By Dennis Loo
[Note: This article is a slightly expanded version of a talk at the first book release party for Dennis Loo’s new book, Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Larkmead Press, 2011. It provides an abbreviated introduction to a few of the key arguments and evidence in book. Rob Kall of OpEd News interviewed Dennis about his new book last week for his radio show, available at OpEd News here.]
This book was many years in the making. I put it aside several years ago to finish my Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney (NY: Seven Stories Press, 2006) book (with co-editor/author Peter Phillips) because there was an immediate need for that book. We didn't succeed, unfortunately, in building a powerful people's movement to drive Bush and Cheney from office. Had we succeeded the whole political situation would be dramatically different today. Obviously not enough people read my book! [Laughter]
As a result, the trajectory that the Bush regime was spearheading has continued under this new president. It was and is a trajectory that I wrote about in a concentrated way in my last book and that I focus specifically on and in detail in this new book. So you see, this is why you have to read this book so that it doesn't get worse this time!
You might say that everyone who's alert to what's going around us in this country and around the world and who has a conscience and/or any concern for others and for the environment is in agony over what's going on. I wrote this book to speak directly to those people. That is why this book is an attempt to reach both a scholarly and university audience and to be accessible to the broad public. It is meant to be not only an expose and a call to action but also foundational and theoretically rigorous. The changes that need to be made are huge and for these changes to have a chance to happen it will require that people are mobilized from all arenas of life, guided by a deep understanding of what we actually face, and to engage directly and personally, not just voting on a certain day in November every few years. This book is very ambitious in its aims and I cover a lot of territory in it. I am going to try to give you a little appetizer and highlight a very small number of things in it.
“If enough people read this book we can change history.” -- Debra Sweet, Director of World Can't Wait
Debra Sweet, who is the Director of World Can't Wait and who read a slightly earlier copy of the book, described it as being many books in one and said that I ended up telling a very personal story in it, which after she pointed that out I realized that she was right. That wasn't my conscious intent, to write a personal story, but I did want to tell a story, and I think getting personal naturally followed from that intent.
I've used earlier iterations of the book in my senior seminar classes with really gratifying results and one of my students from last quarter, a psych major, said something in her final paper I want to paraphrase. She found it remarkable that everyone in the class ended up in the same place and with the same conclusions: that the current system IS a system instead of just the product of human nature and/or the particular people leading the system now, that any changes to it require transformation on a systemic level, and finally, that such a revolutionary transformation is both necessary and possible. When she said that everyone reached that conclusion I have to say for the record that not everyone is exactly where she was, but she wasn't that far off.
On the back of my book you can see three quotes from the book itself. Those three quotes concentrate three aspects from my book that I'm going to address today.
"The problems of capitalism now being expressed are not simply the product of a few (or even a lot of) greedy, corrupt, and shortsighted business figures [or] poor monitoring by the government. They are not fixable through a set of adjustments or through electing one party over the other. They are not mainly the fault of a savings-allergic public. These are systemic problems... Systems do not change just because you put a new face in the White House and new faces in Congress. " (p. 74)
"[I]ntelligence failures do not discredit the existing policies of ubiquitous surveillance war, occupations, indefinite detentions, torture, assassinations, and drone attacks. Failures of intelligence promote and justify the existing policies... The longer the US goes without another successful or abortive terrorist incident, the harder it becomes to justify the security state's measures. Thus, the security state has a stake in having at least some anti-state terrorist incidents occur. This is the security state's dirty little secret." (p. 152)
"Democratic theory fails to give proper weight to the initiating and decisive power of the state and media relative to the populace. Under normal circumstances, media and the state . . . dominate the process--by which the public agenda gets set. They set the table. The public must decide what to eat from the offerings placed there by the media and state, and in that sense the public "democratically" chooses what it likes, but the public does not decide what will be on the table in the first place." (p. 229)
I should first explain that globalization has a political expression: the politics, policies, and philosophy that serve the interests and expansion of globalization. That political and philosophical expression is sometimes called free market fundamentalism and other times called neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is the neo- or new expression of 18th century political economist Adam Smith's meaning of the term liberal -- that is, to liberalize the market and let businesses and individuals do their thing without government involvement.
In the beginning of my book I compare the current worldwide dominance of the "privatize everything, the market should decide all things" mantra to H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds' story of extraterrestrial aliens' invasion of the U.S. Wells, as some of you may know, wrote his book as an allegory. He was trying to convey to Americans what it's like for Third World people who are being conquered and oppressed by a foreign imperialist power.
