How to be Useful to the Empire
May 2, 2010
by Joegodson and Paul
We are all embedded in an Empire that is wrecking havoc with the planet and its populations and ecologies. Whether in Haiti or Canada, we live with the reality of that situation. Meanwhile, we are all encouraged to live in a world of illusion, myths, and deceptions. Were we to refuse life in fantasyland, the Empire would quickly grind to a halt. Surviving in the Empire requires, at a minimum, that we learn how to not ask questions. This meditation looks at how the Empire supports us in supporting it.
Material wealth follows from being useful to the Empire, which can be described as the game whereby as much as possible of the world’s resources enters North America to be divvied up by those who, in turn, commit themselves to the system. At the moment, the peoples and ecologies of Afghanistan and Haiti are paying the biggest prices.
Why should you make yourself useful to Empire? Depending on how useful you are to our current system of destruction and domination, you stand to profit. At the entry level of collaboration, you simply remain ignorant. As you climb the ladder of propaganda, more is expected of you and greater will be the rewards.
At the moment, Canadians are fixated on the early rounds of the Stanley Cup play-offs. This annual ritual could be a simple distraction from the world’s problems. Instead, it deepens the abuses and horrors of Empire. Unconscionably, the hockey industry’s main spokesmen have found a way to profit: to show that, not only are they no threat to the Empire, but that they will do their bit. Useful, they will profit.
Hockey fans develop an Orwellian capacity to shift allegiances. It is the template, in our everyday lives, for wars of empire. Hockey arenas are the training grounds for support of Empire. You remain loyal to your franchise. Noble, honourable fans support their team even through the bad years. They support the troops. Thousands of fans crowd arenas to cheer their boys on to victory. This in not an ethical issue: whomever your team is playing are the bad guys. Players themselves nurture the ability to fight for whatever team hires them. For the fans, there is no question of the morality of playing the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Vancouver Canucks. When a player is traded, he immediately becomes a bad guy. You train yourself to shorten your memory and to accept that nothing but allegiance and victory are at stake. Your job as a fan is to be loyal to whatever team is placed before you. You love them. If it remained there, it would seem a harmless enough frivolity.
Ron McLean and Don Cherry have found a way, however, to make themselves useful to the Empire. Extraordinary propagandists, they innocently transfer the hockey paradigm to the current war of Empire in Afghanistan. In their Coach’s Corner shtick, they praise Canada’s fallen soldiers in the framework established to discuss effective hockey strategies. First, they talk about the morality of hockey: how to fight honourably and how to support your teammates. They dissect, with an impressive understanding of the game of hockey, how teams are succeeding and failing in the quest for the Stanley Cup. They know hockey. They don’t know war. They know nothing about war. However, they make themselves useful to the purveyors of war by innocently praising individual Canadian soldiers who choose to participate in Afghanistan as though they were engaged in another form of hockey. McLean and Cherry are collaborators in Empire. It pays. The Canadian Forces have honoured Cherry with the Medallion for Distinguished Service, the Canadian Legion has made him a Dominion Command Honourary Life Member, and the Canadian public has voted him the Seventh Greatest Canadian in a poll sponsored by the CBC.
McLean and Cherry do their best to avoid all questions regarding the morality of the current assault on Afghanistan. They don’t always succeed. However, their intention is simply to praise the troops. Innocent? Harmless? Beyond reproach? Not at all. Canadian troops are participating in a criminal invasion of Afghanistan and are pursuing the occupation of that unfortunate country in violation of international law. It’s clear that they have been complicit in the torture of Afghans guilty of nothing more than defending their country. But the Afghan prisoners aren’t on our team, so they are the bad guys. In fact, all Canadian soldiers have an ethical duty to refuse orders. The law is not only on their side, but demands that they do. McLean and Cherry are living in a fantasy world where a hockey game stands in for a bloody, criminal war. All they know is how to fight well. They can’t tell you whether the fight is ethical. And so they praise the troops whereas they should be chastising them for violating the Geneva Conventions. This problematic was described in Ridley Scott’s film Blackhawk Down. At the end of the film, the soldier tells us that he must now find another war in order to support his comrades. Any war will do. Any comrades will do. It’s his allegiance to his buddies, and nothing else, that matters.
It gets worse. Much worse.
United Nations Special Envoy Bill Clinton is currently taking advantage of the devastating earthquake to impose the plan previously devised by neoliberal economist Paul Collier for the enslavement of Haiti under control of the Empire. Clinton and Collier are simply the front men for the corporate masters of the world. Like McLean and Cherry, their prestige and profits follow from their usefulness.
Before looking at the plan, we must first understand Clinton’s relationship with Haiti. Under what democratic principle did Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, appoint Clinton as Special Envoy to Haiti in July 2009? In whose interests was Clinton appointed? We need only look at recent historical facts to see the depth of this insult to the people of Haiti. Clinton and Collier both exist in a world in which they need not answer for their actions. No matter how criminal and unethical, they will not be touched. The Empire protects those who serve by destroying everything that stands in the way of the consolidation of power.
