America’s Dystopian Future


Source: CounterPunch

Imagine a privatized America where rugged individualism reigns supreme within a vast network of corporate America, Inc., similar to 19th century wild west lifestyle, no social security, no Medicare, no Medicaid, no public law enforcement as individuals stand their own ground. Read all about it in Scott Erickson’s History of the Decline and Fall of America (Azaria Press, 2018).

Erickson’s newly released semi-fictional satire of American history and subsequent decline into deepening pits of despair is a sure-fire treasure trove of Americana, at its best. It’s a page-turner par excellence, rich in accurate textured American history and jam-packed with imagery of a dystopian future that is simply unavoidable based upon America’s character and development over the past two centuries. The dye was cast long before onset of dystopian existence.

The History of the Decline and Fall of America highlights and exposes inherent limitations of democratic capitalism whilst explaining in full living color a future American dystopia that is fully expected based upon America’s beginnings from the time of Captain John Smith at historic Jamestown (1607). The history lesson therein is superb, not missing a beat of what shaped America up to the final tipping point of neoliberal dogma and beyond into a deep dark world order.

This beautifully written and conceived historical fiction is a witty tour de force of America past, present, and future, weaving together all of the historical elements into one coherent story from the widely accepted version of American “business success ” of the early period, but over time wistfully morphing into abject failure!

That process of failure, the root causes, is what intrigues, for example, “Americans were not only inventing a country but inventing what it meant to be an American.” Indeed, America came into being as a brand new experiment in capitalistic democracy. Within that quest for a new way forward, inclusive of equality and fraternity amongst equals, Erickson discovers and reveals unique American traits that belie that mission, leading to a neoliberal/privatization hellhole that goes horribly wrong.

That fascinating pathway is explained via enchanting quips, for example, de Tocqueville’s remarkably astute comment: “ I know of no country, indeed, where the move of money has taken a stronger hold on the affections of men.” This one isolated statement from the 1830s tells a tale of American character molded by artificiality of wealth creation simply for the sake of possessing it. America’s pursuit of happiness was the “pursuit of affluence” and remained its dominant trait for the “remaining 200-plus years of American history.”

Indeed, those predominant American character traits are flushed-out and analyzed in the context of eventual failure, of a dystopian world order emanating out of America’s clumsy experimentation with empire-building and constantly striving for the pot at the end of the rainbow, meaning economic growth above all else. It was a frontier spirit that fed into elusive goals of preeminence: “The frontier resulted in Americans being doers rather than thinkers….”

Real scenes of real American cocksuredness, as well as the clumsiness associated with raw ignorance, come to life, e.g., during the presidential race between Ike and Adlai Stevenson in 1954: “A revealing incident occurred while Stevenson was campaigning for president. A citizen shouted to Stevenson that he ‘had the vote of every thinking person.’Stevenson replied, ‘That’s not enough. We need a majority!”
This is excellent history, comparable to a textbook, as well as a peek into the future shaped via trends rooted throughout Americana. Erickson’s lessons in American history are genuine and accurate, which gives the book depth and a powerful sense of significance well beyond similar treatises that try to lay the challenging groundwork leading to how a nation turns sour into a dystopian society.

He weaves the path of Manifest Destiny all the way from 1840s to the planting of the American flag on the surface of the moon. Until the 1970s when American pre-eminence tipped downward, humiliated in Vietnam in what future generations came to know as The Vietnam Syndrome,” the psychological attempt to live with the unacceptable reality that it was possible for America to not win.

Not only was America no longer a winner in war, its “unparalleled level of affluence… began to decline.” The 1970s marked the high point, forever downward into a bottomless septic tank, a cloaca of messy foul shit earmarking America’s final destiny, third world status within a realm of excessive, pretense of wealth glistening behind spiked electronic gates.

The signs of decline were easy to spot by the early-mid 2000s: “… the situation had declined dramatically. According to statistics from 2015, among industrialized nations, America was notable for having the highest poverty rate, the lowest score on the UN index of ‘material well-being of children,’ the highest health care expenditures, the highest infant mortality rate, the highest prevalence of mental health problems, the highest obesity rate, the highest consumption of antidepressants per capita, the highest homicide rate, and the largest prison population per capita. By international standards, the rural counties of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky qualified as developing countries, as did large sections of American cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Gary, and many others.” (Pg. 112)

Thereafter, America’s youth no longer embraced the long-standing belief that they would have more than their parents. No, they knew it would be less and less. America entered a “permanent recession” cycle.
By the late 2030s American experienced a series of extreme crises. A number of cities declared bankruptcy. Houston, America’s 4th largest city goes bankrupt. Cleveland goes bankrupt. The head of the Federal Reserve quits and becomes a banjo player in a bluegrass group. America’s banking system collapses under the weight of fishy loans and massive crazed derivatives all permitted by increasingly hands-off regulations. The brutal hand of libertarianism smears a once proud republic.

Regular citizens, entire families carry torches surrounding Wall Street in protest of loss savings, ATMs not functioning, banks closed. An economic death spiral unleashed. The Save America Act followed, consisting of pure right wing neoliberal fix-its to save corporate America, to save Wall Street, turning to America, Inc. as the only answer to all that ails.

And, as the financial markets unravel in the face of nationwide bankruptcies, the government convincingly informs the public: “We need to defy the Constitution in order to preserve it… Americans were so thoroughly confused about the relationship between government and economics that most of them thought that the terms democracy, free-enterprise, and capitalism were the same thing.” (Pg. 165)

As time progresses, America’s Labor Day is changed to Management Day, and the Catholic Church is permitted to re-name the Statue of Liberty as “Our Lady of Perpetual Economic Growth.” America the nation turns into America, Inc. It is the only way the establishment knows to drive the country out of its doldrums. As such, The Star Spangled Banner is changed to The Free Market Ramble.

Privatization of the entire country in harmony with massive tax cuts alongside elimination of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, law enforcement, postal service, and maintenance of roads and infrastructure, thereafter, people take care of themselves from birth to the death, alone with family backing. Self-directed medical care becomes a beacon of survival of the fittest of the fittest. Those that participated as y0ungsters in Boy/Girl Scouts have a leg up in a society that increasingly places emphasis on rugged individualism. However, the many, many weaklings stumble in rows after rows of slimy gutters.

In the end, and similar to America’s 2008-09 financial collapse, which was only a warm up for much bigger things to come: “The decisive trigger, the one that pushed America beyond the point of no return, was the total collapse of the economy. It had been something of a miracle that the doomed economy had not collapsed long before. Toward the end it had been sustained by little more than momentum, since according to all economic indicators it should not have been functioning at all. The economic system based on infinite growth had reached the point where it could grow no more. American banks could not pay off previous debt by making further loans to generate more money. The pyramid scheme was over… An eerie calm descended upon all those involved in economics and finance.”

Posted in Corporate Crime, Corruption, culture, Dystopia, Economics, elites, Empire, Financial Crisis, History, imperialism, Inequality, Neoliberalism, Philosophy, Privatization, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, State Crime | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

America is Disneyland

By Chris Kanthan

Source: Activist Post

Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth! Millions of families visit the theme park every year to enjoy the magical place of rides, spectacular shows and cheerful cartoon figures. Everything is clean, perfect and joyful. Unless … you realize that Cinderella might actually be homeless. That’s right, 10% of Disneyland’s employees are actually homeless, many more are on food stamps, and 75% struggle to make ends meet.

Does this ring familiar? Think of America. Behind the façade of being the greatest country on Earth with the largest GDP and the wealthiest billionaires, there are tens of millions of Americans who are left behind just like Disney’s employees.

