Becoming Zimbabwe: When Nations Regress

It is the great lie of our time that history is forever marching forward in the direction of evolutionary progress.  History oftentimes is said to repeat itself; but few people realize that on occasion it is more a matter of rewinding history rather than simply repeating it.  The importance lies in not merely the repeating of mistakes cataloged by history, but in recognizing the ability of a people to reverse the course of a nation and descend backwards into a dark and primitive past.  Self-inoculated by the presumption of permanence, our citizenry is as blind to the danger posed by "fundamental transformation" as other historic nations facing similar promised progress.  

It was a chance meeting, to be introduced to the child of missionary parents whom I was told grew up in Zimbabwe.  Noting her age and faint British accent, I inquired if she was raised in Rhodesia rather than in Mugabe's Zimbabwe.  Startled, the woman informed me that she was in fact Rhodesian and that I was one of the few people she had ever encountered that had noticed the subtle difference.  The rest of the conversation consisted of her fond recollections of the magical land in which she was born, more Narnian in her telling than anything earthly, and her sadness at what had since happened to that land.

For those born in the decades following Mugabe's rise to power, we have always known Zimbabwe as the land from which the worst of Africa can be documented.  When reading Conrad's classic, we picture an older Zimbabwe.  Today the only news from the country comes in reporting the number of zeros they occasionally remove from their currency to counter their astronomical inflation (at last report 12 zeros had been removed.)  It is a land with no economy and plenty of corruption, whose only export is human misery photos for National Geographic.

The story of Zimbabwe is not one of hell come to earth, but is one of heaven first leaving.  Prior to the implementation of Afro-Marxist farming methods and land reforms, before the ethnic violence and various wars molded the character of modern Zimbabwe, this land was known as Rhodesia.  An outpost of the grandest red-state of all time, this British colony was a beautiful, productive land that attracted tourists from every corner of the planet.  A playground for the wealthy, Rhodesia had a thriving export and trade economy on par with New Zealand today. 

It must be remembered that the dark side of Rhodesia's wealth is a history of racial inequality, a sort of unofficial apartheid common to the rest of southern Africa.  Though not a system of slavery, it was a system of class segregation and of limited employment for blacks -- mostly in agricultural labor similar to the Jim Crow South.  Much grace is to be had for any nation freeing itself from a bigoted history, to be sure.  Yet with the passing of time that same nation must again subject itself to the revealing fire of empirical observation. 

Under the Rhodesian economy the country was a net exporter of food, with the agricultural sector accounting for around 40% of the total economy; today, famine has swept the nation.  Industrial farms historically owned by privileged whites and employing hundreds of blacks have been redistributed and since devolved into unfurrowed fields of maize providing meager subsistence for a few dozen blacks.  Unemployment has soared to as high as 94%, and the national currency exchange rate to US dollars is quantified by a factor of 10 to the 31st power.   By any measureable statistic, Zimbabwe has been an accelerating disaster.  It may not be politically correct, but it has become exceedingly difficult to argue that the conditions for blacks in the country have done anything but terribly regress in direct correlation to the efforts to right past wrongs.

The most remarkable thing about the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe is that it ran counter to the assumption that societies can only evolve forward.  After a long and glorious history of being an advanced western nation, all progress was stripped away and the country made a protracted about-face.  In the midst of great wealth and privilege, the people of the country were divided by a long campaign of class and race envy.  The darkest emotions of the human soul were exploited by those promising to bring "change."  The people were consumed with inequality, and, in their quest to make everyone equal, traded heaven on earth for the hell that is the only true equalizer among mankind.

In America today there is the same presumption of permanence that must have been present long ago amongst the citizenry in Rhodesia.  America as the world's superpower is in a position of perceived infallibility, and as such is quite vulnerable to regressions of historic proportions.

We are not today living under social conditions that would allow afro-Marxist farming methods to be a winning campaign strategy in 2012, but it must be remembered that this was not the end game in Rhodesia either.  What began as an attempt to right past wrongs turned out to be a campaign of exploitation for those desiring power -- the social justice elements were just a vehicle of convenience.  We are likewise living in the embryonic stage of a culture that will breed reformation of a similar stripe.

America is a culture that has lost much of its vigor over the past few decades of unparalleled peace and prosperity.  Her people have been lulled into a false sense of security by the absence of war and the conquering of nature.  Severed from the harsh realities of daily life plaguing the rest of mankind, Americans are becoming disconnected from even our most basic and primal instincts - defense and preservation.  As we have drifted away from historic realities, we have allowed our core culture to be devolved, uncontested, by forces hostile to the basic American institutions.  Our economy has slowly morphed into a system of luxury exchanges and personal services, having lost the ability to create new wealth. 

We are a people today consumed with the pursuit of small pleasures, having largely abandoned the animating principles of freeborn people living the purposeful pursuit of entrepreneurial creation.  We have abandoned the pursuit of big ideas, and in the chasing of rapidly expanding small pleasures we have abandoned our post as the defenders of the flame of liberty.  Just like the citizenry of Rhodesia, we are today unconvinced that our culture is anything special and worthy or needing defense.  Just as it was inconceivable that the great outpost of Britain would ever be anything but a garden of luxury, we too are unconsciously living in what may be the last days of America before it changes into something entirely foreign. 

Mugabe was a rebel leader of a resistance movement, while Obama was a community organizer.  Both men promised fundamental change, and both were dismissed by a citizenry intoxicated with the self-actualizing myth of their own historic permanence.  Cloaked in the rhetoric of social justice, both men sought to address past wrongs in measures that enshrined widening inequality.  In the case of Rhodesia, a bi-cultural society was formed along racial and class lines, and through the exploitation of envy, an advanced nation was reduced to a third-world basket-case dictatorship of unimaginable evil.  America today is being segregated into a bi-cultural society along many lines, but ultimately into the "haves" and the "have-nots."  Grandiose attempts are being made today in an effort to right past wrongs, promising heaven on earth.

America today has the same audacious belief that Rhodesians of yesteryear held, that the laws of nature would be bent in their favor, that the blessings of divine providence would continue despite their unwillingness to seek them.  It is entirely possible that the Rhodesian history will foreshadow our own when future historians close the book on America.  It is also possible that America will continue to be a people of exception who defy tyranny through our dedication to our God, our country and our fellow man.  The coming year may be decisive.

Andrew K. Boyle writes from a gulch, hidden in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on twitter @andrewkboyle or on his website

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