Disconnected Giant on Clay Feet
EDITORIAL, 2 November 2009
#86 | Johan Galtung
Greensboro-NC, USA: What is the mood of the giant these days?
One method is through the excellent TV channel C-span, with congressional hearings, politics in the open, debates over the double crisis, the economy, and the war. Another method is to ask people, like down in Heartland USA, North Carolina, bordering on the Blue Ridge, beautiful, opulent looking, charming, welcoming.
“We are a fumbling nation of amateurs”, says one. Maybe.
“We look for diagnosis-prognosis-therapy, and find academics without remedies, and politicians without diagnosis. Too early in the double crisis unfolding? Better hurry up; the roots are deep.
For one looking at a society in crisis it may be useful some sociology viewing society in terms of people, the culture internalized inside them (“what I want to do”), and structure institutionalized around them (“what I must do”). A society works smoothly if “what I must do” is also “what I want to do”, stable, no unrest, but also static, non-dynamic. Some tension is needed.
But in the USA today, far too much. Much of what “I want” comes from Nature as drives, like for food and housing. “What I must” is to find a job, perform, get money for food and housing. But official unemployment is close to 10 percent, and unofficial close to 20 percent, counting those who have given up searching, not counting short term contracts insufficient for necessities.
With US life expectancy decreasing for categories like black women there is obviously a major disconnect between want and must. With a finance economy rising again to crisis levels there is “economic growth”. But it is jobless, ‘where are the jobs?’ people cry. Half of US workers have neither savings nor pensions, and pensions are cut by ill guided investment. 62 percent of bankruptcies in the family are from medical bills. There certainly is deep crisis.
With no health insurance–and the right fighting efficiently to keep it that way–and to destroy the Obama presidency–and unemployment insurance lasting only 26 weeks, there is suffering.
But the crisis is deeper, much deeper. The key word is again “disconnect”, including between finance and real economy.
There is a disconnect between people and culture, with “what I want” shrinking to one point: self-benefit. No solidarity, looking out for oneself, sometimes not even for the inner family. No compelling norms beyond that. Anomie.
There is a disconnect between people and structure, with “what I must do” being increasingly disrespected. Corruption and crime, including violence, are soaring, often with impunity. The social tissue is dissolving. Atomie, atomization, post-modernity.
There is a disconnect between culture and structure; like between the American Dream of the “self-standing house” and a foreclosure every 17 seconds; like the culture of a castle upon the hill, accountable directly to God, with a divine mandate, and the structure of being defeated on the ground. Absurdity.
More disturbingly, these disconnect processes are not easily halted and turned around. And even more disturbingly: at a key in the finance economy there is no disconnect at all. What I want: money, to survive, for security. What I must: speculate, guided by the super-computer of Goldman Sachs, the biggest contributor to the Obama election campaign, and rewarded for irresponsibility and lack of solidarity with a substantial bailout.
Message: What I want is to satisfy my greed; what I must is to speculate with full social approval. The problem is not Goldman Sachs bonuses –that is even some kind of socialism– but that they have that much to share. A local level connect is needed, with cooperatives, decent savings banks sprouting, and labor and people, not only capital in command.
In The Nation (October 12 2009) Naomi Klein and Michael Moore (“America’s Teacher”) are deploring the inertia on the left relative to the aggressiveness on the right. Yes, the left is unprepared and frightened, too lazy to put analysis and remedies together; the right has no problem, the remedy being mainly status quo.
Like with a heavy load of fundamentalist evangelicals among Pentagon generals put there by Bush and still there to the agony of the White House, as recently reported by New York Times. With as many as 60 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder–the stress being the war–and more soldiers killed by suicide after the return to the USA than in battle. The Pentagon hotline got 180,000 calls, 5,200 of them very dramatic, indicating suicide imminent.
[Could America go bankrupt, not only broke C-Span says in the background. Oh yes, well on the way, with giant bailouts rewarding the culprits and mini-stimuli working, but far, far too little].
But again the same sloppy thinking. From right to left what happens in Afghanistan is discussed as cost-benefit war analysis. The right wants to increase the costs to reap the V-word benefit, victory; the left says the costs are too high and V too elusive. Not a single word on the underlying conflict between key Afghan goals (no to secularism, no to Kabul, no to being invaded) and key US goals (Western values, flow of resources particularly oil, and a state that could not host Al-Qaeda attacks on the USA). Nor on the legitimacy (all three Afghan goals have high legitimacy, the first two US goals are also known as imperialism, but the third has legitimacy. So sit down with them all and talk it over).
Soon Obama will decide, probably in favor of escalation in Afghanistan with military field commanders lobbying in Congress for money. And the giant will sink deeper into the clay.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 November 2009.
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