Friday, October 8, 2010

The Demise of the English Invader Nations

When I was a school boy growing up in the Prairies, I would stare at the map of the world, provided by Nielsen Chocolates, in which the countries that comprised the British Empire were all in pink. More pink land mass than anything else. Something a school boy could be proud of.

As well, we would start each day with a slightly off key singing of the Canadian National Anthem and end the day with a less than enthusiastic rendition of God Save the Queen. Regardless, I would trudge home feeling content that I was part of the Dominion of Canada, the biggest jewel in the British Empire.

Now that I am older and a little bit wiser I can't help but think that there is no such thing as an English-speaking nation in the former colonies often referred to as the English Settler States (the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) which I prefer to call the English Invader Nations. The frame around the word "settler" is far too cozy, and for me the notion of invasion best captures the inherent violence and subsequent rape of the land that comes with conquest and exploitation.

Today I realize that there is no imagined community, the nation, to which I belong. Instead, I am positioned in a process of wealth extraction, a global market, in which I have nothing in common with those who dominate the process other than a command of the English language, a precursor to the real lingua franca of the world, HTML.

Years ago, I read a collection of essays penned by Christopher Lasch, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy that changed the way I thought about the society I lived in. Fifteen years later, his depiction of the ruling classes throughout the English Invader Nations is more poignant than ever.

The book's title is a take-off on Jose Ortega y Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses, a reactionary work published in 1930 that ascribed the crisis of Western culture to the "political domination of the masses." Ortega believed that the rise of the masses threatened democracy by undermining the ideals of civic virtue that characterized the old ruling elites. But in twenty-first century America it is not the masses so much as an emerging elite of professional and managerial types who constitute the greatest threat to democracy.

The new cognitive elite is made up of what Robert Reich called "symbolic analysts" — lawyers, academics, journalists, systems analysts, brokers, bankers, etc. These professionals traffic in information and manipulate words and numbers for a living. They live in an abstract world in which information and expertise are the most valuable commodities. Since the market for these assets is international, the privileged class is more concerned with the global system than with regional, national, or local communities. In fact, members of the new elite tend to be estranged from their communities and their fellow citizens. "They send their children to private schools, insure themselves against medical emergencies ... and hire private security guards to protect themselves against the mounting violence against them," Lasch writes. "In effect, they have removed themselves from the common life."

Let's face it. The orchestrated collapse of the world's financial markets and the Great Recession that ensued was an Inside Job. They might look like us, they might talk like us, but they have absolutely no remorse of having caused so much harm to their fellow citizens. Take a peek at the award winning documentary's trailer.

Some might respond that the US is an isolated case, but in reality the same trend of rising income inequality and the accompanying social problems of increased child poverty, incarceration rates, and mental health problems, to mention just a few, can be found throughout English Invader Nations as well as in the UK.

No wonder how "we" do at the Olympics has become a national obsession. After all, nationalism is the opiate of the masses.

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