This neo-feudalistic model isn’t isolated to Disney or Walmart, it’s systemic. For example, the bus driver at Apple – which has $280 billion in cash – is forced to sleep in a van because he can’t afford the Silicon Valley rent; Facebook’s cafeteria workers live in a garage; and thousands of American Airlines’ employees are forced to depend on food stamps.

America is being eaten alive by corporate greed; and Disneyland has been taken over by Scrooge.

Let’s look at some Disney Inc. statistics.

Total profit per year: $9 billion

Total employees: 200,000

Notice that the profit reflects what’s left after all the expenses, including the salaries, have been paid. So, in a utopian world, the Disney management will do the math ($9 billion / 200,000 = $45,000) and send a check for $45K to every employee, Mickey included. That kind of profit-sharing would really make Disneyland the happiest place on Earth. Does that happen? No way!

Does Cinderella get a check for perhaps $20K, $10K, $5K or even $1K? Nope, nope, nope, nope. Cinderella gets nada, zero, zilch. She should be content with the $12/hour salary and must smile happily for the kids.

In Disneyland, Cinderella never gets to meet her prince.

Disney’s CEO gets paid $46 million a year, which translates to $23,000 an hour. Imagine Disney’s CEO coming to work on Jan 2nd. He wishes a few people “happy new year,” orders coffee, sits on his desk, makes a few phone calls … and he has already made more money than what Ariel would make during the rest of the year.

Of course, the CEO should get paid more, but does he deserve a salary that’s equivalent to 2,000 Disney employees? If the CEO doesn’t show up for work for a day, Disneyland will continue running. If 2,000 employees take a day off, the park would be shut down.

In the 1960s, the CEO-to-worker salary ratio was 25. Today it’s often 600 or more, sometimes even more than 1000 (for example, at Walmart). Much of the executive compensation comes in the form of stock options and bonuses based on stock performance. In a rational and unrigged world, the CEOs would increase their revenues and profits to get bonuses. Not anymore.

Now, the CEOs simply use a no-brainer solution to boost the stock prices – it’s called stock buybacks or share repurchases. This involves a firm using corporate profits (or even borrowed money) to buy its own stocks. BTW, this used to be illegal until the 1980s.

Since 2007, US corporations have spent trillions of dollars on stock buybacks. In 2018 alone, they will spend $800 billion on this financial engineering tool (which has also led to a massive stock market bubble). They won’t use the billions to hire Americans, boost wages or innovate new products. Instead, the CEOs will buy yachts and tell you that Chinese or Mexicans stole your jobs.

Do the low-wage employees of Disneyland get any shares or stock options? A silly question, indeed.

Thus we have a situation where American employers ruthlessly exploit American workers. This isn’t a good model for a country. China and Mexico don’t make us poor; predatory capitalism does.

Paying good wages to hardworking employees is not socialism or communism. Henry Ford understood this when he more than doubled the wages of his workers in 1914.

However, hundred years later, maximizing profit has become a fundamentalist dogma. You can imagine a conversation among the factory-farming executives:

Guy #1: Why the heck are these chickens roaming out in the farms? We would save so much money if we lock them up in cages.

Guy #2: Brilliant idea! Let’s lock up five chickens in a cage. We will save more. More is always better.

Guy #3: I really don’t understand why we feed them expensive salads and healthy stuff. Let’s feed them cheap GMO corn and GMO soy from my friends at Monsanto.

Guy #4: Experts tell me that if we give them caffeine and anti-depressants, the chickens will stay awake longer, eat more, and get fatter.

Guy #5: And when they get sick, load them up with antibiotics and steroids.

Guy #5: These stupid chickens are also so small. Let’s drug them with some growth hormones. I am getting a lot of pressure from the private equity funds about profits per chicken.

Apart from being inhumane and psychopathic, this system forgets or ignores the fact that we have to eat these chickens. Sick chicken = sick people. Call it Karma or “revenge of the chickens.”

Similarly, poor workers = poor country. And you can imagine a similar conversation among corporate executives regarding workers – “cut their wages and benefits”, “make them work overtime”, “hire part-time employees rather than full-time” and so on.

You can’t grow the economy if American workers don’t get paid enough, especially by profitable multi-billion dollar corporations. 2/3rd of our GDP is based on consumer spending. It’s no wonder that in the last ten years, the US economy cumulatively grew only by a dismal 35%. Compare that to China, which grew by an astounding 200% during that same period.

And it’s not a coincidence that China’s average wages have more than doubled in the same period:

The solution for low wages primarily lies in the hands of corporate elites. Labor unions are almost non-existent in the private sector these days; and the government doesn’t have much control over corporate America – in fact, corporations control the U.S. political system. Free market doesn’t have to translate to cancerous greed and extreme exploitation. Free market also means that corporations are free to share their profits with their employees. Finally, free market can and must also incorporate patriotism, responsibility to the society and strategies for sustainable prosperity.


Chris Kanthan is the author of a new book, Deconstructing the Syrian War. Chris lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, has traveled to 35 countries, and writes about world affairs, politics, economy and health. His other book is Deconstructing Monsanto. Follow him on Twitter: @GMOChannel



Posted in Corporate Crime, culture, Economics, elites, Housing Crisis, Inequality, Labor, Social Control, society, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Convenient Tales About Riches Within Reach

By Sam Pizzigati


The world at large knew virtually nada about Sylvia Bloom for 96 years. Then she died in 2016. Now, just a little too late, Sylvia Bloom is getting her belated — yet richly deserved — 15 minutes of worldwide fame.

The New York Times has just published a heart-warming story of the caring, upright life Sylvia Bloom lived, and the remarkable — and hidden — fortune she quietly accumulated over the course of her 67-year career as a Manhattan legal secretary.

That fortune totaled, in the end, over $9 million. The bulk of that wealth, the Times account reveals, is going — per Bloom’s wishes — to help students from poor families advance their educations.

None of Bloom’s surviving relatives or law firm colleagues or fellow volunteers at the Henry Street Settlement, the social services agency set to get $6.24 million from her bequest, had any idea that their unassuming loved one and friend had saved anything remotely close to multiple millions.

Counting Pennies

Bloom lived frugally all her life in Brooklyn and commuted, by subway, to her job. The “high life” never interested her in the least. She led a simple existence. She counted her pennies. In the end, she put them all to good use.

Stories like Bloom’s have been popping up regularly over recent years. Leonard Gigowski, a Wisconsin shopkeeper, died three years ago at age 90, and left behind a “secret $13 million fortune” that’s currently funding scholarships. Grace Groner passed away in 2010 at age 100. She spent most of her life in a one-bedroom Illinois home, shopped at thrift stores, and left $9 million for her alma mater.

Convenient Tales

Our popular culture can’t seem to get enough of these life-affirming tales of modest multi-millionaire seniors. These stories make us feel good. They also, unfortunately, reinforce a message that our society’s richest — and their cheerleaders — find enormously convenient.

You don’t have to be money-hungry, commit vile acts or have remarkable talents to become wealthy, the tellers of all these stories of hidden millions suggest. You just have to be frugal; almost anybody, in other words, can become rich.

And if you don’t happen to become rich, the media coverage of these stories not so subtly hints, just look in the mirror for the reason why. You, too, could have resisted temptation and counted your pennies.

You, too, could have built a huge personal fortune. Shame on you. You chose not to.

