Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dis-Imperialization of the USA

Joe Bloch made a relatively innocuous post about NASA over on his blog here, that judging from the first few comments might turn into somewhat of a firestorm. In essence, a post about the fact that 42 years ago the USA was pioneering space travel, and that now we have ceded the field.

Although I think this is the first time I've done this, I'm going to post a bit of politics.

The United States stepped up into the role of a global superpower, not so much as a reaction to the imperial aspirations of Germany and Japan, but in response to the rising tide of a communist ideological alliance. And during the period of the cold war, we were doing the right thing. However, it pushed us into the mindset of empire, and the USA is not constituted as an imperial society. The things you have to do as an empire are often fairly horrible -- take a look at Roman responses to rebellion, take a look at British reprisals for Cawnpore, etc. It also got us hooked on the idea that stepping back from world-spanning power represents a decline in the nation.

That's dead wrong. Maintaining an empire is so expensive that it can only be maintained through a tributary economy. You have to maintain a massive standing army, an infrastructure for striking into places you wouldn't care in the slightest bit about if you were just focused on defense -- even a fairly proactive defense.

This is what the USA is facing right now; we are overextended and based on a skewed vision of what American power is, we are unable to back away from Imperial aspirations, activities, expenditures, and entanglements. We can't swallow the idea of backing down to the position of a very large, very strong nation that doesn't have ultimate global power. But I say that's not how the quality of the USA ought to be measured. In fact, we were wisely cautioned by some of the founding fathers to avoid too many foreign entanglements.

It is not a surrender to do what the British did, and downsize our aspirations. We should focus on defense, leaving our striking power to more of an "expeditionary force" model, coordinating that with Canada, the UK, and Australia, together with other key allies. Britain, no longer the Empire, can still hit like the Hammer of Thor when needed ... we could size down to that, or proportionately larger, and improve our domestic quality of living significantly by cutting away the vast size of what we've got on deck now. It would free up money to actually look after our veterans rather than having VA hospitals be the worst of the worst. We could get back into space exploration. Back into pure sciences.

The USA is measured by our country, not our empire. We aren't great leaders in many ways, and we certainly can't stomach what it really takes to be an empire. I'm not saying we should -- I'm proud of us for that.

But the exigencies of 1945-1989 have receded. Like Cincinnatus, it's time for us to return to the farm and tend our own land. We are corrupting and overextending ourselves by trying to hold onto a throne that desiccates and poisons us. It's not surrender to do so, it's a return to normalcy and a return to the policy of looking after Americans.

And being able to get back into space instead of seeing NASA as nothing more than the designer of our spy satellites.Link


  1. I think this is one of the most sensible comments about the US and its current situation that I've ever read. However, I don't think there's an easy way out for you guys. Apparently, while only 3% of the world's population, as a nation you consume 25% of the world's resources in order to maintain your current standard of living. That's mind boggling when you think about it.

    For the US to dismantle its empire and bring the focus back home, Americans are going to have to make some major adjustments to lifestyle. Much of what you take for granted will have to be reevaluated in a major way. And that, perhaps, is going to be your biggest challenge of all.

  2. Heh, I don't mind consuming 25% if we can pay for it. I recall reading that at one point our industrial output was almost half of the world's total. Our contribution to the world's economy has dropped off dramatically, and some of the reason is precisely that an imperialistic policy drains capital out of a country. The problem with that 25% number isn't that it's mean or unfair, it's that we can no longer pay for it; we're borrowing.

  3. As opposed to private industry, the miltary and the top 5% of the wealthy, how much of that 25% is consumed by the "average" American anyway?

    I ask, because I've lived in Europe (Spain) for several months at a time in the last few years, and with the exception of gasoline consumption* the Americans I know do not live very differently from the Spaniards I know.

    Everybody, has a laptop and cellphone (mobile) and a car. They eat meat like crazy.

    They even have a chain of stores in the Basque country, the name of which escapes me, that is pretty much identical to Walmart. I bought some shoes there for 3 euros and a sleeping bag for 10.

    *this is more a function of geography than wonton disregard in many paces. Nobody wants to use more gas than they have to.

  4. Heh, I don't mind consuming 25% if we can pay for it.

    The problem is Matt there is the other cost, that of keeping the poor in Third World nations poor. Low cost for us in the West, an extremely high cost for the poor bastards that produce all our goods.

    the Americans I know do not live very differently from the Spaniards I know

    And that's it, it's not just Americans but the entire Western world. The so-called free market global economy works by wealthy nations (whose wages are too high for homegrown manufacture) buying their goods from poorer nations where wages are shockingly poor. And if those nations show signs of climbing up the ladder of standards of living (with such things as wages growth), our companies simply switch manufacturing to some other poorer nation - thus keeping us in the West in cheap luxury goods, and the poor in Third World nations making the stuff for us for peanuts while constantly under the treat of having their industries shut down if they start asking for higher wages (and thus a higher standard of living like us in the West).

    It's not as simple as just paying for the 25% when it's done through a system that shafts the poor we can't see while saying "I'm alright Jack".

    Still, it looks like the party in the West, the Age of Plenty, is starting to wrap up with global oil supplies having peaked and soon to start the inevitable downward slope, and with developing nations beginning to realistically compete with us in the West for this world's resources. I think over the next decade or so it's going to become very apparent that in all practicality the space race will be a very low priority.

