Published online 29 August 2007.
A general call back to popular rule, and honesty in politics, against the unreality of political discourse in this era.
Why do they call it “defending our country” if our troops are engaged in far-off countries with people who are not going to attack the United States itself?
And, frankly, is there really a country in the world anymore that would attack the United States? The terrorists of 9/11/01 attacked the United States, but they don’t represent a country. And if they did, the United States would have attacked two of its current allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for those are the origin-countries of the terrorists.
Syria? Iran? North Korea? Would they invade us? Maybe they’ll join forces, march through Mexico, and stage a pitched battle for control of Chula Vista?
The promoters of “defense” as such would like to tell us that “freedom isn’t free,” mostly to shut us up, but having thousands of troops sitting behind Green Zones in Iraq isn’t a price we pay for freedom, so it isn’t “defense.” The occupation of Iraq has some other purpose, clearly, but it isn’t “defending our country.”
The same logic applies to the rest of the US Armed Forces. The National Guard may in fact “defend our country,” so they do indeed count in that way. And I’m sure the US would need a small army to repel invaders and maybe a couple of nukes to deter them from invading. But the United States does not run a military that is as big as the rest of the world’s militaries combined, paying for it out of a national debt of nearly $9 trillion (a huge chunk of it owned by one of our Nation’s so-called “enemies,” China), and with 702 bases in 130 countries (as of 2004), for the sake of “defending our country.”
There were historical threats to the US: Hitler, or maybe the Soviets with their nuclear arsenals. But they’re dead, and so the US Armed Forces is sent around the world looking for another national enemy to justify its enormous bulk. There’s a non-national enemy about, in al Qaeda, largely created with US money (see Loretta Napoleoni’s Terror Incorporated for more about that), but it’s obvious to any observer that they’re a low military priority, otherwise the bulk of the troops would be in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and perhaps in Saudi Arabia and in Egypt) instead of in Iraq. (If they were to be regarded as criminals, the US might send police after them; but this would be the rational, European response.)
Now, I’m sure that American foreign policy can be rationalized. But “defending our country”? Against what?
Are the police in America still putting people in jail for smoking pot?
The medical profession practically regards the stuff as a wonder drug. The objections to smoking have been quieted by the notion of vaporizers. The “war on drugs” people still have a tough time dredging up data on how harmful it is to smoke marijuana. Has anyone killed themselves yet from too much pot inhalation? Are we still supposed to believe the mythologies of Reefer Madness? (Meanwhile booze still effects cirrhosis of the liver, and lung cancer still claims nicotine addicts. If you propose the criminalization of alcohol or tobacco, of course, everyone will tell you about how Prohibition failed.)
Illegalizing alcoholic beverages with Prohibition, of course, required a Constitutional amendment. Illegalizing hemp-smoking, however, required no such thing. Does anyone ask why?
So how are marijuana smokers still this great menace in the eyes of the legal authorities, that they can justify jailing people for possession of the stuff? (Take a look at the various state laws if you’re still not sure about what they’re permitted to lock people up for.) What social aim do the cops claim to defend in enforcing such laws?
How is it that the proponents of “fiscal prudence” in American politics claim that big Federal programs will be funded “at great taxpayer expense” or “on the backs of future generations”? Does anyone believe them? Do they believe themselves?
The US government runs a debt of nearly $9 trillion. Is the US government “solvent”? Can it be “solvent”? Are the Feds going to levy super-high taxes to pay off any significant portion of that $9 trillion? No, they aren’t. So why talk as if Federal spending is all somehow going to be “paid for,” when it’s not?
The debt is endlessly expanded according to a scheme called “dollar hegemony.” Dollar hegemony is the power the US holds as a result of having issued the world’s reserve currency; it allows the US government (and owning corporations) to be the world’s biggest welfare bum. The Feds cut the checks, and the foreign banks cover them. Read Michael Hudson’s Super Imperialism to review its history. Our conversation about it might take a gander at a recent entry in the Feral Scholar blog.
I suppose that at some point, the ability of foreign banks to maintain the dollar’s high value will be compromised, and there will be a currency devaluation. Or maybe the banks with huge dollar holdings (e.g. China) will find some new way to keep the global economy afloat. But are the proponents of “fiscal prudence” talking about that? No, they’re not.
Is anyone really discussing American politics in honest terms (besides the elites in their secret meetings, and besides the good folks in the blogosphere)? I don’t think so. Rather, political language has become a tool for taking political decisions out of the hands of the public, and for aggrandizing the power of political elites. The process is described in great detail in Murray Edelman’s Constructing the Political Spectacle. For Edelman (1919-2001), political discourse existed to create “good guys-bad guys” narratives, in which the politician talking to us (or being endorsed for us) is always the “good guy,” and her or his opponent is always the “bad guy,” and the problem-being-framed is some made-up bugaboo (unless it’s a real problem, in which case it can be blamed on the person experiencing it). Edelman’s point, throughout his tight volume, was that none of it is (necessarily) real.
The blogosphere, however, does its best work in debunking the political spectacle, allowing the average citizen to retrace her steps back to the point before she was bombarded with political spectacles and acquiesced in the power of those who made them. The ultimate solution, of course, is to make our politicians (and their high-finance owners) less powerful so that we (as individuals, as citizens, as workers, as a union of free producers) can share power equally. That, of course, would be revolutionary, so for now we can do our share to deconstruct the hokum that passes for political discourse today, and re-engage those who have been quieted into acquiescence in the political spectacle.