Recently, while watching an episode of Rome on HBO I thought to myself how neat it would be to spend a day in the Roman Empire. Just to walk through the markets, see the soldiers with their helmets and swords and partake a bit of wine (although I’m sure it would not even come close to my Napa Valley favorites)
The thought then occurred to me, that I do live in an empire. Pondering a bit further, I tried to imagine what a person 2000 years from now might read about the United States of America. How are historians going to portray this Empire?
I then thought it might be fun to write my thoughts down for these future readers should this blog survive 2000 years. I know I would enjoy reading a post from a normal Roman citizen about their take on their empire! All we have are academic books and scripts left over from their leaders. If anyone knows of any scrolls that have survived, written by a normal citizen of Rome, please let me know!
Before I get started, here is what I have been watching concerning Rome:
Now, to use the word “empire” to describe the United States of America is quite taboo. We like to think of ourselves as “walking softly while carrying a big stick,” but as of recent we seem to be stomping loudly while sending drones but we still think of ourselves as peacemakers. (Don’t worry far Right, I’ll give you a fair shake). I should probably check to see how “Empire” is defined since it is a controversial description.
Empire: “The term empire derives from the Latin imperium. Politically, an empire is a geographically extensive group of states and peoples (ethnic groups) united and ruled either by a monarch (emperor, empress) or an oligarchy”
Well, the USA is a geographically extensive group of states and peoples but since we disposed of the monarch I’ll have to define oligarchy.
Oligarchy: “a political system governed by a few people; “one of his cardinal convictions was that Britain was not run as a democracy but as an oligarchy”; “the big cities were notoriously in the hands of the oligarchy of local businessmen“
It looks like the shoe fits! After all we had Bush I and Bush II as well as Clinton I and Clinton Secretary of State. Further, it would seem that our government is run by career politicians as well as their sons and daughters so I suppose we can define the USA as an Empire. I GET TO LIVE IN AN EMPIRE!
Now that I have realized this and am satisfied with referring to the USA as an Empire, I’ve taken the first step. The goal is to see my own country as one in the far future might see it and how it will be described. Further, I write this as not an academic but simply a citizen who does his best to stay informed by the information available. I’ll call myself Citizen 8742 which are (not) the last four digits of my Social Security number. In the USA we are all assigned a number and this will be mine. Now let’s get down to the details.
It used to be that an Empire was a collection of countries governed by a mother country such as Great Britain. However, colonialism went away and people became aware that conquering other countries and peoples was not very nice. Further, Britain could not hold on to her possessions so even though Empires take a lot of time and energy, it would seem that independence is going to be gained by the natives sooner or later anyway so we no longer do that.
Yet, we still have wars, what is the ultimate goal of these wars?
Currently, our politicians tells us that war is for abstract reasons such as “stopping Communism” or “Protecting our Freedoms.” Half of the population believes this. Now when I was a college student, I could vaguely understand this “stopping Communism” reason. The USSR was quite powerful and gaining influence around the world. As the USA was Capitalist/A Democracy it would make sense to try and stop the “spread of Communism.” That was the mentality of the time.
What gets me is that most citizens do not know the details of the various wars the United States has been involved in. The average citizen would say WW2 – Vietnam – Iraq/Afghanistan and that’s it!
All of the wars are too numerous to list here so I’ll just provide the Wikipedia link
So, I’ll give the whole “fight against communism” a pass. Sure a lot of terrible things happened but it was two giants (the USA and USSR) playing tug of war. Right or wrong, this is what Empires do. Empires do not just sit back and let things happen, they actively participate and try to influence the outcome. The Empire of the USA believes it is correct just as the Empire of the USSR believed they are correct. All the awful things that happen while these two pursue their aims are footnotes, it is the outcome of this great tug of war that is important.
But, this “fight against Communism” is before my time. I am 33 and only started to pay attention in college so I would say that my understanding began with the first Iraq war.
Now that the USSR has been defeated, let us just take a quick look at how many military bases and soldiers the USA has around the world should there be any doubt that the USA is an “Empire.”
b.) Protecting Freedoms
As an Empire, the USA is quite concerned about what is happening in the rest of the world. When Iraq invaded Kuwait the normal citizen really had no qualms about going to war with Iraq. For the average guy, we were concerned about oil (gas for our cars) and Saddam was definitely was in the wrong so why not flex a little muscle?
