Sunday, January 10, 2016

Masquerade - De-familiarizing the Military-Industrial Complex and Public Policy

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
-Matthew 6:24

Power relations are culturally constructed, but masquerade – to the powerful and powerless alike – as inevitable and natural. To reveal their arbitrary foundation is thus an epistemologically arduous task.
-Alf Hornborg, The Power of the Machine

If language is a species of power, what subspecies is text? Every time I speak, I am attempting to contain the uncontainable. I’m attempting to impose my own version of order on something as temporally ineluctable as it is ultimately incomprehensible. Speech tries to situate. It tries to freeze the frame. Oops, look there though. It’s gone. Text is far more controlling still than mere speech. More obsessed with the denial of disorder. Text tries to situate This spatially as well as temporally. And so when I write, I am inescapably trying to impose my will, on This, but also on you – the reader. Soon, this text will include a narrative about money as a species of power, but before I try to impose my thoughts on you – the reader – this other species of power, the ­­textual narrative, is on the docket right there with money or guns.

No sooner will I describe the ‘military-industrial complex’ than I will mis-describe it, even as whatever that term stands for morphs into something slightly different than it was a moment ago. Nonetheless, we’ll give that description an honest effort. In 1960, President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the term ‘military-industrial complex’ (MIC). Now, almost six decades hence, a more appropriate neologism might be the ‘military-industrial-digital-financial-media complex.’

To understand this increasing complex-ity with an eye to its implications for church and public policy, we need to conduct a kind of defamiliarization with many of the most popular discourses on war, church, and policy. In defamiliarizing, we are able to reorient from two categories – MIC and policy – and study the relation between this MIC and policy, beginning with the essentials of the MIC itself. And rather than  risk putting a self-referential boundary around this relationship, we will analyze the MIC and policy from the standpoint of an unbreakable interrelation between nature, knowledge, and exchange. Moral discourse is not secondary, but without this reorientation – this defamiliarization – we risk a moral discourse that is insecurely rooted in an understanding of why, where, and how policies actually have their intended and unintended effects. 

Unequal exchange as imperial tribute

I am composing this treatment on a computer. Computers have become irreplaceable in the current U.S. and world economy. Computers are made from several essential and imported materials – cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, iron from Brazil, palladium from Botswana, gold from Costa Rica, copper from Chile, selenium from the Philippines, zinc from Peru, silver and antimony from Mexico, chromium, manganese, and platinum from South Africa, and aluminum, arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, and mercury from China. These are also the essential materials in every core-nation’s governance and management systems, in maintaining our energy and transportation grids, in education, and in high-technology weapons systems.

There are two principle and related facets of American power that assure the reliable inflows of these materials: financial hegemony with military power as both accelerator and backstop. This power is employed not merely to ensure importation, but to acquire imports at unequal exchange rates. The inequality itself – apart from its actual history – is numerically proven in two statistical tables: annual per capita gross national income (GNI) and annual per capita energy consumption.

2014                       Per capita GNI (US dollars)          Per capita energy consumption (kg of oil equivalent)
Botswana            7,240                                                     1127.8
Brazil                     11,530                                                   1362.5
Chile                      14,910                                                   1806.7
China                     7,400                                                     1806.8
Congo                   380                                                         479.5
Costa Rica            10,120                                                   1328.5
Mexico                 9,870                                                     1570.3
Peru                      6,360                                                     667.1
Philippines          3,500                                                     577.8
South Africa       6,800                                                     3645.1
United States    55,200                                                   7164.5

Reference: World Bank

Here we have, side by side, statistics that provide corresponding economic and ecological glimpses of the inequality of exchange built into ‘globalization.’ American militarism and its psychic, ideological, and economic correlates cannot be grasped apart from the dynamics of a world system, a system which itself is already regulated by international policy over which the United States exercises – at least for the time being – predominant control. One example might be the exclusive veto power the U.S. holds within the International Monetary Fund.

This unequal exchange does not result simply in living standard disparities, it facilitates the import of useful materials and the export of its consequent environmental and social destruction – the poisonous moonscape of a South African gold mine is not visible to me as I write on this computer. This is the essence of a core-periphery dynamic, a ‘world systems’ term of art for a neocolonial relationship that is composed of multinational blocs. Core-nations are those we refer to as ‘developed.’ The peripheral nations are always referred to as undeveloped or underdeveloped. The study of flows – money, materials, people and talents, energy, etc. – reveals a system of structured and governed unequal exchange. But we are talking about the relation between nature, knowledge, and exchange, so we need to imagine a landscape inflected by its inhabitants and inflecting them. Nature is ‘known’ differently in different times and places. The core imports order and exports disorder to the (financially or militarily) subjugated periphery. This system of unequal exchange between core nations and peripheral ones serves as a kind of imperial tribute.

This is not new. The Roman Empire itself was substantially built up (and later degraded) in this process. The popular support for the regime were always Roman citizens in Rome, but the provision of a ‘standard of living’ to ensure social quiescence was secured militarily and financially abroad. And the ecologic causes and effects – like today, on a much smaller scale – were profound and profoundly not understood. Demand for grain and timber deforested a good deal of the Mediterranean, from what is now Italy, through Syria, and into North Africa. Deforestation led to erosion, which closed key ports with silt; and when the Empire’s ceaseless expansion to provide for Rome led to its political destabilization, follow-on pastoral populations grazed the now deforested land into complete deserts. (Ponting, 76-7) Now, of course, we see this core-periphery dynamic destabilizing the entire world’s climate, wiping out species at the highest rate since the Cretaceous-Paleotene extinction, stripping off the topsoil, looting the fisheries, acidifying the oceans, poisoning and drying out the major freshwater aquifers, and accelerating deforestation.

