American Imperialism: Freedom and Democracy

“Unfortunately, the United States has done for freedom and democracy what the Soviet Union did for socialism.”

Related quotes (not from video):

“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.”
— John Kenneth Galbraith

“Capitalism has defeated communism. It is now well on its way to defeating democracy.”
— David Korten

“In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.”
— Fran Lebowitz

“Look, America is no more a democracy than Russia is a Communist state. The governments of the U.S. and Russia are practically the same. There’s only a difference of degree. We both have the same basic form of government: economic totalitarianism. In other words, the settlement to all questions, the solutions to all issues are determined not by what will make the people most healthy and happy in the bodies and their minds but by economics. Dollars or rubles. Economy uber alles. Let nothing interfere with economic growth, even though that growth is castrating truth, poisoning beauty, turning a continent into a shit-heap and riving an entire civilization insane. Don’t spill the Coca-Cola, boys, and keep those monthly payments coming.”
― Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

“Many believe that capitalism is synonymous with free enterprise and democracy. Capitalism is neither free enterprise nor democracy. After all, China is now a capitalist country. No one believes that China is a democratic country. This conflation has allowed all attempts to attenuate the deficiencies of capitalism to be construed as that grand evil, “socialism” or communism.”
― Egberto Willies, America’s form of capitalism kills free enterprise and democracy

18 thoughts on “American Imperialism: Freedom and Democracy

  1. That actually raises an important point.

    Throughout the Cold War, the US has always sent the message “be like us and you will see your living standards rise like ours did”.

    There’s obviously several problems with that:

    – The US no longer leads in living standards. Generally the Nordic nations, Japan, Australia, Canada, and Western Europe does better on most statistics. Social democracy just works better.

    – The 2008 Financial Crisis has done much to discredit neoliberal economics in the eyes of serious observers.

    – The 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the Vietnam War, and a few other actions have discredited America’s reputation, as have arguably other actions such as torture, and domestic spying.

    It has been argued in the Arabic world that Iraq is proof that democracy cannot work.

    – The rapid economic development of the East Asian economies suggests at that the US model is not the best even for economic growth either.

    The other reason why many authoritarian nations look up to China is that they simply find that model more appealing.

  2. I’m linking lots of articles here, but this one might be worth a read:

    Then there’s former Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren:

    He became famous in 2011, after he wrote the following:

    Always interesting to get the insider’s point of view.

    • I looked at the articles in more detail. The first two interested me the most. Here is a quote from the first:

      “U.S. officials believe they can win a global propaganda war, much as they think they won the Cold War. But they seem to be losing the global struggle for hearts and minds. The Obama charm offensive is wearing thin and worldwide opinion polls consistently identify the U.S. as the greatest threat to peace.”

      And here is a related quote from the second:

      “It is as if Hadrian’s Wall was still fully manned and the fortifications along the border with Germania were never stronger, even as the city of Rome disintegrates from within and the life-sustaining aqueducts leading down from the hills begin to crumble. The governing classes of the Deep State may continue to deceive themselves with their dreams of Zeus-like omnipotence, but others do not. A 2013 Pew Poll that interviewed 38,000 people around the world found that in 23 of 39 countries surveyed, a plurality of respondents said they believed China already had or would in the future replace the United States as the world’s top economic power.”

      Propaganda is power, but propaganda eventually fails. It requires power to enforce propaganda and that is an increasingly difficult thing to do. Propaganda is only power to the extent that there is power behind propaganda.

      The power of the US (shadow) government isn’t just dependent on fooling the American people. It also has to fool, convince, or otherwise force into submission most of the world’s population or at least most of the world’s ruling elites. As long as the US military will maintain a semblance of law and order in the world, no one is going to challenge too strongly the fiction the US chooses to operate under.

      That is a precarious situation. The US or even global (shadow) government has to project more power than it actually has. The first and greatest of fictions is the power itself. It only has power because others give it power, and others give it power because those others fear its power. It’s a sham, but there is a lot of appropriate fear of what would happen if the sham became known for what it is.

      I disagree with Lofgren a bit. I suspect the Deep State is much more vast, pervasive, and systemic than he describes it. As I see it, the Establishment is directly a part of it. Also, I think it is profoundly naive to think there are no conspiracies involved in maintining it. The last thing we should be doing is underestimating it.

