Wikileaks, Nachos, and the Totalitarian Impulse

I’ve recently gotten into Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic’s sports-talk morning show. Now that I’m driving into work every day, it’s been my regular morning listen in the car. Earlier this week, they were discussing the report about the health violations at America’s sports venues. Greenberg was bothered by it, but Golic, their in-studio guest, and the vast majority of people writing emails into the show were largely ambivalent. Most people had the attitude that they’d rather not know what goes on on the other side of that counter. As long as the nachos taste ok, it doesn’t matter if there’d been rat feces in the box or if the employees didn’t wash their hands.

After listening to it, it made me realize that there’s an interesting parallel between that and how Americans in general have reacted to two far bigger news stories. The first was the Washington Post’s impressive expose of America’s bloated and disorganized intelligence bureaucracy that’s developed since 9/11. The second was the revealing of tens of thousands of secret documents on the progress of the war in Afghanistan.

Both of these stories are of huge importance. America’s expanding intelligence bureaucracy has no oversight, no organization, and is so unwieldy it does more to keep us from identifying and stopping actual terrorist threats than it does to actually stop them. The war in Afghanistan has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster for a number of years. It has no clear goal, no clear path to any improvement, and no easy way for us to get ourselves out without leaving behind a terrible situation.

But by and large, Americans shrugged off both stories. No one marched on the Capitol demanding that we stop wasting so much money on our various intelligence gathering operations. And Congressmen and Congresswomen who will mostly be re-elected in November dutifully voted to continue funding our occupation of Afghanistan, despite the fact that the public was reminded yet again that elements within Pakistan’s own intelligence services are actively supporting our enemy; and that the longer we stay there and keep killing civilians, the more we destabilize the region and minimize our influence.

Both of these stories (and the administration’s attempts to lash out at Wikileaks for releasing the documents) are certainly part of a pattern. The government, in its publicly stated desire to give Americans security, are doing so – whether foolishly or disingenuously – by following a totalitarian impulse. By believing that the normal mechanisms that restrain governments are a threat in and of themselves, we’ve allowed ourselves to go down a path towards an environment where government can’t be restrained at all. Students of history and those who’ve lived in other parts of the world understand the value of resisting this, but America still unfortunately has too many people who are neither.

As a result, we’ve reacted to these stories with a shrug and a “why should I care?” To a great extent, we’ve lost something that used to be central to American culture. The world has become so small and our view of its many complexities so all-encompassing, that far too many of us have become believers in predestination over free will. The idea that we have the power to affect changes has given way to a belief that we have no real control over the vast array of forces around us. The only thing that seems to trigger the opposite impulse is a terrorist attack or anything else that might kill us. That gets us off the couch and screaming for action, but it’s still not enough to get us angry when that action isn’t the right one. We’ve conceded our ability to control anything less than blindly allowing our government to do whatever it wants when it comes to fighting terrorism.

And that’s creating a major distortion in our ability to deal with what actually threatens us. The way that we’re responding to terrorism – by wasting trillions of dollars on futile wars and on vast government bureaucracies that inefficiently gobble up all of our communications – will actually harm us far more than any unstable religious fanatic with a grudge against American foreign policy ever will. And of course, the more American foreign policy follows a totalitarian mindset without Americans giving a fuck, the more unstable religious fanatics there will be with a grudge against our foreign policy. The money spent on that never worries us in the same way that money spent on safety regulations or infrastructure or education worries us. Even though that’s the kind of stuff that’s far more likely to affect us.

But as long as the nachos don’t kill us, we’ll keep buying them.

Comments

  1. 1

    Politically Incorrect spews:

    It’s looking like, more and more each day, that the war on terror makes about as much sense as the War on Drugs. We are not going to change Islam. If Islam changes, it will be by those in the inside of that religion, not us! We would do well to declare neutrality (and really meanand do it) in the war between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East. I’ve been hearing about this mess my entire life and think it’s time for America to quit messing around the Middle East and its religious war.

  2. 2

    Bluecollar Libertarian spews:

    Off the subject but… Tomorrow the treaty to ban cluster bombs goes into effect and apparently there is going to be some organized drumming in a number of cities. Is there any news of this happening in the area?

  3. 4

    notaboomer spews:

    and that the longer we stay there and keep killing civilians, the more we destabilize the region and minimize our influence.

    “we?” see this is the problem. we’ve got little or nothing to do with the policy. but hey patty murray and dave reichert are like tasty nachos made by faceless people with dirty hands. mmm i’ll take more sauce please.

  4. 6

    Geov spews:

    Great post, Lee. But it leaves out an important dynamic that’s changed in American politics: our loss of representative democracy.

    One (and only one) of the reasons people have stopped caring about these isssus is the sense that the fix is in, and there’s nothing ordinary people can do to change these things. The two issues the Post and WikiLeaks highlighted are perfect examples. Suppose you don’t want unlimited spying on US citizens or an idiotic land war in Asia or two? Who are you going to turn to? The opposition party? You know, the people who started these polities and still champion them?

    On issue after issue, neither major party represents what polls say people in this country want: from health care to war to government spending. As the left realized with Ned Lamont, and the Tea Party is also finding out from the right (and they have their own set of frustrations where neither party has been responsive), it’s nearly impossible for an insurgent populist campaign to overcome corporate money in DC politics. And with this year’s Supreme Court decision, that’s only going to be worse this cycle.

    Beneath all the noise and partisanship of people who do follow politics these days, there’s a vast sea of people who’ve given up caring because they don’t feel they can make a difference. They focus on their lives, and just accept whatever comes down from above. This is exactly how people live in non-democratic countries, and we’re a lot of the way there already.

