USC Students for Justice in Palestine

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Robert Jensen: The four fundamentalisms – the threats to sustainable democracy

Posted by uscsjp on October 23, 2006

The most important words anyone said to me in the weeks immediately after September 11, 2001, came from my friend James Koplin. While acknowledging the significance of that day, he said, simply: “I was in a profound state of grief about the world before 9/11, and nothing that happened on that day has significantly changed what the world looks like to me.”

Because Jim is a bit older and considerably smarter than I, it took me some time to catch up to him, but eventually I recognized his insight. He was warning me that even we lefties — trained to keep an eye on systems and structures of power rather than obsessing about individual politicians and single events — were missing the point if we accepted the conventional wisdom that 9/11 “changed everything,” as the saying went then. He was right, and today I want to talk about four fundamentalisms loose in the world and the long-term crisis to which they point.

Before we head there, a note on the short-term crisis: I have been involved in U.S. organizing against the so-called “war on terror,” which has provided cover for the attempts to expand and deepen U.S. control over the strategically crucial resources of Central Asia and the Middle East, part of a global strategy that the Bush administration openly acknowledges is aimed at unchallengeable U.S domination of the world. For U.S. planners, that “world” includes not only the land and seas — and, of course, the resources beneath them — but space above as well. It is our world to arrange and dispose of as they see fit, in support of our “blessed lifestyle.” Other nations can have a place in that world as long as they are willing to assume the role that the United States determines appropriate. The vision of U.S. policymakers is of a world very ordered, by them.

This description of U.S. policy is no caricature. Anyone who doubts my summary can simply read the National Security Strategy document released in 2002 and the 2006 update and review post-World War II U.S. history. Read and review, but only if you don’t mind waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat of fear. But as scary as these paranoid, power-mad policymakers’ delusions may be, Jim was talking about a feeling beyond that fear — a grief that is much broader and goes much deeper.

Opposing the war-of-the-moment — and going beyond that to challenge the whole imperial project — is important. But also important is the work of thinking through the nature of the larger forces that leave us in this grief-stricken position. We need to go beyond Bush. We should recognize the seriousness of the threat that this particular gang of thieves and thugs poses and resist their policies, but not mistake them for the core of the problem.

FUNDAMENTALISMS

One way to come to terms with these forces is to understand the United States as a society in the grip of four fundamentalisms. In ascending order of threat, I identify these fundamentalisms as religious, national, economic, and technological. All share some similar characteristics, while each poses a particular threat to sustainable democracy and sustainable life on the planet. Each needs separate analysis and strategies for resistance. (continued)

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