Saturday, October 16, 2010

Guevara Greenwald and Religion

My friend e-mailed me with a couple articles and asked my take on them.

The first two were a debate on Che Guevara, with John Hari anti-Che and George Galloway pro.

Next was an article by Glenn Greenwald on evidence of America's collapsing empire.

Last was a religious quiz by New York Times columnist Nick Kristof.

My responses below:

On the Che articles:

I agree with Johann Hari and have always been a little annoyed but the cultish image around Che Guevara (not to mention the commercialization.) The fact is he was fighting for a system that repressed freedom, and was a major component of establishing that in Cuba. Not that Cuba was better under Batista, and in fact for the vast majority of Cubans it likely improved under Castro (for some time); in the 50's they lived under a dictator and were impoverished and starving, in the 60's they lived under a dictator but were having significant improvements in social welfare.

That being said Galloway illustrates where Guevera was good and a large part of why I think he is revered. It was the fight itself, the revolution against oppressive powers and the means to unshackle society from that. It was after all largely far-left wing partisans and communists who were radicalizing people against fascism and Nazi occupation in Europe; and in Spain it was really the anarchists who were leading the fight against fascism. In fact in almost every instance I see where there is a society under oppressive; its almost never moderate, middle of the road people who are leading the resistance. They are often either absorbed into the governing structure or sit around and do nothing. Mandela is a good case, he's made out to be some kind of peaceful moderate (in the US) but he was a radical, violent revolutionary whose imprisonment was strongly supported by the US, and he was only removed from the US list of terrorists a year or two ago.

I think the same thing goes with someone like Yasser Arafat. He was a corrupt person, absolutely no question, and did a great disservice to the Palestinian people in many ways. But he was a symbol of resistance to the Israeli occupation/oppression. He was a symbol of fighting back and not collaborating with the occupiers. And so he was revered, understandably.

So I think oppressed societies, like Cuba or South Africa or anywhere else, need those kinds of figures to lead and rally around. Going back to the European example, because it was the communists who were leading the fight against fascism before and during the occupations, the US was literally fixing elections across Europe (including in France and Italy) after the war because the communists were so popular they were going to win the elections easily. Its because they had credibility, which no one else did. I think thats why Che serves better as a symbol of a means than anything else.

On Glen Greenwald:

I am always cautious of these pseudo-intellectual fads. In 2002-2003 half the books in the Political Science section of the bookstore were extolling the virtues of Pax Americana, which was simply accepted as a matter of fact. Now people declaring an end to American empire (for various reasons, many dubious; see Niall Ferguson). You see the same thing with the EU. A couple years ago people were hailing it as a new rival to the US and publishing books called "Why Europe will Rule the 21st Century"; now its all about how the EU is failing.

But responding to his specific point, I don't think any of the data he listed is evidence of an empire declining. The shutting down of public services all over the country is not some horrible unintended consequence of Empire, its deliberate ideology. Ever since Reagan the Republicans, and many Democrats, have had it in their head that there should be no "public" anything. Not only for the utility but because they want a society where there is no "commons" or "common good", everyone should only worry about themselves and everything should thus be in private hands. So with Social Security, thats largely what they were doing. You have your own private account, no pooled money like it is now. With these libraries, mass transit systems, schools shutting down; thats a deliberate effect of starving the public sector over the past few decades, so when crisis hits you kind of have to just sell it off to private corporations. Thats what they are doing with highways in the Midwest, or the fire department in that town where the guys house burned down because he opted out of the system. Don't get me wrong, its a disastrous system for the people of the country, but its not unintended. A larger focus on military capability shows we are still untouchable in that realm. The only thing that could nick us in the end is 1 to 2% economic growth for the next ten to twenty years, which is looking more and more likely

Quiz Results:

1. B correct

2. B incorrect A

3. C correct

4. C correct

5. A all of them

6. C correct

7. A or C Kind of correct

8. B correct

9. B all of them

10. C all of them

11. C incorrect A

12. C incorrect A

13. B correct

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