in significant ways.
At the same time, however, this ‘great democracy’ has its roots in the most terrible crimes committed upon humanity. The nation has been built upon the near annihilation of the indigenous peoples, slavery, racism and segregation. The institutions it is so proud of, not least the universities that attract scholars from all over the world to study cutting-edge advances in human knowledge, are built upon the wealth accrued from this tyranny. It must not be forgotten that it was only in 1920 that women got the right to vote, and segregation ended as recently as 1964. So, as a nation, it still remains immature despite its many achievements.
The transformation has also been uneven because of several factors. Its movement through the various stages of industrialisation from the original agriculture and ‘ranches’, to the post-industrialisation and AI age has been quite rapid, leaving many sections of its population stranded in differing ‘eras’. Its constitution reflects contradictions that have become starker in the present social environment. The obsession with the right to bear arms, for instance, emerges from a poor understanding of the original intent, and is cynically financed by the gun-making industry. The belief that the US is a ‘white’ nation is much derided, today, but it was the prevalent mindset through much of US history. It is no wonder then that the racist undercurrent in many states combines with the ease with which firearms can be obtained to result in the frequent mass-shootings that take place there. The problem has been aggravated by the developing geographical divide in education and wealth between the coastal states and ‘middle America’. The fact that the counter to this mindset is also based on race does not help improve matters. ‘Liberalism’ has taken quite another meaning in this day and age. There are powerful forces struggling for dominance in the background and it will be a while before Buddha’s ‘middle path’ is achieved. An added complication is that it leaves the US ill-prepared to deal with the conflicts in other parts of the world. Civilisation has still a long way to go, but it seems to be running out of time.