Then 9-11 happened and I was in Japan. I came back to see flags flying and a tremendous national pride. After all, a couple of guys just knocked down two buildings in New York which shook everyone up and we were looking for the government to do something. As an Empire, the leaders cannot just sit there and there was going to be retaliation.
The problem was, the enemy was not clearly defined and the leaders had to tell the population something. So the word “terrorist” seemed to work pretty well and it was explained that the USA had to attack Afghanistan to “stop the terrorists.”
The USA had never been attacked like that before so when the leaders explained that it was “terrorists” nobody really had a problem with it.
If you live in another country and cannot understand this, let me explain it to you. America is quite large and Americans really do not travel much to other countries. We do not have a large understanding of what is going on outside our own states let alone what happens in other countries. The national media gives us updates but it is always from an American point of view and most explanations superficial. Plus, we used to trust our leaders so if they tell us we have to go to Country X to stop “the terrorist” and these people just knocked down two buildings in New York we really do not question it.
It is not that complicated really. Buildings knocked down = attack something. One question we really did not concern ourselves much with was “Why were the buildings knocked down?” Even if we had this curiosity, two buildings knocked down trump any explanation anyway.
Then, things start to get a bit crazy. It is explained to us that the USA must also attack Iraq because there are “Weapons of Mass Destruction” there and they could target the USA. In retrospect I think most Americans do think Iraq was a big mistake since no WMDs were found and the Iraqis do not enjoy “freedom” as much as we thought they would.
This all seems quite simple and naive doesn’t it? Well, if you’re going to convince a nation to go to war, you have to keep the explanations simple as most of us are enjoying the good life in an Empire and really do not have interest in the outside world. Again, we still trusted our leaders but a split is starting to appear as this faith erodes.
So, you name the operation something like “Desert Storm” and put up banners that say “Mission Accomplished” and everyone gets to feel good. But, the war does not stop and our fairytale ending does not come to pass. We wonder when the leaders will tell us it is over and that day never seems to arrive. The Democrats start to push for ending the war and the Republicans tell us we might be there for 100 years. One half says “Ok, stop now,” while the other side screams “The USA can do anything!” Further, the President wins and election partly by promising to end the war. Of course ending it does not happen so easily so Barack Obama pulls a trick invented by George W. Bush which is to just tell the population something that isn’t true.
“Combat Operations Have Ended.”
If we look more closely, there are still 50,000 troops in Iraq but this was sold to the public as ending the war. So we would then have to employ a trick by Bill Clinton and question what the meaning of “ended” is.
We are now divided into two camps, with various divisions within those two camps. Let’s keep things simple here.
1. Liberals / Progressives
Liberals would be the ones who apologize for all the wars America has been involved in recently. They are a bit more sophisticated and if WMDs had been found then the Liberals would be pretty quiet concerning Iraq. Since they were not they demand a reason for the war and if the reason turns out to be false they are going to be quite upset. The explanations of the leaders do not seem to make sense and this group questions it.
– Conservatives (far right) are the ones who will not apologize for war and take tremendous pride in the strength of the USA. They believe the USA can do no wrong. They see the Liberals as a bunch of winers who do not appreciate the lives afforded them by the strength of the US military. This group will not rest until “victory is accomplished” because anything less would be unbecoming of the USA and they simply will not have it.
So now, we have our “Mission Accomplished” for the Right AND our “End of Combat Operations” for the Left. Yet, the war continues.
This group does not exist but since this blog is about Empire I think we should have a third group. Empiricist see the world as it is, not as politicians would lead them to believe. They are not persuaded by sound bites of politicians and would prefer a thought out debate and respectful argument. They would not agree with the “America is always right” of the conservatives and would be annoyed by the apologists of the left.
That is my definition, let us see how it is properly defined.
Empiricism: (philosophy) the doctrine that knowledge derives from experience.
As I mentioned, this group does not exist. Americans prefer to keep things simple and if they get complicated then interest is quickly lost. But I, Citizen 8742 have decided to create and join this group. All I know is the knowledge that I have derived from my experiences. Let me write down what I think I know.
So for fun, I am going to debate myself.
a. War – America must maintain it’s leverage in the world and keep the military fit and ready for action. Otherwise, the USA would become weak. Therefore, an enemy is always needed. When the Cold War ended the USA was struggling to find an enemy but when two buildings were knocked down an enemy was easy to create.
