Empire Rules

Facing the sobering reality of what the United States of America truly has become requires, firstly, the suspension of all mythology devised to hail Americans as the good guys, the gallant cowboys in the white hats saving the world from itself. We are many things but we’re no more good than anyone else, no matter how we like to fancy ourselves through our national myths.

To sustain our hyper-consumptive economy, to fill our malls with a vast array of luxuries that would have made Cleopatra and Louis XIV weep with envy, to build and fuel our tens of millions of gas-guzzling autos so we can drive along our massive highway and roadway system to our space-and-energy-wasting suburban McMansion homes, to “provide” for our children far beyond even a reasonable magnitude of profligate excess, we have cut moral and ethical corners to such an appalling degree that calling ourselves “the good guys” is a self delusion bordering on insanity.

It has been a costly, but necessary, enterprise to keep the massive incoming flow of crude oil, raw materials, and cheaply manufactured goods that we get from the world outside our borders. To maintain our current profligate consumer lifestyle without disruption, we’ve become the greatest empire in world history. To protect, expand, and maintain our vast imperial economic interests all over the world, we have built the mightiest military machine the world has ever seen. Indeed, the USA spends more on its military-industrial complex than the rest of the world combined. Our Naval dominance and air superiority are unrivaled. Our ground forces can easily defeat any foreign army with great ferocity and frightening efficacy. Our apparatus for gathering intelligence data and executing direct action strikes all over the world, powered by space-based satellites, weaponized unmanned drones, and almost omnipotent computing technology, is more impressively and devastatingly potent than any science fiction writer could have imagined a generation ago.

However, as we’ve learned since Vietnam, even the mightiest military is useless at fighting all those pesky little swarms of revolutionaries, insurgents, terrorists, criminal cartels, and other shadowy groups who can deftly evade our imperial military and technological leviathan and are hellbent on disrupting the gigantic economic cash cow that is the world economy over which the USA has been lorded to maintain with its vast military might. Despite our immense military power and moral and ethical “goodness,” especially during the Cold War, we lost innumerable battles, both militarily and in the ever-growing realm of public relations, with these pesky little groups of outlaws.

To deal with them we created a new kind of imperial power structure, super secret, that has largely exercised its power outside the rule of law. And each US President has expanded this power structure and enjoyed its immense benefits.

Since the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, the USA has had a super-secret military-intelligence apparatus in place, under the guise of an ever-changing group of organizations and command and control mechanisms (changing and reinventing themselves to maintain plausible deniability), where the USA has largely ignored international law and military codes of conduct and engaged in “black ops” all over the world to eliminate, without due process or any kind of accountability, those we deem “insurgents,” “terrorists,” or just plain enemies. We largely took our cue from the way Israel systematically eliminated many of the Black September actors after their 1972 Olympic Games attack on Israeli citizens.

By means of the President’s Executive authority and power, the USA has, for the last 30 years, through these super-secret, lawless military-intelligence groups, engaged in acts of kidnapping, rendition, torture, and assassination, by our own hands or through foreign proxies, and now by means of drones as our proxies. Every President since Reagan has used these methods and expanded the Executive powers of the President, regardless of the President’s party affiliation and ideology.

During the 80s countless thousands of Central and South American, Filipino, South Korean, African, and Middle Eastern dissidents, leftist insurgents (real or imagined to be), trade unionists, anti-government activists, terrorists (real or imagined to be), and anyone else deemed “enemies” were systematically kidnapped, tortured, and often murdered by our proxies in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Panama, et al. This was all done under the careful command and control, or “hands-off” supervision by proxy, of various super-secret US military-intelligence groups such as the CIA’s SOG, the US Army’s FOG/ISA, and the DOD’s joint commands the DIA and USSOSOCOM.

For 30 years this activity has never stopped under any President, and has, in fact, been expanded and given great power to act with impunity and almost zero accountability. The morality and ethics of it all can be relentlessly argued, and has been for the last 30 years, but no one, least of all our Congress and Presidents, has lifted a finger to dismantle and stop this activity. We needed that massive flow of oil, those shiploads of cheaply-manufactured goods, and all the raw materials an sweatshop slave labor

And do you know why? Because of its success in eliminating a lot of problems that lawful action and the rule of law all over the world cannot fix with the same kind of efficiency and efficacy as this lawless and immoral action. Despite the moral and ethical depravity of such action, it is expedient and eliminates a lot of threats, both real and political, that the USA faces outside its borders. So why would a US President, even one so seemingly ethical and moral like Barack Obama, even try to dismantle these black ops groups and their activity, or cut back these vast Executive powers, when they quite often bolster his power in the world and political standing back home?

Obama has surely disappointed the American Left by continuing, and even expanding, all these largely illegal black ops. However, our Empire must be fed continuously, and any obstacles to this must be dealt with harshly, or tens of millions of Americans would be denied their right to profligate consumption. Either we accept the moral depravity that drives our greed, venality, and consumption, or we learn to live with less, dismantle our evil imperial forces, and contract our economy. The choice is that simple.

