Archive for the ‘empire’ Category
It was like the start of one of those Thomas Friedman columns from the early days – the start but without the argument, without the world is now flat, the history is now over, the Dow 36,000 is inevitable.
I was walking down Tottenham Court Road on my way to work at midday when I decided to stop into the local McDonalds outlet and see how the product held up after its six hour flight from Newark.
Mmmm, reader, can report it was tasty good and justlikehome. Why the fuck do I bother with the weird sandwich varieties, the prawn, the “coronation chicken,” the mexican (don’t ask), the hawaiian (who knew that philly cream cheese was so big on the big island – I guess they’re referring to the part during the luau when the pig is yanked off the spit and dropped into a big vat of cheezspread!) when I could have a medium Big Mac meal for £3.60 each and every day?
[Update: ooops. Another annoying NYT columnist, David Brooks this time, has beat me to the punch today:
The folks at Pew asked one other interesting question: Would you rather live in a community with a McDonald’s or a Starbucks? McDonald’s won, of course, but by a surprisingly small margin: 43 percent to 35 percent. And that, too, captures the incorrigible nature of American culture, a culture slowly refining itself through espresso but still in love with the drive-thru.
OK. Now I feel a little bad. Sated, but bad.... I'll make up for it by going to Starbucks in a few hours....]
Finally got around to reading the (rather fantastic) piece on 24 that was in the New Yorker back in February. There’s a lot to clip out of it, but let’s start with this paragraph:
Bob Cochran, who created the show with Surnow, admitted, “Most terrorism experts will tell you that the ‘ticking time bomb’ situation never occurs in real life, or very rarely. But on our show it happens every week.” According to Darius Rejali, a professor of political science at Reed College and the author of the forthcoming book “Torture and Democracy,” the conceit of the ticking time bomb first appeared in Jean Lartéguy’s 1960 novel “Les Centurions,” written during the brutal French occupation of Algeria. The book’s hero, after beating a female Arab dissident into submission, uncovers an imminent plot to explode bombs all over Algeria and must race against the clock to stop it. Rejali, who has examined the available records of the conflict, told me that the story has no basis in fact. In his view, the story line of “Les Centurions” provided French liberals a more palatable rationale for torture than the racist explanations supplied by others (such as the notion that the Algerians, inherently simpleminded, understood only brute force). Lartéguy’s scenario exploited an insecurity shared by many liberal societies—that their enlightened legal systems had made them vulnerable to security threats.
If you, like me, are a lit-person who occasionally (or not so occasionally) drifts into self-doubt about the importance or potential importance of whatever it is that we do, this paragraph (and all the paragraphs and pieces and tv shows and guantanamos that emerge, in part, from the described text) should make you feel a bit better… and, of course, worse. Narrative, in short, matters. Very little happens that isn’t wrapped in narrative. And in this case, narrative temporality matters most of all. This is clear, usually. But sometimes one forgets….
And weird… Check this out….
Swifty has a terrific post up over at Long Sunday. I won’t even preview it here – just go take a look….
Suddenly, I’ve seen the light, joined the “sensible left,” and set myself upon all the soul-selling that goes with it. TNR subscription inbound, Lieberman donation outbound, and in the middle, an ‘merican flag perched off the porch. Why? Well, the threat of a dry caliphate, of course…
The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups that includes al Qaeda in Iraq, issued a statement on a Web forum vowing to continue its holy war against the West. The authenticity of the statement could not be independently verified.
The group said Muslims would be victorious and addressed the pope as “the worshipper of the cross” saying “you and the West are doomed as you can see from the defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere. … We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose head tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion (to Islam) or (killed by) the sword.”
After all this time, busily doing my academic leftist bestest to inaugurate the worldwide caliphate… only to find out that they’re going to, what, spill all the liquor? When you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers, Mujahedeen Shura Council… I do my liquor spilling well enough for myself, thank you very much…
It is funny, though, isn’t it, how both sides cooperate in telling the same ridiculous story…
So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?
To show that it can.
The central drive of the Bush administration — more fundamental than any particular policy — has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president’s power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it’s a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of U.S. policy, they’re asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.
In other news… Has my mother-in-law started consulting for the Pope?
I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.
That sure as hell sounds like her work – the patented passive-agressive pseduo-semi-projective-non-apology.
