October 4, 2004
(Swans - October 4, 2004)
On the morning of September 11, 2001 my very first thought was --
once the magnitude of the loss registered in me -- whether government,
business, and American self-interest had indirectly ignited this extreme
My thought can be attributed to knee-jerk cynicism, of course. But I've grown up in an American lifetime which from childhood on has brought print, radio, TV and www rumors and confirmations of inauthenticities, excesses, lies, frauds, and crimes committed by the United States of America (U.S.) and other governments and their moneyed interests. Many of these were uncovered only long later, and some remain only grumbling doubts. Others are still being fought over today. There are the matters of the McCarthy investigations, the Bay of Pigs, MKULTRA, Vietnam, Watergate, Iran/Contra, Allende, Letelier and others you may think of including Enron, prisons in Iraq, campaign finances, collusions between energy interests and White House interests, Election 2000, and current smears of various flavors.
True, false, ambiguous? There is so much doubt in the air because the fiduciary responsibility and trust have been broken and compromised often enough that all initiatives, covert and overt, are suspect.
That notion that government in some formal, informal or rogue manner was implicated in the Collapse marked by the Fall of 2001 is not more anomalous than the idea that Americans sought to overthrow governments or disrupt elections at various times in Latin America and elsewhere -- in order to restrict dissent, to protect and expand business interests? And to Why doubt allegations about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction?, another response is: Why would anyone have suspected secret war in Cambodia within a Vietnam war that was itself packaged by the trumped up Gulf of Tonkin Resolution? For that matter, why "Remember the Maine!" ¿Quien sabe? Empire has reasons of its own; these are in structure often the reasons of addictive ego behavior whose motivations are wrapped up in red, white, blue and long green.
The real issue, of course, is not the literal "who did it?" We know pretty well about that. The issue is that so many domestic and international doubts whirl around US (and other governments') policies and methods in our lifetime that serious questions about the nature of truly authentic leadership and effectiveness in international relations as well as about meaningful sustainability of global (and regional, or bioregional) community are called for. Whether 9/11 is traced to religion, internal or foreign control-needs, money, power, oil or finally, in an overpopulated earth, to food and to water, it is symptomatic of what seems a basic, systemic error in the ways we, especially those of us with pretensions to indefinitely "more," construct, advertise, and manage our affairs worldwide.
We have had government action to thank for humane and ecohumane initiatives such as The Wilderness Act, Clean Air, New Deal, Social Security and Truth in Advertising. That these are being winnowed and undermined, that they often came only at the begging and pleading of millions, does not change the fact that, however much government is held hostage by the "enlightened selfishness" (1) of huge private interests, it is often our only protection from their depredations. And the same government that brought us slavery and the genocide of Native America brought us, late but real, Civil Rights and Voter Rights legislation. In the end, however, that is the job of government; i.e., of our mutually trustworthy civic involvement: we expect government to do right and to do good among all, without our having to beg it of one another. Without our trust in its (in our mutual) fair, open practices and just aims, we all hunker uneasily beneath some version or other of armed parapets, and wealth is put to global flight.
In the meantime, I am by mature and informed experience ready to concede the willingness of any government to do whatever it takes, to lie about it, and to mislead its own people and others abroad in its efforts to accumulate and deploy natural resources, wealth, power, and weapons in developing its (rarely explicitly spelled out) Vital Interests. These are usually the (private and property) interests of those who have most to lose, and that means of those who own and manage the very most in the Ownership Society.
If, to vary the angle of my skepticism slightly, the government and big business were truly and foremost focused on the wellbeing of the whole of the people and not primarily of those who control and own the most, all citizens would enjoy an affordable truly public healthcare plan at least as good as that provided for all the members of the US Senate. And each person's vote would be counted equally, with no dollars attached. Indeed, but for international (and) commercial competition, the world itself -- via the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, or otherwise -- would limit and reverse AIDS, hunger, injustice, sex-slavery and demeaning impoverishment. But we are not looking that way.
