Why I voted Republican, my confession

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I respect Chalmers work and I was referencing him in the last election when you joined this board, especially regarding that frame about choosing between Empire and Democracy. Chalmers background with the CIA and as a self described "spear carrier for Empire" gives his frame a lot of force. What Chalmers does not provide is the answer to the question: how does the Empire cease being an Empire? Which involves more than a description of the bases and everything else Chalmers describes so thoroughly and with such great scholarly insight into framing the problem. It involves political theory.

Chalmers was Wolin's grad student at Berkeley in 1958. Then they had their differences in the early 60's, and those differences were over political and philosophical theoretical issues regarding just how the Empire was formed and coming to be a political problem for the U.S., which Chalmers only came back to recognize many years later after going out and experiencing what Wolin was arguing was the case then. Wolin sided with the radical students, Chalmers, now a professor, sided with the Administration. Wolin, left Berkeley because he was one of those "liberals" who did stand up and speak to truth to power, much like Howard Zinn at another university about the same time frame, and there was a storm at Berkeley over it. I have a good friend who is now teaching at Berkeley who was Chalmer's student at the time, so she's told me all the inside scoop. We are talking Berkeley, the supposed hotbed of dissent in the Sixties, no less.

We know we have an Empire. The Empire obviously serves the wealthy, because none of us citizens were asked if we wanted an Empire, and nobody put it on the ballot box. Propaganda, mythology -- like American Exceptionalism -- and patriotism keep the standing army standing in service of Empire. A commodification process complete with plenty of Twentieth Century mass marketing to sell the idea that voting for these brands, the Nixon brand, the Carter brand, the Reagan brand, etc., was democracy. So, how does an Empire, which is not really an "ours" so much as a "theirs," decide to stop being an Empire?

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.ren
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Apr. 1, 2010 7:50 am

Empires spread themselves thin and die from attrition, or from within, or from external attacks, at least that's been the model for the last 10,000 years. When you drop a bomb that money is gone, when you ship something over seas you burn up a finite resource, usually for something that could be made here. Eventually there's a breaking point, where the empire has to shrink back to a sustainable size or fail. The world empire is spread thin as a whole I think.

No empires decide to stop, the model empires have, is one of infinite growth. When it collapses, as it has in every single occasion of past empires, the remnants of the empire simply pick back up the same failed model and start over. To change the model, one sustainable segment would have to convince a failing segment to adopt their model. The failing segment would have to have an option of a model that works to switch to, that's the hardest part I think.. how do you teach an entire culture addicted to growing infinitely to suddenly live sustainably?

Even most "green" items in the grocery store aren't sustainable. The organic crackers are wrapped in plastic, in a cardboard box, wrapped in plastic again, and shipped from 1,000 miles away.

Have any of you ever seen the documentary "No Impact Man" he does things like washing his clothes in his bathtub to reduce his impact. It's a great documentary, but even he had a footprint. Documentaries like that encourage an empire to shrink. If everyone followed the example of no impact man, I think we'd have a lot more breathing room right now. If you started living like him today, you would feel like you had more breathing room... You would be buying less things from mega-corporations,
using less oil, less coal powered electricity, less water, and producing less trash. You would save thousands of dollars, saving the air/water/dirt, and living in a more progressive way more dis-jointed from the corporate empire we were forced into from birth.

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makuck
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Mar. 31, 2010 10:13 pm

Univ of California Press has a recent publication.

Adam Curtis blog is worth a look, too.

Ren, I get the Townhall letter as well, probably because of you.

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douglaslee
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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

For the parents raising their kids to think, a book from Junior Skeptics was just honored with Silver Birch Award nomination.

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douglaslee
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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Thanks for the Adam Curtis blog, doug. All my marketing for Adam Curtis documentaries and I've never been to his blog, lol.

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.ren
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From Adam Curtis blog

we really are lost in the forest with a donkey's head.

summarizes the Afghan quagmire. He also covers american style capitalism, actually russian capitalism, then british capitalism, but I think all of it is taught at elite business schools. Hedges did an article on the best and brightest, and they do exactly what the russian and britsh managers do, embezzle. Who says americans don't make anything.

