Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Problem With America

The American Empire and the Fourth World by Anthony J. Hall
Is that it is too big.

This has been the central problem of Empire from antiquity. Humans are hard wired to live in small-ish communities, and the nation-state, let alone mperial Grandeur, doesn't really fit the human psyche.

Empire seems to be the preference of certain predatory types, however (Alexander of Macedonia, anyone?) and their rise in the political realm leads to amalgamation of peoples and territories -- or their extinction -- which is the key component of the Imperial Idea. You make the Outer Darkness go away by bringing it inside; absorbing it, in other words, and bringing Light.

Or something like that.

The United States was an Imperial project from the beginning of European conquest and settlement, and its independence from Britain did not in any way disturb the Imperial nature of the American government and much of its society. In fact, independence broadened and enhanced the Imperial interests of the Americans -- which the British had been keeping in check. Consequently, upon independence, the Americans set out immediately to dispossess and exterminate the Indians and seize ever more land for their own settlement and prosperity.

The American idea was to establish a continent-spanning domestic empire, pushing out or killing off any who got in the way of it, then expand across the seas, wherever need and desire and opportunity allowed and required.

The Domestic Empire was established by the time of the Civil War. Alaska was acquired soon thereafter. The frontier "closed" just about the time there were probes into the overseas projects -- which included ultimately seizing Hawaii and the remnants of the Spanish Empire, establishing bases in China, and asserting primal authority over the independent nations of Central and South America.

Canada and Mexico, of course, were thought of as dependencies and reliable resources for personnel and materiel.

The notion of having a large domestic empire, comparable to that of China or Russia, was built on the idea of  what would later be called lebenstraum -- literally, "living room;" having enough available real estate, in other words, for the yeomen of yore to live free and/or die. Americans have long romanticized the Westward Expansion, but it was no picnic for those who tried it. It was, however, a way for those who would otherwise have been discontent -- and likely troublesome -- in more established communities and societies (ie: Back East) to set out on their own and be quasi-independent. To boldly go and to Pioneer.

This is something that was not possible in most of Europe and the opportunity presented by the possibility of doing so in America was one of the many reasons so many people left Europe to settle in America. They could do things in America they couldn't do in Europe, and one of them was to become a nearly independent lord of creation.

It's still possible in the United States, at least to some degree, at least in the fantasy way of Wall Street speculation. But the result has been a fractious population, numberless unsustainable towns and cities, rape of the environment -- oh, and that aforementioned genocide of those who came before.

The result, in other words, is too big.

Much as California has become all but ungovernable, the United States, as a domestic empire, is trending the same direction. Our anachronistic political and governance system is barely functional where it isn't creaking and disintegrating. A handful of very wealthy individuals and interests has essentially captured the key components of government and is operating them -- to the extent they still operate at all -- for their own benefit, bugger the rest of us. But the fact is, government as we've known it has been falling to pieces since the '80's, and to my mind, it can't be revived as it was formerly. Our Betters have known this for many years, and they have set out to put in place an alternative corporate state, a project that's pretty much complete.

The People are not even represented in that vision of the New America.

But the People were barely represented in pre-corporate America. Empires don't take into account the interests of the People. It's not in their nature. They are only concerned with the interests of the handful of individuals (and it is always very few compared to the populations under Imperial subjugation) who own, run and control the apparatus of Empire.

I believe it was Orwell who pointed out that there were barely a thousand British functionaries who ran the British Raj in India and thereby controlled populations of hundreds of millions.

It wasn't better in Britain itself during the heyday of the British Empire. And through most of the 19th Century and well into the 20th, life was hell for most of the British People. They didn't have it that much better than the jibbering Natives of Africa and India and elsewhere under the British Crown.

And it was unsustainable. The fluorescence of the  British Empire was quite a brief one, all things considered. The American Empire still has generations to run. I don't buy the conventional wisdom that the American Empire is In Decline. No, it is still in its growth phase, though continued growth overseas is problematic at best. Americans abroad have shown themselves, time and again, to be utter barbarians, and the most recent forays into Imperial conquest abroad haven't worked out so well. Americans, therefore, may not see any further expansion of their conquests abroad in the future. But if the Americans don't do it, someone else will.

