Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Empire Strikes Out

Ramon Tikaram in Gaddafi: A Living Myth
[Update, March 18. The UN Security Council finally passed a resolution to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, with Russia and China abstaining, too late for it to matter. Libya, as a UN member, promptly agreed to enforce it without any foreign help. Libya has undergone political fission, and now there is West Libya with the solid green flag, and East Libya with the stripey one. The Bengazi separatists have been granted their wish: their own internationally recognized state, plus all the sand they can eat. Elsewhere, revolutionary fervor has been tempered somewhat. The US and the EU saved face. Russia and China will get the contracts to rebuilt Libya. Gaddafi and his Jamahiriyyah remain.]

[Auf Deutsch. (Cached) Vielen Dank, Lukas!] 

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya... now, children, one of these things is not like the others. That's right, Libya wasn't, and to a considerable extent still isn't, run by a dictator who happens to be a Western stooge. Say what you want about him, Muammar Gaddafi is a phenomenon. Compared to his inimitable, flamboyant persona, Tunisia's unimpressive Zia El Abidine ben Ali and Egypt's viciously thick Hosni Mubarak are ciphers. Yes they are all dictators, but look at the region and ask yourself: Who isn't? Even the Roman Senate used to elect a dictator in times of trouble; when isn't it a time of trouble in this region?

Gaddafi eschews the notions of the nation state, of Arab nationalism, and of electoral democracy. He forbids political parties. He is tribal; he espouses Islamic socialism, and his idea of democracy is one where tribal elders bring requests and grievances to him, and he gets to dispense largesse and pass judgment. He fancies himself a sort of king: a “king of kings.” He likes all kinds of African tribes, not just Arab ones; he is all about African unity in the face of Western oppression. He probably wouldn't mind ruling them all. He is, unarguably, green.

Hiding in front of the flag?
While Western leaders were surprised by the Tunisian revolt, and weren't at all sure about the Egyptian one (only eventually settling on the idea that Mubarak must go), they absolutely knew from the outset that leaving Gaddafi in power would take the political and economic disaster that this revolutionary trend already portends and raise it to the Nth power. Gaddafi had to go, and so vague noises were made about automatic support for any sort of disrespect the tribes that are not completely aligned with him could muster. They seem to have miscalculated rather badly, and now we are witnessing a series of embarrassing vignettes such as the instantaneous leaking of Obama's “super-secret” request to the Saudis to help Libyan rebels, or the recent British diplomatic “mission” which invaded with weapons and explosives and was apprehended by the rebels, who are no doubt starting to feel that this particular revolutionary exercise is not going too well for them. It was a mistake to treat Libya as a country, where protesters have rights. Libya is special. You have to go very far back in history to find something similar. Perhaps Carthage, which came quite close to sacking Rome and redirecting the flow of world history, is something of a North African analogy.

Zia swears to stay in office forever
Gaddafi's niche in the pantheon of national leaders who dared oppose the US—where he stands alongside Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il and Mahmud Ahmadinejad—is enough to warrant his removal and conversion of Libya into a NATO-bombed defunct narco-state like Kosovo or Afghanistan, but on top of that his brand of political philosophy, which he termed jamāhīriyyah (translated as “state of the masses”) might actually stand a chance in many collapsing nation states beyond Libya. The revolutions now spreading around the world are essentially bread riots: the disastrous harvests due to heat waves and floods around the world, caused by the accelerating onset of global warming, have caused food prices to spike. It is rather unusual for democracy (of the legalistic Western kind) to succeed where stomachs are empty. One normally expects a beer putsch or two, a Kristallnacht and perhaps a Reichstag on fire. Gaddafi's socialist islamic tribalism may succeed as more and more nation states turn into failed states, as national borders dissolve, and inter-ethnic conflicts and makeshift allegiances erase all the nice straight lines so carefully drawn on maps by colonizing Westerners. For all these reasons, Gaddafi must be deposed. The question is, can the West still rise to the occasion, or is it too internally conflicted, senile and broke? A little bit of time will tell.

I don't think we are talking about an extended period of time. Just this slight Libyan kerfuffle has pushed oil prices over the threshold which the International Energy Agency has recently defined as the threshold beyond which Western economies crumble, which is when oil expenditure consumes over 5% of GDP. (The original idea, by the way, belongs to François Cellier, who used it to explain the financial crisis of 2008. The wheels of international agencies grind slowly.) This crumbling process will redirect all remaining energies (physical as well as mental) inward, to prevent or contain internal revolt, with precious little to spare for Libya or any other foreign adventure. For a little while yet we will get to watch the world burn on a variety of fashionably small electronic devices. But sooner than you might think the tweets and the video feeds will cease and the screen will go dark, as it already has in Libya. After that you'd have to go there yourself to find out what's happening. Yes, unimaginable horrors are afoot, and you can't do a damned thing about them. You might do better for yourself and your family by taking advice from Voltaire's Candide, and just cultivate your own garden. I am not a religious man, but I do sometimes like quoting the gospel (or in this case, two gospels—Matthew 8:22 and Luke 9:60): “...let the dead bury their own dead.”


