Skip to content

The West Should Just Stop Intervening

2014 June 12
tags: ,
by Ian Welsh

Half a Million Flee Mosul according to estimates.  Reading through, there is some fear of ISIS and there is some fear of the fighting in general: which is wise, because the government’s only likely response is to either call out other militias (who can actually fight, unlike the army) or to use air power.  Indiscriminate bombing, as in Fallujah, isn’t good for civilians.  A lot of people fled because they saw others fleeing.  But the lesson of Syria (and pretty much every other war) is this: you don’t want to be caught in a disputed city.

However, many others have been happy to see ISIS conquer Mosul, and are rallying to it. 

The bottom line here is that the Iraqi army collapsed: it did not fight.

Some people want the US to go back in.  That is a mistake.  The Iraqi government was never likely to survive on its own, as constituted, any more than the Afghan government will survive the American pullout.  The Iraqi government was artificial, without an actual power based which believed in it enough to fight for it.  The same is true, again, in Afghanistan.

You can only keep such tools in power by main, external, force.  If you go back into Iraq, you can’t leave because America is incapable of setting up a government which will be able to maintain control: people will not fight and die for the sort of deeply corrupt thugs that America today always puts in charge.

ISIS is a deeply problematic organization, as is the Taliban, but here’s what they have going for them: they believe and they’re willing to fight and die.

The situation in Iraq will be determined on the ground, by those people willing fight and die: the Kurds, ISIS, various non ISIS aligned Sunni militias, and the Shia militias.  It will be determined by Iran, who is the only country which could intervene and maintain the peace otherwise.

If the US chooses not to accept this, not to allow this to play out, it will be stuck in Iraq for another ten years, and during that time Iraq will stay destabilized and more and more people will die

There are no good options here, but whatever solution is come to, it must be determined by people who have a real stake in the area, who are willing to fight and die for their beliefs. Only they can impose a peace.  There’s a very good chance that it will be a very ugly peace, much like the Taliban imposed in Afghanistan.

So be it.  I don’t like it, but there are NO other solutions which are better.  American intervention again is not a better option.

If you want to support someone on the ground, support to the Shi-ite militias.  They and the Peshmergas, are the ones who will defeat ISIS, if ISIS is defeated.  Forget the government, it’s failed. It failed on day one, because it could never keep the peace because no one believed in it.

And stop aiding the insurgents in Syria.  Again, this is a cost of the Syrian intervention.  ISIS is LOSING to the Syrian forces and Hezbollah and has, in part, been pushed into Iraq.  The other reason for them going into Iraq is to cut the Iranian supply lines to Syria and Hezbollah (something the West has no problem with.)

The West must stop intervening in other parts of the world.  Getting rid of Qaddafi destabilized not just Libya, but two others.  Attacking Afghanistan has destabilized Pakistan. The.  Stop. It. The West doesn’t know how to do it successfully. It always makes things worse.  Don’t intervene militarily and stop intervening covertly, as in Ukraine.

Just stop.


If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

When the terrorists treat you better than the government

2014 June 11
tags: ,
by Ian Welsh

How ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) appears to be acting in Mosul, after taking it from the Iraqi government.

Many facebook statuses and tweets then started documenting Mosul post-capture, in a surprising twist to usual media narratives on ISIS’s politics in sieged cities. Reports that only army vehicles and headquarters were burnt and destroyed, but barricades that once adorned every street were removed, and for the first time as one facebook user claims “ I managed to drive freely in my city”. Other residents also claimed that the armed groups were helping young men patrol and protect their neighbourhoods from any possible looting, and were active in protecting banks, abandoned homes and roads.

Interesting testimonials from several residents in Mosul which clash with the main narrative circulated in Media that the city is in fact in more danger than it used to be. Several political analysts on Iraqi non-governmental TV channels claimed that this ‘dignified treatment of civilians’ is something they are pleasantly surprised with and also prefer to what they described as a continuous dehumanisation and humiliation of the Iraqi Army in checkpoints around the city. This could be very much understood as sectarian bias against the army,  but it also serves as an indication that the armed-groups are indeed not targeting civilians in the city (yet).

When people prefer ISIS to you, you might be doing something wrong.

 

I guess the Tea Party isn’t finished

2014 June 10
by Ian Welsh

Every time I write about the Tea Party, I note that they have power because they are feared: they can win primaries.

Every time I write about the Tea Part progressives tell me that they’re finished, they’re past the peak of their power, blah, blah, blah.

They just defeated Eric Cantor.

