Slouching Towards Washington

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Does the U.S. have “friends and allies”? Or does the world merely consist of targets and tools? As we learned today the U.S. National Security Agency has been spying on a series of buildings and offices of the European Union, spying on Internet communications, phone calls and more. NATO headquarters has been used to spy on the EU. Most communications in Germany, where the U.S. has military bases, have also been trawled by the NSA. Some may reduce this to an issue of trust, and that certainly is relevant, but there is more to this: a state cannot have total power without total knowledge. The very quest for total knowledge should tell everyone exactly what kind of creature we are dealing with. It is an imperial state that seeks total power, and empire is the greatest dictator of all.

Elmar Brok, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in European Parliament added his opprobrium. “The spying has reached dimensions that I didn’t think were possible for a democratic country. Such behavior among allies is intolerable.” The US, he added, once the land of the free, “is suffering from a security syndrome,” added Brok, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats. “They have completely lost all balance. George Orwell is nothing by comparison.” (Hecking & Schultz, 2013/6/30)

A further Merkel ally in European Parliament, Markus Ferber, accused the US on Sunday of using methods akin to the feared East German secret police, the Stasi. Like Weber, Ferber is a member of the CSU. “A democratic constitutional state that uses Stasi methods sacrifices all credibility as a moral authority,” Ferber told the German daily Die Welt on Sunday. “It has destroyed trust.” (Hecking & Schultz, 2013/6/30)

European capitals are now alive with the sound of indignation. That they knew but did not talk about it before is the key to secrecy, and it’s almost certain that European leaders knew they were under surveillance. The difference is that this is now public, and is open to “discussion.” An account has to be given for what it means to be an “ally of the U.S.” European leaders, at their wits’ end, cannot come up with one. Hence Germany’s Minister of Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, denounced U.S. espionage as,

reminiscent of methods used by enemies during the Cold War. It defies belief that our friends in the US see the Europeans as their enemies.” (Hecking & Schultz, 2013/6/30)

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister, Jean Asselborn added:

“It would seem that the secret services have gotten out of control. The US should monitor their own secret services rather than their allies. The US justifies everything as being part of the fight against terrorism.” (Hecking & Schultz, 2013/6/30)

As Guardian journalists noted, the latest NSA spying revelations, “went well beyond previous revelations of electronic spying said to be focused on identifying suspected terrorists, extremists and organised criminals” (Traynor, Osborne & Doward, 2013/6/30). Thus a second issue is resolved for anyone who was still either uncertain or unaware: there is no “global war on terror.” The precise aim is instead the appropriation of “terror” as a tool for bolstering U.S. dominance–dominance, and not hegemony, a hegemonic moment which for the U.S. has already passed.

Imperialist taxonomy: We are told that “nations are categorised by the US according to their trust level,” and the U.S., and the U.S. alone, “is defined as ‘first party’.” Meanwhile “the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand enjoy ‘second party’ trusted relationships.” However, “countries such as Germany and France have ‘third party’, or less trusted, relationships” (Traynor, Osborne & Doward, 2013/6/30). Note the select grouping of “second party” relationships: these are all of the key white settler states. When U.S. officials speak of “the international community,” this is what they mean: the white colonial club.

In addition to friends, allies, the international community, first and second party relationships, U.S. officials are often keen to appropriate the idea of moderation. Whoever is allied to the U.S. is thus by arbitrary definition “moderate.” Those aligned against the U.S. are therefore “extremists,” and some of them are “violent” extremists–because presumably the U.S. would also like to cast itself as fundamentally pacific too. When the U.S. arms killers, it is called “backing moderates.” And to those moderates I would say: there is nothing at all “moderate” about aligning yourself with, and depending upon the support of the U.S. global dictatorship.

There is nothing “moderate” about siding with NATO and U.S. imperialism. Imperialism and democracy are not compatible, not anywhere, not even in the home of empire. Playing the game of empire by repeating that Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad, [insert villain of the day] “must go” simply helps to further empower and legitimate U.S. global dictatorship. If we cannot even start to decolonize our own minds of this baggage of prejudicial ideas, flawed concepts, and misplaced sentiments, then we have no chance of ever defeating empire.

