[Note: This article first appeared on August 23, 2011 at OpEd News. It is a slightly expanded version of a talk that I gave recently at the first book release party for my new book, Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Larkmead Press, 2011. It provides a highly abbreviated introduction to a few of the key arguments and evidence contained in my book. Rob Kall of OpEd News conducted an interview of me about my new book last week for his radio show, available at OpEd News here.]
This book was many years in the making. I put it aside several years ago to finish my Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney (NY: Seven Stories Press, 2006) book (with co-editor/author Peter Phillips) because there was an immediate need for that book. We didn't succeed, unfortunately, in building a powerful people's movement to drive Bush and Cheney from office. Had we succeeded the whole political situation would be dramatically different today. Obviously not enough people read my book! [Laughter] As a result, the trajectory that the Bush regime was spearheading has continued under this new president. It was and is a trajectory that I wrote about in a concentrated way in my last book and that I focus specifically on and in detail in this new book. So you see, this is why you have to read this book so that it doesn't get worse this time!
You might say that everyone who's alert to what's going around us in this country and around the world and who has a conscience and/or any concern for others and for the environment is in agony over what's going on. I wrote this book to speak directly to those people. That is why this book is an attempt to reach both a scholarly and university audience and to be accessible to the broad public. It is meant to be not only an expose and a call to action but also foundational and theoretically rigorous. The changes that need to be made are huge and for these changes to have a chance to happen it will require that people are mobilized from all arenas of life, guided by a deep understanding of what we actually face, and to engage directly and personally, not just voting on a certain day in November every few years. This book is very ambitious in its aims and I cover a lot of territory in it. I am going to try to give you a little appetizer and highlight a very small number of things in it.
Debra Sweet, who is the Director of World Can't Wait and who read a slightly earlier copy of the book, described it as being many books in one and said that I ended up telling a very personal story in it, which after she pointed that out I realized that she was right. That wasn't my conscious intent, to write a personal story, but I did want to tell a story, and I think getting personal naturally followed from that intent.
I've used earlier iterations of the book in my senior seminar classes with really gratifying results and one of my students from last quarter, a psych major, said something in her final paper I want to paraphrase. She found it remarkable that everyone in the class ended up in the same place and with the same conclusions: that the current system IS a system instead of just the product of human nature and/or the particular people leading the system now, that any changes to it require transformation on a systemic level, and finally, that such a revolutionary transformation is both necessary and possible. When she said that everyone reached that conclusion I have to say for the record that not everyone is exactly where she was, but she wasn't that far off.
On the back of my book you can see three quotes from the book itself. Those three quotes concentrate three aspects from my book that I'm going to address today.
"The problems of capitalism now being expressed are not simply the product of a few (or even a lot of) greedy, corrupt, and shortsighted business figures [or] poor monitoring by the government. They are not fixable through a set of adjustments or through electing one party over the other. They are not mainly the fault of a savings-allergic public. These are systemic problems... Systems do not change just because you put a new face in the White House and new faces in Congress. " (p. 74)
"[I]ntelligence failures do not discredit the existing policies of ubiquitous surveillance war, occupations, indefinite detentions, torture, assassinations, and drone attacks. Failures of intelligence promote and justify the existing policies... The longer the US goes without another successful or abortive terrorist incident, the harder it becomes to justify the security state's measures. Thus, the security state has a stake in having at least some anti-state terrorist incidents occur. This is the security state's dirty little secret." (p. 152)
"Democratic theory fails to give proper weight to the initiating and decisive power of the state and media relative to the populace. Under normal circumstances, media and the state . . . dominate the process--by which the public agenda gets set. They set the table. The public must decide what to eat from the offerings placed there by the media and state, and in that sense the public "democratically" chooses what it likes, but the public does not decide what will be on the table in the first place." (p. 229)
I should first explain that globalization has a political expression: the politics, policies, and philosophy that serve the interests and expansion of globalization. That political and philosophical expression is sometimes called free market fundamentalism and other times called neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is the neo- or new expression of 18th century political economist Adam Smith's meaning of the term liberal -- that is, to liberalize the market and let businesses and individuals do their thing without government involvement.
In the beginning of my book I compare the current worldwide dominance of the "privatize everything, the market should decide all things" mantra to H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds' story of extraterrestrial aliens' invasion of the U.S. Wells, as some of you may know, wrote his book as an allegory. He was trying to convey to Americans what it's like for Third World people who are being conquered and oppressed by a foreign imperialist power.
Like all invading and conquering armies, the neoliberals want us to think that there is no alternative to their rule and that there is no alternative to their policies, philosophy, and value system. Our campus president at Cal Poly Pomona, for example, told a student two years ago when he asked him what can be done about the budget cuts: "Privatization. It's the only way." Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to say TINA -- There Is No Alternative -- in ramming through neoliberal policies in England. In an infamous magazine interview, in fact, Thatcher declared, "There is no such thing as society, there are just individuals and families." So in my book title when I refer to the "Demolition of Society," this is something that the neoliberals actually mean literally. I also use the phrase "demolition of society," which I take from a quote from Karl Polanyi in which he is describing what would happen if we allow market forces to rule, because it connotes explosions, disasters, and destruction, a very prominent aspect of neoliberal policies and politics. This is something that I will elaborate on a little today in a little bit.
The neoliberals want everyone to think that if you raise any questions about their views that you better keep quiet because no one sane thinks that way and that the consequences to you will be at least very unpleasant or, at the worst, fatal. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, for example, has been called insane by some leading figures for raising serious alarms about our economic policies. The invaders, whose pundits hector us hourly in the media, want everyone to give up in the face of their dominance and resign ourselves to this path. If you don't like the obviously negative consequences of their politics and policies, the very best that you can maybe hope to do is modify it very slightly by slowing it down or perhaps find some separate peace or, as some people hope, some way of finessing it or getting the system of capitalism to change without needing to completely overthrow it.
My book is an extended explanation for why modifying these neoliberal invaders' conquest isn't enough, that trying to reform or modify what they're doing isn't even going to work, and that not only IS there an alternative, but that the neoliberals' world is a deepening and almost unimaginable disaster on multiple levels, for individuals, for the people as a whole, and for the planet and its living beings.
Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine is famous for arguing that neoliberals are purposefully triggering crises in order to justify their imposition of draconian market-driven policies as the supposed solution. She is right that they sometimes engage in consciously creating calamities. But one of the key points that I make in my book is that there is a deeper problem than their deliberate disaster designs. The very logic of their policies makes catastrophes inevitable, even when they're not trying to spark a crisis and even if they never were to try to create a crisis.
To explain this point in very brief form: One of the people I cite in my book is a DoD think tank analyst named Nathan Frier. Frier argued in 2008, referring to upcoming catastrophes such as a 9/11 terrorist attack or environmental calamity:
“The likeliest and most dangerous future shocks will be unconventional… Their origin is most likely to be in irregular, catastrophic, and hybrid threats of "purpose' (emerging from hostile design) or threats of "context' (emerging in the absence of hostile purpose or design). Of the two, the latter is both the least understood and the most dangerous.” (p. 116)
Let me repeat that last part: the most dangerous and least understood future shocks will be from what Frier calls threats of context, meaning they emerge from the very workings of the existing systems, not because someone deliberately triggers these shocks.
It was nice to find a DoD analyst confirming what I concluded, especially when he is coming from an entirely opposite perspective from myself. But how much attention have the media and the government devoted to talking about this? How many people are even aware that the most serious and dangerous problems are not al-Qaeda and are not even what Naomi Klein warns about?
Consider the Global War on Terror's (GWOT) publicly expressed rationale: the government and companies must engage in violating previously sacrosanct civil liberties, torture people, invade and attack countries that harbor terrorists, hold people indefinitely and suspend your right to challenge your detention, spy on everyone's electronic communications, use paid undercover police agents to infiltrate dissenting groups and develop justifications to clamp down on those groups pre-emptively before they even get to demonstrate based on what your agents provocateurs themselves do, bar you from seeing evidence used against you, and so on, all of these have been done in the name of the GWOT because the danger of terrorism they tell us outweighs all other considerations.