This is why the Tea Party has power.

It is not even conceivable that progressives could do the same to Nancy Pelosi despite the fact that she has often betrayed progressive interests.

Tea partiers are willing to vote their values.  Their values may mostly be retrograde, but they vote them.  As a result, they have power.

Reports of the Tea Party’s death were premature.

American Society is Pathological

2014 June 9
by Ian Welsh

and it is getting worse.

The prevalence of depression is most likely up about ten times over the last century in the US(pdf).  Why? In principle, if you live in the US at this time you’re one of the luckiest people in history: music and other entertainment on demand; horseless chariots; good and reliable heating and cooling in summer and winter; a cornucopia of food which also costs far less than in the past, and various consumer luxuries that were unimaginable 100 years ago, let alone two hundred.

This should be the promised land.

Holefield brought to my attention this article on girls and young women cutting themselves:

researchers at Yale University recently reported that 56% of the 10- to 14-year-old girls they interviewed reported engaging in NSSI at some point in their lifetime, including 36% in the past year.  I know of no community survey of boys in any age group which approaches that kind of prevalence…

(another study) find(s) that 24.3% of girls were self-injuring, compared with 8.4% of the boys.

In California, the most recent killing rampage, by Elliot Rodger was based on a stunning level of misogyny.

Meanwhile, students at a California school have put out a petition to rehire a security guard who was caught on tape beating a teen with cerebral palsy for slapping him and spitting on him (admittedly, a provocation.)  This may be a racial matter: with those petitioning being primarily black, while the teen was hispanic.

All of these things are indicators of social pathology.

Let us start with attitudes towards women, and the unhappiness of women. Though the assertion is made that the increase in cutting is due to girls being more aware of cutting, an increase from 3% to somewhere between 30 to 50% shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly.  A lot of young women are frantically unhappy.

Cutting provides an endorphin rush, and it is often associated with self-punishment.  A young woman who feels that she has failed, or is inadequate, will cut herself.  This is a disorder very similar to anorexia: it is triggered by failure to live up to norms.  Young men and boys rarely cut (though when they do, it is far more likely to be a prelude to suicide.)  The young women who cut aren’t losers, they are often the most attractive and/or accomplished of their cohort.  They are, to outward appearances, playing the game successfully.

The simple explanation for cutting is that norms are too strict for women, especially young women.  They have to do well in school, they have to take on more social management than men, and they have to meet an ideal for beauty which is extremely high.  None of this is new, young women 20 years ago had the same requirements.  So what has changed?

One possibility is the rise of easily available online porn.  Up until the late 90s, porn just wasn’t that easy to get your hands on as a youngster.  Sure, every teenager had seen a tape or two and some magazines, but the society wasn’t awash in it.  The nature of the porn available has also changed: online porn, as a class, is much misogynistic than the previous generation of porn.  Really rough sex is common; shaming of women is common, treating women as “fuck-toys” is common.  The titles of porn clips often call the actresses sluts and bitches and worse.

A lot of this porn is nasty stuff, and it inculcates in young men some very nasty attitudes. Put simply, Pavlovian conditioning (orgasming to mistreatment of women) in porn, for young males, is very strong.  Young girls are viewing this stuff too, and are taking their cues from it: both in terms of some conditioning (arousal is automatic for women when viewing sex), and in terms of learning that this is how they should behave, and this is how they should look.

Young women are learning, in effect, that to get men, they have to not only meet a very high and often unrealistic standard of appearance (which men don’t have to meet, many males in porn are fat and ugly), but they have to allow themselves to be mistreated.  Because of conditioning, they may even learn to like being mistreated.  (Yes, some people have always liked rough sex, no there is nothing wrong with that, but the emphasis in much porn on rough sex, humiliation and treating women as disposable sex toys is far more intense than previous generations were exposed to.)

So young women have to look great, they have to allow themselves to be treated in ways that many will find humiliating at best, and in hook-up culture, casual sex, often with other people watching, is the norm.  (Not only do you have to look good, but your performance will be judged by others.)

It is hard for me to see any of this as good, or as conducive to happiness for most young women; to self respect, or to a sense of autonomy which allows women the right to define their own standards, looks and sexual preferences.

Everyone in America except the rich is under more economic pressure, and for the middle class and above, that has become an educational race: credentialism is in.  To get into the best universities, you have to have had good grades virtually forever and you must also engage in approved varieties of extra-curricular activities and sports.  Combined with the helicopter parenting so in vogue the last 30 odd years, you have little time to yourself.  This isn’t a primary driver of cutting in particular, but it is a driver of pathology in general: people who are constantly under surveillance (and having adults constantly watching you, then peers is surveillance) means a person does not develop an adequate backstage: an understanding of who they are that is not fully mediated through other people’s views of them.