In the 1980s, the masses of peasants and urban poor in Haiti arose to overthrow Duvalier and insist upon their right to determine their own lives. This was the culmination of literacy programs and self-education about the world and how they fit into it. It was an extraordinary moment in the history of Haiti in particular and humanity in general. By 1990, they had elected one of their own, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, not a politician but a defrocked priest committed to the ideals of liberation theology. The masses would accept poverty. They had no choice. But they could choose how they would live their poverty. They would live with dignity and work tet ansanm – together – to define their future.
Not so fast. To the north was the United States that was prepared to kill en masse to prevent the loss of an inch of its Empire. In September of 1991, the CIA coordinated a coup d’état in Haiti. The forces of General Cedras immediately showed their ruthlessness in slaughtering thousands of the poor of Port-au-Prince who had assembled to protect their presidency. It was never to be their presidency. Having escaped first to Venezuela, Aristide came to consolidate his support among the Haitian Diaspora in Canada and the United States. He needed to be dealt with. Clinton responded by pretending to oppose the military dictatorship in Haiti that had been coordinated by the arm of the American government conceived to provide the president with “plausible deniability” for the nefarious actions of the Empire in foreign lands. Thanks to a very poor educational system, otherwise intelligent people are able to graduate from North American universities with doctorates in the social sciences, politics, international relations, etc., on the tacit understanding that they will not refer to both the overt and covert machinations of America’s system of domination and destruction. It works. Clinton’s current position as Special Envoy to Haiti instead of defendant at the World Court of Justice is proof.
So, Clinton imposed an embargo on the military dictatorship with the stated objective to bring it to its knees. In fact, it was a porous embargo that allowed the dictatorship to continue and punished the Haitian people. The poorest people in the hemisphere were taught that things could get much worse. Clinton, assuming that he knew of the coup d’état organized by the CIA before he took office, was now pretending to oppose it while starving the Haitian people. The only possible inference is that Clinton intended to destroy Haiti’s civil society as fully as possible. He certainly did a very good job. Eventually, he pretended to support democracy by reinstalling Aristide as president, under an agreement that he would represent Washington’s interests and not those of the Haitian people who elected him. General Cedras, meanwhile, was allowed to settle in the United States with truckloads of money stolen from the starving Haitians, as Jean-Claude Duvalier was squandering the peasants’ heritage in France.
That kind of service to Empire cannot go unrewarded. It would set a bad precedent. So Clinton was appointed Special Envoy to further bind the poor Haitian masses to the Empire. In Haiti, where no penny that could enrich the kleptocracy is allowed to develop domestic infrastructure or the economy, natural disasters become human disasters. Canadians would freeze without reliable heating. In Haiti, they drown and are crushed when infrastructure does not address the geographical and climatological needs. That never seemed to bother people like Clinton, which makes him a perfect Envoy. To plan the next wave of insults to the Haitian poor, no better a collaborator than Paul Collier could be imagined. An Oxford professor who believes that he has the genetic right to play with populations in the service of the global economy, he was asked to prepare a report for the United Nations on the future of Haiti in the wake of the disasters from the hurricane season of 2008. The result, Haiti: From Natural Catastrophe to Economic Security is the new plan of death for the people of Haiti.
Collier’s plan is the resurrection of the old Plan of Death that Clinton’s administration had imposed upon Aristide as the conditions for his return to Haiti in 1994. Collier demonstrates how an Oxford economist in the service of the neoliberal Empire need not concern himself with actual human beings and their cultures. We will analyze his chauvinist document in more detail later. In broad strokes, Collier suggests that resources for the reconstruction be consecrated to best exploiting the land and its people, who must remain as poor as possible for the plan to be effective, in the service of the Empire. Haitians, in his telling, are victims of some vague history whose details never seem to interest him. He is an economist with a vision of a profitable future for the masters of the world, among whom he clearly feels at home. Haitians will work in the sweatshops that they have already rejected. In the countryside, they will grow an export crop of mangoes that he justifies for its supposed environmental benefits in addressing soil erosion. Funds will go to building the infrastructure, not for Haitians, but in the service of the export industries: ports, roads, and electricity. Electric power will be needed, not for Haitians, but to assure the competitiveness of the needle trade sweatshops.
For those wondering why money that was collected for humanitarian aid in the aftermath of the earthquake has not been spent, it is almost surely being put aside to ‘develop’ Haiti’s economy. Well, not Haiti’s economy really, but the Empire’s exploitation of the people of Haiti.
We have already witnessed Clinton’s capacity to implement a plan that is the complete opposite of the illusory one he proffers.
There is a problem with much commentary about the vibrancy of Haitian civil society. In itself, it is important to document the competence and vision of Haitian communities. But we must not forget history innocently any more than Collier and Clinton ignore it deliberately. Planning self-sufficiency and then attempting to implement those plans independent of the Empire is a bloody, violent enterprise. Planners of sustainable, environmentally conscious and just economies will have to deal with whoever has been installed in the White House to protect and extend the Empire.
Don’t let’s be stupid.
Haitians have already paid a huge price for their self-education and claims to control their future. We support that vision. However, it will only work if North Americans are equally able to educate themselves. They can begin this little experiment by challenging the Collier plan and supporting the realization of Haitian initiatives, such as PAPDA, Plateforme haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif, and the innumerable community groups that could be brought into collaboration with it.
Meanwhile, go Habs go!