Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Zinn on American Empire

And how it's declining. From Common Dreams:

"Q: Where is the United States heading in terms of world power and influence?

HZ: America has been heading - for some time, and is heading right now - toward less and less world power, less and less influence.

Obviously, since the war in Iraq, the rest of the world has fallen away from the United States, and if American foreign policy continues in the way it has been - that is aggressive and violent and uncaring about the feelings and thoughts of other people - then the influence of the United States is going to decline more and more.
This is an empire which is on the one hand the most powerful empire that ever existed; on the other hand an empire that is crumbling - an empire that has no future ... because the rest of the world is alienated and simply because this empire is top-heavy with military commitments, with bases around the world, with the exhaustion of its own resources at home.

[This is] leading to more and more discontent and home, so I think the American empire will go the way of other empires and I think it is on its way now."

I'm glad that Howard Zinn is saying this. I haven't been keeping up on things on the Zinn and Chomsky fronts but I know that in most of the Progressive blogosphere their opinions have been missing in action. Bringing up the idea that the U.S. is a declining empire is a breath of fresh air. Previously, it was only people like the staff at The eXile who were making the claim, the problem there being that although they were and are spot on no one reads the eXile in the Progressive world and few had even heard about its existence before the Putin government cracked down on them after publishing for 11 years in Moscow. I've read it for about a year and a half. Zinn is deservedly well known, one of the pillars of the American left/American progressive movement.

One of the measures that I think reveals just why the U.S. is a declining empire is the difference between the perceptions of people inside the United States about how the U.S. is and the perceptions of people outside the U.S. about it, as measured by comparing journalism. It's understandable that they wouldn't really understand because they didn't grow up here, don't live here, but it's striking how even publications that in the U.S. are considered progressive, like the Guardian in England, get it wrong. They have the initiative to cover the U.S. in a different way than by repeating the talking points picked up from U.S. publications but they ultimately have to fall back on said points at the end of the day in order to make sense of all of it.

To many people outside of the U.S. the country is a nice place where good, salt of the earth, people live in a thrifty but somewhat luxurious lifestyle. Inside the U.S. there are whole regions where random violence against outsiders and racial minorities not only happens but isn't punished by the authorities. The U.S. media is in a tail spin, with content pretty much totally destroyed and replaced with things like reality shows about midgets who are also farmers. Literacy is way down, so that although everyone can read very few people now read books after they graduate from high school, or college, and the number who read several books a year, to say nothing of things like non-fiction like history or academic titles, is very low, although of course this varies widely across different areas of the country. Use of psychiatric medications is through the roof, fed by a culture that wants to give you a pill instead of dealing with the underlying problem.Primary schools are dumbed down through standardized test requirements that encourage math and basic english but that don't encourage real world problem solving, abstract thought, or critical thought. In college it's even worse, with many schools having given up on really educating people and instead focussing on trying to lessen the damage done by these students to society in general by giving them some basic skills.

We're fucked, in other words. Like William S. Burroughs in his routine about the U.S. called Dinosaurs, we are ugly stupid bellowing beasts. Some of us are thirty feet long and have a brain the size of a walnut. Where can this end?

It will probably end with Europe, Russia, and China owning our asses and South America collectively being the new up and coming force in the world.

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