Wisconsin ProtestsWritten by Trevor Malkinson
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Thursday, 17 February 2011 19:21
I must say, are we not getting a little carried away with seeing all protest as being in some way now connected to Egypt. Certainly what is happening in the Middle East is part of a popular awakening sweeping through the region, but what exactly is an 'Egypt-like protest'?
Do the protesters in Wisconsin face jail, beatings, or possibly worse for gathering and expressing their grievances? Have the camels been brought in? No.
At least not yet!
Thursday, 17 February 2011 21:25
Well, apparently the Wisconsin governor has put the National Guard on alert, saying that they're "prepared…for whatever the governor, their commander-in-chief, might call for. … I am fully prepared for whatever may happen". (http://bit.ly/hE3Dor)
We only have to look at what happened at the recent G20 summit in Toronto, or Quebec, 'The Battle in Seattle', the Kent State shootings (etc.) before that, to know that similar violence and State power does get used in North American societies, and would probably only escalate if democratic uprisings similar to those in Egypt et al. happened here.
Are these protests inspired by Egypt? Hard to say, I'd have to hear more from the people of Wisconsin to know if the recent events in the Middle East have galvanized or emboldened them in any way. But it's not hard to imagine. I'm thinking of the notion of "mimetic desire" by the philsopher Rene Girard (Entitled Opinions show #58 on Itunes!!), where "imitation is an aspect of behaviour that not only affects learning but also desire".
As the middle class continues to shrink in the US, and the underclass continues to grow, images from the Middle East just might flame the desire for increased democracy, dignity and justice there too. While the article headline in question does seem a little over the top and designed to grab attention, I think there's likely at least a grain of truth to it too.
Here's Noam Chomsky with a recent analysis of the Wisconsin protests on Democracy Now:
Thursday, 17 February 2011 21:57
Listen to these tidbits from a recent article by Andrew Gavin Marshall from 'The Center for Research on Globalization':
In January of 2009, Obama’s then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the greatest threat to the National Security of the U.S. was not terrorism, but the global economic crisis:
"I’d like to begin with the global economic crisis, because it already looms as the most serious one in decades, if not in centuries ... Economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they are prolonged for a one- or two-year period... And instability can loosen the fragile hold that many developing countries have on law and order, which can spill out in dangerous ways into the international community".
In 2007, a British Defense Ministry report was released assessing global trends in the world over the next 30 years. In assessing “Global Inequality”, the report stated that over the next 30 years:
"[T]he gap between rich and poor will probably increase and absolute poverty will remain a global challenge... Disparities in wealth and advantage will therefore become more obvious, with their associated grievances and resentments, even among the growing numbers of people who are likely to be materially more prosperous than their parents and grandparents. Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism".
Further, the report warned of the dangers to the established powers of a revolution emerging from the disgruntled middle classes:
"The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx. The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states. The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite. Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest".
Could be interesting times ahead.
Thursday, 17 February 2011 22:22
Your points about State violence are well-taken, however, a threat is far from action, and as the piece you linked to suggests, this may not be an altogether popular move by the governor.
Rather than look elsewhere for inspiration, is it not possible that the state employees are reacting to the very real and context-specific cuts proposed by the governor as opposed to being 'galvanised or emboldened' by events halfway across the globe and probably only superficially covered by local media?
Are they incapable of independent thought or action?
I mean, we point to Tunisia as an inspiration for Egypt, but what inspired the Tunisians? Well, their own situation, their own poverty and oppression inspired them.
While I certainly accept the proposition that what is happening across the Middle East can be connected through the notion of memetic desire, I'm really quite skeptical as to whether or not we should be looking for, or indeed seeing connections between what is happening in Wisconsin and Egypt.
People protest all the time in the USA. This just seems to be a very large one.
To do so is to paint what may in fact be very locally-specific realities as being merely part of something larger, and in doing so we may in fact miss the significance of the particulars of events. This only serves to dull - not sharpen - our own understanding of the events in question.
That being said, as governments at all levels of the US start having to confront the fact that their actually broke, and the middle class and poor are asked to sacrifice while at the same time the rich continue to get richer, you're going to see a lot more of this type of event all across the States.
In this sense, there may in fact be a global memetic awakening to the great social and economic inequalities that are only increasing; and in this way, these two events may indeed share something in common.
Tuesday, 22 February 2011 06:26
Trevor, thank you for the video and the Chomsky interview. I find I'm agreeing with him a bit on this issue, though I can't say I know all about Wisconsin's budget issues. There is an article about it by influential liberal economics columnist Paul Krugman today as well:
Chomsky also talked about the "deification" of Reagan, which I found interesting.
I have read that bus drivers in Chicago, where I live, make twice as much as entry-level airline pilots in small commuter airlines, so maybe there is some truth to public sector inflation. But I think Chomsky has a point when he says that the people who caused this economic downturn not only aren't paying for it but are getting richer throughout it, while the government still hasn't regulated them sufficiently.
Have you seen the Inside Job?
I thought it was pretty good. I hope it wins the Academy Award for best documentary. I bet it will. One of the interesting things about it to me was how academia was implicated, how business and economics schools have been corrupted.
Tuesday, 22 February 2011 08:57
David Brooks has an informative and balanced article about it in today's New York Times:
Wednesday, 23 February 2011 03:45
David, thanks for the links. I hadn't even heard of this movie Inside Job, but the trailer looks great. Important stuff.
Of the two articles you linked to, I'd have to say I fall more on the side of Krugman's analysis. Especially in paragraphs like these:
"Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis...It’s not about the budget; it’s about power.In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence".
I personally think that this is the truth that the American public has to gradually awaken to. I agree with Chris Hedges' analysis that we're living in a time where a virulent form of unfettered global capitalism has become almost totally dominant, and is acting aggressively to further concentrate wealth in the hands of an elite (or plutocratic) few. This seems to be happening in the US more rapidly and disturbingly than anywhere else. The trailer of Inside Job speaks to some of these issues, and I'm sure the movie goes even deeper. Here's Hedges on the current form of global capitalism:
Reading the analysis of David Brooks on this issue, I respect his detailed understanding of the particulars of the issue, and his prescription is fair enough as far as it goes. But I feel his analysis lacks scope and context. For instance, what's the role of neo-liberal free market doctrine in this situation? According to one article (and others), the billionaire Koch brothers "are hell-bent on destroying the labor movement once and for all" (http://bit.ly/dLSkSq). I see this specific situation as part of a much longer (like thirty years) process of class warfare. (unfortunately the right has systematically made it impossible to use analytical tools such as 'class warfare' in mainstream debate anymore; which, of course, is just another part of the class warfare)
Nowhere in Brooks' analysis do I hear mention of the US as a global military imperial power with military bases spread around the world, and with two ongoing exorbitantly costly wars. Some have argued that simply bringing home 150 troops from Afghanistan would save as much money as Walker's budget savings plan. The State of Wisconsin is scheduled to pay $1.7 billion in taxpayer money this year for the war in Afghanistan, to say nothing of Iraq. (http://huff.to/ehbG5v)
So anyway David, from my perspective there are much broader issues at play here. I thank you for turning me on to some links that also explore those broader issues, and I'm enjoying the way we're sanely exploring together some of the more taboo perspectives on this overall situation, while all the while still struggling for balance and the dexterity of juggling multiple perspectives.
Wednesday, 23 February 2011 06:46
Here's an interesting one with a little more on the Koch angle:
"Last year, at a Koch-organized fundraising meeting in Colorado attended by fellow right-wing billionaires like Steve Schwarzman and Phil Anschutz, attendees discussed strategies for taking down the labor movement. As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has explained, the right’s national anti-union campaign has little to do with budget deficits. Instead, it is about defunding the progressive movement and weakening Democrats in the longterm.
Moreover, Koch’s political activism on behalf of Walker is also a strategy for increasing its profit margin. Koch Industries has a large set of businesses within Wisconsin, including a network of oil pipelines, paper plants, and coal companies. The Walker administration is signaling a very Koch-friendly approach in targeting environmental regulations and going on record with fierce opposition to clean energy policies.
To take full advantage of such a friendly local government, Koch Industries quietly expanded its lobbying operation in the state. Koch has a new government affairs office in Madison, and according to reporter Judith Davidoff, recently registered seven full time lobbyists to work with the Republican-led government in Wisconsin".