Let me mention here just two of the several quotes that I recount on pages 57-58 that reveal the behind the scenes reasoning:
Dennis Milligan, Arkansas GOP Chairman, stated on June 3, 2007:
" [A]ll we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [9/11], and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country."
Lt. Col. Doug Delaney, War Studies Program Chair, Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, paraphrased by Toronto Star reporter Andrew Chung in the first sentence, on July 8, 2007: " [T]he key to bolstering Western resolve is another terrorist attack like 9/11 or the London transit bombings of two years ago. "If nothing happens, it will be harder still to say this is necessary.'"
In other words, in order to continue the security state, in which all of these new measures are now the norm, it is necessary for successful and aborted terrorist incidents to occur periodically. If they do not, then the justification for these measures will go away. For the GWOT to continue, therefore, the GWOT must suffer "failures." If anti-state terrorist incidents disappear completely, then the GWOT's rationale disappears and all of these measures will no longer enjoy public support or acquiescence. This helps to explain why the GWOT uses terror. You know that line in Avatar: We will fight terror with terror? I used that line in the title of an essay that formed the nucleus of the eventual Chapter Four of my new book. I don't think that Avatar's director James Cameron stole it from my essay that came out before his movie; I think we just both came to the same conclusions independently.
Put another way, the fundamental logic of the GWOT is that it has a stake in the persistence of anti-state terrorism and it has an interest in continuing to use state terror that by its very indiscriminate nature continues to inflame people against the U.S. and make some of them want to commit acts of terrorism or at least be sympathetic to those who do. That our government is torturing and killing innocent men, women and children in their GWOT is not a mistake or oversight. It's actually logical as a policy. State terror is supposed to harm people indiscriminately. That is the source of its efficacy, as far as it goes: you are supposed to be so afraid that you will be the next capriciously chosen victim of state terror that you will comply without question. But state terror's targeting of innocents and lack of care about innocents also has the result of enflaming the populace against you. I compare it in the book to pouring gasoline on a raging fire in an alleged attempt to drown the fire.
If you think about the underlying logic of the GWOT and its self-reinforcing nature, this means that any unscrupulous individual at many different possible tiers in the hierarchy of government and the corporate world can now simply look the other way when they detect a terrorist incident being hatched, allow that incident to go forward at least part way, or lacking that, engineer an incident themselves by claiming that so and so was planning to set off a "dirty bomb" as Jose Padilla was accused of (an accusation that Paul Wolfowitz shortly after Padilla's arrest admitted was not based on any facts) and use that arrest to justify the ongoing need for the GWOT. Jose Padilla, by the way, was driven mad by their utter isolation of him from others. His attorney described him as akin to a piece of furniture even before the government finally put him on trial and scared the jurors into convicting him.
No one who wants to be taken seriously in Washington dares raise any questions about GWOT's underlying logic. Even if some individual politician wanted to, such as someone like Rep. Dennis Kucinich, he would be censored from saying it and if he did try to say it anyway, he'd be effectively banished from being given committee assignments of any importance, sidelined even more than he is now by the party leadership, and find it even harder than he does now to get any media attention.
Another indication of the underlying fraud that the GWOT is is the fact that the Bush regime was spying on all of our electronic communications just weeks after taking office, in February of 2001, seven months before 9/11. They were doing so because the real reason for the dramatic and radical changes to the nature of governance and the demolition of the rule of law is not anti-state terrorism and not 9/11 but a shift in the nature of the governance in neoliberal regimes.
