On Transnational Military Interventions
“We Irish Think Otherwise.” Bishop Berekley
Libya, a collection of tribes, is not a nation, and neither is NATO or Al Qaeda. The politics of this century seems to be about what cultural formation will come forth to replace the nation-state. Will empires return to gather up the fragments of failed states and warring tribes under the traditional rule of imperial force? Or will some evolutionary emergence fuse the nations in a visionary epiphany of Eros as prophesied by Freud in the closing lines of his Civilization and its Discontents?
One thing is certain, and that is that no spiritual epiphany will be forthcoming from the United Nations. The UN was designed from its start to protect the winners of World War II and to insure through the Security Council that no world government, American or Soviet, would ever disturb the empires of Great Britain and France.
So now “ignorant armies clash by night.” In the light of day, when we regard the destruction we Americans wrought in Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now in Libya, we struggle to balance high moral purpose in the air with the realities of violence on the ground
We seem to choose our interventions carefully. We do not go after North Korea’s Kim Jung Ill in China’s sphere of influence, or Belorus’s Lukashenko in Russia’s. And from our distressing “Blackhawk Down” experience in Somalia, we hesitate to send in the Marines to take out Mugabe in Zimbabwe. There are authoritarian bad guys everywhere, and sometimes they are even of our own making, as was the case with the Shah of Iran or still is with the House of Saud in Arabia.
So if our government did intervene in Libya–as it did not in Mubarak’s Egypt–we must assume it has a high moral purpose, as well as some more secretive goal in the Great Game.
In South Viet Nam and in Iran, we had puppet regimes to back us up in our global efforts to contain the power and spread of communism. But in Libya we had no intelligence concerning the rebels, yet we sent in ground-support aircraft to fight above the rebels if not along side them, and this policy certainly goes far beyond policing a no-fly zone.
One can see why France and Britain would be motivated to intervene militarily, for certainly a flood of immigrants to their countries would be destabilizing and contribute to the anti-immigrant political campaigns of the far right. In France, the sins of the father have been inherited by the daughter, and Marine Le Pen is on the move.[i] It is harder to see why we chose to intervene, since it is estimated that 22,000 people have been massacred in the drug wars of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, but we have not sent in any modern-day General Pershing.
But let us take Obama at his word, and accept the New York Times reports that it was the influence of the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy on President Sarkozy and the influence of the idealistic Samantha Power on Obama, with her own form of Irish thinking otherwise, that moved the two presidents to act.[ii] It will take some time to determine if this action was a good move or not.
Obama says the intervention is not to effect regime change and take out Gaddafi, but if we have fallen–like a mastodon in a La Brea tar pit–not into the middle of an organized rebellion, but into the cultural entropy of warring tribes, and if Gaddafi with his more professional forces is able to suppress the rag-tag rebellion and defy the U.N. and its coalition, then we will have made things much worse, and Syria and Iran will be emboldened to continue with their anti-American and anti-Israeli agenda in Lebanon and Gaza.
So rather than prematurely debate the merits of the plays like an armchair quarterback, since the citizen can never know all the facts the government has before it, I would like to move up to the higher, more satellite-like perspective of the cultural historian, to try to understand what transnational intervention means in the cultural evolution of planetary civilization and what sort of politics we really need at this hour.
The first level of meaning of transnational interventions appears to signify a weakening of the nation-state. George W. Bush’s go-it-alone strategy in Iraq created chaos and a Trillion dollar debt at a time of our weakening economy. Ironically, his neocon move put forward by the think tank The Project for a New American Century signaled the end of America’s post World War II era of unique supremacy.
Similarly, Netanyahu and Lieberman’s strategy with Palestine signaled the end of the two state solution and the peace process. Talk of a peace process became a stalling campaign that enabled the settlers to build more settlements, turn the occupied territories into nineteenth-century stylenative American reservations and insure that Jerusalem could never become a twin cities capital of a two state cultural symbiosis. Obama’s policy was defeated and openly mocked by the Likud government.
The moral of this story is “Behold the enantiodromia!” as the effort to defend the sovereignty and integrity of the nation-state only undermines it further.
The second level of meaning of transnational military interventions is that the invocation of a higher morality indicates that the doctrine of the inviolable sovereignty of the nation-state is no longer felt to be enough to support policies of nationalistic interest. Understandably, China and Saudi Arabia become nervous about any moral interventions in states ruled by authoritarian rather than elective systems of government. Both defend their turf by claiming that such liberal thinking is ethnocentric and not appropriate for other, non-Western civilizations.