Without this core-periphery dynamic – including the MIC – the American ‘standard of living’ would not be possible. This presents the majority of Americans with a moral conundrum, inasmuch as we are all implicated in this scheme whether we like it or not. To better know our embeddedness in this dynamic, we need to understand its drivers.

Accumulation Regime

Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.
-Isaiah 5:8

I find that in the course of what we now call the second millennium it grew out of the Church and become, in my opinion, not a post-Christian reality, but a perverted Christian reality.

-Ivan Illich

The global order of which we are each a small part is a regime – in the sense, that is, not of a command structure, but a systematic social arrangement. Today’s global regime is – at bottom – a regime of accumulation. That is not to say that every person within that system joined field to field, but that the motives of those who occupied the citadels of power are driven more than anything else by the desire to accumulate, because accumulation – of money in modern times – is power. Unequal exchange underwrites this accumulation.

The so-called ‘military-industrial complex’ (MIC) is nested within this accumulation regime. Returning to political ecologist Alf Hornborg briefly,

[A]ny account of accumulation will need to consider (1) the social institutions that regulate exchange, (2) the symbolic systems that ultimately define exchange values and exchange rates, and (3) the thermodynamic and other physical circumstances that allow us to determine the direction of net flows of energy and materials. (p. 67)
Exchange. Knowledge. Nature.

We have already seen an example of material flows and an oblique picture of exchange rates in the data above. These materials are moved from more peripheral nations to the core-nation of the United States (speaking as an American) physically, that is, using energy to carry them, as well as energy for the electronic and-or industrial systems used to organize and transform them. The overwhelming majority of that energy comes from fossil hydrocarbons – coal, oil, and gas – the thermodynamic condition to which Hornborg alludes in his reiteration of the relation between nature, knowledge, and exchange.

Remember my computer with all the parts from afar?

Our social system would summarily collapse if computers suddenly and magically disappeared. In a scenario even closer to the bone, what would happen if by magic or catastrophe supplies of fossil hydrocarbons ended? These are matters that cannot be left to themselves, and the dominant fraction of society – the most successful accumulators of general purpose money – is quite aware of that. This kind of absolute dependency is a terrifying vulnerability; and it will not be left unpoliced.  Full stop.
Policies. Police. Policies police.

Given that the current accumulation regime, to which all other aspects of modern society must conform, and upon which the accumulation regime itself utterly depends, assurance of these flows of materials – including the coal, oil, and gas that makes their inter-regional and international movement possible – is one of the key responsibilities of dominant governmental structures (which includes their policies) is to prevent any such critical disruptions. The armed forces are the institution with ultimate responsibility for this prevention; and the United States Armed Forces - the most expensive institution in human history – is chiefly responsible.

The United States Navy maintains eleven Carrier Strike Groups, with supporting Expeditionary and Battleship Strike Groups, prowling the planet’s sea lanes at a cost of approximately $156 billion a year, primarily to ensure that one of those thermodynamic resources – oil – is not disrupted. Moreover, the United States military itself is the single biggest institutional consumer of oil in the world – somewhere in the vicinity of 10 million barrels a year. In other words, the Department of Defense (DOD) is burning up the very resource it is most relied upon to protect in order to ensure uninterrupted accumulation.

Enclosure, Semiotics, and Money

Accumulation is accomplished, significantly, through unequal exchange. Before we can grasp Hornborg’s reference to ‘symbolic systems’ for exchange, though, we need to think about how exchange of unlike items is facilitated. The obvious answer is ‘money,’ even though a full appreciation of the implications of money-exchange constitute one of those “epistemologically arduous tasks.”

We don’t often think of money as a ‘sign,’ in the sense of semiotics. In fact, it is a safe bet that most people have never heard of semiotics. Semiotics is a study of signs. Not like highway eyesores, but the discrete signals that together comprise communication. Money is a sign in the sense almost of a language. Money does talk. But what does it really say?

Money is an entitlement. When everyone is dependent on money for survival, money becomes an entitlement for the holder. It entitles me to your work or a resource. So it is a legal form of power. We see it as entitlement to some thing-for-sale, but that thing is the product of resources and work. When someone pays you for your work on a job, however, you are not just receiving this survival necessity – money – for specific tasks. A construction worker will be told to do this or that on the job, but it might be different from hour to hour. But he or she will be paid the same regardless of what he or she is told to do. What this worker is selling, for a designated time is obedience. In this way, money is power. If you need money, and don’t have enough, you will obey. The needier you are, the more you will obey.

Historically, people who could live with little or no money have been loath to obey strangers. They had to be disciplined. Money has not always been a necessity; and making it a necessity was not an unguided process of social evolution. As Karl Polanyi showed in The Great Transformation, the universalizing dependence on money was the intentional outcome of policies.

Discussions of policy (and money) nowadays seldom bring up the history of enclosure. Not simply the “Inclosure Acts” implemented in Great Britain between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries – which gave us a name for this process. Enclosure is constituted by all measures, legal and extra-legal, that strategically aim to separate people who had achieved local subsistence from their land. In Great Britain, there was a twofold incentive for enclosure: the land for the mass production of wool and the uprooted and hungry bodies required in the urban factories.