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douglaslee
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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Ren, I agree with your take on Chalmers Johnson, but I also like him because he did not start out trying to prove what his research and experience taught him. He came to the conclusion that empire was a tragic mistake as he analyzed how it did what it did. He saw the cost, both in money and national interest; and he saw how the political theory of empire trumped the republic, but broke the nation in time.

His argument is too reasonable for political process advice. He simply points out that empires are run from the top in authoritarian mode for reasons inherent in their being. You cannot occupy and dominate others in a friendly and mutually beneficent manner. Even if we sent trained diplomats instead of adolescents with guns and vehicles to be our ambassadors for peace, unless they became part of the local community, they would be resented and they would do things to earn that resentment.

It is no small thing to unmask the Empire as a tragedy and burden. NEMESIS is a serious warning, not just a theory about the decline and fall of empire. Getting clear on the cost/benefit analysis helps puncture the delusion of the PNAC and American Century narrative. How we get healthy once we appreciate the disease is not his area of expertise; but as a diagnostician, he has been brilliant.

I love the back story from Bezerkely. I was at the GTU for the Battle of Berkeley, 68-72, and UC faculty included a lot of people who made the word "Liberal" unpopular because it designated a Cold War, anti-red Democrat and not those who saw any structural or ideological dimensions to the conduct of national and international policy. "Blaming America First" is not just a sin invented by the Right. It was very severely punished in our universities.

But you can also recall that UC Berkeley hardly distinguished itself during the earlier "Loyalty Oath" scandals. My uncle was a celebrity resistor and after winning his case in court, became a full professor and honored emeritus at UCLA. Very big in ALCU and the LA NAACP even though he and his wife from the South were white. Uncle John wrote history that included people other than WASP Americans as real people with real stories. I got a lot of clues early on, but even so, it took being taught the real history of the Vietnam War for me to reject my beloved American narrative, even though I thought I was being quite critical of the real sins of the past. What drove the Liberal Faculty crazy was the loss of that positive narrative of American history and power.

Their narrative did not allow for critics of America to have the same love of country nor did they appreciate the moral integrity of those who loved America enough to say no to its addiction to its own narcissism. If you think of America as an adolescent, and its behavior justifies that image if we don't tar all adolescents with the same brush, then one's love for this juvenile delinquent does not include co-dependency, much less complicity in the acting out and bullying.

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DRC
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Ren, I agree with your take on Chalmers Johnson, but I also like him because he did not start out trying to prove what his research and experience taught him. He came to the conclusion that empire was a tragic mistake as he analyzed how it did what it did. He saw the cost, both in money and national interest; and he saw how the political theory of empire trumped the republic, but broke the nation in time.

I have deep respect for Chalmers, not for the least because he manned up and did the mental transformation it took to acknowledge all those things you said about the authoritarian structure. Chalmers is a top notch intellectual and scholar. Another along those lines is Andrew Bacevich, who retired from the Army as a colonel and went on to earn a PhD and to teach history at Boston College. He also has come to grips with his deep seated views and he's recognized that the U.S. as Empire is a danger to itself and the world. He continues to maintain his conservatism, which is by no means a negative thing. What he presents is the old version of conservatism that has pretty much left the Republican Party leadership. I think you mention William F. Buckley as another of those types.

I find it very hopeful that people can make that transformation. I don't expect everyone to come to the table as anti authoritarian as I am. But where mine may start as a reflex, it did and does come to a looking for the proof in reality that reflects my gut instinct, and that can be an intellectual endeavor or a process of self delusion. When people who are not as disturbed by its consequences as I am at the outset finally come to see those consequences, and write about them with the brilliance Chalmers does -- and I would add Bacevich and a few others -- then I am hopeful that there is a kind of universal truth we can all agree upon, and that we are not predetermined to be unable to find it by our DNA.

