Fareed Zakaria: Profile of a Neocon

I noticed a photo of Barack Obama reading a book. It is still a bit charming to have a President who actually reads books, so I am inclined to view this as a positive. However, the book turned out to be The Post-American Future by Fareed Zakaria.

So is this sinister? Probably not, since Zakaria is a big shot (he is the editor of TIME Magazine international) and the book was a bestseller and one doesn’t simply read what one agrees with. Still, this is a bit troubling, since we’ve been told more than once that the Neocons are dead but the suckers keep coming back to life.

So who is Fareed Zakaria? His B.A. is from Yale (he was Scroll and Key – probably too ethnic for Skull and Bones) and his Ph.D. is from Harvard. His mentor at Harvard was Samuel Huntington. Huntington is a famous neocon and the author of a number of books, including Who are We? And The Clash of Civilizations.

By neocon we mean of of course “neoconservative,” which is to say a descendant in the intellectual lineage of Leo Strauss, which is to say an opponent of democracy, or if we want to get serious, a fascist. Strauss proposes there are two levels of truth, the exoteric and the esoteric, one set of doctrines he publishes for the outside (which are lunacy by themselves) and then, another, more radical doctrine which is spoken only to his chosen few. It is an attitude that also pervade the religious organization “The Family” which has been much in the news over the last year or so, a group which believes that Jesus held back his real doctrine for the elected few and contradicted the “exoteric” Jesus who seemed to believe in healing the sick, helping the poor, etc.

Allan Bloom was another of these neocons, the author of The Closing of the American Mind and whose self was immortalized in his friend Saul Bellow’s book Ravelstein, highly recommended for anyone wanting to gain further insight into the Ethan Brand-charcoal heart of a neocon.  Francis Fukuyama was another, the author of Our Posthuman Future, but his ascendancy to become the new Henry Kissinger appears to have stalled despite his own attempts to distance himself from the neocon disasters and also because Kissinger, of course, does not die but lives on like Nosferatu.

Zakaria seems to be the new neocon golden boy. Like so many of these people, he benefited in the public eye from 9/11; in his case, due to an essay he wrote called “Why They Hate Us” which was published in TIME. In this article, he placed the blame for Arabic problem squarely on the Arabs:

If there is one great cause of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, it is the total failure of political institutions in the Arab world. Muslim elites have averted their eyes from this reality. Conferences at Islamic centers would still rather discuss “Islam and the Environment” than examine the dysfunctions of the current regimes. But as the moderate majority looks the other way, Islam is being taken over by a small poisonous element, people who advocate cruel attitudes toward women, education, the economy and modern life in general. I have seen this happen in India, where I grew up. The rich, colorful, pluralistic and easygoing Islam of my youth has turned into a dour, puritanical faith, policed by petty theocrats and religious commissars. The next section deals with what the United States can do to help the Islamic world. But if Muslims do not take it upon themselves to stop their religion from falling prey to medievalists, nothing any outsider can do will save them.

http://www.newsweek.com/2001/10/14/the-politics-of-rage-why-do-they-hate-us.html

Pay no attention to the long history of intervention by Great Britain and the United States in the region, but instead point the finger of blame directly at the Arab world. Of course. We’re only here to help.

Zakaria is the author of two other books besides the one Obama was seen reading. One is called The Future of Freedom. I could summarize it here, but the summary provided on Amazon.com is so succinctly astonishing that I just want to quote it in full here:

