The Wrong Side

June 3, 2010

There’s 2 sides at least to every issue
and I’m sure that each has merits
but my nation picks the worst (or seems to)
and I don’t know how to bear it.

In the game of global politic
the stakes are high as ever
the world is grinding down to shit
with American hands on the lever.

Across the world apartheid reins
a million and a half in the cage
would anyone please try to explain
why we’re on the side of the captors?

Oil slicks the size of nations
set loose by reckless corporations
we have the strength to rein them in
if the politicos weren’t paid-for patsies.

Obama, Osama, who’s worse for your mama?
Who fights the bigger war?
Who takes your rights, privacy, money?
Piece by piece by little piece.

Give up freedom to fight those who would steal your freedom.
Who is the real terrorist here?

One slain in NYC is worth more
than one in Kabul.
Or Baghdad
Gaza or Tehran.

How much more?

A little girl
or a wedding party of dozens
destroyed by remote control.
Is that how to react to terror tactics?

If the one with the gun
to the head of her sister
must shoulder the blame of her actions.
These sister nations all have bloody hands.

Still…

Doesn’t the one who always sides
with violence, funds oppression
courts authoritarianism over freedom
bear the blame a little more?

What if she is the one passing out the guns?
The one with the biggest armies
the most bombs
the biggest stake in the status quo?

Sister America, you’re on the wrong side!
Sister America, you ARE the wrong side.
Sister America, you hold the world against the wall.
Sister America, you must fall.

If we are all to live.

This one will probably get me some heat. Before you react, claiming I hate America, I’m acting unfairly, don’t see this in perspective, use too much hyperbole, realize this – the biggest player in the game (in this case politics) is the one who makes the rules that all others must abide by. Iran, China, Israel, Russia, Britain, everyone must play by American rules right now, because we have the biggest guns and the best capacity to wreck everyone’s day. It’s been this way ever since we took over as global hegemon from the Brits, and will remain this way until another country arises that can take us in a fight. I’m betting on the Indians, honestly.

In this present moment we are the strongest military in the world, and are very open about using that capacity to achieve our goals. It didn’t start with Bush – Clinton bombed and shot cruise missiles at his share of the world – Bush the elder had his Iraq adventure, Reagan his secret wars… it goes back a long while. I would make the argument that we have been at some sort of constant war since the Spanish-American war in 1898! Warfare is our primary means of international relations, of maintaining our position at the top of the hill.

We need war to keep our cheap cars, cheap TVs, cheap oil, low taxes. We’re addicts – to consumption, to abundance, to waste, and to the warfare that underlies it all. We hold the world at gunpoint and reap the resource reward. How else do 5% of the world’s people get to consume 25% of the resources? It isn’t because we’re free and they’re not. It isn’t because we have some god-given right to all this abundance. It’s schoolyard tactics, nothing more – we are the biggest, meanest kid on the playground and until another, bigger kid (or some sort of Karate Kid) comes along to knock us around, we’ll remain atop the dirt pile.

It isn’t just, fair, or equal – lip-service values that every American needs to profess to be taken seriously, but ones unsupported in our nation’s history. Before the ink dried on our Constitution, the revolution was betrayed – equality, liberty, the pursuit of happiness were not, are not, for any except the privileged. Doubt me? We’re suspiciously absent from the French Revolution, leaving Thomas Paine, mother of our country, to rot in jail, and the revolution to fail. Then we funded Napoleon in exchange for land that wasn’t his to give. Haitians were so inspired by our example that they too threw off their colonial masters and became the second republic in the hemisphere – we ignored them then, and have actively worked against their subsequent democratic movements to this day. We massacred a continent’s worth of peoples, destroyed entire cultures, stole homes and lands from every group we came across in our mad rush to the Pacific. At least some of the survivors have casinos now, right?