Fat chance of it ever happening.

Elite Education

The winds of change of our generation could be best exemplified in the 1983 film “Risky Business,” where a group of wealthy kids from the elite Chicago ‘burbs sit around discussing college and their futures. Their goal: “Make a lot of money.” And so the greatest meritocratic goal is revealed for kids headed to the “elite” colleges and who would get the “elite” jobs. Get those tony credentials and make some cash!

Fast forward to 2008 and the financial crash. This was caused, almost exclusively, by self interest taken to the most ridiculous and self-destructive extremes: Make a lot of money indeed, even at the peril of the nation’s economy and well being.

That’s our legacy, because it was (mostly) our generation’s elite who ran or managed at most levels the banks and investment houses, lending institutions, hyper-lax government regulatory agencies, et al. And how many were on the buying side trying to make a quick buck turning over McMansions they couldn’t afford? How many were personally and professionally leveraged with other people’s money to live “the good life”? Our generation’s meritocratic elite’s twisted and amoral values led to this.

Maybe at the base level the value system is what’s wrong in elite education. Such concepts like self sacrifice, noblesse oblige, egalitarianism, good citizenship…are these values taught along with scientific management, numbers crunching, and maximizing value and profit? Do they factor these things into their B school case studies? Do they really teach real ethics, or just the quasi-ethical means and ways not to get caught or convicted–how to manipulate the system by toeing the legal, ethical, and moral boundaries? I wonder, because the record from the last 30 years sure seems to indicate the answer is no.

I think the biggest failure in the country’s elite education system has been the failure of our elite to feel any connection with the greater whole of the citizenry. The meritocracy enriches itself without any regard to how this affects the non-elite. They hoard all the rewards, then entrench themselves in techno burbs far removed from the lower classes. And then the elite blames the lower classes for being lower class, as if the only hard work any more comes from the accumulation of lofty credentials and personal wealth.

I’m not painting all this with a broad brush. Not everyone is to blame. But I think it is fair to say the elite’s, in general, lack of a moral and ethical compass, coupled with its disdain for its role as good citizens in favor of unbridled self interest, has most certainly contributed greatly to this “distortion” of our economy, governance, and social structure.

How about we just teach people to be good citizens again as a major goal? To know and understand that part of the role of the elite in a democracy is to lead–rationally, ethically, and morally-and not just satiate the whims and fancies of grandiose, solipsistic, and monomaniacal self interest? Doing what’s right for the greater good, subservient to what gets one the greatest personal rewards?

Just a thought.

Downton Abbey: Championing the Evils of the Ancien Régime

As a devout anti-bourgeoisie socialist, I find myself horrified by how much I’ve been enjoying the hit BBC TV series Downton Abbey. I resolutely denounce monarchist regimes and elitist hereditary aristocracies with every fiber of my proletarian being, and yet I find myself deliciously enjoying Downton Abbey’s almost mawkish reminiscence of such a system.

I’m fascinated by how easily the show’s characters, who are living in the last years of the Ancien Régime class system, accepted their social status and the fact they were stuck with this accidence of birth as some divine placement system, and the mere idea of changing that social status, high or low, was absolutely absurd—sacrilegious!— to even consider.

This certainly explains why modern Brits still cling to their monarchy and refuse to make Britain a republic. I have always wondered why this was so. This show’s sentimental portrayal of the barbarically static class system of old certainly proves how embedded it still is in the Brit’s mind, even after nearly 100 years of socialist and egalitarian reform.

I think the way Downton Abbey’s servants all revere the rich, haughty, lazy fucks they serve, and accept them as higher beings, is what fascinates me. And the way the show makes the aristocrats appear so magnanimous despite the fact they are lazy and insipid, as if pretending to care for the lowly peasants is noblesse oblige in and of itself. The show depicts them as worthy of their status, regardless of the fact they were born into it and haven’t done an honest day’s work in their lives. That’s just how it was.

Centuries of social conditioning certainly beat down the proletarian class to accept their fate in Old Europe, and, as the show tries to depict, this all certainly changed after WW I when millions of low-born men died or were maimed fighting this utterly pointless war between European aristocratic houses (the German Kaiser was first cousin to Britain’s King!). Socialism was easier to digest after WW I. The show dances around this and hints at it, which is pretty cool, and the Irish chauffeur who marries Lady Sybil represents this modern, low-born socialist agitator who doesn’t accept his fate of birth in the class system.

All in all, I adore the show as well written and brilliantly acted. Americans should watch this show and celebrate the fact we fought a war in 1776 to break free from our bondage to these lazy and insipid aristocrats, princes, and kings who ruled us with their so-called “divine right.” Our forefathers scoffed at this barbaric system, and the first act they performed after we won our revolutionary war and established our republic was to abolish titles of nobility and the “lordly” class system.

That’s what we should celebrate as Americans when we watch Downton Abbey, that this was something we have never been, born to our fate and incapable of moving upwards merely because of the accidence of our birth. Maybe the climb upwards was difficult even in our society, but it was possible and many have done so over the last 200 years.

That brings us all hope.