Democracy is not inherently good, Zakaria (From Wealth to Power) tells us in his thought-provoking and timely second book. It works in some situations and not others, and needs strong limits to function properly. The editor of Newsweek International and former managing editor of Foreign Affairs takes us on a tour of democracy’s deficiencies, beginning with the reminder that in 1933 Germans elected the Nazis. While most Western governments are both democratic and liberal-i.e., characterized by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic rights-the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Zakaria praises countries like Singapore, Chile and Mexico for liberalizing their economies first and then their political systems, and compares them to other Third World countries “that proclaimed themselves democracies immediately after their independence, while they were poor and unstable, [but] became dictatorships within a decade.” But Zakaria contends that something has also gone wrong with democracy in America, which has descended into “a simple-minded populism that values popularity and openness.” The solution, Zakaria says, is more appointed bodies, like the World Trade Organization and the U.S. Supreme Court, which are effective precisely because they are insulated from political pressures. Zakaria provides a much-needed intellectual framework for many current foreign policy dilemmas, arguing that the United States should support a liberalizing dictator like Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf, be wary of an elected “thug” like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and take care to remake Afghanistan and Iraq into societies that are not merely democratic but free.

Amazing. Democracies require “strong limits,” the Germans “elected” the Nazis (this is a radical oversimplification of what happened – the Nazis never held a popular majority of any kind), Singapore, Chile, and Mexico represent “good” governments and Hugo Chavez is “bad,”  and the World Trade Organization is “effective” because it is “insulated.” This is jaw-dropping stuff, as unsubtle as a propaganda cartoon during wartime.

So what is The Post-American World about? It is globalist cheerleading, a book that in its own words describes a world in which American has not declined but it is rather the rest of the world which is rising up to meet us. (Indeed, the Amazon.com page for this book features a fawning interview between Zakaria and the propagandist Thomas Friedman.) How glorious! It is part and parcel of the worldview that somehow if all the countries of the world participate in monopoly capitalism’s future, that we all can benefit (or, more likely) perish equally. The neocon’s idea of democracy is that everybody gets equally reamed. The good news is, however, that great profits can be made by those in the know.

My Platform

Assuming I were to run for public office – let’s say President since we’re being ambitious – these would be 12 of my major tenets. (Needless to say, I am not running for any kind of public office.) Some of these may seem rather extreme, but it’s just a function of our present societal situation in which poor people face heavy penalties for crimes they commit and rich and powerful people face virtually no penalties whatsoever, despite the fact that rich and powerful people can do much more damage.

1. Legalize all drugs under the present California model; i.e., licenses and federal oversight. All drug offenders will receive immediate release. All non-drug offenders shall be moved to federal prisons. All private prisons shall be closed. No person or corporate entity shall ever be granted the power to make profit from the imprisonment of others. Addicts will be hospitalized, of course.

2. Ban all drug advertisements, to include alcohol, in all media. No drug companies (which includes alcohol) can sponsor sports stadiums or anything of the like. They can stay in business – I like a Long Island myself from time to time – but the playing field is completely equal and we want to reduce the all-encompassing nature of alcohol in our society a bit.

3. All presidential candidates must pass a basic skills test, including general knowledge questions in economics and geography. There will be essays and an oral exam. It need not be excessively difficult – we could perhaps use a general knowledge exam designed for English public school students, for example. We just want to make sure anyone who runs for office isn’t a complete fucking toolbag. They need to know the Earth goes ’round the Sun. The question of whether a magical snake talked to Adam and Eve should not be something that requires heavy thought.

