Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Bomb

Can one idea fit all? In a new book Garry Wills says yes! you can explain American foreign intervention by ownership of the Bomb (nuclear weapons); as it gives the president unique authority, allowing him dictate the country’s foreign policy:

The president has been conceded life-and-life death authority over use of the Bomb. “He doesn’t have to check with anybody,” said Dick Cheney.

Is this really the cause of the Iraq war?

Look around us, and wherever we look we see huge companies controlling the market place – it’s usually 4 or 5 corporations with four fifths of its market share. The nature of modern life is towards centralisation, and, as Bertrand Russell writes, this gives the people at the top a lot more freedom to make decisions - the organisations are too vast, its interior workings too opaque, the actors too distant, for the public to control them. 

In the same book he points out how increasingly decisions are made by groups of people, and not individuals. Countries are no different. Can anyone doubt that it was cabal of advisors centred around Cheney, rather than a single individual, George Bush, that made the decision to go to war? And that the public had no say in the matter?

Sure, the Bomb was used to frighten people; but policy is not propaganda. And think about it. America has enough conventional weaponry to roast the planet, so why should the Bomb be elevated to a sort of Jehovah?

Politics cannot be reduced to single explanations – it is not a chemical experiment. Though oh, how we’d like to! Freud, Marx, Darwin… their influence has spread far beyond their original fields, as intellectuals have tried to reduce our multivalent reality to simple formulas. Why should this be so? Perhaps intellectual thought is akin to aesthetics: its need for form. Science achieves it within its own domain; so why can’t we do it for the rest of reality?

A claim has often been made that the humanities (see Gellner in an excellent review) have wanted to ape the sciences – their influence, their cognitive growth. This is no doubt true. But what if the mindset is the same for both? They both look to reduce the world to beautiful patterns; and by a lucky accident science works. There is something in the mind that wants simplicity, and in the social sciences this urge, because it cannot be grounded in political or sociological fact, creates these great metaphysical beliefs; as the world is too big and complex, unlike a Poussin painting or Newton’s three laws of motion, to be so reduced.

Why should Wills believe his theory? In part, perhaps, it’s because of his belief in politics. We live in a democracy, therefore it’s politics that counts: its politicians who make the decisions. This is questionable. We also believe the individual is supreme; it’s the crux of modern populism. Yet we live in the era of big business and big government. Then there’s the question of indoctrination. To be part of the establishment you have to accept its assumptions; which in turns prevents you seeing them clearly. The nature of modern State Capitalism is often at variance to the ideas and values of our culture. However, it is just those ideas and values that the intellectuals use to explain it. This reduces understanding.

The Bomb sits atop a vast edifice: the Pentagon, high technology industry, 60 years of newsprint and fear. It is that vast edifice that took us to war in Iraq. But like the Pentagon building, it has a huge number of rooms, and thousands of personnel, that takes a lifetime to explore – an afternoon’s visit is not enough. Though our entertainment industry tends to believe otherwise – have they influenced Wills?

And finally, and perhaps the naked truth, if you’re an employee what happens when you speak out against the company, expose their charitable aims for smash and grab? Do they promote you to the board?

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