Atao said...

Wow. That sounds like the best analysis of Libya since a while. The tribal aspect is crucial and with it becomes more evident while there was some kind of support by Chavez but none apparent by Achmadi Nedjad. While Chavez agenda might be nationalistic his personal psychology is pretty tribal. On the other hand Achmadi Nedjad I doubt that he is into a tribal story. Or if then only in the jewish way with a superiority-through-God-idea.

Anonymous said...

Love for democracy abroad has varying intensity. Not too many comments are devoted to Somalia, disbanded as nation state some years ago.
Why all the interest for democracy in Libya? Guess what? Oil exports.
Lesson: love for oil is more widespread than love for democracy.

Lance M. Foster said...

i LOVE Candide! I neglected my reading of literature during the last 20 years, in favor or my profession's nonfiction. Foolish me! I was the first in my family to graduate high school and then attend college.

Now my professional life is kaput, and I am one of the millions of underemployed and aging who struggle in poverty to stay fed and sheltered (I can not even pay my student loan, let alone look forward to a day it will be paid off). But I have access to a library (one of the overlooked blessings of our plebian lives.

Ah well, better late than never. I checked out Candide last year out of curiosity over its status as a "great book" and I LOVE it! Rollicking, ribald, entertaining, humorous! And you are right. That's all we can do now, tend our own gardens.

So now, besides bearing witness to the decline of all we know (did you read Chris Hedge's essay this week at Truthdig?) I focus on reading those great books I never read before. I just checked out Dostoevsky's "Notes from Underground" and "The Great Inquisitor" in yellowing pages and battered covers, and am beginning another great adventure in the ashes of our world. I may be late in my reading, but one may also envy my luck in reading such timeless works in such interesting times!

RanDomino said...

Grow a garden and ride a bike.

russell1200 said...

The biblical quotes are very on the mark as they reference the leaving behind of the old world for a new one.

In effect, "having set your course, there is no turning back."

jpwhite said...

Wow. What an unbelievably deep and interesting hole the West has dug for itself.

The U.S. can't invade Libya, because that would be an unmistakable signal to China and Russia that the resource wars were entering a new (possibly lethal) phase. We can't use the fig leaf of NATO because its member states are all broke. And the guy that Mr. Change just told to get lost isn't showing the slightest inclination to leave. In fact, for a guy who is supposed to be a clown, he seems to be playing a weak hand quite brilliantly.

If this were a movie I'm not sure anyone would believe it. And did I really just read that 40% of the U.S. corn crop is going to make ethanol? I hope the crazy meter goes to eleven. And I hope that future historians (knock wood) have a sense of humor. They're gonna need it.

Bukko Boomeranger said...

For any commenters who don't read The Automatic Earth blog, whose authors are fans of Kollapsnik and vice versa, you should check out their essay on "How to Build a Lifeboat." Not a literal one, in spite of the nautical theme often seen here. Basically, the advice is to prepare yourself as well as you can by reducing your debt, increasing your self-sufficiency and getting a network of friends who will help you -- and you will help them -- get through hard times. It's the same message that the Russian commentators here espouse.

Maybe it's "confirmation bias," but I'm finding more bloggers and other opinion leaders whose messages reinforce that opinion. I wasn't seeing so much of that when I first began obsessing over the coming collapse five years ago. Orlov, Automatic Earth, Jim Kunstler, Max Keiser, Of Two Minds, and half a dozen others I could list are all in the "Doomer" camp, but not with the "hole up in the woods with lots of weapons" mindset. It's people, not guns, gold or canned goods, that will make life more tolerable when a downfall occurs.

When those "unimagineable horrors" hit, do you know who's "got your back?" It's never too late to make friends. Learn who you can trust before you're in a position where you have to trust them.

John Andersen said...

I see the wisdom in focusing on the garden, the basic survival needs all the while knowing that most of those around me have no clue, and expressly don't want to have a clue about what is really happening at the macro level.

The notion about paying attention to great literature is important.

Lately, I've been purchasing such books. Those who survive what is upon us will no doubt be grateful for access to whatever remains behind that is useful and instructive.

Dmitry Orlov said...

I seem to have finally won! All the usual commenters on this blog are sitting there slack-jawed with nary a comment to post.

Either that, or this Libya thing really is as predictable and irrelevant as the rest of the big picture behind the collapse scenario. If not Libya, then some other oil patch that's rigged to blow will move it right along.

So, do cultivate your garden. Some of you are far enough south to start getting your seeds ready.

Anonymous said...

I reckon it was your long boring story about how you replaced your R2D2 with a C3P0, and cleaned the kryptonite residue from your dilithium crystals. Where's the scare value in that? Folk want post collapse horror stories and depressing predictions to argue against.

Kevin said...

I've got my seeds, but need more potting soil, and a composter. Always wanted a dilithium crystal, I'll have to ask Dmitry where to pick one up cheap. But the hard part is getting together a supportive network of friends. Unfortunately a couple of my neighbors are downright deadly enemies, and the rest merely dislikable. Could be me of course, but I doubt it.