Like all invading and conquering armies, the neoliberals want us to think that there is no alternative to their rule and that there is no alternative to their policies, philosophy, and value system. Our campus president at Cal Poly Pomona, for example, told a student two years ago when he asked him what can be done about the budget cuts: "Privatization. It's the only way." Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to say TINA -- There Is No Alternative -- in ramming through neoliberal policies in England. In an infamous magazine interview, in fact, Thatcher declared, "There is no such thing as society, there are just individuals and families." So in my book title when I refer to the "Demolition of Society," this is something that the neoliberals actually mean literally. I also use the phrase "demolition of society," which I take from a quote from Karl Polanyi in which he is describing what would happen if we allow market forces to rule, because it connotes explosions, disasters, and destruction, a very prominent aspect of neoliberal policies and politics. This is something that I will elaborate on a little today in a little bit.
The neoliberals want everyone to think that if you raise any questions about their views that you better keep quiet because no one sane thinks that way and that the consequences to you will be at least very unpleasant or, at the worst, fatal. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, for example, has been called insane by some leading figures for raising serious alarms about our economic policies. The invaders, whose pundits hector us hourly in the media, want everyone to give up in the face of their dominance and resign ourselves to this path. If you don't like the obviously negative consequences of their politics and policies, the very best that you can maybe hope to do is modify it very slightly by slowing it down or perhaps find some separate peace or, as some people hope, some way of finessing it or getting the system of capitalism to change without needing to completely overthrow it.
My book is an extended explanation for why modifying these neoliberal invaders' conquest isn't enough, that trying to reform or modify what they're doing isn't even going to work, and that not only IS there an alternative, but that the neoliberals' world is a deepening and almost unimaginable disaster on multiple levels, for individuals, for the people as a whole, and for the planet and its living beings.
Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine is famous for arguing that neoliberals are purposefully triggering crises in order to justify their imposition of draconian market-driven policies as the supposed solution. She is right that they sometimes engage in consciously creating calamities. But one of the key points that I make in my book is that there is a deeper problem than their deliberate disaster designs. The very logic of their policies makes catastrophes inevitable, even when they're not trying to spark a crisis and even if they never were to try to create a crisis.
To explain this point in very brief form: One of the people I cite in my book is a DoD think tank analyst named Nathan Frier. Frier argued in 2008, referring to upcoming catastrophes such as a 9/11 terrorist attack or environmental calamity:
“The likeliest and most dangerous future shocks will be unconventional… Their origin is most likely to be in irregular, catastrophic, and hybrid threats of "purpose' (emerging from hostile design) or threats of "context' (emerging in the absence of hostile purpose or design). Of the two, the latter is both the least understood and the most dangerous.” (p. 116)
Let me repeat that last part: the most dangerous and least understood future shocks will be from what Frier calls threats of context, meaning they emerge from the very workings of the existing systems, not because someone deliberately triggers these shocks.
It was nice to find a DoD analyst confirming what I concluded, especially when he is coming from an entirely opposite perspective from myself. But how much attention have the media and the government devoted to talking about this? How many people are even aware that the most serious and dangerous problems are not al-Qaeda and are not even what Naomi Klein warns about?
Consider the Global War on Terror's (GWOT) publicly expressed rationale: the government and companies must engage in violating previously sacrosanct civil liberties, torture people, invade and attack countries that harbor terrorists, hold people indefinitely and suspend your right to challenge your detention, spy on everyone's electronic communications, use paid undercover police agents to infiltrate dissenting groups and develop justifications to clamp down on those groups pre-emptively before they even get to demonstrate based on what your agents provocateurs themselves do, bar you from seeing evidence used against you), and so on, all of these have been done in the name of the GWOT because the danger of terrorism they tell us outweighs all other considerations.
Let me mention here just two of the several quotes that I recount on pages 57-58 that reveal the behind the scenes reasoning:
Dennis Milligan, Arkansas GOP Chairman, stated on June 3, 2007:
" [A]ll we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [9/11], and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country."
Lt. Col. Doug Delaney, War Studies Program Chair, Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, paraphrased by Toronto Star reporter Andrew Chung in the first sentence, on July 8, 2007: " [T]he key to bolstering Western resolve is another terrorist attack like 9/11 or the London transit bombings of two years ago. "If nothing happens, it will be harder still to say this is necessary.'"
In other words, in order to continue the security state, in which all of these new measures are now the norm, it is necessary for successful and aborted terrorist incidents to occur periodically. If they do not, then the justification for these measures will go away. For the GWOT to continue, therefore, the GWOT must suffer "failures." If anti-state terrorist incidents disappear completely, then the GWOT's rationale disappears and all of these measures will no longer enjoy public support or acquiescence. This helps to explain why the GWOT uses terror. You know that line in Avatar: We will fight terror with terror? I used that line in the title of an essay that formed the nucleus of the eventual Chapter Four of my new book. I don't think that Avatar's director James Cameron stole it from my essay that came out before his movie; I think we just both came to the same conclusions independently.
