Once-overlooked prescient warnings, conveyed through black-and-white grainy footage, reach through history like that dead girl in Carrie. They haunt all the more forcefully given the foresight it took to make them.
We’ve all heard of the military-industrial complex (MIC) – the escalating intertwining of the national security apparatus and the private weapons industry. It produces an irresistible economic/political incentive for reckless, endless war.
Its characteristics are unique in many ways, but in others, the MIC is merely another iteration of the essential problem of intersecting corporate and state interests — their chief mutual interest being the accumulation of greater and greater concentrations of power for themselves.
Mussolini described the phenomenon like this in the early 20th century:
“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”
The gears of private industry are lavishly oiled with public money. In turn, the public decision-makers (bureaucrats), who are theoretically tasked with acting in the public’s interests, receive innumerable benefits — both while in office and especially after leaving, including appointments to lucrative board positions, gifted stock options, etc.
Interests across the two domains (state and private sector) – which theoretically remain separate in liberal ideology — become so intertwined that distinguishing one from the other is impossible.
To set the context of the MIC’s inaugural insertion into public consciousness, in 1961, the United States had just recently risen over the ashes of war-ravaged Europe to claim the throne as the global hegemon.
The industrial-scale arms industry remained a relatively new advent, and so the MIC was largely a new phenomenon in human history. If all of its elements weren’t entirely new, the MIC was at least a new incarnation of the inherent and ancient issue of state usurpation of power by private interests for personal and in-group gain.
Eisenhower introduced the MIC into the American psyche, coining the term in his farewell address from the Oval Office:
As we will see — as Eisenhower explains himself in the portion of the speech that often goes overlooked in favor of the famous line about the MIC — the same types of public-private mechanisms are currently playing out in the biomedical context:
“Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.
In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present–and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”
If you’ve been paying attention to the last two years’ events, that excerpt should send shivers down your spine.
The MIC and the biomedical state – administered by the “scientific-technological elite” — are a single entity. They’re one and the same, different feathers of the same bird. They each conduct the business of technocratic social management in their own way. One produces kinetic and chemical weaponry; the other, biological weaponry.
Their methods differ, but their interests are the same.
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