Is the United States the first rich failed state?
In a challenging new essay on Eudaimonia & Co., Umair Haque makes the case that we are. And we aren’t nearly as concerned with this as we should be.
Umair Haque begins his essay by naming your skepticism. And it’s warranted. The reader has just read the title and subtitle:
Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
The Strange New Pathologies of the World’s First Rich Failed State
And are greeted to a screenshot from a newscast—an aerial image after another school shooting.
Hearing words like “collapse” and “failed state” sound like the hyperbole of the alarmist. I did the same. And I questioned every step of my processing it.
Haque wants you to look at the evidence anyway. When looking at the evidence is harder than ever, it is far easier to ignore it.
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
― Joseph Heller, Catch-22
But Haque isn’t paranoid or alarmist. He’s looking at a uniquely American disease and coming to a rational conclusion. And the discerning reader should listen without dismissing it as alarmist, even if it challenges us or uses terms we choose not to believe.
The energy in the essay is not really around the talk of collapse, but pushing past the impulse for distraction or obfuscation.
We aren’t taking in the whole picture.
I’m far less interested in classifying the United States as a “failed state” or using the language of collapse as I am drawing our attention to what is making us sick.
This is the central point of the essay—that our ignoring and justifying the status quo is like having a cancer in the body and doing nothing about it. The point isn’t that we die. The point is that there’s a cancer and we could heal it.
Our country’s sickness doesn’t have to kill us.
Haque fashions himself as diagnosing the cancer through 5 social pathologies. I’ll cover the pathologies themselves in greater depth elsewhere. But before he can dig into the pathologies which represent the disease, he needs to set the table for us. And he does so by naming two presuppositions.
1) Our problems are weird and unique
“When we take a hard look at US collapse, we see a number of social pathologies on the rise. Not just any kind. Not even troubling, worrying, and dangerous ones. But strange and bizarre ones. Unique ones. Singular and gruesomely weird ones I’ve never really seen before, and outside of a dystopia written by Dickens and Orwell, nor have you, and neither has history.”
Notice that he sees these problems as unique as compared with the rest of the world and with respect to history.
This itself challenges those who see time and human nature as repetitive and in constant balance. Therefore, trying to find justification from other countries or historical allegory won’t work. This need to justify makes it harder for us to see what’s right in front of us.
2) We are failing to account for human suffering
“They suggest that whatever “numbers” we use to represent decline — shrinking real incomes, inequality, and so on — we are in fact grossly underestimating what pundits call the “human toll”, but which sensible human beings like you and I should simply think of as the overwhelming despair, rage, and anxiety of living in a collapsing society.”
While Haque is speaking directly to how he hopes we will come to define collapse, this supposition is more important than how he sells it here. Because we’re obsessed with quantifying and justifying exclusively with numbers in spreadsheets, we fail to deal with the unquantifiable.
That’s not strong enough.
It means we consciously refuse to deal with the unquantifiable.
When we do this, we ignore well more than half the story. It’s much like saying the only way to deal with all of creation is through corporate profit and loss statements.
With these two presuppositions we can explore Haque’s five American social pathologies, his 3 observations, and what that means for us.
Because I think they can greatly help us.
I’ll update this page as we go.
Haque’s three observations
What this means for us.