This is indeed a global dictatorship in all reasonable and objective senses of the term “dictatorship,” in terms of the quest for monopolistic power, total surveillance, coercion, unilateral decision-making, and the extraction of capital to be accumulated by the already wealthy. It is dictatorship in instructing nations on what rules they are to follow in order to not be deemed rogue or failing states (thus likely targets of “kinetic humanitarianism”), and that they should instead follow Western capitalist principles of “good governance”. To that we can add: withholding recognition of popularly elected governments, as in Venezuela, or unilaterally deciding that some recently concocted sectional grouping without a mass, local following, is instead the “legitimate representative” of all of that nation’s people. Then there is the claim to be defending “vital U.S. interests”–but what are U.S. interests doing in our countries? Are we all mere tenants, here to serve the U.S. as custodians of its interests, as if we should have none of our own? Indeed, there is the next lesson: to be drafted into the new “global community” is to be divested of your own interests in your own situation, in the name of cosmopolitanism, humanity, and world governance–divested at the behest of the strongest power in that “community.”

Hypocrisies pile on top of manufactured crises and cruel injuries. The least we can do is not reassure empire, lending it our credulity, endorsing its targeting, making an issue of the nature of its enemies, none of whom have military installations in over 100 countries, none of whom have had led more than 30 military interventions abroad since 1989, none of whom have been conducting warfare in at least seven nations, often simultaneously, in the past decade, none of whom reach out and destroy lives around the planet with drones and cruise missiles, none of whom consume so many of the world’s resources, and none of whom have wrecked a global economy.

The least we can do is to not be moved by imperialists’ calculated, emotive appeals for the need to “act.” In his 1845 Theses on Feuerbach, Karl Marx’s eleventh thesis was: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it”. Here I would add: “The imperialists have only acted to change the world, in many dangerous and deleterious ways; my point is to understand it and respect the dignity of difference.” This is not to endorse the divorce of action from thought, the way that doctrinal upholders of humanitarian intervention would want as they have us unquestioningly reciting R2P principles, as if “protection” was an acceptable substitute for understanding a local society.

Far from divorcing action from thought, I look forward to the day when we form part of a liberated mass, its hour come round at last, that slouches towards Washington to be born.

13 thoughts on “Slouching Towards Washington

  1. If we were part of a liberated mass, I don’t think we’d slouch towards Washington. I think we’d stay home and tend our gardens, no longer dependent upon Washington’s pillaging of the world, and let Washington go the way of Ozymandias.

  2. Right, then perhaps it should have been a “liberating” mass, or something in the process of becoming liberated. Not to worry though, at least some of us are already finding all sorts of ways of living without the U.S., even if the work is incomplete and often contradictory.

  3. Yes, nothing of this is new; just thickened.
    I recall Ronald Reagan speaking in 1884, “See! There is no big brother.” asserted the Gipper while all the time knowing, knowing …
    And, later, he said, “We don’t eat our own children.” Someone should be looking for children’s remains in his back yard.
    And, when we marched with the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, and arrived at his Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento (where Jerry still refuses to live); the spokesman came out and said, “The Governor was called away; took a flight just now.”
    Sensing a lie, we did not budge.
    After two hours, with our chanting and singing; out comes Ronny in his London Fog overcoat, collar turned up; made up like an image of him at SFO’s Wax Museum. And, he said he couldn’t meet the demands of the farm workers, because he said he had a “mandate from the people”.
    Out of my mouth, as from someone else, came the shouted, unfiltered, unedited emotions:
    “We ARE The People!”
    and. as I was hearing my mouth shout it again; i noted that all the marchers around me, only ten feet from the wax figure, joined in; and soon the entire intersection where Ronnie had amplifiers and microphone set up for his performance was rocked by The People, identifying themselves, as in a much larger scale today in Istanbul, Cairo, Bagdad, Kabul … and coming soon to everyplace outside the USA.
    Can that happen today, with Obama as the mouthpiece for the Global Military Industrial -media-academic Complex? The egyptian Army says, “No!”
    The People are almost convinced that they have No Power, other than the digitized, pre-programmed ballot box, or, like mymarks, simply turn to the Small is beautiful solution and stop serving the Masters of War.

  4. Quite the contrary, there is much that is new and it’s important to not downplay that with simple “nothing ever changes” formulas. Before the Internet, such mass, global surveillance was essentially impossible. This is new, and it’s dangerous. There are both continuities and discontinuities, but unfortunately it won’t be as easy to grasp as saying there is basically just continuity, things just thicken.

  5. Max, I do agree that the “social media” has changed the situation by a quantum, but, it is also important to see that this is just an upgrade of the “river (that) runs through it” – what, out of our ignorance of detail we refer to as the military industrial complex.. Nothing of it is new, just “improved”. The background problem was there as I point out above – in 1984, not 1884; but, it was no doubt just an earlier edition in 1884. The point being that we are dealing with Empire, not just with the Obama/Kerry administration of the public, to keep us from getting the right idea and “slouching toward the unknown center of this complex; not necessarily Washington.

  6. Sorry, but again I have to disagree with this generalization: “nothing of it is new.” It is too sweeping and absolute, and it dismisses the present. I agree of course with the rough outline of continuities, but their tactics cannot be understood, our own cannot be better formulated, and an understanding of how forces may (or may not) currently realign cannot be arrived at if we just refuse to see history as still happening after 1984.

  7. Hmmm. Sometimes I wonder if you read what I write. My point has been consistent from my recent 2009-10 learning experiences, and clearly expressed (by my Joycean standards) on this site.
    Yes, history continues to happen. Some things change, some remain the same. Now and then things change by larger increments than other times. I have made the point that it is difficult to see any discontinuity from the time of Julius Ceasar to Barack Obama.
    Of course, Max, I know history doesn’t end; that is the main point of saying nothing has changed; it continues. And, certainly, this is one of the times of a very large incremental change that i described above as a quantum change.
    And, yes, we (whoever “we” are) do need to see deeper into the nature of the current conditions of our ignorance if we hope to make plans to end our condition of occupation. But, it is equally important to know the extent of our circumstance in time and space as well as to understand the game-changing role of digital technology and the “externalization of mind” on the Empire’s strategy. It is not one prong, it is more what Bateson called a “pincer move”.

  8. John, I think I do see what you write, especially as I quote it. You and I have very different understandings of history then. History, as I understood it, is about change. If things do not change–as you say, “nothing has changed; it continues”–then that is not history, but the opposite: stasis. I can understand the point that there are major changes that produce systemic changes, and minor changes that barely make a ripple. In a period of great global instability, such destabilizing revelations are significant, and they are definitely “new”. That is all I am saying. I otherwise agree with your last paragraph, though I admit I didn’t have the vaguest idea what you were trying to convey with that trip down memory lane before, and how it related to anything here.

  9. Re: your last sentence I offer the old saw:
    “Those who do not remember history are bound to repeat it”.
    My face-to-face with Reagan showed me what a liar he was – down to the details of his heavy screen makeup and waxy face; a great American Presidential tradition in which BO is following in Reagan’s footsteps, his example of honesty. That’s continuity. It goes much further back and much deeper; a continous flow of the two classes of people – the ruler and the ruled, divided by a one-way mirror.

    What you call ‘memory lane’ is the only information that I am confident of; my personal experiences; and we all know how dependable that is! We create and project our realities moment-by-moment.
    So, in a sense, we are the blind leading the blind; until something like Brad Manning or Ed Snowden gives us some hint of the reality. But, the continuity is, so much remains hidden, so much is continuing but without our awareness.

  10. I wish I had the power to create and project my realities moment by moment. That would make me a superhero, able to leap the tallest Kondratiev wave in a single bound!

    Perhaps it’s just me, but I do not see what Reagan’s dishonesty (and why Reagan alone?) has do with the actual substance of this piece. After all, it’s not like everything (or anything at all) here is being reduced to Obama, or to an evaluation of presidencies. I see this as a distraction from the article, not a way to address it. I also see a similar reaction to other recent essays here.

    Where you get closer is by mentioning “ruler and ruled” but again you cannot analyze those relations properly if they are cast as eternal, universal, and unchanging entities, which sounds a bit too much like metaphysics. Casting everything in the future in the terms of the past, or the past you experienced, is certainly one good way of repeating history, literally. I am not sure that it helps us in any way however.

  11. Yes, now it becomes clear – by your statement wishing you could create and project your reality moment by moment. It is the difference between a cogitive anthropologist and a Marxist anthropologist. Your vision of reality IS REALITY.
    Mine is a product of of cultural conditioning of perception and cognition. Not so simple as an absolute. My absolute lies elsewhere.
    I believe, that you, Max, DO create and project your reality, as I said. And mine is not the same product, being from a different process and different assumptions. But, this is not to say there is no absolute; we just can’t access it directly except in moments of freedom from samsara.
    And, the fact that this digital thing IS HAPPENING is the real problem: the externalization of mind being the final product of the complete control that is now being implemented. This interferes with or completely takes over the patterns of perception and cognition from those cultural worlds of the conquored.
    If not countered by your slouching crowd, this is End Game.
    I’m with your slouching crowd; in my own way, for my own reasons.

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