As a naturalized citizen of the USA, I am grateful that this country has established voting as a right of the citizenry, no matter how well or poorly this right may be exercised at times. And, as an Iranian long-time observer (and object) of things political, I can safely expect that almost all that is of essential significance will remain unchanged no matter who wins. And for these particular US general elections, not even the tempo of atrocious behavior toward Middle Easterners is expected to change. For the most part, now that the voting is over, we are still left with all our fundamental questions un-addressed and all our problems growing worse.
At least for those Iraqi and Afghans who are inhaling uranium fumes in their streets, ingesting uranium dust in their food, drinking uranium particles in their water; and watching their kids play in uranium-shielded vehicles after the soldiers are through destroying with them. This radioactive poison, gassing all the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and, downwind, of all countries in the Middle East, will burn cancers into all organic life forms, for the next four and a half billion years. We heard not a single word from either major candidate that such a war crime should be questioned, never mind stopped. This is the equivalent of not caring to form an opinion over Nazis’ gassing of Jews and Gypsies in concentration camps.
Of course, all familiar with the history of colonization know well that the schemes and intentions driving the atrocities in Iraq are not new. For only the most famous example, Thom Hartmann has a good overview: “Prior to Columbus' arrival, some scholars place the population of Haiti/Hispaniola … at around 1.5 to 3 million people. By 1496, it was down to 1.1 million, according to a census done by Bartholomew Columbus. By 1516, the indigenous population was 12,000, and according to Las Casas (who were there) by 1542 fewer than 200 natives were alive. By 1555, every single one was dead,” (from "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late" by Thom Hartmann, www.thomhartmann.com)
This dark history of ours, however, should not be ‘quoted’ in the spirit of cynicism, to insinuate that humans are by immovable nature perpetually afflicted with nothing but greed, and mysteriously beyond any cure. Not at all. The reference to history is done in the spirit of a warning, a call to lift the heads and a plea for persuasion.
The singular mechanism of voting does not exhaust by a long shot all that is meant by the word ‘democracy’. If that were the case, the Mullahs in Tehran could (and some perhaps do) claim to be more democratic than the politicians in Washington, DC, since, taken as a percentage of eligible population that participated in the elections, more Iranians participated in their Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 1997 than did Americans in their Presidential and Congressional elections of 1996 or 2000. Thus rendered quantitatively, would it then be logical to conclude that the Iranians practiced more democracy? Hardly!
Clearly voting alone does not guarantee a realistic control over the decisions that truly shape our lives. As some among the ancient Greeks would have it, to be a citizen implied responsibilities far beyond the occasional casting of a ballot. It would be indeed the antithesis of democracy when such occasional casting of the ballot is only followed by a swift disappearance behind the daily chores and duties and obligations that comprise the ‘comfort’ of the private life, little of which is truly private. Most of what we have in private was gotten through very social and public means. It is indeed public questions that determine to the last minutiae of our private lives.
Compared to the Greek ideal then, it becomes clear how deeply undemocratic and indeed anti-democratic all our states are. Laws do get written, laws that change and affect our lives, yet none of us (the people) are doing any of the writing of the laws, nor exerting any real control over the corporations that steal our common goods and natural resources at the same time as they dictate laws to our legislatures to the effect of our entrapment.
“As for the question of … administration, [the
ancient Greeks’] system was one in which every citizen was expected to, and
got to serve in various capacities, chosen through a process that has come
to be known as sortition, a sort of selection by lot. This
magnificent mode of experimentation, this readiness to learn by doing, has
given humanity one of the most vibrant epochs of its history,” (To Be or
Not to Be an Idiot, H. Utanazad, March 3, 2003,
Within this ideal framework, what of those individuals who chose not to participate in the making of the decisions which shape the conditions of their lives? “They had a name -- those Greeks -- for the occasional one who refused to get involved: they called him the idiotes, the private person, the one who cared not for the affairs of the community, or for politics,” (ibid).
So, which are we? Citizens or idiots?
Post Mortem for Postmodernism
Each and every aspect and dimension of this juncture of our history, as is always with our social class activities, is a forced situation. There is nothing fatalistic about it, and very little of it is based on chance or came about randomly.
Ever since the appearance of the ‘New Movements’ for social justice in the 1960s and 1970s, and the subsequent seeming displacement of ‘classes’ by ‘race/gender/identity/environment’, the pragmatism of the dispersed fights in concrete localities has dominated the US left. Furthermore, as the New Movements have diverged increasingly, activists of all localities, even while fighting disconnected fights, have grown more timid with every successive demand they have put forth, so as to reassure all that they are not in any way form or shape one of those ‘big-picture’ bad guys, to sooth any worries that, God forbid, should they be engaged in trying to change the system!
