"Our World Will Never Be the Same" --
Let Us Hope So
Bill Griffen - SUNY Cortland
"United We Stand" shout a million American Flag bumper stickers and window signs. Bill Moyers (2002) joins the chorus in celebrating how "Americans have rallied together in a way (not) remembered since World War II." (25) United and rallied together for what? As this is being written in early January 2002, Americans have fallen in step behind their newly appointed president and the military’s bombing campaign, all aided by the non-critical, cheerleading media. There was a real need to unite in condemning the criminal (not war) attacks of 9-11 and in extending sympathy and support to all the families affected.
There is now a real need to try to understand why this happened. There is no shortage of explanations. The official government explanation continues in the imperium cold war vein that has driven most U.S. policy over the past two centuries: one more case of them against us, evil against good, barbarism against civilization, tyranny against freedom, enslavement against democracy. Once again we have been attacked by aggressors and so the media saturate the under attack TV audience with the hourly war cry: "America Strikes Back." President Bush and a compliant media bathe in the disbelief that anyone could visit this violence on a country as benevolent, caring and dedicated to freedom throughout the world as America. Media commentators report, and with very few exceptions, support the entrenched view of "American exceptionality." Other nations act out of self interest, while the U.S.A. is always liberating people, spreading democracy and advancing freedom across the globe. Some "others," incapable of our freedom-loving goodness, became so jealous of what we have and what we stand for that they committed unthinkable acts and killed innocent American civilians. Versions of this explanation made the media rounds and quickly became the main substance of the national conversation. The American Way of Life is under terrorist attack and now more than ever the battle lines are drawn between our good and their evil. Our president throws down the gauntlet: you’re either with us or support terrorism and evil. Let the new war begin.
Let the spending for health needs recede even further; let the spending for war planes and bombs increase. Let the spending on education continue on its snail-pace; let the spending for cash-cow, unworkable "star war" schemes take off. Let the patriotic bowing to militarism increase; let the voices of non-violence and negotiation be stilled. Let the "God Bless America" voices ring from every public gathering; let the "God Bless the World" voices be ignored and silenced. A few voices resist joining the patriotic chorus to remind us of the past historical reality, not the processed "history" shaped to the interests of the "let us return to normalcy by wrapping ourselves in the flag" present jingoism. These few voices, marginalized or ignored by mainstream media and therefore mostly silenced, remind us what is and has been normal for our culture, our foreign policy and our role in the world, past and present.
Michael Lerner (2001) observes that "(i)t’s not that Americans are willfully deceiving themselves. Most Americans have never ever heard a serious presentation of our history and our current role in the world." (8) That history of U.S. terrorism has always been buried, marginalized, minimized or distorted by those courting power, the big media. (The Nation 2002) "Official History" replaces the real history. Policy decisions are legitimized by appeals to an idealized past that has been distorted and fictionalized to rationalize America’s imperial agenda and to continue the "America is the exception" myth.
The real history is not censored in the traditional sense, it is censored by being ignored or dismissed as merely extremist, anti-American views. This lost and neglected history is available. It multiplied rapidly on the Internet in the weeks following 9-11, but the Official History-filtering system that moves information and interpretation on to the Larry King, Hardball, Meet the Press, MSNBC, Fox, CNN "one view fits all" info-tainment business, managed to ignore the Internet’s diverse offerings. This points up the problem that even an open-to-all-views democratic cyberspace can be neutralized by the ubiquitous mass media. The alternative, independent press also delivered the real history record, only to be swallowed by the big official spin. Real history evidence dramatizes the unjust and immoral nature of establishing a national response to 9-11 based on historic lies and omissions.
... since W.W.II, we have not hesitated to use (the most powerful
military in the world) for political and/or economic gain in places like China (1945-46), Korea (1950-53), China (1950-53), Guatemala (1954),
Indonesia (1958), Cuba (1959-60), Guatemala (1960), Congo (1964),
Peru (1965), Laos (1964-73), Vietnam (1961-73), Cambodia (1969-70),
Guatemala (1967-69), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), El Salvador (1980s),
Nicaragua (1980s), Panama (1989), Iraq (1991-present), Sudan (1998),
Afghanistan (1998) and Yugoslavia (1999). We have bombed each of these
countries in turn, and in NO case did a democratic government, respectful of human rights, occur as a direct result. Through our weapons and/or proxies,
innocent civilians of Indonesia, East Timor, Chile, Nicaragua and Palestine
have also been victims of the United States. Is it any wonder that the level
of hatred of the United States is so high? (Thompson 2001)
This not-for-prime-time e-mail then reminds us of an earlier warning from
President Carter of U.S. violent actions (some on his watch). One searches in vain, however, for the term "terrorism" to describe this violence.
