How were the terms of US political and economic debate severed from basic standards of evidence and common sense? Why does the word “hypocrisy” seem inadequate to describe the pretzel logic of the neo-conservatives? Why do the people of the United States remain inert as the madness at the top claims the authority to hemorrhage its execution of Iraq into a nuclear war on Iran?
John McMurtry is a decorated professor of philosophy who has pursued questions like these to the ideological foundations of today’s US-centric global empire. (1) His analysis offers insights that can help us identify and think our way out of this now ubiquitous “mind-lock”. McMurtry’s approach also turns out to be useful for illuminating core ideological contradictions in Israel’s US-supported ethnic cleansing regime, which has been forcing Palestinians off their lands for the last 60 years.
McMurtry narrates the ascendance of a “fanatic mind-set” in the west following the demise of the Soviet Union, when “a strange ideological inversion occurred.” Marxism’s ‘economic determinism’, “abhorred by liberal theory”, was swiftly replaced with the west’s own brand of imposed economic determinism. “Inevitable globalization” was framed as a product of unaccountable and unstoppable forces unleashed by a veritable law of nature, the ultimate “wisdom of the market” that benefits all.
McMurtry demonstrates the destruction of value and meaning inherent in the adoption of this absolutist dogma, which claims to encompass all human activity and reflexively rules out of order any other explanation or concern. He also traces the use of this irrationality to justify brutal economic and military predation under the twin deceptions of “free trade” and “democracy”. The nakedness of this nonsense is revealed by McMurtry’s observation that it glorifies its “no alternative” market theory and bullying imperial trade policies as the ultimate in economic freedom.
Noting the ways in which similar inversions of meaning have been used in totalitarian ideologies, he concludes that inversion is one of the fundamental processes involved in the development of today’s “fanatic mind-set”:
“Throughout the world re-engineering by the global apparatchiks, there has been a transformative principle of representation across phenomena and crises: to invert social values and general facts into their contrary so that no bearings remain for intelligibility of resistance.” [emphasis in original]
Observers of Israel and its influence within the United States see a long trend toward ideological convergence between the two nations, especially in foreign policy, war, economics, and propaganda. One of the little-noted fundamentals of this growing affinity is a mutual and increasing need and desire to justify unjustifiable acts and obscure incriminating truths.
So it is not surprising that Israel is awash in the same intellectual process of inversion that McMurtry finds so pervasive in the US. Indeed, one could argue that many of Israel’s ideological contradictions are at least as old as the state. Using McMurtry’s style of formulation and taking broad liberties with his method, here are a few of the more obvious inversions of meanings and values underlying the Israeli government’s proclamations and practices. US readers may note the obvious parallels:
Israel’s “right to defend itself” assumes the “harsh necessity” of its military and civilian occupation of Palestinian land, which is an illegal act of war. Self-defense = Aggression
Israel’s security depends upon the continual provocation of forces that will threaten Israel’s security when provoked. Security = Promotion of insecurity
Israelis’ freedom depends upon the imprisonment of another people. (2) Freedom = Denial of freedom
Israel’s democracy depends upon the racist exclusion of its indigenous citizens and the empowerment of the most intolerant of its privileged citizens. (3-5) Democracy = Apartheid
Israel is a “bastion of religious freedom” in which civil law is based on an “orthodox” version of a single religion. (6) Religious freedom = Religious exclusivity
Israel’s continued prosperity requires “market liberalization” that dramatically increases poverty and consolidates wealth at the top. (7,8) Prosperity = Poverty
Israel’s commitment to the rule of law and sound economic policy (which promises to earn it a seat at the OECD next year) is reflected it its continuing slide down international corruption indexes, an unending string of serious political scandals, and thriving organized crime. (9-11) Legality = Lawlessness
Peace for Israel requires its negotiating partners to accept terms that fall far short of their people’s minimum standards for peace. Whether or not these terms are met, the formula is: Peace = Continual war
Prospects for peace are enhanced when negotiating partners collaborate in banning, imprisoning, and isolating their constituents who oppose Israel’s terms. Such actions also signal the negotiating partners’ “commitment to democracy”. (12-14) Peacemaking = Democracy = Unconstitutional oligarchy, collective punishment, and civil strife = Illegitimacy and probable failure of any agreements reached between Israel and its partners = Continual (land-grabbing) war
The public’s acceptance of these inversions creates what McMurtry calls an “occupation of consciousness” that makes it very difficult for the citizen thus “occupied” to understand her predicament, much less anyone else’s.