4. The death penalty will be federally mandated, with several important provisions and limitations:

  1. All people of color must be convicted by a jury of their peers; that is, the jury must be composed of at least 50% people of color as well. In certain areas in the South, this is raised to 75%. All current death penalty cases will be re-examined by independent investigators to determine the evidence used to obtain their conviction, and will be stayed until approval to move forward is received. The manpower to do these independent investigations shall be found in the local communities and there will also be more people available because all drug cases are going away.
  2. The death penalty will be greatly expanded to include white-collar criminals. For example, attempted bribery of a public official, whether by direct or indirect means, will be punishable by death. The CEO of any company whose products result in even one person’s death as a result of malfeasance or disregard shall be charged with murder and put to death. Any executive who can be demonstrated to be knowledgeable of any hazardous material being placed in an area such that it directly or indirectly causes the death of a single individual shall be charged with murder and put to death. Any CEO or executive who knowingly participates in a scheme wherein funds are mismanaged to a degree that 1,000 or more people are put out of work shall be put to death. Any less than that number is merely life in prison with no possibility of parole. All higher-ups shall be responsible for every accountant, so that they are held accountable for their employee’s actions; the “I was unaware” defense is invalid.
  3. With regard to war-making, any member of any government body, whether in the legislative, executive, or judiciary branch, who agrees to commit troops to any war under false pretenses shall be put to death. The “I was unaware” defense will also be invalid in this case. It is their responsibility to be aware.
  4. Any police officer convicted of using excessive force which results in the death of a person, accidental or not, shall face the death penalty. Police officers will receive no special protections in prison and will be among the general population; however, it will be made known to the other prisoners who among them was formerly an officer. Any police officer who is found to have committed perjury in the trial of any person, under any circumstances, will face the death penalty. Any police officer who is found to have planted evidence or otherwise aided the false prosecution of any person will face the death penalty.

5. All anti-sodomy laws are hereby repealed. All private sexual activities are legalized as long as they are between consulting adults.

6. Any public relations firm who is found to have knowingly provided disinformation or lied on the behalf of any individual or corporation shall be broken up and the funds used to rebuild infrastructure in the communities of the affected persons.

7. Corporations are no longer persons and have no person-specific protections. Executives must be responsible for their own actions under penalty of law.

8. The “three strikes” law is hereby dissolved.

9. Prostitution is legalized. Federal case centers are set up so that prostitutes can get health care, regular medical checkups, work standard shifts, and obtain their licenses.

10. All medical patents last for 5 years maximum. Minor changes in “medicines” which do not alter their constituent elements do not count for purposes of re-patenting. Anything naturally occurring shall not be patentable; i.e., animals, plants, and people are not patentable, and neither are their cell structures or DNA. Viruses are considered “living” for purposes of non-patentability. Terminator seeds are hereby banned and all patents to that effect are revoked. Any further experimentation along those lines will be punishable by death.

11. Investments can only be in tangible entities and for a tangible productive purpose. All derivatives-based gambling is hereby banned. Any funds invested in that manner and lost cannot be re-collected and all such debts are considered null and void. All companies who solely trade such entities shall be broken up and the monies gained used to rebuild infrastructure in the communities most affected.

12. Companies whose businesses are in the United States but whose primary holdings are in banks other than the United States shall be subject to increased taxation. Those tax burdens are lessened to the extent that the monies stay in U.S. banks. Those tax burdens are eliminated if those same monies are used to rebuild infrastructure in the communities they serve or fund programs that serve the inner cities. Small profits will be allowed in the operation of these programs for businesses who use this money in such a productive capacity. Businesses would also be allowed to discuss their funding of these programs in their advertising, so there would be an incentive to have the best and most productive assistance programs so as to engender people to buy their products generally.

Anyway, these are just a few of the ideas. It’s a start…

Things That Keep Me Up at Night

I am monstrously lucky.

Sure, I have a tough time making ends meet sometimes and have the usual worries of a modern person in 21st century America, which is to say that I am better off than 99% of the world’s population.

Anyone who can read these words is lucky. Anyone who has all of their senses and resides in that part of the world’s population centers having sufficient technology to access the Internet (far less than 50% of the planet) is lucky.

We all know this, and we internalize it and move on, and bitch about our status anyway. But the “lucky” aspect of this is just the beginning.

There are two ideas that nag at me:

(1)    All of the terrible suffering endured in the world is entirely capricious and it is therefore literally true that it would have been better had no one ever been born. No consciousness, no pain.

(2)    Our moral imperative is to help others to whatever extent we can without regard to our personal means or geography, and when we do anything that is not directly assisting others we are egregiously immoral.

