Human Progress

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Ever fewer people, particularly those in institutions of power, but also in the general populace in developed countries, most especially in the United States, appear to be aware of, much less devoted to enlightened or humanistic values.  Interest in the betterment of humanity, in the hope of minimally ameliorating our worst human impulses, or perhaps peeking at transcendence if only occasionally and imperfectly, or even hypothesizing about potentially preferred realities, is no longer a core concern, having given way to raw economic and military subjugation.

Ever since men became capable of free speculation, their actions, in innumerable important respects, have depended upon their theories as to the world and human life, as to what is good and what is evil. This is as true in the present day as at any former time. To understand an age or a nation, we must understand its philosophy, and to understand its philosophy we must ourselves be in some degree philosophers.

~Bertrand Russell

Major Ralph Peters expressed succinctly and nakedly the dominant philosophy in America today (and across the past two centuries), in his book, Endless War:

There will be no peace. At any given moment for the rest of our lifetimes, there will be multiple conflicts in mutating forms around the globe. Violent conflict will dominate the headlines, but cultural and economic struggles will be steadier and ultimately more decisive. The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing.

~Major (psychopath) Ralph Peters, US Military

In short, the dominant American philosophy is to violently impose American-style capitalism on the rest of the world, to enslave them to it or kill them, wherein “them” now evidently also includes most of “us.”  

Such a philosophy is an extremely warped and unrecognizable version of our nation’s core liberal values, e.g., as I imperfectly interpreted them previously, based on [state college!] survey courses in the humanities, taken long ago, in a galaxy far away:

By my provisional tally, liberal or Enlightenment values include the assumption of universal foundations in humanity (all humans are created equal, have a common human nature and are of equal moral worth and status), the reliance on reason (think for yourself, question blind obedience to church and state), the value of individual autonomy (personal freedom, self/democratic rule, freedom from slavery or enthrallment to arbitrary authority), the centrality of economics to society (individual property rights, self-interested competition in fluid markets, taxes, and the need for governmental regulation), and a belief in progress (e.g., evolving from faith or blind obedience to reasoned, personal enlightenment, improvements in social structure via self-rule and free trade).

The essence of the cult of capitalism, killing other humans for the purpose of economic enslavement, is anathema to these humanist ideals, but has long been our dominant, if somewhat covert way of thinking.

Here, Chomsky describes how the governing elite, as exemplified by Cold War architect George Kennan, covertly fostered this anti-enlightenment attitude of human subordination amongst themselves in the post-WW II era:

NSC 68 is the hard-line extreme, and remember: the policies weren’t just theoretical — many of them were actually being implemented. Now let’s turn to the other extreme, to the doves. The leading dove was undoubtedly George Kennan, who headed the State Department planning staff until 1950, when he was replaced by Nitze — Kennan’s office, incidentally, was responsible for the Gehlen network.

Kennan was one of the most intelligent and lucid of US planners, and a major figure in shaping the postwar world. His writings are an extremely interesting illustration of the dovish position. One document to look at if you want to understand your country is Policy Planning Study 23, written by Kennan for the State Department planning staff in 1948. Here’s some of what it says:

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.

PPS 23 was, of course, a top-secret document. To pacify the public, it was necessary to trumpet the “idealistic slogans” (as is still being done constantly), but here planners were talking to one another.

Along the same lines, in a briefing for US ambassadors to Latin American countries in 1950, Kennan observed that a major concern of US foreign policy must be “the protection of our [i.e. Latin America’s] raw materials.” We must therefore combat a dangerous heresy which, US  intelligence reported, was spreading through Latin America: “the idea that the government has direct responsibility for the welfare of the people.”

US planners call that idea Communism, whatever the actual political views of the people advocating it. They can be Church-based self-help groups or whatever, but if they support this heresy, they’re Communists.

This point is also made clear in the public record. For example, a high-level study group in 1955 stated that the essential threat of the Communist powers (the real meaning of the term Communism in practice) is their refusal to fulfill their service role — that is, “to complement the industrial economies of the West.”

Kennan went on to explain the means we have to use against our enemies who fall prey to this heresy:

The final answer might be an unpleasant one, but…we should not hesitate before police repression by the local government. This is not shameful since the Communists are essentially traitors….It is better to have a strong regime in power than a liberal government if it is indulgent and relaxed and penetrated by Communists.

Policies like these didn’t begin with postwar liberals like Kennan. As Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State had already pointed out 30 years earlier, the operative meaning of the Monroe Doctrine is that “the United States considers its own interests. The integrity of other American nations is an incident, not an end.” Wilson, the great apostle of self-determination, agreed that the argument was “unanswerable,” though it would be “impolitic” to present it publicly.

Wilson also acted on this thinking by, among other things, invading Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where his warriors murdered and destroyed, demolished the political system, left US corporations firmly in control, and set the stage for brutal and corrupt dictatorships.

And finally, at the risk of pulverizing a dead horse’s flesh, in the way that Dilawar’s thighs were pulverized by the knee blows of his bored tormentors, the by now, well-known, but nevertheless shocking admission of Major General Smedley Butler, who spent his military career around the turn of the century violently opening overseas markets and did a fair amount of killing “to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault:”

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”  — Smedley D. Butler, Major General

We could go back further in time, e.g., to the doctrines of Monroe and Manifest Destiny that justified preventing European influence in the Americas — as well as going “eyeball-to-eyeball” with the “communist menace” —  and westward expansion of the states, to identify the basic, philosophical continuity that more generally rationalizes conquest, annexation, and imperial dilation through the raw principle of “resource holding potential,” or unilateral hegemony, or “might makes right,” or “Who’s gonna stop us?”

