Monday, November 27, 2006

Benedict in Turkey

Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Turkey, a visit scheduled long ago to help patch up the ancient dispute between the Latin and the Greek church. Turks are, as a result of Benedict's fairly foolish speech earlier this year about faith and reason in which he cited one of the last Byzantine emperors describing Islam as a violent and inhuman faith. I won't critique the speech here, because I've already done that.

What I didn't not in my lewrockwell.com essay, because it wasn't something I considered until after I'd written the essay, is that it was not sufficiently pastoral. As Cardinal Ratzinger, the pope was an enforcer of orthodoxy -- his job was to make sure people toed the line and didn't stray too far from the established views of the Church. As a German academic, Ratzinger never really had to worry about the effects of his speeches and writings, because they were intended for a much narrower audience.

But he doesn't have that luxury anymore. The Roman Catholic Pope is one of a tiny handful of people in the world -- the Dalai Lama is the only other person I can think of -- who have near-universal recognition as a kind-of pastor to the world. His flock is not only the world's Roman Catholics, not merely its Christians, but everyone. There are things he could do as both a German academic and maintainer of orthodoxy that he can no longer do as pope, and one of those things is to bad mouth other faiths (or even quote those who bad mouth other faiths).

I suspect some Roman Catholics -- and others -- will express concern at this. How can one of the few universally recognized titular leaders of Christendom speak truth to power if he cannot properly critize religions that are grounded in falsehood? That misses the point. His job is now pastoral, that is, to care for the souls of all the world, and you don't preach the Gospel -- or live the Gospel -- by bad mouthing others. His congregation is not merely Europe (a place he spends much to much time worrying about), and not merely Catholicism, and not merely even divided Christendom, but the whole world. And if the pastor cannot preach the Gospel, call men and women to repentence and bring them to a better understanding of their thoughts and behaviors in love -- and implying people are "evil and inhuman" is not loving -- then he ought not be a pastor.

The first encyclical on love was very pastoral, so Benedict is quite up to this task. He needs to remember he's no longer an academic, no longer an enforcer, but a preacher, a pastor, a shepherd who must care for all his flock. Christian and not. Benedict, I think, is learning this.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Evil of John McCain

LA Times columnist Matt Welch reflects today (Sunday) on John McCain and his underlying political philosophy. Having read the man's four books (so none of the rest of us have to -- something I think both Rush Limbaugh and James Wollcott have alternately said), Welch writes:

Liberals and conservatives alike fail to truly reflect his views, McCain writes, because "neither emphasizes the obligations of a free people to the nation." His main governmental inspiration is Teddy Roosevelt, the "Eastern swell who became a man of the people," whose great accomplishment was "to summon the American people to greatness." In Roosevelt's code, McCain writes approvingly, it was "absolutely required that every loyal citizen take risks for the country's sake." This is an essentially militaristic view of citizenship, one that explains many of McCain's departures from partisan orthodoxy. Unlike traditional Republicans, he will gladly butt into the affairs of private industry if he perceives them to be undermining Americans' faith in government; unlike Democrats, he thinks the executive branch generally needs more power, not less.


Yes, I think many of us sensed this from McCain, his attraction to presidential power. And his desire to boost "national greatness," which can be built on nothing but slave labor and sculls. For McCain, the state, and not the individual human being, comes first. Human communities (and nations) are not willeed into being by free and autonomous human souls working together, but in fact the community exists outside and separate from those individuals and it is the community (or nation) that wills the individual into existence. The individual, then, owes all to the greater community, and simply has no choice in the matter.

It is in moments like this I am reminded of what Murray Rothbard said in Man, Economy and State: Only individuals have ends, and can act to attain them. There are no such things as ends or actions by "groups," "collectives," or "States," which do not take place as actions by various specific individuals. "Societies" or "groups" have no independent existence aside from the actions of their individual members.

Oh, but let's let Welch continue his essay on John McCain, aspiring tyrant, totalitarian, and theologian of state worship:
"Our greatness," he wrote in "Worth the Fighting For," "depends upon our patriotism, and our patriotism is hardly encouraged when we cannot take pride in the highest public institutions." So, because steroids might be damaging the faith of young baseball fans, drug testing becomes a "transcendent issue," requiring threats of federal intervention unless pro sports leagues shape up. Hollywood's voluntary movie-rating system? A "smoke screen to provide cover for immoral and unconscionable business practices." Ultimate Fighting on Indian reservations? "Barbaric" and worthy of government pressure on cable TV companies. Negative political ads by citizen groups? They "do little to further beneficial debate and healthy political dialogue" and so must be banned for 60 days before an election if they mention a candidate by name.