Though my question about the collapse of the Trade Center may seem troubling or misplaced or come as a shock, that itself may be a small fragment of the shock we all felt that day. We weren't looking that way. It may shock a little because we cannot imagine, or confess to imagining, that reservations about the way we conduct our world business are -- at least in part -- legitimate challenges to that very business. The Fall of 9/11 was a shock to us because we were utterly unaware that other persons could have values or practices so different from, so threatened by, or so antipathetic to ours that they sought extreme recourse. We were blindsided by our own ignorance about how we appeared to others on the world stage and about most of what our (often transnational private) interests have been doing there.
We can attribute terrorist actions to fanaticism or ignorance. But this is only to say that from our point of view, the bad actors were ignorant about what (we thought) we were doing in (and in behalf of) the world -- just as from their viewpoint, we are often found to be dangerous and ignorant about what is thought of us elsewhere, and why. And it is too easy to dismiss persons as fanatic because they seem so intensely unlike us, because we do not care to comprehend their worldview, because we equate fanaticism with insanity and deny the incipient insanity of our own excessive behavior, belief or appetite.
Yet in the end, it may be shocks that awaken all of us worldwide out of the sleepwalk of our respective un-self-critical ideologies and creeds to a wider, mutual, sustainable, global understanding. Might these shocks be labor pains of a more mature order of civilization? That is an old metaphor for hope, and it calls for a more deeply contemplative response than the self-congratulatorily mythic fundamentalism of American exceptionalism or, say, the dogma of The Project for a New American Century's (PNAC) global empire.
I consider my skepticism here a form of critical inquiry; it is the operational expression of the proverb, "Once burned, twice shy." It is inoculation against idolatry and the Big Lie. It is also my way of trying to re-vision or redress the unbalanced ideas about (the religion of) progress and about 21st century leadership, and to think about a mature extremely-long-term world (eco)polity for the future that is already among us.
You really don't need a Weatherman here, just the same common critical thoughtfulness that Aristotle argued was the sufficient requirement of citizen political participation (though in his days the franchise was far more limited than now). Or, to spin this a little differently, it's better that we exercise now the informed thoughtfulness and serious critical debate that Thomas Jefferson believed should go into casting our votes, rather than that uncontested plutocratic and oligarchic agenda should hold sway by default later.
If we find now that regional rivalries among corporations and national governments, like those among other interests and individuals within a given land, are preventing governments, and thus their respective citizens, from the sustainability and long term protection of natural resources as well as from the ensurance of peace of mind, dignity, and well-being because of addictions to competitive appetitive, progress, development, or abusive attitudes and doctrines, then it is time to think about revising the current nation-state model of our mutual existence. This is pointedly necessary if, as Benito Mussolini asserted, the merger of corporate and state (or military-industrial) power is in fact synonymous with fascism.
Apart from the social problems with that arrangement is the problem that it contains no check on or control of greedy depredations upon humans and other natural systems -- we are all grist for the mill, cannon fodder in the service of un-self-controlled imperium. At worst, the national (or) economic imperative acquires the tones of a civic religious mission; and then, it is not only uncontrolled at home, but seeks to impose itself abroad. Its "fanaticism" thus calls forth opposing religious and political fanaticisms; and each adversary projects upon the other (its own unacknowledged) Satan. An authorizing version of this phenomenon is the demonizing of one group, party or party leader by those of another within a given state.
At the least, we have to ask whether the nation-state is the most helpful method of cultivating-without-despoiling human and ecohumane aptitudes for the extremely long term future. And if changes are in order that redirect, reduce or ameliorate the mutually reinforcing ego-appetites of the person and the state, of the state and the corporation, changes that will nevertheless still allow our abilities for creative, compassionate, intelligent and sustainable co-growth to flourish, then are not profound reconsiderations also in order about what it means to be a leader, an authentic guide, a "significating" participant with others in the sustainable and sustaining order and meaning of the world?
In asking myself that day, "What led to this Collapse?" I was asking, "What was being thought, said and done (or not thought, said, or done) by liberal and by conservative idealists and ideologues, by commercial and governmental leaders in my name over the decades that had so provoked the world that suicidal martyrs scoured the heavens in recourse? What dominating tone of voice and manner of influence was used -- and to whose benefit: that of the peoples here and in different places, that of the elites? What had been jeopardized on far shores to the degree that America was not to be trusted, not to be further endured? What imperial financial acts and statements have been made, what threats and encroachments posed worldwide, what traditions so insulted that it caused nations to revile my own?"
