Are We Going Down Like the Soviets?

This is the provocative question Tom Engelhardt asks in his blog.

It seems we’ve finally entered the Soviet era in America.

You remember the Soviet Union, now almost 20 years in its grave.  But who gives it a second thought today?  Even in its glory years that “evil empire” was sometimes referred to as “the second superpower.”  In 1991, after seven decades, it suddenly disintegrated and disappeared, leaving the United States — the “sole superpower,” even the “hyperpower,” on planet Earth — surprised but triumphant.

Looking back, the most distinctive feature of the last years of the Soviet Union may have been the way it continued to pour money into its military — and its military adventure in Afghanistan — when it was already going bankrupt and the society it had built was beginning to collapse around it.  In the end, its aging leaders made a devastating miscalculation.  They mistook military power for power on this planet.  Armed to the teeth and possessing a nuclear force capable of destroying the Earth many times over, the Soviets nonetheless remained the vastly poorer, weaker, and (except when it came to the arms race) far less technologically innovative of the two superpowers.

The USSR had been heading for the exits for quite a while, not that official Washington had a clue.  At the moment it happened, Soviet “experts” like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (then director of the CIA) still expected the Cold War to go on and on.  In Washington, eyes were trained on the might of the Soviet military, which the Soviet leadership had never stopped feeding, even as its sclerotic bureaucracy was rotting, its economy was tanking, budget deficits were soaring, indebtedness to other countries was growing, and social welfare payments were eating into what funds remained.  Not even a vigorous, reformist leader like Mikhail Gorbachev could staunch the rot, especially when, in the late 1980s, the price of Russian oil fell drastically.

The lessons for our present situation are surely dazzlingly obvious.

In The Roots of War and Domination I wrote: (p. 19-21)

In our time, in the United States, we have obscenely bloated military budgets, and a world-wide trade in arms that dwarfs the trade in all other products (with the possible exception of drugs), as declining portions of the society’s wealth are used for infrastructure, education, and healthcare for the poor. Other countries fall victim to this imbalance as well: the Russian economy imploded under the weight of its excessive military industrial bureaucracy. We have countries like North Korea, where nuclear missile technology co-exists with mass starvation.

There is a fateful connection between capitalism and militarism at the societal level, just as there is between addiction and violence at the local, tribal level. Force is needed to support the addiction. The relentless drive for profits and growth in the capitalist system is backed by military force; and military spending is the ready solution to capitalism’s biggest weakness – overproduction. The military-industrial complex soaks up excess capital looking for investment, and provides consumption without limits, in a vicious cycle closely analogous to drug addiction. This malignant connection is made strikingly clear, in the comic-book format book Addiction to Militarism (Andreas, 2002).

It should be recognized clearly: to maintain a military system does not actually contribute to the productive wealth of a society. True, military-industrial corporations generate profits for their investors, soaking up enormous amounts of money; and they employ a certain number of people, both in the armed forces and the civilian sector. However, they don’t contribute “goods and services” to the country’s overall economy, its infrastructure, the well-being of its people, the uplifting of the poor, or the improvement of its natural environment; nor do they contribute to the diversity and vibrancy of cultural life. From an ecological perspective, the relationship of the military system to the larger socio-economic order is parasitical: resources are drained from the productive sectors of society to feed the growth of the military system, and the inequalities inherent in a capitalist society are exacerbated enormously.

The Dalai Lama speaking on religion, channeling the Talmud and Heraclitus

A friend sent me an internet link to a fascinating conversation that had taken place recently at an inter-religious conference between the Dalai Lama and the prominent Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, as recorded by the latter.

From Wikipedia: Liberation theology is a movement in Christian theology which construes the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described by proponents as “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor.” Although liberation theology has grown into an international and inter-denominational movement, it began as a movement within the Roman Catholic church in Latin America in the 1950s – 1960s. It arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in that region. Proponents of liberation theology using were admonished by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (previously known as the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition) in 1984 and 1986. The Vatican documents criticize certain strains of Liberation Theology for focusing on institutional dimensions of sin to the exclusion of the individual; and for identifying the church hierarchy as members of the privileged class.

In his record of the conversation, Leonardo Boff confesses to a certain “malice” when he asked “what is the best religion?” The Dalai Lama, refusing to fall into the trap of religious prejudice, said “the best religion is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.” Expanding on that, he says “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible.. more loving, more responsible. The religion that will do that for you is the best religion, for you.” Clearly on a roll, His Holiness adds, “I am not interested, my friend, in your religion, or if you are religious or not. What is important to me is your behavior with your peers, family, work, community and in front of the world.”