Put another way, the fundamental logic of the GWOT is that it has a stake in the persistence of anti-state terrorism and it has an interest in continuing to use state terror that by its very indiscriminate nature continues to inflame people against the U.S. and make some of them want to commit acts of terrorism or at least be sympathetic to those who do. That our government is torturing and killing innocent men, women and children in their GWOT is not a mistake or oversight. It's actually logical as a policy. State terror is supposed to harm people indiscriminately. That is the source of its efficacy, as far as it goes: you are supposed to be so afraid that you will be the next capriciously chosen victim of state terror that you will comply without question. But state terror's targeting of innocents and lack of care about innocents also has the result of enflaming the populace against you. I compare it in the book to pouring gasoline on a raging fire in an alleged attempt to drown the fire.
If you think about the underlying logic of the GWOT and its self-reinforcing nature, this means that any unscrupulous individual at many different possible tiers in the hierarchy of government and the corporate world can now simply look the other way when they detect a terrorist incident being hatched, allow that incident to go forward at least part way, or lacking that, engineer an incident themselves by claiming that so and so was planning to set off a "dirty bomb" as Jose Padilla was accused of (an accusation that Paul Wolfowitz shortly after Padilla's arrest admitted was not based on any facts) and use that arrest to justify the ongoing need for the GWOT. Jose Padilla, by the way, was driven mad by their utter isolation of him from others. His attorney described him as akin to a piece of furniture even before the government finally put him on trial and scared the jurors into convicting him.
No one who wants to be taken seriously in Washington dares raise any questions about GWOT's underlying logic. Even if some individual politician wanted to, such as someone like Rep. Dennis Kucinich, he would be censored from saying it and if he did try to say it anyway, he'd be effectively banished from being given committee assignments of any importance, sidelined even more than he is now by the party leadership, and find it even harder than he does now to get any media attention.
Another indication of the underlying fraud that the GWOT is is the fact that the Bush regime was spying on all of our electronic communications just weeks after taking office, in February of 2001, seven months before 9/11. They were doing so because the real reason for the dramatic and radical changes to the nature of governance and the demolition of the rule of law is not anti-state terrorism and not 9/11 but a shift in the nature of the governance in neoliberal regimes.
The government's various definitions of terrorism are now so broad that they can be used against anyone for anything. The government merely calling someone a terrorist or someone who supports terrorists is now enough to get someone removed from office and under lock and key. Just being a whistleblower like Julian Assange can lead to pundits and public officials explicitly calling for your assassination. Some people think that Obama is using these expanded executive powers - which he has increased over what Bush used - against only really bad people. But what people who support this don't realize is that even if Obama were using it only against bad guys, the precedent that a president can do this on his or her own say so means that any future occupant of the White House now can do this against their political enemies. Nixon got nearly impeached and driven in disgrace from office for much less. If Nixon were alive today he would be considered liberal and would be to the left of Obama.
We are now back to the period of the rule of kings, before Magna Carta, where the law was what the King said it was. Indeed, this is how Condi Rice put it about Bush: If the president does it, it's not illegal. Law Professor (bka war criminal) John Yoo testified before Congress several years ago that if the president thinks he must, then he can order that the testicles of s small boy be crushed to get his father to talk to interrogators. According to Yoo it all turns on why the president is doing it, not what he does.
Most people are unaware of these momentous shifts. It's like those cartoon scenes where Wile E. Coyote is chasing the Road Runner and he runs off the cliff and he is running in thin air for a while still parallel to the ground before he looks down and sees that he's not on the ground anymore and then, finally, plummets to earth. Most Americans don't realize that the ground has been cut out from under them and they're still running in mid-air.
Whereas the principle has been for 900 years that if you break the law then you will be punished but if you are innocent than you are supposed to be let free, the new principle is that everyone is a suspect and the government has been giving itself the right to act in the manner depicted in the Tom Cruise film The Minority Report (based on the sci fi short story by Philip K. Dick) where it will pre-emptively arrest and hold people who they think might do something. One extreme expression of this is Obama's publicly ordering the assassination of US citizens that he regards as terrorists. This is without trial and conviction, just by presidential fiat. Some people might say that this is not that different or even identical to what has de facto gone on for some time where innocent people are prosecuted successfully and presidents order the CIA or some other clandestine agents to assassinate foreign or domestic leaders. They're right that this goes on, but what should not be missed here is the momentousness of the explicit changes in the law that have been underway. When you make it the law and the norm to do these things in the open that is a whole different level of danger for the society. It is the difference between rule by law, with some deviations from that going on, and rule by fascist principles where there is no rule of law and there is no presumption of innocence, just rule by force and fear.
