The New American Century, just like the Old American Century

I’ve long respected writer/activist Arundhati Roy. Her style is something that appeals to me; clear, informative, and with a flair for the dramatic, she almost always inspires me in some way. She has a new piece in The Nation called The New American Century (also archived at Common Dreams) that is quite good.

One thing that caught my eye is her reframing of old imperialist tactics with the word “new.” The New American Century, New Imperialism, New Racism, and New Genocide all make appearances. I can’t help but think of other “new” modes of imperial oppression, for example, “The New Enclosures” term by Midnight Notes. All of these have one thing in common; the “new” strategy accomplishes the same end, but with less immediate brutality, than the “old” strategy. Roy’s use of “New Genocide,” for example, is as follows:

New Genocide in this new era of economic interdependence can be facilitated by economic sanctions. New Genocide means creating conditions that lead to mass death without actually going out and killing people. Denis Halliday, who was the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq between 1997 and 1998 (after which he resigned in disgust), used the term genocide to describe the sanctions in Iraq.

Similarly, here are The New Enclosures:

These New Enclosures … name the large-scale reorganization of the accumulation
process which has been underway since the mid-1970s. The main objective of this process has been
to uproot workers from the terrain on which their organizational power has been built, so that, like
the African slaves transplanted to the Americas, they are forced to work and fight in a strange
environment where the forms of resistance possible at home are no longer available.

So in both instances, Empire is using tried and true techniques to increase its power, but the appearance is “less brutal” than before. In New Genocide, specifically in the case of the Iraqi sanctions, the US government was ostensibly putting pressure on Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath regime to cooperate with UN demands. In reality, of course, the people of Iraq suffered. Particularly the poor; some estimates claim that the sanctions caused 500,000 deaths of children alone in that country.

Or in the case of the New Enclosures, Empire appears to be “helping” the “refugees” who are fleeing their homeland. There are undoubtedly some refugees who prefer their current lives in a new country to their old lives, but if one examines the refugee situation en masse, it is clear that a huge displacement of workers is occuring, one that capital can exploit for cheap labor.

So the methodology of Empire in expanding is becoming more subtle. It is more difficult, at least on the surface, to find out what’s really going on.

There is one other thing I want to mention about Roy’s article. At the end, she calls for “globalizing resistance”:

What Cancun taught us is that in order to inflict real damage and force radical change, it is vital for local resistance movements to make international alliances. From Cancun we learned the importance of globalizing resistance.

I agree that globalizing resistance is a necessary component of a successful struggle against Empire. However, I don’t believe Roy fully understands the impact of the Internet in this process, nor that the Internet as we know it is in danger of not existing. This argument is the essence of my Virtual Enclosures piece. The Virtual Commons, of which the Internet is part, is a revolutionary tool for activists. But there is also a counter-revolution, and the counter-revolution seems to be winning.

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