As a result, the followers of postmodernist oppositional practices have abided loyally by a policy of standing aside when it has come to ‘big-picture’ questions of big narratives of systems and utopias; meaning, they have voluntarily handed the most crucial domains over to the boys with the guns running the current global system.
The postmodern activist in the USA should find it instructive that politically what they preach would resonate harmonically well with a majority of middle class parents all over the world, as they persist to dissuade all from political oppositional activity. My own homegrown type have been repeating to their kids by rote: “Just tend to your own little garden. Forget about politics! What can you do anyway? See what happened when we tried to change things in Iran? We ended up with a worse totalitarianism! See child? We should have appreciated the Shah and kept our mouths shut!”
Another point of contention, and one of irony, is that, at any political juncture where the New Movements joined hands with the workers the results were the most dramatic openings in the political spaces previously undisputed, in fundamental ways. The May 1968 uprisings of Paris were perhaps the best example of this. But then, one must also mention that this is the city that, almost a century prior to the May uprisings of the ‘Vietnam generation’, had given us the Paris Commune.
So, maybe the working class militancy does make a big difference. Simply because working classes change shape and form does not mean militancy can be safely dispensed with; we have not entered some radically changed universe simply because more aspects of our overlooked humanity are raising their voices. The New Movements did not displace classes, nor could they.
What did take place, however, was a very systematic attack on the living standards as well as autonomous institutions of the working classes, waged on all fronts: from purely economic (systematic increases in temping, reduction and where possible axing of benefits in more and more industries, outsourcing, holding the workers at ransom practically with the threat of relocation, while reducing wages and taking rights away) to the legislative (in the form of the so called ‘deregulation’ revolution); all of which expanded and deepened radically the realms governed by private capital. Not to forget the destruction of the safety net for the most vulnerable portions of the working classes, thereby dropping the floor even further, all of this led by a group of rightwing activist political representatives, starting most notably in the UK and the US, by the end of 1970s. By the end of their rollback, capital had maximum mobility, while labor was locked into ghettoized, localized, dispersed parcels.
While the New Movements busied themselves with over-estimations of their own impact and scope, the infrastructure for all oppositional movements deteriorated considerably.
Ultimately, the system has laughed all the way. Feminism was reduced to having a seat at the table, as was the race ‘issue’; THE table; the only table; the table at which decisions are made regarding the perpetuation of starvation, disease and insecurity, bombing or poisoning of innocent communities for the price of a loot.
Very obviously women’s liberation has not come about. Nor has colonization ended. Nor have grand narratives stopped dictating the shapes of our lives. And, indeed, they continue to dictate life with special ferocity to the people living outside the so-called Metropolis, away from the North, distant from the First World.
Whatever the name, the reality is clear to us. A very definite Totality does constitute our reality, and we perceive clearly how the shitty end of this system ends up where it does, and see clearly where the loot ends up. We all exist in this totality, so we should not mistake it for randomly put together contingent narratives. The most productive intellectual tool that explains best how our historical situation has specifically come to this point is that old concept of the struggle of the SOCIAL CLASSES!
The total emancipation of women today is negated primarily by the uneven wage structure that is in perpetuity a fundamental requirement for a capitalist way of organizing social production. This, and not simply the general history of patriarchy, explains the specific and concrete shape of women’s subjugation today.
The decades of 1980s and 1990s were the decades of rightwing restoration, resurgence, and renewed dominance. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the outright maniacal unleashing of unsheathed capitalism became possible and immediately went into effect. The collapse, or complete disappearance of the US left, then, has been a long process. But, with this election, we can without a doubt state that in the US the true left, with the exception of Nader, is now entirely located outside the officialdom.
Along with about 50% of the electorate that regularly does not vote. And along with a great amount of truth and un-pretty reality, under which we must continue to labor.
Two Points for Agitation:
Taxation without Representation, Radioactive Poisoning
Yet, this is exactly the last place to act timidly!
Just because it was legal to own slaves did the slaves simply surrender and lose their conviction that slavery was anything but a crime against humanity?
One point that must be raised has to do with the question of the degree of idiocy allowed. Did not the Declaration of Independence have some bearing on the slogan, ‘No Taxation without Representation!’? But, on this day more than ever, we have relinquished our representation for the taxes we pay.
The question of the theft that is called taxation can be turned around, though.
Here is a modest proposal. In the magnificently hi-tech country of the USA, we have all the means and the wherewithal to devise a simple re-introduction of representation into our tax system. Imagine, if you will, a system whereby, coupled with the documents we submit for our taxes yearly, we are required to submit also a list of priorities that dictate to the government how our taxes are to be spent in the fiscal year to come.
