Thursday, December 02, 2010

On top of the shitheap

The other day, BDR riffed on the obviousness of the various Wikileaks revelations and how "Corporate" is bound to make us pay for it somehow, as it always does, because that's what it does. Then a commenter chimed in to the effect that Julian Assange is an enemy of the state and should be dealt with accordingly, etc, causing much jaw-dropping and Ellsberg-referencing in the comment boxes and so forth. Then he says: "I sincerely believe that some data needs to be protected if we want our country to remain on top of the shitheap."

In a very early entry here at the blog, I closed out a political rant by saying that people who displayed those "War Is Not the Answer" signs or bumper stickers "didn't understand what the fucking question was". "War is not the answer" implies that there is some ideal being violated, some "problem" that could be "solved" by some peaceful measure if only we tried harder (you know, "diplomacy" or whatever). Implying, also, that in the case of this kind of presumed problem, it went without saying that "we", the United States of America, aka the civilized world, necessarily belong in the discussion of how to solve the problem. That it's a problem likely caused by American acts in the first place, or is a problem perhaps fabricated for the purposes of the senseless debate about solutions, is routinely and easily overlooked.

But: If we want our country to remain on top of the shitheap. That's the fucking question, isn't it?

Is that what we really want? I say it's not. Am I in the minority? Are we satisfied with what that implies? What does it mean to be on top? How is that position maintained?

At the end of World War II, U.S. planners recognized the uniquely dominant position of the United States relative to the rest of the world and explicitly set policy to protect and maintain that dominance. The Soviet Union more or less served as a brake. Thus the Cold War, which entrenched the war economy, in a break with the past and contrary to popular expectations. Aaron Bady summarizes this point nicely:
The cold war changed how the country is supposed to work, not because we were “at war” but because it came to be normal, banal, and unquestionable that we would be permanently in a state of military preparedness, that “security” came to be synonymous with a standing army. And when that process goes on long enough, it acquires a momentum of its own: when the Soviet Union ended, we lost the existential enemy that we needed to justify the existence of a permanent security state, but it was barely a decade before we found another one.
Whatever you want to say about the deficiencies of the United States before WWII, and there's plenty worth saying, the point is that things did indeed change. Aaron goes on to discuss briefly how alien this move really was, but I want to emphasize how much it's warped our thinking. Not just because we are constantly bombarded with propaganda about the need for this state of military preparedness but because so many of our livelihoods depend, in one way or another, on the maintenance of that state. Maybe you're in the military itself, or work for one of its branches, or at a McDonald's on a base; maybe you're a defense contractor, or maybe a lowly programmer on a government site; maybe you work at a VA hospital, or at a research university—the possibilities are endless. The fact is, we depend on war. Add that to the bullshit we've been breathing our entire lives about Hobbesian states of nature and competition and contracts and free markets and the telos of technological progress, not to mention American exceptionalism. By now, not enough of us question the logic of the system, even if plenty of us vehemently oppose this or that administration's application or management of that system. We don't question the system, as such, in fact we protect our role in it (our complicity, as BDR has it), but we can see the writing on the wall, though we can't read it. America power has been declining for decades; American prestige is at an all-time low (with perhaps a slight blip upward with the election of Obama, for whatever reason). Our position on top of the shitheap is imperiled. Many of us are naturally fearful of what the future holds. What will happen next? How will it affect us and the ones we love?

I don't think staying at or near the top of the shitheap is either desirable or maintainable. I don't accept the framework. I don't believe in our complicity. I believe we've been swindled and that sooner or later we or our children are going to be put in the position of being forced to quickly unlearn decades or more of unhelpful practices. If we don't do something about it before then. But what does it take? How to break out of the pattern? How to act?


Ethan said...

It does interest me that "remaining at the top of the shitheap" is always assumed to be the best goal, when obviously if people stopped trying so hard to be at the top it would stop being such a heap, and most likely stop being so shitty.

How to act? Beats the fuck out of me. For myself, I try to leech as much out of BDR's Corporate as possible while giving as little back as possible, and in the meantime try to figure out what I want to do in my own life. It's a tiny thing, but maybe if more people did it, it would help some.

Richard said...

Hi Ethan, thanks.

I agree with your first paragraph. As for how to act, I intend to explore that in various ways on the blog in the coming months. (Which is not to imply that I have a problem with what you've said there...)

Jim H. said...

I'm not a historian, but I do think that if history has shown us anything it's that no one (individual, clan, tribe, demos, junta, elite, noble, pope, State, Corporate, whatever) relinquishes its position at the top of the shitheap without a bloody, bloody shitstorm, taking down everybody else with him.

That being said, your question remains.

Jim H.

BDR said...

Thanks for Kind.

Part of the problem is not that staying on top of the shitheap is considered the *best* goal, it's that staying on top of the shitheap is considered the *only* goal, (and not only in geopolitics but all relationships - I'm watching a shitstorm at work, I'm watching a friend's divorce, etc).

As to how to act, I look forward to your posts. I'm open to any and all suggestions.

skholiast said...

Jim H said: "if history has shown us anything it's that no one ... relinquishes its position at the top of the shitheap without a bloody, bloody shitstorm"

And, moreover, it will be said, to abandon the top of the shitheap would be to create a vacuum of power.

What to do? Some would say: one absents oneself from the shit-scramble altogether. This is way, way easier said than done. Will to power and all that, you know.

Honestly, I just don't know. I try to keep my mind alert even in Hell, and not despair.