My latest column for The River Reporter:


“Alright, Sam, the doctor can see you now, this way please…”

“Hello, Sam. Step into my office, please? Have a seat.”

“Sure, Doc – so, what’s the deal?”

“Well, Sam, we’ve gotten the test results back, and I won’t beat around the bush.  Things don’t look so good.”

“I can take it, Doc – lay it all out for me. Where’s the problem? I can lick it. You know me, I love a good challenge.”

“I appreciate your attitude, Sam. That’s one thing that gives me some hope.  But basically, Sam, it’s not just one part, it’s your whole organism – it’s just fighting itself.”

“Whaddya mean, Doc?”

“Well, let’s look at your economics first, since that’s where you’re feeling the most pain right now.  Your financial sector is extremely swollen and bloated, as you know. Normally, your executive and legislative systems would help keep that in check.  But in your case, they’ve become so dependent on that very sector for support that they’re unable to fulfill their normal regulatory functions.”

“Is that why I feel so top-heavy and out of balance? I feel like I’m stumbling around a lot.”

“Yes, Sam. We’ve tried changing the way the campaign money flows, putting in some blockages, but your financial sector always gets around them.  But that’s just one of the problems.  Your wealth distribution has gotten all out of whack.  You can’t have it absolutely even, of course, no one can do that – but when this range gets too extreme, your productivity suffers, and you can even start to lose critical amounts of social cohesion.”

“Hmm. I had some cohesion problems back in the 60’s – and in the 30’s before that – and… I don’t think I want to go through those sorts of times again.”

“No, you certainly don’t, that’s right. And your balance of powers is also way off.  After that mugging back in 2001…”

“Don’t remind me.  I still can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Post-traumatic stress disorder is a difficult thing to work through, Sam. How is the counseling going? Are you getting along better with the other countries?”

“Well, I don’t feel quite so isolated…”

“That’s good to hear – “

“But I still can’t get out of some of those situations. I feel like I’ve got to finish what I started, but I also feel like it’s draining my strength… Sometimes I feel so weak, so confused…so – stuck…”

“Yes.  The stress is showing up everywhere, Sam.  Your immune systems are starting to break down.  Media, healthcare, education – the demands of that financial sector are affecting all of them, making it harder for them to do their jobs properly.  Add your reactions to the pressures from outside, and… Let me test something here.  What happens if I say the word ‘taxation’ to you?”

“Ouch! Doctor, please don’t do that, my right side starts twitching uncontrollably.”

“Sorry. Should have warned you. ‘Single-payer’?”

“OUCH! And I felt like I might throw up.”

“Sorry. How about ‘international cooperation to regulate emissions’?”

“OWWWWWWWWWW!! Oh – sorry about that, didn’t mean to kick so hard….”

“That’s OK, Sam, no harm done…  Hmm. Immediate reflexive aversion, the entire right side…  How about that new executive, is that helping at all?”

“Somewhat, Doc – but I feel I’ve got a lot of leftover habits that are hard to break, even with that new executive. And I’m afraid that I might be rejecting it before it can do much good.”

“Sam, this is beginning to look like Declining Empire Syndrome. It’s natural, every society goes through it in time, but how we handle it as it develops makes a big difference.  Some societies come to terms with it easily, some go – well, you know…”

“Fascist, Doc? Totalitarian?”

“Yes, Sam.  I’m pretty confident that you’ll avoid that fate.  But if you start feeling urges to purge yourself of ‘undesirables,’ or obsessing with ‘purification,’ or if feelings of anxiety or powerlessness lead to reckless military impulses, I want you to call my office right away. OK?”

“OK, Doc. I understand. What do I do till I see you next?”

“Work on taking better care of yourself, Sam. Let’s get that swelling down – we can’t do much else until that’s fixed. You’ve got some tough choices to make, and you’ll need all the strength you can muster.”


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