End of Empire: Beginning of Wisdom

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Empire is in the last throes. Dick Cheney taught us just because something is in the ‘last throes’ doesn’t mean something dies right away. Empire won’t morph into Democritown anytime soon. But there is no doubt the future is arriving quickly and the hoped-for happy-ever-after of humanity has nothing to do with trade, commerce, business, markets or money. It all comes down to you.

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Empire is a system. Systems are run by stuck-in-the-box technocrats and tragic heroes.

All one has to do is look at the fruits of the current system to realize the system sucks. It is a failure. Economic, environmental and humanitarian crises spread around the globe unchecked. Civilization is in freefall. Catastrophe feeds upon disaster as technocrats scramble to reason their way through chaos and heroes bellow the war cry and strap on their chain mail. Technocrats and Heroes have determined a world-view based upon reason and fact within a world created through art and craft. Logic and reason are tools, not the goal of the mind. The only absolute is right here, right now, me and you.

Obama’s silence? Well, what’s he supposed to say, “The government of the United States transcends the will of the people. Sorry. Nothing I can do. But don’t worry. We’re going to fix things. Bring in some experts instead of the partisan, crony hacks we’ve had for the last eight years. I’ve hired the best minds to look at our system and adjust it to work more efficiently.”

And pretty soon we’ll have a better system of health care. A better regulated market place. Smarter bombs. Kinder Tasers. A system of taste and decorum. We’ll disagree, but by golly, we’ll shake hands and have a beer at the end of the day.

Meanwhile, humanity is an abstract. Humanity is that flickering shadow in Plato’s cave. The technocrats and heroes look at the fire’s reflection and wonder at its meaning. They throw rocks at the cave wall to try and make the confusing flickering shadows go away.

Economies are managed, not for the common good, but by numbers in relation to other numbers. Strategy, the Grand Chess Game, the Clash of Civilizations, national interests, strategic minerals – the competition to win in the contest of business – has relegated people to objects. Citizens are objectified like enemies. We are no longer a people but a horde of consumers. We are beans to be counted. We are risk to be managed.

Questioning the decisions of technocrats and heroes is sedition because they are right through reason. The political parties pander to the populace but show fealty to the entrenched military-industrial-complex. Obama, after five years in Iraq, promises to end one war and expand another which has been waged for nearly eight years. I’m sure he’ll be tough on the Somali Pirates too.

When the system registers an impediment to the efficient running of the system the system attempts to remove the impediment. It’s nothing personal. When people interfere with a “free market” by demanding concessions (wages, benefits, rights and protections) they are enemies of freedom and require roll-back. If people fight back, they are enemies of freedom and must be vanquished severely to serve as examples for others.

Shoot first, torture second.

The Global Village is quickly becoming a planetary slum. Billions live in squalor and millions join them every day. In the rich countries, thousands lose their jobs daily, hundreds lose their houses. Consumers, formerly human beings, worry over their minimum monthly credit-card payments and juggle cable, gas and cigarettes.

There are two kinds of people in the world. The victims of empire and the citizens of empire and when one can’t tell the difference between the two is when empire ends.

Empire bankrupts itself to preserve itself. The citizens of empire can no longer ignore the decay. Great monuments and highways, once the pride of civilization, crumble and fall. Where beggars once tread now there are tent-cities filled with extended families. The military walks the streets and every citizen must carry his papers. People disappear. Secrets grow exponentially. Rumor is truth.

A public no longer represented by the representative class, the citizen is driven underground. We go off the grid. We begin again. We grow and make things for trade; not for profit but for mutual benefit. We bypass the system of trades and balances and we replace the system with a “way.” A way not built upon calculations and competitions, but human nature and mutual respect.

This is all in the future. But first, Empire must pass away. Empire has been with us for a very long time. The next empire is the global empire, but there is no place left to conquer. Space rocks and gaseous giants. And since, apparently, no alien empire wants anything to do with us, after global empire with the expansion at its max, watch out for the whiplash of contraction.

Systems will break down and technocrats and heroes will scramble back to the safety of their suburban homes, now overrun with squatters and collection-agency calls. No one is immune, but for the rarified few who own both the disease and the cure.

The veneer of civilization will rip away and only humanity’s naked barbarism will remain. And that is our moment to exercise our power: Something the technocrats and heroes in all their reason, logic and moral certitude ignore completely in their repertoire of management; the power to choose a different way.

While barbaric, humans are more than barbarians. We’re more than left-brained human calculators too. More than mind-game trained manipulators. More than emotional train-wrecks. More than jealous images of ancient gods.

Human beings are nothing less than Wisdom Machines. Wisdom uses reason and logic as a tool of information and a signpost of past boundaries, but in its search for what is true, right and lasting, wisdom balances reason and logic with intuition and instinct. Insight. Imagination. A touch of love and joy.

A human being is greater than the sum of her sinew and synapses. An animal, yes. But with a twist. The ability to choose behavior. The ability to change thought. Self-determination in the face of coercion. Willing to die for liberty in a war lord world.

And truly, there are no villains in the human epic though great evil has been done. Everyone does what he or she thinks is right. Even if we know it’s wrong, we still justify it in some way. No villain thinks he’s bad. But history clearly shows us right and wrong have nothing to do with wisdom. Technocrats may know how to add and subtract, but they don’t know how to see past the sum. Heroes may know what’s right, but they don’t know what is good.

The question really is how long must we (victims and citizens) endure the last throes of empire. How long must we wait before the technocrats and heroes succumb to the crumbling façade of reason, efficiency and the moral vacancy of victory?

No se, Jose.

But, just remember this. No matter what. No matter how bad it gets. No matter what misery and suffering you witness or endure, this is not the end of the world.