There are a lot of facets to this, including most notably problems with the fundamental nature of modern bureaucracies and the looming disasters that are inevitable under neoliberal principles (with Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, mass extinction of species, the ruination of the ocean within the next generation, and global warming just a few that we could talk about) but I can't go into all of that now and you'll have to read the book to get this full argument.
I do, however, want to briefly mention here the issue of the financial system. This issue's in the news again as you know.
In the years leading up to the housing bubble's bursting, investment banks and mortgage companies were raking in so much money that they did not concern themselves with what would happen when these loans and investments became unsustainable.
"The problems that led to the last crisis have not yet been addressed, and in some cases have grown worse, says Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the trouble asset relief program, or TARP. . . .
"'Even if TARP saved our financial system from driving off a cliff back in 2008, absent meaningful reform, we are still driving on the same winding mountain road, but this time in a faster car,' Barofsky wrote."
L. Randall Wray, Professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City, provides a broader analysis of the underlying structural problems at work:
"'[F]inancialization' of the economies concurrently meant both 'globalization' as well as rising inequality.
"The weight of finance moved away from institutions--that were guided by a culture of developing relations with customers--toward 'markets' (the 'originate to distribute' model of securitizing pools of mortgages is a good example). This virtually eliminated underwriting (assessing credit worthiness of customers) and also favored the 'short view' (immediate profits) of traders (you are only as good as your last trade) over the long view of financial institutions that hold loans... A 'trader mentality' triumphed, that encouraged practices based on the 'zero sum' approach: in every trade there is a winner and a loser. As practiced, the bank would be the winner and the customer would be duped.
"This transformation helps to explain why fraud became rampant as normal business practice... In the end, the US financial system (and perhaps many others) became nothing but a massive criminal conspiracy to defraud borrowers."
Let me summarize Wray's remarks: Our financial system and many others have become a massive criminal conspiracy. This is not an anomoly. This is the standard practice now.
Professor Wray does not explain why the weight of finance capital moved towards "markets." To answer that question very succinctly, finance capital's dominance reflects the natural flow of capital into the areas where the quickest and biggest profits can be made. For a system premised on the pursuit of profit, this shift to financialization and what Wray describes as a "massive criminal conspiracy" are to be expected. Short-term logic trumps any long-term logic; profits made today override any serious considerations of longer time horizons. Arguing as some do that finance capital's focus on short-term gains is jeopardizing the system's long-term stability and viability misses the point. The system can only be governed, so long as it continues to be the system in place and is not replaced by a different system, by profit. Doing what is best for it in the long-run is not how the system operates. (pp. 172-174).
In response to this some people advocate a return to pre-monopoly capitalism and "free markets." As I show in my book, there is a reason why free markets inevitably turn into monopolies and the main reasons are because monopoly is an extension upon the very logic of capital's pursuit of profit and maximizing market share and because of the economies of scale. Free markets become unfree in the same way that caterpillars turn into butterflies. It's in their nature and a product of the forces that animate them and make them what they are.
I want to turn now to extremely briefly examine the third quote on the back of my book's contents to complete my remarks today and then we'll open this up for any questions or comments and then I'll be happy to sign any books people would like to get.
There is a tremendous amount of mystification out in society about the real nature of political rule, a point I attack from many different angles throughout the book. In Chapter Five I examine specifically the fundamental principles of democratic theory. In short I show that there are fatal flaws in the premises of the theory, which is the main reason why democracy as people understand it somehow always seems like that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You chase it and chase it and it remains elusive. The problem with democratic theory isn't that it just needs fine-tuning. The problem lies in the theory itself.
There are other books that have been and are being published on globalization but the ones that talk about solutions at all advocate as a solution some version of "more democracy." What I show in Chapter Five is that "more democracy" as people generally understand that isn't the solution because we cannot obtain authentic popular rule under the existing electoral, political, and economic system. Let me read the quote on the back cover that concentrates my argument regarding democratic theory:
"Democratic theory fails to give proper weight to the initiating and decisive power of the state and media relative to the populace. Under normal circumstances, media and the state possess virtually all of the advantages--and dominate the process--by which the public agenda gets set. They set the table. The public must decide what to eat from the offerings placed there by the media and state, and in that sense the public 'democratically' chooses what it likes, but the public does not decide what will be on the table in the first place." (p. 229)
If I offer you vanilla ice cream and you eat it, does this mean that you wanted vanilla ice cream in the first place?
Like parents who tell their kids that they can have either the peas or the carrots but you must have one or the other, the people who run this country tell us that we can have the Republican or the Democrat or you can even vote for a Third Party candidate "if you want to throw your vote away." But if the people don't determine who gets to be considered a serious candidate in the first place, and the people DON'T determine that -- the media and key party leaders determine that - then elections are merely a sham for a choice, not the real exercise of democratic rule. Who is considered the "legitimate" candidate and who is considered the frontrunner is something that isn't decided by public opinion polls asking people whose platform they agree with the most. If it were, then do you know who would have been the Democratic front-runner in 2008? Dennis Kucinich.