Wednesday, 23 February 2011 18:13
I'm not exactly sure what to make of George Soros (for some he's the great bogeyman), but he is an interesting internal critic of global capitalism as it's now configured. Here's his view of the broader global contexts of the present moment (which I came across last night):
"The system cannot survive in its present form, and the US has more to lose by not being in the forefront of reforming it. The US is still in a position to lead the world, but, without far-sighted leadership, its relative position is likely to continue to erode. It can no longer impose its will on others, as George W. Bush’s administration sought to do, but it could lead a cooperative effort to involve both the developed and the developing world, thereby reestablishing American leadership in an acceptable form.
The alternative is frightening, because a declining superpower losing both political and economic dominance but still preserving military supremacy is a dangerous mix. We used to be reassured by the generalization that democratic countries seek peace. After the Bush presidency, that rule no longer holds, if it ever did.
In fact, democracy is in deep trouble in America. The financial crisis has inflicted hardship on a population that does not like to face harsh reality. President Barack Obama has deployed the “confidence multiplier” and claims to have contained the recession. But if there is a “double dip” recession, Americans will become susceptible to all kinds of fear mongering and populist demagogy. If Obama fails, the next administration will be sorely tempted to create some diversion from troubles at home – at great peril to the world".
Not sure what to say about that in the final analysis, but there seems to be some strong overlap with others I'm reading from very different points on the political spectrum.
Thursday, 24 February 2011 06:04
Hi, Trevor. Yes, I basically agree with your assessment of Krugman and Brooks, but for me the two compliment each other. I think Krugman is basically a postmodernist and Brooks basically a modernist, and each tends to bring up some perspective the other has missed.
Trevor: "Nowhere in Brooks' analysis do I hear mention of the US as a global military imperial power with military bases spread around the world, and with two ongoing exorbitantly costly wars."
I think we need to be more careful with the word "imperial." Empires include the Roman Empire, the Islamic Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austrian Empire, the colonial powers, Imperial Spain, Imperial Japan.
The U.S. in the last hundred years or so has behaved very differently than, say, Imperial Japan, which killed around 20 million or so in wars of conquest, or Imperial Spain, which conquered so much of the new world, or the U.S. early in its history as it moved westward.
But for the most part since WWII especially, it's been more of a modern empire. We can speak of modern imperialism, postmodern imperialism, integral imperialism. I am not saying that the U.S. has been perfectly modern in every case since WWII, but by and large it has been a modern "empire." It didn't go to Iraq to conquer new territory or to steal oil. Other countries were allowed to bid on the oil, and the U.S. took all sorts of causalities that they didn't have to take. Substantial effort was made to minimize civilian casualties, though of course that endeavor wasn't always perfect. If they didn't care about the way they left Iraq and Afghanistan, if they were acting solely out of self-interest, I think they would have folded up the tent long ago and left.
There is, in short, a huge difference between the U.S. since WWII and nations we generally regard as "empires." The U.S. hasn't been involved in territorial expansion, though it easily could have. It played a very large role in the rebuilding of Germany, Europe, and Japan, and did not try run those countries any longer than was necessary. It keeps markets and shipping lanes open for all countries, allowing many countries to build universal health-care systems instead of militaries. Call it a modern empire if we must, but still I don't even think that's a very good use of the language. It's been an "empire" that has allowed many countries to flourish, countries that it could have easily dominated and exploited in a gross manner like the colonial powers or early empires.
But, I do agree with your point that the expenditures abroad do play a role. I really don't think it's as easy as just rolling it all back, though. For one thing, if the U.S. did roll it back a lot of other Nato countries would have to spend more on their defense and make up for it. It's just not so simple as suddenly bringing all the troops home suddenly. Obama would have done that in Iraq and Afghanistan if it were so easy and wouldn't have negative consequences.
Thank you for the links and quotations about Koch and from Soros. Those were interesting.
Monday, 28 February 2011 00:25
I would definitely agree that the USA has acted differently than many previous Empires, although I'm not sure why you would chose to define the United States as a 'modern empire'. In comparison to what?
There is no doubt that American security guarantees have enabled some countries to concentrate their limited resources towards modernising and industrialising - South Korea being a prime example. However, it's hard to argue that South Korea is not a client state. Can it honestly be said that Korea is truly independent of American influence - in any capacity - with not only their national security being in American hands, but also with a sizeable US military contingent actually in the country.
More than this though, the USA does keep a rather extensive overseas military presence in hundreds of countries around the world. The American Navy sails unchallenged throughout the World’s oceans, and her Air Force is unmatched.
The country's military ambitions are also certainly curtailed by having to consult the public on occasion - being a 'democracy' as it is - so the brutality of the Empire is definitely less obvious than it might have been for people at the hands of the Romans or Spaniards, but let's not forget the "secret" carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War.
On another note, I'm not sure why other NATO countries would have to increase spending on defence if the USA were to reduce its subsidizing of European military defence spending. This assumption presumes a serious and active threat posed by some State actor - who pray tell? - to the very existence of Europe! Threats nowadays, if we are to accept that international terrorism does in fact pose a serious threat to the West - which I don't agre, but will accept for the sake of argument - are not so much coming from other states, but rather from non-state actors such as Al Queda or Somalian pirates which require far more efficient use of intelligence and legal mechanisms than tanks and bombers. This type of defence spending is remarkably cheaper than bombers and aircraft!
So, I must ask David, why exactly did the USA go to war in Iraq? To overthrow Saddam? To bring Freedom to the Middle East? I’ll grant you, the neo-conservative ideology that led the American Empire into that war does express an earnest desire to bring Democracy to the oppressed people of the world, but this proposition is hard to take very seriously. Why not then intervene in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burma, Libya? There were most certainly other, more imperial interests behind the war in the Middle East. And how about support of dictators around the globe in the name of economic stability? When ruthless and violent dictators are supported as a matter of policy, when the democratic aspirations of hundreds of millions of people are suppressed so that the Western-centric economic system and its supposed free-markets are able to function efficiently, it’s hard to accept that the American Empire is any more benevolent or even slightly less ruthlessly self-interested than other non-Modern Empires.
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 01:35
@David, this is great, I think we've isolated some territory where you and I hold some pretty fundamentally different perspectives.
In terms of US imperialism, I would agree that it's (somewhat) different in kind from the Empires you mention. The US is an economic imperialist first and foremost, although historically it hasn't been afraid to use force on many occasions. Here's a couple perspectives on this unique form of American imperialism:
Michael Parenti on US Imperialism
"Territorial imperialism is no longer the prevailing mode. Compared to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the European powers carved up the world among themselves, today there is almost no colonial dominion left. Colonel Blimp is dead and buried, replaced by men in business suits. Rather than being directly colonized by the imperial power, the weaker countries have been granted the trappings of sovereignty—while Western finance capital retains control of the lion's share of their profitable resources. This relationship has gone under various names: "informal empire," "colonialism without colonies," "neocolonialism," and "neoimperialism."
U.S. political and business leaders were among the earliest practitioners of this new kind of empire, most notably in Cuba at the beginning of the twentieth century. Having forcibly wrested the island from Spain in the war of 1898, they eventually gave Cuba its formal independence. The Cubans now had their own government, constitution, flag, currency, and security force. But major foreign policy decisions remained in U.S. hands as did the island's wealth, including its sugar, tobacco, and tourist industries, and major imports and exports.
Historically U.S. capitalist interests have been less interested in acquiring more colonies than in acquiring more wealth, preferring to make off with the treasure of other nations without bothering to own and administer the nations themselves. Under neoimperialism, the flag stays home, while the dollar goes everywhere—frequently assisted by the sword". [http://www.michaelparenti.org/Imperialism101.html]
And David Harvey on American imperialism:
"The US imperial tradition had been long in the making, and to a great degree defined itself against the imperial traditions of Britain, France, Holland, and other European powers. While the US had toyed with colonial conquest at the end of the nineteenth century, it evolved a more open system of imperialism without colonies during the twentieth century. The paradigm case was worked out in Nicaragua in the 1920s and 1930s, when US marines were deployed to protest US interests but found themselves embroiled in a lengthy and difficult guerrilla insurgency led by Sandino. The answer was to find a local strongman- in this case Somoza- and to provide economic and military assistance to him and his family and immediate allies so that they could repress or buy off opposition and accumulate considerable wealth and power for themselves. In return they would always keep their country open to the operations of US capital and support, and if necessary promote US interests, both in the country and in the region (in the Nicaraguan case, Central America) as a whole. This was the model that was deployed after the Second World War during the phase of global decolonization”. (David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, 27-28)
I think one can only believe that the US has “been an "empire" that has allowed many countries to flourish” by willfully ignoring much of 20th century history. This is the same country that engineered a coup that overthrew the democratically elected Mossadeq government (who had nationalized the oil industry) in Iran in 1953 and installed the brutal rule of the Shah of Iran. (The Shah of Iran, not surprisingly, gave oil contracts to US companies). This is also the country that helped overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, imposing again a dictator. These are just two examples of a long and awful history of this type of US activity. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_sponsored_regime_change] [http://bit.ly/9AaKlc]
I consider the notion of America as protector of and purveyor of noble modern/progressive values- and general global flourishing- to be a widespread ideological myth behind which the US hides all sorts of heinous activity, and I think this illusion has to be punctured for future evolution to occur in positive directions (in terms of the health of the global whole that is).
