Stateside 2004 Election: Nietzsche-Al Disaster
Yesterday, a helpful bookshop assistant led me to the philosophy section in search of a book about butterflies. When I'd asked to be directed to the nature section, she'd thought I said Nietzsche.
Which got me thinking that in 2004 we'd better elect a president of the United States who doesn't make a similar mistake. Nietzsche is the German philosopher whose concept of an idealized superman - strong, positive, and able to impose his wishes upon the weak and worthless - was distorted by the Nazis to justify their notion of Aryan superiority. The way the current administration talks, you'd think it's only natural that the US imposes its wishes upon the rest of the world.
If you read nothing else this year, you should read the article by Robert D. Kaplan in the July/August issue of The Atlantic Monthly entitled Supremacy by Stealth. For dessert you should then read Jonathan Schell's column in the July 7 issue of The Nation, which reviews Kaplan's article and ends: "We can be glad that Kaplan has the honesty to set forth the imperial vision with rare frankness, even as we strain every nerve to assure this nightmare never becomes reality."
Don't read only Schell's column - he misrepresents some of Kaplan's writing. For example, Schell implies that Kaplan says: Better to keep public opinion "as divided as possible." What Kaplan actually says is: "the best information strategy is to avoid attention-getting confrontations in the first place and to keep the public's attention as divided as possible." Attention and opinion are two entirely different things - two million people might have the same opinion, but if you keep them distracted they might as well have no opinion at all.
Schell does, however, strike the nail on the head when he says the policy Kaplan is writing about amounts to the militarism that gripped Japan in the 1930s. In my opinion, today's militarism doesn't need to use indoctrination and censorship to make itself acceptable, and it won't be producing kamikaze pilots. Consumerism has done the indoctrinating and the censoring, and produced a society of people on autopilot, ready to believe that everything can be manipulated and mastered by technology, and that they should leave its use to the experts.
None believes this more so than the self-proclaimed "experts" - the military and successive US administrations chosen by their respective presidents. It is a dangerous belief for two reasons. The first reason is that the scientists, engineers, corporations, and military enitities on which technological developments depend are invariably blinded by both their pride and their clout.
The second reason it's dangerous to believe in techology as a measure of superiority is that so much pride is invested in this and so much clout is brought to bear, that many products are brought into use before they're fully developed or properly tested. And they are thrust into the hands of users who aren't trained to use them properly.
Ironically, at the very time that the US is touting its superior technological power as one of the reasons it is the world's superman, its policies about domestic security are ensuring a slow slide into technological mediocrity. In an editorial in the June issue of Science, David J. Galas and Henry Riggs say that "the international character of the scientific enterprise is in danger, and, if lost, the US technology edge will go with it." They refer, in particular, to immigration restrictions and government-imposed limits on the publication of research results as causes for that decline.
So, over the same time period that Kaplan argues will be all that's necessary for the US to forcibly establish a world order in which democracies will spring up and flourish, the US will be undercutting the means by which it proposes to achieve that aim. It's a formula for disaster, and whoever becomes president in 2004 needs to commit the United States not to isolationism and domination, but to co-operation and power sharing.