The problem goes even deeper than this, and I wish we had time for me to go more fully into the argument and its different facets, but I'm going to stop there and ask if you have any questions or comments that you'd like to make.
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A Touchstone Work: Dennis Loo’s Globalization and the Demolition of Society
By Linda Rigas
As young (and not so young) people try to understand why the world is the way that it is, with many academics telling them that the very best they can hope for is that capitalism become a bit more humane, comes a book that blows those paltry promises out of the water. With Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Dennis Loo offers up a compelling challenge to the logic of capitalism and provides not wishful thinking but solid grounds for constructing a movement in opposition to all of this madness.
Before proceeding, a short personal note: I was a politically engaged high school and college student. I heard about Dennis Loo then but only met him when I became active with World Can’t Wait and War Criminals Watch while attending law school. I majored in sociology in college but I did not have any professors who were politically active or who addressed the socioeconomic system the way Loo does. My sociology courses took a piecemeal approach by looking at various particular inequalities such as gender and race/ethnicity as distinct from the larger context of class society and overarching systems’ logic. Thus, these dimensions of social and economic life were divorced from the larger system’s underlying dynamics that they are part of and manifest. We were told that we could lessen oppression and domination under the current system but were never given any thinking on how to end these awful realities. When I stated in a college class that I wanted to be a part of ending rape, for example, my professor dismissively told me: “How are you, one person, going to end rape?” The very best I could do, he assured me, was to provide support for rape victims.
One of the many things that Loo does with his new book is bring a system-wide analysis back in, something that has been conspicuously missing for several decades from all too much of Left scholarly work. Unlike those scholars who are known for their institutional and system analysis (such as Immanuel Wallerstein), Loo links a systems-level analysis to the conscious dynamic role that people play and makes real the possibility of wresting a radically different future from what we see around us now. Whereas all too many scholars treat phenomena in a linear fashion, Loo’s adept appreciation of the dynamic interplay of factors, objective and subjective (aka dialectics), is both refreshing and inspiring. His personal involvement in social movements has clearly helped to strengthen his scholarly work. Loo’s reading of historical events provides vital insights and challenges the trajectory of current social justice efforts. He seeks to bridge the gap between those in academia and those who are struggling in the streets. The absence of this kind of theoretical work has had and is having a very profound and palpable impact in suffocating people’s ability to even imagine a different world than the neoliberal nightmare.
His book poses questions such as the following:
Why do the richest 497 individuals in the world have more wealth than the bottom fifty percent of the world’s population? What has led to governmental and corporate authorities’ growing indifference to the public’s welfare—eliminating jobs and income security, public services, pensions and unions - and instead increasing their use of force, deception, and fear? Is it reasonable to expect that reliance upon the major parties’ campaign pitches and the injunction ‘just vote’ could possibly be all you need to know to change society? If you had such extreme wealth and power as the ultra rich do and enjoyed your luxuries more than justice, would you let your possessions be subject to the whims of the principle of ‘one person, one vote?’ As Loo puts it, “you’d be crazy to do so.”
As occupations and wars continue and body counts mount in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, a world marred by the drive for profit, ever-expanding empire, and deepening and intolerable inequalities grows more malignant the way a hurricane gathers fury from warm open waters. Loo’s analysis unearths what lies behind the most pivotal crises facing humanity in the 21st century and how we can find a way out of all of this.
The Rosetta stone of Loo’s analysis is the theoretical framework he provides “to study societies carefully and to draw deeply upon historical lessons.” Loo distinguishes perception and subjectivity from truth and objective reality and how those elements interpenetrate. He exposes the ways in which the current dominant analytical tools rely on postmodernist and pragmatist principles in constructing a view of the world that only simulates truth. He also grapples with religious fundamentalism's role (western, eastern and middle eastern) in implementing and reinforcing a view of the world that is divorced from confronting the world as it is. Indeed, both the right wing and left wing expression of anti-rationalism presents grave dangers for the people and the planet.
This book convincingly attempts to answer the complex question of what has happened since the 1970s and 1980s, when advocates of “free market” forces and unrestrained individualism succeeded in making their views dominant worldwide. Loo combines impeccable scholarship with an admirable clarity and tautness of argument to show us why neoliberalism—the reigning ideology of the capitalist system—has neither made us more secure nor prosperous. Rather, Loo argues, it has increasingly led to further disorder, curtailing of civil liberties, and the abrogation of the rule of law, sabotaging society on the individual, regional, and global levels and at the most fundamental level.
