Reconstructing USA

EDITORIAL, 20 Oct 2008

#32 | Johan Galtung, 20 Oct 2008 - TRANSCEND Media Service

Greensboro and the Blue Ridge, North Carolina, 20/Oct/2008

There is tremendous excitement in the air, carried by the name Obama.  Change.  The mantra word.  The feeling that a New Beginning may be around the corner.  For one who has the privilege of organizing workshops on the concrete content Americans might like to see happen, there is a unique chance to listen to some of the heartbeats of the US heartland, right now, two weeks ahead of what many hope will be a watershed.  Like Colin Powell when yesterday morning he endorsed Obama.  Unlike a Cheney, I presume, and I am still concerned with the 1% (too high, too low?) chance of somebody just canceling the elections, sensing a US– not a desert–storm, on the type of absurd capitalism that brought the country into the current economic mess, and on the type of militarism that gets them into one defeat after the other unless the country is small enough (Grenada, Haiti).

So, what happens when forty-odd Americans distributed around six dialogue tables are asked, first, to define one conflict each, and then, second, all tables, to come up with proposals?  As often happens, the choice of conflicts may be more indicative than the dialogues over what to do.

The first conflict chosen was African-Americans and Hispanic immigrants versus the huge US middle class over a decent livelihood, in the context of US capitalism.  The problem is deep.  And the formula that came up was cooperative capitalism, where the players for any problem such as unemployment would cooperate rather than compete.  The public sector might be used to organize that, not signing a contract with one out of several bidders, but urging them to cooperate.  The formula of organizing, with massive funding, basic needs-oriented public work, building and repairing schools and polyclinics all over the country in addition to an often crumbling infrastructure was brought up, privileging workers from underprivileged sectors of the society.  Thus, a decent livelihood could  be based both on salaries earned and on better facilities better distributed in the US society.  Trading skills came up, the proverbial dentist filling cavities for a plumber’s family against the plumber opening a “cavity” somewhere.  Non-monetary economics, in  other words,  easily generalizable to an exchange of one hour’s work for one hour’s work, better for services than for goods, making everybody with a good life expectancy if not a millionaire at least a semi-millionaire.  Exiting from the shackles of the present absurd capitalism creating havoc both at the bottom and at the top, and anxieties all over.  No enthusiasm, indeed, for Soviet style planning, but  considerable for the pink economics of social democracy and for green, more local economies focused on basic needs and respect for nature.   And for the idea, often floated, of a citizen dividend, $ 500-1,000 per month to everybody above as a guaranteed minimum for food and housing (Steven Shafarman, Peaceful, Positive Revolution – Economic Security for Every American).  The USA, when the economy is cleansed of the present extreme aberrations, can afford that kind of thing.  And everybody would be included.

The second conflict was over foreign policy.  It was generally assumed that the US Empire is dying, that the USA will have to focus on its near neighbors, that those neighbors are Canada and Mexico, North America, and that NAFTA will have to become the North American Fair, not Free, Trade Area.  Borders open like in the Nordic or European Communities.  Capitalism inspired by the Mexican Carlos  Slim and his grandiose support for the poorest rather than by the speculations of a Warren Buffet and a George Soros and others.   In no way does this exclude Mexican membership, even in a leading role, in a coming Estados Unidos de America Latina y el Caribe; in fact, Mexico could play a bridging role.  It may be far from God as the saying goes, but very close to both of them.  Everything will then have to be done to build equitable relations among the three, to clear up past grievances.  And bridging institutions would have to be  built to make MEXUSCAN a reality, also providing a home for  a more reasonable USA.