Point: An enemy is necessary
b. Terrorists: Since terrorists are now the enemy it would do well to understand what this means. For the general population, it must be kept simple and so the USA singles out a target “Osama bin Laden.” He is the main bugaboo of this organization called Al Qaeda.
Now, let us ask the question, “Why does Al Qaeda want to attack us?” This is the question that we should be asking ourselves. It would seem that the USA is simply stirring up the pot by trying to kill all the “terrorists,” so if we were smart, would it not be beneficial to debate the reasons why?
The politicians tell us that they “Hate our Freedoms.” Well, for the Empiricist, that is a bunch of nonsense. Thinking simply, this means to the average citizen that a poor villager woke up one day and decided he really didn’t like this thing called “Freedom” that the Americans seem to be enjoying so decides to strap on a bomb and go blow something up. As most Americans do not know anything about other countries, this explanation is enough and it would be fair to send a drone and dispense with this poor villager before he bombs something.
Then, we think more deeply.
Perhaps what they mean is some countries with dictators also need an enemy and the USA fits that role well. So, “Protecting Freedoms” means that Saddam and Ahmadinejad do not want their citizens to envy the “freedoms” America has and thus vilifies the USA to help them retain power?
Then we should ask the question, why does America even care? Just ignore Saddam and Ahmadinejad since they are way over there in the Middle East and really do not bother us.
We then realize that as an Empire, we have certain interests in the Middle East such as oil and for the citizens to maintain their level of living and enjoyment of Empire, the USA simply cannot sit back and do nothing.
The USA needs oil and oil happens to be in the Middle East. But, being an average citizen, I really do not know anything about the complexities, or ulterior motives the USA may have for attacking Saddam or anywhere else in the Middle East so I would just be content with “protecting freedoms” and “they are bad” as a reason.
But, an Empiricist is not an average citizen, we need a reason, otherwise the USA would be in the wrong. So one of the main reasons this “Empiricist” can come up with is Israel. The reason many in the Middle East hate America is due to it’s defense of Israel.
So, we should ask the question, “Why does the USA protect Israel?” I would guess that it is due to the intense power of the Israeli lobby in the USA and that this Empire’s citizens align themselves more closely with Israelis than with any Islamic country. This provides a shield for Israel to do what they want and should any leader of the USA turn away from Israel there will be an outcry.
Do regular American citizens know anything about Israel?
But should Israel be in trouble, the USA has to go to their defense due to the Israeli lobby here as well as the kinship America feels with Israel.
If America were able to just walk away from Israel and end all involvement in the Middle East I’m sure the terrorists would go away?
But this is not possible and leaving Israel to the wind would not be a good thing either. Perhaps the USA could persuade Israel to stop building settlements and quit pissing off the Palestinians? No, Israel has their own nationalists to contend with so unless the population has a change of heart and honestly tries to make peace with the Palestinians then we are not going to get anywhere.
Even if Israel stopped building, would that stop the rockets? No, Palestine has their own “far right” and many want to erase Israel off the map. So, what is an Empire to do?
Further, I only know what I have read in the media. I have not opened any books that delve more deeply into the subject so perhaps I should do that?
As an ignorant man once said, “There are Known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.” Perhaps if I read more books then I could limit the latter two categories?
Yet, from my experience I realize that I would have to read it in English, or Spanish or Japanese and none of these are Arabic. I cannot get into the mind of those in the Middle East unless I speak Arabic and anything in English will only get me partially the way there which is not as good and all encompassing as a book in the native language.
أنا لا أتكلم العربية
Even if I did learn Arabic, I would have to choose a very good author who can honestly debate both sides and give them both a fair shake. But this author is only one (or a group) of people and they would have known unknowns and unknown unknowns as well so I would probably have to read 100s of books but be careful that they are all from very intelligent and fair people!
Perhaps it is much easier just to listen to Fox News who will tell me that America is right and that war is to “Defend my freedoms,” and the explanation only lasts 5 minutes. Or perhaps Beck could just draw something on a chalk board.
Or I could turn on the Left and they will just use sarcasm to make fun of the conservatives.
Yet, neither side has given me a long, complex reason nor solved any of my questions.
Now where the hell was I with this point?