Since the basis for people to cooperate, to behave normatively (for example, to abide by the law) is constantly and deliberately undermined under neoliberal regimes, and since, for the most dispossessed, even less of what was available to them in welfare states with Keynesian economic policies is now offered, governments must increasingly rely upon coercive means with spending on “security” (law enforcement, military, immigration control, prisons, surveillance and so on) rising inexorably. This point bears underscoring: more repression and more coercive means of social control are not principally a policy choice in the sense that people might think of the GOP favoring more coercion and the Democrats less. The overall direction of neoliberal regimes dictates that more coercion will be required, regardless of the party in power and the individuals in office. (Pp. 53-54)
Loo defines neoliberalism as the view that unbridled market forces should run everything. While many prominent scholars have written on neoliberalism, Loo’s analysis departs and supersedes those of others in significant ways. Naomi Klein, for example, points to the intentional nature of neoliberals' triggering of crises, but Loo shows that some of the worst crises are ones that neoliberals aren't purposefully instigating. Rather, these calamities are the inevitable by-products of the logic and working out of that logic of neoliberals' constantly creating and profiting from more insecurity and treating the planet as if there are no objective limits to their greed. And unlike Noam Chomsky’s prescription that neoliberalism can be overcome by “redefining democracy as a global movement” as opposed to a “global market,” Loo argues that the problem is not that the idea of democracy fails to be correctly practiced or that the ends of democracy have not yet been fully realized. The problem lies with faults in democratic theory itself.
Loo’s book implicitly confronts Roberto Unger and Cornel West’s assessments of American progressivism. As described by their publisher, “Seizing the quintessentially American idea that everything is possible, Robert Mangabeira Unger and Cornel West argue that we can use it to reinvent our public institutions. While they propose specific reforms in business, taxation, social security, and education, their program is an image of American political and civil life as a vital, evolving, and hopeful arena for solving our collective problems.” Loo reminds us to
consider the fact that Bush and Cheney were caught red-handed fabricating the WMD excuse to invade Iraq, and they were still not impeached. They were caught red-handed torturing people, at least one hundred of them to death, and they were still not impeached or prosecuted.They were caught red-handed spying on every single American in felonious violation of the law, including every senator, congressperson, prosecutor and judge, and they were still not impeached or prosecuted. If these transgressive acts were not punished but were retroactively approved with their underlying excuses endorsed by both major parties, then it should be no surprise that these policies would then continue. Is it any wonder, then, that Obama has been continuing their policies and in some very important respects going even further? The wonder would be if he actually attempted to put a stop to it all. (Pp. 152-53)
One of the ways that Loo further gets at the root of the American ideal of democracy and its stark limitations is by examining and critiquing Karl Popper’s widely cited definition for democracy: “democracy, the right of the people to judge and to dismiss their government, is the only known device by which we can try to protect ourselves against the misuse of political power; it is the control of the rulers by the ruled.” Loo asks: How can it be popular rule if the “ruled” can only protect themselves from the “rulers?” How does that even come close to “control of the rulers by the ruled”? Doesn’t Popper’s terminology itself – rulers and ruled - let the cat out of the bag as to who is really in charge? Loo eviscerates Popper’s view as “dismiss[ing] out of hand the notion that authentic rule by the many can ever happen” and “the possibility now or ever of the people politically ruling themselves” (p. 240). Based on Popper, we would be left indefinitely with deeply rooted systemic inequalities with no real possibility even being considered of the people actually governing themselves. Indeed, is that not the track record that we have seen in all putative democracies to date? How, Loo further asks, can you separate the question of political democracy from economic disparities?
Political egalitarianism cannot be sensibly pursued whenever wider and ever expanding economic inequality provides the driving logic for our economic and political policy. To think otherwise is to deny the most obvious fact, demonstrated over and over throughout history: huge economic disparities produce political inequalities. The more unequal the economy becomes, the more unequal the public policies have been (they helped produce this economic inequality, after all), and the more unequal the public policies will therefore be (since the political system will adjust to the economic more than the other way around). That is, unless some dramatic change that involves a fundamental reworking of the economic system’s dynamics occurs.” (p. 253).
The very best that democratic theory can offer us on its own terms is limiting the power of elites when they become too tyrannical rather than bridging the disparities in people’s share of social resources, and progressively eliminating the enforced ignorance and other unnecessary and artificially imposed disadvantages that allow elites to manipulate and exploit others.
Loo shows that the existing system and its leaders are utterly incapable of resolving the inherent crises of their system and that the measures they are using to try to cope with these crises do not fix those problems but in fact lay the basis for even grander crises to come. Unlike Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga’s arguments in Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, Loo’s theoretical framework is not aimed at involving people merely in order to facilitate the actions of the Democratic Party or those of a third party. Rather, Loo argues that the building of a mass independent movement outside the established political processes is the only path that offers the hope of actually altering the political balance of forces. He makes that argument, moreover, on the firm foundation of a close reading of history, powerful logic, moral clarity, and innovative empirical investigation.