  3. Now that I think about it, things might be worse in some ways for the US that the average person might not realize.

    Security for employment is much lower. Even for those at the top, the work life balance sense simply is not good. Inequality can be bad for the rich too.

    Anyways, let me know what you think about Lofgren’s articles.

  4. The US does have several serious obstacles though as Lofgren has noted.

    Subduing a population, as the invasion of Iraq has demonstrated is much more difficult than the American government would like for example to get what it wants.

    The War on Terror for example is estimated to cost around $5 trillion USD. Most of that is borrowed money. If the lenders stop lending, that could trigger serious problems. It could someday send interest rates very high if confidence drops.

    Similarly, destroying the middle class has introduced vulnerabilities too. The outsourcing of manufacturing in particular has introduced various problems. It leaves the US dependent on others and forces the US to run huge deficits in trade. That may be beneficial for the 1% in the short run, but it is also a huge weak point.

    Another example might be the lack of infrastructure investment, brought on by poor political priorities. That may mean lower taxes for the rich but in the long run, also weakens them as well (less productive and less ability to fight wars).

    There are other weak points. I have noted before that Americans have managed to delude themselves into thinking that they are still number 1 in everything and that the only reason why things have been outsourced is because of low wages elsewhere. Yet US education compares very unfavorable to that of the rest of the OECD. Certainly there are outstanding people and some outstanding universities out there. But on average, the rest of the West has made relative gains very rapidly.

    • To me, all those weaknesses are good things. That means change will happen, no matter what anyone wants (including the ruling elite, shadow government, deep state, etc; also including what remains of the comfortable middle class). It may not make many people happy, but it is going to happen.

      Most important, it will probably be the greatest change in recent history. It will be equivalent to the American Revolution or post-WWII Germany, a transformation of society as we know it… and hopefully like those examples there will lbe a rebuilding that follows the initial violence and destruction.

      It is likely to be an even greater transformation than even those examples, since this time it will be global. Thomas Paine wanted an international revolution that would sweep across the world like a wildfire, but he didn’t quite get what he wanted. World War II, despite the name, wasn’t really a world war as large parts of the world’s population were uninvolved and unaffected, even though Europeans at the time thought of themselves as the center of the world.

      My mind has been on some larger scale changes. I’ve specifically been thinking about the breakdown of the bicameral mind and the Axial Age, seemingly two phases of the same transformation. Around 1500 BC and again around 1200 BC, there were mass catastrophes that brought nearly all the empires to their knees and in the process either killed or made most of the world’s population into refugees.

      It was the greates era of destruction in all of human civilization. It completely rearranged all of society. Our modern world was born then. Out of the ashes emerged an entirely new consciousness: the self-conscious individual, the rational mind, and the moral agent. Humanity itself was transformed. The bicameral mind broke down and the voices of the gods went silent. In its place, all of today’s world religions formed and filled the vacancy.

      Everything followed in history has been a playing out of the events that began then. Even the Enlightenment was just a renewal of the philosophizing, scientific thinking, and authority questioning that began with the Axial Age. The Enlightenment just pushed it to a new level, but didn’t really bring anything new to the table. The Enlightenment was more powerful for the simple reason of the pritining press that unleashed the voice of the common man (e.g., Thomas Paine).

      Even if all that we have around the corner is another Enlightenment, that could still mean quite the transformation of the world we know. If the meager printing press was able to take on global empires, imagine what technology now might make possible. No one knows how this will all shake out. No one knew prior to the early modern revolutionary era that the technology of that age would lead to where it did. No one ever knows, until it happens.

      What I do know is that civilization has its breaking points. It takes diverse factors to push it to one of those breaking points. They are hard to predict. We could be years away from such a historical moment or it could be delayed for a few more centuries, but I suspect it is closer to the former. I don’t see the present order maintaining itself for much longer.

      The trick isn’t just new technology, but new technology combined with new thinking. It is hard to know what new thinking is needed and how it would come about.

  5. Are you familiar with Sheldon S. Wolin? I noticed him being referenced in one of the articles you linked. I haven’t yet read anything by him, but I’d like to eventually read one of his books. For a long time, I’ve been curious about the theory of inverted totalitarianism. It makes sense to me. What do you think about it?

