Reading about the Chechens, especially here, has driven home how pampered, by contrast, our country is. But Chechnya is a small place, so not an apt comparison to the mighty U.S.A. Perhaps a better comparison would be China, a nation which more resembles an early stage Roman Empire, compared to our late one.
The best indication that a nation is in decline is usually the softness and self-indulgence of its people. (Before the fall of the Roman Empire the Romans became known for their gluttony.) This chart shows that we are, literally, the softest -- i.e., most obese -- nation on earth, with over 30% of our citizens being obese. (Mexico ranks second, with 24%.)
There is a great deal of focus in this country on ensuring our safety. From cradle to grave, a huge amount of ingenuity has gone into eliminating various dangers. If any company has manufactured a product which might possibly contribute to a mishap, no matter how much we are at fault, we are encouraged to sue that company. In China, they would scoff at such abnegation of personal responsibility.
One of the dangers we try to eliminate is airborne toxins and pollutants. In China, they pay scant attention to such things, and just continue to ramp up production instead.
In China, if you are convicted of corruption, they shoot you. In this country, serial killers are more likely to be given a life sentence than a death sentence. And if they are given a death sentence, they get free medical and dental care and three squares a day for upwards of ten years before they are finally executed.
The Roman Empire overextended itself. We are similarly overextended, thinking mistakenly that we can bring enlightenment to unenlightened corners of the globe. The Chinese have a huge army, which they use only to ruthlessly stamp out rebellions on their borders.
The fall of the Roman Empire was preceded by the rise of feminism. Feminism has been on the rise in this country for the past forty years. (I'm not making a value judgment here, merely pointing out a fact.)
The focus of this country is on redistribution rather than production. Much energy is expended on providing for the less productive, rather than encouraging the productive. It's certainly nice to have a strong social safety net, but such an inviting net is not conducive to the long term strength, or unity, of a country.
Worse, there is a lot of energy expended denying that some are productive, and others are not -- or that some are more intelligent and law-abiding than others. The near-hysterical promulgation of such propaganda also makes for a shaky foundation for a society.
We have a program called "No Child Left Behind." The Chinese educational philosophy might better be described as, "Let's Leave the Western Children Behind."
China guards its borders jealously. Anyone caught in the country illegally is likely to be charged with spying, which is punishable by death. We punish illegal aliens by giving them a path to naturalization.
China has an upper class formed in large part by crony capitalism, but they also have an expanding middle class, which is the backbone of any nation. We have a shrinking middle class. Both of our political parties pay lip service to the middle class. But the Republicans promote policies which in fact benefit the upper class, and the Democrats promote policies which benefit the lower class. Both are prescriptions for disaster.
There are still pockets in America which seem unspoiled. Mormons still seem to have something of a pioneer mentality. They work hard, don't indulge themselves, and don't bother with much of the silliness which has overtaken the rest of the country (even if they have their own versions). The Amish are considered curiosities these days, but at least they have not let themselves get soft. And the martial virtues are till revered in the military, at least in the infantry and in various Special Operations units.
But for the rest of us, it's gluttony and entertainment from the Coliseum, or its modern day equivalents.
Don't get me wrong: I'm glad I live in the US. If someone gives me inside information, I'd be tempted to take it, and I wouldn't want to be shot for that. I also prefer to breathe clean air. And it's nice to know that should I fall upon hard times, there will be some sort of social safety net for me.
Full disclosure: I also enjoy being self-indulgent. Writing this useless blog and practicing for masters swimming probably represent the height of self-indulgence.
I would have enjoyed being a late stage Roman circa 400 A.D. as well, what with all those feasts and orgies. And I would have hated to be a centurion back in 100 B.C., sleeping on the ground in faraway lands and wondering if I would survive the next battle with the Teutons or Gauls.
I wouldn't have even wanted to be one of the ones whose job it was to build those aqueducts. (Give me Nero's life instead.)
I'm also glad I live in a society which places such a premium on safety, as I prefer to live rather than die. I prefer to have the biggest threat to my safety come from a high cholesterol level brought on by too many parfaits rather than from invading Huns.
But I also recognize that I am living in the most coddled circumstances in history.
One of the biggest problems facing our country is that not all of the world's peoples are quite so self-indulgent. Many of the Muslim countries, for instance, are filled with people who will gladly give their lives for the chance to take a few of ours.
And that imbalance, typified not only by the Tsarnaev brothers, but also by Chinese willing to work eighty hours a week, is what may well prove our downfall.
Sorta like how it happened with Rome.