Monday, November 03, 2008

Rough Draft of My Speech at Nuremberg - Why I Supported Obama

I'm supporting Barack Obama, if only because he's younger and has been in Unitedstatesian politics for less time, and so has not been doing Satan's work for quite as long as McCain. It also helps soothe my conscience that he isn't a war criminal, guilty of gruesomely murdering a minimum of dozens of men, women and children in Vietnam. Maybe, just maybe, if Obama is elected, he'll be ideologically unmoored enough to be pushed by popular pressure (should that ever materialize) away from the fellatio he's been vigorously performing on Satan, for just long enough to do some good - before the assassin's bullet cuts him down, of course.

But let me first tackle the primary non-reason why I am supporting Obama: race. Many of his supporters are ecstatic at the thought that a Black man (in the Unitedstatesian idea of "race," one of two parents of African ancestry makes one "Black" - one of six parents and grandparents being of African ancestry might make one "Black" or "mixed") has a serious chance of winning the presidency. This they like because it makes the United States look better in their eyes. And yes, no doubt, the country has come a long way in its treatment of ethnic minorities.

It used to be, in New York as in many other places in the country, that Irish, Italians, Poles and Jews were known as 'white niggers' and occupied the lowest rung on the societal ladder, along with Blacks. Yeah, it's kind of nice in a way when JFK showed that even a 'papist' 'mick' could become president, but I doubt that there were too many Vietnamese thinking at the time: "Gee, sure is nice that a member of an ethnic minority that used to be oppressed by the WASP ruling class in the United States is now President. That makes me feel better about the napalm burning alive the members of my village and the American soldiers raping the women in my family." I don't think too many Mozambicans ever said "you know what takes the sting out of having our children kidnapped and turned into child soldiers by a CIA-supported army, is the fact that Jews and Italians have overcome institutional barriers in U.S. society to occupy some of its leading positions." Nor does it seem likely that the dying thought of an Iraqi/Lebanese/Palestinian child, after being slowly suffocated under the weight of what used to be his/her house after being hit by a Unitedstatesian bomb, was ever "there is at least some consolation in the fact that senior members of the U.S. administration are members of long-oppressed minorities: Blacks, women, LGBT people and Latinos." Or, to take a more distant example from a century ago: while hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were being killed during the U.S. invasion and occupation, which Filipino thought to himself, that "the massacre of my neighbors and family would almost be bearable if only it weren't for the fact that blacks, Chinese, Latinos, Native Americans, Eastern and Southern Europeans, Jews, etc., are being oppressed right now in the U.S.A.; it would be a great comfort in the face of my people's genocide if that weren't so"? Likewise, if Obama ever follows through on his anti-Iranian tough talk, I wager that we won't find many dead Iranian bodies with smiles on (what's left) of their faces, evidently relieved at the thought that the U.S. President who ordered their murder has a Black father.

Point being, it is undeniably a good thing that some members of some oppressed ethnic minority groups in the U.S. have improved their lot somewhat. But it fades into absolute insignificance next to the horrific barbarity the U.S. government may very well continue to engage in an Obama presidency.

Speaking of horrific barbarity, the guy who will win if Obama loses has some first-hand, active rather than passive, experience in this department. John McCain, in his own words, is "guilty of war crimes against the Vietnamese people. I intentionally bombed women and children." Lest this confession be mistaken for a first step towards repenting for his war crimes (the second step being committing seppukku, without an agony-ending swordsman at the ready), it should be noted that these words, according to McCain, are what his Vietnamese torturers forced out of him, not what he admitted to be true.

Yes, his Vietnamese captors ordered McCain to confess to bombing women and children - and all because he did bomb women and children. While McCain would probably consider it evidence of martial valor if he did, he of course did not bring all of the estimated 3-4 million Vietnamese noncombatants (as if the murder of combatants defending their country is any less odious) to their violent deaths: deaths assortedly instant, mercifully short, slow by suffocation due to rubble or blood, slow by loss of blood, slow by shrapnel-penetrated organ failure, and slow by serious burn wounds. Yet over the course of his twenty-three bombing runs in Vietnam, he certainly killed many. It doesn't tax the imagination to think that a president McCain would almost certainly be more likely than Obama to send Unitedstatesians around the world to meet many exotic people, and kill them.

