A country without war

In my doctoral program, I’m taking all electives this semester, including a class on the Power of Partnership with Riane Eisler and Susan Carter. This class is a class I’ve wanted to take since I first learned it existed.

But it comes at a time in my life in which I don’t perceive much partnership. It doesn’t seem like this society ever wants what I have to offer; it just wants money. That’s hard for me; it is a message that I am an excess person, ideally to be discarded on a rubbish heap as another artifact of the profligate waste our society generates, but meanwhile serving as something for the elite to pridefully be above. For a class assignment, we were to describe examples of the partnership and domination models in a variety of contexts. I wrote:

Since my life is overflowing with examples of domination model everything, I figured I’d start:

  • The nature of any system of exchange (monetary or barter) is to privilege those who are most able to decline a deal.  By enabling some people to hold out for more, such systems magnify advantage.  Hence the ridiculous discrepancy between rich and poor.
  • As part of its national ideology, the United States has, in the phrasing of a Massachusetts colonial governor, held itself as a shining city on the hill, a moral example of human rights and governance.  From this position of self-declared moral supremacy, the United States dictates to societies in the rest of the world what form of governments they should adopt and what rights should be protected.
    • But in advocating so-called “capitalist democracy,” the U.S. recognizes political rights and property rights but not other economic rights.  Hence, it ignores even those rights it recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights beginning with article 23.
    • The preference for property rights leads to advocacy of so-called “free trade.”  But no one explains for whom this trade is “free.”  The ordinary human in the United States cannot buy bargain-rate gasoline in Kuwait or Venezuela, but corporations are free to locate jobs anywhere in the world, especially in places which offer competitive advantages that people in the U.S. have no hope of matching.
    • In an attempt to compete, state and local governments often offer tax advantages and subsidies to corporations.  While welfare for the poor is subject to endless cutbacks, corporate welfare goes unchallenged.
    • The United States now spends more than the entire rest of the world on so-called defense.  By various means, it has spent over a trillion dollars bailing out the financial system.  Beginning with the Reagan administration, the rich have won drastically reduced taxes.  But programs to help people who were misled into accepting subprime mortgages to remain in their homes appear to be more show than substance.  And when it comes to helping the unemployed, all of a sudden, budget deficits are an issue.
    • The Bush administration launched an invasion of Iraq on false pretenses and killed well over one million people.  It launched a war on Afghanistan despite the fact that the 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany.  al Qaeda is a neo-conservative invention; Osama bin Laden didn’t begin to use the name until after 9/11, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (where fewer than 100 al Qaeda forces are present) combine with support for Israel’s brutal repression of Palestinians to create an al Qaeda where none previously existed, particularly in Iraq, and now in the latest country where this war has expanded, Yemen.  But no one who is responsible for these wars and the killing of millions of people faces criminal charges.
    • It is well known both among social scientists and in law enforcement that torture leads subjects to tell so-called interrogators what they think the latter want to hear, that little if any information of value can be obtained in this way.  Torture is a violation of international law.  Again, none of the perpetrators of torture policies face prosecution.  The only “value” of torture is in gaining the acquiescence of a larger group of people.
    • For all its pretense to be a “peace loving” nation, the United States has had its military deployed on killing expeditions somewhere, somehow in all but sixteen calendar years of its existence.  It has hundreds of military bases–colonies, actually–around the world.  It is the only country ever to have actually used nuclear weapons and is one of two countries (the other is Russia) which retain massive stocks of nuclear arms.  Its client in the Middle East, Israel, has about 200 nuclear weapons.  Yet it presumes to dictate to Iran, which has no nuclear weapons (but might want to preserve the option to develop them) and has never attacked any other country, whether it may enrich uranium.
  • The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has made farms in Mexico and Central America economically untenable.  But when impoverished people come north seeking work, the U.S. calls them “illegal” and seeks to erect barriers to make an already dangerous journey more so.  We do this despite our knowledge that it is impossible to secure our borders against “illegal” migration.  But this status quo benefits employers who can exploit an easily intimidated work force both for labor and as leverage against so-called “legal” workers, disempowering all workers.
  • The Federalist Papers (Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky both cite James Madison’s No. 10 specifically, but I see the theme in all of at least the early papers–I haven’t yet read to the end) advocated a system of government intended to protect the minority rights not of any disadvantaged group but the property rights of wealthy white males.  Madison specifically feared class warfare (it would deprive the rich of their property) and believed that the wealthy should rule, that they would be most able to resist corruption.  Madison became the fourth president of the United States.  Another author, John Jay, became the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Federalist Papers are widely considered an authoritative guide to interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.  For all its injustice, we in fact have a system of governance which works in the way it was intended.
  • The courts enforce “law and order.”  It is well-established that “justice” is of secondary concern.  Law is passed by groups consisting overwhelmingly of wealthy white males.  “Order” refers to preservation of the status quo.  Systems of so-called “justice” therefore are heavily tilted against the poor and against other stigmatized groups even before weighing problems of access to legal representation and jury or judges’ bias.