More neglected history delivered on 9-28-01 from cyberspace answers the
question, "Why do ‘they’ hate us?" with overwhelming clarity, while the TV nets and cable struggle as if the question were on a level with "how did life begin?" Stephen R. Shalom (2002) presents a listing of specific incidents of U.S. use of force and threat of force in the Middle East. Whether these actions, military and economic, directly motivated "the horrific and utterly unjustified attacks of September 11 is unknown. But the grievances (that resulted) surely helped to create the environment which breeds anti-American terrorism." He then provides a real history from 1948 to 2000 that solves the mystery of "why?" created by the architects of official history. (2)
One of the most reliable documentors of recent history, Noam Chomsky (Chomsky 1988, 1992, 1994, 1999, 2001) reminds us that "in much of the world the U.S. is regarded as a leading terrorist state, and with good reason." (2001, 23) He recounts U.S. violent assaults against Nicaragua in the 1980s, U.S. support of Turkey’s crushing of its own Kurdish population, the destruction in Sudan of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant (it produced 90 percent of Sudan’s pharmaceutical products) in 1998 (2001, 44-50) and, of course, the terror visited on Vietnam (for over four decades, Chomsky documented our terrorist role in Indochina). Edward Herman (2002) reminds us why the populace doesn’t see any of the above as terrorism: "states define terrorism and identify the terrorists, and they naturally exempt themselves as always ‘retaliating’ and engaging in ‘counter-terror’ even when their own actions are an exact fit to their own definitions." (30)
"The scale and consequences of the September 11 attack are massive indeed, but this was not the worst act of mass terrorism in U.S. history --- one must not forget that the atomic raids on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed 210,000 people, most of them civilians, most perishing instantaneously." Walden Bello, (2002, 51) the writer of those words, argues that the purpose of the bombings had more to do with terrorizing and destroying
the civilian population than destroying military targets.
A crucial part of making sense of real history, as opposed to bumper sticker, feel-good history, is the role economics plays in driving history. With all of the accomplishments of the capitalist economic engine, it must be noted that a human environmental price must be extracted. The accounting ledger represents a long history of social inequality. In the past few decades inequities have increased. Listed below is the picture in numbers. Sadly, this quantified misery list has the power to numb as well as enrage.
Here is what "getting back to normal" means for the majority of earthlings.
In 1900, people in the 10 richest nations earned nine times as much
per capita as did people in the 10 poorest nations. By 1960, the ratio was 30
to 1. (In 2000, it was 72 to 1).
Almost half the people on earth today live on less than $2 a day.
(T)he three richest people on earth have wealth that exceeds the
combined gross domestic product of the 43 poorest nations. (U.S. News &
World Report, 5-14-01, 68)
CEO salaries in the U.S. rose by 571% between 1990 and 2000 while
workers struggled with a 5% (adjusted for inflation) raise in the same period.
(Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, D.C.) Today’s average CEO
makes more than $12 million, 400 times that of a blue-collar worker
The wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans grew a $1.44 billion
each from 1997-2000, for an average daily increase in wealth of $1,920,000
per person ($240,000 per hour or 46,602 times the U.S. minimum wage).
Funds in the hands of U.S. money managers grew from $1.9 trillion in
1980 to $17 trillion in 2000. The pay gap between top executives and
production workers in the 362 largest U.S. companies soared from 42:1
in 1980 to 475:1 in 1999. (Gates 2002, 30)
From 1983-1997, only the top five percent of U.S. households saw an
increase in net worth, while wealth declined for everyone else. (Gates 2002, 30)
The financial wealth of the top one percent of U.S. households now
exceeds the combined household financial wealth of the bottom 95 percent.
(Gates 2002, 30) The share of the nation’s after-tax income received by the top
one percent nearly doubled from 1979-1997. By 1998, the top-earning one
percent had as much combined income as the 100 million Americans with the
lowest earnings. (Gates 2002, 31)
Two billion people (1 out of 3) suffer from malnutrition, including 55
million in industrialized countries. (Gates 2002, 31)
That was the normal world on September 10, 2001. This is the normal world today. Who in this normal world is the "us" as in the "us against them" world that President Bush calls for? Who is the "them?" Where do we place starving children and daily death victims of preventable disease on the terrorism ledger?
While the patriotic button-pushing from above reached frenzied levels and all attention was on September 11, the political owners of America paid off their corporate partners with a tax bill that gave IBM, General Motors and General Electric a total of
$3.27 billion in immediate tax rebates. The total gift to top corporate America was $25 billion, twice what the 37 million low-income families received. So the richest 1 percent got 41 percent of the new tax cuts and the bottom 60 percent got 7 percent. (Citizens for Tax Justice).
The U.S. "us," in the "us against them" world, is about 4 percent of the population that continues to exhaust between 25 to 35 percent of the planet’s resources. To sustain and protect that materially privileged position (grossly unequally shared, see above), "our economic system features long supply-lines, concentrated supplies of volatile fuels, toxic chemicals and radioactive materials, disposable workers subject to instant dismissal in a
moment of disruption, core industries subject to extreme swings of consumer confidence, and an unstable financial system built on debt and speculation. David Korten, board chair of the Positive Futures Network, warns, "It is a disaster waiting to happen." (2002, 53) Actually, it’s starting to happen.
In a deadly combination of naked self-interest, corporate America forges on with its globalization grand plan. What do the World Bank, the U.N. and the C.I.A. have in common? They all agree that globalization increases world-wide poverty and inequality.
Globalization appears to increase poverty and inequality.... The
costs of adjusting to greater openness are borne exclusively by the poor,
regardless of how long the adjustment takes.
- The World Bank, the Simultaneous Evolution of Growth and
The new rules of globalization - and the players writing them - focus
on integrating global markets, neglecting the needs of people that markets
cannot meet. The process is concentrating power and marginalizing the
poor, both countries and people.... The current debate [about globalization]
is ... too narrow, limited to the concerns of economic growth and financial
stability and neglecting broader human concerns such as persistent global
poverty, growing inequality between and within countries, exclusion of poor people and countries and persistent human rights abuses.
- United Nations Human Development Report, 1999
The rising tide of the global economy will create many economic
winners, but it will not lift all boats .... [It will] spawn conflicts at home and
abroad, ensuring an even wider gap between regional winners and losers
than exists today .... [Globalization’s] evolution will be rocky, marked by
chronic financial volatility and a widening economic divide .... Regions,
countries, and groups feeling left behind will face deepening economic
stagnation, political instability, and cultural alienation. They will foster
political, ethnic, ideological, and religious extremism, along with the violence
that often accompanies it.
- United States Central Intelligence Agency, undated
Who does benefit from the current globalized economic system? "It’s not the farmers driven from their lands and made into homeless refugees. It’s not urban dwellers, dealing with influxes of displaced peoples, jamming in to look for jobs. It’s not workers caught in downward wage spirals." And Jerry Mander (2001) adds, "It’s surely not nature." (39) The benefactors of this system of exploiting nature and workers are the rich and super rich described in the first part of this essay. Mander challenges the popular fatalistic assumptions of inevitability by pointing out that "this process (globalization) - these institutions and the rules they operate by - have been created on purpose by human beings and corporations and economists and bankers, and have specific forms designed for specific outcomes. It is no accident. It was not inevitable. And it can be reversed or revised ...." (34)
To be educated today is to be able to expose the lies and half-truths of corporate-coded versions of reality, "official" reality. The question, "Who will benefit?" must be consistently raised. Ellen Reiss of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation lays bare this official deceit by correctly observing "the principal purpose of U.S. international policy has been for the earth and its people to provide profit for U.S. corporations. That has meant ‘supporting thugs and tyrants,’ who are friendly to this purpose." (Reiss 2001) In the official history, convenient collective amnesia serves our leaders well. When the thugs and tyrants serve our hegemonic agenda, they are used as allies. Political reincarnation is practiced as the 1980s anti-Communist, freedom-fighter, Osama bin Laden, is reborn now as the evil terrorist.
A careful reading of insider (aimed at elites) sources can help supplement and confirm the real history being preserved in the independent sources. Foreign Affairs, a journal aimed at the foreign policy establishment, offers a no-spin description of the
reality surrounding the events of 9-11. "The American imperium in the Arab-Muslim world (beginning with the Gulf War) hatched a monster .... Primacy (the term used for U.S. hegemony) begot its nemesis .... Arabia had been overrun by Americans, bin Laden said, ‘For more than seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its territories, Arabia, plundering its riches, overwhelming its rulers, humiliating its people, threatening its neighbors, and using its peninsula as a spearhead to fight the neighboring Islamic peoples.’" ... The editors of the Monthly Review (2002) observe that "[t]he more that the United States extends its empire in the Middle East/Islamic world, the more terrorist attacks will occur. Such realistic views, presented by the foreign policy establishment, are almost entirely absent in mass media
accounts …." (Inside covers)
There are, I believe, several major messages connected to the events of 9-11. The most urgent is to sort out the basic contradiction between the establishment calls for "back to normal" and the contradictory mass cliché that "after September 11th nothing will be the same." For popular consumption this is decoded to mean that our materialistic lifestyles, the American way of life, must not be threatened by these evil, freedom-hating terrorists. So, hit the malls and feed the market; in your face, evil-doers! And the official mainstream "everything has changed" mantra means that there will now be a price to be paid for the U.S. top-of-the-heap world position. The "circle the wagons" takes us from the cold war to the good vs. evil war. Security is the watchword and, for some, a new growth industry. We will spend our way to a safe and secure future as the military takes center stage and the peace through force and violence industries crank up the military responses: more weapons, worthless missile umbrella shields and the never-ending technology of new ways to efficiently kill. Unasked by officialdom: Are there no other paths than the cul-de-sac of cyclical war?
If the assumptions of official history prevail, the consequences will be an escalation of pauperism in the world, increasing the motivation and conditions for all forms of frustration-violence as victims are offered no other alternatives. Patriotic energies will be mobilized to continue in the cold war made of "us against them" jingoism. The official orchestrated reactions to 9-11 give us an emerging (long-term) terrorism cold war, increased militarism, heightened nationalism ("finally we’re united"), and continuation of worship of the market, all leading to the elite’s vaunted world order global capitalism. Over one quarter of a century ago, Philip Slater (1974) was telling us that "our society is founded on pathological premises" and offered this metaphor. "Our culture is like a con man who persuades us to cheat those close to us of their due, and to invest instead in ourselves --- We are still connected, but now through the con man." (187) The modern transformation to economic growth, profit-value (as opposed to use-value) and markets that dominate and shape our existence is responsible for driving the "con job" role of culture. Elsewhere (Griffen 2000, 414), I argued that the "fixation on the growth economy society as a way of organizing existence must be broken .… Karl Polanyi offered the thesis that the self-adjusting market ‘could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness.’"
If that "con job" culture that emerged from the agricultural revolution just 10,000 years ago were an automobile, it would be recalled. It has turned out to be more dangerous than a lemon. By human standards, by ecological standards, the debit side continues to accelerate. The achievements, and there are many (technological and non-technological), can no longer justify the increasing threats and real disasters defining our new century. Whether it is billions of lives in sustained misery and poverty or the planet’s life systems’ degradation, one question is fundamental: Can we learn to imagine
a world and an existence dramatically different from today’s doomed civilization? We have help. Some have been taking those imaginative leaps and concretely offering outlines of what is needed. These are the people Morris Berman (2000) identifies as modern-day monastics.
Schools, because of their relative freedom to contemplate (critical thinking is encouraged, although seldom practiced) ought to support the "monastic" outlook on life. Berman cites Ernest Becker as a monastic disciple who has championed the nurturing of "the individual (who) reflexively sees through his or her own cultural conditioning and refuses to be blindly driven any longer by the heroic program of power and achievement. At this point, of liberation from the conditioning of culture, the individual comes
face-to-face with the problem of the meaning of life, and can find no secure answer." (178)
Our materialistic-centered culture is a constant distraction from imagining other possibilities of living and being. Monastics, as a modern extension of their Dark Age forbears, would sound the alarms. The small voices of urgency squeezing through the globalization cracks would serve as the canaries once did in the miners’ shafts, warning about the hidden threats to life surrounding humans and their existence into the future.
Listen to some of the warning voices. Thom Hartmann (1999) characterizes today’s modern culture as formed by what he calls "stories" (myths, beliefs and paradigms). The stories continue to shape values that result in behavior, individual and collective, that are at the root of our culture’s demise. He contrasts the two cultures. The present culture story:
We are not an integral part of the world, we are separate from it
(emphasis in original). The Earth (and all of the plant and animal life on it)
is something different from us. We call that different stuff "nature" and
"wilderness," we call ourselves "mankind," "humankind," and "civilization."
