(first published in the Fishwrapper, September 1991)
Throughout these times of hope and despair, alternating like a cyclone across the national landscape, Presidents Bush and Reagan and the conservatives have claimed no small amount of credit for these historic events. They have been bellicose and loud in thumping their chests and crowing their slogans, proclaiming "Victory for Capitalism and Freedom."
These champions of Western capitalism would have the world believe that the United States, as the paragon of liberal democracy and capitalist free enterprise, embodies a system that is a shining example for the rest of the world to emulate. And apparentl y they're not alone, as the formerly Communist world plunges headlong to be "just like us," while immigrants from poor Third World countries continue to flock in dilapidated flotillas to our shores. Our standard of living is what attracts them, that and our highly acclaimed political freedoms.
But let us ask ourselves: is the United States truly an example for the rest of the world? What if all countries did indeed become "just like us?" What would the world look like? Close your eyes and think about it for a few minutes. Try and imagine i t.
Well, for starters, the United States has only 6% of the world's population, yet it consumes 35-45% of the world's resources. You don't need to be a genius in math to figure out that the world cannot afford too many countries that consume six times its f air share!
How do we manage to horde so much of the world's resources? To understand that, we have to go back to the time immediately after World War II, during the creation of the CIA and the National Security Council in 1947. State Department planning chief Geor ge Kennan outlined the rationale for a post-WWII Cold War foreign policy, saying: "...We have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task...i s to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security...We should cease to talk about vague and...unreal objectives, such as human rights, the raising of the living standards and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts."
Truer words have not been spoken since. The post-WWII system George Kennan and Company devised was one of continued corporate and military exploitation of Third World countries, and containment of Third World anti-imperialist revolutions and their Soviet supporters.
This exploitation has greatly contributed to our superior standard of living. Some of the booty from this exploitation was permitted by its corporate masters to "trickle down" and buy off the working class of the United States. This created a relatively large, materialist middle class that, ironically, became the envy of the world. This buy-off was necessary, from the corporate standpoint, to prevent a return of the labor unrest of the 1930's, when the Great Depression led to strikes, riots, protests, governmental repression and death-squad style murders right here in the United States.
"Now wait a minute," we can hear the yellow ribbon patriots protest. "Sure, the US consumes a bit too much. But these poor countries are emulating our strong traditions of free enterprise and individual political rights. All the things that have been d enied them by Communist dictatorship. These are the proud traditions which we brought unto the world over 200 years ago. The materialism thing is just an immaterial side affect."
Sorry. Not quite. Our materialism, consumerism and exploitation are the logical extent of the competition, individualism, and free enterprise that is fostered by our system of capitalist, liberal democracy. They are two sides of the same coin. In fact , our materialism and exploitation can be traced back to our most sacred documents, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Here is where we find the roots legalizing the unlimited and unbridled concentration of individual and corporate wealth that ensured we would someday arrive where we are today.
So, this is the real example provided by the United States to the rest of the world: a country that consumes six times its share of the world's resources, and does this by exploiting countries and workers all over the world, to achieve a standard of livi ng that is the envy of the world. A country nevertheless beset by domestic crises like homelessness, unemployment, child abuse, rape, battery, stubborn ghettos of poverty, crime, and alcohol and drug addiction; a country where the pressures of competitiv e living cause men to go berserk with semi-automatic weapons in McDonald's, or the local post office, or Luby's Cafeteria, or on university campuses and elementary school playgrounds; a country where its citizens are told we live in the "Home of the Free and the Brave," even as we huddle inside our homes at night, afraid to go out, afraid of the carnivorous Jeffrey Dahmers, Ted Bundys, or Richard "Night Stalker" Ramirezes, or the at-large killer of jogger Mandy Stavik, that awaits us out there. It's safe r to stay glued to our televisions and the good life promised to us by television sit-coms and teflon presidents. "Let freedom and democracy ring!" exclaims the president, to his audience, locked up inside their eggshell homes.
The United States is neither a sustainable or desirable model of development. If Russia, Poland, Lithuania, etc. ever succeeded in emulating us, we would soon gobble ourselves up, along with the planet on which we live, like a ravenous cancer determined to kill its own host body.
We must look beyond the United States and its capitalist liberal democracy for a new vision of a better world. The fact that many in the world are rushing to embrace this "American" way of life does not prove its correctness. It only proves that "someti mes a majority simply means that most of the fools are on the same side."
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