Cruise Missile Marxists

By Al Schumann on Saturday August 4, 2012 11:17 PM

The cruise missile humanitarians, in all their flavors, make extensive use of the same basic syllogism.

Human organization can be a force for good.
Imperialism is a form of human organization.
Therefore it can be a force for good.

I've left out several hundred thousand words in an effort to conserve pixels.

The cruise missile thesis draws on an interpretation of capitalism as an inadvertently and ineluctably progressive means of social organization. From there, the thesis descends into comparative body counts and Gini coefficient wrestling matches. I think it's a bad idea to treat it too seriously. IOZ posed the appropriate line of inquiry:

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Maybe the cruisies have the same problem pwogs and wingnuts do. They can't really see distant people as human beings. So it's okay to eat them, metaphorically speaking.

I don't believe that cruise missile humanitarianism, or opposition to it, amounts to a hill of beans (the side dish, if you will). The cruisies are classic useful idiots and provide a rhetorical stick with which to beat skeptics. Most provide it for the attention it generates. Some get paid or get career benefits, such as points scored in their miserable little faction and fraction struggles. That, alas, is all too human.

Comments (22)


Maybe the cruisies have the same problem pwogs and wingnuts do.

Tom Nairn somewhere described Marxists as 'poor cousins' of their better heeled Capitalist relations (anyone remember how some giants of the mind used to literally drool over Teutonic efficiency of the Swiss postal system or the fruits of Taylorism?). Just as some of the petty-bourgeoisie can affect Upper Crust views, why can't some soft in the head Marxies such as Gilbert Achcar or Fred Halliday ape their better endowed academic chair holding colleagues who get to jet-set as well?

Norman Finkelstein deconstructed the MO of Hitchens and the pretend contrarianism he specialized in. A comment at Doug Henwood's blog covered a similar technique of some mock-profound Savants who also claim to inspired by Marx:

The Bahamas sect does the same sort of thing, rabid defenses of Ariel Sharon, George W. Bush, neo-liberalism, and even rape (!) all dressed up with Marxist language.

In other words, just a sort of lame contrarian iconoclasm.

A friend of mine says that Slavoj Zizek would describe this as a form of “perverse enjoyment”:

Basically, Platypus, and hardcore Anti-Germans, or Spiked Online/Living Marxism in England, all NEED the left as an audience for their empty-calories iconoclasm, because that’s the only audience that regards their statements as scandalous. But their content is 100% in accord with mainstream society, so if they lose the left as an audience, they also lose the opportunity to portray themselves as bold iconoclasts.

This is basically what has happened to Bahamas: after their defenses of rape as just “bad sex”, and their nasty racist diatribes against Muslims in Germany, their little rag isn’t sold in leftist bookstores, and they no longer have the leftist biotope to swim around in. As a result they’re sort of adrift, having lost the necessary audience to appear as dissident speakers of uncomfortable truths.

If a powerful, benevolent alien species invaded Earth, and removed our militaries forcibly when resistance was offered, in order to bring a genuine peace to the planet, would it be a good thing?

Al Schumann:

sk, lovely linkage. My thanks. Norman Finkelstein's essay is memorably good. He has an accomplished and empathetic way of handling contradictions that really exist. He knows how to make the effort of understanding them worthwhile. I wish I could write like that. It gives compelling support to his dismissal of contrarian affectation.

Speaking of which, does anyone recall "Voguing"? It was a Corporate Thermidorian entertainment fad from the late eighties/early nineties. Voguing consisted of taking camera-ready poses to coke-snorting music (YouTube link to a Corporate Thermidorian television spectacle). At the time, I saw it as accidentally apposite social commentary. Self-inflicted physical discomfort and public humiliation is a reactionary dream come true: at long last, the populace takes personal responsibility for its own degradation and does so in a way that turns a tidy little profit for its masters.

I recall the Henwood-Platypus dustup with pleasure. The comment, too. The contrarian sects should be encouraged to plagiarize each other's disquisitions and stage public acrimony fests over intellectual property rights. They'd get all the attention they want that way, and possibly a paycheck or two as well.

High Arka, would a truly benevolent alien species want to invade us? It seems doubtful to me. In my own fantasy along those lines, they pull whoopee cushion pranks on hawks and their cheerleaders, and balk their murderous endeavors in ways that reduce them to tears of frustration. I have moments when I'm all about improving moral character and if fantasy is available that looks like a salutary method.

Al Schumann:
anyone remember how some giants of the mind used to literally drool over Teutonic efficiency of the Swiss postal system or the fruits of Taylorism?

The ringing endorsement for Taylorism sounds like Gus Hall, to put a name to one of the giants. I'm unalterably opposed to efficiency, teutonic and otherwise. It's a Stakhanovite meatgrinder, ably tended by the same conservatives whose disdain for mediocrity finds its truest expression in voting for increases in the Pentagon's budget.

