Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Military-Industrial Complex Is Not A Deeper State Than Our State of Democratizing Capability

Bill Moyers' recent essay on the "Deep State" has attracted comment in several online precincts in which I like occasionally to dip my toe, and I have been a bit surprised to discover that in most of the comments sections where discussion of Moyers' piece is playing out, the talk has usually veered rather surreally into free-associative conspiracy theorizing. The surprise has been that the ones I am, possibly a bit unfairly, deeming seeming conspiracists here include many folks who usually seem to me instead rather pragmatic patient evidence-gathering sorts.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Moyers' "Deep State" is just the military-industrial complex (or security-industrial complex, if you like), revealing its ugly face again, as it does every decade -- an illegal unethical catastrophic war and occupation based on admitted lies in Iraq providing last decade's clearest object lesson, extrajudicial assassination via drone and ubiquitous spying providing this decade's clearest object lessons. The "depth" of the Deep State that is the military-industrial complex denotes the way unethical unpopular war-making (always in our names even when we don't want it, even when we only think we want it because we have been lied to, even when it is directed literally AT us) receives official approval and gets budget priorities over healthcare, education, infrastructure, and general welfare that would be far more ethical and far more popular. This happens not least because a "free market" society must by definition be unplanned because, in America at any rate, planned economies are unfree, and yet must nonetheless BE planned to function at all in a complex industrial extractive networked global economy, and by stealthing planning as "Defense" (the liberal/minarchist/libertopian's best friend) we can have enough of the planned economy we must have to function without having the planned economy we must not have because we are free. That doesn't make sense, you say? Quite so.

Now, I happen to disagree that the military-industrial complex is a "deeper" state than the notionally representative state is. I disagree that the abuses, crimes, and dysfunctions of the military-industrial complex are not susceptible of exposures, reforms, redresses by the press and legislators, even if a complete displacement of the military-industrial complex would no doubt require many lifetimes in an incredibly long process involving many scandals, outrages, and setbacks that is best understood to be already long ongoing. I disagree that the "depth" of the Deep State of the military-industrial complex such as it is, renders it so invisible or inscrutable as all that. When I speak of a planned economy "stealthed" as Defense, I mean by stealth something much better described as rhetoric than as conspiracy.

I have long recognized that one of the great benefits of studying (and teaching) critical theory is that it provides vocabularies and other tools for structural analyses of the interplay of social, cultural, political practices in the context of dynamic systems of signification, institutional norms and forms in history considered as interminable stakeholder struggle. In the absence of such vocabularies I think that even very intelligent and sensitive people struggling to make sense of the incomparably complex churn of public events find themselves turning to the profoundly distracting and disempowering mystifications of conspiracy theory. Sociologists, anthropologists, and political economists (at any rate the ones who took the Keynesian turn and actually believe in macroeconomics irreducible to microeconomic rationalizations) don't need conspiracy theories to account for historical events, and hence know how to concede the ineradicable unpredictability of the political without conceding the force of political education, agitation, organization, legislation.

Moyers' heart is definitely in the right place, and it is always urgently important to expose the secret crimes and pathologies to which the workings of security are permanently susceptible. Of course he is right to document the awful atrocities and authoritarian tendencies of rising militarism, the pathologies and pernicious incentives of metastasizing privateering military contractors, the frauds and distractions and abiding inter-dependency of neoliberal digi-utopian financialization and neoconservative robo-utopian carpet bombing. But Moyers' very appeal to our understanding and our conscience is premised on the recognition that those in whose names these crimes are undertaken and pathologies are nourished can indeed be educated, agitated, and organized to punish these crimes and reorient these pathologies. To the extent that he is right to make this appeal his essay performs an argument at odds with his stated argument: the visible government huddled around the Washington Mall where our compromised, corrupt, dedicated representatives and professional civil servants make and administer our laws and regulations and where we march in our millions to protest and to which we send our donations, letters, and elected representatives (among them some of us ourselves) is a State as quite as deep as, indeed I would insist quite a bit Deeper than, the "Deep State" of secretive security and military violence he demoralizingly describes. That Deep State of corporate-militarism, in all its lethal momentum and gurgling inertia, is indeed responsive to the visible state, responding to real needs and ugly wants, and remain imperfectly, ultimately unpredictably, but indispensably responsible to its dictates. And precisely the same responsiveness obtains in contrary directions, too.

