Dumb and Dumber with Bernardine Dohrn

August 31, 2013

Dumb and Dumber


“I don’t oppose all wars,” said State Senator Barack Obama from the speaker’s platform at an antiwar rally in downtown Chicago in October 2002. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.”

Dumb and rash—that pretty much sums up the threatened US bombing of Syria.

In this age of permanent war we’re once again treated to selective images of war’s brutality and the tragic human suffering war imposes (a reporter for NPR, betraying incredible ignorance of the proper role of a free journalist, said, “I’ve seen the gas attack videos from the Defense Department, and it seems the US must do something.”); once again we’re asked to forget the consequences of US interventions in Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen and more; and once again we’re told to ignore the “ignorant foreigners” who oppose US military aggression from the UN, the Arab League, and the Parliament of Great Britain (!!!)—all of whom oppose US “strikes”.

Despite majority opposition to US military intervention in Syria among the US population, the runaway US military machine cranks up their proxie front-group “NATO” and assembles an ever-shrinking “coalition of the willing” (France?). Once again a group of Dr. Strangeloves from the Pentagon’s military intelligence (oxymoron) make smiling and extravagant claims about the evolution of our creepy new war technology (“You can see these surgical strikes on YouTube!”) that guarantee success without harming a single innocent human person.

But “we must do something!” US leaders, who can’t think beyond military terms and violent responses, have badly damaged imaginations. What we, the people, must do is to deploy our social imaginations in the service of “doing something” in response to the horrible likelihood of gas attacks, and to human rights violations wherever and whenever they occur, not just those certified by empire in order to justify its own crimes; and again in steady mobilization and fierce opposition  to the despicable and predictable US military attack.

Dumb war.  Illegal war.

Quick, bring in an “intellectual!”=erce

Richard Fontaine, the president of the Center for a New American Security, a self-described centrist research group, said, “The kind of attack the administration appears to be planning will demonstrate to Syria and to others that there is a cost the United States is willing to impose for crossing clearly established American red lines and violating widely held international norms.”

It sounds like a playground bully making a dare. “Don’t cross those clearly established American red lines…or else.” Or else what?

Fontaine, again: “It probably will do very little to alter the fundamental balance of forces on the ground or hasten the end of the conflict.”

Are we Sparta? Can we stand up to the impulse for greater war and demand ethical and political responses to the terrible Syrian conflict? Can we do at least as surprisingly well as England? Can we teach ourselves about the genius of Syrian civilization and the beautiful Syrian people? Can we beat swords into bicycles? After Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Mali, can we simply say NO MORE WAR?

Dumb war.

Discipline and Punish

August 24, 2013

Michel Foucault, the French philosopher and historian, analyzes a novel kind of disciplinary power that was implemented in the 17th century to combat the plague, a new threat that was lethal, invisible, and highly contagious. The innovative approach not only isolated a town or village in which an outbreak had occurred, it also brought a group of people under intense scrutiny and segmentation, confining residents to their homes, placing sentinels at the corners of streets and intersections, and requiring regular review and registration of the position, condition, and identity of each individual under quarantine. For Foucault the model of the quarantine was a new “technology of power” that he called “discipline.”

A “mechanism of discipline” can be thought of as any “enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised,  in which all events are recorded, in which uninterrupted links exist between the center and periphery.” The “architectural figure” of this disciplinary power is Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, a model prison built upon a simple concept with echoing and accelerating implications: a tower surrounded by a ring of cells. A sentinel stands in the central tower; the guard can observe each of the prisoners, but they can neither see the sentry nor one another; prisoners never know when or how they are being observed, but recognize at all times their own visibility and vulnerability: “Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.”

What began as an effort to regulate and command certain “marginal” or “dangerous” segments of the population—victims of the plague, prisoners, the “insane”—becomes a technology used to normalize the population as a whole, adopted by all institutions with any interest whatsoever in management and control. “Is it surprising,” asks Foucault rhetorically, “that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” The Panopticon is the basic technology of power in our schools and our society.

Efforts to implement surveillance techniques and disciplinary power in schools have been going on for years, of course, but the process was dramatically accelerated in this country by two events:  first, the shootings  at Columbine High School in 1999, which provoked  widespread worry over a supposed trend of school violence, and second, the attacks of 9/11, which sparked a similar nationwide panic over “terrorism” and a drive, not just in schools but in every facet of American life, toward “security” of the “home-land.” Foucault’s emphasis on the origins of discipline during the plague is instructive because school violence, not to mention “terrorism,” is often figured as a metaphorical plague, something “contagious,” “invisible,” and “lethal.” Foucault reminds us that “Behind the disciplinary mechanism can be read the haunting memory of ‘contagions’, of the plague . . . of people who appear and disappear, live and die in disorder.”