So one reason to support Obama is that a win for him is a loss for McCain. However, there is one nearly convincing argument that a McCain win would be a good thing for the world.

The U.S. government under Bush has finally been realized to be a great force for violence and theft in the world by the majority of its inhabitants, except perhaps in seriously benighted parts of the globe, like Albania, (formerly) Georgia (state and country), and India. Even Unitedstatesians and Israelis, while not comprehending the violence and theft part, at least look upon the Bush-led Unitedstatesian government with dissatisfaction. This is a major accomplishment. Add to that, of course, the overstretching of the Unitedstatesian military to the point that even a newly-nuclear DPRK - or the old standby, democratically-elected Latin American leftists - can't provoke its use to kill a bunch of Koreans and Central and South Americans.

Bush has also overseen the near-destruction of the U.S.-dominated international economic system, and the possible unseating of the U.S. and its dollar from the throne of international economic hegemony. These are relatively large steps towards a world free of the mass murder and exploitation that have been the means by which the U.S. government has successfully achieved its ends. Hey: destroying trillions of dollars of wealth, which is property - which is theft - is a goal any true leftist should aspire to. Bush did it, and McCain is likely to carry on his legacy.

As the argument goes, a McCain win would hasten the downfall of the U.S., thereby making the world a better place. Perhaps. But I'd want to ask permission from some Iranians, Russians, Koreans, Venezuelans, Bolivians, Cubans, Zimbabweans, etc., first before supporting McCain, or even not working to make him lose.

Unfortunately, the only person who can make McCain lose the election is Obama.

I fear that Paul Street is accurate in calling Obama an "authoritarian corporate-imperial insider ... a relentless ideological triangulator, a clever racial accommodator and political opportunist." And while I fervently hope it to be true, I suspect the pseudonymous Spengler, writing in Asia Times Online, is a bit too fantastic in writing:

"Obama profiles Americans the way anthropologists interact with primitive peoples. He holds his own view in reserve and emphatically draws out the feelings of others; that is how friends and colleagues describe his modus operandi since his days at the Harvard Law Review, through his years as a community activist in Chicago, and in national politics. Anthropologists, though, proceed from resentment against the devouring culture of America and sympathy with the endangered cultures of the primitive world. Obama inverts the anthropological model: he applies the tools of cultural manipulation out of resentment against America. The probable next president of the United States is a mother's revenge against the America she despised. ... [A mother who] brought the six-year-old Barack into the kitchen of anti-colonialist outrage [in post-'67 Indonesia], immediate [sic] following one of the worst episodes of civil violence in post-war history."

One-upping Spengler, many right-leaning Unitedstatesians are actually fearful that, despite his campaign-trail rhetoric and published books, Obama plans to introduce (or reintroduce, after a horrific first impression called the Red Scare) socialism to the United States. (See, for instance, BARACK OBAMA HID HIS FATHER'S SOCIALIST AND ANTI-WESTERN CONVICTIONS FROM HIS READERS) If only that were the case.

Spengler inadvertently makes a good point, however. A resurrected Karl Marx would not be able to win a Unitedstatesian presidential election - and neither would any unabashed leftist. Rather than unabashed, to win a Unitedstatesian election (in any other place besides perhaps a condominium in a few urban neighborhoods) a leftist must be extremely circumspect. The intellectual environment of the United States mirrors its physical environment: religiously, it is to a disturbing extent like the swamps of Louisiana and Florida; in terms of knowledge about foreign countries and their intellectual currents it is like the deserts of the West and the Great Plains of the Midwest; its susceptibility to nationalist propaganda replicates the Mississippi's weakness for industrial and agricultural chemical runoff; its hostility to new and challenging ideas does honor to the interplay between the Pacific's waves and the magnificently imposing cliffs of California's coast. And it is in this intellectual environment that ideas, and the politicians who espouse them, must survive and propagate.

