The Howling Wilderness of the Mind
The Bizarre Suicide of the American Empire
September 01, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "ExtraSensory.News"
- I grew up in a tiny town of less than 1500
people in western Montana. It is a land of breathtaking natural
beauty, and for 18 years I lived in the same house in a form of
bucolic perfection. We prided ourselves on living 100 miles from the
nearest stoplight. I smile to imagine that many young villagers from
all over the planet share a form of kinship enforced by the laws of
small communities and big mountains.
It was my home and they were my people, but after traveling,
education and 13 years of living elsewhere, I can see what a strange
accident of history small town America actually is, a residue left
by a frontier that has moved on and twisted inward. This is a report
from a correspondent embedded for 18 years and a hundred miles
behind the front lines of the American frontier.
I was enabled to see it clearly by the fact that almost half of the
buildings on the one main street are the originals from when the
town was slapped together in the 1890s. One century later the layout
and social structure were unchanged. I remember vividly the moment
it struck: my parents and I were crossing the main street to dine at
a Chinese restaurant. (Of course!) A glance to the right revealed
where the street lamps petered out, a look over the left shoulder
saw the other end of town. The mountains brooded over us, dark
except for the scattered isolated houses here and there like embers
from a dying fire. I stopped in the middle of the empty road and
gasped: “This is still a frontier town!” That epiphany shattered the
insular perfection of my home, and I have been struggling with it
It is painful to see the frontier scrawled across the personalities
and culture of individuals and a town I love dearly, but now that I
am an outsider it is obvious. Their little fenced estates in the
woods are their half of the quid pro quo their ancestors fulfilled:
tame the wilderness and your private claims will be protected. Their
desires are clear and simple: they want taxes to be low,
infrastructure to be mediocre (certainly not good enough to help the
poorest) and fuel to be cheap. They love their trucks and jet skis
and four-wheelers and cars and dirt bikes and speedboats and
snowmobiles and motorcycles and SUVs and brush cutters and chainsaws
and log splitters and lawn mowers and backhoes and shotguns and
semitrailers and rifles and pistols and guns. They hate the
government and complain that it doesn’t do enough for them.
They are profoundly ignorant of the vast human diversity and history
around them and serenely contemptuous of the few snippets of
knowledge they have collected. Put 500 of them in a room together
and there probably won’t be a single classic poem or plotline of a
work of world literature memorized between them, and if there is it
will be in the head of a lone weirdo. There are only about three
dates anybody appears to be aware of: 1492, 1776, 1945, and, by the
time I was a senior in high school, 9/11, 2001. Most of them at some
point complete the pilgrimage to the great holy city in the south,
the place in the desert that god itself has touched, made sacred,
made itself physically manifest in the world. They return from Las
Vegas renewed, uplifted, their faith in financial manipulation
restored, and full of hope that if they are pure enough, the god
Mammon just might bless their own lives, someday.
So even though they are poor, in debt, and only able to move in a
tiny world, mentally they are all little aristocrats. Therein lays
the genius and opportunity of a frontier. If in the early 1800s you
were a plantation owner in Virginia or a financial tycoon in New
York, how do you simultaneously gain access to all those resources
west of Appalachia, reduce pressure for social reform and of course
not do any of the work yourself? The social architecture of the
frontier answers all three questions elegantly, but it concomitantly
makes a hollow society, a government without a nation underneath.
I took my epiphany and outsider status with me when I attended
university on the outskirts of Tacoma, Washington. There was no
physical relic of the frontier to observe, but after wandering
around the local suburbs at night and especially after visiting the
homelands of ancient nations in Peru and Guatemala on study-abroad
trips it gradually dawned on me that the frontier was everywhere in
the United States. Its peculiar dynamics have been so deeply
ingrained that they define Americans better than any other
interpretive framework, long after the physical circumstances of the
frontier have ceased to exist.
What took me years to see in the suburbs of Tacoma is that the
frontier has been turned on its side. Not inverted; an inverted
frontier would resemble Brazilian farmers retreating hundreds of
kilometers back from the edge of the Amazon rainforest and coming
together to build beautiful sustainable cities. No, what I see is an
internalization of that terrible frontier interface.
Fast food makes the most vivid case: how does one create money from
otherwise worthless agricultural products, reduce social pressure
for reform by fattening and stupefying the commoners, and of course
not do any of the work oneself? Economically fast food joints are
not restaurants at all—they are commodity dumps. They are
a means to inflate massive profits out of otherwise inaccessible
resources. If the dreck they served in place of food were
sustainably farmed, if the workers were paid living wages and if the
American people would defend their health, fast food chains would
vanish. The exact same dynamic applies to the suburbs: overpriced
cardboard boxes filled with cheesy appliances that would not be
worth constructing if the Earth were taken into account. Whatever
field of endeavor you care to examine, be it medicine or education,
science or art, the frontier interface prevents it from serving
human needs and demands that it serve one purpose only: that of
converting resources into profits.
The American people are not building society. They are still doing
the work of conversion for those same financial interests that
opened the frontier in the first place. The same impulse that
carried their ancestors across the Atlantic and maintained them
through the crushing labor of deforestation and sod busting is now
directed into mowing lawns, cleaning gutters, washing the car and,
of course, shopping. Stand on any busy street and watch the frontier
at work. Single out the delivery truck drivers, the look on their
faces. They will hunt down and liquidate (financialize) every last
pocket of natural resources left on the planet if they can.