    Obama excited a lot of people in 2008 precisely because he held out the hope that things could be different. The fact that, whatever his accomplishments (and there’ve been quite a few), on a broad array of issues the “change” hasn’t happened, is in the process of disillusioning a new generation of would-be citizens. Some of that’s on Obama, some of it’s on the “Party of No” and the rules of Congress, but the end result is that I think Goldy’s wrong: we’re going to see a lot of apathy this November, and it’s hard to blame people for it.

  5. 7

    Geov spews:

    @6 Obviously, that should be policies, not polities. I’m feeling apathetic about proofreading…

  6. 8

    manoftruth spews:

    ok, my jewish conspiracy and our intelligence community goes thusly.
    the moassad is one heck of an efficeint operation. israel, just like any country, would love to have all intelligence filtered thru them. so, if americasn jews, in the media, government, finance, act to disrupt our intelligence community, we will have to turn to israel for our intelligence information. and actually i think we even do that now.

  7. 9

    Michael spews:

    @5

    We paid a few trillion dollars to keep tabs on the USSR and were caught flat-footed when the whole place collapsed. If I remember correctly, we were also caught flat-footed when Pakistan (maybe it was India) got the bomb.

    We’d probably be better off if we dismantled most of our spy gunk, they don’t do us much good and just serve to piss other people off.

  8. 10

    Puddybud is just another word for arschloch (asshole) spews:

    @6, Geov: I think everything you said is true, particularly the part about hope and Obama and disappointment.

    Clearly, O is more Clinton than FDR. But FDR never had the organized shitstorm of people who will do and say literally anything to take power and preserve the oligarchy we’ve become — the total obstruction in Congress being amongst the least of the outrages over the past two years.

  9. 11

    Michael spews:

    @10

    Clearly, O is more Clinton than FDR. But FDR never had the organized shitstorm of people who will do and say literally anything to take power and preserve the oligarchy we’ve become

    Most of the oligarchy was at least grudgingly on FDR’s side.

  10. 13

    spews:

    Hi Lee.

    The scarcest resource we have is attention. When people are overstimulated and stressed, we just shut down. Allowing the powers that be to do whatever they like.

    Aldous Huxley, Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death), Clay Shirky, and many others have done yeoman’s work on these issues.

    Ever the optimist, I have deep faith in rock, paper, scissors. Meaning for every strategy, there’s an effective counter strategy. And the game keeps changing.

    It’s our jobs to discover and develop those new strategies.

  11. 16

    manoftruth spews:

    And Congressmen and Congresswomen who will mostly be re-elected in November dutifully voted to continue funding our occupation of Afghanistan,

    maybe you will realize that, except for a few reps on each side, congress and the president, any president, are not really the ones who run this country. do you need anymore proof than obama’s policies on this so called war being almost identical to bush’s, except for a little bit different lip service.

  12. 17

    spews:

    @16
    maybe you will realize that, except for a few reps on each side, congress and the president, any president, are not really the ones who run this country.

    I’ve known that for quite some time.

  13. 18

    manoftruth spews:

    @17
    I’ve known that for quite some time.

    thats a good start. the next step is, who is really running this country and what is the agenda.

  14. 19

    spews:

    @18
    thats a good start. the next step is, who is really running this country and what is the agenda.

    The ultra-wealthy are running this country and their agenda is to strip away the aspects of government that sustain the middle class.

  15. 20

    manoftruth spews:

    @19
    The ultra-wealthy are running this country and their agenda is to strip away the aspects of government that sustain the middle class.

    what the fuck lee. bingo. i couldnt have said it better myself. i understand one thing now, honest liberals (and you must be one to have made the above statement), believe greedy capitalists want that, and conservatives like me, think socialists want that. as the warden said to cool hand luke, “what we have here, is a failure to communicate.

  16. 21

    spews:

    @20
    i couldnt have said it better myself. i understand one thing now, honest liberals (and you must be one to have made the above statement), believe greedy capitalists want that, and conservatives like me, think socialists want that.

    And if you think socialists want that, your definition of socialism isn’t correct. And it’s been that “failure to communicate” that continues to get people in this country to vote against their economic well-being for as long as I’ve been on this earth.

  17. 22

    spews:

    mano @ 20

    Rule of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.

    Oligarchy, plutocracy, kleptocracy. Take your pick.

    Aristocracy, if you want to go medieval.

    Capitalism? Socialism? Capitalism vs socialism?

    If only.

    I’d be liking some capitalism, some socialism, and some democracy right about now.

    While we had liberal capitalism, the middle class had a fighting chance.

    Liberal capitalism means well regulated open markets, vs laissez faire, to ensure a level playing field and the rule of law.

  18. 23

    manoftruth spews:

    @21
    And if you think socialists want that, your definition of socialism isn’t correct. And it’s been that “failure to communicate” that continues to get people in this country to vote against their economic well-being for as long as I’ve been on this earth.

    well, i dont think anyone can convince me that any definition of socialism wont lead to a soviet style state, as much as you might believe i’m wrong about that. plus, voting for, say democrats, who want to continue the entitlement culture cannot be good for the country or the middle class.

  19. 24

    spews:

    @23
    well, i dont think anyone can convince me that any definition of socialism wont lead to a soviet style state, as much as you might believe i’m wrong about that.

    As someone who has lived in Finland, yes, I believe you’re wrong about that, and I’ve seen the proof.

    plus, voting for, say democrats, who want to continue the entitlement culture cannot be good for the country or the middle class.

    The term “entitlement culture” is a buzzword that Republicans use in order to keep ignorant idiots like you afraid of “the others” and continuing to vote for having them take your money from you. God, you’re a sucker.