The Empire Never Ended: Philip K Dick, Valis, and the Psychopathology of War
This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance."— Philip K. Dick
The Empire Never Ended
There was a very strange book written sometime in the late seventies by the science fiction writer Philip K Dick. It's called Valis, and it really is the oddest, most exasperating book I've ever read. On the one hand it is clearly autobiographical, containing details about Dick‘s own life, his failed marriage and his nervous breakdown, on the other there are fantastical elements in it which might be describing something that had actually happened, but might just as easily be science fiction conceits. I won't go into the plot here, except to say that there is a single line he repeats over and over again throughout the book, always in bold, always in capital letters. THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED - he says, like that - THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED.
He's talking about the Roman Empire.
In some form or another, the Roman Empire has continued to flourish, long after its apparent demise, taking on various disguises. In fact, he says, the time between the era of the early Christians in their on-going spiritual war with the Roman Empire and now - the time he was writing in, the late seventies - is false time. That era and this era are beginning to coalesce. These are - the times we are living in now - literally apostolic times.
This of course may be just a science fiction conceit, a plot device to keep the novel going. Or Dick may have believed that it was true. Who knows?
I suspect the latter.
However you want to view it, there may be some truth in this assertion. It may not be literally true, but psychologically, spiritually, economically, militarily, you might say, THE EMPIRE really has NEVER ENDED. Or if it ever went away for a time, it has certainly returned with a vengeance.
In fact, you only have to look at a bunch of riot police in full combat mode, with their shields and their batons, with their close formations, their phalanxes and their armour to know that Roman military techniques are still very much in evidence.
The Empire is a psychological as well as a military state. It exists as a mental construct, as a psychopathic state of mind, as a system of control. It exists in all of us. All of us are infected with this thought-form virus. It's no use hating George W Bush, as the world‘s most prominent psychopath. In his position we would do exactly the same. It's not a question of right versus left. It's not even a question of right versus wrong. It's a question of survival now. It's a question of finding out what we have to do to survive.
War is not just like peace but with bombs. It is a wholly different state of being. In war the psychopaths are in control. Everyone is a psychopath to some degree. A psychopath is someone who thinks of everyone else as an object, a mere source of gratification. Not every psychopath is a killer. Most psychopathologies are controlled in a state of peace, since the first concern of the psychopath is to blend in. But in the state of war the psychopath is unleashed on the world. The psychopath as ruler, as state, as war-profiteer, as war-monger, as war-addict, and in every single individual.
War is the psychopath's playground. Now all the rules are dispensed with. Now every human is an object of sensory gratification. Now power rules. Now I can take pot shots at the little objects around me pretending to be human. Nothing matters any more but my own self, my own self-gratification. Other people's bodies become playthings in the hands of the torturers in all of us. This has always been the case in a state of war. It's either self-gratification or self-sacrifice. The worst and the best. And there is a whole historical power psychology dedicated to this cause, the retention of war as a means of gratification and control. This is the true meaning of "The Empire." It's what Philip K Dick means when he says, "THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED."
The New Roman Empire
The following is from a 1919 essay called "The Sociology of Imperialisms" by JOSEPH SCHUMPETER.
"There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome 's allies; and if Rome had no allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible to contrive such an interest-why, then it was the national honour that had been insulted. The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbours, always fighting for a breathing-space. The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies, and it was manifestly Rome 's duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs ."
You only have to replace the word "Rome" with "The United States" for that statement to become perfectly true of today's situation.
The other thing about the Romans is that they regarded all other nations as barbarians. Civilisation was the unique preserve of the Roman State and Roman society. All other people, unless under the power of the Roman State, were intrinsically inferior.
There was a very funny item in the news a while back. It was on Channel Four. Some British reporter "embedded" with American Troops in some part of Iraq having to deal with the local populace. It was just weird: this American soldier, trying his darndest to be friendly for the sake of the Cameras, extolling the virtues of the American Way of Life to a room full of Iraqi men and women, while, outside, US forces were bombarding an empty vineyard. Why were they bombarding an empty vineyard? It was just in case some insurgents might be intending to use it, they said.
Apparently, in America, if you don't like your mobile phone company, you can just change the company. And if you don't like your politicians, you can just change your politicians. That's how the friendly soldier was trying to sell the invasion to the Iraqi population. Politicians and mobile phone companies are both part of the democratic way of life that the United States is bringing to Iraq.
