The Other Side
In the spirit of fairness I feel I should give a proper display to the arguments I have heard against the ideas expressed in my previous post.
Usually when the standard “US dissident” line (that Republicans and Democrats are in fact the same party, that they constitute a modern aristocracy, that our horrific foreign policy is totally divorced of public opinion, that public opinion itself is manipulated via conglomerate control of media, that the cost of running for office ensures loyalty to corporate and imperialist interests, etc, etc.) is repeated to a person with a lucrative position within the current establishment, a smirk with the phrase “conspiracy theory” follows. However when pressed, such persons can be counted upon to employ one or several of these standard techniques:
1) “Valid points”, “Unfortunate mistakes, “Tough issues”, etc.
Often the first line of defense. I briefly mentioned this technique’s use in an earlier post, but I think it merits elaboration. Politely dismissive, these phrases can end a conversation without causing offense, and indeed, with the appearance of concession. They also encourage the belief that so-called “abuses” of the US government are isolated instances, and not symptomatic of a larger illness. There is a marked tendency describe criticisms as “issues” that are “being worked on”, never as characteristic to our system of government. The fact that these “mistakes” have continued unabated for several generations apparently escapes notice.
2) “Name one country that does it better”
“It”, of course, is never exactly specified. If you press an establishment figure (government official, investment banker, industrial engineer, etc.) for long enough, the conversation can take a combative edge, wherein they will usually offer some form of the above challenge. Their argument essentially boils down to the fact that most US citizens would rather not live anywhere else, so its government can’t be all that bad. But such claims ignore the fact that many countries have been rendered uninhabitable by US policy and many more found themselves in economic ruin by the same token. There is no denying the effect that IMF policies have had on Central and South America, and there is no getting away from the ruins of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Central Asia is rife with US dictatorships, and Africa is currently experiencing the effects of three centuries’ enslavement, much of it at the hands of the US and Europe. Even countries lucky enough not to have come directly under the Washington Yoke (India, China, etc.) still deal with the effects of European “colonization” (that happy euphemism!) .Thus they are not much comparison.
With such a track record, it is difficult to find a country that has truly been able to adopt and keep an indigenous governmental structure with which to compare our own. History provides some help, but very little. The history of Eurasia is relatively well-documented, but west of the Atlantic we have very little. The Europeans who came to the Americas slaughtered at a far faster rate than they learned. By the time they became civilized enough to be curious of other cultures, entire civilizations had been wiped out. So we truly don’t know if a better way of doing things is possible. European civilization, and its American successor, have spread throughout the globe.
Thus, the argument that US crimes may be excused because it’s still “the best country” in which to live is a trick, designed to deflect attention from the fact that our crimes are the very cause of our high standard of living.
3) “Well, then what would you do?”
Further up the confrontation scale, this is a game wherein the establishment figure will throw various scenarios and demand to know, on the spot, how you would respond to them. If they are gracious these will be current affairs and not wholly hypothetical. For instance, “Say you’re Obama. What do you do about Afghanistan?” Invariably the answer is mocked as “unrealistic”, “idealistic”, or simply “naive”. In the Afghani example, if one were to say that we should cease combat operations, issue a heartfelt apology to the Afghan nation for 30 years of atrocities, and award reparations for the destruction we caused, the suggestion would be met with a scoff and a chuckle. Such actions would either “increase terrorism” or “reduce our national standing”.
If, again, one is asked how to deal with the Palestine-Israel question, one cannot give the simple answer that we should adhere to the UN resolution regarding the matter: Israel retreats to 1967 borders, lifts the blockade on Gaza, and allows a Palestinian state. “Impractical”, would be the standard response.
You see that whether or not a course of action is the right thing to do never occurs to them. The National Interest, apparently, is the only morality. When someone asks “what would you do in so-and-so’s place?” they should usually add “and it has to be in the interest of only the US”
A piece of errata on “national interest”: it apparently occurs only to a very few that what is said to be in the “national interest” is really only in the interest of a select group. None of our actions abroad have done anything to relieve inequality within America – if anything our foreign policy exacerbates class differences in the US. It has, however, also made a few rich industrialists orders of magnitude richer.
4) “What’s the solution?”
After the recitation of so many negative aspects of our current rulers, an irritated admission of guilt will follow, and then a demand for a master solution to all our government’s ills. I would think this is usually a last resort, for it is truly unanswerable. Our governing system is so large, so complex, and in the last analysis, so unbelievably powerful, that it is hard to imagine how such deeply entrenched issues could be solved, or even brought to light. The media is a powerful force for stupefaction. Few citizens even know of our recurring adventures abroad – far fewer care.
In the face of such odds, most are quick to assume the prospect for real reform to be hopeless, and the best one can do is get their share (usually more) of our ill-gotten riches. Many from whom I have heard these arguments do quite well at this, and have attained for themselves positions which nearly everyone would describe as success.
And I admit, there are no easy solutions, though I think a good start would be to admit what the US has done over the past decades and to acknowledge from where it derives its income. For many Americans, it is directly on the backs of the Third World
After such acknowledgment, I think it only fair to expect people not to directly participate in such horrors as they would not which visited upon themselves. Signing an order for 1500 bombs, knowing for what they will be used, is not a nice act. Direct non-participation would entail not taking a job for a corporation whom you know to perform actions undesirable for humanity, not taking a job for a government which you know has nefarious intentions at its root. There are many, many ways to eke out an existence without violating basic ethical principles. But it will not be a lucrative existence
5) “Change the system from the inside”
This happy bit of idealism is most often heard from young recruits of the establishment. They are cognizant of all of our government’s flaws and its essentially undemocratic nature, but they believe that once they attain a high enough position they can work to enact real change.
One need look no further than President Obama to see how often this turns out. It cost him $650 million to run for president. From whom do you think he had to borrow in order to finance that campaign? None other than America’s favorite street: Wall. The sad fact of the matter is that in order to attain a position of power in our Government one necessarily must be a multi-millionaire. Senate elections cost tens of millions of dollars, and a seat in the House has an ever-inflating price tag. Once you attain a position of power, you are by extension indebted to a variety of interests, all of whom treat you as a mere investment on which they expect a handsome return. I am having much difficulty in thinking of anyone who has successfully changed the US government by becoming part of it.