Sunday, January 30, 2011

Confused History Teacher Calls for “Revolution”

With protests breaking out against repressive regimes throughout the Arab world, it is not surprising that people here would feel inspired. However, the activities in the Middle East are not revolutions, at least not yet. People are not calling for new forms of government or economic systems. They are simply asking for the bad guys to get out. Perhaps inspired by the Tunisians and Egyptians, Carl Herman, a history and economics teacher, is calling for a revolution in the U.S. However, like the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, what Herman actually wants is for the bad guys to go away, or least to stop doing bad things.

One of his justifications for “revolution” is that the U.S. government is engaged in unlawful wars. Of course this begs the question of what a “lawful” war is, or whether war is ever justified. The argument that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are unacceptable because they are illegal implies that they would be legitimate if congress had declared war or if the U.N. had given their consent. Yet the consequences would be the same: thousands of dead and millions displaced, starved and terrorized. And the same people would still reap the spoils.

Regardless of whether congress declared war, they certainly gave their consent, and did little to oppose it. Even the majority of those who later opposed the war with Iraq refused to cut off funding, which was a legal and simple way to end that war, if that is what they truly wanted. Thus, despite the lack of formal approval through a declaration of war, congress did and still does approve both wars. Likewise, the members of the U.N. did little to stop the U.S., which either makes them complicit, or impotent. If the latter is true, then what point is there in having a UN or international law? Laws that cannot or will not be enforced are meaningless laws.  If the law is meaningless, then why use it as a justification for your opposition to war?

Historically, there hasn’t been a “legal” U.S. war since World War II, if a legal war is defined as one that has been declared by congress. The Viet Nam and Korean wars were never declared. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. has been engaged in nonstop undeclared wars throughout most of the twentieth century, either directly, or through its proxies. In just the last ten years we have attacked, invaded or sent troupes into Haiti, Yemen, Philippines, Liberia, Somalia, Georgia, Djibouti, Kenya, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. In the decade before that there were military actions in Cambodia, Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia, East Timor, Bosnia, Iraq and Somalia.  In the 1980s there were the invasions of Panama and Granada, proxy wars throughout Central America, fighting in Lebanon and Africa and the bombing of Libya. We have overthrown or assassinated democratically elected leaders in Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Iraq, Brazil, Ghana, Chile and Honduras.

Perhaps a better approach would be to question why the U.S. engages in so much violence throughout the world and oppose that. Herman, like most liberals, begins with the faulty premise that American democracy is fundamentally good, but that it has been usurped by bad guys and needs to be won back. The fallacy here is that American democracy is a good system for the ruling elite, as it helps keeps the masses pacified while they are exploited, but it is not necessarily so good for the masses. Its laws and wars are designed to benefit the ruling elite, generally at the expense (financial or physical) of the masses. Thus, even if the wars were legal, and even if the bad guys were prosecuted, the rich would remain rich, the majority would remain subservient, and wars would continue to kill and maim people in order to protect the property and profits of the rich.

Wars are generally fought in order to gain or keep control of resources (including cheap labor). When dictators try to stand up to the U.S. and do their own thing, they threaten U.S. control over their resources. When the people elect a leader who makes even the slightest overture toward social justice, like raising the minimum wage (e.g., Zelaya, in Honduras, or Aristide, in Haiti) they must be removed, if not through the political system, then by force, ideally by our proxies. When these objectives cannot be met through “legal” means, they are dealt with illegally, violently and often secretively.

Herman repeatedly calls for an “emperor wears no clothes” revolution, which doesn’t even make sense. In the Emperor Wears No Clothes, a little boy declared that the emperor was naked, when the rest of the public pretended he was clothed. Simply getting the public to admit the truth won’t change anything. There is much more to social change than simply educating the masses. The truth does not by itself set you free. The people must also be organized. They must have a concrete goal. They must feel they can achieve their goal. Simply getting pissed off and attacking the oppressors may result in the oppressors fleeing, as happened in Tunisia, but it does not necessarily lead to liberation, particularly when the same economic and political structures remain.

Herman’s confusion is made more apparent when he calls for an end to parasitic and criminal “economics,” by which he means capitalism run amok, in contrast to a nice, pleasant make believe capitalism that has never existed. Capital is created by bosses paying their workers less than the value of the goods and services they produce. If a laborer produces $1000 worth of shoes, and the boss pays him $200, uses $200 for overhead, and pockets the remaining $600, isn’t that a parasitic relationship? As long as there are bosses, there will be exploitation and parasitism. Perhaps what Herman really wants is a stronger union movement that forces bosses to take less from us—an improvement, but hardly a revolution.

Likewise, it should not be forgotten that the entire basis for a corporation’s existence is to maximize profits. With this as a goal, it should be no surprise that they often break the few laws that do govern their operations, and deliberately so, calculating in advance their future profits after paying off their lawyers and the occasional fine.

Overall, Herman's proposal is so full of incoherent schizophrenic and bullying ramblings that I doubt many readers will even make it through all four parts.  For example, he blames the economic crisis and “illegal” wars on a "cabal" in the government and he “respectfully” reminds us that if we are not with him, if we don’t join his revolution, we are “idiots.”

 I could go on and on, but I’m getting bored.

Like Herman, I’m pissed off and want change too. But let’s be honest. A real revolution that ends “parasitic” economic relations and the motivation for the U.S. to engage in constant warfare would involve taking down capitalism itself. We’re nowhere near that point and even if we were, it would be bloody and terrible, with considerable death, injury, treachery, and terror. Besides, most Americans love capitalism, equating it with freedom. Large numbers would defend it with their very lives. Herman may even be one of them. So relax. The revolution won’t be televised because it won’t be happening, not here at least, not anytime soon.

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