Saturday, October 31, 2009

Big Thinking on the permanent war economy/society/state

Several of my favorite bloggers have been attending a conference sponsoring by the Democratic-leaning America's Future group called, "Making it in America: Building The New Economy."

Digby in Bubbly Spartans Hullabaloo 10/29/09 in a report from the conference points out that a significant amount of American research and development, and therefore basic science research, is sponsored by government, especially the military:

One of the speakers here, Suzanne Berger from MIT, made a very interesting case that even if we want more bubbles, we aren't likely to get anything very impressive in the future because the kind of industrial innovation that used to be undertaken by private industry, such as Bell Labs, are so atrophied from the past couple of decades of short term financial pressure that they just don't exist anymore. Therefore, it falls to the government to filo the gap --- which isn't a problem as long as the innovation has something to do with killing people or supplying an army.

In fact, we have the vast amount of federal welfare for educated white guys -- defense spending --- to thank for a rather large amount of the growth we have in the economy generally. Too bad Americans are mostly a bunch of overweight, mall shopping TV watchers or we'd have a future as the Sparta of the 21ast [sic] century. Our economy is gearing itself up to focus almost exclusively on war making. Support the surge, support the workers? [my emphasis]
Only the most comfortable generalization and set-piece slogans fit smoothly between commercials in most of our network and cable infotainment programs.


As a result, I'm guessing that more people know the snarky definition of "hiking on the Appalachian trail" as a synonym for "boinking my Argentinian girlfriend" than have any idea of what to make of this week's news that the House of Representatives will be voting on a non-"robust" plan for a health insurance public option that will reimburse at Medicare rates rather than "Medicare plus five".

And the latter is something than a lot of us are probably going to have to figure into our personal budgets before we know it, although admittedly it's more boring to daydream about than trysts with a Latin lover. When it comes to thinking about issues like the US military position in the world, the public discussion rarely gets beyond variations on superficial patriotic bromides about being the number 1 power, US world leadership, defenses second to none and "9/11". And, of course, appeasement and "Munich", which we all know we must avoid at every stage of our generations-spanning Long War.

Terry Eagleton earlier this year in Culture & Barbarism: Metaphysics in a Time of Terrorism Commonweal 03/27/09 touched on some of the same themes Digby raises about how the Big Picture state of our society presented some deadly opportunities for religious and political extremists to wreak havoc:

Advanced capitalism is inherently agnostic. It looks particularly flaccid when its paucity of belief runs up against an excess of the stuff—not only abroad, but domestically too, in the form of various homegrown fundamentalisms. Modern market societies tend to be secular, relativist, pragmatic, and materialistic, qualities that undermine the metaphysical values on which political authority in part depends. And yet capitalism cannot easily dispense with those metaphysical values, even though it has difficulty taking them seriously. (As President Dwight Eisenhower once announced, channeling Groucho Marx, “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious belief—and I don’t care what it is.”) Religious faith in this view is both vital and vacuous. God is ritually invoked on American political platforms, but it would not do to raise him in a committee meeting of the World Bank. In the United States, ideologues of the religious Right, aware of the market’s tendency to oust metaphysics, sought to put those values back in place. Thus does postmodern relativism breed a redneck fundamentalism; those who believe very little rub shoulders with those ready to believe almost anything. With the advent of Islamist terrorism, these contradictions have been dramatically sharpened. It is now more than ever necessary that the people should believe, even as the Western way of life deprives them of much incentive for doing so.

Assured since the fall of the Soviet bloc that it could proceed with impunity to pursue its own global interests, the West overreached itself. Just when ideologies in general seemed to have packed up for good, the United States put them back on the agenda in the form of a peculiarly poisonous brand of neoconservatism. Like characters in some second-rate piece of science fiction, a small cabal of fanatical dogmatists occupied the White House and proceeded to execute their well-laid plans for world sovereignty. It was almost as bizarre as Scientologists taking over 10 Downing Street, or Da Vinci Code buffs patrolling the corridors of the Elysée Palace. The much-trumpeted Death of History, meaning that capitalism was now the only game in town, reflected the arrogance of the West’s project of global domination; and that aggressive project triggered a backlash in the form of radical Islam.
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