22 February 2003
AWOL -- American Way Of Life?
Assumptions justifying worldwide imposition of democratic imperialism
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The "American Way of Life is non-negotiable" -- as
indicated by President George Bush (Sr.) at the Earth Summit on the environment
(Rio de Janiero, 1992). George Bush (Jr.), like his father, has declared the
oil-dependent American "way of life" as non-negotiable.
Many commentators have noted the highly disproportionate use of
the world's non-renewable resources by the "American Way of Life".
Rather than attempt to reduce American dependency on oil (the "black drug"),
like any addict, the American government wants to ensure the "fix" continues
uninterruptedly. Hence the war against Iraq -- and those envisaged against other
Middle Eastern countries. Constraints on an adequate supply are to be construed
as a threat to national security. Ensuring the supply of oil in support of the
"American Way of Life" is now to be achieved by military means --
to be followed by imposition of what is now being termed "democratic imperialism"
to guarantee supplies of resources into the future, irrespective of the cost
to others, to human rights, to international justice, and to the planet.
No arguments against this plan -- envisaged in writing by George
W Bush's advisers before his election -- are considered either credible or rational.
Rather such arguments are already being framed as indicative of subversive (or
even traitorous) intent -- especially if formulated by Americans. It has become
morally legitimate to target those who argue in this way -- because the "American
Way of Life" is unquestionably a higher good. Those who promote it necessarily
occupy the higher moral ground -- self-evident in a country uniquely blessed
The fact that the planet will not support lifestyles worldwide
-- according to the norms of the "American Way of Life" -- is also
irrelevant. In true imperial tradition, democratic imperialism is focused on
ensuring that that lifestyle is reserved for Americans and those who ensure
the maintenance of American hegemony.
Given the emphasis on imposing hegemony by military means,
it is a splendid irony that "American Way of Life" should share its
acronym (AWOL) with the military term "Absent Without Leave".
What does this association suggest for an understanding of the American hegemonic
enterprise at this time? Some possibilities follow:
Absentminded: Is it the case that the "American Way
of Life" is characterized by absentmindedness, an extreme collective case
of "attention deficiency disorder" (ADD). This is a disorder that
prevents certain children from maintaining their attention on learning tasks.
As one source puts it:
With the growth of the attitude 'I am for me' or in other words, 'segregated
individualism', Attention Deficiency Syndrome, a psychosomatic disorder is
rapidly increasing all over the world. ADD, discovered in America, has now
been detected in children and adults all over the world, creating unfounded
social tensions, family disturbances and many individual problems. Lack of
general love seems to be the cause of this unfortunate disorder [more]
What are the vital collective learnings by which American culture
is currently challenged? ADD is associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactive
Disorder (ADHD) which would be consistent with the frenetic security response
after 11th September.
Not-all-there: Is there a sense in which the "American
Way of Life" involves the kind of psychological "absence" described
colloquially by phrases such as: "not all there" or "gone away"?
Without being equivalent to ADD, is this a case of not being "present"
to immediate reality in any meaningful way? As with ADHD, this would be consistent
with the positive values attached to "being on the move" -- with the
intention of being elsewhere where reality "really" is. This favours
leaving problems behind and "moving on" to new problem-free locations.
Investment in space travel is thus framed as a way of extending the American
dream to other planets -- neglecting the resource needs on Earth.
Absenteeism: Are there ways in which the "American
Way of Life" is characterized by absenteeism, namely failure to be present
at gatherings where issues of consequence to world society as a whole are discussed?
This tends to be confirmed by the absence of American representatives from international
conferences on issues of significance to non-American parts of the world. It
might also be characterized by a failure to buy into any world consensus such
as on issues of the environment -- and a derogation from international treaties
in general. Where such initiatives cannot be blocked, the "American Way
of Life" would then justify a voting pattern of "abstention".
Avoidance: A key feature of the "American Way of Life"
might be understood as one of avoidance of problematic issues -- as is the caricature
of going AWOL. A distinction should be made here between neat technical challenges
(that can be solved by technological gadgetry and patented inventions dependent
on closed system thinking for their development, manufacture and application)
and those open system challenges in which those involved in the solution are
as much a part of the problem as those for whom it is supposedly conceived and
implemented. It is such open system challenges that are most characteristic
of the social problematique. Of them it might be said that if one does not understand
how one is part of the problem, one cannot understand the nature of the solution
required. Since the "American Way of Life" is, by definition, the
solution, it is clearly vitally important to avoid associating it with any problem.
It is no wonder that environmental and resource issues are so systematically
avoided by those practicing this lifestyle.
Gone AWOL: There is a sense in which the "American
Way of Life" celebrates the merits of unconstrained freedom in life --
hanging out -- uniquely free of any responsibility or constraint. Advertising
media endeavour to articulate this as a way of marketing products. Repeated
advocacy of "freedom", by politicians and interest groups, can be
understood in this context as offering freedom from any responsibility to others
or to the planet. No wonder the "American Way of Life" is so uniquely
attractive to many in other countries. Any implication that freedom has a price
is then considered unacceptable -- except to the extent that those imposing
any constraints on this freedom should be condemned and treated as dangerously
hostile to a God-given right.