If his issues line up with yours, and if you're not overly concerned by an activist federal government, McCain can be a great and sympathetic ally. But chances are he will eventually see a grave national threat in what you consider harmless, or he'll prescribe a remedy that you consider unconscionable.


And then there's Welch's conclusion:

One of the many charming confessions in "Worth the Fighting For" is McCain's complaint that the man he replaced in the Senate — Republican icon Barry Goldwater — was "never as affectionate as I would have liked." Small wonder.

Goldwater, a man who seemed to emanate from Arizona's dust, was the paragon of limited government, believing to his core that the feds shouldn't tell you how to run a business or whom you can sleep with. McCain, on the other hand, is a third-generation D.C. insider who carpetbagged his way into office, believing to his core that "national pride will not survive the people's contempt for government."


God, I hope not. National pride is simply not worth the price in tears, theft, suffering and death.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Happy Saturday

It's another late autumn day on the southside of Chicago, and today I must wander over to LSTC to do some school work (for a presentation -- I'm looking up meanings of the Hebrew word goy) and then turn in some books to the University of Chicago Library. And study Greek for a quiz on Monday. And write a paper for another class. And finish my Clinical Pastoral Education essay. Stuff I should have done earlier in the week but just didn't get around to doing. Hard to stay terribly motivated right now. I'm too old for this. Oh well...

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Futures of American Foreign Policy

NOTE: An improved version of this piece should appear at lewrockwell.com on Monday.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius gets it again. He may not get much, but he is beginning to understand the limits of American state power and the wisdom of its elites. In a piece that verges on the silly in some places, he concludes his Friday essay, "The Politics of Murder," with the following:

The idea that America is going to save the Arab world from itself is seductive, but it's wrong. We have watched in Iraq an excruciating demonstration of our inability to stop the killers. We aren't tough enough for it or smart enough -- and in the end it isn't our problem. The hard work of building a new Middle East will be done by the Arabs, or it won't happen. What would be unforgivable would be to assume that, in this part of the world, the rule of law is inherently impossible.


As a friend wrote me today, the faster this idea catches on, the sooner the United States government will pull the plug on the Iraq venture and the quicker American soldiers (and Marines, and sailors, and airmen) will be withdrawn.

Even if this idea catches on, the fight is not over. For as much I would like to see an honest conversation about future U.S. foreign policy include isolationism, it won't. At least not yet. Instead, the conversation will boil down to whether the invasion and occupation of Iraq (and, eventually, Afghanistan) failed because Rumsfeld and the entire Bush administration were incompetant and mismanaged it or because remaking those parts of the Muslim world (or any other part of the world) was never achievable to begin with.

This is not mere hairsplitting. The former question suggests that under the right leadership, the invasion was actually doable, that the goals of democratizing Iraq and Afghanistan through force was not just a good idea, but something force could have actually accomplished if done right. The latter claims exactly what it says -- many things could have been accomplished through the use of force, but a substantial remake of Iraqi politics, and thus creating a shining beacon along the Tigris and Euphrates to inspire the entire Islamic world as to the benefits of social democracy was not any of them.

I fully expect some Democrats -- especially "serious" ones -- and some Republicans to take the first stance, and thus focus on Team Bush's alleged incompetance. (They are incompetant, but that is mainly because they are stupid and deluded themselves into believing the Middle East could be remade, and remade on the cheap as part of a show of forcel, and not because they are bad managers of war -- even though they are that too.) The American policy elite, the New York-Washington think tank axis which centers around the Council on Foreign Relations, will probably take some version of this stance as well. And the reason for this is simple -- those who craft the country's interventionist foreign policy want to save American state power and global influence. They fear a world run by someone other than Americans. Or they fear a world in which the United States is something less than a first-among-equals. They hope that with better management, the international power, prestige and authority held by the United States government to influence or even determine world events will return to what it was in the Clinton and Bush Il Sung regimes, in which Washington led the "global community" but did not quite dictate to it. First-among-equals sums it up, I believe.