The guy was sincere, by the way. He'd obviously been hand-picked for this very reason. He was clearly a nice guy who just wanted to educate these dumb Iraqis about America. He was trying to civilise them.
The Iraqis, meanwhile, were looking perplexed. They just didn't know what he was talking about.
I mean. The Americans - the country that bought us Coca-Cola and Mickey Mouse - trying to civilise the Iraqis. This is one of the most civilised nations on the planet: or at least it was until the British and the Americans took over, that is, until oil was found there.
I'm not being anti-American here, by the way. We British share as much of the blame. The empire that Philip K. Dick is talking about is currently the preserve of the American state. Previously it was the preserve of the British state. Take a look at those borders, with their straight lines and their squiggles. The Iraqis didn't draw them. The Americans didn't draw them. The British did. They drew those lines to delineate where the oil was. The Americans are only following an Imperialist design that the British had already laid down in the sand.
Some facts about Iraq
Modern civilisation began in Iraq. The Iraqis invented agriculture. They invented astronomy and astrology. The entire astrological system still in use today in every Daily Newspaper was invented in Iraq over five thousand years ago. They discovered the planets, they mapped the stars. They invented the 24 hour day, the sixty minute hour and the sixty second minute. In a very real sense we still live within Iraqi time. They invented the seven day week. They invented mathematics and writing. The earliest known work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, written in cuneiform script on clay tablets in about 2750 BC in the land of Sumeria, in a region of modern Iraq, talks about a place called Uruk, of which Gilgamesh is the King. This is how ancient and consistent this region is, that the name of the country still holds. The book describes one of the earliest cities ever built, which housed a population of over 50,000: it's immense walls, its towering public buildings, its statues and its architecture.
Interestingly, I put the word "Uruk" U - R- U - K into my search engine and got the website of one of the critical anti-American groups currently working in Iraq: uruknet.info. Clearly the Iraqis know their own history even if we've forgotten it.
Abraham was born in Iraq, in a city called Ur in the North. In that sense you can say that God was born in Iraq too: that the idea of God was born there. Also, according to the Bible, Eden is located in Iraq, between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. You can read it in Genesis. Genesis 2:10-14. Iraqis living in this region agree. They believe that this was once Eden. Even as little as twenty years ago, this still was Eden, the place where the marsh Arabs lived. Before the first Gulf War, that is, before the marsh Arabs uprising, before Saddam drained the marshes and drove them all out.
Iraq has always been a place of religious tolerance. Several of the world's religions have flourished here, plus some that could not have survived anywhere else. Not only does it support Sunni and Shia Muslims, it is also home to Assyrian Christians, who still recite the Gospels in their original Aramaic, the language of Jesus; Nestorian Christians, a sect who believe that Jesus had a duel nature, one half purely human, the other half purely divine, plus the last of the Gnostic sects, the Mandaeans, followers of John the Baptist, who to this day practice daily baptism in baths they refer to as The River Jordon, and who refer to God as The Great Life. Plus, until 1948 Iraq had one of the largest populations of Jews in the Middle east, a population who were respected according to Islamic law, along with Christians and Mandaeans, as "People of the Book." There's been a Jewish population in Iraq since 791 BC.
In fact, take a note of this: pogroms against the Jews were not committed in Muslim countries at all, but in Christian countries. Until 1948 and the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews were respected throughout the middle east. That's just a fact. Iraq had no sustained history of anti-Semitism before 1948.
This is a selective reading of the history of Iraq, as any history must be. I offer it only as an antidote to the current popular understanding of Iraq as a country of terrorists. The problem with culture is that it can be wiped out in a generation. Attack and humiliate one generation and watch what happens. Watch the lure of crime. Watch the sectarianism. Watch the terrorism. Watch the violence. Watch the kidnapping and murder. You can wipe away a thousand years of culture in the space a few years. That's exactly what has happened in Iraq.
Of course, as you know, there was talk about weapons of mass destruction and an Iraqi nuclear bomb. It was all false, of course, as we know now, but it was at least plausible at the time because, in fact, Iraqi scientists were quite capable of creating such things, not just nuclear as well as biological weapons, but advanced technology for peaceful uses too. In other words, as well as being an ancient state, Iraq was - at least until the sanctions and then the war - an advanced state, an educated state. Iraqi doctors, Iraqi scientists, Iraqi designers, Iraqi technicians are amongst the most qualified in the world. Iraqi artists, Iraqi writers, Iraqi film-makers and Iraqi musicians abound. This is a culture that encourages art, that encourages science, that encourages learning, and has always done so.
