Archive for September 24th, 2008

World In Motion

The title of my blog comes from a Jackson Browne released in 1989.  Here are the lyrics:

“Sun going down in the usa
Down on main there’s a family sleeping in a doorway
Around the corner you can hear the sound
People dancing around the golden calf
Those who have not, those who have

On the billboards and the t.v. screens
They got food and cars and toys and trucks and jeans
Like a homeless child’s fitfull dreams
Smiling faces free from wanting
Life’s abundances beyond counting

World in motion — speed your changes
Close your distances, find your angels
Lose your fears and meet your dangers
World in motion

Once we were running through smoke and fire
Running into the sun
In the rush of youth, for love and truth
Our deeds were done
Now we awake with a world at stake
And a race we run
We run

Sun going down on the usa
Sun coming up a hundred years away
On another world and another time
Things like hunger, greed and hatred
One way or another, gonna be eradicated

World in motion — speed your changes
Close your distances, drive your angels
Lose your fears and meet your dangers
World in motion

’till the world I look out at this world and see
Is the world I know this world can be
You have a volunteer in me
Now come on”

I bought the CD “World in Motion” in Munich, Germany in the summer of 1989.  I had a pre-dissertation research grant to start to explore my topic of East-West German relations.  I went to the Hertie store in Munich and paid 300 DM for a Sony Discman and bought three CDs — Jackson Browne’s, Billy Joel live in Moscow, and Udo Lindenberg’s greatest hits (he’s a German artist — one of my favorites).   In 1989 the world was in motion, especially in Germany.  That August I went to East Berlin for the first time, and in retrospect was there literally days before everything started to unravel.  After I left an exodus of East Germans through Hungary to Austria would spark protests and ultimately the collapse of the East German government.  The Cold War ended not because of the super powers and their policies (though Gorbachev could have continued it if he had supported the Stalinist East German government), but because of people taking power into their own hands.  In the next few years the Soviet Union would collapse, apartheid would end in South Africa, and economic globalization would take off.  The world was, indeed, in motion!

On the way home yesterday the song came on the radio, and it reminded how it had inspired my blog “title.”  And we still have a world in motion.  On the TV news this morning dour stories spoke of how the US intelligence services are now assuming a stark downturn in American power and influence in the world for the future.  Moreover, to get out of this financial crisis we have to raise $700 billion (we can’t just print it up without risking severe inflation), most of which will come from foreign sources.  While this can be seen as bad in that it will make us more vulnerable to countries like China and Saudi Arabia, the upside is that they become more invested in the American economy and don’t want to see us fail.  The result is an internationalization of the US economy.  This will weaken our sovereignty and make it much less likely we’ll be aggressors on the world stage (the bitter lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan also push us in that direction), but it might — at least for the optimists — lead to new international cooperation.  The pessimists, however, fear depression and war.

Simply, we need a fundamentally new vision of America and its role in the world.  The old patriotic slogans and bombastic claims that we don’t care what the rest of the world thinks or does need to be replaced by acceptance of interdependence, a stark, realistic recognition of our own vulnerabilities, and acceptance of the fact that the US does not determine what constitutes right and wrong in the world.   Our arrogance in rejecting treaties and agreements that don’t suit us — ranging from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to the Landmine Treaty and the International Criminal Court — needs to be tamed.  We don’t have the power to be arrogant any more.  That doesn’t mean we sacrifice our values or go along with whatever the international community wants, but we need to compromise and avoid seeing ourselves as somehow a superior, invincible and virtually infallible power.  That hubris is, in fact, what brought us down.

We also need to recognize this isn’t just about greed on Wall Street, government de-regulation or as some claim government over-regulation (that’s a tougher case to make).  It’s about our essential approach to politics and the world — we need to change our way of conceptualizing who we are, and what kind of world we find ourselves in.  It’s about our materialism, our inability to save, our refusal to learn more about the world — to focus on sensationalism and celebraties rather than issues and events.   We’ve been partying it up as a society, running up debts, building and bursting bubbles, enabled by a financial system that threw easy credit our way and said “don’t worry about the debt, no big deal, no need to save, just keep partying.”

The party’s over.  And it’s the generation coming up that is saddled with the debt, the price of our past arrogance, our abandonment of principle.  I don’t know if a bail out is a good idea — I know a lot of people who are opposed to it in principle, both on the left and the right.  At best it’s only a bandaid, at worst it might dissuade people from confronting the reality of this crisis.

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