  6. To me, all those weaknesses are good things. That means change will happen, no matter what anyone wants (including the ruling elite, shadow government, deep state, etc; also including what remains of the comfortable middle class). It may not make many people happy, but it is going to happen.

    I’m not so sure that it’s a “good thing”. More than anything else, they were the consequences of the decisions made by society, and particularly the ruling elite.

    They were entirely preventable, from the War in Iraq to the events leading up the 2008 Financial Crisis.

    It was entirely possible (from a technical but not a political) standpoint for the US to have transitioned into more of a social democracy for example.

    • Anything that forces change to a bad system is to that extent a “good thing”, in my mind. I’d rather take my chances with an unknown than with a known bad. At least with change there is opportunity, altough yes there is also risk.

      Almost everything is theoretically preventable. The world wars were theoretically preventable. Every war the US has ever been involved in were theoretically preventable. Even the American Revolution was theoretically preventable, if the British Empire had implemented some simple reforms in relation to the colonies.

      It was entirely possible for the entire British Empire to have transformed into a social democracy several centuries ago. Many British citizens back then had a sense of immense possibility during that era of dramatic change. Even conservatives like Burke were pushing for reform.

      As far as that goes, it was possible for all kinds of things throughout history. The world, if nothing else, is full of possibilities. It’s easy to imagine alternative paths humanity could have taken.

      My point, however, is that moments of change such as we are facing also offer possibilities. We don’t need to be nostalgic about past moments of opportunity. We are faced with opportunity right now and in the coming decades.

      Or we can let the moment pass and those in the future will be having this exact same conversation. They will say it was entirely possible for the US to have reformed in the early 21s century. The wars that politicians will try to get us into in the coming decades are all preventable, not just in theory but in reality. Those future people will scratch their heads why we kept getting into stupid wars, even after the fiasco of the War On Terror. They will look back and see all the opportunities that we don’t see or refuse to see.

      Change is good for the simple reason that it is better than stagnation. So, I say bring on the change. Our only choice is to have a slow collapse over centuries like the Roman Empire or a quicker ending like Nazi Germany. It really doesn’t matter if you or I think the change is good. It is coming. And with it comes possibility and opportunity, whatever we as a society shall make of it.

  7. Perhaps so.

    The thing is, a Roman-like collapse is a very real danger for the US. Certainly the elites seem to be as greedy as the ones that no doubt let Rome to its demise.

    I would argue that Rome declined when Tiberius Gracchus was defeated in his insurrection, more than any other time period. Others will argue differently, but that’s my opinion on the subject. If Occupy Wall Street and similar movements fail to achieve much of meaning, I think it could mean a slow decline for the US as well.

    Right now it seems there is a moderate pace decline. It is very visible within generations (witness the lack of job opportunities my generation faces today).

    There is reason to be somewhat optimistic though – generation Y arguably has the “right” values compared to the Baby Boomers, which had more “wrong” values. Generalizing here of course.

    I believe this is a function of abundance more than anything else – the Baby Boom generation grew up in the post-WWII economic boom, and perhaps ignorant of history, set up its own demise.

    • I’d prefer the quick collapse route, despite all the disorder that would ensue. I say let’s deal with it now instead of putting it off for future generations. If it is going to be a mess, let’s clean up our own mess.

      That said, much of this is out of our control. We don’t know how events will come together.

      I think humanity could use a global environmental catastrophe about right now. We need some thing that will force society to either change or collapse. There is nothing to motivate people like a stark choice where we either face reality or get eliminated from the game.

      Whether or not the US has a slow collapse, I suspect the global changes are going to be slow. Major transformations of civilization tend to take at least centuries to happen. It seems such a transformation is highly probable with how quickly both technology is developing and demographics are shifting

      We are facing so many risks at the moment that anything could set off a major catastrophe. For example, we are long overdue for a plague. Everyone knows something like that will happen one of these days… and I have my doubts than any of the governments are really prepared for it. Combine a global environmental catastrophe with famine, plague, and war… then we are talking about real change, the type of change that only happens once every millennia or so.

      With global warming, we really are playing at the edge of self-destruction. It is strange to live at a time when so many threats exist and yet so many possibilities exist. It is just as probable for civilization to collapse right now as it is for humanity to colonize space.