The government's various definitions of terrorism are now so broad that they can be used against anyone for anything. The government merely calling someone a terrorist or someone who supports terrorists is now enough to get someone removed from office and under lock and key. Just being a whistleblower like Julian Assange can lead to pundits and public officials explicitly calling for your assassination. Some people think that Obama is using these expanded executive powers - which he has increased over what Bush used - against only really bad people. But what people who support this don't realize is that even if Obama were using it only against bad guys, the precedent that a president can do this on his or her own say so means that any future occupant of the White House now can do this against their political enemies. Nixon got nearly impeached and driven in disgrace from office for much less. If Nixon were alive today he would be considered liberal and would be to the left of Obama.
We are now back to the period of the rule of kings, before Magna Carta, where the law was what the King said it was. Indeed, this is how Condi Rice put it about Bush: If the president does it, it's not illegal. Law Professor (bka war criminal) John Yoo testified before Congress several years ago that if the president thinks he must, then he can order that the testicles of s small boy be crushed to get his father to talk to interrogators. According to Yoo it all turns on why the president is doing it, not what he does.
Most people are unaware of these momentous shifts. It's like those cartoon scenes where Wile E. Coyote is chasing the Road Runner and he runs off the cliff and he is running in thin air for a while still parallel to the ground before he looks down and sees that he's not on the ground anymore and then, finally, plummets to earth. Most Americans don't realize that the ground has been cut out from under them and they're still running in mid-air.
Whereas the principle has been for 900 years that if you break the law then you will be punished but if you are innocent than you are supposed to be let free, the new principle is that everyone is a suspect and the government has been giving itself the right to act in the manner depicted in the Tom Cruise film The Minority Report (based on the sci fi short story by Philip K. Dick) where it will pre-emptively arrest and hold people who they think might do something. One extreme expression of this is Obama's publicly ordering the assassination of US citizens that he regards as terrorists. This is without trial and conviction, just by presidential fiat. Some people might say that this is not that different or even identical to what has de facto gone on for some time where innocent people are prosecuted successfully and presidents order the CIA or some other clandestine agents to assassinate foreign or domestic leaders. They're right that this goes on, but what should not be missed here is the momentousness of the explicit changes in the law that have been underway. When you make it the law and the norm to do these things in the open that is a whole different level of danger for the society. It is the difference between rule by law, with some deviations from that going on, and rule by fascist principles where there is no rule of law and there is no presumption of innocence, just rule by force and fear.
There are a lot of facets to this, including most notably problems with the fundamental nature of modern bureaucracies and the looming disasters that are inevitable under neoliberal principles (with Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, mass extinction of species, the ruination of the ocean within the next generation, and global warming just a few that we could talk about) but I can't go into all of that now and you'll have to read the book to get this full argument.
I do, however, want to briefly mention here the issue of the financial system. This issue's in the news again as you know.
In the years leading up to the housing bubble's bursting, investment banks and mortgage companies were raking in so much money that they did not concern themselves with what would happen when these loans and investments became unsustainable.
"The problems that led to the last crisis have not yet been addressed, and in some cases have grown worse, says Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the trouble asset relief program, or TARP. . . .
"'Even if TARP saved our financial system from driving off a cliff back in 2008, absent meaningful reform, we are still driving on the same winding mountain road, but this time in a faster car,' Barofsky wrote."
L. Randall Wray, Professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City, provides a broader analysis of the underlying structural problems at work:
"'[F]inancialization' of the economies concurrently meant both 'globalization' as well as rising inequality.
"The weight of finance moved away from institutions--that were guided by a culture of developing relations with customers--toward 'markets' (the 'originate to distribute' model of securitizing pools of mortgages is a good example). This virtually eliminated underwriting (assessing credit worthiness of customers) and also favored the 'short view' (immediate profits) of traders (you are only as good as your last trade) over the long view of financial institutions that hold loans... A 'trader mentality' triumphed, that encouraged practices based on the 'zero sum' approach: in every trade there is a winner and a loser. As practiced, the bank would be the winner and the customer would be duped.
"This transformation helps to explain why fraud became rampant as normal business practice... In the end, the US financial system (and perhaps many others) became nothing but a massive criminal conspiracy to defraud borrowers."
