Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Hilzoy has for us today an unpleasant reminder that the people running our executive branch are not decent people. A decent human being would not do these things to another human being.

But then a decent public would not sit by and allow these things to happen, or cheer them on.

Via Jim Henley, the mysterious IOZ has some thoughts about American exceptionalism.

The War in Iraq is not an unprecedented foreign policy disaster. It's a disaster with a distinct, observable lineage. The Bush administration is not unprecedented. Its precedents are every other presidency in the years since World War II, and several, at least, before. At the very root of the error is unthinking acceptance of the P.T. Barnum-esque premise of America as "The Greatest and Most Prosperous Nation in the World," a chestunt roasted equally by both parties. That phrase, and those like it, is shorthand for a religious--I mean that as a pejorative--belief that the United States of America, being something of a civilizational (minimum: civic, political) apotheosis has an affirmative commission to interfere in the internal developments of other nations for whatever reason we see fit. The most disastrous consequence of that belief from a purely practical standpoint is that it has decoupled our plain imperialism from plain acknowledgement that imperialism is our project. Because our moral self-illusion precludes us from really identifying what it is we seek when we send off the ships and airplanes and infantry, we make colonial policy by circumlocution and euphemism, even at the very highest levels. "The forward agenda of freedom" isn't only a phrase for public consumption. Meaningless bromides are clearly just as much the lingua franca of the governing class. The far more disastrous consequence from a human perspective is that because we believe our bromides, believe in our goodness, and believe in the legitimacy of our moral pretensions, we feel as justified as any other zealot in raining blood and fire on non-belieivers, since we believe that a failure to convert is spiritual doom anyway.

That sort of exceptionalism lead us into a militarized national security state, a garrison economy, a many-trillion-dollar military complex, a series of fruitless border skirmishes with the Soviet Union that, in their worst instance, killed millions of Vietnamese. It led to the creation of a vast nuclear arsenal which we alone reserve the right to use, should it become "necessary." It led to a quarter-century of America-funded, America-supported massacres in Latin America. (These things occured under Democrats as much as under Republicans.) It lead to the modern surveillance state, the gradual slide toward national identification, the imprisonment of two million Americans, the creation of a vast intelligence apparatus with no meaningful Congressional oversight and secret budgts. It lead to our monstrous interventionist policies in the Middle East. It lead to Bill Clinton's "Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act," which lead to the Patriot Act. It lead to the articulated Clinton/Gore policy of "regime change"--a Democratic euphemism. The current contention that "A Gore presidency wouldn't have taken us to war in Iraq" is not only fanciful, ahistorical projection, it's also patently false in that we were already at war with Iraq. We were bombing the country almost daily through the final years of the Clinton administration, and Al Gore was one of the staunchest Iraq hawks in the government. It was a low-intensity conflict that we simply chose to ignore domestically under the euphemistic guise of "no-fly zones" and "economic sanctions." In Susan Sontag's famously provocative post-9/11 essay, she asked, "How many Americans are aware of our ongoing bombardment of Iraq?" You know the answer.

While I mostly agree, clearly a low-intensity war with Iraq was better than the carnage we unleashed. The differences between Gore and Bush are not trivial.

The project of altering the fundamental perceptions and premises underlying the American popular consciousness is a long one. Possibly it is futile. But the idea that the American electorate--the American mind, if such a thing exists--is currently capable of supporting or sustaining meaningful, essential, fundamental change is a fantasy and nothing more. The nature of our problems and the scope of our wrongdoing is entirely beyond the farthest boundaries of ordinary discussion in America today. The first step toward change is to expand the capacity of Americans to imagine something different. Slow, quixotic, and likely hopeless. But that is the task at hand.

Yes, much of our public discourse is based on false assumptions and is guided by a flawed methodology. The herd mentality usually prevails, and fear and ignorance frame our collective view of the world. But there are solutions, and I wonder what IOZ has in mind for reaching them. I’ve just stumbled onto this blog today and can’t tell whether it’s a libertarian or Chomskyite perspective, or something else, but I find myself largely agreeing with much of this post, at least. I’d like to hear more.

1 comment:

IOZ said...

Thank you for the link.

I'm a libertarian by inclination, but very sympathetic to the Chomskyite-anarchist critique.

My last paragraph is my prescription. I don't believe that any meaningful change can be affected given the current alignment of power, state of public discourse, popularity of false and shared assumptions, etc. I think that to endeavor to make marginal changes by consenting to the Democrats' version of a somewhat less vicious empire and a somewhat less physically intrusive surveillance state is to make accessions that I'm not interested in making. I have, by my count, converted four people to my way of thinking who didn't share it already, which is very few, admittedly, but a better batting average than most in the echosphere.

And thanks, of course, for calling my mysterious. I'm also tall, thin, and a fag ;) Cheers. I'll keep an eye on your blog.