The prisoner in Foucault’s Panopticon is always “the object of information, never the subject of communication.” Most teachers challenge that: we want our students to become the subjects of communication, actors in their own dramas and writers of their own scripts, even as we ourselves resist being transformed into objects by the mechanisms of surveillance that so profoundly define modern educational institutions.

Free Bradley Manning!

August 22, 2013

1984 is not some random hypothetical notion, or some abstract and distant possibility, or simply a fascinating metaphor—1984 is a reality; it’s upon us; Big Brother is watching you, and everyone knows it.

And now comes Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, Wikileaks, and Anonymous (among others) to provide an indispensable service: they are representatives of We, the People, delegates of the sovereign citizenry. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are our people watching them watching us.

As we work to stop the growing militarism and the steady descent into barbarism, to dismantle the surveillance nation and to annihilate the carceral system and the garrison state—it’s the hackers and the whistle-blowers, the leakers and the truth-tellers who help us to wake up, open our eyes, pay attention, and, yes, to act upon whatever the known demands of us.

Thank you Bradley Manning! Thank you Edward Snowden!

“Military Justice”

August 22, 2013

Military justice joins the list of The Most Ridiculous Oxymorons Ever, next to army intelligence and  just war, edging ahead of anarchist organization, business ethics, devout atheist, jumbo shrimp, and Justice Scalia.

Pfc. Bradley Manning, American Hero, Sentenced to the Gulag for 35 Years for Blowing the Whistle and Telling the Truth about US Military Misconduct!

August 21, 2013


 The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.

*George Orwell



The Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement after Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison:

We are outraged that a whistleblower and a patriot has been sentenced on a conviction under the Espionage Act. The government has stretched this archaic and discredited law to send an unmistakable warning to potential whistleblowers and journalists willing to publish their information. We can only hope that Manning’s courage will continue to inspire others who witness state crimes to speak up.

This show trial was a frontal assault on the First Amendment, from the way the prosecution twisted Manning’s actions to blur the distinction between whistle blowing and spying to the government’s tireless efforts to obstruct media coverage of the proceedings. It is a travesty of justice that Manning, who helped bring to light the criminality of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is being punished while the alleged perpetrators of the crimes he exposed are not even investigated. Every aspect of this case sets a dangerous precedent for future prosecutions of whistle blowers—who play an essential role in democratic government by telling us the truth about government wrongdoing—and we fear for the future of our country in the wake of this case.

We must channel our outrage and continue building political pressure for Manning’s freedom. President Obama should pardon Bradley Manning, and if he refuses, a presidential pardon must be an election issue in 2016.


Military Justice and the Value of Human Life, or Just Do the Math:

Prison time served by Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the senior military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib and the senior officer present the night of the murder of Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi: 0

Prison sentence (in months) given to Sgt. Sabrina Harman, the woman famously seen giving a thumbs-up next to al-Jamadi’s body, and in another photo smiling next to naked and hooded Iraqis stacked on top of one another, for maltreating detainees: 6

Prison sentence (in months) given to Spec. Armin Cruz for abusing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and covering up the abuse: 8

Prison sentence (in months) given to Spec. Steven Ribordy for being accessory to the murder of four Iraqi prisoners who were “bound, blindfolded, shot and dumped in a canal” in Baghdad in 2007: 8

Prison sentence (in months) given to Spec. Belmor Ramos for conspiracy to commit murder in the same case: 7

Prison sentence (in years) given to Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr. after the military granted him clemency from a life sentence for committing the four Baghdad murders: 20

Years served after which he will be eligible for parole: 7

Prison time served by Marine Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich for negligent dereliction in the massacre of 24 unarmed men, women and children in 2005 in the Iraqi town of Haditha: 0

 Prison time served by the seven other members of his battalion who were charged in the murders: 0.