The Civil War was northern manufacturing against southern agribusiness at the core, with the respective elites of each society vying for influence. The north won out through blockade and systematic destruction of the south’s biggest economic advantage (slave labor) and as history is written by the victors, so did the official account blur out the economic underpinnings and slap on a facade of human rights. Abraham Lincoln put it well – “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that” War in industrialized society is about power – I can think of very few exceptions, of very few wars where one side at least has not been motivated by gaining power. (Money, land, people being expressions of that power.)

Peering through the lens of costs and benefits, as any good Capitalist ought, America has made spectacularly good returns on her wartime investments. The Mexican-American war, instigated by and pursued almost entirely by the USA, gained us a coast-to-coast empire. The Spanish-American war earned us a global network of naval bases for pennies on the dollar, and sunk one of the world’s faltering empires in the process. We fought a dozen small wars in Central America against weak republics, gaining a century of dominance, control over the Panama Canal Zone, and another resource pipeline from these subject states. In World War One we made our money selling to one side of the conflict, then jumped in to fight the last 6 months against shattered Germany and come out as victors. In World War Two our isolation from the fighting and scorched-earth policies in Europe and Japan led to a stunning victory – a near-monopoly on world manufacturing capacity, and no one to oppose our cultural and economic dominance save devastated Russia. From an investment standpoint, nothing we did before or since can compare with the returns on World War Two. From that conflict we became the world’s imperial master, and every fight since has been a holding action to keep ourselves on top.

The problem is that we’re losing now. We’re broke, owing money to everyone, importing nearly everything. We built up the foreign markets so well that it became profitable to manufacture everything overseas instead of simply importing the resources and making things here. Now we sell knowledge, education, and guns. Lots and lots of guns. We sell them to our allies, to neutral parties, to enemies when it serves some aim or another. We arm the world, in exchange for mountains of cheap goods – an arrangement that has no foreseeable problems or future consequences for anyone. Oh wait, that’s not right… THEY’RE USING THEM AGAINST US?! Who could have seen that coming? The height of folly has been to first drive ourselves into reliance upon far-away colonies, then to build for them the infrastructure and armaments necessary to throw off our yoke. How long before the nations of the world tire of sending us their minerals, their oil, of using their labor to build our entertainment devices? How will we oppose them when they rebel?

It is a cycle in every empire I have ever heard of for the central power to grow and thrive and gain until it is fat, bloated, weak, and dependent on its long-stretched tendrils for survival. At that point another power, be it from within or without, topples the empire and after a period of turmoil and infighting, another power arises somewhere within the system. Looking at the Romans, the Dutch, the Venetians, the Spanish, the Brits, the Russians, and now ourselves – the similarities are there, the biggest difference is our possession of a huge quantity of doomsday weapons. None of the previous dying empires had such a trump card, and as such there is no real precedent to our decline. We’ve certainly gotten more violent, more willing to use torture, assassination, remote-controlled killer drones, undeclared war, accept civilian targets; time will only tell what the American people are willing to accept in order to maintain the social order. If we’ve already accepted torture as necessary, racial profiling and religious violence as means to our ultimate end, and constant war as the way of the world, there is truly no telling what America’s next move is.

We have a situation where any strong, charismatic leader can have near-singular power over the nation, and while Barack Obama is not that leader, can you see the possibility of another him, but stronger and with malicious intent, as leading our country down the path to immolative global war? Certainly the power exists, as do the means – it remains to see whether the American people will demand their leaders take the sensible route – laying down the motorcycle, as it may be – or will continue our collective push toward totalitarian annihilation – and run us all face-first into the brick wall.

This is why I urge America to fall from our high mount – we cannot sustain it without destroying all we once held dear. There can be no American empire without slave labor and an owner class, without the rescission of freedoms, without constant violence to put down unrest, without surveillance and police state; without becoming the very sort of evil empire we portray ourselves as fighting against in film and popular culture. The transition will be rough, surely – perhaps it will be the greatest challenge of the American people, to put this out-of-control machine to rest – but only by acknowledging our internal problems and the fundamentally inconsistent manner in which we live our lives. We will come out of it stronger albeit poorer, and the whole world will benefit.