Homeland Security is after Greg Palast:
Fatherland Security has informed me that television producer Matt Pascarella and I have been charged with unauthorized filming of a “critical national security structure” in Louisiana.
On August 22, for LinkTV and Democracy Now! we videotaped the thousands of Katrina evacuees still held behind a barbed wire in a trailer park encampment a hundred miles from New Orleans. It’s been a year since the hurricane and 73,000 POW’s (Prisoners of W) are still in this aluminum ghetto in the middle of nowhere. One resident, Pamela Lewis said, “It is a prison set-up” — except there are no home furloughs for these inmates because they no longer have homes.
To give a sense of the full flavor and smell of the place, we wanted to show that this human parking lot, with kids and elderly, is nearly adjacent to the Exxon Oil refinery, the nation’s second largest, a chemical-belching behemoth.
So we filmed it. Without Big Brother’s authorization. Uh, oh. Apparently, the broadcast of these stinking smokestacks tipped off Osama that, if his assassins pose as poor Black folk, they can get a cramped Airstream right next to a “critical infrastructure” asset.
So now Matt and I have a “criminal complaint” lodged against us with the feds.
Two passages from Heart of Darkness, the first a famous one and the second less so:
1) Still on the Nellie, waiting for the tide to turn, before the start of the story proper, Marlow’s just fantasized the life of a Roman imperial administrator in Britain and the “fascination of the abomination — you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate” – that he would have experienced. And then the turn:
“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower — “Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency — the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force — nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind — as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea — something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”
So a distinction grounded on something like a “just intervention” theory of imperialism. But he can’t, of course, define the “idea” that distinguishes “us” from “them.” Rather, it remains empty – fetishistic in the true sense of the word.
Marlow is mystified, but can’t quite come to terms with the fact. Instead, as he often does, he turns away from the problem – this time heading on the story of his time as a “fresh-water sailor,” the central narrative of Heart of Darkness.
2. A few pages into the story proper, Marlow turns to his aunt to find him some work on a ship. (This more or less really happened to Conrad himself…) And once she has pulled some string and found him a job, he returns to thank her before setting off to the Congo.
“One thing more remained to do — say good-bye to my excellent aunt. I found her triumphant. I had a cup of tea — the last decent cup of tea for many days — and in a room that most soothingly looked just as you would expect a lady’s drawing-room to look, we had a long quiet chat by the fireside. In the course of these confidences it became quite plain to me I had been represented to the wife of the high dignitary, and goodness knows to how many more people besides, as an exceptional and gifted creature — a piece of good fortune for the Company — a man you don’t get hold of every day. Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a two-penny-half-penny river-steamboat with a penny whistle attached! It appeared, however, I was also one of the Workers, with a capital — you know. Something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle. There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman, living right in the rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet. She talked about ‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways,’ till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured to hint that the Company was run for profit.
“‘You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire,’ she said, brightly. It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over.
“You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire.” Marlow’s aunt has slyly introjected the flipside of the “idea at the back of it” evoked above – she has voiced the logic that can never be named, the secret affiliation between the “us” and “them” denied in the first passage. She may have reversed the hierarchy of causes – she has the “hire” secondary to the “work,” while Marlow knows the opposite is the case – but how is it that Marlow is so able and ready to call his aunt out now, while a few minutes ago he was deploying an explanation of the work that was even more deluded and dishonest than this one?
The idea, it seems, so buoyant a few pages before, cannot survive even the most grazing contact with the realm of commerce, which instantly throws Marlow into a misogynist rant about the “facts” that men live with, what has always, ineluctably, been the case.
(Did you notice the echo of “set [it] up” in the two passages? A rhyme…)
Capition from wikipedia: “Clearing tropical forests ate away at profit margins. However, ample plots of cleared land were already available. Above, a Congolese farming village (Baringa, Equateur) is emptied and levelled to make way for a rubber plantation.”
From Hobson’s Imperialism of 1902:
It is not too much to say that the modern foreign policy of Great Britain has been primarily a struggle for profitable markets of investment. To a larger extent every year Great Britain has been becoming a nation living upon tribute from abroad, and the classes who enjoy this tribute have had an ever-increasing incentive to employ the public policy, the public purse, and the public force to extend the field of their private investments, and to safeguard and improve their existing investments. This is, perhaps, the most important fact in modern politics, and the obscurity which it is wrapped has constituted the gravest danger to our State.