So, for example, as a tax payer I can dictate to the government that, of the taxes just received from me, I would like them to spend 30% of it on various welfare programs, 20% on education, 20% on national healthcare, 20% on proliferation of artistic activities among the elderly, and 10% on developing a sound science of child psychology, so that we can stop torturing and stupefying our kids. Thus, under this system, the decision over the expenditure of our money is not relegated to some ‘expert’ legislator, but is actually carried out by us, so that each and every one of our priorities is not only respected, but accounted for, and our money is put where our collective mouths would have been through that fiscal year.
By deciding the budgetary restrains of policies and thus prioritizing expenditure, citizens become more politically adept at the same time that they are becoming more relevant in a real sense. So, where better to start demanding rights of decision making than when you are handing over your money to the government? Such a reformulation of taxation system can bring about a real lever of control exercised by the citizens over a myriad of social policies, orientation of the foreign policy, trade, would even have repercussions on industrial policy, and could far more easily exert control over questions that could lead to costly endeavors such as wars.
This is not a revolutionary idea. Loudly demanding that governments be more accountable to the people, in a very concrete way, in the light of the question of representation for taxation, is a legitimate right that most citizens of any bourgeois society can relate to without being horrified that, God forbid, they be required to turn into rabid revolutionaries, forced to abandon their families and communities!
But, if enacted, such a practiced conception of taxation would be far more conducive to creating more radical conditions.
The second point is one of guilt on a mass scale. Yes, we are repeating ourselves, and yes it is a good thing to repeat what needs repeating; we are talking about the use of uranium munitions. Did you hear about those ‘bunker-buster’ bombs those nice guys in Israel just bought, and received on time from their US manufacturing clients? The type that is used daily, weekly, monthly in Iraq and Afghanistan? The bunker-busting capabilities of which brought to you by uranium. A weapon of mass destruction. A nuclear weapon of a new generation.
In view of the fact that the genocidal and omnicidal (killing of all living things) impact of the US and the UK's military tactics in using uranium munitions are denied daily, while the clinical and the criminal evidence piles higher and higher, and while other more 'mundane' atrocities are becoming normalized, we must think of what lies ahead for those exposed to uranium munitions.
As a result of the unprecedented proliferation of uranium munitions by the US and the UK military forces in the Gulf region between 1991 and August 2004, Terry Jemison of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs has reported that 518,739 soldiers returning from the Gulf region in that 13-year period are currently on medical disability. In that same time period only 7,039 were injured on the battlefield. Sixty five percent of the post-war babies born to a group of 400 returning soldiers were born with severe deformities - missing brains, missing eyes, arms and legs and other organs (from, "Depleted uranium: Dirty bombs, dirty missiles, dirty bullets: A death sentence here and abroad," by Leuren Moret, San Francisco Bay View, August 18, 2004).
That is not counting the human cost of
soldiers who will never return, nor the tortured souls who will return to
shattered lives. The families of the military personnel being sent to Iraq
and Afghanistan must be told this. It is everybody's duty to inform them of
this atrocity being committed against them by their own government, which
qualifies as a war crime. Just as much an atrocity as being sent into harm's
way to secure no-bid contracts for Halliburton, Bechtel, the Carlyle Group,
and assorted oil, banking, and construction cartels.
When I suggested that, following from the
available statistics, we can extrapolate that at least 50,000 returning
soldiers will have died in a decade, Ms Moret’s objection was that my
estimate was far too low.
The planned and conscious proliferation of uranium poisoning by the US and the UK governments can and must be used in campaigns of organized, legal mass mutiny. In this effort the clear clinical evidence that exists of the effects of uranium munitions’ use must be widely disseminated among the armed forces of the US and the UK being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. The governments of the US and the UK must be held accountable.
The Nazis were neat. Anal, if you will. They created specific facilities to carry out their evilest deeds away from the public eyes, so that they could maintain their starched public appearance. One stereotypical image of the Yanks, by contrast, is the sloppy type. As tourists, they can stand out in a crowd of a million, and as military beings they feel comfortable only when they’re leaving a huge mess everywhere they go. As go the stereotypes, so does some of the reality. On a less negative note, the American ruling classes are perpetually retro-proactive. Meaning, in plain English, they’re always covering their tracks. This time, though, they have a hell of a track to cover.
The history of mankind has consisted mainly in the fight between the monkey within each and every one of us and the human within all of us. Faced with the monkeys, are we, let’s ask again, are we going to act as citizens or as idiots?
Reza Fiyouzat is an applied linguist and freelance writer working in Japan. Iranian by birth, bi-national by passports (a US citizen), his writings have appeared in CounterPunch, and (in English and Portuguese) on the Brazilian website, Revista Espaco Academico. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Other Articles by Reza Fiyouzat