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Tuesday, May 20

Some Food for Thought

I was reading Wonkette yesterday (yeah, I was bored), and I ran across the following questions in the comments (hat tip to Zeeb for shifting my brain into Drive). I've copied Zeeb's rather thought-provoking questions below verbatim, and they're italicized; my responses to those questions follow.

Questions for the coming phase in the World Order:
- What will it mean to fight for your country when that is inseparable from fighting for global or regional financial systems?

Since nationalism is merely a means of replacing God with the State, it stands to reason that fervor for “defending the State” can still be whipped up among an uninformed electorate. That uninformed electorate is key, because if the citizenry are kept in the dark about the motives for war, or are misled about those motives, it is easier for the State to go to war for the greater aggrandizement of those members of the government who stand to gain the most by the acquisition of new resources. We are currently seeing that in the Iraq military operation.

Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex speech was prescient, but as resources become harder to obtain we can expect to see a far more intimate relationship between the defense forces and the industrial establishment. Use of mercenary troops such as Blackwater will continue to expand, disregarding Machiavelli’s warnings regarding their inherent faithlessness and loyalty only to the highest paymaster.

- When the United States hands off the reigns of global supremacy to a multilateral world, how will it establish Rawlsian institutions to protect its own future interests under the banner of fairness?

The United States, by virtue of its nuclear stockpile, will be a major voice in the new global power arrangement for many decades to come. Whether it will still wield the economic might it enjoyed over the past 50 years remains to be seen, as the axis of economic power has been shifting east since the 1980s. China, India and the Arab Gulf States are becoming the principle foci in terms of production, consumption and investment of resources.

John Rawls in A Theory of Justice states that “the national interest of a just state is defined by the principles of justice that have already been acknowledged. Therefore such a nation will aim above all to maintain and to preserve its just institutions and the conditions that make them possible “ (Rawls, Belknap Press 1999, p. 333). The United States has been proud of its institutions, and heretofore has managed to deal equitably with other nations because of its essential fairness. But decades of favoritism toward one state or another, coupled with the increasing politicization of such institutions as the courts and the Foreign Service have served to lower the prestige of these institutions and diminished the USA’s moral standing in the world.

Part of that diminution of moral standing may be due to our still-thriving senses of exceptionalism and moral crusade. The perception that Americans are a special creation simply because they are Americans grates on many nations, particularly when our moral pronouncements of the ideal are completely at odds with our actions in the real world, while the idea of spreading democratic forms and ideals at the point of a bayonet is deeply insulting to many. Since no State is inherently moral in a world guided by Realpolitik or raison d’etat, it stands to reason that any nation purporting to act from moral purity will be automatically suspected of ulterior motives.

- What is the role and possible transformation of cultural forms of life that resist education? (As George Orwell observed, there are two choices for historical change -- revolution and education.)

There are at present several cultural institutions that resist education and therefore will not progress without a violent upheaval of some sort – religion (particularly fundamentalist sects and long-established churches) and government (which is inherently conservative). Of the two, religion is the hardest to change without the creation of new sects, leaving the orthodox sect to ossify and eventually wither.

That is not to say, however, that religion is dead. Human beings are, despite all of their advancements over the past six thousand years very superstitious and are bound to that “sense” of Authority (my personal theory is that this is tied to our biology; in this regard, some sort of religious feeling is unavoidable regardless of the protestations of atheists). As history has shown us, religion must be evolutionary – it must adapt or be rendered irrelevant. The recent declaration by the Vatican regarding life on other planets is an example of this need to stay relevant while remaining true to its doctrine.

Government, on the other hand, would be far more adaptable were it not for its inherent conservatism and its tendency to fling up bureaucratic ramparts to defend itself. Jefferson wrote that it is good that governments should be afraid of its constituents, because when it no longer is afraid of being replaced by election or by violence, it will tend to become the master rather than the servant.

In regard to the first question, government will be faced with a few choices in the coming years. Can it adapt to new power realities in terms of political and military power? Can it adapt and stay relevant in an age of increasing scarcity of resources, and the growth in power of multinational corporations? Finally, can it stay responsive to the needs of all of its population and deal fairly with them?

What do you think about these questions?

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