  8. The problem is that the stakes are so much higher.

    When we consider the age of the universe and the lack of alien activity from super-advanced civilizations, it may very well be that the answer to the Fermi Paradox, as Carl Sagan once feared, was the high probability that civilizations might destroy themselves.

    The global warming destruction might not result in a recovery at all – it could result in an overshoot and irrecoverable collapse.

    The real issue is, can humans learn?

    Interesting article on this one:

    • “The problem is that the stakes are so much higher.”

      We will either win big or lose big. That seems likely to me. Of course, we might limp along for quite a while before some big result happens. But I doubt we’ll be able to limp along for very far into the future. I think problems and externalized costs are already catching up with us.

      “When we consider the age of the universe and the lack of alien activity from super-advanced civilizations, it may very well be that the answer to the Fermi Paradox, as Carl Sagan once feared, was the high probability that civilizations might destroy themselves.”

      Yeah, I’ve heard of that theory. I’m not sure what to make of it. It is easy to speculate all kinds of things in our present state of mass ignorance about the universe. As far as we know, we could be living in a wildlife preserve maintained by an advanced interspecies galactic federation.

      “The global warming destruction might not result in a recovery at all – it could result in an overshoot and irrecoverable collapse.”

      That is a real possibility, one among many. As I see it, there are so many wild cards that any prediction is about as good as the next.

      “The real issue is, can humans learn?”

      I think the answer is obvious. Humans can learn. The better question is, are humans likely to learn quickly enough in the situation we find ourselves?

      The reason I so often look back at history is to think about such questions. History shows that humans learn all kinds of things. All of civilization is a vast learning experiment.

      A few thousand years ago, it seems humans lacked even basic self-conscious, introspective individuality. A few generations ago the average human was still extremely low IQ, but nonetheless even they were far more intelligent than those neolithic/bicameral humans who hadn’t yet even discovered applied rational thought (math, science, philosophy, etc).

      The human learning process is measured in centuries and millennia, but it is nonetheless a real thing with real results. The Enlightenment Age. The Industrial Revolution. The Technological Revolution. The kinds of changes that used to take millennia are now taking only centuries to happen. Is that a learning curve? Are we learning how to better learn?

      “Interesting article on this one:”

      That is an interesting article, although I’d take that thought experiment much further than did the author.

      “Society would not benefit quite as much as individuals from a mass intelligence boost. Although people like to blame social problems on human ignorance and stupidity the scientists say removing these factors would not lead to the emergence of a harmonious Utopia. Greater intelligence does not come hand-in-hand with a greater ability to cooperate.”

      The thing is intelligence is directly correlated to environmental factors. To double intelligence would mean to double the evironmental health that is the basis of brain/cognitive development. There is no way to likely double intelligence without at the same time utterly transforming society.

      “”Intelligence is independent of personality and emotion, so you can have very intelligent people who are also just kind of crazy people,” Haier said. “Even if everyone had an IQ of 200, you’d have exactly the same range of personalities as you have now, and because that’s a determining factor in how good your society is, you won’t necessarily have a better society.””

      That isn’t true. Intelligence is highly correlated to personality. To change the average IQ so drastically would most likely have an equivalent drastic change on human personality along with drastic changes on human identity and consciousness. It would impact the entire functioning of the brain and so impact the entire person. Multiply that by the entire population and that would be revolutionary-level change.

      “According to Hunt, there’s evidence to suggest that many humans, if significantly smarter, would lose their belief in God. “There is a small tendency for people with high scores to be more liberal in their social attitudes and less likely to accept strong religious beliefs. This makes sense; we can know things by reasoning or we can accept something on faith. If we all became very good reasoners, there would probably be a small shift to preferring reasoned over faith-based explanations of the phenomenon of life,” he wrote.”

      Ideological and political tendencies also strongly correlate to personality. There is a whole constellation of environmental and psychological factors that revolve around intelligence and cognitive development. To double intelligence would change everything. There would be far fewer believers and the remaining believers would be far more liberal. Suddenly, the majority of the population would be liberal for the first time in all of history and all of human evolution.

      It is impossible to imagine what this would mean. It would be an evolutionary leap for the species.

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