Whereas accumulation, prior to enclosure in Medieval and Late Medieval Europe, was principally a matter of direct and local expropriation combined with military plunder, like a feudal lord receiving expropriated goods through enforced tribute, or shares. A peasant family grew enough food, fuel, and fodder for itself, and it gave a share to the manorial lord. That might be a share of butter or livestock or wheat or even artisanal production. But it was not money.  Without general purpose money and dependence on general purpose money, production and consumption were co-located. A peasant woman did not buy eggs at a distant market, that had been harvested somewhere else as an exchangeable commodity. She collected eggs from her own chicken coop.

[T]he last five hundred years of warfare . . . has been waged by the modern State against all forms of Subsistence.
-Ivan Illich, Vernacular Values

When industrializing Atlantic states needed people to man the new factories as well as large swaths of land to produce foreign exchange commodities – like wool in Great Britain – the governments forced the peasants off the land and into the factories, granting the land to large-scale operators, whereupon the former peasants came to depend on money for survival. This was enclosure; and a similar process, through various kinds of policy, has continued to this day around the world. Modern day enclosure is called ‘development.’ What it requires and reproduces is live-or-die dependence upon money – an intentionally scarce (limited) thing.

With enforced, wide-scale dependence on money, accumulation becomes possible on a heretofore unthinkable scale, through the magic of a ‘sign’ for abstracted value – signs being “the interfusion of the symbolic and material.” (Hornborg, p. 161) C. S. Pierce traces the evolution of the sign from ‘index’ to ‘icon’ to ‘symbol.’ Hornborg traces this evolution in the money-sign from gold (an actual index of value) to paper backed by gold (an icon for the actual index of value) to paper, and even electronic records without paper (purely symbolic value). (pp. 164-71) The more abstracted this carrier of ‘value’ becomes, and the more generalized, the greater the capacity for accumulation. ‘Globalization’ would not have been possible without a base-currency that trumps all others, i.e., the American dollar – now traded internationally on computers.

General-purpose money has then become not a carrier of value in itself (like gold), but a sign of pure exchange – a “nothing in itself.” (p. 167) The dangerous magic of money is its ability to dissolve both social and material bonds with every increasing velocity. It does this by making things that are different, alike.  As Hornborg puts it,

Viewed from outer space, money is an ecosemiotic phenomenon that has very tangible effects on ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole. If it were not for general-purpose money, nobody would be able to trade tracts of rain forest for Coca-Cola. (p. 170)

Money strips actual things, whether goods or services or ‘resources,’ of their qualities (use-values) and reduces them – as commodities – to a single symbol of quantity, which we call ‘price.’ It might be five dollars, or it might be five hundred dollars, but it is measured only in dollars, like a piano that plays only one note.

The politically-engineered fact that the U.S. dollar currently serves as the chief international currency is a mainstay of U.S. international power. Without those dollars as pure symbols of value that reduce actual material to a ‘price,’, Dell and Apple and Hewlett-Packard could not purchase cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, iron from Brazil, palladium from Botswana, gold from Costa Rica, copper from Chile, selenium from the Philippines, zinc from Peru, silver and antimony from Mexico, chromium, manganese, and platinum from South Africa, and aluminum, arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, and mercury from China. We won’t barter Michigan apples for Peruvian Zinc.

Pure quantity (price) usurps quality (the actual thing paid for) by decontextualization (the very definition of abstraction).

Decontextualization and Power

This “generalized interchangeability” does not simply dissolve the differences between various goods by reducing them to ‘commodities,’ it dissolves the bonds of community to such a degree that human beings themselves are transformed into commodities. With successive enclosures and its consequent specialization and deskilling, people come to depend absolutely on money-mediated relations, i.e., ‘jobs.’ A peasant, a hunter-gatherer, a pastoral nomad – as has been shown by history – will resist labor-for-money until she or he is left no other choice. This is why enclosures were necessary to create monetary dependency, and why we are all now money-dependent. Because money allows us to exchange rain forests for soda pop, industrialism was possible. Industrialism is impossible without money to sufficiently increase the velocity of exchange.

When we speak of a military-industrial complex, its predicate is industrialism, which in turn can only be facilitated by the solubility of ecosystems and human communities before this peculiar decontextualizing power of money.

The simultaneous forceful conquering, acquisition and destruction of ‘non-capitalistic economies’ – the traditional subsistence economies – is not only the bloody pre-history of capitalism, of the ‘original accumulation’, as Marx supposed, but is still today the basic precondition for the ongoing accumulation of capital, what generally is called ‘economic growth’.
-Maria Mies, The Subsistence Perspective

The political expression of the domination of the moneyed class is the nation-state, fundamentally organized around two activities: profit-taking and war. These are not separate activities. For those who accumulate via money – by turning ‘invested’ money into more money – three things are essential: (1) materials, (2) wage labor, and (3) markets adequate to soak up the ‘added value.’ War, oppression, and environmental destruction are pushed out of any economic formulation as ‘externalities,’ which are paid for by the public – privatizing the gains and socializing the losses. As we shall see further down, these three objectives cannot be assured in the United States without armed forces, war, and preparation for war.

If we are bound to money, we are bound to war. This is a structural reality that has proven impervious to moral persuasion. With money as a universal entitlement to labor and resources, money quite literally becomes power; and the accumulation of money is the accumulation of power. This is why economists are in fact ideologues. Ideology, among its several roles, serves to simultaneously conceal and reproduce power.

