Brian Holmes on Wed, 23 Jul 2008 19:35:17 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover

Hello Michael -

And first of all, thanks for your reading! Always interesting to hear 
your views.

> First, art does not have to justify itself by offering a different way 
> to live or to coexist. To put it most simply art justifies life; it is 
> why we are here, or it can be.

Well, art is also famously what people disagree about, which is OK by 
me. I offered a distinctly political definition of art, one which does 
not simplify or deny all the subtle potentials of form and metaphor and 
reference that I do appreciate, but instead suggests that all those 
qualities come into strongest relief and offer the greatest resonance in 
ourselves when they stand out against the background of a society and, 
rather than justifying life as it is, open up possibilities of becoming 
different. A definition which seems relevant to much good art these 
days, and could be interesting to disagree about too!

> So what does cause continued imperialism? For one thing, America's 
> inward looking. Our politics is mostly localist and parochial, and yet 
> politicians end up making decisions to sustain foreign involvements on 
> the basis of little knowledge. It is always safer to view the outside 
> world as menacing rather than benign. It is always safer to refer to the 
> US as the greatest country and to assume that the world needs our armies 
> and weapons rather than not.A pointless patriotism helps hold this 
> disparate country together, much as India is partially held together by 
> such means. And, as in the case of the British empire, what keeps ours 
> going is mostly habit — a bad habit, but hard to change — perhaps 
> addiction would be the better word.

This seems to me a little naive, Michael, if you can excuse me saying 
so. I think that "their" empire (I would never call it "ours") is upheld 
not just by our localist politics (of course that lets it go 
unchallenged, you are right) but above all because it is in the interest 
of certain people to uphold it. I do not believe that America went to 
Iraq out of parochialism or ignorance, but because the party of war, oil 
and engineering saw immense profits in setting up shop there. Similarly, 
I think that the army, air force and navy all stay in South Korea 
because the maintenance of that Cold War standoff helps justify, not 
just U.S. presence in that particular country, but on outposts all over 
the world. Arms production, engineering contracts and the maintenance of 
high-paying officer jobs associated with rank, privilege and amazing 
technology to play with are some of the benefits of prolonging Cold War 
conditions, which is why the Pentagon set about looking for a "near 
peer" right after 1989, and finally decided to accept a "long war 
against terrorism" instead.

Beyond the direct military establishment, the free trade and free 
capital flows from which the United States has prospered so 
disproportionately since WWII are linked in the minds and strategies of 
the corporate and political elites to the regulatory presence of a 
world-spanning army, which has also been the reason that our huge debts 
have been shouldered by other countries such as Japan, since 
manufacturing exports declined in the 1970s. One of the most bald 
statements of this kind of "free trade guaranteed by the military" 
doctrine can be found in Thomas Barnett's recent books; but when you 
look closer at the intellectuals staffing the State Department over the 
last 60 years, the same doctrine is everywhere, from Kennan and Acheson 
on forward. That this is an addiction - to power, to profit, to oil, to 
big projects and machines - is something I would agree with.

> If the US is so inward looking, doesn't reporting such as yours from 
> South Korea help create balance? Very little, I suspect. The internal 
> "patriotic" reading would only be that some Koreans are "ingrates," who 
> "don't know what's good for them," which implies they need our 
> protection despite themselves.

Along these lines, even a cursory scan of the Internet will dredge up 
exactly those kinds of opinions from the largest group of Americans 
having anything to do with the two Koreas, namly, ex- and current 
servicemen. It is much as you say. And I definitely agree that finding 
ways of convincing these kinds of people is a real problem. Even Mark 
Gillem, the author of America Town and himself part of the air force, 
does not read as very convincing from the viewpoint that one finds on 
these Internet sites about Korea.

> This imperialism can only be changed, I think, if it either becomes 
> unaffordable or if a really different US self-conception can take hold, 
> for instance of our being simply one country that ought to be striving 
> to live cooperatively with the rest of the world. I think we should take 
> heart that the Iraq war has proved so unpopular despite no draft and 
> despite the US death toll being far below Vietnam levels. I think a new 
> "Iraq syndrome" will sharply reduce the tendencies towards such active 
> military adventures for another generation.

Yes, I think you are right and I also think it is interesting to add to 
that feeling of rejection. The low American profile after Vietnam was a 
good thing imho.

> But dismantling the existing 
> network of bases is another story. To give up the addiction to military 
> spending and the idea that the military offers a good career for certain 
> young people will be less rather than more easy if the US monetary 
> economy keeps declining. The only hope I see is the rise of an utterly 
> new sense of who we are. That , of course, will be intensely resisted.

Yes, I think that's where art can become so interesting as a force of 
change! If all of us want it to, anyway. There again is another reason 
that I chose the definition of art that I initially put forth.

Thanks again, Michael, for your perspectives.

best, BH

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