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.ren
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Apr. 1, 2010 7:50 am
Quote douglaslee:

From Adam Curtis blog

we really are lost in the forest with a donkey's head.

summarizes the Afghan quagmire. He also covers american style capitalism, actually russian capitalism, then british capitalism, but I think all of it is taught at elite business schools. Hedges did an article on the best and brightest, and they do exactly what the russian and britsh managers do, embezzle. Who says americans don't make anything.

For those not familiar with the quote about the donkey's head, Curtis was using a literary reference from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Very literate guy, Adam Curtis. You can find all sorts of interesting things on blogs. Well done.

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.ren
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Apr. 1, 2010 7:50 am

the is ought problem karl-popper-on-denmark-iraq-and. covers tolerance, kind of tangential but there are a few other entries on is/ought and I always find relevence.

http://bostonreview.net/BR35.1/bacevich.php has an interesting perspective on our place in the world and history.

The bedrock assumption to which all of official Washington adheres, liberal Democrats no less than conservative Republicans, is that the United States itself constitutes the axis around which history turns. We define the future. Our actions determine its course. The world needs, expects, and yearns for America to lead, thereby ensuring the ultimate triumph of liberty. For the United States to shrink from its responsibility to lead is, at the very least, to put at risk the precarious stability to which humanity clings and in all likelihood would open the door to unspeakable catastrophe. Alternatives to American leadership simply do not exist.

Reject these propositions and your chances of working in the White House, securing a cushy billet at some Washington think tank, or landing an invitation to pontificate on one of the Sunday-morning talk shows are reduced to just about zero.

This self-image, combining grandeur with insufferable smugness, both energizes and perverts U.S. foreign policy. It inspires American policymakers to undertake breathtakingly bold initiatives such as the Marshall Plan—Harry Truman setting out to rebuild a Europe laid prostrate by war. Yet it also inspires the likes of George W. Bush to pursue his Freedom Agenda—an expressed intent to transform the entire Islamic world, providing a rationale for open-ended “global war.”

The conviction that the United States is history’s prime mover also blinds Washington to forces that may well exercise a far greater impact on the course of events than do the actions of the United States itself.

During the Cold War, for example, U.S. policymakers viewed events through the lens of bipolarity. The world, they insisted, broke neatly into two camps divided by an iron curtain. In the 1950s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declared that neutrality was immoral and impermissible. Governments had to choose: you either sided with the free world (led, of course, by the United States) or you aligned yourself with the communists.

This oversimplified with-us-or-against-us mentality made it difficult, if not impossible, for Dulles and other U.S. leaders to comprehend the eruption of third-world nationalism triggered by and feeding off of the collapse of the old European empires after World War II. In Washington “non-aligned” became a synonym for “fellow traveler.” Faced with expressions of self-determination that did not fit neatly into the prevailing East-West paradigm, U.S. officials assumed the worst and acted to enforce conformity to Western—i.e., American—requirements. This misperception—that self-professed nationalists in places such as Iran, Guatemala, and Vietnam were actually agents of the Kremlin—produced a penchant for U.S. intervention, both overt and covert, that yielded disastrous consequences, many of them still dogging us today.

Had U.S. officials accurately gauged the wellsprings of postcolonial nationalism, the United States might have demonstrated greater self-restraint when faced with third-world recalcitrance. The insistence that Egypt’s Nasser or Cuba’s Castro toe some line dictated from Washington turned out to be neither necessary nor productive.

Yet appreciating the new nationalism might also have offered Washington an insight into

maybe in another hundred years we could understand the world, and learn how not to screw it up.

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douglaslee
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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

You know douglaslee, that is the problem which people on both sides fail to comprehend about the USA (although definitely more on the right than the left). The rest of the planet doesn't revolve around its decisions and actions any longer. When it sneezes it no longer gives the rest of the world a cold.

The world is moving away from American hegemony. To think otherwise is pretty naive.

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meljomur
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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Thanks a lot, mel. Guess the joke is on us, since YOU evidently won't have to live with the results.

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mstaggerlee
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