Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Full Spectrum Disorder – by Stan Goff

Here, the author draws on his experiences with United States Special Forces in Vietnam, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, Somalia and Haiti in order to offer an interpretation of the role which a resurgent American militarism plays within the overall scheme of a foreign policy which is itself a symptom of unavoidable crisis. The current Bush administration’s reckless unilateralism, Goff maintains, is not so much a manifestation of a political fundamentalist’s worldview so much as a desperate attempt to preserve a crumbling American hegemony – in fact Goff hints that the United States’ current bout of military adventurism is not so much ideologically-driven as motivated by coldly, amorally rational realpolitik. According to the author, the following factors characterize an inevitable economic crisis to which the Bush administration’s current foreign policy is merely a reaction, which incidentally, it is highly likely that any other administration would emulate.

Firstly, the American economy is simply no longer competitive. The average American’s material standard of living, on which American political stability is premised, is unsustainable. The current valuation of the American dollar against other currencies is artificial – it is simply the result of what Goff calls 'dollar hegemony’, an ingeniously simple global credit-scam. The scenario works as follows: world crude oil prices are denominated in US dollars, giving the American currency a unique strategic advantage over the currencies of stronger industrial economies. Also, while the United States’ national debt is now so large that it can never realistically be repaid, most of that debt is held in the form of US treasury-bonds. As most of the world’s other major central banks are forced to hold large amounts of US currency at any given time in order to protect themselves from currency-speculation, they also have an interest in maintaining the dollar’s current artificially high valuation. Hence, nobody can afford to cash in their T-bonds. The resulting run on the dollar would ruin the economy of every country in the industrial world. In fact, the only country to have signaled an interest in doing so (Saudi-Arabia, during the 1970’s) was told in no uncertain terms by the Americans that such a policy would be considered as an act of war. Issuing T-bonds, then, simply becomes a license to literally print money. The protection of this dollar-hegemony necessitates a protection of the United States’ currently unique strategic position within the world petroleum market, which can only be achieved via militarism. This, however, only delays the inevitable collapse of the US dollar.

Secondly, capitalism itself, as defined by exponential economic growth in perpetuity, is also unsustainable. It is destroying its own material and ecological basis. On this point, the author quotes Kenneth Boulding – “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” Oil depletion is only one example, perhaps the most obvious, of the many environmental factors which will force a dramatic contraction of the world economy sooner than we think. Hence, the United States’ grim determination to control the world’s oil supply can be interpreted as a mark of desperation.

Thirdly, the impending end of American economic and military hegemony render the onset of social disorder on a massive scale within the United States (and everywhere else, for that matter) inevitable. Goff personally has no doubt that the United States, in its current form, will cease to exist. Hence, he argues, our age holds massive revolutionary potential, and we should start preparing to learn to make allies of disorder and chaos now. Capitalism is dying. That much is beyond question. What is in question is whether or not humanity will also be exterminated? This is our choice.

Along the way, Goff also makes a number of highly critical remarks about the American liberal left, or those who think that a Democrat president would be a saner alternative to the current administration. For example, in 1993, Bill Clinton was planning to start a war on the Korean peninsula on the basis of a very flimsy argument that the North Koreans were attempting to develop nuclear weapons using plutonium from the Yongbyon reactor, in spite of every independent expert’s opinion that they lacked the technical wherewithal to do so. A detailed plan was drawn up to attack the Yongbyon facility with precision-guided bombs (manufactured by Martin-Marietta, the former employers of then US Defense Secretary, William Perry), all in spite of the fact that this would have resulted in a nuclear catastrophe several times the scale of Chernobyl. Goff continues “Early in 1993, the US redirected some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles in Alaska from targets in the former Soviet Union to targets in the DPRK. This was in conjunction with the announcement of a massive war game off the coast of Korea. The US press then portrayed the DPRK as unstable when it responded by threatening to withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The deranged North Koreans – in their irrational paranoia – believed that pointing multi-warhead thermonuclear weapons at them was a hostile act.” On the plan to attack Yongbyon, he sums up, “In fact, my current day job involves researching nuclear power plants and their dangers, and I won’t understate it. Bombing attacks directed at active nuclear power plants will cause Chernobyls, or worse. But Perry and Clinton are now regarded as sane. They can charge outlandish speakers’ fees around the country. The DPRK’s leaders, who were the target of this plot, are 'insane.’”

Another level on which Goff is critical of the liberal left pertains to their insistence on using idealized oxymorons like “sustainable development.” For anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of ecology or thermodynamics, the term simply contradicts itself. This is what Goff means when he refers to “sustainababble.”

Finally there is the charge, that while the American right is principally responsible for exporting imperialism in its military and economic manifestations, the American left is at least as guilty of exporting moral imperialism – for example the average American latte-drinking progressive’s admiration for the Zapatistas in Mexico, because of their ethical tactics, and the corresponding disdain for the FARC-EP because they, unlike the Zapatistas, decided to remain a viable fighting force at the cost of intensifying the conflict in Colombia. Just where do nice middle-class American liberals get off telling Latin-American peasants which tactics they should and should not use? Goff argues that it’s easy to be ethical when you know that you personally will never have to make a life and death decision. He finishes with this commentary: “So I will say this about the Zapatistas and the FARC-EP. At the end of the day, the difference between the two, aside from which is condoned or condemned by those outside the conflict, is that one is winning and one is losing…because one understands the iron logic of war, and the other does not.”

90% of this analysis is agreeable to me. I share Goff’s hatred for the kind of lifestylist, coffee-house designer-Marxism he criticizes so sharply. However, I would like to take issue with the author on two points: Firstly, while it is undeniable that capitalism is in decline, and will come to an end, this does not necessarily imply the potential for revolution. The term revolution implies organization and a central, coherent purpose of changing the social order. Let’s face it – it’s just not going to happen that way. Capitalism will not be replaced by the revolution. It will implode in an orgy of starvation, disease and promiscuous, unstructured violence. It’s going to be every man for himself. The post-capitalist world will be every bit as inhumane as the capitalist world, just less organized.

Finally, I feel that, in discussing American cultural imperialism, the author is naïve in laying the blame exclusively at the door of white Americans, arguing that African-Americans, for example, are an “oppressed nationality.” I remember being on a street corner in early September 1994 in a regional town in South-Eastern Poland (name:Miedzyrzec-Podlaski). Back then, the further east you went in Poland, from an economic point of view, the more it was like Russia. We’re talking real hardship. I remember standing on that street-corner at nine in the evening, watching a bunch of Polish teenagers dressed in bootleg LA Lakers gear, rapping along to a boom-box about what it was like living in Compton. How ridiculous that these kids’ actual poverty was so much worse than the poverty they were glorifying. My point is that the current predominance of African-American youth culture within the overall context of American popular culture is the product of a Hegelian master-slave dialectic. The slave, because he understands both sides of the relationship, not just his own immediate needs, is more self-aware than the master. For African-Americans, that self-awareness has translated into a dominant position within certain sectors of the American, and by extension the global, culture-industry. Eventually the slave becomes the master, and so he gradually becomes every bit as pompous, ignorant and un-self-aware as the master. There was a time when rappers had something to say. Now they’re just another example of American cultural imperialism. Perhaps they’re the most perfect example – as if self-awareness was their exclusive privilege, they politicize their own ethnicity at the expense of depoliticizing everything else, including the experience of a Polish kid who routinely eats only twice a day. What better tactic could any brand of cultural imperialism adopt?

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