Oh yes, terrorists.
Conclusion about terrorists: I don’t know, I just live in this Empire and read what appears on my screen. I’ve never been to Israel or Palestine, or Iraq or Iran so all I have to go on is what they tell me. In this Empire we have a LOT of media news channels…….. and they all say the same things…. from two different sides. 🙁
But as an Empiricist, I do know that all of these explanations do not leave me satisfied and treat me as though I’m a simpleton. Even if I read something complicated the bias of the author is in it so how do I know what author to trust?
Well, I repeat, I don’t know the answer.
* Final Point
– We should probably bring the draft back so that all citizens would have to participate in wars the USA decides to involve itself in. I’m not sure, but haven’t other empires fallen when the citizenry no longer have to sacrifice during wartime? The military for most, seems like an organization that does all the work but is rarely thanked. Some think that it would stop the leaders from going to war so easily as their own children would have to go.
I do not buy that as it is very easy for elites to skirt the rules. But perhaps the citizens would think twice about war if their own children would have to go?
I don’t buy that either. For many, any explanation would do and I do not think it would affect the decision to go to war one way or another, people still wouldn’t know anything about other countries and if the leaders tell their kids to go, they would probably send them off without question.
We live in an empire which no longer really needs to grow by obtaining land. Now, the game has turned to economics.
Just as with land, the economy must always go up. It cannot go sideways, or God forbid, go down, it must always go up.
There used to be a saying “What goes up must come down,” but it seems that we do not like this saying very much.
In an empire, we must continually expand, and grow. The entire system is built upon it. As we are currently finding out with the credit crisis, it is not much fun when the economy goes down. We as citizens leverage our lifestyle on debt otherwise we could not buy the big things such as a house and car. But to repay, we need to have a job. Actually, we need the income stream simply to live in the house as we have to pay water, electricity, gas and so on.
So we take on more debt. Further, we have large corporations whose bottom line must also go continually up. They convince us to buy more and more as well as to take on more debt. If we go back to our saying “What goes up must come down,” well, things have surely come down recently and people are losing their housing, cars and so on. The companies have learned to squeeze more work out of less workers and are hording all the cash.
Who can blame them? The system is on profits going up, not how many jobs can be created. So, wealth is continually concentrated at the top and citizens are starting to realize that they can be replaced. This does not bode well for the politicians who are elected by these people. But if the system is geared toward profits and these profits can be made with less workers then it looks like we have a lot of gridlock ahead.
Now let’s come back to our Empircism and debate ourselves again.
– Our system functions by profits continually going up. These profits can be gained with less workers.
Some workers are complaining that the Government is turning “Socialist.”
Do they know what Socialism means or that many European countries are “Socialist?”
But it seems bad and the news tells them so.
Yet, many are clamoring for “jobs” to be given. Is this not socialist?
I would say yes and no.
We all have to work within the economic structure designed by our Empire. Not everyone has the skills to go out and create a business so we look for jobs. We believe it is not socialist because we have learned certain skills to be used in a job, we are not asking for a handout. In other words, we have become more specialized and if the system does not require our speciality anymore then we are out of luck.
I bring forth this point in my old post “Institutionalized“, but do not relate it really to economics. The point is that we all have to work within the economic structure on which our Empire functions. I touch on the economic aspects a bit more in my post “We’re all Socialists.”
So as an “Empiricist,” I would say we are both
– We are socialists because we’ve become very specialized in terms of knowledge but the world is changing rapidly and our skills become obsolete. We need the Empire to create jobs so we can use the skills we’ve gained.
– We are not socialists because “handouts” are anathema to most Americans. They spent a lot of time learning a specific discipline and must work within the economic structure. If the structure no longer requires their skills, then times are hard. Handouts are detested but it is hard to difficult to find “new cheese” and so we just turn to the leaders and hope things will get better.
a.) Just like the coliseums of old, the citizenry of this empire need to be entertained. We too have grand coliseums now called “stadiums” in which we wear our respective colors, berate the opponents and these teams become part of our identity.
I for one have never been able to understand why people identify so readily with these teams. It is not just a team but it is a reflection of them! If your team wins, you personally win!
I explained before a bit of the history behind this. In Europe, you have very old towns and villages and many towns used to have their hometown Knight. This Knight wore the town colors and went to battle. Thus, he was the pride and joy of the town. Time goes on and these Knights become sports teams, Soccer (football) being the most relevant.