In Chapter Four, Loo examines the Global War on Terror (GWOT) as a very specific consequence of neoliberalism. He compares the GWOT to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy where a parent is secretly harming his or her child in order to make certain that the child is wholly dependent upon his/her parent. Loo traces the implementation of a series of policies which allow the government to use indiscriminate definitions of terrorism hand-in-hand with indiscriminate use of violence to justify its end of global empire—an empire in which the specter of fear, paranoia, and the threat of insecurity loom over people’s daily lives. Loo explains:
States use terrorism with the intention of causing their opponents and their opponents’ supporters to give up their fight. State use of terror is deliberately indiscriminate: you are supposed to be terrified that you or your love ones could be the next target merely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is as true of torture as it is of bombs being dropped onto civilians from planes overhead. (p. 199)
He emphasizes that this is a fundamental characteristic—a “necessary and inevitable component”—of the GWOT’s logic and not merely “a product of poorly trained personnel or something that could be adjusted with the proper motives and leadership.” In other words, the GWOT is a concentrated expression of the logic of neoliberalism—a logic that overrides what people are led to believe: that voting can lead to a different outcome. Loo analyzes the common epithet we are consistently told when another scandal emerges: if you don’t like what this public official is doing, then you can just vote them out of office during the next election. He shows us how we cannot change the logic of a system through voting and the decisive role that the state and media play in ensuring that the dominant view of the world is in accordance with their material interests. Loo turns the narrative of democracy building on its head by revealing the true nature of political power and how it finds expression among both the public’s sentiments and the making and selling of public policies.
A very important subtheme in his book is his empirical demonstration of how public sentiment is reframed in ways that suit elites and how this can take the form, as one of his case studies shows, of media, public officials, and even pollsters actually fabricating public opinion polling data. This finding of his provides one of the bases upon which a politics of resistance can grow and potentially win: public opinion as represented by those in charge and by cynics as the root cause of our problems – Americans are too stupid, lazy, disengaged, scared, and philistine – is wrong. Loo points out that while the U.S. takes second place to no one in the prevalence of political ignorance and naïveté, the source of our horrid public policies does not come from the people themselves. Instead, it all comes down to two key elements. First, who is the leadership and what standards are they setting for others? Second, what is the system in place and what is its guiding logic? A shift in the overall political balance of forces can be affected if a minority of people armed with a firm grasp of what is going on sets a different tone for others. The basis exists, in other words - an argument that draws strength in part from his insights about the nature of social dynamics - for a grassroots insurgency to upend the terms that now prevail.
As important as the GWOT itself is, however, Loo further shows that the GWOT is secondary to and has been preceded by a shift in the fundamental nature and rationales of governance worldwide, from the law’s basis being the punishment of those who break the law, to treating “everyone as a suspect.” This shift actually began in the 1970s and is called “public order policies.” The fact that hardly anyone has ever heard of public order policies is one indication of how important Loo’s book is in shedding much needed light on just what is going on. As another specific example of this, many authors such as Jane Mayer (The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals) have written eloquently about the horrors of torture being used by the U.S. government. Rather than a war on America’s putative ideals, however, Loo shows why torture and other techniques of terror have become the norm, and why Obama, a charismatic, Black man, has continued these practices to the shock of many.
Neoliberal regimes have no choice but to rely more and more heavily upon coercion and outright terror to ensure cooperation and to forestall disruption and upheaval, because the rewards for going along with the status quo are being undercut day by day for the vast majority of the world’s people; in addition, disruptions, both on the day-to-day individual and family levels and on the city/state/regional and global levels, are more the norm and not the exception. Coercion must be used more, but even coercion does not work in all instances, and in some cases sheer terror must be employed. (p. 200)
Loo emphasizes that the GWOT is more accurately depicted as the losing war of terror. He demonstrates how the logic of neoliberalism relies on failure upon failure to justify even greater political and economic control by our rulers. For instance, under the Bush White House, the more they failed to handle the worsening situation in Iraq and fiddled while Katrina drowned New Orleans, the more they succeeded in getting what they wanted all along—among other things, the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007. The Warner Act allows the president to declare martial law in any situation where only he or she has the authority to declare that this is a “public emergency.” The President’s sole judgment is not subject to examination and approval by any other branch of government or any Congressional committee, let alone any member of Congress!
Loo excoriates Homeland Security and the GWOT as based on a false premise: that more information gathered by the government makes us safer.
