In light of what I’ve been writing about recently, I want to strongly recommend this article by James Petras. It’s only 2 pages long but in a series of sharp, bulletlike points he diagnoses the course and source of the multiple frakkeries that have brought Us to ‘Our Present American Reality’.
He frames this astute multiple diagnosis in terms of a newly developed general cultural ethos that bears a queasy and alarming resemblance to “barbarism” (and I’ll get to that a bit further on); “structural changes [that] are reversing decades of social welfare and subjecting labor and resources to exploitation of a sort that had been rather strongly tamped down previously; and living standards [that] are being driven down – which, he notes clearly – is provoking unprecedented levels of discontent.
(I would add to this last that if the full extent of government frakkery becomes known to the public, especially if super-heated by further financial failure, there will also be a political crisis on a level that dwarfs “1968” and hearkens back rather to 1860.)
He sees a convergent dual ascendancy: of a “financial-speculative elite” and of a “militaristic-political elite”.
And the former was sucked into the vacuum created by the Beltway-allowed ‘outsourcing’ according to the ‘cutting edge thinking’ of neoliberal globalization that took off in the early 1990s under Clinton (although it had been underway quietly in the Reagan and Bush 1 years).
After a while the only ‘business’ of America was in being the middleman, making money off the paperwork generated by other countries’ and industries’ actual productivity – which is a sort of parasitical rather than directly productive way to make a whole lotta money, but that’s what the country had come to. (Naturally, with no heavy lifting and enough inflated salary to do and buy whatever you wanted, such an occupation was supported by the radical-feminists as a ‘woman-friendly’ culture and ethos and hence good ‘liberals’ cheered its development.)
And the latter was about all that remained big-time of America’s once premier industrial productivity: military production and – sooner or later – war itself. But the National Security State has been in business since 1945, and Ike’s rather too-late warning about “the military-industrial complex” has now been widely outpaced by the rampant expansion of this thing: it is now a political-military-industrial-academic-elite complex situated in a country with few other steady lines of decently-paid and reliable work.
And it is supported not only by well-remunerated pols and their job-anxious constituents but also by a Beltway whose embrace of the frakkulently divisive dynamics of Identity Politics and Gender Wars and Culture Wars can now count on no sense of national unity from the putatively ‘liberal’ end of the spectrum and instead seeks to unite folks with the threat of war and the siren-call of Heroism and Patriotism from the putatively ‘conservative’ end of the spectrum.
(Not that the Left end hasn’t also become adept-at and addicted-to deploying overblown ‘emergencies’ and ‘outrages’ as a way of quickly establishing by Beltway imposition various bits and chunks of their agenda and their ‘vision’ without risking the inquiring and toooo public deliberation of the Citizenry. Let’s face it: neither Left nor Right have much need for The People; indeed, very much the opposite.)
The foregoing also would include Petras’s point about “corruption at the top” and the “development of a state where law and order have fallen into disrepute”. The Great Scambit of the Seventies – as I would call it – was that the Beltway, led initially by the Dems under Tip O’Neill – figured that it could garner electoral support by pandering to the assorted Revolutions of the Identities, yielding to all the demands of racial favoritism, gender war, culture war and the rest of Identity Politics’ unholy brood, yet all the time appearing ‘liberal’ – while simultaneously collecting swag LEGALLY through the newly-devised PACs from corporate wealth that, like the mobsters in ‘Godfather 2’ in pre-Castro Cuba, were looking for a government ‘friendly’ to their every wish and ‘need’.
Unlike the mobsters in ‘Godfather 2’ the corporations found their compliant (as long as sufficiently paid off) government not in the banana republic of pre-Castro Cuba, but in the precincts of Capitol Hill itself. To paraphrase what was once said of the polity of the old Soviet Union (“it’s nothing but Upper Volta with rockets”) America politically now resembles nothing so much as a banana republic with rockets.
And the corruption thus welcomed and enabled by the Beltway pols was not simply effected on the level of accepting a lot of money (without the risk and bother of midnight exchanges of shopping bags full of cash). Rather, on a much more profound level such a cynical corrupting, on top of the cynical game of pandering simultaneously to Right and to Left, to Big Money and to Big Pain, reduced the pols’ own self-respect and respect for their office (that officium of public trust and duty to which they were sworn when they took the office to which they had been elected).
Nor did it help that both Left and Right required the self-indentured pols to Believe At Least Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast … every day.
