Politics did not just become stressful, or a matter of life and death recently – my title comes from “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you” a famous and still chillingly relevant observation from Plato.
Like his Athenians, we who live in the empowered west, pride (and greatly congratulate) ourselves on living within democracies – where the important decisions are made, or at very least authorized-by the expressed will of the people – but it’s worth asking – is this actually so?
Some of the largest protests in the history of the world opposed the Iraq war – before it started – they were ignored by the leaders, all of whom continue to lie, and pretend that it was something other than criminal under (and unbelievably destructive to) international law, and disastrous also with respect to the moral authority of the west – (China has gained in international standing immeasurably, by our plummet) the simple fact is – nothing in modern history has directly created more terrorism (or was more obviously going to do so – even to the State Department), than the complete eradication of the Iraqi army, economy and government.
‘We the people’ can honestly say – “We came out and tried to stop them, it’s right there on the record” – but if we check the paperwork, the name signed there is not ever that of the undemocratic arrogant foolish leaders who conspired to send their youth into harm’s way, only to ultimately destroy an unusually advanced country (in 1989 Iraq had a 83% service-sector economy – Canada then, was around 87%) no, the name we in the west always find signed there is our own – and the incomprehensibly large debt too, is always on us.
Blair and Bush thought smashing Iraq was more important than tackling global warming – let’s all please remember that next mega-hurricane, wildfire-drought and crop-failure season – they also thought it was more important than systemic poverty, racism, deforestation, the slow-death of the middle class, educational funding deficits, child abuse, sexual exploitation, toxic industrial legacies, infrastructure, and on and on – this was the one big crucial emergency thing that trillions had to be spent on. Not their money, mind you, nor their blood – those treasures always belong to THE PEOPLE. Who did unambiguously try very hard to withhold their consent in advance from the madness and yet somehow – even in the advanced ‘democracies’ – utterly failed.
I want to mention two books here, that both troubled me similarly, from opposite directions. Alain de Botton’s “the joys and sorrows of work” was an ultra charming read – essentially, an extended poetic-spirited exploration of the infrastructure we all inhabit, but rarely consider the dimensions of. In it, he mentioned interviewing people of a certain social class, whose conversations were very different from those he was used to. They didn’t talk about wishing or hoping things would change, they simply planned and executed actual changes in the world, as a matter of their day to day living. They were, much to his surprise “Adults” with respect to the workings of the world, in a way that he’d never before encountered.
John Perkins’ “Confessions of an economic hit-man” (which I can’t recommend highly enough), was quite a bit nastier and more detailed about it. The writer was (rather brilliantly) educated to be one of the agents of the 1%, who would be sent out to negotiate with foreign governments on behalf of large industrial conglomerates (every rich country has one or two of their own, that do this).
Though a big digression, it’s worth noting the way the con works – because it is so much simpler and more horrible than the classic (paranoid) conspiracy theories tend to suggest. You analyze the infrastructure needs – very accurately (there is a ton of high-end data on these matters now) and then add just enough, to keep them stuck behind the curve, more or less forever.
The electricity-grid your third world country does need for development – plus fifteen-percent overcapacity that you’ll never be able to sell at proper rates – leaving the country ‘upgraded’ but also saddled with debt that they cannot ever retire – because it was planned that way precisely (the only loans on-offer from the international community, are for the deal that leads to glittering promise and back-end ruin). Big winners on the deal? Always the banks – and always at taxpayers expense! (The poor subsidizing the rich, on a massive scale)
Lest you think Perkins (or I) are making this one up, I’d suggest a look around first – the very first independent African nation (Ghana) was screwed with a variation of this con, on the development of the upper-volta dam project – with Richard Nixon (Ike’s Veep) himself, acting as the negotiating point-man for American capital.
My province of Ontario was one of the first large regions in North America to rid itself completely of coal-burning power-generators – and the air in Toronto, the largest city, was instantly improved to such a degree that we can now happily do without air-conditioning, even in the most stifling heat (the only time we ever used to invoke it) – because the air remains air – rather than a boiled-down gelatinous sludge that can’t ever quite properly feed the lungs. Frail lives are definitely saved by this, every year – it’s huge.
But some of my more paranoid friends did ask – who is so powerful that they can overcome the objections of the coal-lobby, and what are they getting for it? Ontario now has an incredibly clean consistently overcapacity grid which has delivered such rapid bill-increases to many (especially in more remote areas) that they’ve mobilized a great deal of angry opposition to the cleanliness itself – rather than the pernicious debt-structure. Seems (at very least) that it isn’t just third world countries that get badly done-over on these deals (funny how we still keep asking for economic advice from bankers – and weirder yet, we keep on taking it).
Nine flights down
A lot of popular ill-considered right-wing ideas are especially offensive to people on the left, because they seem to abdicate all moral responsibility for ultimate consequences. “We want the benefits, and we simply aren’t going to look at the bodies.” Here’s the often hard-to-see thing – the very same effect works the other way around, whenever the left takes both prosperity and security for granted. This is not at all universal, mind you – I know lots of wonderful principled intellectuals on the left – my point is about how things are perceived by those who aren’t already convinced (that is, by the folks we NEED to persuade, if we are to win).
When we present as if we assume prosperity is automatic, and the only question is how the spoils are to be divided, there is no moral pose we can ever add to that, to make it carry the day – we simply aren’t being credible or responsible to those people who do deal with real-world organizing. Same goes for the military question, of course not so self-injuriously provocative, but how do we better accomplish sound defense? Tough as it is under this stress, we have to do much more to express a full integrated policy, not just a lively and outraged one. (for an example – no longer violating every single promise NATO made to post-Soviet Russia, could yield an easy and very significant strategic improvement).
THEY (1%) – are treating all of the people of the western democracies like infantile idiots, and have been for so long that we’ve almost bought-it – and the only force which can still put good ideas into power is now so irrationally infuriated that it trusts THEM more than progressives. Nobody else in the world is properly motivated to solve this problem but us.
If we let THEM (and I mean rich psychos both democrat and republican) brand practical science and reason-based hope itself as just a form of idealistic craziness, instead of the approach of the only sensible people still left in the room, then whoever was at fault, WE have failed in our duty – both as CITIZENS – and as the other thing that’s supposed to go along with our so-fortunate inheritance of above-serf status – real live ADULTS.
Not that anyone has actually been using that particular aspirational standard for much, over the last three-quarters of a century or so – but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t yet give it a go – and wouldn’t it be a fine and bracing shock to all, if we actually up and really did achieve it?