The behaviour coming out of the United States these days on every level - political, legal and social - is beginning to exhibit a degree of crazed unhingedness that I couldn't have imagined even a few short years ago. Unfortunately everything I'm seeing fits a pattern - none of it is encouraging but none of it is really a surprise. The following metaphor describes my rather dystopian perceptions.
Imagine a motor that is designed to consume fuel and accelerate spontaneously. So long as there is a limit on the fuel supply or a governor mechanism that limits the top speed, the motor will stop accelerating at some point, run at a constant speed, and remain intact.
The US right now, and to a lesser extent the whole world, is similar to an engine that has an excess fuel supply (i.e. money and energy), and from which some clever but short-sighted engineers (i.e. bankers and politicians) have managed to remove the regulator. Now as it continuously accelerates, spinning ever faster, the stresses on some parts of the system (you, me and large chunks of the social fabric) are becoming too great and they are beginning to break down. Some of us have figured out that the only ways to prevent the whole engine from blowing up is by reducing the fuel supply by cutting consumption, or by replacing the regulator through, um, regulations.
Part of what I'm seeing in the US is the kind of crazy that happens in overstressed rat populations, dysfunctions similar to Hans Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome. The rodents become progressively more separated from reality because they can't deal with the stresses they're experiencing, and their coping systems overload. Their behaviour becomes increasingly aggressive and erratic. So we get things like religious fundamentalism, politicians like Inhofe, Bachmann, Palin, (frankly most of the Republican party and an awful lot of Democrats), talk radio personalities etc. They are all symptoms of a seriously overstressed society.
The other thing I see happening is something like an autoimmune reaction, where the body's self-protective systems begin to attack the body itself. This is mechanism behind the over-the-top police behaviour, the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the CIA's domestic surveillance activities, the overreaction to illegal immigration, violent anti-Muslim sentiments, the glorification of snipers etc.
The immune system especially attacks people who are trying to cut the motor's fuel supply or reinstall its governor. It views such activities as attacks on the system by pathogens, and works to suppress or eliminate them. Essentially environmental and social-justice activism are reframed as a disease - the disease of terrorism.
This multidimensional breakdown is symptomatic of an accelerating, overstressed system that is nearing its limits of cohesion, with no way of relieving the pressure and no way of slowing itself down. I can't see any way of intervening effectively before some large important piece of the engine - perhaps the banking system - breaks down completely. But at that point the engine itself may not be salvageable.
Canada's on a similar path, but we're 5 or 10 years behind the States (as always). We also don't have the peculiar political and constitutional organization that is making it so easy for the States to self-immolate. Not to mention that america has the critical mass of 300 million people and the world's most energetic economy.
So it goes.