Saturday, July 2, 2016

Nails in the Coffin

Over the past week I've watched the rhetoric surrounding England and Wales' decision to leave the European Union with growing concern. I'm concerned because a great many people who I though were ardent opponents of globalization, which I will refer to by it's actual name, imperialism, from here on, attacked and derided those who may have just struck the most important blow against the imperial project in the last half century.

Before I go on I want to be clear about something. I am not British, thus I have only a small understanding of the complexities of political and social issues of those isles. Therefore, you should read my thoughts knowing that I do not believe what occurred in Britain is any of my business, except in context of my border stance against the imperial project.

The “imperial project” is a loaded term that needs be unpacked in order for my understanding of the context of the recent referendum to make sense. To start with, imperialism is the imposition of the will of one body of people onto another. The motivation behind the imposition is the control of natural or human resources. The resources are extracted for the benefit of the imposers. Author John Michael Greer calls this a wealth pump.

What we need to look at are the tactics used by empires against our communities, and communities similar to ours, to fully understand the growing nationalist backlash. First, however, we need to understand social stratification within the empire, for these divisions determine how successfully an empire can control its wealth pumps.

Social stratification is a natural byproduct of human population growth. The larger our population the more specializations our societies generate. Imperialism is based on two broad categories beneficiary and payer. That is, those who benefit from wealth extracted and those who have their wealth extracted. There aren't always clear separations between the two, but a cursory study of any country will allow you to find groups that have access to more resources and those who have access to less. Many social scientists have called this division of caste, class, and several other names. These same people have observed and established that a hierarchy does exist between the division, and that there is movement between the strata, albeit with varying degrees of frequency.

In our empire we call the movement between strata “social mobility,” and we name the concept class, using various descriptions such as middle-class, working-class, and so on to describe ones position on the strata. A well run empire will try to keep the majority of people on the beneficiary’s side of the line, and find a way to ensure that even payers see some benefit. Social welfare programs are essentially the attempt by those who control the resource surplus to expand the scope of benefits available to those who don't have any control.

The on going conversation on wealth distribution is about how our empire should fix a broken beneficiary system, but that is a conversation for another time. The tactics we need to discuss here are the ones that allow the elites, and their middle-class clients, to reap the benefits of their control, while everyone else pays.

If you have heard the term “global village,” and subscribe to its general principals, then it is likely you are a beneficiary of our empire’s unification strategy. The logic behind unification is simple. Create one system of prosperity that responds to a single power structure. The philosophy is one of negation. It negates the right of any community to not participate, it negates the right of any community to control its own resources, it negates the right of a community to control its own territory, and even to decide who belongs to that community and who doesn't. Freetrade, immigration, and metropolitanism are all tactics to negate local power structures which can stand in opposition to control over people and resources.

Rights are not abstractions. They are not granted by the heavens, but are imparted by social consensus. Our empire, as with most empires, attains consensus through coercion. The coercion isn't always violent, but it is always aggressive.

Freetrade, one of a series of Orwellian phrases deployed by our empire to describe a method of control, is not free by any measure. No community can opt out of freely trading their goods to the empires merchants without significant force of arms. That effectively means that every small tribe, in every remote corner, will be forced to join the world economy to some degree. Whether or not they become a curiosity for tourists, slaves, or are simply exterminated varies from case to case. If the community is unfortunate enough to live upon or near abundant natural resources, they will quickly find themselves ruled over by a beneficiary and reduced to poverty. Even a well organized and populace country can find itself cut off from neighbours, if it doesn't conform to the trade standards of the empire. Iran, Russia, Greece, and many other countries have experienced this coercion, and England will soon feel it for its deviance. Of course violence and economic coercion are only two methods to bring countries and communities under the control of empire. Once there, two very insidious methods are deployed to retain control.

Divide and conquer is common tactic used by most empires to keep its subjects under control. Divisions are created by granting privileges, and in our empire the biggest division is between “global citizens” and “citizens.” A global citizen is a citizen of the empire, and a major beneficiary of wealth extraction. People are encouraged to lend their talents, time, and passion to the project of global prosperity. The unacknowledged truth is that prosperity is not global, and is only concentrated in a few centres of power. Thus the encouragement to contribute to global prosperity, to take up Global Citizenship, is an invitation to partake in the process of wealth extraction. The invitation is insidious because it is part of the process of extraction, and the resource being extracted are the people  who take up their new unrooted citizenship.

We call this process “Brain Drain,” an apt description for removing much needed talent from local communities. Encouraging individuals to forsake the often desperate needs of their community, disentangle themselves from complex emotional demands, from the hard realities of subjugated communities and pursue person prosperity over communal prosperity is how an empire's elite create a willing army of conquistadors: those who serve as equal part solider, trader, bureaucrat, and functionary of the empire.

