The darkness to which I refer is something largely unanticipated in political studies and even in science fiction, a field which definitely enters this discussion, as readers will see. There have been many examples of national tyrannies and even stories of global autocracies, but the Hitler-Stalin-Mussolini type of tyranny is an antiquated model for advanced states despite its applying still to many third-world places. A unique set of circumstances now works towards a dystopian future in advanced states with no need for jackboots or brutal faces on posters.
Ironically, one of the key forces which brought Europe and North America over a few centuries to the kind of liberal democracies we know today is capable of delivering a new and unprecedented form of tyranny. That force is the body of interests of a nation’s middle class – the group of capable, ambitious, and rising people who were called a few centuries back by Europe’s landed old aristocracy “the new men.”
By “middle class,” I certainly do not mean what the average American Congressman encourages, in boiler-plate speeches, the average American to believe: that every family with steady work is middle class, all other classes having been eliminated from the American political lexicon. No, I mean the people of significant means – and, although not wealthy, of considerable talent and education – who hold as a group an important set of interests in society through their holdings and valued services. It was the gradual growth of this class of people over centuries of economic growth in Western societies that eventually made the position of monarchs and later aristocracies untenable: the middle class’s interests could no longer be represented by the old orders while their importance to burgeoning economies had become indispensable. They provided the indispensable force for what we now think of as democracy in their countless demands that their interests be represented.
But there is evidence, in America especially, that something altogether new is emerging in human affairs. The real middle class, at least a critical mass of it, has been folded into the interest of the modern elites, the relatively small number of people who own a great portion of all wealth just as they did in the 17th century, wealth today being generated by great global enterprises rather than the ownership of vast national estates. Great enterprises cannot be operated without much of the cream of the middle class: they serve in computer technology, finance, engineering, skilled management, the military officer class, and in intelligence. Their futures, interests, and prejudices have become locked-in with the interests of America’s corporate-military-intelligence establishment. They are indispensable to the establishment’s success, and they are accordingly rewarded in ways which bind their interests – health care, pension-type benefits, privileges, working conditions, opportunities for promotion, etc.
This marriage of interests between elites and the talented middle class effectively removes many of the best educated and most skilled people from being political opponents or becoming critics of the establishments for which they work. At the same time, America’s middle class in general – its small store owners, small factory owners, modest bankers, and even many professionals – has been under attack from economic competition in a globalized world for many years and has little to look forward to but more of the same. America’s legendary working class “middle class” – that brief postwar miracle of auto and steel workers and others who through unionized, unskilled labor earned long vacations, handsome pensions, home ownership, cars, and even small boats – has been battered beyond recognition, every year for decades seeing its real income fall and long-term having absolutely no prospects.
Despite the rise of a society much steeped in the illusions of advertising and marketing, most Americans likely still assume in their day-to-day affairs that their neighbors and business contacts do pretty much what they say they are doing, that while there may be an exaggeration or white lie here or there, most matters proceed according to understanding, laws, and ordinary civility. By and large for the present, they are still pretty much justified in their assumptions.
But when it comes to the level of the national government, and especially in matters of international affairs, these ordinary truths simply cease to hold, almost as though you had moved from the visible, work-a-day world to the quantum strangeness of the subatomic. Likely, it has always been the case to some degree, but the evidence mounts that we have entered a startling new reality, one which shares almost nothing with traditional civil society. America’s national government has become inured to lying and cheating the people whom it ostensibly serves, lying as consistently and thoroughly as would be the case with an occupying foreign power trying to keep a captive population pacified. Americans were lied to about Vietnam, lied to about Cambodia, lied to about the Gulf War, lied to about the invasion of Afghanistan, lied to about the invasion of Iraq, and lied to about a host of policies and interventions.
But we have reached a new level in these matters, a level where the extent of the misrepresentation almost severs the social contract between those governed and their government. America’s neo-con faction has had its agenda adopted over the last few decades, that of freely and happily using America’s great military and economic power to crush those abroad who disagree with America’s arbitrary pronouncements, creating a long crusade intended to re-order the affairs of others with no apologies to them and no honest explanation to America’s own people who pay the taxes and provide the lives of soldiers. While the neo-cons are a passing phenomenon, much as the Middle-eastern garrison state with which they are ferociously associated, the values and lessons they have successfully imparted will remain part of America’s ruling consciousness, serving yet other interests. A tool once successfully used is rarely abandoned.