I only have a single string to pluck, Al - but I'll give it a go: we've got anarchists now who read exactly like your Marxists, Liberals, Progressives, Glibertarians, Trads and Conservatives.

I think what informs them all is actually pretty easy to understand. They believe in redemption. That people can be redeemed. Made better. Improved.

It's a big enough deal taken on its own terms, but let's compare it to the first large occidental empire. The Romans didn't give a flying fuck about redeeming people. They were nasty, bad motherfuckers who knew a thing or two, collectively, about putting down insurrections, taking territory and kicking the shit out of their enemies. But, as a rule, they could care less what the others believed. Or felt. Or did with their religions. Or their assholes, mostly.

A Roman might accept that a barbarian people could be Romanized. In three of four generations. If they were left alone often enough to accept the advantages for themselves. If they weren't overly muddled with, in that way what makes people rebellious. But, this method wasn't salvationist. It wasn't an act of redemption. It just made them less likely to cause other Romans trouble.

After Christianity, especially, this all changed. And we've been dealing with redemptionist violence ever since.

The Romans punished, certainly. It was a blood offering. It was a warning.

But, they weren't trying to secure their victims' places in heaven, the true state, the glorious socialist future, the will of God, or whatever other crystalline structure makes redemptionism so addictive to its adherents.


People as different as Chomsky and Zizek have written favorably of a less nation-state obsessed recent empire that also left its subjects for the most part alone. Here's Chomsky:

Just think for a moment about the Ottoman Empire: I mean, nobody wants to restore the Ottoman Empire. It was brutal, harsh, corrupt, and obliviously you don't want it. But, nevertheless there were some things about the Ottoman Empire that are worth recovering. For example, during the Ottoman period, you could travel from Cairo to Baghdad to Istanbul without crossing any borders. You did not have to have a visa; it was all one region. Partly because of its corruption, the Ottoman Empire left local regions more or less to themselves. The Armenian community could run its own affairs; the Greek community could run its own affairs. They had many close interconnections--commercial, cultural and so on--but they had a degree of autonomy. That long-term structure is not a bad one to move towards, I think.

and here is Zizek:

Already in the 16th century the French naturalist Pierre Belon could note that ‘the Turks force no one to live like a Turk’. Small surprise, then, that so many Jews found asylum and religious freedom in Turkey and other Muslim countries after Ferdinand and Isabella had expelled them from Spain in 1492—with the result that, in a supreme twist of irony, Western travelers were disturbed by the public presence of Jews in big Turkish cities...Let us not forget that the two great ethnic crimes imputed to the Turks in the 20th century—the Armenian genocide and the persecution of the Kurds—were not committed by traditionalist Muslim political forces, but by the military modernizers who sought to cut Turkey loose from its old-world ballast and turn it into a European nation-state.


Here is a video of how communities lived next to each other in an Ottoman city and this is what life is like in the modern, even "socialist" nation-state established on its ruins.

Was going to repurpose an old Ukrainian folk saying on your behalf, Oxy. Realized you weren't worth it.

Feticide, though? Sounds tasty.

Cluster's Stalker:

sounds like ole oxy is into some real good medicinal bud, got his nasty aches and pains under such good control he wants to tussle. that's good.

but what he really needs is a hug.


So most of the vicious posts are Oxy’s Jack? He must be a real sleazy passive aggressive charm in his ‘other life;’ as he certainly appears to be a true danger to anyone stuck socializing on the web who might be so depressed they could easily be pushed to suicide (and as we’ve seen, there are more than a few young people who have done just that).

He must be in delight at thehuge crop he can choose from to victimize on the tubes, when so many have been made so transient, living in neighborhoods and housing they weren’t able to choose and disconnected from one on one human contact in their surrounding communities, sadly, having more contact on the web then they do in real life.

Have any suicide medals Oxy? I certainly have felt the knifings you’ve given me, and had I been in a worse state, it might have been my straw. The APA may be hiring in its higher echelons, Oxy, perhaps they can give you a delightful position at Guantanamo, you sick fuck predator.

Al Schumann:

Please ignore the trolling. I'll tidy up as I get the chance.

Human organization can be a force for good.

Yeah, well, like the saying says, "Don't mourn, organize". So far, so good.

Imperialism is a form of human organization.

Well, yeah... I guess that is true...

Therefore it can be a force for good.

Ouch, my brain exploded.

In a tangentially related note -- while we're on the subject of cruise-missile liberals and such -- last Friday's Washington Post Style section was massively splattered with a big, gushy profile on Michele Obama's gardening fetish, complete with a big, gushy foto of her gardening, and a repro of the cover of her book that's just out, American Growth. There may or may not be a cartoon in there somewhere, provided I can learn to draw The Boy Emperor's Woman properly (Christ, what a mean-looking old broad).


thank you so much, Al.

High Arka asks:

If a powerful, benevolent alien species invaded Earth, and removed our militaries forcibly when resistance was offered, in order to bring a genuine peace to the planet, would it be a good thing?

Wow... is this a trick question? I'm really looking hard for a reason not to say "yes", as it seems that so few indigenous humans have been able to summon up the cajones to remove the militaries themselves.

Still, I'm hesitant, as I'd hate to wind up in a class with Lee Van Cleef's character in the Roger Corman stinkburger It Conquered The World:

Al Schumann:

Jack, the string on redemption is worth plucking. The need to uplift others lends extra sadism to run of the mill brutality. To own the souls as well as the suffering of the body is control freak heaven. But I'm not quite on the same page as you regarding the influence of Christianity. I'm open to arguments on the lineage, but this imperial redemption looks determinedly modernist, secular and rationalist. The goal, after all, is to create spiffy clean little nations full of spiffy clean little liberals. And when that doesn't work, which is always, to make them hurt so badly that they want to at least make spiffy clean little sweatshops.

sk, Chomsky in his pragmatic mode reminds me of the better paleocons. I wonder if a whiff of that conservatism is what sets off Democratic hysterics. As a lesser evil, that's really less evil; a rarity, and one likely to be galling to redemptionists. Given the choice and the chance, they like to rectify injustices (though not their own) through psychic makeovers (though not their own psyches), delivered on the wings of cruise missile angels, with their own form of pragmatic looting to defray the costs of redemption.

Mike, I almost lost it when I composed the impeccable logic. If my own head is intact, it's a mystery as to why. I'd claim credit, if I could, but I'm increasingly opposed to heads that aren't more or less constantly and metaphorically exploding.

Diane, there used to be an entertaining flash animation of a parrot that would urge people to get 'back to work', 'back to work', when you clicked on his tail. This isn't apropos of much of anything, save to observe that the web once had better trolls.


A kiss and human hug to you, Al.


...the better paleocons. I wonder if a whiff of that conservatism is what sets off Democratic hysterics.

Chomsky's overlap with Paleocons is slight and mostly limited to overseas adventurism. I suspect it's his lack of veneration for the Holy State and all that entails which gets their goat.


It's a solid rebuttal you've got. I'm not arguing that the salvationist pogroms which followed Julian the A's defeat, or which scrubbed Pelagius' and Arius' followers from Europe is identical to the self-professed therapeutic and rational ones nesting in the heart of state-bordered Europe and the Americas.

Just that it doesn't really exist where Christianity didn't take root. And Western rationalism is inseparable from its Christian precedents, the parts which are reaction to salvational anxiety, and the parts which continue the program of the expanding closed circle.

Al Schumann:

Diane, I do try. Thanks for the kind thoughts.

sk, that's much more plausible. I agree.

Jack, this needs some fleshing out. I see similarities between the Western salvationist imperialism and the early 20th century Japanese imperialism. There are philosophical distinctions, but the rhetoric and rationales look much the same. Have I missed something?


This is a simplification, but Greater Nippon was looking for territory and resources, following the rapid modernization under the late Tokugawa and during the Meiji Restoration. Japanese isolation gave almost immediately away to rapid expansion, because the Japanese state and many of the members of its now growing version of the middling classes needed coal, oil, timber, food and steel. The expansion was economic, and the Japanese even called it the "co-prosperity sphere" because that was their focus: getting stuff back to the islands for people to consume, to build navies and an air force, and to secure ground for bases.

Their consolidation method was brutal, but I don't think they were trying to save the souls or elevate the morality of the Manchurians in Manchukuo, or the Muslims in the Phillipines in Indonesia. In fact, the very breadth of Imperial Nipponese brutality mitigates against the notion. The Japanese command would gladly have eliminated the truculent irredentists in their sphere, instead of having to govern and save them.

Zen, Pure Land and Tendai Buddhism, and Shinto, do not lend themselves well to salvationist explication, and the one uniquely salvationist product of Japan (Nichiren, IIRC) was still just a small cult, during the war.


Martha Nussbaum

There's a ripe old target

Al Schumann:

Jack, I have a better sense of where you're going with this. Thanks for taking the time. This is the part I found most helpful:

Zen, Pure Land and Tendai Buddhism, and Shinto, do not lend themselves well to salvationist explication, and the one uniquely salvationist product of Japan (Nichiren, IIRC) was still just a small cult, during the war.

There's enough in the coda to give me a grip on the framework you're conveying. I doubt the Benthamite salvationism I see would find such fertile ground in them.

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