We are very clear in our vision of the difference between us and the rest
of life on the planet - we are separate from it, superior to it, and a law unto ourselves. When we want something, it’s there for us to take (my note:
hence Daniel Quinn’s, author of Ishmael, term of "takers" for post-agriculture
revolution culture and "leavers" for hunter-gatherers civilizations), and we
don’t have to answer to anyone else. (119-120)
The pre-agricultural revolution culture story:
We are part of the world (emphasis in original). We are made of
the same flesh as other animals. We eat the same plants. We share the same
air, water, soil, and food with every other life form on the planet. We are born
into life by the same means as other mammals, and when we die we, like them,
become part of the soil which will nourish future generations." (154)
The accepting of one story over the other alters in the most basic way the existence and behavior of humans on this planet. The present culture story that we are trapped in, has moved us on these cultural paths:
It is our destiny to subdue and rule the rest of creation (emphasis
in original). From the Bible’s command to establish "dominion" over the
Earth and its inhabitants, to the American government’s acted-out doctrine
of Manifest Destiny, to our science-fiction stories which express that we
deserve to be the designated rulers of everything we can see, from the seas
to the moon and beyond. Some people try to soften this by saying when
Man was given dominion of the Earth, it meant he was given responsibility
for taking care of it, but few people in our culture behave as if they believe
The pre-agriculture revolution culture contains the following cultural lessons:
It is our destiny to cooperate with the rest of creation (emphasis
in original). Every life-form has its purpose in the grand ecosystem, and
all are to be respected. Each animal and plant has its own unique intelligence
and spirit. We are permitted to compete with other plants and animals, but
we may not wantonly destroy them. All life is absolutely sacred as is human
life. Although hunting and killing for food are part of nature’s order, when
we do so it must be done with respect and thankfulness. (154-155) (see
Ishmael, p. 127-132, for a discussion of the "law of limited competition")
Another monastic, against-the grain voice of wisdom belongs to C.A. Bowers (1997, 2001). He has been using that voice for the past few decades to warn about the
"guiding root metaphors that underlie the high-status knowledge" (accorded high-status
for its use in socializing economic market addictions). Those root metaphors must be exposed, understood and replaced by non-anthropocentric ones. Bowers sees the main root metaphors as:
1. the pursuit of self-interest and the sense of being separate from
nature …. 2. An anthropocentric view of the world .... 3. Change is viewed as
inherently progressive in nature .... 4. Traditions ... are seen as inhibiting
progress …. 5. The world is understood as secular in nature ... [limiting
spirituality] .... 6. Social development is understood in economic and
technological terms .... 7. Machines ... continue to serve as the analog for
understanding life processes .... (Bowers 1997, 6-7).
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Only the interests of the powerful few will be served by a return (continuation!) of normalcy. Use the belief that "nothing will be the same" as an opportunity to work for real change, outside the globalism - ecocide culture trap. The normalcy to be rejected is too scarred by poverty and its accompanying human misery to tolerate any longer, let alone support. The "justification" advanced for continuing a status quo normalcy that neglects the needs of the majority and their earth nest is the rationalization of the need for competitive greed (euphemistically altered) to motivate humans. And, of course, only the present "all against all" economic system, we are told, provides that motivation. Stretched to global dimensions, the competitive credo becomes the "us against them" world now being used to usher in the next round of wars. A world of such inequities and injustices (see pp. 5-6 above) will never see peace. Here is the soil for terrorism, nurtured by human-inflicted, culture-determined conditions. And here is where the "war on terrorism" must be waged. The incubators of terrorism, miserable living conditions, must be eliminated. Failure in our own domestic war on poverty should instruct us of the present system’s failure. As part of the problem, corporate globalism is a fatally flawed, doomed-to-failure non-solution.
Moderns are trapped in an existence story (civilized culture) that sets us apart from the environment and each other. Modern cultural metaphors (anthropocentrism, progress materially defined, the autonomous individual) reinforce the distancing of ourselves from the natural as technology worship serves to further exacerbate modern alienation. Failure to understand commonalties among earthlings perpetuates divisive competitions expressed through cultural contexts of religions, nations, races, genders and sexual and spiritual differences and orientations. A commonality is needed to render these culturally constructed differences secondary.
A consciousness of self is considered normal and encouraged as individuals form their self-identities. The next stage could be the development of a consciousness of one’s culture. Maslow’s theory of individual development ("hierarchy of individual needs") moving through stages toward the apex of self-actualization would be dialectically joined with attention to a corresponding "hierarchy of cultural needs." Corresponding to the individual’s highest goal of self-actualization would be eco-justice cultural goals supportive of cultural self-actualization. It would become apparent that a culture whose
highest goal (stunted on the hierarchy scale) is the development of individuals encouraged to accumulate the most wealth and attendant fame (generally connected with exploiting nature), will always severely limit individual growth and development. Self-actualization coupled with culture actualization would positively affect both the individual and the social domain.
We have two basic choices: a continuation of our "reproduction theory" of education, wherein the student learns how to join the on-going social order, or a "critical theory" aimed at encouraging the study of the social order, thus becoming critically conscious of one’s culture so as to understand why she should join (support) the present culture and through conforming behavior, cooperate in reproducing it. The second choice offers the possibility that "why?" questions will unmask the shallow superficiality of the "how?" questions.
The choice not to join adds a voice to the monastic chorus. It might even be the hundredth monkey. (Look it up)
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