Instead of overseas conquest we see an increasing level of domestic exploitation, led by those very few predators who own and control resources and the government and operate for their own benefit alone.

The People appear to be almost powerless against it, and part of the reason for their apparent powerlessness is the very size of the nation within which they are trying to assert their own interests.

The People cannot effectively resist -- or at least they haven't been able to.

If you're trying to resist the entire apparatus of exploitation and governance, of course the individual or any conceivable amalgamation of individuals has very little overt power (there are exceptions, but they don't really apply to the current circumstance.)

This is the chief advantage of national size for the predators and exploiters who rule.  The national entity is too large and too strong to take on as a whole.

But it's also too large to be sustained as it is.

It will have to fragment, and the real potential for resistance (should the People actually want to resist, and I've never been entirely sure they do) is to be found in encouraging, pioneering, or inducing that fragmentation. 

It will happen on its own, sooner or later.

But many Americans are already living as if it has taken place, and from those Americans, others can learn many lessons.

Once I have a bit more time, I'll try to expand on that thought...

[Final Moving Day is scheduled for next Wednesday.... yikes.]


  1. I'd be interested to know how many Americans understand that the United States is an empire. My 12 year old brought it up at school and his classmates had no clue. The teachers aren't much better. I think people are uncomfortable talking about the US as an empire. It has negative connotations. I sincerely hope you are wrong about it being in the growth phase. I look forward to your discussion on why Americans are already living as if the empire has collapsed.

  2. Mention of the American Empire is typically only in partisan circles. And even then, the focus is on overseas satrapies and so forth, not on the fact that the nation has been an Imperial construct from the get, and the Lower Forty-eight, never mind Alaska and Hawaii, constitute a domestic empire, no less so than China or Russia (well, the Soviet or Tsarist version, not the truncated rump-state of today) or even India.

    I'll have to do some clean-up of the piece because I'm pretty self-contradictory in it. I see the American Empire as doing just fine, as a kind of indispensable power for many reasons, and supported in its Imperial pretensions by many other nations and powers. So long as they feel the need of the American Empire, it will endure and from time to time expand.

    On the other hand, this Empire is becoming completely divorced from the People. When that happens, many people live and act as if the Empire doesn't exist or has already fallen.

    It will take a while for me to formulate any sort of coherent examination, however.


  3. Here's the thing though, the Shadow government, the form of corporate governance set up by gangsters like "Neutron" Jack Welch and Al "Chainsaw" Dunlap, doesn't work very well either:

    Microsoft’s Downfall: Inside the Executive E-mails and Cannibalistic Culture That Felled a Tech Giant

    Since some companies are monarchies, they've managed to buck this system for a while, like Apple did during the reign of Jobs. (He was a jerk, but a jerk obsessed with industrial design.)

    However, to keep a system running, especially one as big as this one, you need competent administration somewhere. So, the question is, if corporations are to govern (and apparently they are) how many have been "Welchified" or "Bain Capitalized?"

    Because those kind of companies stop functioning after a while...

  4. The way it looks from my perspective way on the outside is that a bunch of cretins, crooks and mountebanks have taken over the heady realms of power and are running hog wild -- and no one, literally, is standing in the way.

    These people demonstrate a severe level of overt stupidity. They are not very bright, and the cruel enforcers they employ aren't any brighter. They don't appear to know how to do anything but brutalize and loot. The classic behavior of barbarians. They have no conscience or sense of social responsibility.

    Plenty of people in government service are as appalled as I am, but they seem on the whole to be incapable of doing anything about it. When one of those few brave souls tries, the consequences for them are dire.

    We are ruled by cretins and monsters.

    We're still trying to figure out what to do about it. I think it may be so difficult to figure out what to do about it because it seems like such an unlikely situation; "who could have imagined" things would turn out like this? Well, some did. The problem is that they didn't do anything when they could have.