I believe the lens of the frontier clarifies the otherwise bizarre
suicide of the American empire. We must remember that settling the
American west was swift and easy. Technological superiority,
diseases and overwhelming numbers allowed civilians to do most of
the ethnic cleansing while there was an actual boundary between the
natives and European colonists.
The United States never had to demand sacrifices of its citizens or
seriously negotiate with the natives. After all the territory in
North America was settled, a series of historical accidents bumped
the U.S. into a brief period of hegemony. Industrialization exploded
just as the frontier ended. The same settlers who walked from St.
Louis to Oregon Territory took trains back east a few decades later.
Then the old imperial powers of Eurasia destroyed themselves in two
world wars and voilà, the U.S. found itself the one intact
industrial power! This is not the stuff of long-lasting empires. The
upper classes have never stared defeat in the eye or had to restrain
themselves and ask the common people for massive collective effort.
This explains why the government cannot repair national
infrastructure or implement sound industrial policy. The
internalized frontier is why the military cannot administer
conquered territory and the ethnic minorities in the homeland cannot
receive equal treatment under the law. The regime in Washington D.C.
is not there to create a vast polyglot imperial structure (like the
Achaemenid empire) nor to represent the collective will of a single
nation (like Switzerland, or many others.) It exists to divvy up
resources and then defend those aristocratic interests at all costs.
It was set up in that form from the very beginning.
This explains why September 11 was used as another date that granted
legitimacy to aristocratic claims, right in line with 1776 and 1945.
Instead of leading a worldwide effort to bring criminals to justice
and rooting out actual causes, the regime set about trying to create
new frontier zones in places like Iraq and many others,
hunting grounds for certain corporations and government agencies.
Those efforts roused the ire of two of the oldest, most puissant
imperial systems in the world, and were subsequently checked.
Nobody in D.C. seems to have read the memo that they are no longer
allowed to set up frontiers for their cronies (or masters, depending
on what side of the revolving door between corporations and
government they are on.) They do not realize that China and Russia
will never ever grant favorable terms to Western interests, and that
the absurd commitment to “free markets” is actually a back door into
the heart of what is left of the American economy.
Of course, such knowledge cannot exist inside such a regime, and
anyway, it would make no difference. The U.S. government cannot ask
the common people to make the kind of colossal sacrifice necessary
to take on China and Russia at the same time. It cannot even shut
down or control the mechanism of the frontier. It must keep talking
about “free markets” because that is the main linguistic shield for
aristocratic freedom of action from democratic controls. It
certainly cannot tax the rich at progressive levels or shut down
So if its mercenary armies keep getting defeated overseas and
efforts to control resources and markets in places like the Middle
East keep getting thwarted, those same incompetent people still have
to make ridiculous sums of money from nothing without doing the
work, and the frontier takes another turn in upon itself. The
government begins shedding excess population and militarizing
civilian governance and privatizing the national patrimony and
binding the poor with debt and austerity and meaninglessly spying on
everything and on and on. After all, if they can’t run roughshod
all over Central Asia and the Middle East, there’s no place like
There will be no coherent national uprising against this final
suicide. There cannot be, because there is no American nation.
Real nations have wrenching, defining events like the Dreyfus
Affair, the Tupac Amaru rebellion, Tahrir Square, the taking of the
Winter Palace, the storming of the Bastille, the trial of the Gang
of Four, the Polish Deluge. The agony and ecstasy of being a nation,
of being a people, evolving through time regardless of the specifics
of where the capital city is or what dynasty sits on the throne has
not yet happened to the mess of immigrants and descendants of
immigrants in North America.
The process is beginning. Alaskan or Southern Californian or
Cascadian or Texan are embryonic nationalities. If Washington D.C.
actually tried to win the fight against Russia (let alone China) and
keep its tottering financial empire intact, the effort itself would
exacerbate the nascent breakup along those already visible lines.
Why would an Alaskan fisherman obey a bureaucrat in D.C. when his
livelihood depends on selling seafood to China? What possible
situation or political figure could align the interests of a Texan
and a Cascadian? The inevitable breakup of North American economic
and political unity is clear to anyone with a sense of how and why
nations evolve on this planet. It will be messy, lubricated by
rivers of blood, and in most areas accompanied by a long dark age,
but the rest of the world will breathe a sigh of relief.
For individuals like myself, born inside the frontier and soaked in
its propaganda, the U.S. seems like A Very Important Thing. For
minds still trapped, the breakup of the U.S. feels like The End Of
The World, which is a way of simplifying events to the point of not
thinking about them at all. I would like to end this report by
exploring a perspective about the next few decades not often seen,
which does not involve Nuclear War or Utter Collapse or The End of
the US Dollar.
North America was almost inevitably going to be treated as a single
huge frontier the moment any old world explorer, with all his
weapons, diseases, domesticated animals and crops stepped ashore.
Present-day old world nations and empires understand this and no
longer envy or fear what amounts to a historical blip. They also
observe that the deep social foundations necessary for a government
to play with the big boys in the arena of culture are missing. But a
vast, distant frontier is just as useful at converting worthless
commodities into money for them as it has proven for our own
Keeping this in mind, I suspect that far from decisive military
engagements or outright economic warfare, we might eventually
observe China and Russia (among others) carefully managing the U.S.
decline, expending small efforts to keep the regime in D.C. afloat
as long as they keep getting a positive return on investment. After
all, powerhouses like them will from time to time need to dump
commodities like pork snouts or almost worthless forestry
byproducts. As long as the frontier exists in the hearts and minds
of Americans, they won’t lack for people willing to do the work of
conversion for them.