The idea that we have anything to teach the Iraqis about civilisation is absurd.
After the invasion the occupying army sent troops to protect the oil ministry and the oil fields, and allowed the Museums to be looted. All that Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian art. All of that cultural treasure from the oldest civilisations on this planet. Stolen. Looted. Taken away. Where to? Into private collections, no doubt. Into the hands of those who declared this war. I'm fairly certain that some people already had their shopping lists before the invasion and that they were allowed to do this.
The point about Imperialism is that it is profitable. War is profit. Economic growth is a measure of economic activity. In fact, a pile-up on the motorway contributes to economic growth. Ambulances have to be sent out, police cars, fire engines. The emergency services. Cars have to be cleared from the road. Cars have to be replaced. Insurance has to be paid out. It's all economic. It all adds to growth. How much more so a war, then? Armaments have to be made, armies have to be trained, uniforms have to be cut and sown. Buildings have to get blown up and rebuilt. Infrastructure has to be destroyed and then remade. No mention of people note. People don't come into this equation at all except as collateral damage. People are merely seen as objects in an economic landscape.
The beauty of all of this for the United States and British elites is that the public are paying for it all. They pay private companies to build arms, and armies to use them to knock down buildings, and then private companies to rebuild the buildings again. Private companies to guard the oil fields. Private companies to fix the electricity and the water supply. Private companies to make a profit and all out of taxpayers funds, what Noam Chomsky calls The Welfare State for the Rich, what the Americans, colloquially, call a boondoggle. Maybe this is why the water and the electricity don't work so well. Why, several years after the invasion, there's still times of the day without an electricity supply. Even Saddam could keep an electricity supply going.
They say that there is no alternative to the continued occupation, because the Iraqi security forces cannot keep security. But there is an alternative. There always was an alternative: a United Nations mandate lead by armies from Muslim Nations.
Would the Iraqi Insurgency be blowing up Indonesians and Jordanians? Or Syrians and Iranians? Of course not. But then again, the idea that Iraq could be overseen by Syrian and Iranian forces is unpalatable to the oil lobby currently in control of the US government.
Also, given the high degree of technical expertise in Iraq, who should rebuild Iraq but the Iraqis? Not substandard American manufacturers like Halliburton, out to bleed the Iraqi and the American public dry. The Iraqis can rebuild their nation themselves. They have the skills. They have the intelligence. All they lack is access to their own resources.
Instead we have a state sponsored American army protecting Iraqi oil so that American private companies like Halliburton can draw the profits.
None of this bears any resemblance to what we used to call capitalism. None whatsoever. All of this is done through the agency of the state for the profit of those who control the state apparatus. Capitalism is just a euphemism. It‘s a cover story. This is not a capitalist system. The capitalist system died sometime in the 19th century during the South Sea bubble. Since then capitalism has been state sponsored. Maybe it always was state sponsored. All that guff about "enterprise" and "risk-takers". These people take no risks. They live in state-sponsored luxury. This is not a capitalist system, it is an imperialist system, the only difference being that instead of a single emperor you have a whole class of emperors who share the spoils out between them. 2,000 Neros instead of one, and all of them just as mad, all still fiddling as the Earth burns. They control the armies. They control the government. They control the research and development. They control the economy. They control what we see on the news, and to a large degree, as a consequence, they control what we think.
We have bread and circuses. We have Oprah Winfrey and the FA cup final. We have Tescos and Sainsburys. We have Hollywood blockbusters and TV soap operas. We have wars we never asked for against nations we've never heard of. We've got threats from around the globe. If international terrorism doesn't get you then the bird flu will. We've got drug companies making ridiculous profits while our recreational drugs are in the hands of the mafia. We've got trivia and tat and then fear just around the corner. We've got obscene wealth in the midst of obscene poverty. We've got lies to send us to war, and lies to keep us there. Lies, lies and more lies.
One final thing, from me to you. You can take it or leave it. You can believe it or not. I don't care either way. This is it. The revolution is both political and spiritual at the same time. Anything that is only spiritual, or only political is not revolutionary. It's like man and woman. It's like left and right. It's like heart and soul. All things come together in this. The revolution is political and spiritual at the same time.
Not one. Not the other. Both.
As to what these terms mean, exactly, I'll leave it up to you to work it out.
© 2008 Christopher James Stone