Having stated his unequivocal support for religious tolerance, The Dalai Lama then articulates the classic Buddhist teachings on karma: “Remember, the universe is (or contains) the echo of our actions and our thoughts. The law of action and reaction is not limited to physics, but applies also to human relations. If I act with goodness, I will receive goodness. If I act with evil, I will receive evil. You always receive what you wish for toward others.”

The Dalai Lama then proceeds to make the following series of statements – which, to my amazement, I unexpectedly found (in an anthology) correspond exactly to a passage from the Talmud.

Take care of your thoughts, because they will become words.
Take care of your words, because they will become actions.
Take care of your actions, because they will become habits.
Take care of your habits, because they will become your character.
Take care of your character, for it will form your destiny – and your destiny is your life.

Furthermore, the statement “your character will form your destiny” corresponds exactly to one of the most famous epigrams of Heraclitus, the 6th century BC Greek philosopher: Ethos anthropoi daimon.

This epigram is usually translated as “A man’s character determines his fate.” Ethos is the collection of values that constitute your character. Daimon, usually translated “fate” or “destiny” also and originally referred to the indwelling divine Spirit in every human being. Socrates reputedly used to report receiving guidance from his daimon. (Only much later, in medieval Christianity, did daimon acquire the connotations of an evil demon.)

From the Deep Politics Conference in Santa Cruz

One: Peter Dale Scott on Deep Politics

Peter Dale Scott, discussing the erosion of the US Constitution in recent times, suggests that “this erosion has been achieved in part through a series of important deep events in [post-World-War-II] American history – events aspects of which . . . will be ignored or suppressed in the mainstream media.” Indeed, Scott adds:

[T]he mainstream U.S. media . . . have become so implicated in past protective lies . . . that they, as well as the government, have now a demonstrated interest in preventing the truth about any of these events from coming out. This means that the current threat to constitutional rights does not derive from the deep state alone. . . . [T]he problem is a global dominance mindset that prevails not only inside the Washington Beltway but also in the mainstream media . . . , one which has come to accept recent inroads on constitutional liberties, and stigmatizes, or at least responds with silence to, those who are alarmed by them. . . . [A]cceptance of this mindset’s notions of decorum has increasingly become a condition for participation in mainstream public life.”

Referring thereby to events such as the JFK assassination, the Tonkin Gulf hoax, and 9/11, Scott by “deep events” means the same types of events called SCADs by the authors of the symposium on that topic. Indeed, one of those authors explicitly cites Scott’s writings, treating his “deep events” as examples of SCADs and quoting his statements about the complicity of the mainstream media in covering up the truth about these events.

Two: David Ray Griffin on State Crimes Against Democracy (SCADs)

A symposium in the February 2010 issue of American Behavioral Scientist, one of our leading social science journals, argues that social scientists need to develop a scientific approach to studying an increasingly important type of criminality: State Crimes Against Democracy, abbreviated SCADs, understood as “concerted actions . . . by government insiders intended to manipulate democratic processes and undermine popular sovereignty.” Having the “potential to subvert political institutions and entire governments . . . [SCADs] are high crimes that attack democracy itself.”

Distinguishing between SCADs that have been officially proven, such as “the Watergate break-ins and cover-up . . . , the secret wars in Laos and Cambodia . . . , the illegal arms sales and covert operations in Iran-Contra . . . , and the effort to discredit Joseph Wilson by revealing his wife’s status as an intelligence agent,” on the one hand, and suspected SCADs for which there is good evidence, on the other, the symposium authors include in the latter category “the fabricated attacks on U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 . . . the “October Surprises” in the presidential elections of 1968 . . . and 1980 . . .  the assassinations of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy . . . , the election breakdowns in 2000 and 2004 . . . , the numerous defense failures on September 11, 2001 . . . , and the misrepresentation of intelligence to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq.”

Besides regarding 9/11 as one of the suspected SCADs for which there is good evidence, this symposium treats it as its primary example. The abstract for the introductory essay begins by asserting: “The ellipses of due diligence riddling the official account of the 9/11 incidents continue being ignored by scholars of policy and public administration.” The symposium’s final essay, criticizing the majority of the academic world for its “blithe dismissal of more than one law of thermodynamics” that is violated by the official theory of the World Trade Center collapses, also criticizes the academy for its failure to protest when “Professor Steven Jones found himself forced out of a tenured position for merely reminding the world that physical laws, about which there is no dissent whatsoever, contradict the official theory of the World Trade Center Towers’ collapse.”

Source for both of the above: