Posts Tagged ‘Empire’

My Mixed Response

October 15, 2013

I have a mixed response to the debacle going on in Washington D. C. right now. On the one hand, I don’t think the Tea Party should be given anything whatsoever. They need to be utterly broken—by which I mean exposed. Their illogic has to be exposed and dispensed with. They aren’t right about anything, and it shouldn’t be hard for an adult to get that across to the people. When they say they believe in freedom, what they’re really standing up for is a brutal Darwinian existence where the biggest, most ruthless egotists get to take whatever they can get their hands on. And they don’t really favor small government per se. What they seek is the abolition of all protections for the weak. But also an enormous military and intelligence apparatus to maintain power. They are constantly calling for increased military spending—every single budget, which is insane. But we have rules against speaking these particular truths in this country, so what should happen, won’t. Obama is not going to take the Tea Party on once and for all. We’re going to have these “budget” issues as a continuing problem well into the future.

Which brings me to the reason for my mixed response. I believe that if you look to the longterm—the real longterm, not a polite fiction—it doesn’t matter much who wins this fight. What we’re really witnessing is the ongoing collapse of an empire. All empires collapse and ours is in the process of collapse—right now. Our rise was steep and fast, and our fall will be the same. I tend to see it starting with the war in Vietnam. I don’t think we’re good at being imperialists. We’ve always claimed to have ideals, to be a bright shining light, and being an empire is in conflict with our supposed idealism. So the national mindset ends up being a big fantasy. What a perfect representation of that fantasy mind was Ronald Reagan! He glorified greed as a virtue. But greed always undermines those who practice it. That’s as much a universal law as thermodynamics. Our downfall will be our gross materialism and the militarism required to maintain it. I do see hope for the future. But our only hope is to regain our status as a republic. Only when the empire has given way will we have the opportunity to assume the goodwill, calm, and simple contentment that will enable us to begin to create a way of life that makes sense, where wisdom and love have meaning again. There are things we can be doing now, but I tend to think that the great work cannot commence until the monster has given up the ghost.


Notes on the Empire

June 19, 2013

One of the big delusions that Americans operate under is that we live in a democratic republic. We don’t. We live in an empire. Republics and empires cannot coincide. While I wouldn’t say that the republican function has disappeared entirely, it’s clear that it has been steadily eroding over the years. One reason it hasn’t vanished entirely is that the U.S. is hampered by its self-image as a fighter for democracy and freedom. It prevents us from being nakedly imperial. We have to be more subtle than, say, the British were. I don’t think this is some kind of weird conspiracy theory. The people on the inside know it’s an empire. Here’s an excerpt from a magazine article written in 2004 for the New York Times by journalist Ron Susskind.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

A remarkably hubristic statement. I think this explains in good part what happened to Obama. His supporters, myself included, thought naively that we were working to elect someone who would return the country to its democratic roots. But empires don’t give up the ghost without an immense struggle or internal collapse. They are utterly ruthless. It’s the only way to become one. In a sense, Obama had no choice other than to go along. He would have been eliminated if he hadn’t cooperated. Still, I don’t think that’s what happened exactly. Like all of them, he was dazzled by the immense power of his position and wanted to be successful in it.

All empires collapse, and I believe that’s what we’re seeing now. We live in a period of growing decadence. You can see it in the indifference toward what’s happening to the environment, the obsession with gadgetry, the fawning over celebrities, the constant wars, the desire for ever more wealth. Because this particular empire has became a global venture, the effects are going to be more far-reaching than any previous collapse.

Last weekend I rode my bike to Mill Valley, a wealthy town in wealthy Marin County, which is just north of San Francisco. I stopped to take a break and watch the scene around me. It was warm and sunny and there were a lot of people hanging out in the outdoor cafés, eating, drinking, talking on their cell phones, laughing — having a party. I remember seeing a young guy and his girlfriend cruise by in a sports car with the top down. They looked sinister to me. I loathed what I was seeing. While so much of the rest of the world suffers—the people who make their clothing, for example—these beneficiaries of the empire continue to party and, as George Bush Sr. said, “to recreate.” Meanwhile, in the background, the insanity continues to build. Those people have no idea of the storm that’s on its way. I can’t say that I do either—not exactly. But I’m convinced that we’re living in the beginning of historical times.

