But the Western Security Complex thinks it's all about Us.
I mostly agree with you, but for one thing. You imply that a college degree is necessary to understand a subject.
I don't know anybody who can afford college right now. I also don't know anyone who reads like I do either. I have degrees, but in fields completely unrelated to my current interests. And my current profession? Flower farmer.
I felt that towards the end of this piece you imply that one must be fully credentialed in x to speak on x. If that were the case, you exclude anybody with a voracious hunger to learn but a simultaneous inability to earn those credentials. Whether it's time, money, or the feeling that the credentials are a waste of time.
As I'm sure you know, the US is a privilege-ocracy. It is very possible for an industrial worker to be very knowledgeable on Russian history. Or a flower farmer to be very knowledgeable on American class struggle.
That being said I fully agree with the rest of your arguments. Just felt a bit defensive about how one determines "expert" level. It's like, when I learned Spanish, at one point I just said, "I am fluent." Nothing magical happened the day I labeled myself "fluent". I didn't get an award or a degree. But at that time in my life I felt it was a fair description of my capabilities in understanding/reading/speaking Spanish. Note, one of my degrees (B.A.) was in French. Yet I have no mastery whatsoever of French. But I am fully conversant in Spanish. Please remember that formal degrees are only achievable by those fortunate enough to pay for them.
Back in 1990s, when Paul Krugman was still a serious economist who had a gift for writing about economics to a general audience, he used to complain that people who don't have rigorous training in economics love to write about economic matters and in many cases writing nonsense. True, up to a point, although my recollection of what I studied in grad school is that I learned lot of stuff about inverting matrices and such but learned very little about how exactly "economy" worked--which I guess says less about whether non-economists know much about how the economy works, as much as people who have the "right credentials" really don't have much to say either about the "economy" (On the other hand, I could teach ppl quite a bit about linear algebra, at least back in the days when I was actually smart....)
Of course, in case of Krugman, things got quite a bit funnier a decade later when he began spouting nonsense about things he had no background in but plenty of opinions after becoming a columnist....
arguing with my cousin about the new new world order that appears to be taking shape over the last year and a half...took forever to get him past the idea that...say, China...if "allowed" to overtake USA will step right into the role of Global Hegemon.
because, of course,lol.
he admitted to zero knowledge of Chinese culture, history, philosophy...a whole other civilisation with 4 or 5 thousand years of continuity and depth...but they'll obviously try to become Us.
same deal with Russia...incomprehensible that Russia could want something besides Global Empire.
its a major blind spot in just about everyone i know in real life.
so for all our pretense of mastery, stuff will just happen to us...and we'll cast around for something to blame that fits within our tired old assumptions.
> Why do pundits feel qualified to offer opinions on matters of war and peace, where they would hesitate to be as dogmatic on the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon or the guitar solos of Mr Jerry Garcia?
That's the job of a pundit, isn't it? Let's be specific and take an example such as Max Boot. He's been doing it for years. He's a very consistent and predictable writer. His job is producing Max Boot-type verbiage for NYT, WSJ, Brookings, etc. These organs can rely on him when they need something. So it seems the question as to why he feels qualified to do it is both obvious and almost beside the point since it leads straight to the question, why do people pay him and all the rest to produce this stuff? The opinion game is big business but it's worth the expenditure because it's what enables even bigger businesses.
This is an important meta-analysis. I was particularly struck by, “Patterns of thinking and speaking about security —what Foucault famously called discourses—have been dominated since the nineteen-fifties by the competing political and intellectual forces that today make up the Western Security Complex, even among those who consider themselves bitterly anti-western.”
The Alt-Media Community does this a lot, and not just in seeing the perfidious hand of the Anglo-Americans in everything. What I see a lot is an expectation that other countries will act as the US acts; it likely results from the WSC thinking permeating to even blog commenters. Nor is it limited to “western” commenters. It’s a global phenomenon.
I don’t consider myself an expert on much of anything. I’m fascinated by international politics because of its complexity and variety. It wouldn’t be interesting if it could all be boiled down to a couple of discourses applicable to every situation.