The third conflict was also over foreign policy, 9/11; defined as not being between peoples but Al Qaeda and Muslim extremists on the one hand, and the neo-con US Empire-military-industrial-complex, USEMIC.   As the Arab-Muslim side knows so much more about the West, including its history, that gap has to be bridged  by massive Arab and Muslim studies and dialogues of civilizations.  The West has attacked, invaded, exploited Arab-Muslim lands very many times, 9/11 was the first attack the other way (after the Turkish invasions stopped when the Ottomans were defeated in 1683 outside Vienna).  History commissions, truth and reconciliation commissions are called for, also for 9/11 – that remains an atrocity.  The task is to remove the causes that produce such phenomena.  An attitude of mutual respect and a behavior based on mutual and equal benefit, equity, will help a lot, but there are also cases to be cleared up, like using the sacred land of Islam, the land of the Prophet, Saudi Arabia, for oil extraction and for military bases, far removed from life at the time of the Prophet and his reputed saying that there will be no two religions in this land.   Using that country as a staging area for repeated attacks on Iraq was a blunder crying to heavens.

The fourth conflict was over the integration of Mexicans in US society, very much related to the first conflict.  There is no way of disregarding the US attack on Mexico 1846-48 in this context, depriving Mexico of more than half of its territory, President Polk very much challenged by a young Congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, who talked about an unnecessary and immoral war.

Softening the border–tearing down that wall of shame, rivaling the wall around the Palestine of Israeli dreams, both to join the wall around West Berlin in the garbage heap of history—will do a lot.  Changing borders through wars was the primitive formula of the past, softening them through integration is the modern formula.  That means opening for many Mexicans in the USA, more than half means more than 60  million, the present 20 million legal or illegal covers a third of that distance – -.  But that flow should also be the other way, and not only rich Americans and Canadians in search of retirement options.

However, there is more than livelihood at stake.  There is also culture.  Linguistically, the issue should not be English versus Spanish, but bilingualism versus being mono-lingual, in other words the road Canada tries to travel with English and French.

And, at a much deeper level, watering down the highly unfortunate idea of the Puritan Pilgrims of being a Chosen People with a special mandate from God and a Promised  Land, Hemisphere, World, Universe.  Imperial practices derive from that one.  All nations have their myths, that one has been as useful for the rise of the US Empire as it spells its present decline and fall.  A heavy influx of Mexicans will change that and may also bestow more dignity on the First Nations than the USA has done.

The fifth conflict was over abortion, or more generally over the sacredness of life.  There is beauty in the pro-life position, but there is also The American Paradox: the people up front protecting the unborn life are also often up front defending the US right, even duty, to deplete and pollute nature for its purposes, to be a slaughterhouse for animals, to kill and enslave and lynch other races on US soil, to take the life of thousands through capital punishment, to engage in wars all over by intervening in other states, even regions, in the name of their national interest, to militarize space.  Given that  enormous amount of killing, legitimized  by the exceptional nature of the US state as having a divine mandate, not strange that a general culture of violence is generalized to include suicide, homicide particularly inside the family, gangs fighting and with USA being in the sad top league for most of these forms of violence.  Consequently, the pro-life people should be praised for their attachment to the sacredness of life and others who stand up against the other form of violence for theirs—and the paradox cuts both ways.  That calls for rethinking the abortion issue, beyond cheap, rare and safe.  Better sex education, of course, focused not only on perils, but on delights.  A sense of responsibility.  Adoption as an option preferred to abortion to make bringing up children easier, cheap and safe.  The pregnant woman may have the final word–and the anti-feminist element in the pro-life position is often very clear—but in consultation with the man unless the pregnancy was forced upon her.   And all of that under a general umbrella of respect for life and its dignity.

The sixth and final conflict was over women issues in general.  The classical issue was brought up: justice as 50 percent women in all niches in society, including those operating the US Empire, versus women as a source of renewal, more inspired by compassion (Gilligan) than by abstract principles, and generally as a source of peace.  A clear case for a both-and position.

Six examples of issues out of very many, and very much alive in this immensely creative, innovative, egalitarian, solidary, generous US nation that has been taken for a ride into darkness by the rulers of a state by the same name and the opposite profile.  A nation with a majority hoping for a basic change. And so does the world.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Oct 2008.

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