The Millionaire Next Door

A couple of decades ago, two academic researchers — Thomas Stanley and William Danko — made themselves not insignificant personal fortunes by wrapping up that same theme in reams of statistics. Their 1996 book, The Millionaire Next Door, has so far sold over 4 million copies.

That thrifty fellow down the block with a six-year-old Ford, The Millionaire Next Door related, could well be worth millions. And those millions, the book stressed, all begin with frugality.

Conservative pundits have always loved this basic frugality-pays thesis. Stanley and Danko, the argument goes, have served up the ultimate secret to getting rich. “Hardly any” of the self-made rich the pair profiled in The Millionaire Next Door, as one commentator noted a few years ago, “had expensive tastes.” Instead, these millionaires avoided “new homes and expensive clothes” and “often invested 15 to 20 percent of their net income.”

Any of us could follow that lead, this analyst would add, so long as we understand “that building wealth takes discipline, sacrifice, and hard work.”

Reaping Rewards

But if “discipline, sacrifice, and hard work” build wealth, why do so many millions of disciplined, sacrificing, and hard-working Americans today have so little of it? Why is the “millionaire next door” — especially for our millennial generation — becoming a vanishing species?

Sylvia Bloom’s life offers some clues. Yes, Bloom lived frugally, sacrificed, and worked hard. But she also matured in a society — mid-20th century America — that endeavored to help disciplined, sacrificing, and hard-working people.

That help came in many different forms. Sylvia Bloom attended Hunter College, part of a system of free public higher education in New York City. She and her husband, a firefighter and later teacher, lived in a rent-controlled apartment. She commuted, for just a few dimes per day, on the world’s most extensive public transit system.

Sylvia Bloom’s young adult counterparts today? They confront a totally different reality. The sky-high costs of attending college have turned 21st-century young adults into life-long debtors. To find an affordable place to live, they squeeze into tiny apartments close to their jobs or plop themselves in distant exurbs, fighting traffic jams all the way to work — if not paying big bucks daily for scarce transit options.

Austerity Trumps Frugality

These millennials aren’t living the frugal life. They’re living the austere life — and not by choice. Our elected leaders have thrust this austerity upon them, with decades of public policies that have rewarded the rich with tax cuts at every turn and whittled away public services at every opportunity.

If Sylvia Bloom had been born a millennial, she’d be pinching pennies today to pay off her college debts. She’d be looking forward to years of hard work and sacrifice, with no hope of ever saving up enough to become a significant invester.

In her actual life, Sylvia Bloom had the good fortune to live her early adult years in a society much more caring than ours. She cared back — and chose to devote her own financial good fortune to helping others to the same support that so helped her.

Sylvia Bloom’s life does indeed offer up inspiration. Let’s not let our rich turn that life into a rationalization for their riches.

Posted in corporate news, Corporate Welfare, culture, Economics, education, elites, Financial Crisis, Housing Crisis, Inequality, media, Media Literacy, news, propaganda, Social Control, Social Engineering, society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Two for Tuesday

The Pop Group

Mike Mictlan

Posted in Art, culture, Music Video, Two for Tuesday, Video | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

WikiLeaks and whistleblowers condemn new allegations against Julian Assange

By James Cogan


WikiLeaks has announced it will sue the British Guardian over the scurrilous allegations it made on May 15 that Julian Assange “hacked” the communication system of the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been confined since he sought political asylum in June 2012.

The only and obvious motive behind the unsubstantiated, “anonymous” allegations is to provide the Ecuadorian government with a pretext to renege on Assange’s asylum and force him out of the embassy. Upon doing so, he would be arrested by waiting British police for breaching bail conditions. Once in British custody, the WikiLeaks editor would face the prospect of extradition to the US to stand trial on charges of espionage, which could lead to his protracted imprisonment or, potentially, even his execution (see: “Conspiracy emerges to push Julian Assange into British and US hands”).

In a tweet issued shortly after the publication of the Guardian articles, WikiLeaks denounced the assertions as an “anonymous libel” made on behalf of the “current UK-US government onslaught against Mr Assange’s asylum—while he can’t respond. You’ve gone too far this time. We’re suing.”

Assange cannot respond because on March 28, more than seven weeks ago, the Ecuadorian government of President Lenín Moreno cut off all his communications with the outside world and has blocked him from even receiving visitors. Ample indications exist that Ecuador did so on the demand of Washington, as part of the price for improved relations with the US.

WikiLeaks ended its tweet with a link to the scathing review that Assange wrote of the Guardian-published 2014 book, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man. The author of the book was Luke Harding, the same Guardian journalist who co-wrote the May 15 attack on Assange and WikiLeaks.

In the first sentence of his review, Assange described Harding’s work as a “hack job in the purest sense of the word” and more than substantiated that characterisation. He condemned the Guardian for having “caved to government pressure” over the publication of leaked material and for leaving Edward Snowden “in the lurch” when the NSA whistleblower fled to Hong Kong in June 2013. It was a representative of WikiLeaks who organised for Snowden to escape to Russia, where he was eventually granted political asylum.

Harding and the Guardian did not have credibility in 2014 and they do not today.

Beside WikiLeaks and the World Socialist Web Site, only a handful of other websites and individuals have stepped forward to denounce the Guardian for serving as the conduit for the anti-Assange vendetta of the US government and intelligence agencies. In the main, there is a complicit silence on the part of the pro-imperialist establishment media and no less pro-imperialist pseudo-left organisations.

Former British whistleblower Craig Murray, who has vocally defended Assange from the outset, wrote on his blog yesterday that the Guardian articles included “outright lies.” Murray exposed, for example, the false claim by the newspaper that Sweden was “unable to question Assange” over allegations he may have committed sexual offences in 2010. The reprehensible attempt to slander Assange as a “rapist” has been relentlessly used to try and undermine the immense international support for WikiLeaks and its editor.

In fact, Assange was questioned before he left Sweden for Britain and a prosecutor deemed he had no case to answer. A second prosecutor, however, reopened the case and pursued it aggressively, gaining an arrest warrant to force Assange to return to Sweden to answer “questions.” The warrant was issued under conditions in which US and allied governments were baying for Assange’s blood because WikiLeaks had published vast amounts of damning evidence of war crimes and intrigues that had been courageously leaked by then Private Bradley [now Chelsea] Manning.

Assange correctly refused to submit to the politically-motivated warrant and challenged it in the British courts. He sought asylum in June 2012 only when his legal avenues ran out to prevent his extradition to Sweden, and likely rendition on to the US.

When Swedish authorities finally agreed to Assange’s longstanding offer to answer any questions, from Britain, he was interviewed by prosecutors and police for two days in November 2016. In May 2017, Sweden completely dropped the case. After more than six years of persecution, Assange was never charged with any crime.

Craig Murray characterised the May 15 Guardian articles as a “new low… in a collaboration between long term MI6 mouthpiece Luke Harding and the CIA financed neo-con propagandists of Focus Ecuador”—the right-wing Spanish-language site which was also provided the “anonymous” information that Assange “hacked” the embassy.

Murray opined: “I would bet any money that these anonymous ‘sources’ are as always Harding’s mates in the British security services.”

The Intercept website featured today an interview conducted by Glenn Greenwald, its editor and former whistleblower, with previous Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, whose administration granted Assange asylum in 2012.

Correa denounced his protégé and successor Lenín Moreno for cutting off Assange’s communications and visitors, labelling it as “basically torture and “a clear violation of his rights.” He declared the Ecuadorian government “is attacking Julian’s mental health.” He reviewed the closer relations between Moreno’s administration and Washington that had been developed immediately prior to the attack on Assange

Correa stated that the Guardian allegations that Assange hacked the embassy were “absurd” and that it had “presented no evidence for this, just an anonymous source.”