The Left required them to accept with a straight face and with ‘optimism’ that you could a) effect profound and highly dubious civilizational change on numerous areas of societal and cultural functioning without ill consequences of any sort; b) that you could effect same by sidestepping the very public upon whom you were imposing all this dubiously grounded and quite possibly wrongly-conceived ‘progress’ even though the country was formally and by habit a democratic polity committed to public deliberation in large matters of common and public weal; c) that you could ignore any limitations imposed by material reality or tradition or human belief by simply dismissing those as ‘bad attitudes’ that could be re-shaped as easily as a child turns a play-dough rock into a play-dough flower; d) that you could kill the Goose yet remain assured of the supply of Golden Eggs by letting the national industrial base be outsourced while letting the entire provenly productive working ethos be ‘deconstructed’ and ‘devalorized’ in favor of a highly unproven and dubious assertion to the effect that everything that had gone before was ‘wrong’ and had to be changed into something else immediately.
The Right required them to believe that a) you could sustain the economy and world-primacy of a large nation primarily on the basis of your unsurpassed military prowess; b) that you could lavishly and unreservedly support – with no regard for Truth or Justice – a country that was bound by its chequered history to be a contested-ground without end, and yet not engender the ill-will of those whom that country had imposed itself; c) that your military power could remain strong through the course of serial and unending wars of indefinite duration and of a nature which in your previous experiences had resulted in defeat; and d) that in the face of your own declining essential resources you could successfully sustain your nation by going out and planting your military on top of other nations’ resources and yet be hailed as a ‘liberator’.
Over time politicians who believe so many Impossible Things tend, as a matter of habit, to lose their ability to distinguish fantasy from reality and also lose the related ability to identify and accept the limits imposed by the shape of reality and by the Shape of Reality. As do, come to think of it, generals and admirals.
Thus Law (and Reason and Truth) represent nothing except temporary and minor obstructions to the pandering satisfaction of every demand – from Left or Right – by pols who hold themselves above the limits imposed by human stupidity and greed, human deceitfulness and arrogance. And there goes the rule of Law (and Reason and Truth). Who needs any of that, with such supermen (and -women) running the show?
But the combination of Petras’s points 8 through 11 genuinely stuns: with the fall of the USSR, and the consequent ‘opening-up’ of a world previously buttoned-up to endure the rigors of the Cold War, corporate capital and Wealth has steadily been able to undermine and often erase the gains made by Workers in the period from Progressivism (beginning around 1895) up through the New Deal and on into the Detroit Consensus of the late 1940s (pay your workers well to do guaranteed and reliable jobs and they will consume your products as well as make better products).
As soon as it became possible to undermine that era – that lasted from 1895 or so to 1990 – corporate Wealth leaped at the chance: neoliberal globalization became the official ‘intellectual’ justification for undermining Labor’s jobs from the Right just as radical-feminism was undermining the whole idea of the white, working, male ethos from the Left.
Indeed, since the mainstream media had become ‘feminized’ in the sense that they now sought NOT to find out and report ‘facts’ and ‘abstract concepts’ BUT rather gushily burbled over this or that personal ‘story’ and the feelings that went with it, THEN this entire show put on adeptly by the Left provided the perfect cover for the Right and Wealth to undermine the actual infrastructure and hard-won gains of the American Worker while the public attention was transfixed – by its ‘elites’ – on the soap-opera travails of ‘gender’ and ‘pain’ and all sorts of ‘story’.
Thus Petras is profoundly right when he notes that Marx was indeed right all along: CLASS STRUGGLE REALLY IS THE MOTOR AND MOTIVATING FORCE OF HISTORY. It ultimately comes down to Wealth and who gets it and who is exploited to provide it but not enjoy the fruits of it. What finally opened America’s eyes to this has been the undeniable collapse of illusion through the desperate but dizzy overplaying of Wealth’s hand in the Bubbles of the Bush 2 era (though the ground was prepared through Clinton’s telegenic and lethal spade-work).
‘Patriarchy’ and all the other putative and hypothesized ‘oppressions’ have turned out to be more like ‘abstractions’ themselves, fantasies and conceptual phantasms fueled by dizzy and hyperexcited embrace, while all the time, hidden in the clouds of dust raised by the trumpeting herds of liberated formerly ‘oppressed’ wildebeests galloping toward their dampdreams, Wealth worked its dark and eternal magic on the achievements – paid for in blood and sweat and toil and tears – of Labor.
And the hell-hottest irony of them all is that the Left – especially in the form of that radical feminism that became official feminism – had started this frakkulent gallop toward decay precisely by trying to adapt Marx for their own purposes: they simply took his analysis, and substituted ‘gender’ whenever he mentioned ‘class’ as being the key to life’s many oppressions.*
And what happens now?