Not only is there a quantitative difference now, there is a new qualitative difference. After the holocaust of Vietnam (3 million dead Vietnamese justify the term), the United States military realized that it could no longer depend upon citizen-soldiers in its colonial wars. It also realized that that it could no longer tolerate even a moderately free press nosing around its battlegrounds, thus was born the idea of an imbedded press in a professional army. Of course, in the intervening years, America’s press itself changed, becoming an intensely concentrated corporate industry whose editorial policies are invariably in lock-step over colonial wars and interventions and coups, almost as though it were an unofficial department of government. In addition, this corporatized press has abandoned traditional responsibilities of explaining even modestly world affairs, reportage resources having been slashed by merged corporate interests as well as by new economic pressures on advertising revenue, the result of changing technologies.
There is only one lens in America’s mainline journalistic kit, and that is one that filters everything through corporate American views, an automatic and invariable bias found in every image taken or written outside America’s borders. Now, some will say in response that a few newspapers like The New York Times or The Washington Post are exceptions here, but they couldn’t be more wrong. When a journalistic institution gains a reputation for thoroughness and detail in some of its operations, it becomes all the more able to powerfully leverage its reputation in matters which concern the establishment. If you examine the record of these newspapers for some decades, you will find absolutely without exception, their close support for every dirty war and intervention, as you will find their close support for the brutal, criminal behaviors of favored American satrapies like Israel. In a number of cases, CIA plants have worked directly for these papers as disinformation pipelines, but in all cases, reportage and editorial reflect nothing beyond what the publicity offices of the Pentagon and CIA would write themselves. It actually is a sign of how distorted American perceptions are that these papers are in any way regarded as independent, disinterested, or demonstrating consistent journalistic integrity.
The American political system at the national level makes these practices practicable. No one is genuinely responsible for anything in an open and direct fashion, secrecy is as much the norm in America as it is in any authoritarian government you care to mention, and money is the only governing principle in American politics. Openness or transparency simply does not exist, as one might expect it would, transparency being one of the hallmarks of responsible and democratic government. Without transparency, there can be no accounting for anything, and it is the sine qua non of democracy that politicians and officials be genuinely accountable to the electorate. Lastly, the things which tend to remain secret from the people today are far more likely to be pervasive, world-changing developments, far more so than in the past given powerful emerging technologies and the great concentration of power in American society. They are, in short, the very things citizens of a democracy should know about but don’t.
It has long been the case that dishonesty and secrecy have marked America’s foreign policy, as it invariably does with great imperial powers. After all, when Theodore Roosevelt, William Randolph Hearst, and others decided in private to arrange a nasty little war with the declining Spanish Empire, one to become known as the Spanish-American War, they were hardly being honest with Americans. “Remember the Maine” was a cheap, dishonest slogan while America’s brutal behavior in Cuba and the Philippines (the first place waterboarding is known to have been used by Americans) were raw truths. So it has been time after time, so that the national government has learned that dishonesty and secrecy are successful and virtually never questioned.
During the long Cold War, America’s government became inured to these practices with its dozens of interventions and coups and long wars of terror like that waged against Cuba from Florida and New Orleans, a terror operation whose extent made bin Laden’s later mountain training place resemble a boy scout camp. Now, at least two new developments have now influenced these practices, with a third just beginning to make itself felt. One, America, under the influence of the insider group called neo-cons, has pretty much given up pretence in its aggressive foreign policies: it has come to believe that it is able and entitled to arrange the world according to its arbitrary desires. Two, under the pretext of a war on terror, the United States government has transferred the hubris and arrogance of its foreign affairs into domestic government, no one having voted for a Stasi-like secret surveillance state, one moreover where even local authorities are endowed with armored cars, drones, and abusive powers. Three, technology is genuinely revolutionizing the nature of war, putting immense new power into the hands of elites – power which, unlike the hydrogen bomb, can actually be used readily – and nowhere is this occurring at a more rapid pace than in the United States.
The approaching reality is America’s being able to kill, highly accurately, on a large scale without using thermo-nuclear weapons and almost without using armies. With no need to recruit and support vast armies of soldiers, no need for mess halls and sanitation, no need for px’s and pensions, costs can be slashed, and there is even less need to explain what you are doing or to account for your decisions, and secrecy is promoted even more perfectly.