We cannot know in advance just how changed the military-industrial complex might be when and if... ...present and eventual public outcry and conscientious legislation and judicial review undermines the capacity of surveillance to impose authoritative interpretations of profiling arising from pervasive information gathering... ...when and if strictures on torture and extrajudicial killing are reinforced... ...when the default defensive-aggressive ethos of masculine militarism is unmoored by the welcoming of queer service and the elimination of patriarchal rape culture and when the logic of multilateral diplomacy and openness comes to trump the muscular, unilateral and even pre-emptive linearity of force assumptions in our foreign policy... ...when more progressive taxation of wealth diminishes the seductions of amassing enormous extractive/industrial-epoch fortunes... ...when recognitions of the benefits of economic planning via public investment in public and common goods like renewable energy and transportation infrastructure and general health, education, and welfare renders the priority of Defense as a lever of state control over global developmental vicissitudes less necessary... ...when and if a universal basic income or a comparably rich consensualizing set of welfare entitlements is eventually instituted thus opening a window for millions and millions of citizens to take up voluntary public service in quests for personal meaning and fulfillment many of which preempt or transform available avenues in the currently constituted armed services... ...when and if the terrors of anthropogenic climate change reorient the mission of the military into the work of planetary infrastructural engineering, humanitarian assistance, and peacekeeping operations... ...and on and on and on... You know, politics!

Declaring the secretive blood-soaked military-industrial complex as a Deep State, as a more Real State than the State We the People are responsible to as well as responsible to change, is to absolve us of that responsibility, it is to indulge in the phony satisfaction of Illumination the better to rationalize the cheap satisfactions of the supposedly-ruggedly-individualist cynical consumer conformist acquiescence to what we know to be wrong and what we should work to make better. Comparatively isolated and incomparably resource rich Americans in our privilege and insulation have always had ample excuse to deny responsibility for our crimes and make others clean up our messes for us all the while congratulating ourselves on our splendid individual accomplishment and genius. Assured of our exceptionalism we endlessly indulge in spontaneist fancies of a stateless state of grace.

While Moyers would no doubt be the first to decry the false market libertarian ideology rationalizing the war-profiteering corporate-militarism of the military-industrial complex, I wonder if he recognizes that the metaphor of the military-industrial complex as the Deep State, the Deeper, Realer State than the debased compromised Visible State of We the People, re-enacts all too vividly the terms of that very ideology, or at any rate mobilizes widely disseminated figures, frames, and formulations congenial to its terms. While secrecy, secret ops, secret budgets surely suffuse the veins and joints of the security apparatus it is dangerously misguided to identify security with secrecy, and especially dangerous to identify analysis of the workings of present security operations, so-called, with the exposure of secrets -- or worse, Deep Secrets, or worst of all, The Secret.

The Secret is for conspiracists to ponder in smugly satisfied disaffected stasis; whereas bad policies, skewed budgets, false assumptions, wrongheaded aspirations, and ugly events are for citizens and activists and civil servants to expose and address and reform for the better. It is the ongoing democratization of citizens acting through and pushing against constituted governance who are the Deep State. Why on earth should we deliver our democratizing statehood over to war profiteers and belligerent sociopaths when we are in the very act of grasping and decrying their works?

Democracy may be slow, may be compromised, may be heartbreaking, but I insist on its Depth. I insist that its work will reveal the brittle superficiality of corporate-militarism and the military-industrial complex when democracy is armed with the conviction of majorities sustained by sensible, critical analysis. People of good will like Bill Moyers and those who read him should not give in to the despair of conspiracism nor give up their ownership of that state democracy invigorates to the good of all.

I refuse the plutocratic rationalizations of those anarchists devoted to the fanciful spontaneism of the Invisible Hand, I refuse the complacent paranoia of the anarchists devoted to the fanciful conspiracism of the Hidden Hand, I refuse the pampered loose talk of the anarchists devoted to the fanciful smashing of the Heavy Hand. We are the Deep State. We need to act like it, take up the long work of democratization in the service of sustainable equity-in-diversity and stop with the excuses already.


Unknown said...

Jay here. I hope you're right, but I think you're wrong. The logic of Michel's Iron Law of Oligarchy is fairly compelling.

Dale Carrico said...

Iron laws are usually made of rubber.