It’s worth saying, however, that I don’t think the US or its government has any kind of special status when it comes to this type of exploitive, self-interested, violent behavior. This type of barbaric dominance, this willful plundering of others (no matter what your mechanism), has had a long run in the last four thousand years or so of human history, and is still never too far from the surface. What I find with your analysis sometimes David, is that you rely too heavily on the simplified developmental schema of “premodern-modern-postmodern” as a main tool of analysis, as though any one person or country fits so neatly into one of these categories. You deem the US ‘modernist’ and thus conclude that it must be solely operating by modernist principles, but I take the makeup of nations (and people) to be much more kaleidoscopic in mixture, and I’m very wary of the degree to which the old (red meme?) power drives toward plunder and pillage for the few are still at play within a ruling global elite (of which the US constitutes a central part).
But even if we were to work within this three-tier model, I don’t hear much emphasis on the pathologies of these stages of development. In Steve McIntosh’s book ‘Integral Consciousness’ for instance, he lists the pathologies of modernist consciousness as- “materialism; nihilism; exploitive; unscrupulous; selfish; greedy”. Perhaps you acknowledge these dimensions of modernist consciousness but just don’t see it playing out in US state actions generally, but again, I think the historical record shows otherwise.
I think it’s worth remembering Ken Wilber’s critique of the disaster side of modernity, and trying to tease apart and ascertain where this might still be at play in our world today:
“The MOM [mean orange meme] is the global disaster of modernity (as the MGM is the disaster of postmodernity and the MBM was the disaster of medieval premodernity, etc.). I have written extensively on this MOM pathology, which actually underlies all of the other pathologies being criticized (from global captialism to exploitation). As I have tried to make very clear, flatland (MOM) is the single greatest pathology on the planet right now, and has been for three centuries; the other mean memes are still present, and equally insidious in their own fun ways, but by sheer dint of its power and reach, the MOM gets the prize for nastiest of the nasty memes”. [http://www.integralworld.net/mgm2.html]
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 04:28
In terms of Iraq, I think we need to understand the role of neoliberal economic policy, the great mechanism for global economic imperialism during the last forty years.
In 2003, Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, gave orders that included, "the full privatization of public enterprises, full ownership rights by foreign firms of Iraqi businesses, full repatriation of foreign profits...the opening of Iraq's banks to foreign control, national treatment for foreign companies and...[and] the elimination of of nearly all trade barriers. The right to unionize and strike, on the other hand, were strictly circumscribed". (A. Juhasz. "Ambitions of Empire: the Bush Administration Economic Plan for Iraq and Beyond").
Commenting on this in 2004, David Harvey wrote: "What the US evidently seeks to impose on Iraq is a full-fledged neo-liberal state apparatus whose fundamental mission is to facilitate conditions for profitable capital accumulation". (Spaces of Global Capitalism, 11)
The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called neoliberalism "a programme of the methodical destruction of collectives" (http://mondediplo.com/1998/12/08bourdieu). Here's a good (but long) article on the harsh results of neoliberal policy in Egypt over the past two decades, and it's role in creating the conditions leading to the recent revolts there (and in Tunisia):(http://bit.ly/htylER)
The US has certainly played a central role in the widespread adoption/proliferation of neoliberal policy (ie. the 'Washington consensus'- http://bit.ly/8vYHyx), but it's worth noting that in their analysis of this phenomenon, political theorists Hardt and Negri argue that "a "network power", a new form of sovereignty, is now emerging, and it includes as its primary elements, or nodes, the dominant nation-states along with the supranational institutions, major capitalist corporations, and other powers". So although this conversation has focused on the specific role of the US in recent history, new forms of imperialism seem to operating at a broader level than any one nation state, the US included.
My concern at the moment is that the US is being systematically sucked dry by these neoliberal forces, a "coup d'etat in slow motion" as Chris Hedges calls is it, or the Quiet Coup as former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson called it in the Atlantic Monthly (http://bit.ly/9fxYST).
America is in so many ways (still) a great nation, built on many great principles and an admirable system of checks and balances. So many of my heroes are from the US. But we need a US free from its self-interested imperial ambitions, and now free from getting eaten alive internally by forces that it helped give birth to. I hope the Wisconsin protests are only a start of a broader movement to take back the nation.
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 05:56
posted by David
Trevor, thank you for your detailed response. I'm familiar with that history. I also did say that what I was referring to was mostly since the second world war and that it hadn't been perfectly modern. Also, of course it is much more kaleidoscopic than simply premodern, modern, postmodern, etc. What I wanted to do, though, is simply put things in perspective since the MGM often rails at the MOM as if it is just as bad as the premodern empires, when actually modernism has been responsible for the prosperity the developed world is experiencing now.
Again, I'm very familiar with the history. I studied this in college, and one of my professors was so left wing the FBI checked his mail. The guy had shared meals with Castro and Qadaffi. There is a lot of truth to those postmodern critiques. But they do tend to take all those events out of context, which is ironic for postmodernists. Many of those events occurred during the Cold War, for example. Also, some aren't so simple as the postmoderns would like you to believe. Some have argued that the fall of Allende was inevitable, for example, and that the CIA played a trifling role.
I enjoyed your quotes, but many of them were simply a postmodern critique on modernist capitalism, which has lifted much of the world out of poverty. Have you seen this video?
It's really not so nefarious always for Western capitalists to go into a developing country and invest and create jobs. Sure, they don't pay people enough. Yes, they exploit them just like they exploit people at home, but it is nevertheless money that wouldn't be there otherwise. The glass is half full.
Trevor: "I consider the notion of America as protector of and purveyor of noble modern/progressive values- and general global flourishing- to be a widespread ideological myth behind which the US hides all sorts of heinous activity, and I think this illusion has to be punctured for future evolution to occur in positive directions (in terms of the health of the global whole that is)."
Surely there has been some "heinous" activity, as there are all sorts of different Americans from different altitudes. But you seem to accept the basic postmodern critique of all these events without question. Sure, the MOM is a nightmare, but so are all these MGM critiques of it. As the Hans Rosling video has shown, things have improved a great deal, and around the world it's mostly because of modernism, not progressivism.
Sure, go back a hundred years and you will find all the industrial countries exploiting other countries in a gross manner. That was par for the course for that era. But it has without question become more and more subtle since then; that is to say, things have improved. The main trouble I see with your account is that you still seem to want to make war on modern capitalism, which has made progressivism possible, among other things, and you take some events out of context. There are more valid perspectives we can take on these events.
I don't deny the validity of the perspectives you have presented; I just say that if we absolutize them as progressives do pretty soon the U.S. is the "evil empire," which is odd, because progressivism would hardly exist without U.S. power. Also, Canada, Europe, and many other countries wouldn't have nearly the prosperity and safety they now enjoy without the U.S. That's kind of the elephant in the room here.
Andrew, I don't think South Korea is simply a client state of the U.S. I think that characterization is quite far from the truth, though it is surely dependent on the U.S. for its security. South Korea is, by the way, a great success story in U.S. foreign policy. It is a very prosperous country, whereas it would be a part of North Korea without U.S. assistance.
Also, if the U.S. rolled back all its forces there would be a power vacuum that would quickly be filled other countries. It wouldn't be to the liking of Europe or Canada.
Guys, maybe you're being a little one sided? What do you think of this:
I am very familiar with these views since I studied it college in the 80s. At one point I was talking about those very same points you both have made so much in the same tone that you are that my father said, "Do you even like the United States?" That was about twenty years ago. So I am very familiar with these arguments and sentiments and history, and I agree with them in part. It's just that there are other important perspectives to take. These postmodern perspectives are very important but very partial.
