Sunday, March 05, 2006

Race and the imperial elite

To help situate the debate on power, powerlessness and race, it’s worth having a look at an article by Ron Suskind in the New York Times Magazine published just a few weeks before the 2004 presidential election in the U.S.
The journalist explains:

“In the summer of 2002…I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush” who was unhappy about something Suskind had published. Here is the journalist’s account of that interview:

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''


We thus discover that the problem I recently described as one of racism is not uniquely founded on race. It appears that there’s a specific ideology of superiority even within the dominant race: the idea that there is, on the one hand, a breed of leaders (hovering above reality and controlling politics and the economy) and a breed of followers (rooted helplessly in reality). Bush’s senior adviser understood that this was a consequence of empire as well as an inevitable historical evolution (perhaps in the Hegelian sense). In short, he’s describing a three-tiered system: dominant leaders who dominate the dominant nation and region (identified with a racially determined culture: white northern Europe/U.S.) which in turn dominates the struggling masses spread out over the rest of the globe. One is left wondering what the Bush administration means when it claims to encourage “democracy” (is it a special kind of democracy, fuelled by economic influence, that can be counted on to consistently plebiscite an neo-aristocratic elite?).

It’s rare that elite poker players or politicians show their hand before raking in the chips. So such an instance of frank testimony on the part of a “senior adviser” is precious. And what he describes appears to be true, especially to those who find themselves at the end of the line, i.e., the dominated masses in the rest of the world. Might this feeling of belonging to the third tier on the periphery of an empire be part, not only of the reaction to the Danish cartoons, but to the malaise in India and Pakistan at Bush’s lightning visit to define single-handedly the world’s nuclear policy and to a growing anti-U.S. sentiment detectable all across the globe?

This painting by Thomas Cole in 1836 represents the imaginary creation of an empire in the U.S. Click here to see the painting in detail (with an option full screen) and to learn about it.


The question of race comes up again in the article in the context of a luncheon for supporters of his campaign:

In response to a question, he talked about diversity, saying that ''hands down,'' he has the most diverse senior staff in terms of both gender and race. He recalled a meeting with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany. ''You know, I'm sitting there with Schröder one day with Colin and Condi. And I'm thinking: What's Schröder thinking?! He's sitting here with two blacks and one's a woman.''

Colin Powell and Condolezza Rice provide the answer to diversity. Their presence is designed to make it impossible to suspect the system of being racist because it visibly and ostentatiously accepts people from any race, provided, of course, that they fully identify with the system. The important thing isn’t diversity in society, but diversity within the imperial ruling class. The status of being a member of the ruling class (which isn’t the same thing as ruling) requires two things: personal choice, effort and ambition (i.e. a form of devotion on the part of the racially heterogeneous) and selection by the leaders of the elite. It is not achieved through democratic representation nor does it reflect the idea of representation of the their community. The effect is primarily one of image, which is what so delighted Bush in the presence of Schroeder. It turns out that politics is the third and potentially most glorious avenue of success for any young black, after the entertainment industry and professional sports. It’s also the most difficult because it requires being selected, or rather co-opted by the powerful to join their club. It cannot be achieved through talent and perseverance alone (the virtue of assertive self-reliance).

Will these trends continue or are they ephemeral accidents of history? Was the senior adviser describing the ethos of Bush’s private governing club, in power for twice four years, or that of an imperial elite that is broader in scope and longer in duration, and includes Democratic administrations as well? Did Clinton see the world, and act in it, in pretty much the same way? How much are the Blairs, Berlusconis, Schroeders, Merkels and Chiracs also part of it, as regional prefects?

If we had the answers to these questions perhaps we could develop a plan for training the racially diverse in the intercultural skills they need to migrate from their peripheral communities to the heart of the empire. But somehow I think the imperial elite has already created its training curriculum and don’t really need outsiders from the “reality-based community” such as ourselves.

Perhaps it’s time for those of us who hail from the reality-based community to create the RBC party to oppose the principles and pretensions of the RC (Reality Creation) Party. Then when we take over the reins of imperial government we can create our own reality and justify the trust the RB community has placed in us. We will finally have overcome our pernicious enslavement to the judicious study of discernible reality”.


Madhukar said...

Hi Peter

welcome to the blogosphere;)... just dicovered your blog.

Please do keep writing - you have one avid reader


Peter Isackson said...

Thanks Madhukar. Unfortunately, I'm submerged under a mountain of of work and may have to slow down the blogging pace in the next couple of weeks. A few days ago I received notification that a project I had submitted in November for European funding has been positively evaluated. It concerns the creation of ontologies and methods for producing, organizing and exploiting metadata learning objects for intercultural training, particularly in an online context. It's a two year project that will probably kick off in June (if everything goes well during the negotiation stage). I expect to use the blog to keep the community of interculturalists informed about what we are doing, which should be profitable to the community as a whole.