It begins, however, with us. With this generation. We must stop taking the prosperity for granted, stop charging our lives on credit cards, stop supporting the very things that hold us in this perilous position. Our food must come to us down traceable routes. Our power must come from sustainable sources. Our basic necessities must be produced locally, within a day’s travel preferably, if we are to stop relying on foreign powers with no interest in our well-being. We cannot live sustained on oil and corn (really, more oil) and propped up by our military power. Stop supporting the financial industry that owns our government, stop voting the same corrupt politicians into office, in fact stop voting and start participating. There is no substitute for a good angry protest in terms of inciting change. It is foolish to believe that pacifism and inaction, blog posts and angry letters will ever change the world so well as taking on your elected figures in person. This country was designed so that the highest authority would be the people, but it is run as if the only ones that matter are those with the money and influence to drive events directly. Does this stem from “them” corrupting the process, or is it because we have stopped caring, dropped out, and chained ourselves to TV, microwave dinner, iEverything, stable wage-slavery? When did you last take any action to better your society?

Every people have the government they deserve. Our ancestors faced harder problems than we do today, and came out better. If we wish, as a people, to survive and prosper, then it remains our responsibility to do so. No elected official, no president or congressman, can do that for you. No vote will ever change the world. If we want to leave a world, a country worth living in to our children, then it remains our responsibility to push for that. The status quo is unsustainable. The center will not hold.

I welcome any commentary, but please be prepared to back it up.

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Apology

June 2, 2010

Every parent has such high hopes for their newborn child. I think they want to give birth to, raise, nurture a prodigy – the baby Einstein or Curie, Mozart’s second coming, maybe Jesus himself with bless the family with his triumphant return – all trumpets, skyfire, and angels. Look at her lying there, drooling and babbling softly… The child is brilliant, beautiful, perfect in every way, full of talent and promise – an embodiment of all that is good, hopeful, and possible in the world. What potential! And what a burden also, for that little bundle of flesh.

Woe to those who do not live to realize the dreams of their parents. Bad is failing in the attempt – being simply too dull, too plain, too mediocre to summit the lofty peaks of their imagination, stretching, failing, falling to lie in the dirt, never to climb higher. At least there is comfort there among the masses trying and failing at the same. Company, even in failure, makes loss more bearable. Worse than failing, far worse, is to give up – to abandon the dreams of the father, mother, family, and chase goals wholly one’s own – in this one commits the greatest sin, the harshest injustice against the family unit. To rip oneself from the whole, to set out alone and seek individual happiness, fulfillment on one’s private terms is to forever set self against family – the love may still be there, but the solidarity is fractured, belied by the precedence of the personal.

What makes this second choice so painful is not the confrontation, the arguing, the tears. The initial reactions cannot possibly hurt so badly as those of years later, when you aren’t a doctor and don’t live in a fancy mansion, when you don’t want to write for newspapers or whore yourself to pay the rent, but still want to be a part of your family. It’s the way mom can’t hide the disappointment flashing in her eyes as an old girlfriend marries someone richer, more handsome. It’s the catch in dad’s voice as you tell him how good it was to see your old friends – “those bums” he doesn’t say, but you can feel it just the slightest. When you could have been anything, perfect, the prodigal son and instead spend your life chasing happiness on your own terms, the rift is near bottomless if nigh invisible. Nobody speaks of it. Nobody dares mention how great you were in school, how everyone thought you’d be rich and successful, a power player in the groups that run the world. It’s all too painful, so we keep silent, keep living.