Prison sentences (in months) given to Marine Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate and Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson for the aggravated assault (and death) of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, a father of 11 and grandfather of four, in Al Hamdania in 2006: 21

Prison sentence (in years) given to Bradley Manning by a military judge for releasing to Wikileaks “the largest-ever cache of classified documents in the nation’s history,” otherwise known as simple truth-telling: 35

Part Four: Summer 2013

August 16, 2013


Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

** Ella Baker


David Brooks, the moderate “human face” of the plutocrats and the dangerous fang faction, used his New York Times column to trumpet the need for “a national greatness agenda” and managed to evoke a grotesquely mangled and romanticized image of the Black Freedom Movement of 50 years ago in an attempt to rally people to a left/right social movement of all the politically disaffected built around the goal of broad revitalization: “Like the civil rights movement, this movement will ask Americans to live up to their best selves.” And our “best selves” is easily summed up: “Love of country.” Yes simple patriotism will, in Brooks’ cosmology, allow Americans to see that sacrificing Social Security benefits “at a time when soldiers and Marines are sacrificing their lives for their country in Afghanistan,” or giving up pensions as an investment in “America’s future greatness,” represent the sensible unifying path forward.

Most Americans (and the whole world besides) think that the US adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have been and continue to be catastrophic. The vast majority of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan (not the “insurgents” or the Taliban or the “jihadists”) have overwhelmingly opposed the US military presence in their respective lands practically from the start. Any ethical person would tell the government to end its senseless wars for a start, bring those Marines and soldiers home now, and spend those squandered billions on education, health, and the common good.

But Brooks sees the hand writing on the wall: US power is in deep crisis, and the American empire is coming to an end; his solution is to mobilize a nationalistic movement and shred any expectation of a common commitment to human welfare: line-up, re-load, and march. Or as he puts it, his social movement will have one simple and unapologetic goal:  “preserving American pre-eminence.”  He asserts that “American ‘supremacy’ is a gift to our children and a blessing for the earth.” To Brooks the US Century must continue and the echoes of Rome and London and Berlin and Tokyo—pick your century, pick your conqueror—are unmistakable. The world will be a far, far better place if everyone will accept the obvious fact that the US makes a great ruler and that it should simply be allowed to run the whole show forever.

People around the world can’t possibly agree with Brooks’ assessment, and most never will no matter what the cost. Most people think the US (less than 5% of the world’s population, but capable of acting as if it’s some sort of entitled aristocracy or super-majority) has some noble traditions and hopeful rhetoric but it is also a misguided and menacing cowboy, the largest mercenary force ever created, benighted and armed and dangerous, and more than a little out-of-control much of the time.

The problem here, as always, is whether ordinary people can be counted on to support the long war, pay the price, avert their eyes, become participants or accomplices in conquest and occupation and war without end. Brooks and his patrons in power and privilege are worrying about the pesky and unpredictable home front (US!!!) and he’s calling on us to close our eyes to injustice everywhere and build nothing less than a patriotic/nationalist popular movement to resist “national humiliation, diminished power in the world, drastic cuts and spreading pain.” “American Exceptionalism” inflamed, American supremacy triumphant, America uber alles and of course war after endless war—this is the deadly response from the big thinker of the “reasonable” right.

This is precisely where a focus on education—on reason and evidence and argument—becomes essential. This historic moment, this epoch, could surely be increasingly violent and horrifying or it could be a time of new hope, beauty, and unforeseen possibilities. This is in part up to us: it depends on how we think and how we act. In education, this moment challenges us to reconsider every assumption and to reexamine first and fundamental principles.

An essential step is to re-imagine the project of schooling, teaching and learning, curriculum and instruction, in radically new ways. Education at the end of empire is inevitably where our identity and our destiny will be developed and worked out.  Education is one of the key pillars of the superstructure of capitalist society, the arena of politics and ideology, where humans become conscious of class conflict and fight it out. Education is a site of class sorting, the development of ideological hegemony, and the debate over what it means to be human, where we are on the clock of the universe, and what kind of future we mean to create.

Education at the end of empire is education in crisis and contestation. The outlines of the agenda of the powerful are increasingly apparent: privatization, drastically lowered expectations for students and families, the demonization of teachers, zero-tolerance as a cat’s paw for surveillance and control, sort-and-punish curricula, a culture of obedience and conformity, a narrowing definition of learning as job-training and education as a product to be bought and sold in the market, the school-to-prison pipeline. On the other side there is a growing fight-back based on the principle that all human beings are of incalculable value and that life in a just and free society must be geared toward and powered by a profoundly radical idea: the fullest development of all human beings regardless of race or ethnicity, origin or background, gender identity, ability or disability is the necessary condition for the full development of each person; and, conversely, the fullest development of each is the condition for the full development of all. On this side are those who recognize that access to education, the development of skills and critical capacity, make citizens and residents not just “college ready” or work-prepared, but also ready to become leaders of struggles for a humane future. 