Thanks to the whole-hearted and unstinting pandering support of the Beltway, both the Left and the Right have succeeded in their agendas to a stunning and shocking extent.
Americans have indeed been administered ‘opium’ – not in the form of ‘religion’ (which the Left did its best to discredit by attack and which the Right unintentionally discredited through the support of Fundamentalist hyper-exaggeration) – but rather in the form of fake wealth provided by cheap credit.
In the age of the ominous Gordon Gekko, with greed once again being good (and it has its chaplains, alas), the public was distracted from the decay-inducing depredations of the ‘liberal’ Left by the ‘reality’ soap-opera of struggling against ‘oppressions’ even as it was induced - to the convenience of Wealth - to think that the entire Citizenry was now Wealthy and needed to spend its time thinking how most enjoyably to spend its way to ‘fulfillment’ and ‘happiness’.**
We are descending into barbarism – to use Petras’s image – from both Right and Left.
From the Right, We are becoming a war-dependent polity, and in types of ‘wars’ that themselves guarantee the continual erosion of civilized principles and the continual corruption of the troops who are sent to wage them.
From the Left, We are becoming a Flattened nation, its people addled in the first place by the intense anxieties of being ‘totally autonomous’ in a complex world and ‘optimistic’ and in declining cultural and economic situation, and in the second place by the unboundaried and un-Grounded Shapelessness of a worldview that accepts no limitation on desire and will from this world or any Higher world.
This is a complex and multivalent barbarism indeed, broad and deep in its lethal workings.
I would add that this is nowhere more clearly shown than, another hell-hot irony, in the national military efficacy. The retired career military officer and now-professor, Andrew Bacevich, soberly judges in a new book that the American Way of War is now history, and cannot any longer win – and hasn’t won for quite a while.
Yet all the more desperately do generals drive their troops to seek victory – or cynically go through the motions, while operational possibilities shrink and turn sour, inciting the troops to ever more intense levels of violence or escapist consolations. Or both.
Bacevich doesn’t take on the role that the ‘liberal’ frakkulence of Deconstruction played in all of this, just as Petras avoids it in his discussion. Such is Our current American reality.
But as I have said before, you cannot introduce so fundamental, sweeping, and profound a dynamic as ‘demasculinzing’ a military – when that term implies a ‘devalorization’ of objective standards and analysis – and expect that you can keep a competent force in the field. Thus the reliance on combat-ready non-governmental mercenaries and ‘drones’ even as the military officially seeks to enforce Political Correctness with all its mushy but lethal Deconstruction and ‘new attitudes’.
And, similarly, just as the Economy was de-masculinized through de-industrialization, on the equally whackulent presumption that a nation of 300 million – and a democratic polity and a Constitutional Republic based on a mature Citizenry – could support itself decently merely on the wisps of ‘knowledge’ and ‘financial transactions’. The vast majority of the public will be reduced to functional serfdom – however optimistically that is spun, however ‘positive’ and ‘progressive’ a ‘reform’ it is claimed to be – and a serfdom cannot be The People. And, as always, I say that if there is no People, then there can be no Ground and no need for a Constitutional Republic and a democratic polity.
Much as Mark Twain said about his visit to old Dodge City: “It was no place for a Presbyterian … and I did not remain one very long.”
*Yes, Marx was already fatally insufficient in his analysis by reducing all of human life and striving to the matter of economics, thus Flattening human existence into the single plane of this-world, sneering that ‘next-world’ concerns were merely ‘opium’. And the radical-feminists imbibed that poison in Marx’s milk even as they made their own stupendous mistake by dismissing his most accurate insight – that CLASS is the key – and substituted their own necessary (and favorite) enemy: Gender (and ‘patriarchy’ and ‘oppression’ and ‘mehhhhnnn’ and so forth and so on).
If you'd like to have a taste of it for yourself, take a look at this entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
**Based on the frakkulently immature conception of ‘happiness’ as simply having-all-your-desires-met and having-all-your-frustrations-and-anxieties-removed. But it was in the interests of both Left and Right that Maturity be Deconstructed and ‘devalorized’, ostensibly because such a concept was itself oppressive and judgmental, but actually because Mature folks tend to Kick Tire – and through the combined and sustained efforts of Big Pain and Big Money the entire national Vehicle was becoming, like Oz’s emerald City, a work of the infantile imagination. Some sustained and well-delivered public Kicks would have quickly revealed that.