The ex-president stated that if Moreno allowed the WikiLeaks’ editor to be forced out of the London embassy without an iron-clad guarantee he would not be extradited to the US, it would be a “terrible betrayal, a violation of the rules of asylum and a breach of Ecuador’s responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of Julian Assange.”

The almost universal hostility towards Assange and indifference to his fate on the part of the establishment press and self-styled “left” is in stark contrast to mass popular sentiment. On Facebook, Twitter and other social media, every defence of Assange is being responded to with a stream of supportive comments, retweets and shares, and sharp and informed rebuttals of all those who attempt to attack Assange and WikiLeaks with pro-state propaganda and lies.

The social force that must be politically mobilised in defence of democratic rights is the international working class. It must be alerted and educated as to the tremendous dangers posed by the steadily escalating efforts to censor the Internet, suppress free speech and railroad whistleblowers and principled journalists like Julian Assange into prison or worse.


The author also recommends:

Ecuador hints it may hand over Julian Assange to Britain and the US
[12 May 2018]

Freedom for Julian Assange!
[11 January 2018]

Posted in Activism, black ops, censorship, CIA, civil liberties, corporate news, culture, Deep State, Empire, freedom of speech, Geopolitics, imperialism, media, news, propaganda, Psy-ops, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, State Crime | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of U.S. Hegemony

By Paul Street

Source: Consortium News

There are good reasons to bemoan the presence of the childish, racist, sexist and ecocidal, right-wing plutocrat Donald Trump in the White House. One complaint about Trump that should be held at arm’s-length by anyone on the left, however, is the charge that Trump is contributing to the decline of U.S. global power—to the erosion of the United States’ superpower status and the emergence of a more multipolar world.

This criticism of Trump comes from different elite corners. Last October, the leading neoconservative foreign policy intellectual and former George W. Bush administration adviser Eliot Cohen wrote an Atlantic magazine essay titled “How Trump Is Ending the American Era.” Cohen recounted numerous ways in which Trump had reduced “America’s standing and ability to influence global affairs.” He worried that Trump’s presidency would leave “America’s position in the world stunted” and an “America lacking confidence” on the global stage.

But it isn’t just the right wing that writes and speaks in such terms about how Trump is contributing to the decline of U.S. hegemony. A recent Time magazine reflection by the liberal commentator Karl Vick (who wrote in strongly supportive terms about the giant January 2017 Women’s March against Trump) frets that that Trump’s “America First” and authoritarian views have the world “looking for leadership elsewhere.”

“Could this be it?” Vick asks. “Might the American Century actually clock out at just 72 years, from 1945 to 2017? No longer than Louis XIV ruled France? Only 36 months more than the Soviet Union lasted, after all that bother?”

I recently reviewed a manuscript on the rise of Trump written by a left-liberal American sociologist. Near the end of this forthcoming and mostly excellent and instructive volume, the author finds it “worrisome” that other nations see the U.S. “abdicating its role as the world’s leading policeman” under Trump—and that, “given what we have seen so far from the [Trump] administration, U.S. hegemony appears to be on shakier ground than it has been in a long time.”

I’ll leave aside the matter of whether Trump is, in fact, speeding the decline of U.S. global power (he undoubtedly is) and how he’s doing that, to focus instead on a very different question: What would be so awful about the end of “the American Era”—the seven-plus decades of U.S. global economic and related military supremacy between 1945 and the present? Why should the world mourn the “premature” end of the “American Century”?

What Would the Rest of the World Say?

It would be interesting to see a reliable opinion poll on how the politically cognizant portion of the 94 percent of humanity that lives outside the U.S. would feel about the end of U.S. global dominance. My guess is that Uncle Sam’s weakening would be just fine with most Earth residents who pay attention to world events.

According to a global survey of 66,000 people conducted across 68 countries by the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research (WINMR) and Gallup International at the end of 2013, Earth’s people see the United States as the leading threat to peace on the planet. The U.S. was voted top threat by a wide margin.

There is nothing surprising about that vote for anyone who honestly examines the history of “U.S. foreign affairs,” to use a common elite euphemism for American imperialism. Still, by far and away world history’s most extensive empire, the U.S. has at least 800 military bases spread across more than 80 foreign countries and “troops or other military personnel in about 160

foreign countries and territories.” The U.S. accounts for more than 40 percent of the planet’s military spending and has more than 5,500 strategic nuclear weapons, enough to blow the world up 5 to 50 times over. Last year it increased its “defense” (military empire) spending, which was already three times higher than China’s, and nine times higher than Russia’s.

Think it’s all in place to ensure peace and democracy the world over, in accord with the standard boilerplate rhetoric of U.S. presidents, diplomats and senators?

Do you know any other good jokes?

Pentagon study released last summer laments the emergence of a planet on which the U.S. no longer controls events. Titled “At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primary World,” the study warns that competing powers “seek a new distribution of power and authority commensurate with their emergence as legitimate rivals to U.S. dominance” in an increasingly multipolar world. China, Russia and smaller players like Iran and North Korea have dared to “engage,” the Pentagon study reports, “in a deliberate program to demonstrate the limits of U.S. authority, reach influence and impact.” What chutzpah! This is a problem, the report argues, because the endangered U.S.-managed world order was “favorable” to the interests of U.S. and allied U.S. states and U.S.-based transnational corporations.

Any serious efforts to redesign the international status quo so that it favors any other states or people is portrayed in the report as a threat to U.S. interests. To prevent any terrible drifts of the world system away from U.S. control, the report argues, the U.S. and its imperial partners (chiefly its European NATO partners) must maintain and expand “unimpeded access to the air, sea, space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum in order to underwrite their security and prosperity.” The report recommends a significant expansion of U.S. military power. The U.S. must maintain “military advantage” over all other states and actors to “preserve maximum freedom of action” and thereby “allow U.S. decision-makers the opportunity to dictate or hold significant sway over outcomes in international disputes,” with the “implied promise of unacceptable consequences” for those who defy U.S. wishes.

“America First” is an understatement here. The underlying premise is that Uncle Sam owns the world and reserves the right to bomb the hell out of anyone who doesn’t agree with that (to quote President George H.W. Bush after the first Gulf War in 1991: “What we say goes.”

Investment Not Democracy

It’s nothing new. From the start, the “American Century” had nothing to do with advancing democracy. As numerous key U.S. planning documents reveal over and over, the goal of that policy was to maintain and, if necessary, install governments that “favor[ed] private investment of domestic and foreign capital, production for export, and the right to bring profits out of the country,” according to Noam Chomsky. Given the United States’ remarkable possession of half the world’s capital after World War II, Washington elites had no doubt that U.S. investors and corporations would profit the most. Internally, the basic selfish national and imperial objectives were openly and candidly discussed. As the “liberal” and “dovish” imperialist, top State Department planner, and key Cold War architect George F. Kennan explained in “Policy Planning Study 23,” a critical 1948 document:

We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. … In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. … To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. … We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

The harsh necessity of abandoning “human rights” and other “sentimental” and “unreal objectives” was especially pressing in the global South, what used to be known as the Third World. Washington assigned the vast “undeveloped” periphery of the world capitalist system—Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and the energy-rich and thus strategically hyper-significant Middle East—a less than flattering role. It was to “fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials and a market” (actual State Department language) for the great industrial (capitalist) nations (excluding socialist Russia and its satellites, and notwithstanding the recent epic racist-fascist rampages of industrial Germany and Japan). It was to be exploited both for the benefit of U.S. corporations/investors and for the reconstruction of Europe and Japan as prosperous U.S. trading and investment partners organized on capitalist principles and hostile to the Soviet bloc.