This points to the importance of opposing the hidden curriculum of obedience and conformity in favor of foregrounding and teaching initiative, questioning, doubt, skepticism, courage, imagination, and creativity. These are central and not peripheral to an education based on principles of equality, justice, and basic human rights. These are the qualities educators must struggle to model and nourish, encourage and defend in our communities and our classrooms.

In a free society students are able to think for themselves and develop minds of their own, to make judgments based on evidence and argument, and to build capacities for exploration and invention. They are encouraged then to ask the most fundamental and essential questions that are, like the young themselves, always in-motion, dynamic, and never twice the same: Who in the world am I?  How did I get here and where am I going? What in the world are my choices and my chances? What did I learn that the teacher didn’t know? What’s my story, and how is it like or unlike the stories of others? What is my responsibility to those others?

Teachers and students who long for schooling as something transcendent and powerful find ourselves locked in institutions that glorify sorting students into winners and losers, reduce learning to a mindless and irrelevant routine of drill and skill and teaching to a kind of glorified clerking, passing along a curriculum of received wisdom and predigested (and often false) bits of information. This is unlovely in practice and it is unworthy of our deepest dreams.

The dominant neo-liberal metaphor of the rich and powerful posits schools as businesses, teachers as workers, students as products and commodities, and it leads rather simply to thinking that school closings and privatizing the public space are natural events, relentless standardized test-and-punish regimes sensible, zero tolerance a reasonable proxy for justice. This is what the true-believers call “reform.”

The hijacking of school reform by the neo-liberal corporate planners, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, US government strategists and the education elites intensifies an attack on teachers, unions, teacher education, schools, and the kids themselves. The aim is to recreate the privileges of the powerful while forging a generation of technicians and passive followers and disciplining the lower classes to accept their place in the matrix. The gravitational pull of this narrative is so great that even radical reformers find themselves re-voicing the deceptive goals and the phony frames. If we are to take a thorough and honest look at the educational landscape before us, we cannot accept the standards and benchmarks established by the elite, from the acceptance of capitalist development, meaningless and wasteful work, and ecological depredations as the only way forward, to the normalizing of white, middle class discourse as the gold standard of excellence, anointed with titles like Standard English or Academic English. 

Schools for obedience and conformity are characterized by passivity and fatalism and infused with anti-intellectualism and irrelevance. They turn on the little technologies for control and normalization, the elaborate schemes for managing the crowd, the knotted system of rules and discipline, the exhaustive machinery of schedules and clocks, the laborious programs of sorting the crowd into winners and losers through testing and punishing, grading, assessing, and judging, all of it adding up to a familiar trap, an intricately constructed hierarchy, everyone in a designated place and a place for everyone.  In the schools as they are, knowing and accepting one’s pigeonhole on the towering and barren cliff becomes the only lesson one really needs. 

Educators who are today oriented toward justice and liberation and enlightenment as living forces and powerful aspirations focus their efforts not on the production of things, but on the production of fully developed human beings who are capable of controlling and transforming their own lives, citizens and residents who can participate actively in public life, people who can open their eyes and awaken themselves and others as they think and act ethically in a complex and ever-changing world. This kind of teaching encourages students to develop initiative and imagination, the capacity to name and constantly interrogate the world, the wisdom to identify the obstacles to their full humanity and to the humanity of others, and the courage to act upon whatever the known demands. Education, then, is changed from rote boredom and endlessly alienating routines into something that is transformative, always opening doors and opening minds as students forge their own pathways into a wider world.

Teaching in this political moment is both a challenge and a gift, for this moment embodies what educators, beginning with early childhood teachers, have always called “a teachable moment.” Teachable moments are times of disequilibrium and dislocation, times when lesson plans are thrown into doubt and newness can enter, times when the predictable and the common-place are recognized as inadequate and fresh and startling winds can blow, for teachers no less than for students. The teachable moment aligns neatly with a certain kind of pedagogy, one that doesn’t know the answers and is compelled to improvise with the unfinished, the contingent, and the surprising/unforeseen.

In the schools we need, education is constructed as a fundamental human right geared toward the fullest development of the human personality, and the reconstruction of society around basic principles of joy and justice, equality and recognition, peace and love.

Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.

