When I put that question in striking bold yesterday I got to thinking about what has happened in the last fifteen to twenty years. The time period encompasses my writing and work on various matters having to do with security ranging from the old origins of malware to chemical and biological weapons.
That started, depending on where I choose to pick an event, either in the administration of the first Bush, or a little later, with the presidency of Bill Clinton. Long enough to have something to say in terms of perspective, I think.
A number of things are very clear and profoundly disappointing.
The US has always been burdened by an excessively large analytic structure in national security, one in which the primary function is very much not analytic. It’s purpose is to arrive at justification for whatever leadership wishes to do.
That in itself is a major problem and it is at the very roots of the phenomenon that I call shoeshine.
Shoeshine is the work of a managerial and interpretive class of American labor, generally upper middle class, one that is employed to come up with stuff, rationalizations, justifications, all for the convenience to those at the very top in American national and business leadership. Shoeshine has virtually no social value except as employment. It keeps people in work and they can, of course, buy stuff in the economy.
But, fundamentally, shoeshine is a government in collaboration with the private sector employment jobs program that produces nothing of any material value for the vast majority of Americans.
For example, assertions that China is spying away American wealth in cyberspace are signally not important for any Americans except those generating them and the people paying for it to be disseminated. They have no meaning. There are no statistics, except the numbers of news stories and memorandums produced. But there is a big structure that has been employed to embed this information in American culture.
And it has not just been with China.
It goes on to encompass the bogus rhetoric that constantly speaks of the American financial system being threatened by devastating cyberattack, of the electricity being turned off nationwide, of calamities brought on by alleged digital assaults that require one to believe they can rival the destructive power of natural disasters.
Add to it the now impossible to reverse received wisdom that people in the sandy wastes of some poor country you barely know can easily make weapons of mass destruction. Or whatever reasons are given this week for piling up more dead with drone strikes. There really is no end to it.
And there is immorality to this because, at its heart, it’s the human machinery of rationalizing destruction.
However, when I started this there was a class of middle and upper middle class managerial and interpretive workers, smaller, which pushed back.
It was a class that inhabited philanthropic non-profit agencies devoted to such things as the furtherance of public understanding on national security issues, interpretation of treaties and global compliance and arms control.
With eight years of the Bush administration and another four with Barack Obama in charge, that’s all virtually swept away. Agencies I used to call when I was a newspaper reporter for independent from the national line information either became stunted versions of their former selves are ceased operations altogether.
Readers will have also noticed that, in the last decade, the United States isn’t even remotely interested in arms control, unless for the convenience of beating up on Iran and North Korea, and launching a clandestine war against the former.
Arms control was actually perverted into an excuse for invading Iraq.
The US is for arms proliferation big time, the best, as long as we’re doing the selling.
The world wide web, blogs, Wikileaks, whatever you want to name, didn’t fill the vacuum. Almost everyone just quit. They had to. All the money, what small amounts there were, went away. The only money spent for analysis of national security issues now is all on the other side. And its function is simply to pay people to come up with enemies lists and memos to be publicized on who is attacking us and who we are to be frightened of.
Over this period I had acquaintances who also did the progressive critical side of the coin. They wrote blogs or ran websites, worked for little agencies trying to do their part.
As the national security megaplex ballooned they either faded away or went to work for it. If they went to work for it, they went silent, never to speak again. Worried about careers, some even pulled down their old works.
And I was not being at all facetious when I mentioned earlier in the week that the state of rational discussion on cyberwar had been so degraded by this long process of attrition that it is mostly reduced to 140-character Twitter tweets.
The best people can come up with is a short (not too long so as to bore the audience) indignant squawk on social media.
WTF is wrong with these people?
Recently, authors Barbara and John Ehrenreich wrote something for Alternet called The Real Story Behind the Crash and Burn of America’s Managerial Class.
Wrote the Ehrenreichs:
It was the occupational role of managers and engineers (the professional managerial class), along with many other professionals, to manage, regulate, and control the life of the working class. They designed the division of labor and the machines that controlled workers’ minute-by-minute existence on the factory floor, manipulated their desire for commodities and their opinions, socialized their children, and even mediated their relationship with their own bodies.
At the same time though, the role of the PMC as “rationalizers” of society often placed them in direct conflict with the capitalist class. Like the workers, the PMC were themselves employees and subordinate to the owners, but since what was truly “rational” in the productive process was not always identical to what was most immediately profitable, the PMC often sought autonomy and freedom from their own bosses.
This class grew rapidly from the 1930s to about the mid-Seventies when the “capitalist class” reasserted control and began to cut it back with waves of layoffs tied to de-industrialization.
Technological advances and, most recently, the Internet, have continued to hack at it.
What’s left is now also employed, keeping jobs as long as possible, in cannibalization, boiling down other sections of the economy, finding ways other people can be cast off.
“Then, in just the last dozen years, the PMC began to suffer the fate of the industrial class in the 1980s: replacement by cheap foreign labor,” they continue.
That part of the managerial interpretive class that cannot yet be replaced is in American financial services and the national security megaplex. For the defense infrastructure, it’s been a relatively safe harbor of jobs for those whose work is to furnish information conveniences and processes for the very top of the pyramid.
It is not a mystery why their work has not even the slightest connection to the lives of great numbers of other Americans.
WTF is wrong with these people is that counter-reality and satisfying the political needs of their uppers is what they must do to earn a good living in view of the increasingly throttled prospects offered by this country.
And so they have been transformed into the bleak concrete of a predatory process and structure. In this structure it is imperative they not understand anything which conflicts with the purpose of the job and that they not give a shit about that. Or, if they do, to at least stuff it.
People who work at the Pasadena office of the California Department of Motor Vehicles provide more value daily than the shoeshine workers in national security. Whether you like standing in line waiting your turn or not, the public sector employees get things done that are necessary so that you can drive a car in California. And that’s important to everyday people.
One of the easiest ways to evaluate how this structure’s frankly idiotic, paranoid and self-serving fantasies have broken off with reality is also their presence in (or contamination of) entertainment.
You can compare their weird and estranged myths to the parallel proliferation of zombie and vampire movies, tv shows, books and comics.
Cyberwar is as present during the week in scripts for television and movies, maybe more so if not as successfully, as zombies. So is apocalyptic chemical and biological warfare. Add electromagnetic pulse armageddon.
All of these, propagandized into American culture by the managerial corps of national security shoeshiners to such an extent they’ve become silly popular primetime diversions, crap that has virtually nothing to do with day-to-day life over the last two decades.
Occasionally, some break with the pack.
Why You Shouldn’t Believe Cyber-war Hype, published at CIO magazine, a couple days ago.
Why your host knows what he’s talking about. Read the ‘about’ page.
Two decades is a long time. I think I’ve earned my stars.