I am not a fan of the job Bremer did in Iraq, but I don't think capitalism is inherently nefarious. As the Rosling video shows, it has lifted much of the world out of poverty and promises to do the same for the rest. I am not a fan at all of the way corporations have behaved in recent years. They are incredibly greedy and exploitative. But part of that has to do with UL narcissism and LL postmodern culture, not just with the LR system, though I am all for more regulation.
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 19:16
David, we've come to a strange stalemate in this discussion. We each seem to be stressing one side of a unified story. How will we unify them then?
As a good integralist, of course I'm familiar with the 'dignities' of modernity, with how *aspects of it* has led to great prosperity, growth, health and wealth. Nowhere have I advocated a wholesale rejection of the modern worldview or everything that came with it.
But isn't there a more nimble integral yoga that has to be done here, where we hold that truth firm while simultaneously rejecting those pathological aspects of modernity that still wreak havoc on the Earth and millions of people (thus upholding the deep *valid* and healthy truths of the postmodern moment)? Isn't there an ethical imperative to do this? Are you suggesting that all of the gross injustices of modern (corporate, monopoly capitalism etc.) are simply the unfortunate but *necessary* by-product of this modern growth machine? Is this really true? Why can't we strip out and preserve those aspects of modernity that are healthy, and negate those aspects that are unhealthy. Are we not capable of this dialectical move?
If your only effort is to play wack-a-mole with everything you think is 'mean green meme' or simply a 'postmodern' critique that doesn't appreciate the benefits of modernity, you might render yourself incapable of recognizing other more complex movements at play. Your attempt to reduce Andrew's and I's critical views to simply some sort of Canadian jealously I found laughable, so thanks for the chuckle. However, my allegiances and my critical stance are located somewhere else entirely, which might make for a deeper and more interesting discussion.
I too had those conversations with my father funnily enough (for me in the early 90s though), and I too moved through a period where I corrected the one-sided or partiality of this stance. My concern is that your corrective is in danger of becoming an over-corrective, one that can easily result in misperceiving the location of where someone is coming from.
I have indeed seen the video by Hans Gosling, but your sweeping and in my view simplistic claim that this growth and improvement is simply due to this amorphous thing called "modernism", I think lacks an enormous amount of complexity and granularity. No where in your analysis do you give voice to the fact that people had to fight for many of the laws- child labor laws etc. on down the line- that allowed for much of that very health and prosperity. Democracy and rights were not given by the modern ruling elite, they were fought for and required conflict and great sacrifice. In Europe, democracy did not result from natural evolution or economic prosperity. It certainly did not emerge as an inevitable byproduct of individualism and the market. It developed because masses of people organized collectively and demanded it. You seem to claim that all the prosperity, wealth and health we now enjoy is simply a trickle down by-product of the capitalist modern world-system, and I think this is a false understanding of both history and of power.
You say- "Sure, go back a hundred years and you will find all the industrial countries exploiting other countries in a gross manner. That was par for the course for that era. But it has without question become more and more subtle since then; that is to say, things have improved".
I find there's a certain moral callousness in these types of statements from you. How is a more subtle exploitation necessarily an improvement? The amount of suffering that neoliberal economic policy has caused in the last forty years- as the wealth of many nations gets redistributed to elite hands, often foreign- is profound and real. I think we have an ethical duty to demand the cessation of these types of economic imperialism. This is not an improvement, it's a *virulent form* of capitalism and it's a disaster for millions. This is not simply a 'postmodern' or MGM critique, and please stop reducing it to one. As an integralist I'm fully capable of recognizing the 'contexts' of the modern epoch while all the while morally rejecting the pathological excesses of that period, excesses that are very much still in play today.
You say your "not a fan of the job Bremer did". Do you mean taking part in the arrogant mishandling and destroying of a country that has left over a million citizens dead, and a country in ruins? Ya, I'm not a fan of that either. Again, there's a certain callousness when you toss out these kinds of statements. Could it be an over-corrective on your part that's allowing for these types of seemingly morally detached statements?
You say that "postmodern perspectives are important", that your not a fan of how corporations have behaved, and that you are for more regulation. Great, let's have those discussions; and now that maybe we've heard each others' concerns in upholding healthy modernity (you) and healthy postmodernity (me), perhaps we can have that discussion from an explicitly integral viewpoint. You also critique postmodern narcissism and it's LL culture. Fantastic, let's have those discussions too and advance those critiques, they'll be critical for opening up developmental channels as well.
To finish, I stumbled across a strangely timely article last night that speaks to many of the issues I hear running through our discussion. It's an article on Integral World from 2004 written by Ray Harris, called "Left, Right, or Just Plain Wrong", critiquing some political viewpoints commonly held among integrally oriented folks.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the ideas raised in that article. One of my favorite passage, of many, is this:
"I have not yet seen an effective integral criticism of US hegemony. Wilber has rather glibly stated that US hegemony is relatively benign and much more preferable to any other. Really? This ignores the problem of hegemony and imperialism period. Are some kinds of hegemony okay? Or does any hegemony create a power imbalance that necessarily leads to privilege for some and misery for a great many others?...Wouldn't the prime directive argue that a significant and radical redistribution of wealth is required".
I first came across it on a post yesterday over at Edward Berge's site 'Integral Postmetaphysical Enaction'. In that post Berge says, "Harris is critical of the lack of challenge in the integral community toward the existing and unjust economic paradigm controlling much of the world's wealth...Harris' critique is more relevant than ever...For these views [Harris] was ostracized from trademarked integral and branded a mean green meme. I'd say he was more like a healthy turquoise that wasn't recognized through a capitalistic lens". [http://bit.ly/ef87Vb]
Would you agree?
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 21:38
Hey gents, good discussion going here. You all seem to be handling things just fine, but I thought I write a quick note to highlight what I see as some of the strengths of the different arguments here and support the push for a constructive argument moving forward.
- I think that David makes some very valid points in his description of the strengths of modernity and the US. Like David, I also find myself frequently defending the US and trying to point people to the huge potential that country has to influence positive change in the world. I feel that while critiques of the US are essential, it's also very important to talk about what's right with the country and support those initiates worth fighting for. For example, the US spends more money on university research than any other country and its military capabilities (when used wisely) can offer support to other nations and allow them to develop economically without military spending (ex. Japan, Korea, Canada). Also, American culture helped birth the counter-culture movement that challenged the ugliness of modernity. This movement has since spread outward from the US, Europe, and Canada, to inform many of the NGOs and social movements that now support development in the Global South (not to mention the poverty and power imbalances at home). I also agree with David that the present form of US hegemony/neo-colonialism is more subtle than its predecessors. And I would agree that it is perhaps less physically violent (strictly in terms of numbers of people killed, with the caveat that there are also more subtle forms of violence).
- I also agree with Trevor that we need to call a spade a spade. The US is an imperial power. Confusion about this point may just be a result of our ideas of what traditional colonial powers looked like, and the differences today. Roughly speaking colonizers send nationals to live in foreign lands, imperialism refers to political or economic control. Both are about dominating foreigners. All the old colonizing powers used varying degrees of violence and social control. For example, Belgium and Germany were notoriously violent and oppressive. The British operated through 'indirect rule', using local leaders to control the population. While the French and Portuguese opted for an assimilation approach, granting colonial subjects French citizenship, for example.
Given these different approaches to the same overarching idea - expropriation of wealth and resources from a foreign land, to support individuals and groups at home - I'd say its reasonable to conclude that the US is an imperial power. It still strives for the same initiative, but just with "subtler' means. It still uses a version of 'indirect rule', helping dictators stay in power to support US/OECD economic interests. It also *assimilates* through its insistence that states become economic converts and adopt Liberal economic practices (regardless of the impacts to local citizens). These practices further support OECD interests by maintaining a system that extracts wealth from abroad and redistributes it at home, as it always has.
I think Trevor's critique is valid in that we need to question the morality of this. It may be less physically violent (although, a better question might be *who* is now being violent if not the imperial power? Has violence been outsourced?), but there are different forms of violence, such as economic and systemic. These are not woo-woo PoMo concerns, as they shackle real people to lives no one on this tread would themselves wish to live.