In the USA however, we broke from our patron (The British) and had to start from scratch. The USA created grand universities which were a reflection of the town and this continues to this day. I can understand the affiliation with college sports as it is a reflection of the community.
What I cannot understand is pro sports. These teams are businesses and can just pick up and leave (which they often do). Further, the players will also go to where they will make more money. This betrayal has happened many times but I guess I can the team would loosely be a reflection of the community even though they can leave you.
So, grown men wear jerseys with other mens names on the back and it becomes part of their identity. If that player does well then the “jersey wearer” can rejoice because he “likes” him. For the jersey wearer, the player and team overall is part of his identity and he will jump and scream when things go well or bad.
I for one, do not get it.
– We have something called the “Boob Tube.” You turn it on, stare at it and are entertained. Unfortunately, most television shows are not informative and create sensationalist, some say, “bottom of the barrel” shows to entertain people. You can sit in front of it and not think for a while.
This is just fine as we all need to be entertained from time to time, but what I find interesting is we have turned politics into entertainment
Think “Sesame Street meets Larry King.” Put a sock puppet on your hand and speak about real issues that affect real people. What you get is Fox News as well as plenty of shows on the Left as well.
The people of the empire do not have time to think deeply about the issues but instead desire to be entertained.
To tie everything together you get entertainment which works for the bottom line of the corporation to increase profits. They continue simplifying everything with the preferred method (Fox News) to put an attractive yet very angry woman on screen who then berates all the men on the Left while agreeing with all the men on the Right. How titillating!!! It’s like a dominatrix.
Hell, if we continue down this path, I would not be surprised to see the nightly news anchor wear all leather and a nice big cross whipping anyone who does not agree with her!
But this is entertainment, and people are taking it as real news! The formula is:
1. Keep it simple
2. There is always an easily solution
3. Brought to you by a sexy angry woman
But anywho, that is our entertainment in our current empire. The only way to inform yourself is to learn another language, travel to another country OR, if you cannot do that, at least subscribe to an “intelligent” magazine.
I like the Economist.
So here I sit, living a wonderful life afforded to me by the Empire in which I currently live. I only know what the media tells me and all of that has consolidated to a point that I can learn the exact same thing from 100 different sources.
Sure, I’m technologically savvy and could subscribe to only the blogs/news to which I usually agree. But then, I would be filtering out quite a bit of information and am therefore have become a self-censor. Then, how can I see the whole picture?
It really doesn’t get any better in other languages. I do read Le Monde, El Pais, and try to understand Japanese. But what do I get?? I get the same news in different languages. Booooooooo
Living in an empire isn’t that bad. It is just a shame that most people do not realize the USA is an empire so we cannot celebrate it as such. If I was transported back to Roman times, then I could say “Hey, I’m in the Roman EMPIRE!” But that is taboo here in the USA, AND they do not tell us very much about what is going on outside the empire unless it is entertaining and will add dollars to the bottom line of the media corporations.
So here I sit, in my ignorance. I am glad that I have the ability to go to a nice supermarket, drive a decent car and OPULENCE, I HAS IT, all due to the empire.
But then I start to think.
At what price has this opulence been attained? What do I not know? What do I think I know that could be wrong? Should I be a Conservative and defend everything the USA does? Or should I be a Liberal and apologize for everything? Could a party known at Empiricist be created? I’m quite sure they wouldn’t win any elections but how about just for fun?
Are we like the Romans? Have we become too disengaged as citizens from military operations and thus simply do not care anymore? Has our political system disintegrated to the point where we can no longer progress as a nation? Is our economy broken? Will we consolidate economically to the point where very few workers are needed and in the name of efficiency simply create more profit for the rich while not benefiting the population?
Have I not read the right books? Is the media simply filled with noise that does not benefit me? Does my vote even matter now that we have been broken into blocks called “gerrymandering?” Were any of the wars since WWII just?
Citizen 8472 is confused and perhaps it would be easier to just turn on CNN and have them tell me what to think.
Fahrenheit 451 anyone?
Only critical thought is not outlawed, it is actively ignored by a great majority of the empire.
Perhaps I should not even care. I should just enjoy this empire, disengage from any and all things political and go watch the gladiator fights er,,, American football.