Samuel Huntington’s prophesied “Clash of Civilizations” is energized by the far right and white trash-compacted Christian ministers start burning Korans. Proving the moral axiom that “We become what we hate,” the Christian fundamentalist extremists become identical to their Abrahamic cousins, the Islamic fundamentalists. As Thucydides noted long ago in the Corcyrean Revolution, the rational middle is eliminated in the crossfire between the extremes.
The weakening of the nation-state causes a second polarization to extremes. The United States becomes the Disunited States as the metropolitan coastal cities live in a different global culture from the rural backwaters of a dying White Protestant Christian America of small town values and perspectives. Media celebrities, who once might not have been taken seriously as anything more than late night TV talk show guests, now become Presidential candidates. Enter from stage right Sarah Palin, Reverend Huckabee, Donald Trump, and Michele Bachmann.
I know from living for years in rural America–driving my pickup truck across the flat expanse of the San Luis Valley in Colorado and listening to the local radio stations—that rural America fears “the new world order” in which an intellectual Anti-Christ from Europe will intervene in America to remove our Christian President and establish the rule of Satan world-wide. Imagine a situation in which the World Court at the Hague goes after Bush and Cheney, as they went after Pinochet, for torture, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
Just as the Arab Street lived off conspiracy theories before the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Libya, so does our rural America live off conspiracy theories and visions of invasion by the black helicopters of the UN. This week the helicopters of the UN took sides and fired on troops in the Ivory Coast, and this kind of intervention is only likely to fuel these conspiracy theories. And so the far right will continue to call for a religious crusade, an elimination of the separation of Church and State, and the establishment of The Kingdom in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus. The Messiah for the Jewish West Bank settlers, the Hidden Imam for the Shi’ah, and Jesus for the Evangelicals become a single isomorphic attractor on the event horizon of the Latter Days.
But as the nation-state breaks down, an emergent phenomenon shows up. The Libertarian philosophy of small government, individualism, and self-reliance was fine for the days of the nineteenth century family farm, but when catastrophes are the new landscape, and the radioactive seawaters of Japan are awash on our West Coast, the individual is powerless against these forces of catastrophe and cultural drift. The individual can’t fight disasters with his NRA rifle, especially when there is no gas for his pickup. People who are suffering from a disaster are not going to be comforted by Tea Party talk of self-reliance and small government. The new problems are planetary and can only be addressed on a planetary scale.
The nation-state emerged at the end of the Middle Ages in the conflict between the king and the barons. A new merchant class committed to world-trade sided with the monarch against the land barons and new constitutional monarchies were born. Now a new generation in the Arab world is shifting its allegiance, and the old gentleman’s agreement between oil companies and feudal autocrats is being undermined. A new technologically savvy class is redefining the Ummah with elective affinities that cross national boundaries in the Islamic World. Rather than rejecting modernism and joining Al Qaeda or the Islamic Brotherhood, this generation is affirming both Islam and secular, technological modernization. This younger generation would appear to be expressing a uniquely American form of Islam, and one that the US should support—as Obama seems to be doing.
To address the era of catastrophes that we are now in—and it takes no mystical prophet to see that more Sendais and Katrinas are in store for us–the world will need to shift our governmental allegiance from the business class to the scientific/technical class. The Koch Brothers will not provide the leadership for climate change, and the anti-union governors of Wisconsin and Maine will not provide intelligent understanding of global noetic polities.
Yes, I know, it was the scientific/technical class that created our present landscape of hubris and nuclear reactors, but this post World War II class of technicians was ruled more by Westinghouse and corporate bottom lines than by international science. Technical shortcuts and shortcomings were implemented for the sake of investors and the quarterly report, and short-term thinking replaced good science.
The Walkers, Rubios, Bachmanns, and Lepages must go just as quickly as they came. We need to evolve politically from bicameral legislatures of reaction and reflection to tricameral legislatures in which the Third House is an academy of arts and sciences elected by an Electoral College of the faculties of our colleges and universities.[iii] Let the President and the members of the other two houses be elected by popular vote, but not the Academy of Arts and Sciences—meaning philosophers in the humanities as well as technicians. The general populace would simply vote for the celebrity of its choice who had the slickest ads financed by the Murdochs and Koch brothers.