The conceptual cornerstone of economic science is thus as vague as the most abstract definition possible of the most elementary unit of communication [units of ‘price,’ e.g., dollars -SG]. It specifies absolutely nothing about the substance of economic processes. The all-engulfing character of modernity is generated by this tendency toward abstraction – that is, by the use of signs (including concepts such as “utility”) that can stand for anything or anybody [corresponding to the abstract ‘individual’ who is everywhere and nowhere –SG]. The core of our “culture” is a black hole; at the heart of our cosmology are empty signs. (Hornborg, p. 171)

This gives Jesus’ remark about “two masters” a very special significance.

The social relations that arise with ever more generalizing money-dependency (via ‘war against subsistence’) are governed by profit; but markets become saturated, and so new markets must be sought out. If demand falters, there is demand production – advertising – as well as further commodification of the commons).

This cancer-like dynamic is called ‘growth’ by economists; and it is now widely considered the single diagnostic indicator of economic health. This also accounts for the constant expansion – financially and militarily, through the core-periphery dynamic – into new regions.

Hornborg calls “modernity . . . a recursive process of decontextualization.” (p. 193) Between the material environment (of which we are a part) and a social system that is reduced epistemologically to a ‘market,’ reduction of all things to price works in conjunction with the accelerated destruction of the biosphere. Between the material environment and the person, we see a Weberian ‘disenchantment,’ the desacralization of creation, which is accompanied by profound alienation. This alienation reinforces the epistemology of individualism that ties the person to a society rendered to a ‘market.’ And the market-society rips this now deracinated ‘individual’ from the non-market bonds that embed her or him locally, casting the person adrift in desperate search of this critical and intentionally-scarce nothing-in-itself, money. (p.193)

Money-dependency decontextualizes people and things. It is no wonder, then, that we see ‘knowledge’ becoming successively more decontextualized by market-society. Decontextualized exchange and disenchanted nature lead to disaggregated knowledge.

Disaggregation, the separation of reality into dissociated taxonomies, the pretense that reality can be separated into various parts which can then be studied and evaluated independent of one another, begins with Descartes’s “thing in-itself.” it can be seen most clearly today in the organization of the modern university. Macintyre outlined three developments in the modern research university that could be traced to the displacement of Aristotle’s universalism by Cartesian atomism. First, the university made extraordinary discoveries in various fields, especially the sciences. These discoveries, however, required funding, and so the direction of research efforts was determined in large part by who funded the research and to what purpose. Second, the new universities provided an increasing pool of specialized experts to support the expansion of an industrial capitalist society. Undergraduate studies are now largely an initiation into graduate specialties that are determined by professional job markets. increasing specialization is an aspect of de-skilling. In the academy, this has led to a proliferation of disciplines, subdisciplines, and sub-subdisciplines, in which the graduate student and eventual professional or expert neither comprehends nor needs to know the larger social, moral, political, or economic context of the work that he or she does. Third, as research dedicated to both economic expansion and greater specialization goes deeper into ever more specialized fields of inquiry, universities become increasingly expensive and come to resemble for-profit corporations producing commodities. Macintyre differentiates these universities from the first late medieval universities, which sought not to advance economic interests but to increase one’s understanding of the world as a whole and of the relationships between the aspects of the world. That is, the universe-ity sought to advance a shared understanding of the universe. Macintyre cribs Clark Kerr in saying that modern universities might better be called “multiversities.” (Borderline, 145-6)
It is in the context of increasingly derivative patterns of thought that money, joining itself with that thought, created newer and ever more derivative opportunities for accumulation.

Financial Ecology

You mean to tell me that the success of my program and my reelection hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of fucking bond traders?
-President Bill Clinton, 1992, to his economic advisors (who nodded their assent)

The United States runs a trade deficit.  That means it imports more than it exports.  Depending on which school of thought you adhere to on the subject of economics, whether classical, monetarist, Keynesian, Marxist, or some syncretic combination; in any abstracted model this should mean that the country which imports more than it exports is losing wealth . . . and jobs. But that is not altogether true, as we can see. The United States runs the world’s biggest trade deficit, and yet is sits astride the global economy as its hegemon.

One theory is that the Department of Defense (DOD) serves the United States as a kind of surrogate export market; and this has some merit. People do have jobs making things to sell to an entity that exists somewhat apart, almost like the foreign nation of DOD, even though the money that gets printed to support this surrogate exportation is in the same country. In 2015, the annual trade deficit was around $600 billion. ( That’s almost half a trillion dollars. Excluding the covert military spending through the Department of Energy, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other non-DOD agencies, the Department of Defense (DOD, formerly the War Department) spends well over a half a trillion dollars a year (app. $630 billion in 2015). So if the ‘surrogacy’ model is true, then the DOD more than compensates for the losses – at least in terms of jobs.

We are the second largest exporter of weapons in the world, after Russia, so production for the DOD underwrites the foreign profits of weapons manufacturers. Once again, we are privatizing the gains and socializing the losses. This also makes it likely, given the unstable political ecology of the world at large, that these weapons abroad will one day be used in wars our leaders will find irresistible. And they will be obliged to develop counter-measure weapons to the ones they have exported.

But the apparent immunity to trade imbalance – which belies economic ‘science’ – is not the whole story. The United States, through its dominant position in the international institutions of financial governance – the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization – and the domination of international markets by the American dollar, has compelled the rest of the world to finance our military expenditures.

Here is how it works.