It’s that silence that hurts worst, eats us from within, divides, conquers each from behind the facade until we’re just shells wandering through the same spaces in different worlds. Perhaps that is at the heart of what drove my brother to the brink and then beyond – certainly he has fallen harder than I, harder than he deserves. Deserve… as if life truly was that just, simple, or fair. I think the dream of heaven is couched in the reality of life – utopia must be like life, but without the bad bits in it – a beautiful vision, but I can’t imagine the reality of it being anything except frightfully dull and devoid of purpose. What would be the point of existence without struggle? Why survive if not to raise a fist, throw a manic grin to the universe, and shout the words “I’m still here goddammit!” upon reaching another summit? I can’t imagine one, but then I’m not going to heaven anyhow. Neither are you, but this is getting muddy – I meant to talk about parents.

About disappointing parents.

About apologizing.

I’m not much for apologies, perhaps because I’m a self-centered, arrogant, and full of shit, or perhaps because I’m usually right enough in any apology-spawning stance I take that reconciliation would have to be mutual and the whole rest of the world is too self-centered, arrogant, and full of shit to realize the truth in that. Then again, I could just be overlooking the fact that the ease of any apology is inversely correlated with the passion and conviction that drove the fight. When I run into someone unexpectedly, elbow you in the side by sheer accident, don’t pay attention, to apologize is simple – a matter of course and culture. When I get into a screaming, lamp-throwing, passionate argument, to apologize then becomes a mountain of sand I must climb, force myself up until the end result is gasped – exhausted – from the mental peak.

It never comes out right.

I’m a product of my family and also of my world, but neither of those are particularly forgiving or submissive. We’re hardheaded, spirited fighters; play hard and fight dirty with equal zeal. We’re all right, unless someone beats wrong into us. When I feel I’m in the right, I’ll never apologize. I’ll try and console you , to find some satisfactory compromise perhaps, but the fact is this – if I’m right, that overrules your hurt feelings, and simply being angry doesn’t earn you an apology. When it comes to how I ought lead my life, I’m right – I know what is best for me, and what I’m willing to do to get there. You might have experience, education, opinion, a lifetime of learning to back you up, but the course of life comes in the end to only oneself. I know best when it comes to myself, about what I ought to be doing with my life just as you with yours. Not that they aren’t right in their own ways. I probably would have been a hell of a doctor. Will be – med school is another 8 or 10 or 14 years, and my alternate-universe self had better love obscenely long hours, bureaucracy, and school. I don’t, that’s why I’m not surrounding myself with those things!

We must make certain decisions for ourselves in life – at those key junctures, yes, but every day we make the choices that form our path. There have been so many opportunities to take myself another direction yet here I am in this place, going this way, and nothing explains my existence here more thoroughly than my own actions, thoughts, wants, choices. I choose to live as I do, not as my parents would have wanted – even as it hurts them and me both. “Hurts” is so damn relative. It makes them sad, makes them feel like failures and bad human beings. However, I like this life, have enjoyed some parts of it to the utmost, have struggled and fought, won my existence – that I still continue to act as I do speaks to my stubbornness perhaps, or my love of this lifestyle. Both, likely.

I disappointed my family when I grew up wild, impulsive, loving chaos over structure, desiring not stability but adventure. They will deny it of course, but there is that glimmer in the eyes, stutter in the voice – the telltales of any pride-hurt benefactor facing the fallen protégé – that hurts so much more than I can express. I crave the road and travel for this reason among many. I do not enjoy facing those whom I love, who love me in return, and knowing that my way of life causes them unhappiness. Weak as it seems, I would rather be a world away and know the same, just not deal with it, not face it day to day. I am glad to be here with them, but this place is not home any longer – it is but another stop in a journey without end. I cannot wait to leave here, but I must not without doing the things required of me. I will always love my family, for their imperfections and foibles more than in spite of them. I just find that I do my loving better from afar, as far as they are concerned.

All my parents ask of me now is that I don’t live so far away they won’t be able to see me.

All I want to do is travel far and wide, see the corners of the spinning sphere, and get lost in the glory of life.

I’m a disappointment to my family, and I don’t see that changing. It hurts. I can’t apologize for who I am.

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