“Democracy” was fine as a slogan and benevolent, idealistic-sounding mission statement when it came to marketing this imperialist U.S. policy at home and abroad. Since most people in the “third” or “developing” world had no interest in neocolonial subordination to the rich nations and subscribed to what U.S. intelligence officials considered the heretical “idea that government has direct responsibility for the welfare of its people” (what U.S. planners called “communism”), Washington’s real-life commitment to popular governance abroad was strictly qualified, to say the least.

“Democracy” was suitable to the U.S. as long as its outcomes comported with the interests of U.S. investors/corporations and related U.S. geopolitical objectives. Democracy had to be abandoned, undermined and/or crushed when it threatened those investors/corporations and the broader imperatives of business rule to any significant degree. As President Richard Nixon’s coldblooded national security adviser Henry Kissinger explained in June 1970, three years before the U.S. sponsored a bloody fascist coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”

The U.S.-sponsored coup government that murdered Allende would kill tens of thousands of real and alleged leftists with Washington’s approval. The Yankee superpower sent some of its leading neoliberal economists and policy advisers to help the blood-soaked Pinochet regime turn Chile into a “free market” model and to help Chile write capitalist oligarchy into its national constitution.

“Since 1945, by deed and by example,” the great Australian author, commentator and filmmaker John Pilger wrote nearly nine years ago, “the U.S. has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, crushed some 30 liberation movements and supported tyrannies from Egypt to Guatemala (see William Blum’s histories). Bombing is apple pie.” Along the way, Washington has crassly interfered in elections in dozens of “sovereign” nations, something curious to note in light of current liberal U.S. outrage over real or alleged Russian interference in “our” supposedly democratic electoral process in 2016. Uncle Sam also has bombed civilians in 30 countries, attempted to assassinate foreign leaders and deployed chemical and biological weapons.

If we “consider only Latin America since the 1950s,” writes the sociologist Howard Waitzkin:

[T]he United States has used direct military invasion or has supported military coups to overthrow elected governments in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Haiti, Grenada, and Panama. In addition, the United States has intervened with military action to suppress revolutionary movements in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. More recently … the United States has spent tax dollars to finance and help organize opposition groups and media in Honduras, Paraguay, and Brazil, leading to congressional impeachments of democratically elected presidents. Hillary Clinton presided over these efforts as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, which pursued the same pattern of destabilization in Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia.

Death Count: In the Millions

The death count resulting from “American Era” U.S. foreign policy runs well into the many millions, including possibly as many as 5 million Indochinese killed by Uncle Sam and his agents and allies between 1962 and 1975. The flat-out barbarism of the American war on Vietnam is widely documented on record. The infamous My Lai massacre of March 16, 1968, when U.S. Army soldiers slaughtered more than 350 unarmed civilians—including terrified women holding babies in their arms—in South Vietnam was no isolated incident in the U.S. “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Noam Chomsky’s phrase at the time). U.S. Army Col. Oran Henderson, who was charged with covering up the massacre, candidly told reporters that “every unit of brigade size has its My Lai hidden somewhere.”

It is difficult, sometimes, to wrap one’s mind around the extent of the savagery the U.S. has unleashed on the world to advance and maintain its global supremacy. In the early 1950s, the Harry Truman administration responded to an early challenge to U.S. power in Northern Korea with a practically genocidal three-year bombing campaign that was described in soul-numbing terms by the Washington Post years ago:

The bombing was long, leisurely and merciless, even by the assessment of America’s own leaders. ‘Over a period of three years or so, we killed off—what—20 percent of the population,’ Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984. Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war and later Secretary of State, said the United States bombed ‘everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.’ After running low on urban targets, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops … [T]he U.S. dropped 635,000 tons of explosives on North Korea, including 32,557 tons of napalm, an incendiary liquid that can clear forested areas and cause devastating burns to human skin.

Gee, why does North Korea fear and hate us?

This ferocious bombardment, which killed 2 million or more civilians, began five years after Truman arch-criminally and unnecessarily ordered the atom bombing of hundreds of thousands pf civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to warn the Soviet Union to stay out of Japan and Western Europe.

Some benevolent “world policeman.”

The ferocity of U.S. foreign policy in the “America Era” did not always require direct U.S. military intervention. Take Indonesia and Chile, for two examples from the “Golden Age” height of the “American Century.” In Indonesia, the U.S.-backed dictator Suharto killed millions of his subjects, targeting communist sympathizers, ethnic Chinese and alleged leftists. A senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s later described Suharto’s 1965-66 U.S.-assisted coup as s “the model operation” for the U.S.-backed coup that eliminated the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, seven years later. “The CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders,” the officer wrote, “[just like] what happened in Indonesia in 1965.”

As Pilger noted 10 years ago, “the U.S. embassy in Jakarta supplied Suharto with a ‘zap list’ of Indonesian Communist party members and crossed off the names when they were killed or captured. … The deal was that Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what Richard Nixon had called ‘the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east Asia.’ ”

“No single American action in the period after 1945,” wrote the historian Gabriel Kolko, “was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate [Suharto’s] massacre.”

Two years and three months after the Chilean coup, Suharto received a green light from Kissinger and the Gerald Ford White House to invade the small island nation of East Timor. With Washington’s approval and backing, Indonesia carried out genocidal massacres and mass rapes and killed at least 100,000 of the island’s residents.

Mideast Savagery

Among the countless episodes of mass-murderous U.S. savagery in the oil-rich Middle East over the last generation, few can match for the barbarous ferocity of the “Highway of Death,” where the “global policeman’s” forces massacred tens of thousands of surrendered Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait on Feb. 26 and 27, 1991. Journalist Joyce Chediac testified that:

U.S. planes trapped the long convoys by disabling vehicles in the front, and at the rear, and then pounded the resulting traffic jams for hours. ‘It was like shooting fish in a barrel,’ said one U.S. pilot. On the sixty miles of coastal highway, Iraqi military units sit in gruesome repose, scorched skeletons of vehicles and men alike, black and awful under the sun … for 60 miles every vehicle was strafed or bombed, every windshield is shattered, every tank is burned, every truck is riddled with shell fragments. No survivors are known or likely. … ‘Even in Vietnam I didn’t see anything like this. It’s pathetic,’ said Major Bob Nugent, an Army intelligence officer. … U.S. pilots took whatever bombs happened to be close to the flight deck, from cluster bombs to 500-pound bombs. … U.S. forces continued to drop bombs on the convoys until all humans were killed. So many jets swarmed over the inland road that it created an aerial traffic jam, and combat air controllers feared midair collisions. … The victims were not offering resistance. … [I]t was simply a one-sided massacre of tens of thousands of people who had no ability to fight back or defend.

The victims’ crime was having been conscripted into an army controlled by a dictator perceived as a threat to U.S. control of Middle Eastern oil. President George H.W. Bush welcomed the so-called Persian Gulf War as an opportunity to demonstrate America’s unrivaled power and new freedom of action in the post-Cold War world, where the Soviet Union could no longer deter Washington. Bush also heralded the “war” (really a one-sided imperial assault) as marking the end of the “Vietnam Syndrome,” the reigning political culture’s curious term for U.S. citizens’ reluctance to commit U.S. troops to murderous imperial mayhem.