Balancing these truths is hard, but each perspective is offering a vaild and important contribution. We need the US, and we need some serious systemic changes. Moving forward now is where the meaty stuff lies - how to take the tensions of these perspectives and emerge with a new way forward. It might not happen in this thread, but it seems like a good place to start. As the conversation continues, take a look back to Olen's key piece on online communication. Its tenets are the guiding principals of discussions on this site and returning there may help us gain the clarity to move forward and begin constructing new meaning from these perspectives.
Unearthing New Norms of Conversation Online:
Wednesday, 02 March 2011 03:14
Trevor: "As a good integralist, of course I'm familiar with the 'dignities' of modernity, with how *aspects of it* has led to great prosperity, growth, health and wealth. Nowhere have I advocated a wholesale rejection of the modern worldview or everything that came with it."
Trevor, yes, indeed. I was really referring to a quotation or two, not your analysis, because you have seemed very knowledgeable about integral. I should have clarified that. Let's not rush to characterize each other's position but rather see each post as just one small chapter of a book in progress. We'll probably find out we're mostly in agreement. Also, thank you for that note at IA.
What I was referring to were quotations about capitalism like this, "What the US evidently seeks to impose on Iraq is a full-fledged neo-liberal state apparatus whose fundamental mission is to facilitate conditions for profitable capital accumulation."
I am not at all a fan of Ayn Rand free-market capitalism, but I think the critiques of it can often get anti-capitalist and anti-business at least in tone, and that is what I was objecting to.
Right from the start we would want to make a distinction between the system (LR)and the players operating it (UL,LL). Sometimes it really isn't so much the system that is at fault but how people are manipulating it. Of course LR regulation can help restrain UL greed and narcissism, and I am all for it. It is too bad we don't have more of it in the U.S. There has without a doubt been runaway greed in recent years, including in the U.S. Check out the two figures at the end of this article:
There are other good figures, but those two at the end really jump out at you.
I just read that article you linked about "neoliberalism" in Egypt. That's really interesting. I hadn't heard that perspective on that situation. I will take that up and the other points later. This is all I have time for at the moment.
Bergen, thank you for your great and balanced comments. I will take those up later, too.
Wednesday, 02 March 2011 06:49
Trevor: "Why can't we strip out and preserve those aspects of modernity that are healthy, and negate those aspects that are unhealthy. Are we not capable of this dialectical move?"
Absolutely! I am all for that. I just didn't see any alternative offered in the quotations you gave. They just seemed to have an anti-global-capitalist tone, though I am sure that is not your view.
I think we do have to take it on a country-by-country basis. China has become the world's second largest economy through its relationship with the U.S. and other developed countries. Are they being exploited? Of course some Chinese citizens are being exploited, but so are U.S. citizens, as those figures illustrate.
Within China, from 1993-2004, the incomes of the poorest quintiles went up 2.4 times; in the middle quintiles 3-3.7, and the richest quintile 4.8 times. So there are unfair rates of income growth there, but everyone's income is still going up. I think we'd have to say it's an improvement.
Now your article states that the situation in Egypt has been quite different. But India has benefited a great deal. Outsourcing alone employs 4 million people in India, accounts for 7% of India's GDP, and 33% of India's foreign-exchange inflows.
Many people in the U.S. feel it's the U.S. that has gotten shortchanged by WTO agreements, not some of these other countries. But I think it's really a mixed bag, and we have to look at each country separately. But since there is such a big difference from country to country, I don't think we can hang particular problems of one country necessarily or completely on the U.S. or free-market capitalism. There might be cultural (LL) and systemic (LR) issues in those countries that are equally or perhaps more to blame. The article you linked noted a great deal of corruption in Egypt, for example, and this is a problem in many countries around the world. Foreign aid and profits end up in someone's Swiss bank accounts or somewhere else. The regime changes, and the new leaders do the same thing. In many cases it's not the fault of the U.S. or capitalism but with the culture, system, or individuals of the particular country.
Has the U.S. been suppressing democracy in these countries? In some cases, say, Arbenz in Guatemala, we might say the U.S. did suppress democracy, but again we have to take that in the context of the Cold War and see it from their perspective in 1954. It looked much differently then than it does now. Most of the people who made that decision participated in the second world war if not the first, the Korean war. They didn't want the same thing to happen in Central America or Mexico. You can make the argument that it was a mistake now, and I am not saying it was ideal or even right, but I think at the very least we have to say that it was an understandable mistake. The Soviet Union was expansionist and brutal and anti-democratic, and they associated that behavior with socialism. They thought they were possibly facing a third world war with the Soviet Union and perhaps a nuclear war. Understandable they wouldn't want a Soviet friendly nation nearby. I don't think it was great policy, and it had some really negative side effects, but it was understandable if we see it from their perspective.
Has the U.S. been suppressing democracy in Egypt? Has Mubarak been suppressing democracy? There is not a very good case that anyone has been suppressing democracy in Egypt or that the people who just overthrew Mubarak had worldcentric values. There may turn out to be worldcentric leadership there, but it's very unlikely that a majority of Egyptians have a worldcentric outlook, and the evidence is that they don't.
Here are some results from Pew Research polls:
--Just over half Egyptians polled had a favorable view of Hamas.
--Just under half had a favorable view of Hezbollah.
--93% of Egyptians polled had a very unfavorable opinion of Jews. Two percent of Egyptians had a somewhat unfavorable opinion Jews, 2% a somewhat favorable opinion of Jews, and 0% a very favorable opinion of Jews.
--Fifty-nine percent of Egyptians say that they think "democracy" is the best form of government, but 95% say that Islam should play a large role in government.
--82% of Egyptian Muslims polled say that people who commit adultery should be stoned
--77% say that people who commit crimes like theft should be whipped or have their hands cut off.
--84% say that the death penalty is appropriate for people who leave the Muslim religion.
--84% say that the death penalty is appropriate for people who leave the Muslim religion.
In most of these countries where the "U.S. has been suppressing democracy" I believe we will see a similar story. What progressives can't accept is the idea of cultural evolution, so if a country isn't developed, someone else must be to blame--the white Europeans! America! And there is some exploitation some of the time. For example, the EU and Asian countries have purchased fishing rights off the coasts of some African nations, and the African fisherman have nothing to catch because commercial fisherman from other countries are taking the fish. But we can't blame the U.S. and Europeans for all their problems. In fact, we have to give the U.S. and Europe, and Canada, of course, some credit for some of the things that have gone well in these countries. The foreign aid and investment, however corrupted by leadership in those countries, has often been better than nothing, and the industrialized countries have provided markets for these people as well.
Is it all wonderful? No, I don't think it is. But I think it's a case of the glass being half full rather than half empty.
Okay, that's all I have time for now. I will write a bit more later.
Wednesday, 02 March 2011 20:48
David, I'm so glad our dialectical dance has spit us out the other side! Warms my heart. Now, time to get down to work on the chapter of our "book in progress" I guess!
Just a few points here today. I really liked how you started to pull apart the quadrants in your analysis, recognizing the true distinctness of systems and the interiority of those who work within them. I'm not sure who it was, I think Sean Hargens at this years ITC, but they mentioned that next important thing to think integrally will be the actual real time interaction of the quadrants. Because they're distinct and not reducible to one other, then causation and transformation can happen in multiple directions in the tetra-mesh. As we know, Marx thought causation happened from LR to UR and LL- the mode of production affects social relations and consciousness- but it's more complex than that. At any rate, there's much to think through there, and I for one am going to take that bone into the corner like a dog, and chew on it and wrassle with it for the next long while.
Just a couple points regarding your comments about India and China. I realized even more in our discussions that the main thing I'm concerned with and deeply (and morally and spiritually) critical of is *neoliberal economics and ideology*, not necessarily capitalism as a whole (although there's lots to be talked about there too, but it's probably worth bracketing that for a long while).
In the case of both China and India, they did not give into the full demands of this neoliberal economic policy (the 'Washington consensus') that was being pushed by the international monetary and trade organizations (WTO, World Bank, IMF). This is a passage from Ha-Joon Chang's book 'Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism'. Chang is a Korean born professor of economics at Cambrigde.
"The more recent economic stories of China, and increasingly India, are also examples that show the importance of strategic, rather than unconditional, integration with the global economy based on a nationalistic vision. Like the US in the mid nineteenth century or Japan and Korea in the mid 20th century, China used high tariffs to build up its industrial base. Right up to the 1990s, China's average tariff was over 30%. Admittedly, it has been more welcoming to foreign investment than Japan and Korea were. But it still imposed foreign ownership ceilings and local content requirements (the requirements that the foreign firms buy at least a certain proportion of their inputs from local suppliers).