This is why the electoral struggle in the U.S. is so close to complete meaninglessness. To move the country down a healthy evolutionary path, one can only attempt to elect the candidate who would at most (at least?) moderate the variously parasitic effect of the minority economic elite's desired policies upon the majority economic non-elite. From the start of every election there is no chance whatsoever that any candidate advocating a major evolutionary shift in policy will win. Within this electoral realm, the only promising strategy available mimics the Chinese proverb: each election is just a single step on a thousand-mile journey.

An analogy to marketing is actually more than just an analogy: it's a close cousin. Besides religious believers, what organized group of humans is routinely successful at winning an intellectual struggle by convincing people of things they hadn't believed before? Marketers. (Madmen, and ad men.) They start with the goal of convincing millions of people who have never heard of Brand X product that Brand X product is the best product of its kind; and they often succeed. Sometimes they can even convince people to believe they have a previously unknown (and usually sexual attractiveness-impairing) defect that Brand X product can correct. How do they succeed? Not by explaining the chemical constitution of Brand X product or the methodology of the tests that tended to show that Brand X product performs its task better than Brand Y product with 90% confidence that the correct percentage difference lies within plus or minus 2.5 percentage points of 15%. That's too accurate and informational. Instead, the teams of psychologists hired by marketing firms will identify which subconscious desires can be manipulated to convince the target audience to buy Brand X product. Then the creative team will, under the guidance of other psychologists, come up with a mixture of sights and sounds to manipulate the identified subconscious desires to get the target audience to perform the target behavior: buying Brand X product like it's going out of style. And why do they forsake the path of knowledge dissemination and rational argumentation? Because it doesn't work. If it did, it would be used. That's one gold standard litmus test our kind of economy excels at.

Another example. It is probably economically efficient, factoring externalities, for the country to produce its energy in a manner that can be continued indefinitely: sustainably. However to get the kind of revenue needed to recoup some significant start-up costs, the target audience - the whole country - would need to be made willing to pay a premium price. And unless they are aimed at the leisure class for whom a premium price can be desirable in itself, they are devilishly hard to sell. To sell a few hundred million of a target audience on paying a premium price for sustainable energy, they would first need to be educated about climatology, economics, and technology - for starters. No 30-second commercial, or succession thereof, can possibly hope to accomplish this. After all, despite their enormity, the benefits of sustainable energy production are less apparent than the benefits of an expensive car (status, sex, comfort). Therefore, the constraints of marketing shape what can possibly be successfully introduced into the marketplace - or the polity, which has pretty much become a synonym for it.

Backing someone like Brian Moore, Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader in a Unitedstatesian presidential election is an instance of futility. It's like trying to break into the high-speed computer processing industry as a start-up company. Even as Microsoft it would be difficult to accomplish; as winning a presidential election has proved even for capably self-financed Ross Perot.

The ideological and political affinities of an unabashedly leftist candidate are foreign to the target audience/electorate they need to reach. One's ideology is one aspect of the story one tells about the world (and why it is the way it is, and how it should be). One's story about the world is largely based on facts - things we know or think we know to be true. The facts we know and believe to be true form the skeleton of our story about the world - our ideology - and so the scope for our respective ideologies is limited by the facts we know. Therefore, the ideologies that can possibly exist within a given target audience (population, electorate) are limited by the facts that are known by them. The facts that enable one to take up a leftist ideology - for instance, the facts that comprise world economic history - are absent in any appreciable number from the Unitedstatesian population. In order to successfully back a Moore, McKinney or Nader the population would have to be taught a large body of facts, and then convinced to change their narratives to account for these facts. Only then would a majority of the population vote for an unabashed leftist.

Thorstein Veblen offers a good summary of the difficulties of changing people's minds:
"[t]he process of readjustment of the accepted theory of life involves a degree of mental effort - a more or less protracted and laborious effort to find and to keep one's bearings under the altered circumstances. This process requires a certain expenditure of energy, and so presumes, for its successful accomplishment, some surplus of energy beyond that absorbed in the daily struggle for subsistence. ... The abjectly poor, and all those persons whose energies are entirely absorbed by the struggle for daily sustenance, are conservative because they cannot afford the effort of taking thought for the day after tomorrow; just as the highly prosperous are conservative because they have small occasion to be discontented with the situation as it stands today."