But there are some -- and maybe Ignatius is one of them -- who have concluded, or will eventually conclude, that better management will not return Washington to the status quo ante of 1999, that the loss of power, prestige and influence that has marked the six years of the Bush Jong Il regime is permanent and cannot be regained. They won't necessarily argue for isolationism, but will, instead, argue for a truer international order. The U.S. will not necessarily be a "first-among-equals" in this system, at least not in all things and not all the time.

This will be the fight, at least for the next few years. Because I believe that hard power is finite, costly and difficult to actually deploy, and is becoming increasingly moreso, I believe the latter argument will eventually prove itself to be the better argument (and better understanding of the world as it actually is). But I suspect few real policy makers will want to embrace a real decline of American power -- both hard and soft.

As I understand it, state power, at least at this point in history, works more on the basis of consent and cooperation rather than coerscion. (I actually believe this is a general rule of state power in all times and in all places, and it means that all governments rule with some type of consent from at least some plurality of the people they rule over, including dictatorships and tyrannies -- there is an internal legitimacy to nearly all indigenous tyrannies that makes them acceptable. If there is an outcry about this theory, I develop it later in more depth...) Drawing on some of the ideas of William Lind and Martin van Creveld, right now, hard state power is costly to deploy and gets very little in return on the investment. Non-state groups, such as Al-Qaeda, Hizbullah, Hamas, and others, get far more bang for their warmaking buck than do states, and thus are much more effective at it. Every dollar the U.S. spends on warmaking buys less -- a lot less -- than every dollar a non-state actor spends of warmaking.

Team Bush, however, put all of its faith in hard power -- warmaking. It's the only kind of power movement conservatives and most Republicans either respect or understand (and thus they think it's the only power anyone else understands too). The problem is, hard power doesn't work, especially when you are stuck and your opponent cannot be compelled to quit or there is simply no incentive to quit (Israel in the Gaza or southern Lebanon, the U.S. in Iraq). And the Bush Administration's attachment to hard power is part and parcel of the Conservative kulturkampf, the belief that the specific struggle against bad guys abroad using bombs and sojers is part of a greater cultural struggle against degenerates, liberals, leftists, athiests, Europeans, homosexuals and other non-conformists. Team Bush has lost two struggles -- the military struggle for Iraq (and Afghanistan) and the political struggle to lead the world and use force to dictate what its "correct culture" ought to be. Hollywood and Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province are, ridiculously and mysteriously, intertwined.

For all their faults (I don't like Rockefeller World Empire as articulated by the CFR or any of its minions, affiliates, franchisees and subcontractors), the American policy elite understands , in their guts if no place else, that the Conservative kulturkampf is a no-win proposition because, for the most part, American (and European) values already rule the world. They are triumphant, largely because they are (and have been made to be) so apealling. This is epecially true for the very wealthy and well-connected -- the global policy elite, the people who work for and run Rockfeller World Empire -- as the places they hang out look that same no matter where in the world they are. M Street in Washington, Tahyliyyah Street in Jeddah (especially toward the Cornische), the Upper East Side of New York City, parts of Amsterdam, Dubai, Mumbai, Tokyo, Rio di Janero, or wherever, all look the same, and are populated by the same people who are at ease managing the world's global institutions -- the IMF, the World Trade Organization, global corporations and so-called non-governmental organizations -- and consuming the world's products. Globalization works, and works very well, for them. It is a world of social democratic values, of managed states, of managed state-capitalist economies, of consmerism with a human and environmental face, it is a world in which one can be at home just about anywhere. And these, not revolutionary Islam or Bolivarianism or whatever, are the values most of the world's people aspire to.

And this highlights Team Bush's greatest failure. For not only did it make war on Al-Qaeda, Iraq, the Taliban, and indeed, terrorism wherever it existed, but it more or less made war on the very world community the United States had spent so much time and effort trying to breathe into existence after the Second World War. I would not be surprised if the policy elites, as they consider the efforts they need to make to salvage American power, have concluded that a good internationalist Democrat, a la Al Gore, would be a much better fit given the global effects of alleged American leadership. (What shall I call Hillary Clinton should she be elevated to the presidency?) They let Bush win in 2000 (or rather, they accepted the Bush "victory") and then supported both the Iraq and Afghanistan operations because they will support anything they see as possibly advancing American power. And I suspect many bought the idea that American hard power would accomplish what many neoconservatives and Republicans believed it would. They were as much invested in it as anyone between Westchester and Alexandria. That it has failed has left them worried (the signs of this worry were clear by the spring of this year) and wondering what will become of them? It isn't that they'd sell out the United States of America (I'm no nationalist, and don't really care), but that they would very happily believe that American interests are best served -- and American goals most effectively accomplished -- by an "international order" that is much more "multilateral" and copperative than the Bush Team's current disaster.