Part Three: Summer, 2013

August 13, 2013

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

** Ella Baker


A dominant narrative in contemporary school reform is once again focused on exclusion and disadvantage, race and class, Black and white. “Across the US,” the National Governor’s Association declared in 2005, “a gap in academic achievement persists between minority and disadvantaged students and their white counterparts.” This is the commonly referenced and popularly understood “racial achievement gap,” and it drives education policy at every level.  Once again, whether heart-felt or self-satisfied, the narrative never mentions the monster in the room: white supremacy. 

It’s true, of course, that standardized test scores reveal a difference between Black and white test-takers: 26 points in one area of comparison—fourth-grade reading—20 points in another, 23 in a third.

 But the significance of those differences is wildly disputed. Some argue—as Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein did in their popular and incendiary book The Bell Curve—that genetic differences account for the gap, and there’s little that can be done to lift up the poor inferior Black folks. An alternate theory—popular since the 1960’s with progressives and liberals—holds that Blacks are not inherently inferior to whites, but merely “culturally deprived,” and that fixing the “massive pathologies” in the family and community will require social engineering on a grand scale. 

Each of these explanations has its large and devoted following—the first, while difficult for many whites to endorse publicly, carries the reflected power of eugenics and the certainty that what they’d always secretly suspected (that whites are indeed superior beings in so many intimately experienced ways—“I did nothing wrong, and I feel great about being me!”) is true. The second has the advantage of giving a bit more than a pig’s eye for the well-being of Black people while disturbing none of the pillars of white privilege. Either theory can live comfortably beneath the obsessive focus on the so-called achievement gap.

Clearly the second theory is in ascendency: the guys with all the money, the media, the armed forces, and the super-sized megaphones are the autocrats and the authoritarians, the plutocrats, the patricians, and all their various professional political allies—the troglodytes in Congress and the Broad Foundation, of course,  but also the smart liberals and data-driven “scientific” progressives (Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Rahm Emmanuel) who are absolutely certain of their righteousness and their own beneficent intentions, who swell with pride when considering the gleaming architecture of their own specific talents that they are so generously willing to share with their inferiors in the service of general betterment, and who are always a bit taken aback and then deeply resentful when the objects of their attention and affection don’t have the good sense to comply with their plans for social uplift (school closings, a longer school day, privatization, cutting sports and arts).

Gloria Ladson-Billings upends all of this nonsense with an elegant reversal: there is no achievement gap, she argues, merely a glancing reflection of something deeper and more fundamental—America has a profound education debt.  The educational inequities that began with the attempted annihilation of Native peoples and the enslavement of Africans, the conquest of a continent and the importation of both “free” labor (in chains) and serfs, has transformed into apartheid education, something anemic, inferior, inadequate, and oppressive. Over decades and then centuries the debt has accumulated and has passed from generation to generation, and it continues to develop and pile up. Jonathan Kozol has documented that the debt—far from being ameliorated—grows year by year: Chicago serves 86% Black and Latina/o students and spends around $8,000 per pupil per year while a few miles away in the tony suburb of Highland Park, 90% white, the school district spends $17,000 per student; New York City, 72% Black and Latina/o, spends around $12,000 per pupil annually while suburban Manhasset, 91% white, spends over $22,000.  In most states the highest-poverty districts receive far fewer resources, and, according to Ladson-Billings, in “30 states, high minority districts receive less money for each child than low minority districts.”

Ladson-Billings imagines what could be done if the political powers took the “achievement gap” seriously: immediate reassignment of the best teachers in the country to schools for poor children of color, guaranteed places for those students in state and regional colleges and universities, smaller classes, a Marshall Plan-type effort to rebuild school infrastructure. 

Ladson-Billings argues that the US also owes a moral debt to African-Americans, a debt that “reflects the disparity between what we know is right and what we actually do.” 

Will America educate African-American youngsters?  In 1933 Carter Woodson published The Mis-Education of the Negro, and he answered the question this way:

When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.  You do not have to tell him to stand here or go yonder.  He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it.  You do not need to send him to the back door.  He will go without being told.  In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit.  His education makes it necessary.

Woodson had in mind the way education serves the social order, the way American schools satisfy a society with identifiable structures of privilege and oppression based on race, and reflect and promote that racial stratification perfectly.  When there is, for example, a pervasive sense that there is nothing about the presence of African-American youngsters, especially Black boys, that is deemed valuable or desirable or important—their presence always a problem, a deficit, an impediment—that gets manifested on the street and in the classroom. 

Education, of course, is never neutral. It always has a value, a position, a politics.  Education—teaching and schooling—either reinforces or challenges the existing social order. The largest, most generous purpose of education is always human enlightenment and human liberation, and the driving and undergirding principle is the unity of all humanity: every human being is of incalculable value, entitled to decent standards concerning freedom and justice and education, and any violations, deliberate or inadvertent, must be fought against, testified to, and resisted.

But because schools serve societies—in fact, in many ways all schools are microcosms of the societies in which they’re embedded—every school is both mirror and window onto a specific social reality.  If one understands the schools, one can see the whole of society; if one fully grasps the intricacies of society, one will know something about how its schools are organized.  In a totalitarian society, for example, schools are built for obedience and conformity; in a kingdom, the schools teach fealty; in a racialized society, educational privileges and oppressions are distributed along the color line. In an authentic democracy we would expect to find schools defined by a spirit of cooperation, inclusion, and full participation, places that honor diversity while building unity.

And that takes us to the necessary and challenging task of naming our moment—necessary because if we fail to analyze our conditions concretely we are rudderless; challenging because this moment, like every other moment, is dense with possibilities and packed with energy—it refuses to stand still and it will not be nailed down. Every analysis is partial, contingent, and unfinished. But without at least an attempt to understand in a systematic way the world around us—the apparent as well as the hidden forces at work—we are at sea.

The word “moment” is itself elastic, wobbling at the edges between a sense of the airy and the ephemeral, on one hand, and a claim to the momentous on the other. The moment is passing and profound, transient and memorable: it can be an event or a happening and it can, as well, define an epoch, a period, or an era. So we must try to name and illuminate with uncertainty and humility. We reach for the magnificent, knowing that we can never capture it and pin it to the board and, if we did, we would kill it.

We are living in the midst of an historic sea change—a dramatic and irreversible cultural, economic, and political shift—in terms of global power. The financial crisis and the cyclical economic adjustments of the day grab the headlines and draw most of the attention but just below the surface, roiling and churning, more profound upheaval is well under way: the decline of US empire and the eclipse of the “American Century” which in all likelihood (but not necessarily – it depends in part on us) will be as messy as the end of the British, French, Japanese, or Spanish empires; the turn from an economy with industry in the imperial centers to one where major production is in the colonial and post-colonial regions, which may well be (again, not inevitably) as murderous as the great leap from agriculture to industry; an unprecedented ecological dislocation that is already re-drawing all existing maps and propelling millions of environmental refugees out of their homes and into a shrinking world. The center cannot hold, and we are—each and all of us, whether we recognize it or not—in the mix and on the move, witnessing and participating in the end of empire and the creation of a new social order in one way or another.

When the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc collapsed in the 1980’s the US proclaimed itself the unrivaled leader of a uni-polar world and moved even more aggressively to dominate global resources, labor, and markets, with profits flowing exclusively toward the metropolis. Wealth poured in and businesses boomed. The export of industrial production to the Third World forced millions from rural areas to cities in Asia, African, and Latin America and drove down wages for workers in the imperial center, resulting in even greater spikes in profits. These realignments reduced metropolitan economies to service and branding, information and entertainment, credit and financial management and were accompanied necessarily by a bloated military establishment built to keep these unjust relationships intact and relatively stable.

Today however the imperial dream of an unchallenged and grotesquely lopsided world is coming to a painful end. This is not the heralded “end of history,” that weird ideology manufactured by the intellectual servants of power to explain and justify the imbalance and the injustice; rather it is the end of the arrogant hope for a thousand year Pax Americana. The evidence of terminal rot at the center is everywhere and the accompanying collapse is all around us: an economic and financial emergency based on deep structural problems; an environmental crisis which cannot and will not be ignored; the demographic changes caused by globalization and immigration leading to the fateful narrowing of a European-American majority in the US and challenges to white supremacy in Europe and elsewhere; the “Arab Spring” and “Occupy” openings combined with the stalemate and impending defeat of western military forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the entire region; and the various challenges to US hegemony from a number of directions including Europe, North Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and oddly jerry-rigged entities such as the BRIC alliance (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

Another world is possible, as the hopeful slogan from the World Social Forum has it, and in fact another world is inevitable. But will it be a better world? Not necessarily—a world of permanent war and sprawling work camps, massive prisons and constant control, environmental disaster on an even more gargantuan scale is also a possibility. Nothing is guaranteed, and nothing is settled once and for all. Everything is dynamic, in motion, on the move and on the make, incomplete, unfinished. As Randy Newman sings, “The end of empire is messy at best/ and this one is ending like all the rest.” And as we must continue to remind ourselves: “Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.”