Monday, January 26, 2015

true lines

Japan: We love you ISIS. You're a world leader in beheadings. Good job!

Japan's PR guy, whispering furiously: (Change it to "Saudi Arabia," and don't mention the beheadings!)

Japan: We love you Saudi Arabia! Good job with the oil!

Japan's PR guy: (Now condemn ISIS for beheading Japanese people.)

Japan: ISIS, you are a scourge upon humanity...

To the observation that Japanese officials eulogized a recently deceased Saudi Arabian beheader while condemning ISIS for beheading one of its own in the same week, a common inner circle American alliance spectator response might be to take a distance from Saudi Arabia, if only perhaps temporarily, and identify its problems as typical of the religious/racial outgroup (Muslims) without accounting for the fact that geopolitically, Saudi Arabia is a member of team USA -- official good guys. If Japan didn't send regards, it would be surprising. But when it comes to matters of life, death, and resource control, as a rule, geopolitical alignments trump traditional religious ones, which play little or no role in the political calculations of today's wealth and power accumulators, whichever gods they might pray to in their spare time. Just as Christian scientists need to put religious inclinations aside in order to be good at science, power players need to put aside theirs to be good at geopolitics, where being good, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with serving constituencies or spreading a more secular humanist way of life. Being good means, rather, doing whatever one does to keep the system going while maintaining or advancing one's position in it; or, maintaining power imbalances by exploiting power imbalances. In plainer English, surely you've seen some version of: "If I don't do the shitty thing, someone else will." Well if you're doing the shitty thing, you're providing the excuse for someone else to do the shitty thing (you're the someone else), and in the meantime, you're doing the shitty thing.

So simply noting that the Saudi Arabian and ISIS bosses are the same kind of monsters isn't enough. American cruelty often looks different, and makes for an easy point of comparison. After it's been polished for consumption, American cruelty can appear to be characterized by restraint. We use surgical strikes, enhanced interrogation, etc., methods calculated to produce maximum results with minimal pain. We care about civilians, they don't. They cause suffering because they're sadists, we do it as a last resort. Like Obama, we don't want to do the bad thing. This isn't the only interpretation broadcast by war propagandists, but it's in there for liberals who want to find it. Where the distinction between murder methods, theirs versus ours, is the distinction of interest, it serves a valuable function by hiding the geopolitical lines that would show western liberals covered in blood. The same distinction obscures the facts that Saudi Arabia is a member of team USA, that team USA is in large part responsible for both Saudi Arabian and ISIS cruelty, that team USA's violence empirically surpasses, by any reasonable measure, the violence of both, and even rivals both in terms of the cringe-worthiness of its cruelty (see torture report). And while we're speaking about the devil, Dick Cheney himself, in a moment of broken clock wisdom, once pointed out:
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
Overstated, sure, but the point stands that the U.S., by virtue of its tremendous (though diminishing) power, acts far more than it reacts. This is how power works generally, and again, the U.S. has a lot of it. The distinction between barbarous Muslims and the civilized west is not only inaccurate, it's a geopolitical tool used by the powerful institutions doing the shitty things. And nothing more. That's where the distinction came from. That's why it exists.

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