These may seem in opposition, but in actuality these ideas are mutually supportive. If we find ourselves in the midst of a war, once we moved past our own survival, would we not tend to the wounded around us? Suppose we disagreed with the reasons for the war. Suppose we found ourselves in a remote country, where we did not speak the language, and couldn’t even begin to understand the motives for war. We should still help the wounded, shouldn’t we?

If not, why not? What possible argument could there be to support our desire to (1) do nothing in the face of the war around us, or (2) take some other action that involves not helping others?

We are not (or, at least, most of us capable of reading this at the moment) in the middle of a war. However, we are on planet Earth, and the atrocities taking place at this very second are too numerous to mention. We all know these are going on around each second of every day and we limit our horizons to those in a small circle around us. And if we ever do think about the problems of the world, we quickly assure ourselves that our resources are such that we could never really make a difference.

Is that relevant? Suppose I can only, by expending the totality of my energies of my lifetime, reduce total universal misery by some pathetic, barely existent fraction of 1%. Does that mean I shouldn’t do it? What possible argument could be levied against using my life in this way? That it could be better used in some other way? Then it becomes a matter of calculation, and possible disagreement, but this would be a choice of possible alternatives within the structure of helping others. One possibility that would definitely be excluded would be, for example, to eke out a comfortable existence for myself and my family and friends, and buy a television and two cars and all the various accoutrements of modern life. All those resources could be better used in alleviating misery.

You might want to punch me at this point, and I don’t blame you. Please tell me where I’m wrong.

Every time I decide to share a laugh with a friend, or pick up Richard II and curl up in my favorite chair, or write in this blog, instead of volunteering at a homeless shelter, I am fit to be damned.

If this isn’t true, then why isn’t it true?

“You can’t be expected to live your life that way.”

“Being with friends makes you a good person, not a bad one.”

“First do no harm. You are not expected to bring evil into the world, but you can’t ask that everyone in the whole world dedicate their lives to bettering one another.”

These are not arguments.

Let’s take another example.

Everyone recognizes overindulgence. We might disagree about where the line lies, but everyone understands the concept and agrees that it would apply to one situation or another.

Let’s pick one: A man buys a Porsche.

Without judging in any way whether this action is good or bad, we can all recognize that there is no practical reason to ever buy a Porsche. Unlike, say, an SUV, wherein people talk themselves into believing they “need” one because they have kids, no such rationale can ever be given for a Porsche. There is no important reason to ever buy one. People like them because they are cool, or because they go very fast, but not because they aid in the assistance of others.

So that’s overindulgence.

Now look at the world. We see monumental universal misery all around us.

Is it an exaggeration to say that, in the face of universal human misery, that it is an overindulgence to treat oneself to an ice cream? Every time one is faced with the desire to have an ice cream, one would have to weigh its benefits against the global benefits of using those resources to help a starving person, for example. Will your desire for ice cream ever outstrip the need of the destitute?

“Well, I have to provide for my kids.”

Does providing for one’s kids mean buying expensive presents and sending them to expensive schools or even buying them clothes at some place other than Goodwill? If we’re serious about the simple principle of assisting others, then every dime we have that could be used for help and isn’t used for that renders us morally repugnant.

In Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More has been imprisoned for refusing to sign the Act of Succession. His friend Norfolk attempts to get him to comply and sign the act, and they have the following exchange:

NORFOLK: Oh, confound all this…I’m not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don’t whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names…You know those men! Can’t you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?

MORE: (Moved) And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

More’s God is a fascinating entity who lays traps for the learned. More’s intelligence enables him to be more in danger of Hellfire than Norfolk, whose simplicity assures his ascension even if he is in the wrong. Remarkable.

Of course I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, which one could argue makes everything pointless. I am myself haunted by the possibility that this play has been run again and again in a mindless eternity for no one’s amusement. But, as I noted at the beginning, this amplifies our responsibility rather than reducing it. The difference is that the damnation is entirely within the limitations of our own consciences.

I’m not saying I have any answers, or that I’m right. I don’t know. That’s the reason I’m up.