The concluding paragraph of Benjamin’s Work of Art essay:
“Fiat ars – pereat mundus,” says Fascism, and, as Marienetti admits, expects war to supply the artistic gratification of a sense perception that has been changed by technology. This is evidently the consummation of “l’art pour l’art.” Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of a politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.
Relatedly, think back to the summer before the attack, the Pearl Harbor trailer. Christ – the damn thing actually ran for about a year before every single movie that made it to the theater. I must have seen it thirty times.
Think back to FDR’s speech that runs as a voiceover, as we watch the kids pretend to be fighter pilots, soliders screw nurses, women hang out laundry. The everyday.
How long is America going to pretend that the world is not at war?
From Berlin, Rome, and Tokyo, we have been described as a nation of weaklings and playboys, who hire British or Russian or Chinese soldiers to do our fighting for us.
We’ve been trained to think that we are invincible. But our people think Hitler and his Nazi thugs are Europe’s problem. We have to do more. Does anyone think that victory is possible without facing danger? At times like these we all need to be reminded of who we truly are – that we will not give up.
December 7th, 1941. A date which will live in infamy. The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the empire of Japan.
We are war. Tell that to the soldiers who today are hitting hard in the far waters of the Pacific. Tell that to the boys in the flying fortresses. Tell that to the Marines.
Toward the end of the trailer, subtitles appear on screen:
it was the end of innocence and the dawn of a nation’s greatest glory.
Think of how focus-grouped and wideband market-prepped this movie was. The trailer in particular. Think about what secret or not so secret desires the producers were touching, titillating, conjuring?
The contemporary reviews were on message:
Ninety minutes into this massive movie the attack commences, and the spectacular images come hurtling like fireballs. This is, let’s be honest, what we’re here for, and what most Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movies serve up best: the poetry of destruction (Newsweek).
The picture is nearly painstaking in its traditionalism, a tale of love, war, and valor in which nostalgia for ”simpler times” gets mashed together, almost fetishistically, with nostalgia for old movies and for the spirit of knightly self sacrifice during World War II (Entertainment Weekly)
Telepathy, for sure. If we have to know anything, it is that the causes of things aren’t always as straight and clear as Occam’s Razor might suggest.
Precedent suggests that it is wise to worry whenever we encounter the formulation “not quite empire.” While naming can itself be a form of domination, when the names slip away and the workers of empire continue to operate provisionally, exceptionally,as it were, we know that we are nearing the darkest heart of the matter.
Robert Skidelsky in the New York Review of Books:
The main conclusion which emerges from Maier’s study, though it does not seem to me that he spells it out explicitly, is that between the two poles of “empire” and “independence” there are a large number of intermediate positions which exhibit different mixtures of independence and subordination. It is the fiction that there are only two alternatives—a fiction which is the joint product of Wilsonian idealism and anti-colonialism—which causes most of the current confusion. Any exertion of power by the strong is called “imperialist” by its opponents, while the imperialist has to pretend that his actions are fully consistent with national independence.
Yet while this disguise may offend simple souls who crave sharp contrasts, it may also be a sign of progress. There is some evidence that forms of rule have been growing softer, more subtle, and more humane; being less transparent, they are harder to define. Despite the mass killings and other atrocities that still disfigure parts of the world, the systematic “imperial” brutality of Hitler or Stalin which Dallas documents is past history. They tortured and killed millions; now a relatively small number of violent deaths, of “human rights” abuses attributable to imperial efforts, arouses universal condemnation—partly, but not wholly, because of the difficulty of keeping violence off the airwaves.
Proudly, I am, perhaps, one of those “simple souls” offended by the blur, as it causes me to recall Marlow’s circumlocution in Heart of Darkness:
“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower–”Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency–the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force–nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind–as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea–something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”
It is a bit uncanny, isn’t it, how similar the structures of the arguments are… We can see what Marlow either 1) cannot see or 2) can see, but forces himself to go on anyway. That the indefinability of the “idea,” the way it functions only to fill a gap in his argument, his comparison, to keep the sentences rolling out. It cannot be defined, for definitions are, in many cases, inefficient…