Through an historical process evolving since the Nixon administration, the United States has been able to print a lot of money – the international currency that everyone needs. Taiwanese economist Henry C.K. Liu describes the international system – which he calls ‘dollar hegemony’ – as one where the U.S. prints dollars and everyone else has to look for them. Not only oil, but all international debts, are denominated in U.S. currency.

With the abandonment of fixed currency exchange rates, big financial gamblers can engage in something called currency speculation – betting on the exchange rates of foreign currencies. In the 1990s, this currency speculation wrecked several Asian economies and almost toppled the whole international financial system. Central banks around the world, then, started stashing as many U.S. dollars as possible in their reserves, as a hedge against currency raids.

These dollar reserves, however, meant that every central bank now had a powerful stake in supporting the value of the U.S. dollar. If the dollar – for whatever reason – suddenly lost half its value, then half the purchasing power residing in a central bank would be wiped out. It’s like that old adage: if you owe the bank a thousand dollars, you have a problem; if you owe the bank a million dollars, the bank has the problem.

These central banks must invest these dollars somewhere to hold down exchange rates; and the only market large enough to absorb them is the U.S. Treasury, which takes them in as loans through something called Treasury Bills. In other words, the central bank of, e.g., China loans the U.S. Treasury $1.6 trillion in U.S. dollars. The United States, as of 2015, owed the rest of the world around $6.1 trillion, or 103 percent of its GDP.

This might seem to be a problem, owing a debt that all your creditors know you are incapable of repaying; but in this case, it means the foreign central banks cannot sell off their dollar-assets without selling down the value of their own central bank reserves. Paradoxically, the U.S. can now control the international economy as its principle debtor. Economist Michael Hudson calls this “debtor imperialism.”

What this also means, in effect, is that the U.S. can print money with nearly total abandon without risking inflationary devaluation – because no one want to risk the nightmare of a run on the dollar. The U.S., then, effectively exports its inflation to foreign banks, allowing the U.S. government to spend profligately through the DOD. Hudson:

Most central banks today hold down their exchange rates by recycling their dollar inflows to buy US Treasury IOUs. This recycling enables the United States to finance its overseas military spending and also its domestic budget deficit (largely military in character) since the 1950s. So Europe and Asia have used their foreign exchange earnings to finance a unipolar US buildup of military bases to surround them. (

We often engage in slogan-mongering like, “Money for schools (or whatever), and not for war,” as if this is a zero-sum game with one pot of money that never changes value which we can divide up like cookies at a day care center. But in a very real sense – albeit one that cannot be described on a bumper sticker or a Facebook poster – the value of that money is predicated on an international extortion racket, itself rooted unstably in a core-periphery dynamic, and the purchasing power of that money is not being stolen from domestic schools and hospitals, but from ‘allies’ and ‘trading partners’ around the world.

That is the international financial ecology of our money. Here is the situation closer to home.

Domestic Ramification

The DOD spends around 17% of the total US government's budget. In 2015, as noted above, DOD expenditures were in the vicinity of $630 billion.

Many people think most of the military spending goes to overpriced weapons systems or sweetheart deals for supplies. It is true, we do spend a lot of money on high-tech weapons systems - and many of them overrun costs in production and don't work as advertised. They are also all made almost exclusively of non-standard parts, so when a tank needs a hex nut, it's not one you can get at Lowes for 50 cents; it will cost $400 from an exclusive supplier. And we've all heard about contractors like Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) – now with Cheney's company Halliburton, but one that made its bones in Vietnam under the patronage of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. KBR served breakfast in Afghanistan for a Marine that costed $35 a plate. $7,000 coffee pots.  It's all true. When you swim around that kind of money, the pilot fish will latch on. But even that cannot account for half a trillion. 

Ninety-three percent of all the fuel used by the U.S. government is used by the military. The DOD uses around 30,000 gigawatt hours of electricity each year – roughly the quantity used by Denmark. The DOD consumes 4.6 billion gallons of gas every year, or 12.6 million gallons per day.

But let’s think about smaller, local contractors. There are around 50,000 troops stationed in my old haunt, Fort Bragg. This Army post is prepared to feed around 40,000 of them each day. In purchasing just breakfast eggs at two per person each morning, this means someone sells Fort Bragg – one post – 80,000 eggs a day. Some enterprise, then, depends on the military in part or in whole for its income, and it means there are X number of jobs in place to ensure the steady flow of eggs to hungry paratroopers. There are companies that supply all the things for an egg factory that are the benefactors. There are the companies that supply them, and them, and them before. The DOD financial ‘benefit’ ramifies further and further afield.

The town of Fayetteville, North Carolina adjacent to Fort Bragg has almost 205,000 people within the city limits. In Fayetteville live 50,000 troops, another 20,000 civilian employees, and all these earners’ families. They spend the money that gets injected by DOD. Without it, Fayetteville would experience retail Armageddon. The ‘money for schools’ in Fayetteville comes from property taxes that are paid into the community via the DOD. Where is the either-or?

Fort Bragg is a FORSCOM base (major Army ground units). There are thirteen more FORSECOM posts in the United States: in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, California, Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington state. This is just the Army. We haven’t begin to count the Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard.

In one guise or another, we now have almost 1.4 million people in uniform. Two of them are my children. One joined while working at McDonalds. The other was working at Walmart. The day they joined, they started receiving the equivalent of almost $20,000 a year, plus a housing allowance, a food allowance, and free health care for themselves and their families. Within six years, they were receiving – before extra pays (‘jump’ pay, overseas pay, proficiency pay, combat pay, local cost-of-living allowances) – more than $35,000.  And they can retire after twenty years at 50% of their base pay – which, if they achieve an E-9 pay grade, is now about $2,600 a month for the rest of their lives. At age 38 or 39.