India's recent economic success is often attributed by the pro-globalizers to its trade and financial liberalization in the early 1990s. As recent research reveals however, India's growth acceleration really began in the 1980s, discrediting the simple 'greater openness accelerates growth' story. Moreover, even after the early 1990s trade liberalization, India's average manufacturing tariffs remained at above 30% (it is still 25%)...India has also imposed severe restrictions on foreign direct investment- entry restrictions, ownership restrictions and various performance requirements (e.g. local content requirement)".
So it's this specific form of capitalism- where capital is to have zero restrictions (unfettered free market fundamentalism)- that needs to be rejected. It basically, to speak colloquially, sets up the conditions for robbery and theft on a grand scale, and the on the ground result/history of "structural adjustment programs" forced on countries by the IMF and the World Bank etc., show a grotesque stripping of the wealth of the debtor nations. I'm interested in the healthy growth of all nations, as I'm sure you are, and it isn't possible under these unfair conditions.
I still think we need to be more suspicious of the actions of the G8 (G20) nations (and that includes Canada!), and in this, as good integralists, I think we need to turn and listen to some left literature to understand the uneven power dynamics currently involved between developed and developing nations, between the core and periphery that it (continues to) unevenly extract wealth from. In the 2008 WTO talks, famously and for instance, the G8 nations wanted the developing nations to fully liberalize and open up their agricultural industries, but the US and other nations refused to stop subsidizing their own farmers, which would thus put them at an advantage. Luckily, the developing countries refused this unfair situation and talks broke down.
Here's Chang again in a section entitled "Who's Running the World Economy":
"Much of what happens in the global economy is determined by the rich countries, without even trying...Their national policies can strongly influence the world economy. But more important than their sheer weight is the rich countries' willingness to throw that very weight about in shaping the rules of the global economy. For example, developed countries induce poorer countries to adopt particular policies by making them a condition for their foreign aid or by offering them preferential trade agreements in return for 'good behavior' (adoption of neo-liberal policies). Even more important in shaping options for developing countries, however, are the actions of multilateral organizations such as the 'Unholy Trinity'- namely the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. Though they are not merely puppets of the rich countries, the Unholy Trinity are largely controlled by the rich countries, so they devise and implement Bad Samaritan policies that those countries want" (32).
It's worth noting that it was these institutions and their unjust policies and power relations that the anti-globalization movement was combating. I came across this article last night from an anarchist anti-globe leader who took part in that whole cycle of protests. If you skip down to the section called 'The Global Justice Movement', I think it gives a good history and analysis of that movement and it's goals, many of which they accomplished.
I am, on that score, very much in agreement with that movement. Of course, as a good integralist, we can add other (esp. developmental as you say) perspectives to our overall view, but I think the health of the whole demands immediate rejection of these economic policies and the unfair power relations between developed and developing nations. I think we can be nimble enough to demand economic justice, while not rejecting the system as a whole (baby/bathwater situation).
At any rate, I should leave it there for now. I now have about ten days left to fill out an application for the Vancouver School of Theology, and I keep getting sucked into these great discussions at Beams and tightening my time even further! I will be on here sporadically in that period, but look forward to much more collaboration and discussion in the future. Cheers David, by for now.
Monday, 07 March 2011 00:05
Trevor, Bergen, I've gotten a little busy, but I just wanted you to know that I am still interested in the discussion and still plan to respond. I have looked into it a little. For example, I saw an interesting report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace titled "Winners and Losers: Impact of the Doha Round on Developing Countries."
It's 117 pages, but if you want to cut to the chase I recommend having a look at the figures on pages 23, 25-28, 30, and 34-38.
Trevor, I think your point about China and India not fully giving in to the most radical free-market philosophy is a good one and probably has something to do with their coming out on the winning end.
Basically, the more a country's economy was based on manufacturing the better it has done since the Doha Round, and the more a country's economy was based on agriculture, particularly labor-intensive agriculture, the worse it has done.
The real "losers," and from what I have seen the only ones who appear to have experienced a net loss, are the very poorest countries: Bangladesh, East Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa. The figures on pages 34-36 tell that tale.
I'm going to respond in more detail to both your points, but I just wanted to say I am still interested in the discussion, and then I found myself telling you about this study. :)
Trevor, that sounds great about the Vancouver School of Theology. I find the second face of Spirit most transformative myself. As Wilber has written, "Spirit in 2nd-person is . . . the great ego killer." (Integral Spirituality, p. 160)
Bergen, we're dharma brothers, too. :) I spent a couple of years as a student of Andrew's and learned an awful lot and still have a great relationship with them, doing some work for them occasionally. Maybe I will make it to another retreat someday.
In any case, take care, and I'll talk to you later,
Monday, 07 March 2011 00:07
posted by David
Best to Andrew, Chris, and the rest of you as well, didn't mean to leave anyone out. :)
Tuesday, 08 March 2011 01:30
posted by David
I should have read that study more carefully before writing about it and linking to it. Now that I look into it more carefully I see the data presented are just projections based on different models, not actual statistics. In any case, the trade agreements out there now are mostly international agreements as I understand them, not unilateral or bi-lateral U.S. agreements with different countries. But of course the U.S. and occasionally other countries apply pressure on countries to conform to certain economic models. I think we would want to tease apart the differences there. In any case, I will write more later. Still a little short on time.
Tuesday, 08 March 2011 06:34
For some reason I thought some things had been implemented after the 1999 talks in Seattle, but I guess I was mistaken about that and that the only agreements that were implemented were after the Uruguay round. But one point I think is important is that increasingly trade and international trade policy is multilateral; it is much less the doing of the U.S. than it once was, more the doing of institutions like the OECD and WTO, which may be influenced by the U.S. at times but probably aren't at all times.
I also think we need to differentiate carefully between different U.S. administrations. There is often a big difference. There was even a big difference between G. W. Bush's first term and his second term, as Fareed Zakaria pointed out in his article "What Bush Got Right."
Bergen, I really appreciated your balanced comments and tone once again, but let me take you up on a few points.
"Given these different approaches to the same overarching idea - expropriation of wealth and resources from a foreign land, to support individuals and groups at home - I'd say its reasonable to conclude that the US is an imperial power. It still strives for the same initiative, but just with "subtler' means."
The word "expropriate" really has connotations of taking by force. That's what the colonial or imperial powers did: They simply went in and took things by force, with their army if there were resistance. The U.S. hasn't been engaged in that sort of behavior for an awfully long time. I'm really just questioning the language here, words like "empire" and "expropriate," because I think they refer to behavior that the U.S. generally doesn't engage in. But when people use those terms they tend to use them in the same tone one might use when speaking of an actual imperial power taking things by force.
When I said earlier that things were now unfolding on a subtler level I didn't just mean that the means had gotten subtle but the results were still as nefarious and exploitative as ever. I meant that both the means and the results have gotten more subtle, that the exploitation is more subtle as well, has lessened, like the exploitations of workers at home has tended to lessen as well.
The progressive narrative is that without the nefarious behavior of the U.S. these developing countries would be developed or well on their way, but I don't think there is much evidence for that. What the progressive narrative does not want to include is the fact that people and cultures evolve and that some countries and culture are simply less evolved and less productive at this point in time and that therefore their being undeveloped isn't simply or even mostly the fault of Western powers. The Western powers may have slowed their development in certain ways at times, but other times and in other ways they have probably sped their development considerably, with advanced technology, for example. It looks to me that on balance the developed countries have helped the development of most countries, though of course we can point to exceptions.
Also, let's not forget that the U.S. gives billions away in economic aid, $33.9 billion in 2009. This is motivated to some extent by self-interest, yes, but I do think it is evidence against the narrative that the U.S. is out there just trying to expropriate wealth and resources. Like the Marshall Plan, there has been a recognition that if other countries don't develop, we will have to pay for it in the long run one way or another, so let's help them develop now. All but the most rabid neoconservatives see the value in this kind of thinking. They really don't want to harm other countries, for the most part. The neoconservatives and neoliberals just think that their way of doing things will help them as they have helped develop the economies of the developed world. It is not just an elaborate scheme to make money off of the developing world. This is often a point that progressives don’t understand about conservatives. I think conservatives do tend to care less about people than progressives, but at the same time they also believe their ideas will help people more than progressive ideas. And we have to acknowledge that it was basically free-market capitalism that put the developed world where it is, though of course it took a lot of hard work to obtain rights for labor, as Trevor noted.