  5. Problem is, just when we start pulling out of the Middle East, France, Italy, and Britain drag us into Libya. Everyone expects us to be the world police, no matter that it is destroying us.

  6. Thanks, David, that was refreshingly even handed answer to at least part of my question.

    However, as to the immediate future, I think Africa is being prepped by the Chinese to be the next source of cheap production much in the same way that Asia was prepped by the west.

    Furthermore, setting aside environmental issues (because lets face it, humans being humans that's exactly what we'll do) take a look at global coal reserves. Considering how much of the world's energy comes from coal, I think that its distribution may tell us more about the near future than almost any other indicator.

    In other words, for better or worse, I'm not so sure what we're seeing is so much a light at the end of the tunnel as a bit of St. Elmo's fire.


    Regarding the space program, we have entered the Era of Soyuz!

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  9. Everyone expects us to be the world police, no matter that it is destroying us.

    @Dan - I certainly wouldn't say "everyone". There's plenty out there in Western nations that would like to see that stop. The trouble is Western governments and the UN have come to rely on the US to fill that role.

    And even that is not accurate for the US government isn't dumb, nor do they just do things out of the goodness of their hearts, or even because it's the "right thing to do". Like every government around the world, they have their own reasons for committing troops and resources overseas and it often is a very different reason to the spin and hype drummed up by government spokesmen. More often than not it is usually to do with resources and markets and maintaining control of them.

    @Aos - yep, I agree both points - the Chinese in Africa (although I think it's more about resources than manufacture) and the coal issue.

    Countries with resources will either have to have the strength to keep control of their exploitation or play lapdog to those strong enough to do so instead. And countries lacking resources will either be lucky enough to have the strength to get what they need (through fair means or foul) or be at the mercy of those who have. It doesn't bode well for a bright future in the short term, especially when some countries have strength and power but not the resources they want.

  10. Speaking for myself, I take an extremely pessimistic view of human future. This morning, I watched footage of the Atlantis landing and saw it as the epitaph for for our civilization; 40 years ago we could put men on the moon, while today our astronauts have to bum rides from the nation we sought to beat in the Space Race. In the meantime our economy is on the verge of collapse, with right-wingers holding the debt ceiling hostage while screaming for more and more cuts to programs the poor need to survive and storming out of discussions at the very mention of taxing those who hoard a significant portion of this nation's wealth. To make matters worse, we have a president that rode in on a platform of "Change" who has shown time and time again that he is willing to compromise not just on stated principles, but on economic and social reality itself.

    We know what the problems are. We know what the solutions are. All it would take for us is to use our heads and apply ourselves.

    However, Americans don't like using our heads. America is a nation that worships brute strength and power. We like our military big and unstoppable, our economic leaders rich and pampered and support their greed in the insane hope that someday we'll have a yacht and mansion of our own, and our religions headed by an all-powerful deity who applauds our every act no matter how horrific. Intelligence and creativity are sneered at as aspects for the weak, clumsy, deceitful, insane, and even sexual impotent. The ignorant, superstitious, and bigoted are praised as "folks" with "common sense" or "streetsmarts," while those with actual education and expertise are denigrated as "intellectual elitists."

    To quote Sam Harris: " Our nation now appears, as at no other time in her history, like a lumbering, bellicose, dim-witted, giant. Anyone who cares about the fate of civilization would do well to recognize that the combination of great power and great stupidity is simply terrifying, even to one's friends."

    We can not continue to go on like this. We need to seriously reconsider our nation's economic and cultural priorities. We need to convince the haves to do with less for the sake of the have nots. We need to invest our our infrastructure, science and education, even if that investment doesn't result in a profit that some billionaire to stick in a Cayman Islands tax shelter. We need to lay down an ultimatum to American business to start creating jobs for American workers rather than Third World sweat shops or there will be consequences. We need to bring our troops home and retool the U.S. military into a defensive role.

    However, I fear it just might be too late for that, and that America--and consequently, Western Civilization--is an empire on the verge of a fall. A fall that will usher in a new Dark Age of pain, ignorance and needless suffering.

    Sic gloria transit mundi

  11. What you don't understand is that every western country is the USA. I know why you can't see it, it's because you live in the american continent, but from Europe the picture its clearer.

    You are Rome, and we are Greece. A long time ago, you took our culture as a model and evolved from it. Now you're an empire, and we are only a set of provinces in its fringes. It's more an economic than military empire, but an empire nonetheless. And you can't stop beign the nucleus of it. If you'd do that, then this New Roman Empire will split into a Western Empire, with its capital in Washington (Rome), and an Eastern Empire, with its capital in some european city (Constantinople).

    And you know how the tale follows after that...

  12. And unfortunately it's an empire built on a financial system that is doomed to fail. Most economist preach a gospel of never ending growth in a world of finite resources and our politicians believe them. There's no logic to it, it's unsustainable, but they keep chanting their mantra that the market will fix everything, as if demand alone can magically produce supply even in the face of rapidly depleting resources. And yes wachinayn, when America falls, we'll all go down with her.

  13. Great posts.

    I've nothing to add at the moment but enjoyed reading.

  14. Look up GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul! You seem to be on his playbook.