As Chomsky observed in 1992, reflecting on U.S. efforts to maximize suffering in Vietnam by blocking economic and humanitarian assistance to the nation it had devastated: “No degree of cruelty is too great for Washington sadists.”

But Uncle Sam was only getting warmed up building his Iraqi body count in early 1991. Five years later, Bill Clinton’s U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright told CBS News’ Leslie Stahl that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children due to U.S.-led economic sanctions imposed after the first “Persian Gulf War” (a curious term for a one-sided U.S. assault) was a “price … worth paying” for the advancement of inherently noble U.S. goals.

“The United States,” Secretary Albright explained three years later, “is good. We try to do our best everywhere.”

In the years following the collapse of the counter-hegemonic Soviet empire, however, American neoliberal intellectuals like Thomas Friedman—an advocate of the criminal U.S. bombing of Serbia—felt free to openly state that the real purpose of U.S. foreign policy was to underwrite the profits of U.S.-centered global capitalism. “The hidden hand of the market,” Friedman famously wrote in The New York Times Magazine in March 1999, as U.S. bombs and missiles exploded in Serbia, “will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

In a foreign policy speech Sen. Barack Obama gave to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs on the eve of announcing his candidacy for the U.S. presidency in the fall of 2006, Obama had the audacity to say the following in support of his claim that U.S. citizens supported “victory” in Iraq: “The American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah.”

It was a spine-chilling selection of locales. In 2004, the ill-fated city was the site of colossal U.S. war atrocities, crimes including the indiscriminate murder of thousands of civilians, the targeting even of ambulances and hospitals, and the practical leveling of an entire city by the U.S. military in April and November. By one account, “Incoherent Empire,” Michael Mann wrote:

The U.S. launched two bursts of ferocious assault on the city, in April and November of 2004 … [using] devastating firepower from a distance which minimizes U.S. casualties. In April … military commanders claimed to have precisely targeted … insurgent forces, yet the local hospitals reported that many or most of the casualties were civilians, often women, children, and the elderly… [reflecting an] intention to kill civilians generally. … In November … [U.S.] aerial assault destroyed the only hospital in insurgent territory to ensure that this time no one would be able to document civilian casualties. U.S. forces then went through the city, virtually destroying it. Afterwards, Fallujah looked like the city of Grozny in Chechnya after Putin’s Russian troops had razed it to the ground.

The “global policeman’s” deployment of radioactive ordnance (depleted uranium) in Fallujah created an epidemic of infant mortality, birth defects, leukemia and cancer there.


Fallujah was just one especially graphic episode in a broader arch-criminal invasion that led to the premature deaths of at least 1 million Iraqi civilians and left Iraq as what Tom Engelhardt called “a disaster zone on a catastrophic scale hard to match in recent memory.” It reflected the same callous mindset behind the Pentagon’s early computer program name for ordinary Iraqis certain to be killed in the 2003 invasion: “bug-splat.” America’s petro-imperial occupation led to the death of as many as one million Iraqi “bugs” (human beings). According to the respected journalist Nir Rosen in December 2007, “Iraq has been killed. … [T]he American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century.”

As the Senate is poised to confirm an alleged torturer as CIA director it is important to remember that along with death in Iraq came ruthless and racist torture. In an essay titled “I Helped Create ISIS,” Vincent Emanuele, a former U.S. Marine, recalled his enlistment in an operation that gave him nightmares more than a decade later:

I think about the hundreds of prisoners we took captive and tortured in makeshift detention facilities. … I vividly remember the marines telling me about punching, slapping, kicking, elbowing, kneeing and head-butting Iraqis. I remember the tales of sexual torture: forcing Iraqi men to perform sexual acts on each other while marines held knives against their testicles, sometimes sodomizing them with batons. … [T]hose of us in infantry units … round[ed] up Iraqis during night raids, zip-tying their hands, black-bagging their heads and throwing them in the back of HUMVEEs and trucks while their wives and kids collapsed to their knees and wailed. … Some of them would hold hands while marines would butt-stroke the prisoners in the face. … [W]hen they were released, we would drive them from the FOB (Forward Operating Base) to the middle of the desert and release them several miles from their homes. … After we cut their zip-ties and took the black bags off their heads, several of our more deranged marines would fire rounds from their AR-15s into their air or ground, scaring the recently released captives. Always for laughs. Most Iraqis would run, still crying from their long ordeal.

The award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh told the ACLU about the existence of classified Pentagon evidence files containing films of U.S-“global policeman” soldiers sodomizing Iraqi boys in front of their mothers behind the walls of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. “You haven’t begun to see [all the] … evil, horrible things done [by U.S. soldiers] to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run,” Hersh told an audience in Chicago in the summer of 2014.

It isn’t just Iraq where Washington has wreaked sheer mass murderous havoc in the Middle East, always a region of prime strategic significance to the U.S. thanks to its massive petroleum resources. In a recent Truthdig reflection on Syria, historian Dan Lazare reminds us that:

[Syrian President Assad’s] Baathist crimes pale in comparison to those of the U.S., which since the 1970s has invested trillions in militarizing the Persian Gulf and arming the ultra-reactionary petro-monarchies that are now tearing the region apart. The U.S. has provided Saudi Arabia with crucial assistance in its war on Yemen, it has cheered on the Saudi blockade of Qatar, and it has stood by while the Saudis and United Arab Emirates send in troops to crush democratic protests in neighboring Bahrain. In Syria, Washington has worked hand in glove with Riyadh to organize and finance a Wahhabist holy war that has reduced a once thriving country to ruin.

Chomsky has called Barack Obama’s targeted drone assassination program “the most extensive global terrorism campaign the world has yet seen.” The program “officially is aimed at killing people who the administration believes might someday intend to harm the U.S. and killing anyone else who happens to be nearby.” As Chomsky adds, “It is also a terrorism generating campaign—that is well understood by people in high places. When you murder somebody in a Yemen village, and maybe a couple of other people who are standing there, the chances are pretty high that others will want to take revenge.”

The Last, Best Hope

“We lead the world,” presidential candidate Obama explained, “in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good. … America is the last, best hope of earth.”

Obama elaborated in his first inaugural address. “Our security,” the president said, “emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint”—a fascinating commentary on Fallujah, Hiroshima, the U.S. crucifixion of Southeast Asia, the “Highway of Death” and more.

Within less than half a year of his inauguration and his lauded Cairo speech, Obama’s rapidly accumulating record of atrocities in the Muslim world would include the bombing of the Afghan village of Bola Boluk. Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives in Bola Boluk were children. “In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament,” The New York Times reported, “the governor of Farah Province … said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed.” According to one Afghan legislator and eyewitness, “the villagers bought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred. Everyone at the governor’s cried, watching that shocking scene.” The administration refused to issue an apology or to acknowledge the “global policeman’s” responsibility.

By telling and sickening contrast, Obama had just offered a full apology and fired a White House official because that official had scared New Yorkers with an ill-advised Air Force One photo-shoot flyover of Manhattan that reminded people of 9/11. The disparity was extraordinary: Frightening New Yorkers led to a full presidential apology and the discharge of a White House staffer. Killing more than 100 Afghan civilians did not require any apology.

Reflecting on such atrocities the following December, an Afghan villager was moved to comment as follows: “Peace prize? He’s a killer. … Obama has only brought war to our country.” The man spoke from the village of Armal, where a crowd of 100 gathered around the bodies of 12 people, one family from a single home. The 12 were killed, witnesses reported, by U.S. Special Forces during a late-night raid.