A note on Edward Snowden: I don’t consider him a hero. I don’t know enough about him, and, for all I know, he has issues that, in my view, would diminish him. But I have no problem whatsoever with anything that he’s done. He is not a traitor. You cannot betray an empire.

A Poem by Robinson Jeffers

June 15, 2013

This poem was originally published in 1925. But it could have been written today. (Pardon the formatting. Some of the lines break in the wrong places. I don’t know what to do about it.)

Shine, Perishing Republic

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily
thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and
decadence; and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it
stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine,
perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the
thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there
are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant,
insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught–they say– God,
when he walked on earth.

 Robinson Jeffers

The Coming Election

June 14, 2012

In 2008 I voted for Barack Obama with enthusiasm. This time I’ll be voting for him as the lesser of two evils. One thing I pray that I’ve learned once and for all is that under the current setup there’s no chance of a truly good man or woman getting into the White House and doing good things. I don’t know what Obama’s original intentions were, but it seems to me that as soon as he got into office he was taken aside and told how things really work. He could either go along or be destroyed. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. That’s how empires do business, and this is an empire. Eventually, like all empires, it will come apart. Actually, I think that’s already begun to happen.

I would sooner live in Greece than under another Republican president. That’s not hyperbole. I’ve been to Greece and I liked it. I think Greece will soon be out of the global economy, which would make the idea even more attractive to me. (It’s also possible that it will, in effect, lose its sovereignty and become nothing more than a playground for the rich.) But moving to another country is extremely difficult. So even if the nightmare of a Romney presidency were to come about, I see it as highly doubtful that I’d be able to pull it off. I can’t dismiss the idea entirely, though. Romney keeps making bigger and bigger deals with the devil. (This is the first time, by the way, I’ve ever had the wish that I could leave the country. It’s not something I do every election year.)

What a strange, strange time we live in. I’ve seen strange times that are good, but this ain’t one of ’em. It’s not that I don’t believe there’s any hope. I do. (I know people who believe that having any hope at all is “hopelessly naive.”) But the hope I see is extremely difficult—probably impossible—to make understandable at this point in time.

The Tea Party at War

April 12, 2010

A few days ago somebody asked me if I knew what was going on in Iraq these days. Is there still a war happening? Are we getting out? I had to admit that I didn’t really know. War is such a constant in the background now—just like in the novel 1984—that I tend to tune it out, like traffic noise. It’s an insane situation. Official government policy is that the United States must be capable of fighting two wars simultaneously. A year or so ago I saw an article in the New York Times stating that a lot of officials are beginning to believe that this might be insufficient. Only empires do this sort of thing. And empires invariably overextend themselves, exhaust themselves, and then collapse. This is where we’re heading, but hardly anybody talks about it. American military spending is roughly equal to the rest of the world’s combined. But when the Republicans and the Tea Party folks raise hell about government debt they never suggest slashing the military budget.  One reason nobody talks about it much is that the word game is rigged. Nobody talks about the “War Department” or “war spending,” but the “Defense Department” and “defense spending.” Our wars are not defensive; they’re imperial. There is a belief—and growing up I heard it stated many times, and by the same sort of people who make up the Tea Party movement—that every generation should experience war, that it “makes a man out of you.” That’s crazy. The last war I supported was Vietnam and only up until early 1968. I supported it because I was a dumb teenager and I didn’t know any better. The Tea Party continues to receive a lot of media attention for its supposed rage over government debt. If their rage were really about government debt, they’d be making a huge stink over military spending. But they aren’t doing that and they never will.