"It still uses a version of 'indirect rule', helping dictators stay in power to support US/OECD economic interests."
Well, the OECD is an international organization, so we can't hang all that on the U.S.
"These practices further support OECD interests by maintaining a system that extracts wealth from abroad and redistributes it at home, as it always has."
This isn't always true. Sometimes products are simply manufactured in another country so wealth flows in, likely not enough, but still, wealth isn't being extracted in that case. is Even when we are talking about some natural resource like oil a lot of the wealth has stayed in the developing country but just in the hands of a very few and often invested abroad. But that is the fault of the leaders of the developing country, not the U.S. or other developing countries.
"It still uses a version of 'indirect rule', helping dictators stay in power to support US/OECD economic interests."
The implication of this argument is that there is some great potential for liberal democracy and even distribution of wealth being suppressed by these dictators and that the U.S. doesn't really care about them at all, just its own interests. But for one thing, the evidence for many of these countries isn’t that a bunch of fair-minded progressives are being repressed. In some of these countries we have seen dictators and governments come and go, right-wing governments replaced with left-wing governments, and still the country does not become one of the developed world. Just because a dictator is being supported doesn't mean that democracy and economic well-being is being suppressed. Also, if you take a look at any given situation, it's not always so easy to find a good alternative to supporting some dictator. Who else should the U.S. have supported in these countries? There usually isn’t much of a reform movement to support. Or should they have simply refused to engage with countries that didn’t live up to modern Western standards? I don’t think that would have been a very good option, either. Also, it is not inherently wrong to consider self-interests; the leader of any country must consider the interests of that country, including the U. S. The interests of other countries, like Israel, for example, are also important to consider. If Hosni Mubarak has a favorable opinion of Jews in a country where 93% of the people have a very unfavorable opinion of Jews, which has been the case in Egypt, that is one very good reason to support Hosni Mubarak.
I basically agree with your concerns, though, for example the living conditions for people in developing countries, concerns about fairness and ethics and whether what is happening now is optimal, which surely it isn’t. But it has not been like these countries were enjoying the life of a developed country and then the U.S. came in and ruined it all. And in cases where neoliberal policies failed or perhaps caused some temporary set back, I really don't think the idea was just to extract resources and wealth from those countries; the people who pushed those policies, economists from the University of Chicago, for example, like Milton Friedman, actually thought they were really doing some good. They really thought they were helping these countries develop; they weren't trying to rip them off in some new, sneaky way like some sort of educated Al Capone. They may have been wrong about their policies or, more likely, partly wrong, but they weren't just out their operating in an imperialist manner trying to exploit the weak and defenseless and squeeze all the money and resources out of them; they actually thought these policies would work for these developing countries, as it provided the foundation for development in the developed world.
It's all far from perfect and sometimes hurtful, but, like the Marshall Plan in Europe following WWII, the policies for post-war Japan, and the Alliance of Progress for Latin America, the intention among policy makers has not primarily been to expropriate or exploit but to try to help them develop now so we don’t have a bigger problem later and have a relationship that is mutually beneficial. It is a mixed bag, of course. I don’t think the executives of United Fruit or Goldman Sachs today are really thinking about the interests of anyone but their own company, but I think it would be a mistake to project that attitude on every economist, politician, and policy maker or even every company. There is also shadow and subpersonalites and so forth, but I don't think the entire effort is accurately characterized as exploitation. We can’t place all the blame or even most of the blame for a lack of development in some parts of the world on the U.S. or the Europeans; some parts of the world have simply taken longer to develop. That North America and the Europeans and a few other countries pulled ahead economically doesn’t mean that they were necessarily ripping everyone off, though they certainly have at times.
Tuesday, 08 March 2011 07:25
David! These are some excellent additions to the conversation and I like many of the nuances you're bringing out here. I'm dying to get in there and flush things out a bit, maybe come back with some counter points, and see this beast through. Unfortunately, I'm in the middle of an insane week and will be go go go for at least another 10 days - and then off to Foxhollow. I'll try to get back here before then or while on the plane. Take care and speak soon!
Thursday, 10 March 2011 05:05
Bergen, take your time. No hurry at all. And have a great retreat.
Trevor, I hope the application process is going well. I just wanted to respond to a few things.
Trevor: "As we know, Marx thought causation happened from LR to UR and LL- the mode of production affects social relations and consciousness- but it's more complex than that. At any rate, there's much to think through there, and I for one am going to take that bone into the corner like a dog, and chew on it and wrassle with it for the next long while."
You sound like you're familiar with Wilber's interpretation of Marx from Excerpt A, aren't you? I will post a brief excerpt on how he views this type of causation in case anyone hasn't read it:
"With regard to the LR social system and its techno-economic base, what generally happens is that a technological innovation begins in the mind of some creative individual (UL)--James Watt and the steam engine, for example. This novel idea is communicated to others through the inventor's verbal and cognitive behavior (UR), until a small group of individuals eventually understands the idea (LL). If the idea is compelling enough, it is eventually translated into concrete forms (e.g., the building of actual steam engines), which now become part of the socio-economic base (LR). Precisely because adopting the base requires only a change in material, and not a change in consciousness, then the technological revolution can speed through the social system extremely quickly--leaving the old cultural worldview completely out of sync with the new realities."
I think we're in agreement that the radical free-market approach is lousy. These folks read books like Ayn Rand's the Virtue of Selfishness and believe in some kind of godlike goodness of the free market (including Alan Greenspan, who was a big fan of Ayn Rand). I think it's clear that the free market is only half good and that it can easily be corrupted by a lack of morality and ethics in the UL and LL.
So I agree with you completely that the radical free market approach needs to be rejected. All it means at the end of the day is that the people at the top will tend to take whatever they want and pay their employees as little as possible. There is runaway greed that may have something to do with baby boomer narcissism. It may also have something to do with anxiety over peak oil, global warming, terrorism, and things like that.
What these neoconservatives want to do, including the governor of Wisconsin, is turn back the clock to the point where we didn't have any regulation or unions at all and thirteen year olds were working in coal mines and hardly getting paid. That's certainly not the way forward, but I do think there is a problem with public sector unions that needs to be addressed and that we generally hear this perspective from conservatives. It seems to me, for example, that there is validity to this article, "Union Myths," originally published in the conservative National Review:
But the neocons themselves want to take it too far and roll back all unions and regulations. That is garbage and must be stopped. :) It is probably going a little too far, though, to label them as "bad Samaritans" as Chang did, because I think there is some validity to their point of view, which I think Sowell describes in that article. I think it's going to far also to label the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO the "Unholy Trinity." I think those institutions are more well-meaning than they are sometimes given credit for. Their policies may have failed or half failed, but many of the progressive policies have failed or half failed as well.
"India has also imposed severe restrictions on foreign direct investment- entry restrictions, ownership restrictions and various performance requirements (e.g. local content requirement."
I think some ownership restrictions are called for and necessary, but it would be possible to go too far with that one. For example, in Zimbabwe they evicted more than 4,000 white farmers in 2000, often with great violence and brutality, and their commercial agriculture collapsed:
Thank you for the link. I think that global justice is very important as well. The question is, what's the best route to prosperity for all? I don't know if anyone has great answers to that, but it seems to me that an integral approach would be best. I doubt very much, for example, that Hugo Chavez's socialist experiment is going to do well for Venezuela. I think the path of Lula da Silva, who had a pretty socialist background but took a middle-way course once he took office, is more likely to work.
Friday, 18 March 2011 04:14
David, my application process is all done, and after tying up a few other things, happy to be joining this thread again.
When reflecting on all we've discussed here, and the breadth of topics that still lie open (including the material in your rich last two comments), a couple of things come up for me. The first is a bit of overwhelm; the topics we're discussing are so big and multifaceted that it's hard to know where to start to get at it all, and hard to believe that we could do it all on this thread.
But then another thought occurred to me. What if you and I ascertained and honed out some the key topics/fault lines in our discussion. Perhaps we could then write a series together where we take a few issues one at a time. We could post here and at Integral Archipelago, and hopefully get some discussion going on these topics. Many of the tension lines in our conversation strike me as being pretty fundamental, by which I mean I suspect they come up for others in a similar way. Thus a dialogue series could be generally useful beyond just the two of us (which I'm finding very generative in of itself of course). I'd be open to any creative ideas in terms of how such a thing might look.