Today, we see the American government sending killer drones to multiple parts of the world, having already killed several thousand innocent people, with absolutely no accounting of victims or purpose, beyond flannel-mouthed stuff about getting bad guys. But even more dramatic killing machines requiring no soldiers are well along in development. A robot soldier, something resembling Dr. Who’s dreaded delaks with machine guns, already exists, with various advanced models under development equipped with every form of artificial recognition and various means of killing. Eventually, such robots will be delivered to places America wishes to secure, unfortunately without any care for the mistakes and horrors they may inflict on civilians, but America’s establishment does not care about that now as people from Fallujah or Hanoi could readily testify. A hypersonic robot plane or missile, able one day to deliver conventional explosives with precision to almost any spot on earth within an hour or two of launch is well along. Intelligent torpedoes and underwater drones are also well along. Robot tanks and ships are being developed. America’s mysterious space-plane vehicle, resembling a scale-model space shuttle, just having been tested with 500 days in orbit without any crew, has many potential uses for killing and control from space, including the launch of missiles from a position above any target, putting the reach of a fleet of them within minutes of any target on earth, a kind of early prototype Death Star if you will. We also have the advent of extremely powerful new lasers and electric rail-guns, both of which can be completely computerized in their operation. Advances in software, especially in areas like facial and voice-recognition, will enable completely automated targeting of victims almost at the press of a button.
One day, victims may well include troublesome Americans, not just unwanted foreigners. After all, the components for slipping into such a practice are virtually in place, and we know there are no qualms on the part of many of the people leading America today. In a secrecy state, people disappearing would rarely be noticed and never explained. The NSA’s unblinking surveillance on all American citizens would provide targeting information on demand.
We are not quite there yet, but in the close future, less than twenty years, the United States will operate under a military system not unlike the automated, radar-operated machine-gun towers Israel uses to pen in the people of Gaza, only it will do so on a planetary scale. Such immense power in the hands of a relatively few people anywhere and always would be a threat, but in the hands of America’s corporate-military-intelligence elites, people who already are not held accountable for what they do and feel virtually no need to explain, it is a looming threat to the peace, decency, and political integrity of the entire world.
I have no idea how the relentless march towards this brave new world can be stopped. Indeed, I am almost sure that it cannot. Americans in general no longer have anything which could be termed control over the acts of their government, and their role in elections is nothing more than a formal choice between two establishment-loyal candidates heading two parties that differ on virtually no vital matter. George Bush’s time in office proved something profound generally not recognized in the press: America does not now need a president beyond the Constitutional formalities of signing documents and making speeches. Bush was an utterly incompetent fool, but America’s national government never skipped a beat during his eight years, never skipped a beat, that is, in matters important to the establishment, which of course excludes matters like a disaster in New Orleans, concern for the welfare of the American people having long ago faded away as one for the national government.
After all, when you have lied to and manipulated a people for a very long time, how can a growing contempt for them be avoided? It cannot, in much the way a heartless conman fools an old widow into giving up her life savings. Besides, the more government focuses on the kind of matters America’s government focuses on, running for office and government service almost certainly increasingly attracts and rewards narcissists and sociopaths and repels those with broader public interests. The lack of concern and empathy becomes a self-regulated mechanism.
Barack Obama’s tenure has only demonstrated the point made by George Bush further. He has signed off on many new ways of killing people, many secret and disturbing policies, continued to wage Bush’s pointless wars, supported anti-democratic forces taking power in a number of place, including importantly Ukraine and Egypt, reinforced anti-democratic forces in many places like Bahrain, Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and not lifted a finger over Israel’s decades-long suppression of democracy and fundamental rights for millions. Obama’s only claim even to helping his own people is a pathetic, costly, unworkable health-care program in which the establishment has absolutely no interest.
The argument that there is an underlying concern for humanity and for rights in the American government couldn’t be more wrong, even though those are themes in the blubbering speeches of a George Bush, a Barrack Obama, a Hillary Clinton, or a John Kerry. America’s deeds abroad are without exception now to control, whether through wars and coups and assassinations or through the cajoling and threats that go on behind the scenes at every single vote by any international body, such as the United Nations.
I do not believe the citizens of the United States any longer possess the capacity to avoid these dark prospects. They are being swept along by forces they mostly do not understand, and most are unwilling to give up on the comfortable almost-religious myths of enforceable Constitutional rights and a benevolent national government. The world’s hope of avoiding global tyranny now lies in the rapid advance of nations such as China, Russia, India, and Brazil to counterbalance America. Europe, an obvious possible candidate to oppose America’s more dangerous and obtuse efforts, appears in recent decades to have fallen completely under America’s direction in so many areas where it once showed independence, an increasing number having been bribed or seduced or threatened to join NATO and unwilling to use the limited international agencies we have, such as the United Nations, to oppose America’s disturbing tendencies.
John Chuckman lives in Canada.