Their self-worth, then, is based on others opinions of them to an even larger degree than normal (and humans are hypersensitive to social approval in the best of times).   Perfection must be maintained at all costs, because social approval is based on it, and ostracism, our ancient heritage tells us, is death.

Women now outperform men in general academics, but they also have to.  A woman needs to be better than a man in many fields, just to stay even.

So the pressure, on young women, is on: at school and socially (and later in work).

To be sure, it is on on men, as well, but they are not held to nearly as high standards of appearance and behaviour as women are.

They also, outside of prison, fear rape and violence much less.  Anyone who is trusted by their female friends knows that the worst stats are true: more than half of women, by their mid 30s, have been raped.  Men, outside of prison, fear rape far less (because of the US prison population and the perception that rape is part of the punishment, men are actually a little more likely to be raped than women in the US, but that is concentrated in a small portion of the male population and to a particular place and time.)

Men, especially young men, have been taught to view women as fucktoys, to treat them badly in bed, and to judge them by appearance norms that most women can’t meet.  The widespread view of rape as “punishment” means that many men feel they are justified in raping women (and often men) if they don’t like how they behave.  And many women, sadly, agree with those men.

And, as with the students who wanted the security guard who beat the teenager with cerebral palsy reinstated, their idea of proportionate is wildly out of whack.  The kid slapped the guard and spit on him, the guard hit him repeatedly in the head.  (This is not to say rape is EVER justified, I do not believe it is. Only that those who think it is, also have weird ideas about proportionality.)

Rape threats have become normal.  Men on the internet seem to assume they have the right to threaten to rape any woman they don’t like.   Other women and men will tell those women who were threatened that it’s no big deal, and they’re over-reacting.

Now I’m in my mid 40s and grew up in a different world: my father was a forester, my uncles farmers and the sort of engineers who supervised projects  by rough types.  My reaction to someone threatening to rape someone, is what I consider proportionate: if I thought I could win, I’d beat the fucker who made the threat to fucking pulp.  I certainly would have nothing to do with such a person in the future, I would try and have them fired, and anyone who wanted to be their friend would have to choose between me and them.

There was plenty of rape when I grew up, and tons of child molestation.  And it was often covered up. But I do not recall that it was considered publicly acceptable to threaten to rape someone.

That is a change.  And not a change for the better.

The pathology levels in American culture are off the charts.  This is visible in many, many ways, from depression, to how American soldiers act overseas and to the regular mass shootings, but nowhere is it more visible, to my mind, than in prisons and in the attitudes towards women which are now prevalent: now the norm.

American society, simply, is barely civilized any more.  The idea of basic consideration, of respect based on kindness, is dying.  People “deserve” rape, they “deserve” torture.  Vastly disportionate punishment is the norm for some crimes, while the crimes of the powerful are generally ignored or given a slap on the wrist.  The attitude is to do what you can get away with, and that power makes it all ok.  This may be true in all cultures, to some extent, but in America it has reached the level of pathology.

Nor is this limited to America, it is spreading.

A civilized society has lines: you don’t drive the banking system to collapse and expect to be bailed out, you don’t publicly threaten rape and expect to keep your job or the respect of any decent human being; you don’t torture.

America doesn’t.

(Edit: the section on Amber Lee Frost Jacobin article has been removed as I am convinced she was unfairly slurred, including by myself. My apologies.)

Egypt: those who make peaceful change impossible —

2014 June 7
by Ian Welsh

To point out the obvious, Egypt’s judges have effectively gone over to the junta.  What this means, if you are in the opposition (violent or otherwise) is that if there is another revolution, those judges go.  You completely sideline them from power and rip out the heart of the current judiciary, along with ALL senior civil servants (since they sabotaged the previous, democratic government, by making sure basic services like power didn’t work.)

You can’t have a revolution in Egypt which accommodates anyone who was in bed with the previous regime.  Sadly, this will include much of the secular opposition, who supported Sisi’s coup.  Having proved that they do not believe in democracy, and that they can’t be trusted not to back the military, they will have to be sidelined, though since they have no actual power nor the willingness to engage in violence, they need not be killed (they don’t have the guts, themselves, to pull of a coup.)

This is a basic application of JFK’s maxim that that those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent change inevitable.  I don’t like how the Muslim Brotherhood ruled, but Sisi is far, far worse.  Those who oppose him are entirely justified in their use of violence, and have so far been more discriminate in its use that the army or the police.

Egypt’s economic situation will continue to get worse over the long run.  The country cannot feed itself, and offers little that the world needs.  The fat classes (and in Egypt it easy to tell who is part of the system and who isn’t, because their poor people aren’t fat), will eventually lose power.  When they do, those who take control will not be, as Morsi was, willing to make accommodations with the old regime.  Nor should they.

Fighting in the Ukraine

2014 June 6
by Ian Welsh

Putin continues to outsmart his opponents, and has been smarter than I expected.  I thought he’d invade, but what he did was better (for Russia’s interests, not for Ukraine.)

Supporting the rebels, and freely allowing supplies and “volunteers” across the  Russian border, which is what appears to be happening means that Eastern Ukraine will stay in chaos as long as Putin wants it to. Even if Ukrainian forces defeat the rebels in the field, they will not be able to stop guerrilla and terrorist actions in the future.

“Sure, you can ignore Russia’s demands: but not without a price.”

And the shelling by the Ukrainian army of civilians means that support for the rebels and for Russia will rise in the East.

The cost of this sort of intervention is low, and it can keep a country tied in knots for years.

Maybe the West, instead of haranguing Putin about a country which was part of Russia or the USSR for ages, should come to some sort of agreement with him?

On the other hand, why bother?  Eastern Ukraine has nothing the West needs either, so let it devolve into a semi-permanent failed state region.

Too bad for the Ukrainians, I guess.

Why a Book On Economic Prosperity is still needed

2014 June 2
by Ian Welsh

A number of books have been written what makes societies rich over the centuries, and a fair number of them recently. It’s not a topic which hasn’t drawn plenty of attention.

So why write another one?

Most recent books on prosperity tend to focus on one or a few factors.  If people have clear legal title to their property there will be prosperity.  If people are free to make enforceable contracts of their choice, there will be prosperity.  If we print money and use it to give everyone a job, there will be prosperity.  If most of the population shares in economic gains, there will be prosperity. If we tax the rich and spread the money around, there will be prosperity.

It’s not that simple.  That’s not to say these answers aren’t necessarily correct, it’s that they are massively incomplete.  Freedom to make enforceable contracts will not make a society prosperous absent many other conditions.  Having everyone share in economic gains is almost half the answer: but it’s both an end and a condition—to get to a society where everyone shares requires a multitude of political, social, educational and economic conditions.  Taxing the hell out of the rich is one very important thing to do, but it’s not enough by itself, and the question isn’t just should we tax the rich, but under what conditions will a society tax the rich, under what conditions won’t it, and how do we get the first state and avoid the second?

Non fiction books today, as a rule, are either over-long magazine articles: topics which should have been a 10,000 word essay; or they are very long missives intended to prove an obvious point in the face of massive ideological pressure to keep it in doubt.

The first category can usually be recognized by the magazine style writing, “Ian was a curly haired man with a ruddy complexion and a sardonic smile.”

In the second category are books like the Spirit Level, which proves that inequality is bad, even if poor people have more stuff than rich people used to have is some historical period; and Piketty’s Capital, which proves that if returns on money (Piketty’s capital is just money in its various forms) are higher than income gains for the majority, the rich will get richer.  (Um, yes.  If car A goes faster than Car B it will pull ahead).  The book doesn’t even adequately deal with the fact that most of the new rich are rich because of positional advantage: they made their money off salaries and bonuses; nor does it deal adequately with the fact that the returns on money being so high is a deliberate legislative, executive and judicial choice backed by central bank policy to make it so no matter how much money they had to invest.

The result of these trends in books is that there is no recent book on prosperity which deals with anywhere near the complete range of issues:

  • what human nature is like and how it can be and is deliberately shaped in character;
  • political coalitions;
  • how private and public decision makers are selected;
  • how policies create the people and power necessary for their continuation or fail to do so;
  • what the effect of generational change on character and thus politics and policy is;
  • what human nature is like and how it can be and is deliberately shaped into character;
  • how oligopolies and monopolies form and endure; how technology changes the shape of possible economies;
  • how violence is related to politics and economics, both within countries and in the global economy;
  • what money actually does;
  • how permission is given to do new things in an economy;
  • the actual physical constraints on prosperity and their relation to character, environment and technology;
  • how very different economies have been in the past; how goods are actually distributed and how they could be distributed differently;
  • the circumstances under which trade increases or decreases prosperity;
  • Bottlenecks on growth, sinks and renewable resources;
  • the circumstances under which we can just give people resources allowing them to create myriad of new livelihoods, products and services;
  • how ideologies are created, maintained, changed and destroyed and their real world effects on policy;
  • a whole slew of practical power considerations,

and far more.