A Virginia candidate for Congress will have a very difficult time saying, “Money for X and not for war,” when fourteen percent of the struggling state’s total budget is precisely money-for-war. There are 4,742 DOD operated sites and offices throughout the United States. $8.4 billion is pumped into the District of Columbia by DOD; $6.5 billion into Fort Hood, Texas; $6.4 billion into San Diego; $5.8 billion into Oshkosh, Wisconsin; $5.7 billion into Huntsville, Alabama; $5.3 billion into Arlington, Virginia; $4.9 billion into Tucson, Arizona; $4.7 billion into Fayetteville, North Carolina; $4.6 billion into St. Louis, Missouri; and $4.4 billion into Louisville, Kentucky. Top contractor Lockheed-Martin employs 110,000 people.  With a family average of four, that means 440,000 people depending on Lockheed-Martin for their livelihood. Add to that Boeing, Raytheon, Northrup-Grumman, United Technologies, L3 Communications, Huntington Engalls, Honeywell, Textron, General Electric, AECOM, Booz Allen Hamilton, Leidos, Bechtel, Orbital ATK, SAIC, Exelis, CACI International, Harris, Hewlett-Packard, Rockwell Collins, CSC, Oshkosh, General Atomics, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Dyncorp, Engility, Fluor, Accenture, ManTech, PAE, Moog, AAR Corp, Alion Science and Technology, Curtiss-Wright, Ball Aerospace & Technologies, Wyle, and Battelle, and you’ve only listed those in the U.S. among the top 100. There is a very good chance that you, the reader, if you live in the U.S., know someone who works for one of these companies.

And here is where we come back to that notion of simply redirecting funds, because there is no magic wand any one person or even legislative body can wave to change this absent the risk of disorganizing an entire national economy that is amalgamated with war spending from the grandest to the most granular scale. More to the point for Christians who experience this as a moral dilemma, what can we do to reduce and finally end our complicity in all this? And therein may not be a policy solution, if indeed politics is "the art of the possible," at least not in the immediate future.

Whatever practices are available to us, moreover, are made possible only to the extent that the psychic economy that reflects (and reproduces) the material/military economy can be shifted away from its now-inhering affinity for war. We are war lovers, as is apparent in our cultural productions as well as our economic priorities.

The Psychic Economy

Those of us who are uncomfortable with the MIC feel this way because we recognize and reject the many forms of injustice and violence that this ‘complex’ appears to articulate like a poison. What frustrates us is twofold. First, it appears invulnerable, a juggernaut beneath the wheels of which people are continually crushed. Secondly, the more we discover about it, the more we recognize our seemingly inescapable complicity with it. If policy can be wielded to change it, breaking that apparent invulnerability and inevitability are the goals of such policy. If this is possible, how is it possible? I want to file the latter question until we answer the ‘if.’  And we’ll need to get the lay of the land, so to speak, before we can formulate a response to the ‘if,’ beginning now with the terrain where Christians spend the most time: the soul.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 16:25

The Greek for ‘life’ here is psuché (ψυχή), or in today’s English, psyche. It is interchangeable in other parts of the New Testament with soul or person. When we speak of personhood, as Christians, we are talking about the soul. Differentiated from pneuma, or spirit, the soul is not insubstantial.  It is embodied.

In preceding paragraphs, we looked at the interrelation identified in Hornborg between disenchanted nature, market-society, and alienated personhood – how the person is transformed by the market into the faceless abstract ‘individual” and thereby uprooted from time and place; and how the person is left alone in a sea of meaninglessness by the desacralization of creation. The person within this unholy trinity knows the way she or he knows based on experience. Knowledge, then, is a reflection of this inescapable experience between the Scylla of disenchanted nature and the Charybdis of market-society. What goes on inside this person, inside us, in this deadened state – aside from our existential dread?

The market absorbs the commodities and renders the return on investment. We said that in non-market-economies, production and consumption are more or less co-located. Surpluses are welcomed – and can be bartered or shared – but they are not necessary. In the market-society, where the ‘health’ of the system is understood as ceaseless expansion, ceaseless surplus – or ‘growth’ – consumer markets are self-limiting. People only need so many cars or mattresses or bottles of ‘volumizing conditioner.’ Markets become saturated, whereupon the rate of profit begins falling. For accumulation to continue, then, something new must be made or something formerly cost-free must be commodified. In either case, the potential buyers must want to buy what is being sold. The constant production of new commodities eventually requires the constant production of new desires.

In a consumer society, there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy.
-Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality

[In] secular modernity . . . the veneer of rationality, the optimistic laissez-faire of liberalism, and the seductions of consumerism, deprive us of the means to acknowledge and address our proclivity towards violence and the restlessness of our desire, in ways that might enable us to find more sustaining and sustainable ways of living with ourselves and others.
-Tina Beattie, Divining the Void

The modern accumulation regime within which the MIC is nested reproduces its own psychic economy. The MIC is a not an establishment per se but a meshwork of power relations, with a semi-formal and rotating interlocking directorate. In a sense, it is just a useful conceptual fiction, because it is impossible to put a clear boundary around it.  Even calling it a structure can be deceptive, because whatever we refer to with this particular signifier interpenetrates and is interpenetrated within a shifting political ecology. And so, even within the more stable philosophical and political parameters of the epoch – here speaking of that unification of purpose and institutional integration between the American business class and the armed forces – we can see the evolution of the structures and strategies themselves, which corresponds with changes in the psychic economy of the person held captive by the MIC.