In the United States today, the conservative class of "those persons whose energies are entirely absorbed by the struggle for daily sustenance," or debt repayment, is broad indeed; and the conservative class of highly prosperous persons with "small occasion to be discontented with the situation as it stands" control the means of disseminating ideas.

And so far I've only addressed one aspect of the intellectual battlefield: how to convince people whose ears you have. But how to even get to them? How do you do logistics? How to supply an entire country with regular deliveries of facts for the foundation and ideas for the edifice? This logistical realm is fraught with even greater difficulties for leftists; and as the saying goes, soldiers win battles but logistics win wars. The means of production and dissemination of ideas - television and radio stations; book, magazine and newspaper presses; schools, universities and think tanks - are effectively controlled by an economic elite who benefit most from the economic system as-is. And following the trend in other means of production like assembly lines, media technology is far more powerful today than its 19th or early 20th century counterpart. While a small independent newspaper could put up some appreciable resistance in the 19th century struggle for men's minds, today it simply could not compete with the idea machine par excellence, television, which Unitedstatesians subject their brains to an average of four hours a day. Little wonder then that the public sphere, home to the arena in which political ideas compete, is utterly dominated by ideas that support the status quo. Today's public sphere is soaked with the most psychologically and technologically advanced economic propaganda (commercials) the world has ever seen, along with an analysis of world affairs provided in political "news" coverage whose left extreme is not far beyond what Mussolini would have been prepared to contemplate. Meanwhile, most of the people comprising the public sphere are exhaustively concerned with keeping their jobs, credit scores, families and lives together: and this is the arena in which leftists would attempt to engage people in an exhaustive discussion of the social order, and why it needs changing through electing an unfamiliar candidate with unfamiliar ideas.

The only thing one can hope to achieve during a Unitedstatesian presidential election is to defeat the candidate furthest to the right by working to elect the other elite-approved candidate to his left. Hopefully over the next four to eight years organized lobbying and outreach efforts will open new opportunities to shift the population to the left, so that during the next election, the next elite-approved, furthest-right candidate will be further to the left than his predecessor was; and likewise with the candidate to his left.

This may seem to some a strategy that can only unfold at a glacial pace; by that I mean the pace a glacier moves at, not the pace at which they are currently melting. This is true - but so much the worse for reality, not for the strategy with the most promise of changing it. This is the extent of hope in the United States. Any other source of hope can only be located without. The country, and perhaps the planet.

This is troubling for some. There are those around the world who know certain facts of vanishingly uncommon occurrence in the population of Unitedstatesian brains: such as the precise number of thousands of people who die daily from hunger, preventable diseases and political violence; the sources and causes of such violence; and how these results emanate from a world economic system (that has, as George W. recently discovered, "interlinks").

Add to this list facts and ideas about how the relationship of this economic system to any given country is the result of historical developments; and the facts of the historical development of the world's countries, most of which experienced what is called a "colonial period" - and not like the United States'. Knowledge of these facts tends to facilitate, in the brain's narrative realm, a connection between the economic system and the needless, painful deaths of millions each year, for no other motivation than that which is the currency of the system: self-interest or greed, for Smith and Marx respectively. The story that emerges from the putting together of these facts is a story that places the status quo, the present international economic system with the U.S. at its head, as the actor responsible for the most perverse outcomes and contrasts imaginable. Like the deaths of nearly 10 million children, annually, due to diseases prevented and cured by inexpensive interventions, while hundreds of billions of dollars worth of human labor and capital are used to produce killing machines, and to research and develop deadlier ones. Or the 218 million child laborers, over half of whom work in dangerous conditions: conditions the children of the very same world's ten million millionaires will be strangers to, to put it mildly.