Let me summarize Wray's remarks: Our financial system and many others have become a massive criminal conspiracy. This is not an anomoly. This is the standard practice now.
Professor Wray does not explain why the weight of finance capital moved towards "markets." To answer that question very succinctly, finance capital's dominance reflects the natural flow of capital into the areas where the quickest and biggest profits can be made. For a system premised on the pursuit of profit, this shift to financialization and what Wray describes as a "massive criminal conspiracy" are to be expected. Short-term logic trumps any long-term logic; profits made today override any serious considerations of longer time horizons. Arguing as some do that finance capital's focus on short-term gains is jeopardizing the system's long-term stability and viability misses the point. The system can only be governed, so long as it continues to be the system in place and is not replaced by a different system, by profit. Doing what is best for it in the long-run is not how the system operates. (pp. 172-174).
In response to this some people advocate a return to pre-monopoly capitalism and "free markets." As I show in my book, there is a reason why free markets inevitably turn into monopolies and the main reasons are because monopoly is an extension upon the very logic of capital's pursuit of profit and maximizing market share and because of the economies of scale. Free markets become unfree in the same way that caterpillars turn into butterflies. It's in their nature and a product of the forces that animate them and make them what they are.
I want to turn now to extremely briefly examine the third quote on the back of my book's contents to complete my remarks today and then we'll open this up for any questions or comments and then I'll be happy to sign any books people would like to get.
There is a tremendous amount of mystification out in society about the real nature of political rule, a point I attack from many different angles throughout the book. In Chapter Five I examine specifically the fundamental principles of democratic theory. In short I show that there are fatal flaws in the premises of the theory, which is the main reason why democracy as people understand it somehow always seems like that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You chase it and chase it and it remains elusive. The problem with democratic theory isn't that it just needs fine-tuning. The problem lies in the theory itself.
There are other books that have been and are being published on globalization but the ones that talk about solutions at all advocate as a solution some version of "more democracy." What I show in Chapter Five is that "more democracy" as people generally understand that isn't the solution because we cannot obtain authentic popular rule under the existing electoral, political, and economic system. Let me read the quote on the back cover that concentrates my argument regarding democratic theory:
"Democratic theory fails to give proper weight to the initiating and decisive power of the state and media relative to the populace. Under normal circumstances, media and the state possess virtually all of the advantages--and dominate the process--by which the public agenda gets set. They set the table. The public must decide what to eat from the offerings placed there by the media and state, and in that sense the public 'democratically' chooses what it likes, but the public does not decide what will be on the table in the first place." (p. 229)
If I offer you vanilla ice cream and you eat it, does this mean that you wanted vanilla ice cream in the first place?
Like parents who tell their kids that they can have either the peas or the carrots but you must have one or the other, the people who run this country tell us that we can have the Republican or the Democrat or you can even vote for a Third Party candidate "if you want to throw your vote away." But if the people don't determine who gets to be considered a serious candidate in the first place, and the people DON'T determine that -- the media and key party leaders determine that - then elections are merely a sham for a choice, not the real exercise of democratic rule. Who is considered the "legitimate" candidate and who is considered the frontrunner is something that isn't decided by public opinion polls asking people whose platform they agree with the most. If it were, then do you know who would have been the Democratic front-runner in 2008? Dennis Kucinich.
The problem goes even deeper than this, and I wish we had time for me to go more fully into the argument and its different facets, but I'm going to stop there and ask if you have any questions or comments that you'd like to make.
[Globalization and the Demolition of Society can be ordered in hardback or as an eBook online at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble or other booksellers from their brick and mortar stores or websites. (The Kindle eBook version costs $18, the Nook eBook version at B & N costs less than $10. Other eBook formats such as iBook also available online.) Autographed hardback copies can also be ordered directly from the publisher, Larkmead Press for $30 plus shipping. For every book purchased directly from the publisher in the month of August and September, $2 will be donated to World Can’t Wait.]