If America comes to a catastrophic end, what will the causes be? Josh Levin of Slate wants to know. He's created a "Choose Your Own Apocalypse" web-based application that lets you select five causes from a collection of "144 potential causes of America's future death." Based on your choices, Slate will tell you what kind of a doomsayer you are. People who take the poll are also asked to supply age, gender, zip code. On Friday, Slate will publish the results.
I picked Peak Oil, China Unloads U.S. Treasuries, Deficit Spending, Peak Water, and Megadrought, which makes me a "humanitarian internationalist." Compared to the average Slate reader, I believe more people will survive and that the disaster is more man's fault than nature's.
If and when America expires, we probably won't agree on the cause of death. For proof that autopsies of empires are inconclusive, consider the case of Alexander Demandt, the German historian who set out in the 1980s to collect every theory ever given for why Rome fell. The final tally: 210, including attacks by nomads on horseback, blood poisoning, decline of Nordic character, homosexuality, outflow of gold, and vaingloriousness.
In tribute to Demandt, I've gone looking for every possible reason why America could fall. I've paged through the work of scholars who have studied the characteristics of declining and failed societies. I also collected theories from futurists, doomsayers, separatists, economists, political scientists, national security experts, climatologists, geologists, astronomers, and a few miscellaneous crazy people. The result: a collection of 144 potential causes of America's future death.