How have my government, others' governments and I, my consumerism and a globally intrusive profit-exalting mentality, how have these colluded to poison the well of global well being? What lies were told? And what lies were told that I was never told about? What secret things are still being done? What Big Lies are now being repeated? And what supposedly good intentions have in the world turned hellish abroad, or excluded, demeaned and marginalized others here in our home land?
I could not answer all these questions. Nor am I sympathetic to fanaticism, violence or ideology for the sake of any cause. So I was struck when I read Professor Eqbal Ahmad's Columbus Day 1998 Alternative Radio transcript on "Terrorism: Theirs And Ours" to learn, among other things, that we do not in our official discourse seek to understand the causes of terror directed against us, and this is partly because we have supported terror against others. Said Ahmad, long before the Fall of 2001,
...[A]void extremes of double standards. If you're going to practice double standards, you will be paid with double standards. Don't use it. Don't condone Israeli terror, Pakistani terror, Nicaraguan terror, El Salvadoran terror, on the one hand, and then complain about Afghan terror or Palestinian terror. It doesn't work... A super-power cannot promote terrorism in one place and reasonably expect to discourage terrorism in another place. It won't work in this shrunken world. (2)We cannot financially and militarily lean on, push around and bully the rest of the world, and especially those refractory parts of it that in the deep arrogance of our ignorance we try not to understand, without the rest pushing back in whatever rude and abrupt ways they can. Indeed, if we treat the rest of the world the way we sometimes treat ourselves, our unconvinced (or unprosperous) fellow citizens, it is no wonder there are division and chaos abroad on Earth.
For example, don't we suppose the long-repeated, accumulated, rude rancors of smears and of partisan ruses self-servingly and ideologically sharpened to undermine and divide are a rough slouch away from comity towards some yet-to-be-revealed Ground Zero of mistrust? Is not secret, or entirely unilateral party planning of historically significant legislation a breach of democratic trust, a form of political violence disguised as sharp-dealing? Are these not self-indulgent practices of a self-righteous elect claiming by peremptory, excessive unilateralism -- if not solely by the tyranny of a majority -- what once was called divine right, fundamental right, the Fundamentalist Right? And if we so conduct affairs at home, what liberties in the affairs of others do we allow ourselves abroad, away from the cameras and correspondents? It's all of a piece. It's why we tell our kids while still young to "play fair; don't shove."
We do abroad what we do at home, by this interpretation. At home, we break and deceive trust by insider chicanery, the lobby and leverage of dollar-ballasted representation, by military-industrial (and religious) collusion, fear-mongering, and by private-interest-serving ideology. We enforce adversarial postulations, invoke vague threats and fears, and go so far as to engage in a moral equivalent of terrorism in the form of our political and economic rhetorics, allegations and expostulations: party demonizing party, interest against (public) interest. Then, we export to the "three-quarters-world" our internal insistences, dichotomies, addictions, greeds and fears as policy, competitive economics, arms and weapons -- and wake up one morning wondering, What hit us? What goes around...
It is not, of course, as if the world were blithely composed and untroubled without us around. It is still less the case that our hands alone meddle in money and blood to serve vast private ends. Nor is it proven that some larger intelligence in affairs is not at work, by inches, in bringing humankind to a new beginning. But it is the case that Americans and the world deserve and expect better; and we only flatter a truly knee-jerk cynicism by allowing ourselves recourse to violence of thought, word and deed in the name of specious Realpolitik. So long as the road to hell is paved with baseness and compromise in the name of property, ego, and re-election, it is necessary to invoke the ethical leadership premise that of those to whom much has been given, much is expected: in the way of forbearance, sharing and authentic mutual respect.
Imagine, and I ask this with sincere respect for the feelings of those who lost someone that day, if an early response to the Fall had been not only the rattling of rhetorics and munitions, but a contemplative humility of sackcloth and ashes. An acknowledgement that worldwide we are all in this together as brothers and sisters, that we worldwide share in both the hurt and the blame when things go badly wrong, and the joy and gratitude when they go well. Suppose we the people, before war, had sat quietly alone and in mournful gatherings deeply to reflect on what had happened and had asked Why? -- really asked why instead of hurrying to name the perps and demonize them as profoundly as they had us. In our combination of instant fear, mourning and outrage, we entirely eclipsed the deepest, most authentic resources of our own and of world tradition. And we let hasty testosterone loose in a premature crusade of destruction. Taliban is diminished; Saddam incarcerated; al Qaeda lurks; and the terror continues with the promise of more. For now we have declared endless war, guaranteeing endless terror in all the costumes of passion.