Okay, that’s it for off the top of my head.

One of the things Robert Terrell pointed to was a war on the working class. In Peace and Conflict Studies, a political science textbook, David Barash and Charles Webel explain structural violence:

One commonly understood meaning of violence is that it is physical and readily apparent through observable bodily injury and/or the infliction of pain. But as Galtung notes, it is important to recognize the existence of another form of violence, one that is more indirect and insidious than observable physical violence. This structural violence is typically built into the very structure of social, cultural, and economic institutions. (For example, both ancient Egypt and imperial Rome practiced slavery and were highly despotic, although they were technically in states of negative peace [the absence of war] for long periods of time.)

Structural violence usually has the effect of denying people important rights, such as economic well-being; social political, and sexual equality; a sense of personal fulfillment and self-worth; and so on. When people starve to death, or even go hungry, a kind of violence is taking place. Similarly, when humans suffer from diseases that are preventable, when they are denied decent education, affordable housing, opportunities to work, play, raise a family, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, a kind of violence is occurring, even if no bullets are shot or clubs wielded. A society commits violence against its members when it forcibly stunts their development and undermines their well-being, whether because of religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, or some other social reason. Structural violence is a serious form of social oppression. And it is regrettably widespread and often unacknowledged.

But of course the United States can hardly be considered to be free from war. And the money we’re pouring into wars that cannot be won when there are so many needs at home, and that we have done so for our entire history, says something not just about our national priorities but our national objectives.

Many of us grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school. I personally stopped reciting it when I understood that justice meant equality, realized that “liberty and justice for all” was a sham, and when I came to identify the flag of the United States with a lapel pin on Richard Nixon’s suit. But I have felt alone as my generation and every generation since has regressed from ideals I associated with the 1960s. Most of my generational cohort have found a place for themselves. One of them, Barack Obama, was born two years after me.

But I am a member of the enemy in a fight we didn’t pick. I have tried so hard to find a place for myself. I am now attempting to get a start in my third career. But I have managed to hit every peak in unemployment since 1980. The chart I name after my cat describes a dominant factor in the story of my life:

And so, of course, I am job hunting again. I would add another description of violence to that of Barash and Webel, that of allowing people to know that they are relentlessly under attack. That is the experience of anyone in my position who has looked beyond the facade of national ideology, who has come to recognize the foundational myths of our society.

I drove back to my old university yesterday to follow up with my professors about the letters of reference I need them to submit for my job applications. That’s a sham, too. A reasonable procedure would request such letters only for candidates under serious consideration, but now the hours of time I must invest in seeking work must be matched by several people who must submit these letters not just for me but for everyone else they recommend for every job that we apply for. Terrell told me they have an avalanche of these requests.

Terrell also advised me to look outside the country. Teach English, he advised, in Asia. I don’t want to go to Asia; it would be a very long journey for my cat that I’m frankly afraid to put her through. And I would have to fly back twice a year for Intensives in my doctoral program. But I have also heard of such opportunities in Costa Rica. So I said, maybe Latin America.

But this is impractical. You have to have a great deal of money in a Costa Rican bank to immigrate there. And that’s just it. None of my options are practical. My cat is kind to me, adorable and sweet, but I am reminded of the description of cats playing with their wounded prey rather than killing it outright. The U.S. behaves like one of the latter cats towards me.

I didn’t pick this fight. It began long before I was born and I am tired of fighting it. Costa Rica, perhaps alone amongst countries, disbanded its army (linked page is in Spanish; I rely on Google’s translation, which seems decent). According to the CIA’s World Fact Book,

Since the late 19th century, only two brief periods of violence have marred the country’s democratic development. Although it still maintains a large agricultural sector, Costa Rica has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism industries. The standard of living is relatively high. Land ownership is widespread.

That might be idealized. But it is a country without war. The impact of that on my consciousness is profound. I want to live in a country without war, without war against people in other countries, without war against its own people.

I’m looking again at a map I devised suggesting how the country might be broken up. I have lived nearly my entire life in that blue area along the California coast in the U.S. map and in the purplish-colored area in the California map (a screenshot of a Los Angeles Times map of Proposition 8 electoral results), below. Would anyone be with me? For a country without war?

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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