However, just as one man’s meat is another man’s poison, the ideological contortions that befuddle and disempower the public simultaneously comfort the powerful with an automatic self-justifying narrative. While there is no gainsaying the cynicism of today’s leaders, the “fanatic mind-set” must be an irresistibly attractive narcotic to those driven to acquire the power to give the orders to drop the bombs.
One of the implicit subtexts of the mind-set is that cynicism is reality; the ends always justify the means if the means can be kept largely hidden from public view and the ends are framed as unassailable indispensables; freedom, democracy, “growth”, rule of law, etc. The negative side of the equation is always “more than” balanced by its positive equivalent.
The powerful are the anointed agents of the world’s “best hope”. To advance its interests (and their own) they ought to do anything “the market will bear”. It’s not just what the powerful want us to believe. At least to some degree, it’s what most of them need to believe, to do what they do.
McMurtry argues that the fanatic mind-set is “closed” and “self-referential”. From within the delusion, it would be logical to conclude that increasing the negative side of the equation can increase the positive. More denial of freedom to others equals more freedom for us, and (as an afterthought) all the other “good” people of the world.
We hear that ‘a greater readiness to use military force will better protect our democracy and freedoms at home’, and we hardly notice. But if this mind-set is closed in its circularity, it will increasingly diverge from reality. And, being self-referential, chronically ambitious, and uniquely powerful, it can only seek to outdo itself. If such a dominant mind-set persistently follows its inverted logic, it may rapidly auto-escalate with disastrous results.
What’s next? Rather than simply “protecting” our freedoms by creating, torturing, and slaughtering “terrorists” in Iraq, why not be “pro-active” and eradicate an “evil source of terrorism” that threatens everyone’s freedoms? Wouldn’t bombing Tehran-a supposed “existential threat” to nuclear-tipped Israel-produce more freedom and prosperity for all?
Ideologies create the authoritative psychic space within which the unthinkable can become possible. At one time, few could have imagined that the west’s Christian democracies would support a concrete wall splitting the little town of Bethlehem in two, or that the United States would pay for decades of bloody ethnic cleansing in the Holy Land. Israel’s ideology (to some extent crafted to appeal to western powers) supplied the framework of justification that made it possible.
In the US, we face a threat to our national sanity that is similar to the physical danger bearing down on the caged and impoverished Palestinian people-the destruction of what we have left. Our common foe is an irrational ideology that inverts fundamental values and legitimizes crimes against humanity. For us, the struggle to overcome the threat begins in the mind.
1. John McMurtry, Value Wars: The Global Market Versus the Life Economy (London and Sterling Va.: Pluto Press, 2002), 277 pages.
2. Prison within a Prison, Gideon Levy, MIFTAH, 8/27/2007
3. GDP per capita of Arab Israelis third of that of Jews, YNetNews, 1/18/2007
4. IRIN reports on the devastation caused to Bedouins by the Israeli forces in the Negev Ma’an News Agency, 6/27/2007
5. Mr. Lieberman Comes to Washington, Will Youmans, CounterPunch, 12/8/2006
6. Only Orthodox conversions accepted in Israel, Boim stresses, YNetNews, 5/23/2007
7. NII report: 100,000 newly poor, half of them children, Ha’aretz, 9/1/2006
8. Netanyahu: Cut taxes for rich to help poor, Dalia Tal, Globes Online, 6/26/2007
9. A supreme effort is required, Ze’ev Segal, Ha’aretz, 5/27/2007
10. Poll: 85% of public believe the leadership is corrupt, Ha’aretz, 1/11/2007
11. Dichter: Police trying to block mafia’s bottle recycling takeover, Ha’aretz, 1/9/2007
12. Hamas members arrested by the Palestinian Authority, Ma’an News Agency, 8/22/2007
13. U.S.-Backed Campaign Against Hamas Expands to Charities, Adam Entous, MIFTAH, 8/22/2007
14. Abbas urges Socialist leaders to help isolate Hamas
By Aude Marcovitch, Middle East Online, 6/29/2007