That global threat is the local threat. It is the sibling of the kind of ego-personal, partisan or institutional and corporate, economic, political, national, ideological or religious -- that is willing and able, overtly and covertly, to trash the fiduciary, even what we might call the humane, bonds among persons in the name of some self-authorizing, self-justifying aim; to muffle commonweal with the pretenses of empire; to glory in a monopoly of thought, belief and resource at the expense of diverse mutual authenticity and the perduring social, domestic or global trust that authenticity alone sustains. In this view, the Collapse is The Fall. It may not be the ultimate Eschaton of scriptures; it is not necessarily either the inauguration or the abortion of the New World Order, or of the New Age; it is not exactly the Fall of innocence into experience, or from Grace into (Un)Original Sin ... though perhaps from aspiring purity into danger. But metaphorically and symbolically, these motifs are each an echo and reflection of one another. And each signals that for every action there is a reaction, for each mindset a contrary mindset; for every yang a yin growing in its own bosom.
We have had millennia of sedentary, urban, hierarchized, specialized, bureaucratized, ideologized, classified, stratified and militarized nation-state practice -- and still seem not to have learned that you cannot have a making without an unmaking, a lamp without its shadow, utopia without its own dystopic seeds. If after thousands of years the best we can come up with is a self-limiting social ethic based on private ownership and the expansion of entrepreneurial capitalism under the disguise of the Frontier of Freedom, we must realize that that answers only half the riddle of life. We need to own up to the realization haves and have-nots, for richer and for poorer, are married together. They evoke one another in a world of straitened resources. And there is no place to hide from one another, neither gated community, nor spider hole, nor Fortress America.
And you can't push Coke without getting coke, free enterprise without getting concupiscence, envy and upset, doctrine without getting heresy, infidel and inquisition, or weapons without war. Nor do we seem to have understood, as William Blake says, that without contraries there is no progression in our partisan insistence that one contrary must conclusively negate, terminate and extinguish its sister contrary. We, individual persons, parties, corporations, states, religions, keep imposing a mono-ego, a purist ideal, entirely neglectful of the fact that no one creates hirself in a vacuum; no party, no interest, no society, no value, no belief, no meaning abides solely and self-subsistently. It is always an ecological yin with yang in some version or other; and the yin and the yang abide within, and not simply with, one another.
Authenticity in leadership is humanely according with this realization and embodying it. (3) Trust is credence in, and democratic resonance with, the profundity, benevolence, or authoritativeness of the authentic(ating) values and conduct of exemplary persons who are thus in sustainable accord with multipolar natural, interpersonal and world-political changefulness. It is also faith in ourselves as increasingly authentic, responsive social persons with the transforming aptitude for further enlightenment. For leaders, individuals, administrations, states, corporations, and other institutions or organizations to lose or to eclipse authenticity by imposed and enforced or by heedlessly habitual unipolar, single goal and single vision is for them to break and cancel their respective fiduciary response ability with other persons and systems and with respect to a cosmos of always and only mutual, reciprocal and co-evolving phenomena and meanings. This is authentic bottom-line. The Fall stops here.
· · · · · ·
Notes & Resources
1. Lewis Lapham, "Tentacles Of Rage," Harper's Magazine 309, no. 1852 (2004): 40. (back)
2. Eqbal Ahmad, "Terrorism: Theirs And Ours," Alternative Radio national broadcast transcript, October 12, 1998: Available from alternativeradio.org (9/25/04). (back)
3. Guy Burneko, "Ecohumanism: The Spontaneities Of The Earth, Ziran, And K=2," Journal of Chinese Philosophy 31, no. 2 (June 2004): 183-194. (back)
America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Guy Burneko, Ph.D., is a US writer and scholar with interests in interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and intercultural (east/west) interpretation. His recent book, By The Torch of Chaos and Doubt: Consciousness, Culture, Poiesis and Religion in the Opening Global Millennium is published by Hampton Press.
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