It is disheartening whenI have gone to places where non-western people live and see how much they are trying emulate the West. I had hoped to see people forging new ways of existing on this planet. I used to ask people there, would they follow a man walking over a cliff? They told me no, but I said that is what I see happening in your society, with its Coke, soap, and deodorant billboards, and Toyota showrooms. Why were they trying to copy the west and its extractive destruction of the natural world and its willingness to destroy anyone who stands in their way? Their answer was silence. I'd like to think they came up good responses after we parted.
Thank you Aurelien🙏
I think there is a much deeper dynamic at work. That knowledge, that collection of information by which we try to make sense of this world around us, is inherently centripetal. Not only for individuals and groups, but goes to the very dynamic that makes individuals and groups.
In a word, synchronization. Being on the same wavelength.
The problem is when we view our particular vision as sacrosanct and not just a useful point of focus.
And that goes to the most powerful concept in Western Civilization; God.
In the words of Pope John Paul 2, the all-knowing absolute.
Consider that democracy and republicanism originated in pantheistic cultures. The family and cycle of life as godhead. To the Ancients, monotheism equated with monoculture. One people, one rule, one god. The formative experience for Judaism was the 40 years isolated in the desert, giving the Old Testament the Ten Commandments.
Greek religion originated out of fertility rites. The new god born in the spring, of the old sky god and the earth mother. Though by the age of the Olympians, tradition prevailed over renewal and Zeus didn't give way to Dionysus. Which provided fertile ground for the story of Jesus, of royal blood, crucified and risen in the spring, to take root.
Yet by the time Rome adopted it as state religion, it too had become more about tradition. So the monotheism served a very useful conceptual function, as the Empire rose from the ashes of the Republic, to validate The Big Guy Rules. Divine right of kings.
The origin of the Trinity was obscured, as the Catholic Church became the Eternal Institution.
The problem is that logically, a spiritual absolute would be the essence of sentience, from which we rise, not an ideal of wisdom and judgement, from which we fell. More the light shining through the film, than the narratives played out on it.
So while it served a useful political function, it confused ideals with absolutes.
Truth, beauty, platonic forms are ideals. The village alter or totem is an ideal.
An absolute, on the other hand, brooks no distinctions, divisions, differences, etc. The only modern use of the term is absolute zero.
So when you assume your particular ideal, around which your creed revolves, like the eye of a storm, is absolute, than all others must be imposters. Rather than realizing there can be many nodes in the larger networks. Given the political implications and applications of this, it doesn't give us much grounds to see beyond our particular tribal affiliations.
Slight edit to the now deleted comment: the interesting thing is that WSC include not only the people who think that the everything in the world is taking place because of them and those who imagine that the rest is somehow unified in the opposition to the West (and the latter imagine themselves to be not part of the WSC). From your description, it seems that you are including both of these groups in your definition of "WSC"
"So in one form or another, the various competing lobbies within the WSC sit atop the very understanding of what security is. (As I used to tell students in Africa: So long as we can control your brains, we don’t need to control your countries.) And that is still the case, arguably more so now than it was then. Patterns of thinking and speaking about security —what Foucault famously called discourses—have been dominated since the nineteen-fifties by the competing political and intellectual forces that today make up the Western Security Complex, even among those who consider themselves bitterly anti-western."
Western soft power is seriously underrated, even as western hard power is shown to perhaps be not all that it was cracked up to be.
The average frustrated Bangladeshi minigarch wants to get his offspring into Oxford or Stanford, not some Chinese university. A Russian manufacturing baron with an art collection craves plaudits from western cultural institutions, not the kind that are based in Mombasa. Even if this Titan Of Industry collects African art, he still wants the kudos to come from London or New York. A Paraguayan tycoon wants to own a trophy property in London or New York, while a perfectly nice complex situated in Alma-Ata just doesn't have the same vavoom!
And of course, just try to convince a typical Mongolian that a Lada is really just as good as a Mercedes-Benz.
You say that me and Ken Opalo have divergent views. Well, wait until you read my analysis of Russia-Africa summit.
SPOILER ALERT: Do not expect any of the russophobic trash that emanates from English-speaking African academics hooked on CNN and BBC narratives about Russia. But my article will have the usual nuances.