Or maybe not; perhaps we could just continue to dialogue on future pieces that mutually interest us as they arise. My feeling is that we've opened up a broad (and important) pallet here, but that we might possibly move to another format to continue the discussion (or two write the next chapters in the book as it were!). Anyway, that's all for now, let me know if any of that sparks anything for you. Hope all has been well on your end since our discussion here went on hiatus.
Tuesday, 22 March 2011 07:12
posted by OV
I just finished reading this for the first time. Nice to see you two still talking to each other even though it appears that you have two fundamentally different world views, and some things in common, as do most two random people. I think you are just getting started. Starting to feel comfortable that you can say what is on your mind without worrying about the other person having a hissy fit and walking out. I think that is healthy.
I think there is too much emphasis on blaming and defending countries (i.e. USA, UK, etc) when there is a super elite class that is international, beholding to no country, and quite willing to locate their assets at a moments whim to wherever it suits them best. The US is more like a muscle man that is used by this group for their gunboat diplomacy than it is a sovereign country making decisions for the best interests of its own citizens. Do you think the usurpation of the nation state by the multinational corporations is part of the transition from modern to postmodern, or just a coincidence of timing?
I think there needs to be some definitions of what "development" is. I see David using it as a strictly positive thing. Usually it means using up the natural resources, and sometimes it means building a hydro dam, but rarely does it mean building a community asset such as schools, sewers or anything socialist in nature. Closely related to development, is progress currently measured by GNP but there are other indexes such as quality of life that may be more useful in the long run. If a country has sustainable farming where the people have food, shelter and leisure time but no money, they will be better off than if they have a job in a sweat shop that doesn't pay them enough to buy their food, even if this does mean that they have more money than before. Putting a dollar value on well being can be very misleading, especially when it is averaged over a economically polarized population. I've found a handy number is the percentage of the population living below the poverty line before and after neo-liberal reforms have taken place.
I think that almost everybody on the planet thinks that they are one of the good guys, but that doesn't necessarily make it so. I think even the few that are so ruthless that they would be labeled as evil don't see themselves this way, they are probably psychopathic and don't see themselves in anyway good or bad. Robert Hare has estimated that about two percent of the population is like this and unfortunately they do well in management positions. My point is that perceived intentions is not helpful in analyzing systemic faults. Corporations have evolved to insulate the individual players from the negative consequences of their actions.
Trevor I've enjoyed watching your investigation of economic injustice, both here and in the iEvolve article. I was first exposed to these economic swindles twenty years ago in Buckminster Fuller's "Critical Path." I thought that Naomi Kline's "The Shock Doctrine" did a good job of describing the neo-liberal agenda. It's not conspiracy theory is it? I like to think of it more as Marxist, which I think is quite valid when it comes to problem analysis but I don't agree with the Marxist solution of revolution because I think if you simply change management without changing the system then it is just Animal Farm all over again. I think a key to this issue of creating a better alternative is to eliminate artificially created scarcity by cultivating nonzero sum solutions. I'm currently reading Robert Wright's "The Evolution of God" which is really about the evolution of morality, and there are enough references to his first book "On Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny" to place it on my reading list.
This has been an open ended comment without a definitive conclusion.
Monday, 28 March 2011 05:02
Trevor, glad the application process went well.
Trevor: "The first is a bit of overwhelm; the topics we're discussing are so big and multifaceted that it's hard to know where to start to get at it all, and hard to believe that we could do it all on this thread."
Yes, I had the same feeling at one point. Dipping into these LR systems revealed a vast complexity. Even finding the right information is a task in itself. But I found it valuable to dip into it some more to at least get a better idea of the lay of the land and to know better what I don't know.
That's an interesting idea about a dialogue series. I will contemplate that. Going at it spontaneously as things arise is another option, as you say. The same basic issues will tend to pop up with the surface features differing from case to case. At the moment I am kind of thinking of responding to the wikileaks series, and then I will consider this.
I'm glad you blogged about this. I learned some things about a situation that, in part, is happening fairly close to where I live but which I hadn't gotten into in much detail, though I had been following it from afar on the news.
OV: "I think there needs to be some definitions of what "development" is. . . . Usually it means using up the natural resources, and sometimes it means building a hydro dam, but rarely does it mean building a community asset such as schools, sewers or anything socialist in nature."
Hi, OV. I agree that there can be some downsides to "development" or evolution and that not everything that happens is necessarily a step forward. I don't know what you mean by "rarely does it mean building a community asset such as schools, sewers," because there seem to be a lot of those out there. But I get your point, and I agree with it, that often we see development that is for the sake of particular groups rather than the whole.
Thursday, 31 March 2011 01:27
OV, thanks for your contributions here, there are several points you made that I resonate with.
The first is that there is, as you say, "too much emphasis on blaming and defending countries (i.e. USA, UK, etc) when there is a super elite class that is international, beholding to no country, and quite willing to locate their assets at a moments whim to wherever it suits them best". I felt the same and I was going to try and get to that at some point.
Hardt and Negri (two theorists I respect on many fronts) make the same point in their book 'Multitude'. In the preface they write, "A "network power", a new form of sovereignty, is now emerging, and it includes as its primary elements, or nodes, the dominant nation-states along with supranational institutions, major capitalist corporations, and other powers...Not all powers in Empire's network, of course, are equal- on the contrary, some nation-states have enormous power and some almost none at all, and the same is true for the various other corporations and institutions that make up the network- but despite inequalities, they must cooperate to create and maintain the current global order, with all of its internal divisions and hierarchies".
They expressly admonish to stop focusing on the United States (in particular) and to focus on the networks and emergent powers of this new (postmodern?) global world-system. Here's a good paper talking about what the authors call the "transnational capitalist class". It delves right into this point about capital (and an attendant class) moving up and outside the purview (and often control) of the nation state.
Similar claims are being made elsewhere these days, including in the recent Atlantic article about the global elite. It starts with this header- "Today’s super-rich are also different from yesterday’s: more hardworking and meritocratic, but less connected to the nations that granted them opportunity—and the countrymen they are leaving ever further behind".
I also liked your question about what 'development' really means, I think this could be the source of a rich inquiry. I'm guessing that this question is a central topic of debate with those involved in the question/studies of international development, but I'm no expert there. However, that's what Bergen is studying in university, so I'll send that general question to him and see if that prompts a post of some sort.
You also say, "I think that almost everybody on the planet thinks that they are one of the good guys, but that doesn't necessarily make it so. I think even the few that are so ruthless that they would be labeled as evil don't see themselves this way". In my view this is a very important point. Lots of folks have done evil acts in the name of 'values' they hold to be true and important (eg. white man's burden etc, Great Leap Forward etc). Except for some true psychopaths, some sort of positive value system is probably a pre-requisite for overriding our conscience and allowing for exploitation, plunder and murder. As Freud and the psychoanalysts discovered, we have incredible mechanisms for self deception and justification. Charlie Sheen, for instance, is probably utterly convinced he's not in the middle of a relapse right now. But just because someone says they're well meaning in their actions, doesn't mean that the Beast is not truly running the show behind the mask. This is a central point of inquiry that I'd like to take up with David, if we find the desire and time for further inquiry (which I think would be great, and thanks for your encouragement in that regard OV).
Lastly, I'm glad that you made the distinction between conspiracy theory and Marxist critique. I think that's exactly right. The latter is simply a critical analysis of capitalism as an economic system, exposing (from a Marxist perspective) how exploitation and elite accumulation are *systemic* to that mode of social organization. Four parts of the core Beams team are about to start a year long reading of Marx's Das Kapital, following the online lecture series of David Harvey, so you'll probably be hearing a lot more of that perspective surfacing in the future.
Thanks OV, sorry for the late reply, I've been very busy between work and all the design changes here at Beams, but am now back up and running. As you say, to be continued indefinitely.
Thursday, 31 March 2011 01:31
David, thanks for contemplating my request for further formal inquiry between us. Why don't I- while you hop on the Wikileaks piece- do the work of trying to discern what are some of our most consistent tension points. I'll send you a list of those and you can see if any would be of interest for a discussion. What I hope is that you and I can get a conversation started on a topic, and then (as OV suggested on another piece) let the comment thread do most of the work.
Look forward to hearing your voice on the Wikileaks article, get in there!
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