Is the creation of a tricameral legislature possible in the U.S.? Frankly, I don’t think so. Canada could probably transform its weak Senate more easily into an effective upper house than we could change our constitution. Having a new Constitutional Convention for us would mean creating an opening for the religious crazies who would want to eliminate the separation of Church and State to create a Christian version of the Iran of the Mullahs. Politics is the art of the possible, but that is why in evolution catastrophes often generate a landscape for the impossible.
[i] “HÉNIN-BEAUMONT, France — The far-right National Front, under the new leadership of Marine Le Pen, is sending shivers through France’s political world in the maneuvering for the 2012 presidential elections.” Maia de la Baume and Steven Erlanger, New York Times, March 27, 2011.
[ii] See also Steven Erlanger, “By His Own Reckoning, One Man Made Libya a French Cause,” New York Times, April 1, 2011.
[iii] See the Conclusion to my book Self and Society; studies in the evolution of consciousness (Imprint Academic: Exeter, UK, 2009), 137-143.
William Irwin Thompson (born July, 1938) is known primarily as a social philosopher and cultural critic, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry throughout his career and received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986. He has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. He describes his writing and speaking style as “mind-jazz on ancient texts”. He is an astute reader of science, social science, history, and literature. He is the founder of the Lindisfarne Association.
His book, Still Travels: Three Long Poems was published in 2009 by Wild River Books. Order a copy from Amazon.
Works by William Irwin Thompson
Memoir – Farewell Address at the Lindisfarne Fellows Conference
Memoir – Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne: 1972
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part I
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part 2: A Community in Fishcove, Long Island
Memoir – Building a Dream – Part One: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – My Dinner with Andre Gregory: Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, 1977-1979
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Shadow Side Part Two: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Cathedral Part Three: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Conclusion: The Economic Relevance of Lindisfarne
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary: Reflections of a Homeschooling Parent
Memoir – Sex and the Commune
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary
Memoir – With Gregory Bateson’s Mind in Nature
After Heart Surgery: Hokusai’s Great Wave
A Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Nancy Grayson’s Bookstore
On Reading “The Penguin Book of English Verse”: on my iPad and Exercise Bike
Wild River Books/Poetry – Nightwatch and Dayshift: Cezanne
Anatolian Days and Nights and the Cultural Evolution of Spirituality
And the Votes are In: The American Elections of 2010
Avatar – When Technology Displaces Culture
Bedtime Story for a Civilization
The Big Picture: Reflections on Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
The Big Picture, II
Child Abuse and the Catholic Church
The Digital Economy of W. Brian Arthur
From Shamanism to Religion, Part Two
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality, Part Three
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality: Conclusion
January 1, 2011: Reflections on the Philosophical Notions of Republicans
January 6, 2011 – Part Two: The Etherealization of Capitalism
Nature and Invisible Environments
Of Culture and the Nature of Extinction
On Nuclear Power
On Religion – Part One
On Religion and Nationalism: Ireland, Israel, and Palestine
On Transnational Military Interventions
A Pagan Ur-Text of the Lebor Gebála Érenn
Part 1 – The Shift from Industrial to a Planetary Civilization
Part 2 – The Shift from an Industrial to Planetary Civilization
Part 3 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The Recovery of a Cosmic Orientation
Part 4 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – The Global War for Drugs
Part 5 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The New Jerusalem
Part 6 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Catastrophes as the Spur to Institute Tricameral Legislature
Part 7 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Complex Dynamical Systems and Tricameral Legislatures
Part 8 – The Shift from a Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Israel and Palestine: Sic transit gloria mundi
Part 9 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – On Sarah Palin and the Technocratic Society
Part 10 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – On Conspiracy Narratives as Expressive of the Transition from the Nation: State to the Noetic Polity
Part 11 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Global Awareness and Personal Identity
Part 12 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Conclusion: The United Nations
Political Meditation for the Fourth of July, 2011: Can We Shift from Empire Back to Republic?
St. David’s Day, 2011, Technology and Social Change
Saint Patrick’s Day, 2010: Us and Them: Identity and the State
Some Reflections on Hurricane Sandy and an Outline for a New Civilization
Technical Hubris: and the Sinkhole of Obama’s Centrism
Television and Social Class
Thanksgiving Day, 2010: The Uses and Abuses of History
The Elections of 2010
Thoughts on My new Kindle App: on My Mac iPad