No Capitalist Civilization

Discussing the London riots for the London Review of Books, Marxist Slavoj Zizek makes a telling observation on capitalist civilization in the midst of an otherwise dreary review:

Alain Badiou has argued that we live in a social space which is increasingly experienced as ‘worldless’: in such a space, the only form protest can takes is meaningless violence. Perhaps this is one of the main dangers of capitalism: although by virtue of being global it encompasses the whole world, it sustains a ‘worldless’ ideological constellation in which people are deprived of their ways of locating meaning. The fundamental lesson of globalisation is that capitalism can accomodate itself to all civilizations, from Christian to Hindu or Buddhist, from West to East: there is no global ‘capitalist worldview’, no ‘capitalist civilization’ proper. The global dimension of captialism represents truth without meaning.

Sounds like Baudrillard. But I believe he is right. Although capitalism rose from within Christendom, it has now supplanted Christendom to become a global civilization without spiritual underpinnings. Acquisition, risk, thrift and private property are good things when tethered to a moral framework, but now when they themselves are the moral framework.

Roman Government

Reviewing the book “Cicero in Letters: Epistolary Relations of the Late Republic” for the LRB, Denis Feeney describes the Roman government:

Without anything like a professional bureaucracy, and with no elected official holding office for more than a year, an empire of 50 million people was overseen by the personal relations of about a hundred men and their hangers-on; the constant exchange of letters, with their reaffirmations of devotion and loyalty, their imparting of information and their maneuvering for position, were an indispensable element in keeping the show, such as it was, on the road. When one considers in addition the lack of any official postal service and the resulting uncertainties of delivery – all lucidly evoked by White – the fact that the Roman Republic succeeded in running the known world for as long as it did comes to seem almost miraculous.

British Empire

I finished reading The Decline and Fall of the British Empire today. It is a depressing tale of racism, slaughter, oppression and misused power over the span of a few centuries. It was also eye-opening in that my grasp of history between the Reformation and WWII outside of America is vague. This book really sets the stage for seeing the origins of a lot of our current world situation, for example, the rise of India. I knew little to nothing of the mayhem that attended the partition of India and Pakistan. Full on ethnic slaughter and pogroms from Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus happened. From the book:

But Muslims and Hindus also perpetrated every outrage summed up in that grotesque modern euphemism, “ethnic cleansing.” They roasted babies on spits, impaled infants on lances, boiled children in cauldrons of oil. They raped, mutilated, abducted and killed women…They subjected men to frenzied cruelties, burning them alive in their houses, stabbing them in the streets, butchering them in hospitals, strangling them in refugee camps, torturing and forcibly converting them in desecrated temples, mosques and gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship). They poisoned their enemies, drenched them in acid, blinded them by throwing chilli powder in their eyes.

On and on it goes. And that is simply the partition of one colony. The use of torture seemed normative from Rhodesia to Kenya and Nigeria. The treatment of Africans is particularly galling and inhuman. That a nation dedicated to high ideals sunk to such a low level when dealing with others is a testament to the reality of evil. In fact, this entire book is yet another reminder of the reality of original sin. Whenever tempted to believe the foolish platitudes of (small l) liberalism about man’s goodness, human decency and the brotherhood of man, you simply need to open up a history book and see how we really are. Lurking right beneath the surface of a peaceful social order is total chaos, hatred and blinding evil. Let’s hope that America pulls back and does not engage in even more foolishness in the next century, resulting in who knows what. But I doubt that we will stop ourselves, as our political class is as unable as the Brits were to pull back, fearing the label of coward.


The Federal Souk

Tom Piatak writes something that I have been thinking for several years:

Forbeshas a list out this morning of America’s five richest counties. Unsurprisingly, four of the five are in the Washington, D.C., area. Washington’s prosperity is completely detached from the fortunes of the rest of the country, since Washington continues to suck in tax dollars even when other parts of America suffer or even decline economically. There is an unspoken bipartisan consensus to keep things this way, since those who make it to the Senate or the House now almost never return home, even if they are turned out of office by the voters. Instead, they stay in Washington and spend the rest of their lives as lobbyists.

The only sure sign of a reduction in the size and scope of the federal government will be an exodus out of the D.C. suburbs. I doubt, though, that we will ever see such a thing.

As a resident of Virginia, I can attest to the truth of this fact. The D.C. metro area is rich and gorges itself on the rest of the nation’s tax dollars, through both military and civilian expenditures. Our economy is far better than most of the rest of the nation. Our cost of living is also very high, it must be said, but still…

I don’t think people in other states realize how they are being ripped off to benefit this area, but voters are generally so apathetic that I guess it doesn’t matter. I would advocate moving the capitol to a new place, like the middle of Nebraska, but it would probably cost more in the long run than it would save.

The Impact of Bin Laden

One thing that has always struck me about Osama Bin Laden and the entire crew of 9/11 hijackers is how such a small group could alter world history. We like to tell ourselves that one man can change the world, but almost all the time, that is not true. Even in this case, I suppose we could talk about societal forces, trends, conflicts within modernity, and so on. But at the end of the day, about 20-40 main people managed to attack us and that slaughter led to two wars, massive upheavals in society, billions or trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost or maimed.

