Sunday, March 11, 2018

Another Long and Brutal Century

Despite my political beliefs being securely in the middle to hard left, it might surprise some that I am not popular with that crowd on the blogosphere. There was a time back during the worst of the Iraqi War and the Bush/Cheney years that I was part of the progressive “in crowd.” We all agreed that the Iraq War was strictly a neoconservative ploy to gain access to that country's oil as well as making it a secure geopolitical chess piece to counter Iran and China. I based my opinions not on propagandist rhetoric but some actual knowledge.

See for decades we've spent billions on orbiting spy satellites with high precision instruments such as cameras that can take a clear, readable picture of a car license plate from space. Those same satellites are also equipped with detection equipment not far removed from the stuff NASA uses to remotely detect the composition of planets, moons, asteroids, and all the other neat stuff out there. So on one hand you got super cameras that lets us see what people are doing on the ground. Like loading and moving really dangerous substances like chemical weapons. And on the other hand, those gadgets that lets us get an idea what a highly secure factory might be trying to brew up because making weapons grade nuclear material ain't like churning up homemade ice cream. So long story short, the massive goose egg that became the promised Iraqi hidden stockpile of WMD's is highly problematic for anyone except those who watch Fox News.

Where progressives and I quickly parted ways is when they began crowing about the “end of the American Empire.” Oh there were times you could feel their absolute giddiness when they proclaimed about how the evil United States was about to be chased out of all the countries both the government and American corporations oppressed. It only took me asking a couple of times just what was supposed to take the place of the American Empire before I became personae non gratae to those I otherwise agreed with.

Yes, I fully understand that the United States played holy hell with its principles in the ninetieth century as it jockeyed for position with the established European colonial powers. And during the Cold War the United States almost bathed in blood by paling up with dictators, death squads, and soulless corporations in an effort to blunt the Soviet Union which was engaged in the same game. My problem came from how progressives seemed to believe that there was some nascent global brother and sisterhood just off the geopolitical stage who would take over once the American Empire collapsed.

I fully agree empires are a huge pain in the ass since they are oppressive, in that the dominate culture tends to wipe out those they control. This can be accomplished by forced assimilation or actual genocide and while the former isn't as openly criminal as the latter, it still doesn't say much about our species ability to get along. Empires also present another problem in that they all become decadent over time and eventually collapse. All anyone has to do is read about how everything went to shit in western Europe after Rome fell and how once a ruling Chinese dynasty lost its heavenly mandate all that advanced culture and civilization was quickly trashed. Yes, people eventually picked up the pieces and moved on, but I've actually wondered what such a system says about human intelligence.

Despite the imperial system being dangerously flawed, its been the most common form of political organization for the last 2500 years. On average, empires are quite stable with most lasting several centuries, more than enough time for the cultures of conquered peoples to fizzle out. In general, empires are toppled either by external invasion or when the ruling elite get stupid with them splitting up into factions and pissing it all away in civil wars.

This dovetails into the why empires turn out to be rather useful. Empires provide something very crucial for the development of civilization and that is stability. Contrary to many who believe primitive humans lived in some sort of agrarian utopia, there is ample evidence that we've been killing each other since our ancestors decided to climb down from the trees. Admittedly, while we were just small bands of hunter-gatherers roaming the wide open planet, the killing was small scale. That changed once we started farming and settled down into permanent villages.

Being as simple as possible, farming and villages meant larger populations that had to eat. When the spring rains either failed or flooded everything destroying the crops, well you either starved or formed a raiding party to steal from the next village. Generally speaking the village still able to feed its people didn't take kindly to raiders, so they resisted. Sure, some villages traded peacefully but if you believe all was goodness and agrarian harmony, I have a used bridge in Brooklyn I'll sell you real cheap. We're talking basic human nature folks, it's ugly and brutal with a disturbing tendency for monstrous behavior even in the good times.

After the initial slaughter, the elites of new empires like to settle down and enjoy the finer things in life. Happy elites like good food and expensive trinkets that might have been grown or made hundreds if not thousands of kilometers away. So they do things like provide armed garrisons all through their territory that keeps a lid on bandits so goods can be bought with currency they back and transported on roads they built. This allows commerce to expand lifting everyone up over time. We're talking centuries here folks, not some ancient version of the Marshall Plan.

An imperial population that feels safe and is well fed has time to create art, write books, establish schools, explore the planet, and try to expand human knowledge. Are there losers, injustice, and oppression in this equation? Yes on all counts, but this is the system that has been handed down to us from decisions made thousands of years ago. You can debate whether civilization was a good idea or not, but truthfully it's a mote point.

As far as the American Empire is concerned, yes there is considerable blood on our hands. The trouble though that the world today is built on the foundations of the Pax Americana, which took over after Pax Britannica couldn't handle the responsibility anymore. Here's where I really get trouble because I believe that for better or worse we and our British cousins have been pushing the world millimeter by millimeter towards something outside the usual imperial system. Never strictly out of some idea to help all humanity and with more than a strong dose self-righteous advancement. Nevertheless I feel that since the end of World War Two there is some vague inkling in wiser circles of thought that we have to abandon the idea of empire.

Even with its deep imperfections, the global system that's been built in the years since WW2 had done more to raise up all people than any other time in history. Other than slowly pushing reforms, you would think the men and women in government would be wise enough not to screw with its basic foundations. That, of course, is where things start to go sideways.

The Iraq War was nothing less than the neoconservatives sticking a match to a powder keg. You'd have to be a moron not to understand that the entire Middle East is a political Frankenstein's Monster built from the corpse of the Ottoman Empire after WW1. Once the fighting was over France and Britain divvy up the territory forcing bitter enemies into artificially created countries.

Going into Iraq on a shoestring crusade to either find nonexistent WMD's or spread democracy to countries with no relevant political institutions to support such governments will be something future historians wonder about for centuries. Throw in progressives believing the fall of the existing international system would bring on some delayed Age of Aquarius and you begin to wonder whether or not fantasies like Santa Claus and the Toothfairy need to be actively discouraged to get kids to understand the truth about the world sooner.

Now we have an idiot in the White House who has a hair up his butt to trash the entire global trading system by instituting tariffs on industries that truly aren't significant in the twenty-first century. If this escalates, which both the Chinese and Europeans say it will, we could be looking at history replaying itself leading up to another Great Depression made worse by the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930.

The last thing humanity needs is another round of empire building. The stakes are way too high now with human population pushing eight billion and with emerging nations like China and India wanting their own places on the global scene. With the United States now lead by a man with a penchant for porn stars and not reading the daily intelligence briefing, navigating the difficult years ahead, even when that bastard is out of office, will be a monumental task.

Long story folks, we've totally screwed the international and domestic pooch both by reckless crusades and unrealistic and unworkable idealism. The Twenty-First century is going to be another long and dirty slog like the previous one. And despite the ugly flaws of the current international system, what might replace it will more than likely be much worse.


The Bug said...

I have friends who voted third party because they're basically anarchists. I'm sure they're happy with the way things are going these days. I personally don't understand that philosophy because of the number of people who are screwed when the world collapses.

Donna said...

Yes and thank you!

sage said...

who knows what will come... Hegel is dead and your Roman dude's hat needs to be red :)

Pixel Peeper said...

...will be something future historians wonder about for centuries...

I often wonder about those future historians and how they will explain all this to kids in high school then.