One key feature of our collective psyche which has endured since the American Civil War is the apotheosis of the nation, what Harry Stout called our civil religion. (Upon the Altar of the Nation, xix) This has remained a constant in the psychic economy, this special form of patriotism that compels Christians to be Americans first and Christians only afterwards. We are not American Christians, but Christian Americans – our profession of faith being a mere modifier. This love of the nation is more than ideological, because it is felt by actual persons to be sacred; and so this component of the psychic economy is inoculated against critical intervention. This is a distinctly militaristic kind of affective resonance that is enfleshed in our favorite stories of military leaders, soldiers, and war. It is also, therefore, closely identified with our ‘national masculinity.’ And that is identified with men’s personal masculinity.

Though our economic stories are remarkably bloodless, sterile even, there is a violent, gendered, and masculine origin to this sterility, beginning with a male protagonist called Objectivity. (Susan Bordo, Flight to Objectivity) Hornborg writes:

[N]eoclassical economic theory distinguished itself from all local models of livelihood by its ambition to abandon metaphor. Rather than positioning the knowing subject by investing economic practices with meanings deriving from other spheres of life (e.g., respect for ancestors), Ricardo’s “derivational” representations turn inward on themselves in a closed, self-referential, and thus ultimately tautological web of concepts. This act of decontextualization dispelled morality from human livelihood and provided a vocabulary (e.g., “utility”) for engulfing all local systems of meaning. (pp. 185-6)

David Ricardo is the early nineteenth century political economist who influenced both capitalist Adam Smith and communist Karl Marx. Hornborg’s reference to metaphor might more readily be mapped onto the insight of narrative theology – that humans are storied beings. “[N]eoclassical economic theory distinguished itself from all local models of livelihood by its ambition to abandon metaphor,” might better be stated, “[N]eoclassical economic theory distinguished itself from all local models of livelihood by its ambition to abandon story.” Theologian Stanley Hauerwas once quipped that liberal modernity aims “to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they have no story.”

Stories provide precisely that context that establishes meaning. Underneath those economic tautologies (with their excluded externalities) there is still a story: Man (the gendered being) conquers nature. Masculinity is defined by conquest, by “agonistic values.”

With the assistance of Maria Mies, we might integrate within the psychic economy the militarized apotheosis of the imperial nation with the pasteurized economics of Ricardo. In Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, Mies, citing Carolyn Merchant, writes:

[T]he destruction of nature as a living organism—and the rise of modern science and technology, together with the rise of male scientists as the new high priests—has its close parallel in the violent attack on women during the witch hunt. . . . Merchant does not extend her analysis to the relation of the new Men to their colonies. Yet an understanding of this relation is absolutely necessary, because we cannot understand the modern developments, including our present problems, unless we include all those who were “defined into nature”. . . Mother Earth, Women, and Colonies. (p. 75)(italics added)

Man conquers nature. Women, colonies, and ecosystems, then, are “defined into nature,” set outside the strategic edifice of male subjectivity. Subjects act on objects. Hello, Mr. Descartes. Masculine action is conquest. Hello again, male supremacy.

Bordo describes the inhering violence of Baconian ‘objectivity’ as masculine and warlike, with Man the subject and Nature the object of conquest. Merchant pointed out in The Death of Nature how . . .

. . . the de-animation of nature through the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century alchemist Agrippa, who wanted to elevate man alongside God in his dominion over nature (echoes of Genesis), yet who himself still bitterly opposed mining and other rapacious extractions from nature. Merchant says that Bacon “stood Agrippa on his head,” by agreeing with the apotheosis of man over nature, but insisting that the material world be aggressively conquered and subdued—all in those gendered terms that compared the quest for knowledge to the interrogation and torture of witches. (Borderline, pp. 143-4)

Women, colonies, and even enemies are “defined into nature,” that is, objectified as necessary moral prequel to conquest.

The psychic economy of the military-industrial complex, then, is a ‘masculine’ psyche, masculinity here generally defined as those cultural constructions and expectations associated with biological males. This applies even to women in a militarized culture, because the consciousness of all are to some extent colonized in male-dominant society by the presumptions of male power. The gendered-ness of the psychic economy corresponds to the competitive, agonistic exchange economies of the military-economic condominium.

So the man whose identity is formed by . . . agonistic values . . . is a profound threat to others, and in a world torn apart by violence of every kind, it is still true that men are predominantly is not exclusively responsible for that violence . . . In recent years, studies of masculinity have begun to address the problem of male violence, but we have yet to reach a stage when church leaders, politicians and policy-makers fully acknowledge its destructive significance. (Beattie, NCF, p. 232)

No remedial and redemptive task is more necessary as prequel to advocating for peace – and for policies aimed at promoting peace – than denaturalizing and thereby unmasking the association between violence and masculinity. No task will be more arduous, because this association is one into which we have been indoctrinated almost from birth; and men and women alike have internalized this construction of gender to such a degree that challenges to it feel like threats to our very identities. Christians, however, do have one special resource in the redemptive mission to shatter this association – and that is the exemplary life of Jesus of Nazareth.


