Bush and the lifestyle wars
the Malibu Munchees Café at Crescent Head, Joadja and I met an
American surfie who claimed hed known Miranda Devine when she
was gossip columnist on the Boston Herald. The drought had broken
a couple of days earlier and a fine, steady drizzle settled from the
grey turbulent sky.
girl, but man, it was like standing next to an active volcano. Almost
anything could set her off -- a fat woman walking by, a bunch of cyclists,
a couple of young lefties with a bookstall. Suddenly, ka-boom,
shed go into a ranting fit.
never could figure out whether she was trying to work through some sort
of personal anger thing or if it was something, intellectual. It was
too much to handle. Bad Karma, man.
from my vegie burger dribbled onto the Sydney Morning Heralds
opinion page which was dominated by Ms Devines latest concoction
of sweeping insults and pro-war slogans.
Mirandas different to Paddy McGuinness or Piers Ackerman. Theyre
old cynics who once counted themselves as lefties. They know that what
theyre writing is formulaic bullying crap. Theyre like human
sheepdogs: they keep the herd moving whichever way the master wants.
If you can come at it, its a very good living indeed: Piers probably
makes over two hundred grand a year and they say Paddy gets a quarter
of a million for just one column a week.
I reckon poor Miranda actually believes her stuff. Unlike the others,
she was born into the right-wing commentariat -- her dad was the resident
ranter on The Australian, so she just grew up with it and shes
genuinely outraged that lots of people dont agree with her.
huge refrigerated truck, bound for the supermarket, rolled slowly past,
followed by a line of people-movers and 4WD urban assault vehicles.
Talk turned to George W. Bush and the forthcoming invasion of Iraq.
Bush arrogantly says that the American way of life is non-negotiable,
hes tapping into a real vein of fear, I remarked. Hes
selling the war as a struggle to preserve the gas-guzzling car, the
sprawling air-conditioned suburb, the car-based shopping mall, centrally
heated houses, fruits and vegies out of season, cheap chicken for every
second meal. Its an unsustainable economy based on cheap Third
World labour and cheap oil. Without these things itll collapse.
but if cheap oil comes at the price of an expensive war and a long military
occupation of Iraq and probably the rest of the Gulf, how cheap can
it be? Wheres the advantage in it? Joadja asked.
but what if the rule of the ruling elite is utterly dependent on something
they cant change? Thats the lesson of slavery in the Roman
Empire the surfie said. Suddenly he sounded less like a New Age
Californian and more like a historian or perhaps a sociologist.
was never the dominant economic form in the ancient Mediterranean world.
Most people made their living from the small family farm, or as small
traders or artisans. But it was different with the ruling elite -- the
Roman patricians. They derived their fortunes, their comfortable lives,
the leisure time that enabled them to dominate politics, the military,
administration and the law from their huge slave holdings.
first, the slaves were obtained by military conquest. Almost for free,
the patrician class got young, trained, able-bodied people. They were
an economic windfall for the elites who got productive workers without
the need to raise or educate them, or pay them decent wages to raise
new generations of workers. These slaves powered their broad-acre farms
then the Roman Empire expanded too far to go on expanding further and
the flow of slaves captured in territorial conquest slowed to a trickle.
a constant influx of new slaves, the ruling elite was forced to breed
their own and then the economic rot set in. If you have to breed and
educate your own slaves they become more expensive and less competitive
with the small business using family labour.
hostile barbarians pressed constantly on the Empires
long borders and subject peoples were often resentful and restive. Defence
and security expenditures soared.
vicious cycle set in. In order to maintain their privileged lifestyle
and the expensive professional armies and infrastructure of empire,
the patrician elites were forced to levy increasingly heavy taxes on
the non-slave plebeian majority who then had less and less reason to
loyally support their rulers against the barbarians. Eventually the
whole rotten structure slowly collapsed.
where do you think things will go from here? Jo asked.
has opted for massive increases in defence expenditure. If hes
going to fight wars to defend the American empire, hes got little
choice over that. The US economy is in real trouble and ordinary folk
are already restive and disaffected. Unemployment is high. At first,
I reckon Bush will try to placate working class Americans with cheap
petrol, cheaper imported products, easy loans and tax cuts, which means
exploitation of the Third World labour force will have to increase.
Thatll lead to more opposition to America, which will mean more
punitive expeditions, wars, occupations. If Bush doesnt go down
that road hell have to raise taxes and increase exploitation at
home: a sure-fire recipe for trouble, my friend.
therell be more conflict with France, Germany and Russia?
you cant waste a holiday fretting over a grim scenario so Jo and
I took our leave and went on a long stroll down the beach, in the rain.