America was created partly as a haven for people who wanted liberties and opportunities.
The founding fathers tried to anticipate the problems that might develop and they codified a morality that they thought would protect the new country. They explicitly warned against getting entangled in foreign wars. They warned against the inertia that accompanies success ("The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants").
Despite their best efforts, it was not long before Americans were drunk with the wealth of their new land and sought more plunder.
Now, 2013, we find a country at the edge. Numerous serious problems are understated or ignored. The reflex is to minimize problems by controlling everything. We have a banking system that controls interest rates, keeping them at absurd unnaturally low levels without knowing what the consequences of that might be. We have the largest and most expensive internal security apparatus in history, police to monitor any conceivable threat. Citizens are imprisoned at a rate without parallel among modern democracies. Large lumbering agencies have been created to regulate everything from food and medicine to educational licenses to animals and buildings.
Perhaps worst of all, America's neighbors around the world are anticipating our collapse. Where once we were widely perceived as the cutting edge of personal freedom now we are seen as a bullying imperial monster. We have military bases in dozens of countries, and in each case there are sizable numbers of locals who want us out. We are the rich buffoon who throws money out the window of his car when there is a problem.
Things that should make Americans worry.
1) It is becoming increasingly common for foreign political and business leaders to speak over the heads of Americans.
Whether it is a discussion of economics or a political meeting or social commentary, increasingly it is easy to find examples of foreign leaders (in whatever sphere) who know that their words will be interpreted in a simplistic way by Americans. They create "inside jokes" that most American really don't understand.
A stunning example was the skyscraper designed by Dutch architects for a South Korean firm to look like the exploding twin towers. They can say "We did not notice the resemblance until it was pointed out in the media" and that is defended by people who understand what they are reacting to, specifically American "exceptionalism".
2) A limited number of countries in recent history have gone overboard on "exceptionalism".
The Nazis, of course, considered themselves divinely appointed to rule over other nations. They had plenty of evidence ("proof") for their feeling of superiority. Germany had produced many of Europe's best musicians, scientists etc. This led many to believe there was something special, divine, about their blood. The Japanese likewise considered themselves an exceptional people, above others.
American exceptionalism is similar in many ways to that of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Most Americans are completely sure that there is some inherent, intangible superiority in Americans. They miss the parallels with similar attitudes in the past by their certainty that "We are moral and they were not", or some variation. The problem there is that history judges morality. If the Nazis or Japanese had won WWII we would be taught why their morality was superior, and we would understand it.
What is the root of this "American exceptionalism" disease? It's simply a tactic used by clever people to manipulate less clever people. You can approach almost anyone and say "You are so smart / beautiful / wise / etc. How did you get to be that way?" and they will say "Gee, I don't really know. I guess I was born this way.", and that person will invest in your apparent vision. Politicians who try to get votes from stupid people do this constantly.
3) When there is a shift downward in morality towards one's perceived enemies, it is generally a harbinger of failure.
A people generally has anger or contempt for an enemy when they anticipate (consciously or subconsciously) success. When they anticipate failure (usually subconsciously) they begin to loosen their own morality. This phenomenon is reliable both in individuals and groups.
A classic example of this is the case of the "underwear bomber". His family was one of the wealthiest families in Nigeria. When the son showed signs of being in a radical phase his father approached the U.S. government and asked for help.
In normal times, particularly with such an influential family, the U.S. would have expended considerable resources to help the young man. Instead, it was seen as an opportunity to further the "global war on terror". The evidence seems to be that the young man was brought into a group that was controlled by the U.S. government and deliberately set up with a defective device that would lead to publicity that would be beneficial to the western cause.
A person with a view could point out that the young man did indeed try to detonate what he thought was a bomb. He did try to potentially kill a large number of people and therefore can't quite be called entirely blameless. But, as some people know, any person can be drawn into committing any act. It would have been simple to arrange influences on the young man that would have taken him on a more humane path and probably led him to become successful in his father's profession. Instead, the morality of the U.S. agents involved was "Let's profit as much as possible. We can sacrifice this young man for a greater good".
Considering who the young man is, and his families influence, it honestly looks like the purpose of the operation was to further sabotage America's standing with educated Muslims in Nigeria.Examining Nigerian media coverage of the case seems to support this.
4) Obvious lies from officials, usually to boost morale or promote a mainstream agenda, are aimed at a lower and lower audience.
Officials in every government, in every country, lie. But when the lies become consistently transparent, or when they clearly are targeted to less educated people, that is a danger sign of political trouble.
Afghan soldiers have killed a number of NATO troops. Thirty five in 2011. Sixty one in 2012. The official line is that "in most cases the rogue soldiers are motivated not by sympathy for the Taliban, but rather by personal grievances". "Personal grievances" have been doubling each year?
Instead of being honest with the public, the government is creating a house of cards built with American lives and money. Afghan soldiers, who are physically in Afghanistan, speak the language, know the local personalities, etc, are murdering their trainers at a rapidly increasing rate. Put another way, the number of thoroughly vetted Afghans who are betting against the West is increasing rapidly. But that is the small problem. The big problem is that our "officials" are deliberately lying to us about the circumstances and context.
So what is the answer?
Solving the problem requires combining several trends and noticing historical realities.
There is a Bedouin saying "I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers". It points to both the problem and the solution. [The meaning of the Bedouin saying is that natural interests can be trusted, unlike unnatural interests. Any person will invest 100% in their own life. Then, they will invest 100% in their brothers life. Then their cousin, etc. When someone is induced into alliances based on a weaker foundation (politics, religion, business) they are following or pretending, and thus any alliance is weaker.]
Grand ideas like the United Nations are only successful when there is an overriding tension that keeps the smaller ambitions in check. The progression generally is as follows (repeated again and again, generation after generation). a) Two societies clash and both pay a heavy price. b) Senior leaders in each society realize the price of conflict exceeds its benefit for both sides. c) They formulate a treaty arrangement to ensure that future leaders will respect the peace. d) After a time the new leaders again become consumed with ambitions and begin to minimize previous wisdom. e) The new focus is on short term gain again, success of one society over the other.
So, the only real solution comes when countries combine their efforts on a project that is authentic in its benefits and which requires international collaboration. Two possibilities are 1) an effort to colonize space and 2) a reaction to global environmental emergencies. The latter seems more likely at this point.