Sadly, even immigrants, who are normally from payer communities, and simply seeking to join the beneficiaries table, are used as fodder for imperial subjugation. Our empire has existed long enough so that many communities within the empire have managed to negotiate a fairly stable position at the beneficiaries table. What we call the “working-class” formed unions and negotiated an agreement that traded labor for the comforts of imperial life. The empire’s elite broke that agreement by passing laws that undermined collectivization, and then opened borders to allow free movement of subjugated peoples.

Open immigration was even supported by several opponents of the empire, who saw the movement of subjugated people from exploited regions to less exploited regions as a way to better the lot of one payer community. They did not stop to consider that an influx of labor into an already saturated market violates the law of supply and demand, and allows the elite to drive down the cost of labor.

People supporting immigration see it as a moral imperative, a way to better the well-being of payer communities in distant parts of the empire. These self-same people see themselves as part of the global village, and as global citizens. To them it makes sense to support policies that allow others to partake in the fruits of empire. They do not stop to consider the negative effects of open immigration on local communities that are already over-populated. In fact the imperial system of thought control, manipulative words and phrases, actively discourages the middle-class from thinking about the negatives. Academics, another group of beneficiaries, publish extensive studies supporting open immigration. That the constant influx of new arrivals creates completion for scarce jobs, housing, and government welfare is never given proper consideration. Add to that the outsourcing of high wage jobs, and the backlash against immigration becomes easy to understand. What looks like xenophobia is no more than a reaction to the imperial negation of local prosperity and sovereignty.
Ultimately, the only people who benefit from outsourced production and constant movement of labor are the ones who have to pay less for goods and services – the global citizen and their elite patrons.

Beneficiaries now overwhelmingly congregate in cities such as London, New York, Seattle, Beijing, and many others. These are centers of prosperity, places that are wholly dependent on a global network of extraction and exploitation to survive. The Orwellian phrases of “diversity” and “multi-culturalism” are deployed to describe a globally homogeneous culture. Global citizens hop from one part of the global village to another, and are ultimately able to find all the same comforts regardless of where they travel. Metropolitanism epitomises a culture of exploitation and false promises. It is somewhat ironic that one of the current leaders of England's Leave campaign, Boris Johnson, once remarked, “Nobody wants to live in a f*cking village, you can't be a rock start in a f*cking village,” when he served as London's mayor. Indeed the promise of joining the beneficiaries table and ascending its hierarchy is what draws the young to the cities, never mind that the odds of ascension are remote, or that the native communities need the service of the young to survive. No, what's important is self-interest. This is the lie of the city and its keepers.

Given that freetrade, immigration, and metropolitanism destroy the ability of payer communities to prosper, let alone survive, it should come as no surprise that a nationalist backlash was forthcoming. When people resist they unify themselves around familiar symbols such as ethnicity, religion, regionalism, or class. These symbols allow for the biggest tent, and draw the most supporters, which is what a nation ultimately needs to resist the mechanations of empire.

What is surprising is that the backlash against empire has nearly no support from the traditional opponents of empire, the political left. The ideals of worker’s rights, anti-free trade, and anti-metropolitanism are the positions long advocated by the political left. Yet at every turn they are lending their voices to support the leaders and citizens of the global village. Instead of seeing the truth of a class rebellion, they see only the rising tide of ethnic nationalism. Make no mistake, the current leaders of the backlash in Europe and the United States of America are using every tool at their disposal to overpower the imperial elite. Nationalism and religious sentiment are certainly tools that are being deployed. If the nationalist resistance against empire drifts further into ethnocentrism and religiosity then no one will bare more blame than the secular and cosmopolite class, all of who failed to sacrifice their privileges for the well-being of the native payer communities.


  1. Hi Varun-
    Starting to read backwards into your archives today! Another well-thought-out piece. I am mulling over the benefits and costs of globalization/imperialism for the average U.S. citizen. Even for those of us who do not live in big cities, it is clear that many aspects of our lifestyle are enabled by the extractive force. Need a new t-shirt? Drive to Mall*Wart and plop down less than the cost of a lunch out. Need a snack afterwards? Drive (again) to the supermarket and pick up ingredients from every corner of the globe. I'm sure most of us don't regularly think about the people who produced those items, probably at a very low level of compensation. Do they have similar abilities to access cheap consumer goods? What is that "worth"?But from the perspective of costs to the globalization project, do members of payer communities have access to social and community structures that strengthen and enrich their lives, which we in the U.S. have traded in for shallow, consumer values instead? Of course these are incredibly broad questions, with complex and nuanced answers. I am inspired to investigate more into the phenomenon of globalization and the imperial wealth pump. Do you have any favorite books or other resources on the topic as entry points for me? I'd like to build a fuller mental picture of the specifics of how various groups are affected, both inside the beneficiaries' circle and across the 'extracted' world.
    Cheers for provoking so much thought!
    --Heather in CA

    1. Heather,

      I'll have to give the book suggestions some thought. Besides Karl Marx's Das Kapital, which speaks directly to the exploitive nature of industrial economics, I would also suggest E. F. Schumacher's Small is beautiful. I'll try to dig up some books that speak directly to the issue of imperial exploitation.