Like the recently much-publicized Bill Ayers, there are many throughout the world whose grasp of facts such as the ones just mentioned lead them to desire the destruction of such a system by any means necessary. In countries on the periphery of this system, organized violence has succeeded in overthrowing its local representatives. In Haiti, Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam and other countries, most recently Nepal, organized violence has extricated the population to a great extent from the global economic system responsible for horrifying atrocities the provenance of which the vast majority of Unitedstatesians fail to accurately identify. In each of these countries, guerrillas waged a successful military campaign and, in different ways, won control of the country. Mao wrote that guerrillas are like fish, and the population is the water in which they swim; in China, the communists were able to rely upon the population for recruitment and material support as they fought asymmetric war against two much better supplied armies. In other countries with ultimately unsuccessful guerrilla struggles, like Peru, anti-guerrilla forces have taken Mao's words to heart, and have drained the water, so to speak, by massacring entire villages suspected of sympathizing with the guerrillas. Or they have poisoned the water with propaganda and fear spread by the murder of public figures suspected of even a trace of leftist affinity.

In the United States, there would be no need for an anti-guerrilla force to drain or poison the water a prospective guerrilla army would need to survive. The water has been pre-treated to be inhospitable to guerrillas. The most powerful idea-spreading technologies in history have been almost exclusively devoted to spreading resistance to the idea of radical change of any sort, least of all by violent means. On top of this, the trappings of formal democracy serve to convince Unitedstatesians that the system of power ruling their lives can be changed simply by pushing a few buttons every couple of years. Perhaps most importantly, class lines are damn near invisible to Unitedstatesian eyes; meanwhile "race" certainly is visible, and is a potent concept piggybacking on the universal human tendency to think in terms of in-groups and out-groups.

Class-consciousness is a rarity in the United States, coming to the fore only in rare instances, like when the mere millionaire (who considers herself "rich") realizes that she cannot live like those with a net worth greater than $100 million. A guerrilla movement supported by the masses needs a broad-based class consciousness like a fish needs oxygen in water; and in the United States, the fish would have no oxygen.

The only potential guerrilla force with a shred of a chance of success of winning power in the United States would be a nationalistic, reactionary, religious and very likely racist group of well-armed fanatics. And even they would have to contend with a PR war in which the status quo forces control all the high ground (in terms of controlling television, newspapers, radio and, should the need arise, the internet). Guerrillas could be fighting to establish a government and economy under direct democratic control, and yet every household in the nation down to the remotest log cabin in Alaska would be delivered the message that the guerrillas are power-hungry despots intent on enslaving the population and selling their daughters into United Nations' brothels. How would a guerrilla force deliver their competing message to 300 million people spread across thousands of miles?

Despite these difficulties, it is impossible to predict with total accuracy the eventual outcome of something as complex as an organized, armed struggle that could last many years. Yet such a struggle is farthest from the minds of those leftists who deplore Obama because, based on his public record and some of his writings and rhetoric, he seems to be a center-right politician. (As if successful politicians in the United States even have essences so much as degrees of stubbornness with which they partially resist organized political pressure.) The same people who (rightly) consider there to be only one political party in the U.S., with Republican and Democratic factions, who cannot as a matter of principle vote for any candidate of the Party, including Obama - these people almost down to a man renounce violence as a political tactic, and instead exhaust the implementation of their political strategy with tactics such as loosely organized protest rallies featuring Halloween costumes and less-than-clever rhyming chants. Their goal is to pressure the government into adopting their principles of non-violence and a peaceful, nonexploitative foreign and domestic policy; and so following the example of no successful organized political minority group in history, wage their struggle through public displays of political carnival mixed with civil obedience.

In thinking about these people, I now understand what god was talking about when he wrote in his last Christian, and most snazzily-titled book, Revelation: "Since you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth." If their goal is to build a mass movement by spreading their ideology, then they can at least begin with an organized program of mass education. At least they could do what the Jehovah's Witnesses do. And if they instead are earnest in their desire to end a monstrous international economic system, if necessary using violence to stop violence, they could begin military training and attempt to spread their beliefs at the same time. But what are the Unitedstatesians who don't support Obama actually doing?

Whether you as a matter of principle renounce violence, or if you do not, but simply think that present conditions make violence a losing tactic, the only remaining option in the United States is to work to get Obama elected, making friends and contacts, and learning about political organization in the process. After he is elected, keeping the movement's political activity alive by lobbying the government, this time following tactics successful lobbies use. Of course, not all lobbying tactics will be within reach financially, and new ones will have to be developed. Above all, what is necessary is organization, and unity of purpose.

Is there an alternative?

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