Without leave: In military use, "Absent without Leave"
implies that no authorization has been given for absence, namely no suspension
of obligation has been accorded. In the case of "American Way of Life"
does this suggest a deliberate setting aside of a contractual obligation to
the larger world community -- ignoring some form of implicit social contract?
In community-oriented societies such a contract is considered self-evident and
individualism is considered an aberration. What is the implicit contract that
individualists have with larger society, or with the world as a whole? Is failure
to respect such a contract a "crime against humanity" or a "crime
against the planet"?
Arrogation of right: For conscientious objectors in time
of war, "going AWOL" is an arrogation of right to act according to
one's individual conscience and in defiance of what others are perceived as
erroneously framing as the collective good. Is the "American Way of Life"
to be considered as just such an arrogation of right by one people in defiance
of what many other peoples are struggling to define through international institutions
as the collective good? Is it not then ironic when Americans claim to be acting
for the good of humanity and condemn others who fail to appreciate this -- and
American disavowal of such institutions?
Repudiation of authority: This is associated with the previous
characteristics. In the case of going AWOL, it is the rejection of the authority
of the military to which allegiance may have well been sworn and pledges made.
In the case of the "American Way of Life" this takes the form of the
repdiation of international law, except insofar as it supports the actions that
the USA chooses to undertake. No higher constraint on the USA is admissible.
Cowardice: In the military, "going AWOL" is considered
and treated as an act of cowardice and an inability to face up to the enemy
-- and to the risk of wounds and even death. Similarlry, there is a sense in
which the "American Way of Life" can be interpreted as an act of cowardice
in terms of the inability to face up to the conditions of deprivation which
are the enemy encountered daily by the majority of people in the world -- and
in terms of the threat to well-being and the dangers to life through malnutrition
and disease. In both cases there is an overriding fear of engaging in personal
sacrifice for the good of the collective.
Irresponsibility: As suggested in various ways above, in
military use, "Absent without Leave" implies a degree of irresponsibility,
including a cowardly failure to support one's companions in arms -- in situations
in which each is dependent on the other for survival. In a wartime situation
this is closely associated with "desertion" for which the punishment
is severe -- possibly death. To what extent is the "American Way of Life"
to be considered an equally reprehensible form of irresponsibility and desertion?
The irony is of course that it is those opposed to it, or who suffer from its
consequences, that are now subject to severe punishment -- and possibly death.
Stealth: There is an interesting sense in which the stealth
and surreptiousness associated with "going AWOL" is partly shared
in pursuit of the "American Way of Life". It is a characteristic of
the latter that the resources required to sustain it are acquired by negotiations
and practices that some interpret as involving deliberate stealth. Both the
practices and the stealth may well be denied.
Attractor: Both "Going AWOL" and the "American
Way of Life" share the function of being major attractors away from some
more constrained condition. In the military, "going AWOL" is a fundamental
temptation when things get very bad -- as they can, whether due to harassment
or under fire. But the "American Way of Life" is a profound attractor
for those living in impoverished conditions who dream of bettering themselves
and the well-being of their families -- hence the stream of asylum seekers and
immigrants. For some developing countries this attractor can be very dangerous
to the development process -- through the brain drain. And, especially for local
communities, the major challenge of sustainable development might be expressed
in terms of how to develop an alternative "strange attractor" to vie
with that sustained by images of Coca Cola and hamburgers.
Abduction: There is a curious parallel to the way in which
people are effectively "abducted" by both the "American Way of
Life" and through "going AWOL". Clearly the process of attraction
described above can be expressed in terms of the seduction by something believed
to be better -- "strange attractors" are seductive in unforeseen ways
there is also a sense in which people are "abducted" in both cases
-- in a way which echoes the preoccupations of the many "alien abductees"
in the USA, amongst the 50% of a representative sample of the population believing
there is life on other planets [more],
and for whom there are now special support groups [more].
Belief in having been kidnapped by extraterrestrials, and subject to molestation
and operations, has now been extensively studied. It is associated with particular
imaginative character traits, notably those disposing to memory repression and
false memory syndrome [more;
There is a case for exploring, using such methodologies, the experiences by
foreigners of the "American Way of Life" (possibly deliberately implanted
through "exchange programmes") -- recognizing the parallel with some
purported intentions of extraterrestrials to ensure the perpetuation of their
species. Similarly kidnapping of military personnel, and subjecting them to
various processes, is a standard practice amongst intelligence services in order
to "turn them" into double agents -- a concern expressed in relation
to "alien abductees".
Life-and-Death: There is a curious symmetry between "Absent
without Leave" (from the military enterprise of causing death to others
elsewhere to protect the life of some) -- and the "American Way of Life",
as a celebration of a form of life sustained primarily by the death of others
at the present time.
Is the "American Way of Life" to be considered
as having "Gone AWOL"?
to the Pathology of Collective Memory