If you have a list of more than half a million people that are possible suspects (as the U.S. government had as of late 2010) with the list growing longer every day, this task of focusing on the next [Mohammed] Atta becomes more difficult than ever. You have to make choices all along the way about what is relevant information and what is not. As you amass more and more irrelevant information, you make it more difficult, not easier, to determine what is relevant and what is noise…
Carrying out “national security” in this manner is like going out into a growing hurricane and trying to determine which flying objects are going to hit you and when…The insistence that everyone is a potential problem and that more information about everything is better means that actual terrorist plots are being covered up by avalanches of useless and irrelevant information. It is like taking a gourmet meal prepared by a four-star restaurant and mixing it with tons and tons of garbage. Now, your challenge is to find the haute cuisine in that pile of stench.
But that is not even the worst of it,
The overriding problem here, however, is not the plethora of unusable and illegitimately obtained information about all of us….Even if that problem did not exist, there would still be a larger problem: intelligence failures do not discredit the existing policies of ubiquitous surveillance, war, occupations, indefinite detentions, torture, assassinations, and drone attacks. Failures of intelligence promote and justify the existing policies that are supposed to prevent terrorism. The longer the US goes without another successful or abortive terrorist incident, the harder it becomes to justify the security state’s measures. Thus, the security state has a stake in having at least some anti-state terrorist incidents occur. This is the security state’s dirty little secret. (Pp. 151-152)
This is the kind of analysis that the people sorely need! Who in public office or mainstream media is going to tell people these ineluctable truths?
Under the Obama Administration, the shock-and-awe effects of the Bush Regime’s policies have become the new normality of public political life. Obama has continued and accelerated key Bush Regime policies. The apparatus created not only by Bush but also by Reagan and Clinton has soared to new heights. Going beyond Bush, Obama’s DOJ has asserted the doctrine of “sovereign immunity.” Under this doctrine, the government can claim unlimited authority to exercise unlimited surveillance over us all without oversight from any other governmental authority and with immunity from lawsuits brought by those spied upon, unless it can be shown that the government deliberately released the information to damage the individual or group. This doctrine supersedes the Bush Regime’s state secrets’ privilege, which was used to throw out particular claims in suits brought against the government by men who had been tortured at Guantanamo. No serious judicial or political objections have erupted in the face of Obama’s outrageous declaration of unfettered executive power. Obama can throw out entire lawsuits without having to disclose what information was acquired and how and why it was obtained. Such a policy has provided fertile ground for the President to declare evidence that he does not want to release as protectable “national security secrets.” In other words, Loo explains, the legal system’s mantra that “no one is above the law” has been eroded beyond repair.
The law no longer represents the standard that people must abide by in order to avoid having police actions and prosecutions imposed upon them. The new standard is that one can be subjected to governmental or private social control measures simply for being a perceived threat or source of discomfort to someone. This undermining of the rule of law is being carried out across the full spectrum of bureaucratic and corporate purview and policy making from top to bottom. As Hornqvist puts it: “It may seem absurd that a single area of policy should cover everything from truancy and drug sales to acts of terror. But it is absurd only because so many of us have not yet learned to proceed from a concept of security that has broken away from the logic of the law.”From this perspective, Bush and Cheney’s express violations of the rule of law are then not unique to them. They were merely on the cutting edge of that trajectory. And Obama’s perpetuation of their actions represents the further advance of that neoliberal project. This means that attempts to restore the rule of law will not succeed as a strategy separate from a fundamental challenge to the entire logic of the system itself. (p. 155)
Loo impresses that the prospects for change depend on how well we understand how the political system really works and where we are really at today. The current historical trajectory relies on leaders being able to continue to blind the public into thinking that there are no grander vistas that humanity has ever achieved. Loo’s profound refutation mounts a politics of resistance by examining human relations under capitalism, how capitalism has created and reinforced various divides in society, and how it is heading the world headlong into the demolition of society. Loo leaves us with the blueprint for a new path to be taken, one that he invites readers to grapple with and thoroughly dissect.
Title: Globalization and the Demolition of Society
Author: Dennis Loo
Format: Hardback 6.14” x 9.21”
No. of pages: 432 pp.
Publication Date: August 1, 2011
Additional Format eBook $18.00 ISBN: 9781617926303
A War of the Worlds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .……..…. xi
Laying a Foundation for Politics of a New Path:
Contests Over What is Real and What is True . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . … ...1
The Paradox of Preeminence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..….29
The Neoliberal State’s Origins and the Rise of the Right:
Wars, Revolutions and Insurgencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..66
Courting Catastrophe and Sabotaging Everyday Security:
Neoliberalism’s Dangerous Dance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .…116
The “War on Terror” (Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy) . . . .… 187
Why Voting Isn’t the Solution:
The Problem with Democratic Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..215
Media: the New Faux Public . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . …...260
The Prospects for Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . …..309
APPENDIX 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ………………359
APPENDIX 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ……………….. . 361
APPENDIX 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ……………. . 369
INDEX. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . …………..... .. 375
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