Psycho Politics in an Age of Imperial Decline
The time of rational politics, if it ever existed, is over.
”Realpolitik” has become a mixture of marketing soundbites, propaganda and leaders making statement that borders on the Theatre of the Absurd. Thinner and thinner links to Real-ity.
This is what happens when decline in being denied.
All empires go down. The U.S. empire is in decline. Macro historians (see e.g. British Arnold Toynbee’s 12-volume work 1934-61) tell that there are many reasons when empires fall:
* militarism with constant warfare;
* overextension – trying to control more than you can manage;
* loss of legitimacy in the eyes of others;
* structural economic crisis;
* moral decay;
* loss of intellectual and technological innovation and
* simply other powers gaining strength over time and doing things in new, creative ways.
After 1945 the U.S. was considered strong on many power dimensions: military, economics, politics, legitimacy, culture, innovation. Today, it is only clearly Number One on the military dimension. When all the other indicators go down, the military becomes a huge burden and only accelerates the decline.
The U.S. is in decline and denial. So are most of its allies and sympathizers.
Its foreign policy-makers seem to assume that everything is fine and they can still lead and shape the world according to their interest and worldview. It remains fundamentally a missionary.
Here is some elements of what it consists of:
Being # 1 – the Teacher
Since 1945 the U.S. has been Number One in the world’s ranking system. All Number One in any system has the problem that they don’t learn, they teach and they preach. If you are number 37 in a vertical ranking order, there are 36 others to learn from: How did they get higher up than me and how can I do better?
For too long time you’ve gotten your way too easily because of your unique power position. It becomes a bad habit because other actors obey – out of fear or out of love. One day both a gone. It works when all power dimensions are in balance – the rest of the world was fascinated by the U.S. and found most of its values and policies legitimate, innovative and good for themselves too.
More wants more. You must always have more weapons and bases around the world and more assets, e.g. oil that you control. The bigger you get, the more you may also loose, so you simultaneously feel insecure – and want more to feel secure. Addiction.
If you don’t have enough enemies, you create them so you can always legitimise your power policies and ensure that you remain the world’s moral authority, the Good Cop.
”West warns Russia not to disrupt Kiev polls” – a typical headline these days. You tell others that they will be punished if they do what you are consistently doing yourself.
Projection means transferring your own dark sides onto the other and thereby believing you have cleaned yourself and may have a right to punish that ”dark” enemy.
This of course is built on the denial of the well-documented fact that you yourself interfered massively in Kiev and brought about a de facto coup d’etat.
If integrated into everything you do this becomes pathological. It’s spells the end of “Realpolitik” and a sense of shared reality with the rest – not living in the same world.
It slowly but surely becomes more difficult to take in what really happens in the world. Your compass is out of order. Top leaders increasingly gather only yes-people who confirm the ’group think’ values instead of challenging them.
Intellectualism is replaced by salesmanship and you begin to believe in your own propaganda as if it were the truth. Media and academia follow and genuinely independent critical questions and analyses drop. The Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex, MIMAC, gains strength.
A concept coined by eminent psychiatrist, Robert Jay Lifton. When seeing terrible suffering repeatedly over time, you get less an less touched by it. The first Hiroshima film may touch you deeply. When you’ve seen dozens, they don’t
The same applies to the consequences of cruelties committed by yourself: You minimise the evil things you do and you argue that others have committed worse crimes. Thus, no need for assessing the mass murder you committed on, say, the Iraqi people. (”Well, it was a necessary price for getting rid of Saddam…”)
Lack of empathy
You have sunk so far down in your own position that your decisions no longer rest on some kind of analysis of the most important of all questions: How will the others feel and react to what we now decide to do?
Instead, you increasingly believe they’ll react as you think they should react. If they don’t you feel confirmed that they are the bad guys and you threaten them even more.
Your basic assumption is that you are better or more civilised than the rest. This permits you to operate outside common laws and norms. Of course it’s because you are noble: You carry a ”white man’s burden”, you promote democracy and freedom.
Israel and the U.S. are exceptionalist states. They share the idea of being ”chosen” to lead for the common good – often referred to as the ”international community” – while, in reality, it is all about their own interests.
Exceptionalism also means that any criticism of your policies is met with the – psycho-wounded argument that you are really attacking their soul, their identity. Thus, words like ”anti-American” and ”anti-semite” is hurled at anyone who does not endorse blindly what you do.
This fundamental weakness is interpreted as strength. Over time it nourishes the autism and makes democratic debate impossible.
Narcissist judging good from evil
You divide the world into two – good or evil, us or them – and the violence you commit is good violence believed to be necessary to stop evil violence. So no matter what you do you are the good guy and they are the bad guys.
It never fails, cannot fail and, thus, no need for apologising for anything and also no need for learning anything. ”We don’t learn, we teach” and ”we are good people”.
There may be much more but these 8 elements will do here.
Who won’t catch this?
Of course the elites themselves, including President Obama and NATO-leaders. Neither those who over decades have spent their lives supporting U.S. policies no matter what at American and European universities.
Those who just criticise policies for just being double-standard are missing completely the depth of this civilisational crisis and just how serious it all is.
Finally, don’t expect political scientists and their media colleagues with their state-centric, military, material and geo-political focus plus traditional methods learnt from only American textbooks to catch any of it.
The ultimate dangers of denial
The 8 indicators of psycho-politics above coupled with nuclear weapons, drones and a warfare system second to none in human history is an extremely dangerous mix.
I fear what more we have to go through while the West gets weaker relative to the rest of the world.
Rome, the Ottoman Empire, Britain and the Soviet Union – all empires go down. The U.S. empire is the second nuclear-weapons based empire to go down. Will there be a statesman like Gorbachev in the West, or are we doomed by psycho-political denial?
Jan Oberg is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research in Lund, Sweden.