With regard to the two writers you choose to make a point about the advantages of a local point of view in Africa- I think you underestimate the degree of penetration of the African middle class, ‘intelligentsia’, local and so called diaspora, by the prevailing ideologies or doctrines pandered by the US or the EU
Such ‘voices’ as get ‘heard’ in the EUUS are, naturally enough, those which format most closely along the commentariat in those areas : the two in question offer an ersatz mimeograph of US ruling class propaganda, salted with enough local detail to pass muster to a western audience, and may be sold as ‘alternative’, 'ethnic', 'genuine'
Moreover - if it is true that genuine in house resistance to common from out of Africa propaganda is rare, it is (partly, mainly) because EUUS scoop up, educate and retain many of that middle class which otherwise would be the natural instigators and leaders of revolt – those they choose to return (start the list with Kagame) function as implants
It is possible that a new generation, fresh from time in Russia or in China may offer a way out from the cul de sac
Very interesting commentary. For another take on how MIC funded think tanks have made ‘liberal hegemony’ the only acceptable view for those seeking to make a career in the US foreign policy establishment see Stephen Walt’s The Hell of Good Intentions, Chapter 3.
A good piece. As often.
It would be great to read some examples and illustrations of what the WSC misses. It would substantiate your thesis with tangible elements, which would be welcome.
A couple possible counters to the overall argument put forth:
1) it is somewhat hard to imagine what would constitue a non-WSC take, whether of the supporting kind or of the critical kind. This difficulty is presumably partly what you’re trying to point at, but it seems we should be able to point out at least a plausible non-WSC take on any given subject. If we cannot, can we really talk of ethnocentrism, rather than talk of the pervasive hegemony of the Western view today?
From the above, it seems you lament the lack of expertise, but on one hand isn’t that mostly due to the type of media we read - I’m sure books on Ukraine and West Africa will come out in due time, but it takes time - and on the other hand, even when the books do come out, there will still be disagreement along the lines you describe (aside maybe from fascinating but obscure ethnographic takes).
Thus, lack of expertise, while infuriating doesn’t really lead us all that much further in terms of explanation or action. The bottom line is that public opinion, rilpolitical and military strategy are ny formed in a rush, expertise is not, and even when it finally comes out, it relies on an inevitable set of assumptions that produce different outlooks.
The other thing is what makes something WSC if barriers are so low that anything and everything counts? Again, can we really point at a non-WSC take?
Are we just saying that pundits tend to be Westerners? That seems rather untenable if we want to hold on to ideas such as expertise, knowledge, etc. Plus, as you mention, the western view is so prevalent that it is basically inescapable even for non-western folks - even if we leave Fanon aside.
2) isn’t the fact that we can’t easily point at non-WSC views whether from experts, non-experts or even non-western folk a proof of the pervasiveness of Western hegemony? If so, is it not to be expected that this Western hegemony reassert itself constantly (until that hegemony is effectively challenged that is)? That is what hegemony is, is it not?
If that is the case, what are we really talking about when we complain about all this? And like you, I too complain about all this. But why? And why are we surprised? Are we ourselves also effectively taken in the short circuit of punditry?
And so to return to a relatively western trope, which nonetheless seems rather trivial here: will history not just unfold materially, with a change of the material situation, partially fought for and willed by some actors but also mostly unexpected by all?
i.e. shit will happen and even the experts don’t know what that is. But whatever happens, it will nevertheless depend on the position everyone takes on the matter (and no position is also a position in politics).
And if one must defend a position, then doesn’t it make sense to at least pretend we know what we’re talking about? Aren’t the pundits merely rationally responding to the human condition? A very Western-Kantian take I know...
Thanks for a thought provoking piece. I still remember the feeling when I realised that while having lost of opinions on China and what the ccp should be doing, if someone would have asked me how one goes about running a country of a billion people my answer would have been very short: I have no idea.
Possibly, one of the best recent examples of Western ethnocentrism was Josep Borrell and his garden vs jungle comparison. He didn't apologise and doubled down when many noticed his euro-centric "colonialism". Pathetic.