Indeed, we could find justification of such self-serving policies in actual Enlightenment philosophies, such as those of John Locke that dealt with individual property rights in terms of “improvements” of the natural world measured by profit-taking as necessary conditions for “property” as understood by Locke.  Thus, indigenous Americans were not properly thought to own the land in the unimproved, wasted state of nature, as they were thought not to have labored and improved upon it or profited from it.  Thus, it was the White Man’s burden, so to speak, to do it for them, just as it is today around the world, albeit it on a much more massive, industrialized scale.  This is precisely what keeping our economy safe and the world open to our cultural assault means.

Over time, this essential vision of maintaining “free markets” has by now entirely submerged and supplanted a much more balanced and humanitarian view of modern Enlightenment liberalism that, in addition to empowering individuals through private property ownership, also strongly emphasized and promoted equality, basic behavioral autonomy (regardless of ownership status or creed), reason, and progress.

The systemic forces currently arrayed against humanistic impulses are profound and seemingly insurmountable.  Aside from such exogenous forces, such as the ruling financial elite, the media, and military forces enforcing indoctrination into human slavery, our own minds have succumbed to and been utterly entrained to the “cult” of free-market capitalism that is self-limiting, biologically unsustainable, and sociopathic.


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  1. more and more like there, less like here.  And rapidly at that.

    • Edger on August 25, 2010 at 17:31

    You reminded me strongly of an article Siv O’Neall wrote for back in 2007.

    Owning the World – The Great Illusion

    By Siv O’Neall, April 16, 2007

    In the sixties and seventies, a group of right-wingers in the United States formed a society of vindictive and power hungry men who thought they could reinvent reality. Initially they received little notice and operated inside the American Enterprise Institute; that think tank became the womb for these megalomaniacs and their monstrous ambition of remaking the world. Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz were among them and the movement was to turn into a preposterous beast. The group called themselves Neoconservatives although they were hardly conservatives in the traditional sense and were very much out there on a new and tenuous limb.

    As the group assumed greater visibility, they established their goal as the creation of an artificial world which the U.S. empire would rule single-handedly. Ignoring history, they were set on creating an illusory world, one where they alone would set the rules, decide who would run big corporations, who would dominate the world scene, who would control the enormous oil wealth of the Middle East and Central Asia, who would dictate the fate of the world – without taking into consideration the ambitions of the rest of the world or the aspirations of human beings. This virtual universe began to turn into a frightening reality decades later when these men managed to seize power. And they did this through manipulating the Supreme Court into appointing a clown as President, a marionette to serve as their front man. The clown didn’t have to do anything other than smirk and occasionally lift his hand in a fist; they knew that would be enough to impress the world and, in particular, the American people. Oh yes, and he would pretend to be one of the people, just like your cousin Dave or your next-door neighbor.

    These men shared the illusion that all that needed to be done to control the world forever was to attack and occupy the nations that were in the way of world-wide domination. In view of the unequaled military and economic power of the United States, nobody would be able to resist or object. The United Nations was irrelevant, the industrialized world and the developing world were irrelevant; the only relevance was the military power of the United States.

    So they made a plan to play the world as though it were a game of chess. This was to be an illusory world where human beings didn’t count, where nationalism didn’t exist. The outcome was certain before the first pawn was moved. Opponents were going to fall, they thought, like so many chessmen before the king; the fact that the king is vulnerable was not taken into consideration. This was a gambit to grab control of the world’s riches; nobody was to know what hit them until everything was in the hands of mighty U.S. corporations.

    The field is open

    When the Soviet Union was unmasked as being merely a mouse that roared rather than a fearful dragon, the Neoconservatives saw the opening they had awaited; the United States could now take over the running of the planet.

    They had lost their most valuable asset, the cold war that had justified the arms race all by itself. But now, in their megalomania, they saw the chance to enlarge the U.S. empire to previously unheard of greatness. The groundwork had been laid by presidents Reagan and Clinton but with their clown prince in the White House, they seized upon the events of 9/11 to solidify control of the newly unipolar world.


    The current president, party in power, and foreign policy establishment, are all neocon in nature. There is no effective difference.

    • k9disc on August 25, 2010 at 20:55

    I got pretty emotional reading this…

    I stopped and logged in when the diary got to the Chomsky quote.

    We need to say this over and over, I think.

    Lots of people, I believe are in tune with this and don’t like it but the only emotional frames for our political existence rely on the red herring thrown about by the corporate media.

    This is spectacular, IMHO CF… now back to finish reading the diary…

    thank you.

    • k9disc on August 25, 2010 at 21:37

    the Human Agenda vs the Corporate Agenda.

    I see great confluence of the Corporate Agenda and the actions of the State, but I don’t see much confluence between the State and the Human Agenda. We are totally out of balance.

    I think that many people see this but don’t have the correct agent on which to lay the blame.

    We are fed a steady diet of corporate propaganda to ensure that if the responsible agent for our ills is Corporate in nature or affects the corporate agenda in a positive manner the actions are hidden or limited in scale and scope. We are given a series of inoculations to insulate the corporate agenda from rebuke. Inoculations that claim that it is the festering cesspool of individual humans, humanity and the human agenda that is to blame for the illness.

    The scapegoating of humans and humanity for society’s ills has got to stop or at least be tempered by healthy discussion of institutional responsibility for a Progressive message to have reception points on the body politic.

    I’m just a rambling fool today…  

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