While most Americans can’t be bothered enough by their religious commitments to get up and go to church on Sunday, Bin Laden took his religion seriously. As Thomas Fleming just wrote, “He sacrificed everything, wealth, social position, reputation, and ultimately his life for the religion in which he believed. Deluded by the evil commandments of a false prophet, he arranged the murder of people he had never met in order to retaliate against a government that oppressed his co-religionists.”

Perhaps it is easier for a small group of people to influence the world for evil, rather than for good. In most cases, it seems like efforts for good occur on a small scale, barely noticeable over time, but producing great long-range results. My hope is that Bin Laden’s attacks on us will in turn open up the entire Muslim world to the spread of the Gospel over time. Certainly, Muslim forces have experienced nothing except defeat, from Chechnya to Iraq.

Libyan Observations

[1] The President did not follow the Constitution in declaring this war.

[2] Libya posed no threat to the United States.

[3] The internal affairs of Libya are for the Libyan people or possibly her immediate neighbors to decide.

[4] Where are the massive antiwar demonstrations and the breathless coverage of them from our media? Oh wait, this war was launched by a liberal, so therefore it is okay. The only wars that need to be fought are those launched by Republicans, so as to kneecap them and bring them down. Don’t get me wrong, Iraq was also worth opposing, but all that vehemence is gone when Clinton bombs Kosovo or Obama bombs Libya.

[5] Both parties are united in our horrible foreign policy. We need a consistently non-interventionist option out there. Right now, the Ron Paul wing is probably the best thing going on that front, but it needs to widen greatly. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this will happen due to the strength of the military-industrial complex. The only thing that will stop our insanity is the collapse of our nation, similar to what the British experienced at Suez. I think that day of reckoning is not far off.

Starving Leviathan

I wonder:

* How many colleges and universities could survive as currently configured without Federal loans, grants and aid?

* How many foreign governments and militaries could survive without aid from the United States?

* How many hospitals or other medical practices could survive without Medicare, Medicaid and other payments from the central government?

* How many state governments could survive as currently configured without Federal money?

* How many businesses in the DC metro area would collapse if defense and other Federal spending were drastically reduced?

* How could the housing market survive in its current form without government assistance?

I could go on. The tentacles are everywhere.

California in Ruins

My brother sent me this intriguing look at modern California. It points to something that I think is happening all over the place: the country has turned into wealthy enclaves with pristine communities and large swaths of crumbling and dilapidated homes and infrastructure (Flint and Detroit Michigan come to mind). I don’t think the answer to this is purely fiscal, I think it is largely character-based as well. Picking up after yourself, cleaning up your lawn and so forth are values that are not universal. The fiscal problems are also real. Because our entitlement and defense spending is so enormous, spending on roads and bridges cannot compete with the massive amounts of money we spend on other things. I think if any of us drove 20 or 30 minutes outside of our locale, we could find the broken down areas next to us that we choose not to see. Here is an excerpt of the article:

Here are some general observations about what I saw (other than that the rural roads of California are fast turning into rubble, poorly maintained and reverting to what I remember seeing long ago in the rural South). First, remember that these areas are the ground zero, so to speak, of 20 years of illegal immigration. There has been a general depression in farming — to such an extent that the 20- to-100-acre tree and vine farmer, the erstwhile backbone of the old rural California, for all practical purposes has ceased to exist.

On the western side of the Central Valley, the effects of arbitrary cutoffs in federal irrigation water have idled tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land, leaving thousands unemployed. Manufacturing plants in the towns in these areas — which used to make harvesters, hydraulic lifts, trailers, food-processing equipment — have largely shut down; their production has been shipped off overseas or south of the border. Agriculture itself — from almonds to raisins — has increasingly become corporatized and mechanized, cutting by half the number of farm workers needed. So unemployment runs somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.

Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in the Third World. There is a Caribbean look to the junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming around the yards. The public hears about all sorts of tough California regulations that stymie business — rigid zoning laws, strict building codes, constant inspections — but apparently none of that applies out here.

It reminds me of nothing so much as the late Empire in Rome, when taxes could not be collected and outlying provinces fell into ruins. More confirmation that we are entering a new dark age in the West. The paradox is that we also have sections of the country with more information and more wealth than almost ever before.

Virginia is Rich

The latest data from the Census Bureau shows that Virginia has the three most wealthy counties in the nation. Maryland has another couple in the top tier. All of these counties are in the suburban DC area. Why is this? Because the seat of the Federal government is here. We suck up tax money from the rest of the nation and distribute it in the souk that is the DC area. And Federal workers make what seems like outrageous amounts of money because housing in close to DC costs a fortune. So those salaries aren’t what they seem, and the ever-rising federal wages contribute to the outrageous cost of living in the area – a vicious circle. Here is an example of single family homes from Falls Church plucked at random from the Washington Post.

My suggestion? Distribute all of the Federal agencies throughout the backwater cities of America like Topeka, Omaha, etc. and break the power of the Federal center.