Riccardo, I fancy many of our "No Blood for Oil" protesters proudly display that bumper sticker on their SUVs.

Larry Gambone said...

Gadaffi's socialism and anti-imperialism are a thing of the past. He too drank the neoliberal anti-terrorist Kool Aid more than 10 years ago. The revolt in Libya has been spurred by these neoliberal "reforms" as much as his dictatorial methods.

sølvfoliehatt said...

"In other words, the shootings will continue until morale is restored"

(Scissored from ZH)

Blythe. Oh Blythe..

DeVaul said...

Well, I wouldn't say I am slack-jawed or even a regular commentator on your site. I just decided that saying "Candide" was my favorite book in college did not merit a comment here. I must say that I rarely hear anyone talk about it. I think because most people, even non-Americans, are of the Dr. Pangloss persuasion and think that all good things never come to an end.

I was also going to say that I was very surprised that Libya revolted since Gahdaffi (sp?) has always been painted as an enemy who defied us, but then I read on Elaine Meinel Supkis' Culture of Life blog that he made a deal with the western devils to loot his country for personal gain.

I think that leaves Fidel Castro as the only revolutionary standing who did not betray his own people. Of course, we still have Cuba under a naval blockade.

I enjoyed reading about how you tinkered with the auto-pilot, especially since I just learned that you can melt zinc pennies and add a little copper to it to make a casting that is as strong as steel! Imagine that! I downloaded the instructions for use some day.

Perhaps you could use zinc pennies to make a new, metal auto-pilot arm holder (if you have enough time ashore to do the casting).

Kevin said...

DeVaul, would you mind posting a link to those instructions? I'm hoping to build a solar furnace in the next year or two, and that would be a great project for me. I've been saving up used copper tuffy pads, and have a jar of pennies handy. I'm still shopping for welding goggles.

Gordon said...

Copper alloyed with zinc is brass, which is much softer than steel.

DeVaul said...

Ok, here it is. I was looking at the time for a chart of the melting values of metals when I came across it. I wanted to know the melting point of copper as a substitute for lead balls for my flintlock rifle, should I ever need them. I know that copper balls were used in the past.

Anyway, the name of the page is "Stovetop Metalcasting", and I am not an expert on metalurgy, so read it and judge it for yourself.


Oh, and I made a mistake. It is as strong as cast iron, not steel. Sorry, but I was writing from memory. The point is that the zinc and copper have a lower melting point than iron, and thus are within the reach of ordinary humans like us.

(I could melt iron in my pottery kiln, but I am not inclined to do so.)

weeone said...

Yes, by all means plant your garden. I've been a peak oil and collapse prepper for over a decade and I've done all that. You can grow plenty of potatoes using bio-intensive techniques, as long as you have plenty of NPK fertilizer or compost material. I even have a milk cow. Of course in order to get milk you need to have a bull. I had my own bull but needed to slaughter him because after four years two acres of pasture just wasn't enough to support him.

So by all means plant a garden. Here in the upper northeast we have four feet of snow on the ground in mid-March thanks to climate change. Won't be doing any planting any time soon.

Get to know your neighbors. Most of them have never grown a tomato in their lives and have no intention of learning. Buy a gun and stock up on ammo.

Just make sure you have one bullet -- for yourself.

Kraig Grady said...

The problem with the notion of benevolent dictators is that they lead to the opposite and can wreck more havoc than the benefit before them.
Do you see in of this in is Gadaffi's sons?
and they will be in power sooner than later.

SocialCritic said...

I've watched the preparations for the various disasters and scenarios people have envisioned over the years (hippie back-to-the-land, Y2K etc) and one thing has consistently emerged - everyone assumes a technically minimalist existence after central institutions fail - and make no real attempt to address it.

I for one am not satisfied that growing food in open gardens will be all that desirable in an era of violent weather, social instability and lacking resources - your all professing a decline will occur - but I'm not hearing an acknowledgement that it would take place in surges - i.e. nothing available at the hardware store (oh wait, Walmart already destroyed them - but hasn't replaced them...) due to long haul trucking being uneconomical due to fuel prices... so, are you willing to give up the advantages that a technological society offers entirely? I'm hoping to retain these benefits by recycling and local manufacturing through open source (free designs) machinery...

The early larval stage is here:


broom said...

Some of your analysis reminds me of a short story by none other than Mummar Gaddafi in his 1995 book, "Escape to Hell." The title is a reference to the migration of nomads from the desert into the city.

Anyhow, "Suicide of the Astronaut" tells the tale of a man who visits the moon, finds nothing, and upon his return to earth discovers that his qualifications as a space explorer leave him, like an arts grad, unable to secure useful work. He commits suicide.

Surreal ramblings of a geriatric dictator? Maybe, but I can't help but draw a comparison between Gaddafi's astronaut and your "factory-farmed" human. We are all astronauts now.