It is the passing of an age. The disintegration of the system and the emergence of the way. The new world will not be bureaucratic but human. We’ll meet disagreement with a smile because we are human and we always disagree. We are at once universal and unique. We’ll replace zero-sum with win-win.

This is our future. Our inheritance. Our destiny. Human history goes back much further than our Judeo-Christian provincialism would have us believe. The Bible itself is nothing short of a tale of survivors picking themselves up from the ravages of natural disaster, megalomaniacal cataclysm and post-cultural barbarism to begin again. And again. And again.

It’s not easy being human. We’re prone to error. Sin. Our elevated mind allows freedom of thought and action unprecedented in the animal kingdom. Our self-awareness easily morphs into self-righteousness and self-justification. Our ancestors fought and survived in a dog-eat-dog world. We see that world today in full force if we aren’t lucky enough to be a denizen of the first world. Yet, even the civilized first world is not immune to the ignorance which breeds indignity and shame. We have a human ideal which mirrors the men we admire most and call close to “god.” But, as a species, humans have a long way to go to manifest the ideal into the real world for all of humanity.  

Too many egomaniacs. But what is encouraging is We The People are less and less enthralled with the power of others. From 911, the Last Hero, George W. Bush fell from status of demi-god to pipsqueak. Dick Cheney is recognized as a dangerous relic of a dying era. These men, in the last throes of their dreams, may effect the present, but are not our future.

As we scan the wreckage of empire, we see the smoke, bone, fire and tears. We hear the howls of grief, the gnashing of teeth and the wrenching of hair-shirts. We feel the disintegration of once great institutions. And we are caught, as citizens, in the fall of empire. In my lifetime my country has gone from hero to villain. From rich to poor. From productive to predatory.

Do empires reboot and regain their former “glory”?

The next age is to move from structure to substance. From form to what fills it.

Bureaucracy will yield to the human heart.

This isn’t wishful thinking.

This is the beginning of a human civilization devoted to ALL. Tribes, nations and self-serving institutions will yield to an understanding every human being is worthy of celebration. All humans are created equal and have a birthright to dignity, respect, shelter, food, water and the predator-free peace-of-mind necessary to enjoy a good brandy and cigar.

I’ll leave it to others to debate how evil roams free in the world and thwarts humanity’s march toward its birthright to choose, pursue and realize.

But one thing is beyond debate. The future is here. Grab a pitchfork or get down to the bunker because one thing is clear.

There will be no fence-sitters in the new world.

16 comments

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    • Diane G on January 5, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    I hope the new version 20.0 doesn’t succumb to the same viruses that have eaten every civilization along the way.

    All I know for sure, is that it is coming, and while it may not be the end of the world at large, it will be the end of many of us in it. It will probably be the end of me.

    ::dark mood, sorry::

    wwl is broken, too. dammit.

    • Edger on January 5, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    In the Western world, the basic unit of human organization is the nation, in America but not in Europe usage virtually synonymous with country. This is then subdivided in various ways, one of which is by religion. Muslims, however, tend to see not a nation subdivided into religious groups but a religion subdivided into nations.

    The United States has largely inherited Britain’s role, being far more capable at the neocolonial game than the United Kingdom. In most cases, it would be “embarrassing” for the United States to be directly involved in the various actions that must be done on its behalf. Instead, the United States can assume a certain degree of seperation and maintain the fiction of autonomy by merely supporting despots and tyrants around the world, who see that American interests are seen to first and foremost-and the country’s own interests always remain a distant second.

    A surprising number of people believe this fiction, and refuse to acknowledge that the post-war United States is imperialist or that neocolonialism is, in fact, a real phenomenon. It’s worth noting that among those who make a study of world cultures, neocolonialism is accepted as a given; it is only those far removed from the realities of the neocolonial enterprise-usually from the comfort of the new imperial heartland-that doubt its existence.



    Most of the resources any society needs ends up existing in a zero-sum game: in order for one society to have more of it, some other society must have less. As John Dominic Crossan illustrated so well in The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, Rome found that “peace” and “prosperity” were just such resources. The Pax Romana was a golden age-for Italy. The provinces suffered poverty, famine, and a nearly chronic state of war. Essentially, the imperial enterprise was, for Rome, an exercise in the exportation of violence and suffering themselves.

    The modern United States has established itself in a similar manner as an imperial center. We have established a thriving, industrialized economy based on the consumption of fossil fuels. We obtain those fuels from the neocolonial periphery, where it is obtained well below market value because of our military domination-maintained largely by maintaining a sufficient level of violence and internecine strife that keeps our oil suppliers as dependent on us (militarily) as we are on them (economically). The IMF, the World Bank and similar organizations keep the Third World eternally in crushing debt (see John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man), creating a situation where it makes more sense for an individual farmer to grow cotton or coffee for the United States, than food for his family. This keeps the Third World as dependent on the United States (nutritionally) as we are on them (commercially).

    Thus we see, that the key to First World prosperity is Third World suffering. The trend of globalization and the development of the Third World can only progress so far before it begins to have a negative impact on the First World’s level of prosperity. What will happen when this balance begins to shift? Will we see political turmoil resulting in the fall of the current imperial center? It may well be-and the United States would go down in history as one of the shorter-lived empires in the world. What can be said with certainty is that there can be no First World, without a Third World-wherever they may be, geographically. There can be no prosperous center, without an exploited periphery. The legal definitions of these areas means nothing; only the system of dependence and control.

    Such is the nature of empire.

    • Valtin on January 6, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Amen to that!

  1. the old way repeated.  It’s good to be reminded – in otherwise very dark days – that some life, some human life (hopefully) will survive the crash of the “western civilization” empire and near total destruction of the environment for most living species. Even hopeful that we can make a new way, repeating the old ways in some fashion or other.

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