Obama was only warming up his “killer” powers. He would join with France and other NATO powers in the imperial decimation of Libya, which killed more than 25,000 civilians and unleashed mass carnage in North Africa. The U.S.-led assault on Libya was a disaster for black Africans and sparked the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

Two years before the war on Libya, the Obama administration helped install a murderous right-wing coup regime in Honduras. Thousands of civilians and activists have been murdered by that regime.

The clumsy and stupid Trump has taken the imperial baton from the elegant and silver-tongued “imperial grandmaster” Obama, keeping the superpower’s vast global military machine set on kill. As Newsweek reported last fall, in a news item that went far below the national news radar screen in the age of the endless insane Trump clown show:

According to research from the nonprofit monitoring group Airwars … through the first seven months of the Trump administration, coalition air strikes have killed between 2,800 and 4,500 civilians. … Researchers also point to another stunning trend—the ‘frequent killing of entire families in likely coalition airstrikes.’ In May, for example, such actions led to the deaths of at least 57 women and 52 children in Iraq and Syria. … In Afghanistan, the U.N. reports a 67 percent increase in civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in the first six months of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016.

That Trump murders with less sophistication, outward moral restraint and credible claim to embody enlightened Western values and multilateral commitment than Obama did is perhaps preferable to some degree. It is better for empire to be exposed in its full and ugly nakedness, to speed its overdue demise.

The U.S. is not just the top menace only to peace on Earth. It is also the leading threat to personal privacy (as was made clearer than ever by the Edward Snowden revelations), to democracy (the U.S. funds and equips repressive regimes around the world) and to a livable global natural environment (thanks in no small part to its role as headquarters of global greenhouse gassing and petro-capitalist climate denial).

The world can be forgiven, perhaps, if it does not join Eliot Cohen and Karl Vick in bemoaning the end of the “American Era,” whatever Trump’s contribution to that decline, which was well underway before he entered the Oval Office.

Ordinary Americans, too, can find reasons to welcome the decline of the American empire. As Chomsky noted in the late 1960s: “The costs of empire are in general distributed over the society as a whole, while its profits revert to a few within.”

The Pentagon system functions as a great form of domestic corporate welfare for high-tech “defense” (empire) firms like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon—this while it steals trillions of dollars that might otherwise meet social and environmental needs at home and abroad. It is a significant mode of upward wealth distribution within “the homeland.”

The biggest costs have fallen on the many millions killed and maimed by the U.S. military and allied and proxy forces in the last seven decades and before. The victims include the many U.S. military veterans who have killed themselves, many of them haunted by their own participation in sadistic attacks and torture on defenseless people at the distant command of sociopathic imperial masters determined to enforce U.S. hegemony by any and all means deemed necessary.

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“One Long Discomfort”: The Legacy and Future of David Lindsay’s ‘A Voyage to Arcturus’

By Ben Schwartz

Source: We Are the Mutants

Ballantine “Adult Fantasy” edition, 1973, with cover art by Bob Pepper

David Lindsay’s masterpiece A Voyage to Arcturus was first published in London in 1920 by Methuen & Co. It came dressed in a simple red cloth cover; no dust jacket, just the title and author’s name debossed into the front. This first printing sold less than 600 copies, and so Arcturus didn’t come to the US until Macmillan brought it out in 1964. In 1968, Ballantine picked it up after the massive success of the publisher’s Lord of the Rings paperbacks, and, for the first time ever, the cover featured bespoke art, painted by Bob Pepper. The printing predated Ballantine’s influential Adult Fantasy series, edited by Lin Carter, but was eventually given honorary membership, with later printings carrying the unicorn stamp and benefiting from the cachet the series possessed.

With the late-1960s Lord of the Rings phenomenon leading the charge, speculative fiction, and Arcturus with it, rode into the public consciousness on about as high a tide as it has ever had. Lindsay’s biographer Bernard Sellin notes that Ballantine’s edition “[had]… overtaken all the accumulated efforts of forty years” in terms of circulating Lindsay’s first novel. But he’s quick to point out that Lindsay’s audience is still limited, and that “The average, sensual reader is in serious danger of being disappointed in Lindsay.” Sellin wrote this in 1981 and, with a weird choice of words, envisions a “‘superior race’ of readers, anxious to go beyond the plot” of Arcturus and grasp what it’s really about. Today, in 2018, Lindsay’s potential audience, superior or otherwise, struggles against a vanishing text.

In the UK, Gollancz brought out an Arcturus reissue in the ’40s (the “novel… is regarded by some of those who have read it as a work of genius,” the cover read), which was subsequently routed into their “Rare Works of Imaginative Fiction” reissues in the early ’60s. Today, the label keeps it alive in its “Fantasy Masterworks” series as an affordable paperback. A high quality limited edition from Savoy Books was the high point of its publication history, but that small batch is fifteen years gone now.

In the states, the novel languishes in Print on Demand Hell. Most readily available copies are ill-starred editions from nebulous outfits bearing names like CreateSpace and Wilder Publications, featuring non sequitur cover images that look like refugees from a Windows ME screensaver folder: a field of wheat, a macro of autumn leaves, an anonymous, slightly-out-of-focus Roman ruin. Even outside of PoD territory there are some seriously janky efforts, leprous with typos: the first printing of Arcturus from Bison Press misspelled the word “Commemorative” on its own cover, and newer printings still contain fistfuls of errors.

And this is a book that counts Clive Barker, Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, and Jeff Vandermeer among its admirers. C.S. Lewis called it the “real father” of his Space Trilogy. Pathological anti-genre lit critic Harold Bloom’s sole piece of published fiction—ever—is a pseudo-sequel to Arcturus called A Voyage to Lucifer. Colin Wilson, who became a literary sensation with publication of his The Outsider in 1956, put it in his curriculum while teaching and wrote multiple essays about Lindsay. These and other enthusiasts have tended the flame over the years, keeping the book visible to the small cadre of readers that are likely to respond to it. But will Arcturus ever grow beyond that niche audience?

It may be helpful to explain what readers find when they pick up the novel. On a superficial level, A Voyage to Arcturus is a spacefaring adventure of a strong, competent hero, same as you’d find in any number of time-yellowed pulp paperbacks. After a few strange chapters spent on earth, our hero, Maskull, and his two companions, Nightspore and Krag, journey to Tormance, a planet orbiting Arcturus, which in the book is a binary star with two suns, Branchspell and Alppain. Maskull wakes alone in a fantastical desert on Tormance, and quickly becomes embroiled in this new world. There are rocket ships, tentacle arms, dreamlike landscapes—Tormance is prodigious when it comes to landscapes: like Ifdawn Marest, a place of crags and mountains that are constantly sinking and shooting up in fatal, vertiginous thousand-foot shifts; or Matterplay, a valley so replete with life energy that new beings literally pop into existence, fully formed; or the Sinking Sea, whose water varies in density from place to place and which Maskull navigates by riding a giant, semi-living treelike creature. The evocative names of places and people have a distinctly Amazing Stories vibe: Disscourn, Panawe, Corpang, the Lusion Plain.