We are in a state of structural sin. That may be why we are so keen so often to accept the prevailing national myths and ideological justifications. Whether you are channeling Derrida or Wittgenstein or Lacan, the power of language over the character of the mind is undeniable. Hegemonic discourse shapes our psychic economy. That is precisely why our defamiliarization is a prerequisite to developing an authentic critique of the MIC.  As Hornborg writes, “To confront modernity through public discourse is, paradoxically, to be absorbed by it.” (p. 228) Now that we have traveled up several key tributaries of the MIC, we are perhaps sufficiently de-familiarized to discuss public policy.

As one who feels strongly that what Illich called the mysterium iniquitatus of our perversion of the Gospels is closely related to the Constantinian impulse – to put the church in power – I have to remind myself, as someone who also pays fairly close attention to the goings-on of the world, that Christians ought not to use policy to enforce Christian morality. More subtly still, we need to be mindful whether or not those policies we support are likely to require violence – even against our ‘enemies’ – in their execution.

Given what we have surveyed in these few preceding pages, what kinds of policies might we look to that will lessen the chance for war generally and allow us to withdraw from those ways in which we are made structurally complicit in the MIC? And in what kinds of practices might Christians engage to resist the MIC and foster resistance in others?

First and foremost, Christians – if we are to act as a community – need, as far as possible and in small but successive steps, to disentangle ourselves and our children from our utter dependency on money. It is money-dependency more than any other single factor that locks us into the current system. Reducing this dependency will be a long journey.

Christians are not alone in the recognition that money-dependency secures our complicity. This is the central insight of the relocalization movement – a movement to transfer dependency on monetized inputs from afar to local, community inter-dependency. Churches are uniquely positioned – as the regular meeting places of large numbers of people who live near each other – to participate in this movement, if they can create the consciousness and the will to do it. Relocalization includes several initiatives: (a) local, decentralized, and sustainable food production, (b) dramatic energy conservation, (c) an across-the-board re-use ethic, re-skilling (food production, food preservation, building and tinkering, salvage, sewing, soap-making, etc.), (d) barter agreements, (e) labor sharing, and (f) stronger intergenerational cooperation, to name a few.

The shorthand for this process is ‘resilience,’ that is, giving local communities greater independence from far-flung and ever more vulnerable supply grids to increase their future resilience in the face of those shocks that will come with financial disorder, climate change, energy shortages, political neglect, and various unforeseeable ‘natural’ catastrophes.

At the local level, there are inevitably policies that need to be changed. Many municipalities, for example, prohibit laying hens or honey bees. Many neighborhoods – through restrictive covenants – prohibit clotheslines and vegetable gardens. Many local governments can be prevailed upon to put high-yielding perennial food plants in the commons. Schools can host gardens that are sued for food as well as pedagogy.

The State of California recently passed a law that superceded restrictive covenants of various kinds and granted every homeowner the right to grow food on her or his land.

On the larger political stage, there are several policies and actions that relate not only to the direct issue of war and the preparation for war, but also to the specific economic context of today’s MIC. Free trade agreements come immediately to mind. These agreements are not only designed to lower the wage floor for all mass production workers, evade stringent environmental oversight, and dodge taxes; they are designed to allow American corporate behemoths to colonize the most profitable sectors within foreign economies. This is one of the main ways that U.S. dollars flood foreign economies, whereupon foreign central banks are obliged to subsidize U.S. military profligacy. Opposition to free trade agreements is substantial and growing, and Christians need to be there.

In tandem with this policy strategy, Jubilee movements for debt forgiveness are essential. Overwhelming and unpayable debt are the leverage that U.S. dominated supra-national organizations like the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund use to force foreign domestic markets to open themselves to ‘investment’ by the aforementioned behemoths.

Quixotic as it may now seem, we can argue for the withdrawal of all US military forces from abroad. All of them. Across-the-water alliances with popular movements to eject U.S. military bases is another area where active churches could make a difference. This applies not only to unpopular bases in places like Okinawa, but implicitly calls for the dissolution of explicitly military organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

A guaranteed minimum income for all is the first step toward removing the siren call of ‘jobs’ that leads to reliance on military contractors; and in conjunction with that, a massive public works jobs program, specifically oriented on two things (a) repairing environmental damage, especially soil – where the most dramatic carbon sequestration can happen in the shortest time, and (b) re-skilling toward local self-sufficiency. 

We can call for an end corporate subsidies in the United States, beginning with ‘agricultural subsidies,’ that enrich transnational corporations, promote meat production over vegetable production, pump unhealthy processed foods into our diets, and destroy foreign livelihoods by agricultural ‘dumping.’ Without an end to these subsidies, local enterprises that are essential for relocalization – especially small farms – cannot survive in today’s marketplace.

Public utilities must be returned to direct government control and no longer operated in order to maximize profit. In that vein, all credit institutions need to be nationalized. They are public utilities. They need to be placed under public control. Had this been the case in the past, there never would have been a series of crises related to ‘financial bubbles’ that forced the public to bail out corporations that were (and still are) ‘too big to fail.’ This is the very basis of the financial system within which the current MIC maliciously nests.

Karl Polanyi claimed that three things that are not commodities create great mischief when they are reduced to commodities: land, labor, and money. It is something to think about, and the implications are staggering.

The potential for change in some yet unstated policy proposals is still unknown, but with an orientation to abundance instead of scarcity, toward cooperation instead of competition, and peace instead of war, we will be better able to discern the real possibilities of future policy proposals. None of this happens, however, without repentance. Without a great psychological, intellectual, and spiritual ‘turning around’ from strength to vulnerability, from center to margin, from power to love. This is where it begins.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
-John 14:27

No comments:

Post a Comment