And while I shed no tears for the "realists" of ages past (who gave us such wonderful and enlightened actions as the 1973 coup in Chile) nor the multi-lateralists of more recent eras (I became a libertarian/anarchist because of the war on Serbia), the wreckage of Bush's world does spark a perverse and quite unexpected fondness in me for those happier days (sic) of Clintonian "multilaterism."

The problem is not, however, that some conspiratorial cabal of either CFR men (and gals) on the one hand or a group of deluded and stupid neoconservatives on the other are plotting to hijack the country's foreign policy. The problem is the very concept of "American national interest" when there clearly is no such thing. No, better, the real problem is the whole existence of foreign policy itself. And as long as people, even well-meaning rightists with isolation in their hearts, argue that the government can somehow articulate a "national interest" abroad, that a government can somehow speak for 300 million people, and then devote resources to furthering that notion, then there will always be something just inviting to be hijacked.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Ivan Illich

I have finally found a website hosting a number of the writings of Ivan Illich -- the Roman Catholic priest who died in 2004 -- and have just about finished reading Illich's Deschooling Society. I have wanted to read Illich ever since a lewrockwell.com piece profiled his work and ideas and since I read (and re-read) John Taylor Gatto.

(I don't know what to make of the Preservation Institute, which hosts the online Ivan Illich archive.)

Deschooling isn't as good a read as Gatto's The Underground History of American Education, but Illich does a better job of presenting his ideas than Gatto does. The problem of mass industrial society, for Illich, is that we human beings have created systems (school is the example he uses because it is upon school that all other institutions and systems of mass society rest) that are fundamentally anti-human. That is, the logic of the system triumphs over the logic of the individual human being. For Illich (if I understand him correctly), the mass society, brought about by industrialism, needs to manage individual human wants, to ensure that there is enough demand for the goods and services produced by industries and mass government. The health of the economy, and continued economic growth, as well the position and power of the state, all depend on the management of demand. That management takes the form of both coerscion (law) and persuasion (advertising as one example), but the goal is to make sure that human beings are incapable of managing themselves (either as individuals or as voluntary collectives) and must rely on professionals to manage their needs and wants. School fits in becuase it creates demand for "instruction" and substitutes teaching for actual education, and is also the template by which human beings are made a part of the "system" of mass society and taught to learn their place and function -- mainly as consumers of services and products -- within it.

I have a lot of problems with Illich's recommendations for how to solve this problem (aside from dismantling school, which is a good idea) -- he uses words like "must" and "new" too much, forgetting that human beings have thousands of years of experience learning to do things without the benefit of public education. In short, his webs and networks are a description not of what must be done, but of what men and women actually do when the social democratic corporate-state is now busy compelling them to work in factories and study in factory schools. The book is also a clear product of 1960s thinking. Not only does he give far too much credit to the 1960s "counterculture," but also spends too much effort "immanentizing the eschaton" (to borrow from Eric Voegelin) and thinking that his age is the moment most pregnant for revolution.

But my biggest problem with his recommendations is that they appear to have actually gotten traction among reformers and communitarians, people who did these things on top of school, not instead of school. That's not Illich's fault, of course. But I'm having a hard time finishing the book because it has stopped reading like a revolutionary tome and has become just another piece of silly futurism gone awry. (Think Toffler's -- or was it Naisbitt's? -- much heralded and very silly paperless office.)

All that said, Illich (and Gatto's) understandings of mass society and the systems that have been created to oversee the management of demand in this society have helped me considerbly. The economy Illich describes is essentially the one Aldous Huxley imagines in Brave New World, one in which consumption and production are carefully managed by the state, down to the creation of busy work, to make sure that the economy continues to both "prosper" and "grow."

Even though I write (occasionally) for lewrockwell.com, an anarcho-capitalist website that spends much of its time reveling in the untrammeled consumer economy, I've long felt a little unsettled with that very economy. Ever since my stint covering energy firms on Wall Street, I've had a sense that the expectation of continued economic growth -- as expressed in government-mandated quarertly earnings, which is as false an environment as a putting green -- isn't the way a natural economy would work if we had one. There's something, well, not right, not natural, about the expectation that a business enterprise will always (or should always) sell more or earn more in set period after set period. That people should always earn more. There's something very artificial about the whole modern, mass-consumption economy. In this, Illich helped me, and I can see I will have to go back to the earlier portions of Deschooling to re-examine those statements about engineering and managing production and demand. (Also, his statements on the manufacturing of poverty, and the state's role in doing just that, are impressive.)

For me, mass industrial society is a fundamentally unhuman and inhuman creation. The management of human beings as resources is fundamentally unhuman and inhuman. And there is no solution to either of the problems from the standpoint of reform -- there is no reforming mass industrial or mass consumption society, no making social democracy (the chosen form of governing mass consumer societies) anything more than the simple oligarchical collectivism that Emmanual Goldstein allegedly wrote about in George Orwell's 1984. At the same time, there can be no revolution to topple mass consumer society, because revolution still thinks in terms of managing human beings, of abstracting resources to the benefit of those who rule a society. (This project of managing the world has long been an aspiration of rulers and ruling elites, as James Scott writes in Seeing Like a State.)

I've long considered what it means to be free, because we live with a lot of definitions of freedom in the world, most of which maintain some tie or are rooted in notions of political liberty, particularly the ability to participate in social democratic politics. (The choosing of leaders, for example, is long offered as the main example of political example.) This vision of political freedom spans right and left worldwide.

But I find that unsatisfying, in part because politics is such a zero-sum game, and gives no freedom to the losers to say "no" to the schemes and machinations of the winners. Politics is, therefore, the right to manage others against their will. The only kind of freedom I find that satsifies the idea of being free is the freedom from professional management. Here's the three things I believe a human being needs to say, believe and live in order to be free (I have spent some time thinking of these three things but have not worked this out yet to my satisfactio):

  1. "I am not a human resource." I do not exist for the benefit of others. The meaning and purpose of my life is my own, I write them myself. My goals are my own. I am neither input nor output in a supply-demand graph. I am not an abstraction to be dealt with or handled. I am a human being made in the image of God. When I think of the term "human resource," the image that appears in my mind is that of a lump of coal, something that can be ground into poweder and burned away.
  2. "I am not a citizen." I do not belong to the state nor do I have any obligations to the state, which chooses to rule me against my will, to conscript my labor (through taxes) and my life for purposes that are not my own. Again, the citizen is merely an abstract resource to be commanded at will by the managers, a thing to be ground to powder and used up.
  3. "I am not a consumer." I do not exist to have my every wish and whim met, to have desires created against my will. I do not exist merely to buy things and use things up made by others. While consumers are not so obviously ground to powder, I dislike the fact that whole legions of people exist to try and stimulate whims and desires that I didn't know I had and would not have otherwise.
There is no way to change the world in which we live -- no revolution, no reform, nothing will alter mass industrial consumer society. Only collapse, if it comes, will change it, and that collapse may never come (that thought saddens me greatly, even though the collapse of mass industrial society would cause such suffering and misery as the world has never seen), since this society has managed to prop itself up for the better part of 150 years. It has traction, as has the logic of the system over the human. But I believe, and I place my hope in, the ability of the individual to say "no," to actively un-participate in that society, to mentally and spiritually secceed from mass civilization. To become the human beings that God created us to be, I believe, requires it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Right & Proper Result

Well, I did not expect the Democrats to do as well as they did on Tuesday. From the standpoint of merely having a check on the executive. I hope there are some serious hearings about the war, with hard questions asked. And there may be. But I won't be disappointed if there isn't.

I have no love for the Democrats. But I cannot say, right now, that they are much worse than Republicans. Statists are statists, and Theodore Roosevelt was a bad as Woodrow Wilson (or George Bush as bad as Bill Clinton) from the standpoint of what he believed the president -- and the state -- ought to do. There is no non-state party, and hasn't been for some time. Now, as long as politics is all about using state power, coerscion, to accomplish things, then there may never be a non-state party. Which is just one more reason for not voting...

One more thing. I cannot think of two people who deserve each other more than George W. Bush and Nancy Pelosi.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Election Day

Today is Election Day across the United States of America. I am not voting for two reasons, one practical and one principled:

1) Until I get the opportunity to cast a paper ballot, marked with an indelible ink pen, that will be counted by hand, I will not vote. Voting machines of all kinds -- scan sheets, touch screens -- are overkill. And over-engineered. And too easy rigged. Nope. Not gonna do it.

2) Voting is a useless exercise in so far as actually determining state policy. What it is, essentially, is the sacrament of an idolatrous religion called "democracy," the goal of voting being to legitimate the state and the oligarchy who rule. I do not consider the process legitimate, nor do I subscribe to the values that oligarchy, particularly the notion that mass society must be professionally managed. (Politically, I am an anarchist, but have come to the same conclusion that Hans Hermann Hoppe did, that if people must be ruled -- meaning that if there is no choice but the creation of human political government -- then limited monarchy is the only good way to do it.) As long as there are no real choices, meaning as long as one can only choose which flavor of welfare-warfare state you will live in, then I will not give my active consent to its existence.

That said, it would be nice if Democrats managed to gain control of both houses of Congress, largely because there needs to be some kind of brake or at least attempt to restrain the Bush Jong Il regime. Not that the Democrats are any better -- as a party, they are just as committed to the welfare-warfare state as Republicans are, just as committed to economic and military interventionism at home and abroad.

So, I hope the Dems gain control of both the House and the Senate. That is unlikely. What is likely is that they will gain control of the House. But, since one misunderestimates Bush Jong Il and Karl Rove at their own risk during election time (Bush knows how to campaign, and he is very, very good at it), I am not ruling out the very likely possibility that Republicans will maintain control of both houses of Congress.

Gonna be a lot of unhappy people in Hyde Park if that happens.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Darwinian Conservatism

Daniel McCarthy at the Tory Anarchist blog posts a comment about someone else's blog (I was going to try and avoid this kind of referencing other people's references, since so much of Blogistan seems to be inhabited by people who spend their days contemplating other residents of Blogistan) called Darwinian Conservatism. (Isn't the establishment conservatism of order and hierarchy already much too Darwinian to begin with?) McCarthy notes:

Actually there’s quite a lot wrong with Arnhart’s specific ideas about Darwinian conservatism, including this, “Darwinian conservatives will agree with President Bush that there is a natural desire for liberty.” What evidence is there for this claim? Most people throughout most of the world for most of history have been quite unfree and don’t seem to have chafed a great deal at their condition. Clearly enough, whatever natural drive there may be for freedom is easly satisfied or else overpowered by other impulses.

If there's common progressive ground -- ground upon which right-wing and left-wing social democrats stand upon -- it is this faith in freedom. Or, more importantly, that all freedom will look the same, and will be expressed in the desire for representative democratic institutions. All free people look like Americans. McCarthy is right, however, because there is almost no evidence that everyone everywhere wants to be free in exactly the same way.

The Wilsonian could point to, and often does, that because everyone can become an American, that there is an American inside of everyone just struggling to get out. But that misses that migrants to the United States have decided to give something up to gain something else. Or as I had to remind some people I worked with in Dubai, the Europeans who migrated to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries were, mostly, people who specifically did not want to be Europeans. (Which is why it is unfair to compare Europe to the US.)

Freedom can only articulate itself within specific cultures. So Saudi freedom -- and yes, most Saudis I met consider themselves free within their culture -- looks different from American freedom because Saudi culture constructs social relationships differently. Conservatism once upon a time used to understand the power of culture and custom (even if it got itself mired in the belief of the moral superiority of some cultures over others as a justification for the making of war on those "inferior" cultures -- the inferior have no rights the superior are bound to respect). But conservatives clearly don't anymore, instead having lashed their fortunes to a Jacobin-like universalism that insists upon "realizing" or "creating" a future for all human beings. A future few volunteered for, or would choose if they were given that option.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

What War Does to Men

I love John Taylor Gatto, and I am re-reading his The Underground History of American Education (downloaded via iSilo from his website to my handheld). It has become as important a piece of writing for me as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, the four synoptic Gospels, the Book of Ecclesiastes, or anything by Albert Jay Nock. This quote is from his history of schooling in the United States, and explains the true danger of war, what war does to individual human beings, and the expectations that organizing society during war does for elites:
Prior to 1860 Americans didnĂ­t demand a high level of national solidarity -- a loose sort of catch-as-catch-can unity satisfied the nation in spite of the existence even then of patriotic special interest groups like Know-Nothings. Neither by geography, culture, common experience, or preference was the United States naturally a single country although it did possess a common language. But conformity had been ordered by corporate and banking interests from the Northeast, so one country it would become.

Stupendous profits accrued to these interests from the Civil War, and its great lesson of national regimentation into squads, platoons, brigades, companies, regiments, and army corps was not lost on the winners. Warfare by its nature forces men to wear "value-ranks" openly for all to see, forces everyone to subordinate themselves to higher ranks, and higher ranks to subordinate themselves to invisible orders. War conditions men to rule and to be ruled. Modern war creates a society far different in type and scale from the ragged and bizarre individuality which emerged out of the American Revolution. With everyone dressing alike, eating alike, and doing everything else alike, maximum profit can be derived from the use of mass-production machinery in an ideal environment where the goods of production are swiftly wasted, and military "consumers" are literally forbidden the right to refuse to consume! A soldier must wear his uniform, eat his food, fire his rifle. To guaranteed customers through psychological drills is the very essence of the corporate world about to come into being.


Consider that the welfare state is, in the American context, the product of "progressive" reformers (Republic, Democrat, it hardly matters) saying to themselves -- "Look at it what we did in war. Imagine what marvelous things we could do in peace!"

As the folks at strike-the-root.com say, "other people are not your property." Not to manage, not to organize, not to treat as resources or commodities.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

What Were They Smoking?

Just finished watching two Gumby DVDs and a Davey and Goliath DVD. You know, the kid shows from the late 1950s and the 1960s. Coming right after watching season 2.5 of the new Battlestar Galactica, which I have been meaning to comment on for some time and will at some point.

But to Art Clokey. Wikipedia, for what it's worth, says the Lutheran Church in America commissioned Davey & Goliath after the success of Gumby. I'm certain you've seen Gumby, he's the little blue-green clay boy with the red pony who wanders around a giant toy, well, some very strange world populated by toys and kids books, going in and out of books (Pokey himself lives in a book called Western Stories). Some of the Gumby stories have a very non-linear, Fantasia style them, and often Gumby cartoons come in bundles of two, in which the second story explains or is taken from the first one. Or seems to. I'm not sure I'd call Gumby cartoons works of genius -- they aren't that good -- but they are certainly the work of someone who could think outside all kinds of boxes and concieve of a world in which there are all sorts of different physical laws. I might even suggest illicit substances were involved.

Okay, so here's my question -- what were the folks at the LCA and the National Council of Churches thinking when, after watching Gumby, they said to themselves, "We'll have him make our new kids show!" I'm trying to find the connection. Yes, the character Gumby comes off as very sweet and guileless, but the whole world he inhabits is a strange one in which marbles can stop being proper marbles and need sound to make them again (and we need two separate cartoons to explain it). His is a simple world, but it is also a very odd one. It doesn't automatically suggest to me, at any rate, that Clokey was the man to make what eventually became Davey & Goliath.

As for Davey & Goliath, the show actually has a theological sophistication that I couldn't appreciate when I was eight years old and watching it during mandated FCC community-service broadcasting time at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings. (Does anyone else miss pre-cable, pre-satellite television? Even -- no, especially -- in all its awfulness?) One segment, a rather silly story about kites, has one new boy wreck Davey and his friend's kite (Goliath had ruined it earlier). His friend asks if they have to forgive the boy who wrecked their kite, and Davey answers: "God wants us to." What an amazing answer! Not a yes, not a no, but a real understanding of how both God's forgiveness for us works and how our forgiveness for others should work.

The Emerging Mythology

NOTE: An expanded and cleaned up version of this post should appear at lewrockwell.com on Monday.

I've long been worried about just how Republicans and conservatives (or rather, the muscular nationalists who pretend to be conservatives) are going to deal with the defeat of the US arms in Iraq. Some version of the "stabbed in the back" mythology will be the prevailing mythos, but just how that "stabbed-in-the-back" myth will work, given that the war was planned, launched, conducted and overseen by Republicans -- who have for as long as I can remember sold themselves as the only people competent enough to wage both foreign policy and war in the world in which we live -- I do not know.

Alan Bock, Orange Counter Register columnist and weekly contributor to Antiwar.com, thinks he knows, and based on his column today, a review of an essay by Spencer Ackerman in the The New Republic, I think he's right on the money:
In brief, they [war supporters] have shifted from emphasizing the prospects for victory to warning about the dangers of defeat – and placing the blame for possible defeat not on conditions on the ground or the wisdom of the war itself but on a lack of will to win among strategic elites back home. We’re losing not because the future of Iraq is not, or should not be, America’s to dictate, but because critics of the war, and even of the administration’s prosecution of the war, are sapping the will to fight brutally enough to win.
In short, it is the fault of all of us who failed to have faith in our leadership -- and that would be Bush Jong Il and his il-fated administration (these rules about faith in wartime leadership strangely enough never seem to apply to Democrats, like Lyndon Johnson or the militarily promsicuous Bill Clinton) -- that cost us the war.

This is magical thinking. To believe that doubting the administration is the cause of that administration's military failure is akin to believing that harboring bad thoughts about someone is the cause of their misfortune should misfortune arise. Yes, war is about the will to fight, but that's not all it is about, and simply having the will to fight is pointless if the goals put forth are simply not achievable. And the domination of and rule over others against their will is, in most cases today, not an achievable goal.

This "lack of will" talk is a recipe for authoritarianism and tyranny. It gives government the power, in fact the duty, to punish those who do not believe in the war, because the fate of the war hinges entirely on whether everyone supports it, and not whether it was smart to start the war in the first place. The best example of this is what happened to the German Imperial Army following its defeat in late 1918. Because the German army was never forced to face its very real battlefield defeat (in the allied offensives beginning in late August), because the German government that launched and waged that war was never forced to face the consequences of losing the war it started, the German right easily and eagerly accepted the story of the "November criminals" (those Social Democrats who led the post-imperial government and accepted the armistice), and that story became an essential part of German right-wing mythology in the 1920s. And an essential part of Naziism as well.

We know what Republicans did with this after Vietnam. It remains to be seen how the failure of the Iraq war will play out in Republican politics -- it may be that because the war was in fact launched and conducted by a Republican, that some smarter people will be innoculated against this kind of talk. But I rather doubt it, because bad ideas die hard. What I've seen on the web tells me that many are willing to blame the media (in particular) and Democrats for the defeat. How that works mechanically, especially given how little power they have in determining policy, is anyone's guess. But we are talking about magical thinking after all.

It also means that Republicans, if they take this line of thinking to its logical conclusion (and thankfully most of them don't), then you're going to need a one-party authoritarian government with the ability to keep all secrets all the time if you want to wage more wars. And possibly arrest and detain dissidents. Given the level of love for an unbound, near-dictatorial presidency among Republicans (a level also seen in Clinton Democrats), these things are a distant, but distinct, possibility.

But not even dictatorship will save Republicans from the consequences of stupid and unwinnable wars. (Hitler anyone? Brezhnev?) Which means the next logical step is the inquisition -- "Do you support the war? Do you love and trust your leaders?" they will ask as we are stretched out on the rack. How they will explain defeat in those circumstances is beyond me. But magical thinking tends to have no bounds and is rarely accountable to reason.

Anyway, Bock continues with a short but important review of American "grand strategy":
Most of all, it can’t be because the grand national strategy of "extraregional hegemony" – which Christopher Layne, author of the fascinating new book The Peace of Illusions, argues has been the de facto U.S. grand strategy since at least shortly before World War II – by its very nature gets the U.S. involved in conflicts that are not only hard to win but utterly marginal to core U.S. interests. Almost all elected Republicans and Democrats, while they might not cop to the term, subscribe to this territorially and ideologically aggressive foreign policy, though they may quibble over where to intervene to create yet another test of American "credibility" next. We certainly can’t expect them to rethink something so intrinsic to their very political natures as to be virtually unnoticed as an ideological position at all.

And this, I think, gets to the heart of the matter. Ruling the world is not only intrinsic to the identity of America's permanent ruling elites -- those who populate and make up what Murray Rothbard called "Rockefeller World Empire" -- is has also become very important to the millions of men and women who populate the heartland and the suburbs, people who know little of the world and respect it even less but somehow see American sojers as missionaries of order and civilization, bestowing upon the world something it needs (but probably never asked for). This identity is too important, I think, for Americans to ever question in any great depth or ever consider any alternatives. Even alleged progressives are too attached to an American world empire to ever give it up voluntarily. Or to even consider giving it up.

I would like to see Americans lay down their aspirations to global power. That would be the best course for us and for the world, but it will almost certainly not happen. I don't think it will be ripped from our hands either. It is crushing us, this overweening desire to rule the world, and we will go bankrupt, we will collapse, under the weight of it. That is both my hope ... and my fear.