Maskull sets out ostensibly looking for Nightspore and Krag. But as he proceeds, it becomes clear that his purpose on Tormance is tied to that of a being called Surtur, who draws Maskull northward with a slow, insistent drumbeat that only he can hear. Every chapter sees Maskull enter a new region of Tormance, each with its own particular landscape and specific philosophical culture—a sort of Gulliver’s Travels recast as a troubling, darkly symbolic dream. Ifdawn Marest lives violently, crudely, simply—its residents engage in contests of mind control to dominate, torture, and kill one another. The land of Sant houses vain ascetics who have renounced all the physical pleasures of the world. In Matterplay, Maskull encounters the last of the phaen, an ancient race composed not of men or women but a third, primordial gender. Names of other supreme beings are revealed: some mention Muspel, but many talk of Crystalman, possibly another god, or maybe just another name for Surtur—the Tormancians’ accounts vary. But when people die on Tormance, their faces twist into a nauseating smile known as Crystalman’s grin. The precise cosmology always remains just out of focus, however, and this refusal to resolve comes to drive Maskull forward more than the thought of finding his companions. And through this driving impetus, Maskull finds each place, each philosophy, exposed as limited, false, incomplete. This falseness usually results in an explosion of ugly violence, and Maskull, often as not, is perpetrating it.

And so the book proceeds, like some dark, cosmic picaresque, until Maskull reaches Surtur’s Ocean, the northernmost ocean of Tormance. He reunites with Krag, who seems to be expecting him. Krag takes the physically failing Maskull on a raft out to sea, on a journey to Muspel, which Maskull learns is the name of the “true world,” the world outside the corruption of illusory things. As they sail along, Maskull, exhausted and spent, dies, which somehow releases Nightspore back into being. Then Krag lets Nightspore off at a lone edifice in the sea. As he ascends through it, Nightspore stops at a succession of windows that show him the nature of reality: there is Muspel, Surtur’s world, the impartial, pure, true world that most are prevented from seeing by the illusory world of Crystalman, who is not an aspect of Surtur but an embodiment of deceit and distraction. Violence, art, love, talk, work, play—all of these are tools Crystalman uses to ensnare the spark of Muspel contained in each living thing, preventing that life from returning to the world it came from. All the inhabitants of Tormance and their multifarious philosophies were blinded to this truth by Crystalman—and that’s why, when they died, their faces contorted into Crystalman’s Grin, the signature of his triumph over their souls.

Arcturus ends with the resurrected/transmogrified/newborn Nightspore descending the tower and meeting up with Krag again, who reveals that he is Surtur, and that his name on earth is Pain. Nightspore steps back onto the raft and the two sail away into the darkness, presumably to continue their struggle against Crystalman, on earth or elsewhere. It’s a powerful, striking, triumphless ending—a metaphysical cliffhanger that opens up long avenues of thought.

Anybody reading with their internal aerial up and receiving would have noticed something going on with Arcturus before the final chapters, but they are only the biggest among many clues that make it clear the novel is more than a weightless adventure yarn. Maskull is an off-putting protagonist. He’s animated less by personality and more by some psychic decree outside of his control (authorial or otherwise). He’s got the wrong proportions for a standard hero: Lindsay describes him as “a kind of giant, but of broader and more robust physique than most giants,” with a full beard, short bristling hair, and features that are “thick and heavy, coarsely modeled, like those of a wooden carving”—and yet with eyes sparkling with “intelligence and audacity.” He’s impulsive, driven, and violent—and key to the dark energy that propels Arcturus away from genre pulp into deeper, thornier territory.

Much early speculative fiction created vistas of longing; they showed better worlds, nobler peoples, purer ways of living. The Lord of the Rings set the standard in this regard but it was hardly alone, and not the first. The Worm Ouroboros, Lud-in-the-Mist, Time and the Gods are others—all committed to beauty and magic and bravery as antidotes to our own world. They didn’t deny their correlation to accepted reality, but they actively opposed aspects of that reality by showing us better versions. Arcturus, rather than look outward over the hills of faerie, turns inward, drills down until it exposes its fundamental vision of existence, and that vision is a searing one. Its aspect is fire, and whereas most speculative fiction is aspirational, Arcturus is agonized; reality is, like the unearthly wound Maskull receives from Krag, “one long discomfort,” a galaxy of damnation:

Millions of grotesque, vulgar, ridiculous, sweetened individuals – once Spirit – were calling out from their degradation and agony for salvation from Muspel…

Arcturus the planet isn’t meant to be “real” like Minas Tirith or Lud-in-the-Mist or Witchland are meant to be real. Instead of creating another world, Lindsay showed us our own; refracted through the alien metaphors of Tormance, yes, but nevertheless recognizable. As anthropologist Loren Eiseley notes in his introduction to the Ballantine edition, Arcturus is really “a long earth journey.” There’s a dystopia in Lindsay’s novel, though the dystopia is not political or societal, but metaphysical. It’s not a nightmare city, but a nightmare world; not a corrupt government, but a corrupt soul. Maskull’s vicious, driving nature allows him to open that final door for readers.

Naturally, this dark, anguished, philosophical heart impacted Arcturus’ initial sales. In 1920, science fiction seemed impossibly far from literary “respectability.” There was a strong undercurrent of literary speculative fiction at the time, but it wasn’t universally popular and certainly not accepted by the establishment. Arcturus came blazing fully-formed into the world, subverting tropes that had barely been established. And you can imagine potential readers either avoiding Arcturus because of those tropes, or dropping it because it didn’t thoroughly conform to nascent genre conventions. Arcturus did itself no commercial favors by tapping SF in the name of art. It made itself a black sheep among black sheep.

Sellin ends his ’81 overview of Linday’s life and work as all essays on Arcturus and Lindsay end: with hope for a wider readership in the future. But I predict Arcturus will continue to be preserved by a small but vocal readership—no more. I think it has already assumed the strange, somewhat sour mantle of an “influential” classic, one whose most visible legacy will always be the way it presaged so much that came after. Once you read Arcturus, you’re always finding chunks of it here and there, like burning fragments of an exploded spaceship smoldering in a field. Its Mariana Trench pessimism turns up in Harlan Ellison and, with a paranoiac twist, in Philip K. Dick. Its deep exploration of reality through violence and sexuality bring to mind A Clockwork Orange, Dhalgren; and Maskull’s surrender into a metaphysical system vaster than himself hits on core conceits in much of Pynchon. And most obviously, science fiction as metaphor for our own world, our own souls, was a shocking and (to some) ugly experiment in Arcturus—but today it’s as common as grass.

I think the novel’s admirers want recognition for Arcturus because Lindsay’s life is always painted as one of frustration, where recognition for his accomplishments was continually withheld. And that’s true. But he also created a masterwork, and it seems weird to quibble with immortality, no matter how it comes. Even today, Lindsay’s first novel stands out in any literary landscape, casting a long shadow: an architecture phased in from a parallel dimension both alien and familiar.

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Saturday Matinee: The Selfish Ledger

“The Selfish Ledger” (2016) is a leaked internal Google video by Nick Foster, the head of design at Google’s research-and-development division, X. It draws on theories of evolutionary biology to explain how the collective data history of all devices could be used  by an AI “ledger” similar to how genes shape characteristics of future generations. As explained by Foster:

“User-centered design principles have dominated the world of computing for many decades, but what if we looked at things a little differently? What if the ledger could be given a volition or purpose rather than simply acting as a historical reference? What if we focused on creating a richer ledger by introducing more sources of information? What if we thought of ourselves not as the owners of this information, but as custodians, transient carriers, or caretakers?…By thinking of user data as multigenerational, it becomes possible for emerging users to benefit from the preceding generation’s behaviors and decisions.”

This database of human behavior can be mined for patterns, and “sequenced” like the human genome, making future behaviors and decisions easier to predict and direct. According to Google the video was designed to be provocative and did not relate to any products in development. Watch it yourself and decide.

Posted in culture, Film, Science, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, surveillance state, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment