The “Double Blowback” and Why Progressives Fail to Learn from It.

Glen T. Martin

(May 2013)

The US experiences “blowback” from its worldwide brutality and violence, and those who publicly make the connection between anti-us terrorism and US foreign policy also experience blowback in the form of verbal attacks from government and media pundits. This spectacle happened once again in the recent case of Richard Falk, a prominent spokesperson for transforming the world system toward peace with justice (Professor emeritus from Princeton), who today is UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Palestine.

For years, progressives like Noam Chomsky, William Blum, and William Boardman have been pointing out that establishment pundits and government officials systematically attack any person who point out the obvious fact that worldwide attacks on the US and its citizens or officials often follow from the horrific things the US has done to other people worldwide. Falk published a well-reasoned article in the journal Foreign Policy, dated 21 April 2013, that connected the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon with U.S. global foreign policy. The article was in fact restrained and factual, pointing out the need for thoughtful self-reflection concerning US policy that might be activated by seeing these bombings as blowback. Falk had the audacity, however, to suggest that the US “learn” from its foreign policy, and that its unrelenting violence might not be the most successful course of action: “the American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world.” 

The response by establishment media and pundits was overwhelming, calling for Falk to be fired. The Washington Times (April 26th) accused him of anti-Semitism and “radical Islamic” leanings. Government officials in the US, Britain, and Canada called for his resignation. The US Ambassador to the UN demanded that he be fired. Exaggerations and distortions of what Falk actually wrote filled the mainstream media. Naturally Falk was defended by the left, and many progressives addressed this situation and agreed with his assessment that there are connections between US foreign policy and violent anti-US attacks both within and outside the US.

In his Anti-Empire report, number 116, on May 3rd, William Blum writes about the “Boston Marathon, this thing called terrorism, and the United States” in ways similar to the general reaction on the left, defending Richard Falk and affirming the connection between US policy and anti-US terrorism. Blum cites some of the substantial evidence he assembled in his books Rogue State and Killing Hope to review the quest for US world domination throughout the post-WW II period.  Blum writes concerning Boston Marathon event: “Let us hope that the distinguished statesmen, military officers, and corporate leaders who own and rule America find out in this life that to put an end to anti-American terrorism they’re going to have to learn to live without unending war against the world…. But this change in consciousness in the elite is going to be extremely difficult, as difficult as it appears to be for the parents of the two boys to accept their sons’ guilt.” 

But this reaction, also found in Chomsky, Boardman (“The Crucification of Richard Falk,” RSN, April 30) and many others defending Falk, tends to leave out the structural analysis of the world system that forms perhaps the most significant intellectual development of the past two centuries.  Structuralists of various orientations have included Karl Marx, H.G. Wells, Arnold Toynbee, Michel Foucault, Johan Galtung, Herbert Marcuse, Ervin Laszlo, and Immanuel Wallerstein. What these thinkers have in common is the penetrating insight that the social, political, and economic systems significantly condition human consciousness and behavior.  It is not all about “learning to live without unending war against the world.”  In fact, the “learning” that is called for by Falk and Blum may be next to impossible within the current world order. 

Chomsky writings have consistently reviewed the amazing “hypocrisy” of US leaders who say one thing (about human rights, freedom, etc.) and do exactly the opposite.  He says that in the US terms of political discourse have two meanings: “One is the dictionary meaning, and the other is the meaning that is useful for serving power—the doctrinal meaning” (What Uncle Sam Really Wants, p. 86).  He accuses officials in power (and academics) in the US of deceiving the public by hypocritically using political terms with meanings that really are the opposite of their dictionary meaning.  But, as in Blum’s analysis (and like Falk’s analysis) this explanation is too simple.

How, we might ask, does the US consistently find so many hypocrites to fill its many governmental posts around the world?  How is it that US officials have been unable to “learn” from US foreign policy after so many hundreds of debacles worldwide since World War II?  Are they really that stupid, or that hypocritical?  A full answer to these questions brings in an analysis that neither Chomsky nor Blum nor Falk wish to seriously consider, for they all have embedded their own consciousness in the world system as it happens to be at this moment in history, and they do not wish to “learn” that the world system itself is not working and cannot work and must be changed if we are to survive and flourish much longer on this planet. You cannot evolve a structural war-system into a peace-system. You must establish a peace-system from the very beginning.

Some have accused structuralism of leaving out human consciousness, as if people were merely robots whose behavior is determined by the systems within which they live. But this response really attacks a straw man, for structuralists have rarely omitted human accountability and responsibility, as the ethical undertone of many of Marx’s writes makes clear.  In terms of psychology, it is fairly clear that if you create a national security state as in the US (or the former Soviet Union) and make blind loyalty a prerequisite for service to the state (in the form of security clearances, etc.), you are going to attract to that service the kind of persons that Marcuse called “one-dimensional,” that is, people with little capacity to critically evaluate their own society or their own role within society.

On one level, of course, these progressives are correct that US leaders and their media and academic pundit supporters are dishonest, corrupt, and hypocritical. I am not disputing this in the slightest. There are few morally mature or seriously thoughtful people within the US establishment. A virtuous and morally mature character is almost a disqualification for being rich and powerful within the US system.

But the real situation goes deeper than this.  If you divide humanity into some 193 mostly militarized “sovereign” entities that recognize no effective law above themselves (because of their “rights” as sovereign states), then human consciousness is going to be significantly impacted by this fragmented set of global structures. Many scholars identify the Peace Treaty at Westphalia in 1648 as the first embodiment in an international agreement of what became the system of sovereign nation-states. We are living within a system that first developed more than three and a half centuries ago and somehow assume that this is the way things should be on the Earth (everyone respect everyone else’s right to recognize no enforceable laws above themselves).

As a consequence of this system, people are going to think in terms of their nationalities, developing a powerful unconscious loyalty to the provincial, arbitrary territories into which they happen to be born. (For a revealing study of the arbitrariness of national “communities” see Benedict Anderson’s classic, Imagined Communities.) People will almost automatically operate in terms of a nationalized consciousness: national interests, national loyalties, national defenses, national security, national pride, national fear, national hatred of others, etc.  It will not matter that science for the past century has indubitably shown that we are one species (which Marx called our “species-being”), substantially genetically identical with one another everywhere on Earth and manifesting everywhere what anthropologist Donald E. Brown calls “human universals.”  

Just as global capitalism causes a competitive “I win/you lose” attitude in corporations and people everywhere, so the system of territorial sovereign nation-states causes an unconscious fragmented point of view in the people born into this system. Most of the people in government attacking progressives like Falk (who insists that we learn from history) are not so much hypocrites as one-dimensional representatives of a fragmented human structural situation.

Chomsky and Blum are forever urging that the US respect the “sovereignty” of Cuba or the “sovereignty” of Iran, assuming some unlikely vision that absolute fragments might somehow coexist in the future: cooperatively, nonviolently, and peacefully. However, it cannot happen without changing the structures that condition both our economic and political relationships. This attitude of claiming the US should respect the sovereignty of other nations only strengthens the very structures that diminish our holistic human dignity and equality. We are one Earth and one race upon the Earth, and this fact needs to be reflected structurally in a single, planetary economic and political democracy.

Perhaps the central intellectual breakthrough of the 20th century was the scientific paradigm-shift from the (fragmented) atomism and mechanism of the Newtonian world view to the holism and organic field theories of the post-Einsteinian developments across the board in microphysics, astrophysics, biology, ecology, sociology, linguistics, systems theory, etc.  We live in a holistic scientific world that is divided into absolute fragments by social and economic systems invented centuries ago under an outmoded scientific paradigm: global capitalism and the system of sovereign nation-states.

Many people in the Earth Federation Movement understand this and support democratic ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (see With the creation of an Earth Federation under the Earth Constitution, nations are not abolished.  Indeed, differences become respected and cherished because they are absolutely essential to the holism in which they are internally related to one another within an encompassing field.  The transformation of the absolute fragmentation of the system of sovereign nation-states would mean that people are no longer to think in terms of absolute dichotomies (my country versus all the others) and will therefore be able to learn from experience in ways that are today nearly impossible.

Structures condition (but do not determine) human consciousness.  If we want a world where real learning, cooperation, environmental protection, respect for human dignity, and the elimination of extreme poverty can take place, then we need to have a genuine paradigm shift from fragmentation to holism.  We need to establish the “unity in diversity” of the Earth Federation and create the enforceable rule of democratically legislated world law over every country on Earth.  It is time we began thinking from our “species-being,” from our common human dignity, from our universal human rights, and from our shared humanity.

All these things are universal, yet the system of “sovereign” nations divides humanity into absolute, incommensurable territories: walk across this political boundary and your rights and dignity might just disappear, and the system creates implacable enemies everywhere.  We don’t need to stop calling for personal ethical responsibility, but we do need to see that under the present fragmented system personal ethical responsibility is seriously diminished. It will always produce a “double blowback” in which those who criticize the system concerning its violent blowback are in turn attacked by the system. It cannot be otherwise, since these powerful structures condition vast numbers of people worldwide. If we establish an Earth Federation on holistic principles (as in the Constitution for the Federation of Earth), people will begin thinking differently, and, in all likelihood, our human ability to be ethically responsible will experience a tremendous leap forward.

(Glen T. Martin is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Program in Peace Studies at Radord University. He is also President of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA))