Monday, August 13, 2012
Is Western Civilization in decline? One way to answer that question has been through the prism of the Olympic Games. From the 1976 Montreal Olympics where the US trailed both the Soviet Union and East Germany in the metal count to the American domination at the 1984 Olympics at the height of Ronald Reagan's America, the Olympics has provided a pretty fair gut check on the state of western civilization. Reviewing the medal count of the XXX Olympiad, America reversed the medal decline in Beijing four year earlier and re-emerged on top with 117 metals, 60 of them gold. The results surprised many in China who saw in Beijing a Chinese cultural and political ascendancy that was irreversible. But if we review, not the medal count, but the opening and closing ceremonies as the barometer to the health of western civilization, I see a civilization proud of its past but uncertain about its future.
The pomp, circumstance and optimism of the Olympic opening in Beijing 2008, designed by the Communists to be a coming-out party for a new superpower, made London's 2012 Opening Ceremonies puny and retrospective in comparison. From the industrial revolution to the characters of England's historic literature, this year's ceremony celebrated the achievement of the past and ignored the challenges of the future. In London's closing ceremonies, we were fed supermodels and other pop confections, everything both the far-right and far-left of the US believe is polluting Western Civilization. In both the opening and closing ceremonies, aging rockers, Paul McCartney and The Who respectively, were called upon to evoke a time when hope and change represented something beyond a political bumper sticker. But that was "all those years ago" as George Harrison sang. My God, The Who are still singing "My Generation". That generation is at least 60 years old now. The imagery of Roger Daltry huffing and puffing through what's left of his lower vocal range sadly reminds me of one the last Star Trek movies where William Shatner, as Kirk, had to come to grips with the fact that the world is passing him by and his enemies are not intimidated by his small stature and pot belly.
The good news is that the fitness and the vigor of America's 2012 Olympic athletes and coaching staff remind us that a portion of our population still understands the value of hard work and sacrifice. We still have people in this country who are hungry for success and still believe in the American Dream. Unfortunately, these 529 American athletes and the many other achievers we have in areas outside the Olympics pale in number to an ever-growing fat, lazy, undisciplined slacker underbelly of "citizens" who do little, expect much, and assume America will always be on top because they were taught American Exceptionalism.
For those who assume the future will always be like the past, look at the medal count. See how many medals Greece, Rome (Italy) and Turkey...or even Russia for that matter have won. The paucity of success for those superpowers of the past should remind us that greatness rarely lasts. I am concerned that that our success this year is masking deep seated fears about the future. As the UK and western civilization struts its stuff around Olympic Stadium, I wonder whether our civilization's celebration of past glory was subconsciously designed to distract us from the uncertainty of our civilization's place in the future.