Thursday, November 30, 2006

The American Brand of Authorianism

As to my statement in the last post that "the foreign presence is the only thing holding Iraq together", I should've been much clearer. With the current casualty rate and the very basic reality of no real dialogue between sectarian groups or even the Iraqi "government" and the American "government", the foreign presence isn't "holding Iraq together", rather, this unfortunate fourth-world hell is only recognized as a unified, sovereign nation in maps. The assessment still holds, however--the Anglo-American presence has achieved its main goal: to secure Iraqi resources for corporate companions of the belligerent parties. Perhaps it is somewhat relevant to mention something about "maintaining American supremacy", but that is really all vacuous terminology employed in the discourse promoted by neoconservatives especially and the American corporatist state in general, and I choose not to engage it.

Additionally, on the Military Commissions Act: while it was a means of including Congress in the Administration's guilt of war crimes, the timing of the bill and its other, more important intended effect should not escape us. At the same time that Posse Comitatus was gutted, allowing the President to, in the future, invoke martial law at will, the MCA redefined the American definition of war crimes to give immunity--at least within the United States--to all of those in the Administration, like Rumsfeld, who are, in fact, guilty of them, most pressingly with regard to the famous Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which of course deals with the treatment of prisoners. In light of the fact that Rummy's resignation after the midterms was preordained, despite indications otherwise (though of course his absence changes nothing, as I contended in my last post), the MCA was an important part of the golden parachute, especially after the Hamdan decision earlier this year. "Progressive" Democrats like Sherrod Brown and others were, of course, not troubled by this. Assuming that they differ from Republicans in that they have some principles with regard to the rule of law as it applies not only to the powerless, but those in power as well (not a safe assumption), then they simply violated them for the standard reason, whereby so-called representative government gives way to authoritarianism--that being self-interest. In this factor of its creation, the MCA provides a specific example of an issue of not only national but indeed global import, to which I'll return shortly.

Rich mentioned in a comment that it is the Democratic Party's ambiguity and similarity to the Republican Party that compelled him to be an independent. I think that this is absolutely understandable; in terms of the midterm elections, it was quite important to beat back the neoconservative agenda, and whether or not the actual electoral results would have a major impact on the American imperial project, registering protest was somewhat important. To that end, I worked on the campaign to defeat Joe Lieberman, not to mention anything about the courageous millionaire who challenged him, who is nonetheless a first-class capitalist and therefore an imperialist. The absolute immediate goal was to beat back the most vicious elements of the War Party, and to some degree, that was achieved.

It is not unimportant to consider that though the Democrats may, in some fashion, keep Bush from pursuing any new lambs for direct slaughter, though they certainly did not in 2002, and the essential elements of representative democracy that forced them to do that, seemingly in their own interest--though they lost horribly in the polls that November anyway--remain unchanged. These are not problems specific or intrinsic only to the contemporary American system. They are systemic.

This brings me to a more interesting point. The American political system, as Rich seems to be saying (though I may be taking some liberties), does not work in a way that can properly be called democratic. The primary interest of politicians is the same as that of power in general, that is, to expand itself whenever possible, and maintain itself at all costs. While this may lead to what we see as idiotic decisions, they are perfectly rational from the standpoint of personal interests with regard to the aforementioned values (and, where possible, the interests of capitalist and/or coordinator classes, depending on the mode of production--another interesting topic, and one which I'll address in due time). I am speaking in very general terms here, but a casual analysis of the acts of politicians in authoritarian governments of both stripes (representative and autocratic) through the past few centuries will confirm my basic premise.

But we are talking about representative governments, so let's focus on why they tend to be dysfunctional. As activist Stephen R. Shalom states in his proposal for a democratic society (itself based on earlier pieces linked at the bottom of his proposal, all of which I highly recommend), representative democracy "treats politics as strictly instrumental--that is, a means to an end, instead of a value in its own right."

Political organization, at some level, is important for maintaining a social fabric: a high-technology healthcare system, global infrastructure for communications and transit, addressing global problems such as climate change, hunger and continued state terror (still conducted mostly by those with greatest access to the death merchants and the tools they hawk) and the provision of other basic social services that will be necessary to maintaining our current (Western) standard of living in the future and eliminating the pervasive and oppressive poverty that crushes roughly one-half of the world's population are all difficult to maintain at very localized levels of control.

So, at that, we can't simply throw up our hands and say that power is evil--to be sure, it is. State violence has killed too many innocents in the past century for that basic assumption to be glossed over. Unfortunately, for those of us planning to live past the next couple years, the real work of generating alternatives is also necessary.

Of course, centralized control tends to lead the class of coordinators, be they corporate managers, political representatives, or commissars, to a contempt for those under their own authority, and tends to separate their interests from those over whose lives they have been given purview, leading them to think of these constituents not as constituents but as minds to be shaped. This is a very basic observation. Not to malign all self-avowed progressives, but the progressive movement itself started with this kind of contempt as a primary assumption.

You needn't spend too much time in Washington or Wall Street to realize that this contempt drips from the jowls of every asshole with the smallest morsel of authority. In fact, such contempt is a far more reliable indicator of their status than any kind of expertise; if you engage them in an attempt to find some, you'll usually find vague and simplistic rhetoric more than anything else.

Representative democracy ordains that politics is a means of getting reelected by the rabble, and with the current propaganda system in place (on which ample comment has been made), it isn't too painfully difficult to achieve that goal. It does not take much genius to draw the conclusion that such a system requires little accountability to actual voters and plenty of it to the people, artificial and otherwise, that our representatives actually represent. Once again, this is a very basic conclusion, and to arrive at it, one needn't even dwell on the fact that elections are dominated by money though it is both unpleasant and overwhelmingly true.

The system of representative democracy is, in itself, flawed, for the reasons outlined above, and quite eloquently by Shalom. So, it is ultimately good to be 'independent', to the degree that that implies some level of (get this) independence from the existing political system (an argument can still be made for supporting the autocratic/corporatist party that is less likely to cause the extinction of the species, and I've been known to make it, from time to time). Nonetheless, to a degree it still recognizes that system as legitimate, which it is not. There are real proposals for what to do with political organization in the future (though wresting control from the current moneyed élite in the United States and much of the rest of the world is, in themselves, the topic of a thousand blog posts for which I am no more qualified than anyone else, but will gladly indulge in from time to time, if only to introduce some levity), and I think that the amount of localized self-management will have to be much greater than representative democracy prefers or permits.

The state, in general, is a rotting, archaic institution, and the multinational corporation is the ultimate beneficiary of that rot; both prey on human rights, well-being, and basic dignity in every corner of the planet, in concert. The War on Iraq, with all of the collapse of international and domestic law that it symbolizes in so many facets, is perhaps the supreme example of this very principle of ever-growing and completely systemic illegitimacy, and while a nonetheless engaged "independence" from the moral degeneracy of these institutions of power is to be lauded, in itself, it is not enough.

1 comment:

Rich said...

my biggest reason for being independent is not to be apolitical, but rather to not be permanently affiliated with either the democrats or the republicans. this allows me not to be counted among their teeming masses.