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Being A Superpower Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry

I'm a fan of his, but Paul Craig Roberts fails to understand the meaning of the word superpower. He has a checklist of reasons why Murka can no longer be considered one:
  • A country whose financial affairs are in the hand of foreigners is not a superpower.

  • A country dependent on foreigners for manufactures and advanced technology products is not a superpower.

  • A country that cannot create jobs for its native born population is not a superpower.

  • A country that is no longer respected or trusted and which promises yet more war isolates itself from cooperation from the rest of the world. An isolated country is not a superpower.

  • A country that fears small, distant countries to such an extent that it utilizes military [sic] in place of diplomatic means is not a superpower.

  • A country against which the world is united is not a superpower.
His rhetorical use of repetition is admirable and seductive, but it is not convincing. He fails to prove his point because he fails to understand the psychohistorical premise of what a superpower is: he is using the ethical universe of the reality-based community to denote the meaning of superpower instead of using the "perception is reality" ethical universe of the might-makes-righters. Apples & oranges. It's like using a speedometer to determine weight — the systems are orthogonal to each other.

Simply put: The crazy guy waving a gun around always trumps office politics.

Here's an incident that, by way of example, will serve as a simple thought experiment.

Imagine a group of Nobel Prize winning scientists, economists, and authors deciding to stop off at a diner on the way home from a debauch at Plato's Retreat. While there they meet some MacArthur Genius Award recipients. After gladhanding each other they get into a wonderfully electric session wherein they're solving the world's problems and answering questions about the human condition.

Soon a couple of drunk belligerent gangsters stumble in after the bars close. They definitely have an air of menace about them, like they're looking for trouble. The assembly of the world's bespectacled geniuses stop their animated chatter as a communal spinechill shoots through their space. The tough guys and geniuses consider each other, though in very different ways.

The gangsters decide to have some fun. They stumble over to their tables. One of them says to a particularly scholarly looking sort in a tweed jacket with elbow patches "You got a pretty mouth. Don't he have a pretty mouth, Frank?" The scholar looks around sheepishly for some help and support.

"Begone you ruffian," chimes in one of the braver souls, a woman (unsurprisingly).

"Listen, cunt, I wasn't talking to you!" >*bitchslap*<

And so begins some drama that, to cut a long, tense, and dramatic story short, results in the gangsters intimidating the hell out of the civilized geniuses, who are easily cowed into submission. No amount of reasoning, pleading, whimpering, wheedling, or cajoling has any effect whatsoever on the toughies. When the gangsters eventually pull out their guns lo and behold!, they become a local superpower. Think "Manson Family Outing" for another good example.

In the ethics of might makes right, those who wield the most powerful weapon become the de facto super(ior)power. You may be able to close their bank accounts, turn away their allies, deny them respect...but so what? They're still roaming around rampaging the villages. They have no sense of shame, no sense of decency, no awareness of anything other than their own power and desires. They are operating on an entirely different set of principles, principles which are incomprehensible to those who don't share them. They've got muscle, they've got firepower, they've got a selfish determination deriving from a monomaniacal sense of entitlement. Unless you can find some way to remove it from them they will remain a superior power -- the superpower, relative to any other.

The maniac preparing to rape and torture your son before your eyes does not operate within the same ethical universe as you. Such an exercise of power is the innate purview of a superpower, regardless of the opinion and wealth of others.

It's a mistake to think that superpower status pertains to a nation's population, or the way it's perceived by others. So your people are increasingly impecunious, stressed, insecure; so your economy is bottoming out; so your social fabric is tearing apart at the seams; so you've lost all your friends, and the world hates and fears you... so what? This has nothing to do with being a superpower. It just means the population is being dragged through the streets by an out-of-control horse, their screams nothing more than background noise in the stylish boardrooms and cafes of insane leaders.

And if those leaders can destroy the planet more times over than anyone else with the push of a red button, then they qualify as a superpower in my book.

All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.
     —Lord Acton

From Vlad the Impaler to John Wayne Gacy a maniac's days are numbered. But whether that number is a big one or a small one, damage and tragedy will occur — whether to a single family, or spanning generations and continents. "Superpower" is a syndrome, perhaps the most dangerous that civilization has yet to find a cure for. As our species faces extinction this — hand-in-hand with ignorance, greed, and zealotry — will be the cause of it.

More than merely dominate, the American superpower now seeks to control history. Such cosmic ambition is accompanied by an equally vast sense of entitlement, of special dispensation to pursue its aims. That entitlement stems partly from historic claims to special democratic virtue, but has much to do with an embrace of technological power translated into military terms. That is, a superpower—the world's only superpower—is entitled to dominate and control precisely because it is a superpower.
     —Robert Jay Lifton, Superpower Syndrome
Maybe this is why Harold Pinter hates America?