The problem most people have is that they have relatively incomplete alternative worldview.  There is no single, relatively recent book, which will give you one.  To have one you must create it.  Most people will not read the thousands of books of necessary to winnow out the hundreds that deal with one or two of the issues above and deal with them in a useful way which can be made part of a coherent whole.  They don’t have the inclination, time or character, nor should most of them be expected to: they live different lives.

Without such a coherent worldview, presented in a relatively small book, most people will pick up bits and pieces here and there and plug it into the prevailing ideological worldview: in our case, neo-liberal capitalism; or they will fall back on an older ideology like Marxism; some form of anarchism substantially created 80 years ago or longer; some right wing variant on fascist thought; or one of the many hybrid forms of capitalist thought.

I don’t think any of those ideologies have a coherent world-view which can be made to work today, though that’s not to say that almost all of them don’t have something useful in them which we can learn from.

The only other approach which could work in theory is the extremely high level provision of principles.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  “Do as though will, so thou hurt none” (a far harder proposition than most people realize.)  I have suggested that if we simply do the kind thing, the vast majority of the time it will be the right thing, and we can afford the remaining times: it will produce far more correct policies than our current ideological regime, or indeed any of the ideological regimes in power anywhere in the world today.

But such proscriptions require a way to create and choose leaders who have the wisdom and character to follow them, and a people who will select those leaders.  So you come back to “how do we get those leaders?”  Most people do not have faith in goodness or kindness: they don’t actually believe that being benevolent works.  For such people you have to, in essence, prove that it does work: you have to show the cases; and you have to do in a pragmatic and hard-headed way, acknowledging the times when coercion, force and violence will be required: those times are few, but they do exist.

Our current system is not set up to provide such a book. Our academics are primarily specialists without the wide spread of learning required for it.  Our public intellectuals are selected primarily for obeisance to power, and cannot write such a radical volume.  And, I fear, by and large, most publishers are not interested in such a book: it does not fall into any of the neat categories they favor, and cannot be written by a member of the club.

Such a book also cannot be like Piketty’s book, it cannot prove every case in exhaustive detail: if it was, it would be between 25,000 50,000 pages and no one would actually read it.  But a small book will be easily criticized even if accurate.

Though more detailed that Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, the book must be similar in making its argument then moving on to the next point, because it must actually be read, and be read by many people.  The lack of detailed argument and exhaustive data is not entirely a flaw, however, for within all the holes such a book must have are entire lifetimes of work for more specialized academics and intellectuals and any ideology must create work for the ideological classes, or they will not adopt it.

This, then, is the book I’m trying to write.


If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The Result of Austerity and Neo-Liberalism is the Rise of the Neo-Fascist Right

2014 May 27
by Ian Welsh

includes, as expected, the rise of the neo-fascist right.  The UK Independence Party and France’s National Front won national elections to the European Parliament.

This doesn’t mean they would win national elections proper, the EU vote is often a protest vote, but the results are still impressive.

This the natural reaction to austerity.  When times get tough, and when the “mainstream” parties have no answers which work, people will vote for alternatives.  In Greece, to the Greek’s credit, this was SYRIZA, an actual left wing party (though the fascist Golden Dawn party did do reasonably well).

When I was a child, living in the city of Vancouver, I told my father I didn’t see a lot of racism.  I’ve always remembered his response “wait till times get bad.  People will  hate those who are different.”

My father was a child of the Great Depression.

The neo-liberal left of Europe and North America offer no solutions.  They cannot offer solutions, it is not possible under neo-liberalism to fix the problems neo-liberalism has created: they are a result of neo-liberalism’s genuine beliefs about how the world economy should be run.

You can not, under the neo-liberal model of globalization, tax the rich effectively: they can go somewhere else.  You cannot hold wages up, because jurisdictions can always be played against each other.  You cannot fix the environment and stop the mass wiping out of species and the probable death of a billion humans, because jurisdictions can be played against each other.  That countries no longer produce the majority goods they need themselves, nor in many cases even the food, means jurisdictions cannot unilterally do the right thing, even if they wanted to (which they don’t.)

Because the oligarchs also control the means of ideological dissemination, you also can’t effectively communicate either the problems or good solutions.  Because the oligarchs control the means of political production (ie. the process of producing and nominating political candidates), you can’t get into power the people who would actually want to change the neo-liberal political order (and if by some miracle you could, expect them to be treated as Argentina or Venezuela have been treated or destroyed as Howard Dean was.)

Neo-liberalism is an effective ideology and set of policy prescriptions: not because it produces good outcomes for the majority of people (that’s not its purpose), but because it creates a constituency (oligarchs and their supporters/retainers) who are able to maintain it in power.

All ideologies eventually come to an end, however.  The oligarchs hate real left-wingism far more than they do fascism.  They have crushed the left.  Because no new coherent ideology can arise due to oligarchical control over the mechanisms of dissemination, all that remain are old ideologies.

Given no real and viable left-wing parties to vote for; given the failure of what they are told are left-wing policies (as with Obama being called a left-winger when his economic policy has been to give trillions to oligarchs); people will vote for the only other option: the hard right—the neo-fascists.

They are, at least, against the status quo.  The UK-IP wants to leave the EU.  They want less “free” trade.  And so on.  Given no other option for actual change, people opt for the parties actually offering it, even if those parties are noxious.

And so, the hard right rises because of the failure of the so-called center-left, which is not left wing at all, but is for more slightly less cruel neo-liberalism.

But neo-liberalism cannot be made kind. It is antithetical to one of the fundamental purpose sof neo-liberalism, which is to drive down wage rises and inflation by playing jurisdictions against each other.

And so the hard right rises.

Remember, the economies in Germany and Italy under Hitler and Mussolini, for ordinary people, improved immensely.  (Unless you were a Jew, gay, a socialist, a gypsy, etc…  But that’s a price those who won’t pay it, are willing to pay.)


If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The Russia China Axis continues to form

2014 May 23
by Ian Welsh

So, the Russians and Chinese, after 10 years of haggling, have signed a gas deal worth 400 billion or so.

The timing is not coincidental, of course: Russia needs to diversify who it sell to.  The next major step, which will be years in coming, is arranging how to supply India.

The US has been pivoting against China, reassuring its allies in the Pacific, that US ocean, that it is on their side against a China which is pushing territorial claims aggressively.  China knows that many in the US consider it the real enemy: the real threat, because of its burgeoning economy and its massive industrial base (shipped to it by American capitalists, selling China the rope to hang the American Empire with.)

As I have noted before, the price of the Ukraine is a firm alignment of Russia with China.  Russia needs China’s goods, money and political support; China will also be happy to have a security council ally and buy all those Russian commodities.

Japan is a firm American ally, and likely to remain so. It will increase the size of its military, but Japan’s long stagnation has now turned into actual decline, with regular trade deficits with no end in sight, since it has been shipping much of its industry offshore, and not creating the new generations of the best or cheapest goods.  Demographic decline, likewise, continues, and Japanese xenophobia makes it impossible for them to use immigration as a cure, while the declining economy and tight pressed quarters means there’s no reason to expect the Japanese themselves to start breeding.

Europe has firmly aligned with America, indicating willingness to cut its own throat with trade sanctions against Russia, if necessary.  South America and central America is unlikely to align en-masse with America for obvious historical reasons: America has been the enemy of most states there for over a century, with its willingness to attempt to overthrow any government it doesn’t like.

The Middle East grows less important as solar and alternative sources for oil come on line, and as their own reserves deteriorate.  To be sure, it will matter for decades yet, but it is no longer the most important region on the earth.  Sub-Saharan Africa, sadly, is largely irrelevant: they will sell their resources to whoever pays for them.

This leaves India s the last major country in play.  But for them, the smart play is to stay out of it, keep good relations with both sides, and let China and the US slag each other, coming up the middle to be the next hegemonic power.

To be sure, many will say that China and the US can never seriously fight: they need each other too much.  Such people are fools: American consumers grow weaker, US treasuries are a sunk asset, and China will have to move to a domestic consumer society at some point: raising the income of their own citizens and selling the goods to Chinese.

The game of empire never ends, it only changes.  The Russians are now aligned with the Chinese because of European and American stupidity: Putin and the Russians, for many years, longed to be Europeans and it would have required only a little respect to keep bring them into the Western camp.

Such strategic mistakes often seal the fate of Empires.


If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Choice vs. Predestination

2014 May 20
by Ian Welsh

1) There is no one who can be blamed or credited for the situation humanity finds itself in, for good or bad, except humanity and nature.  If you don’t like the way the world is you can either rail against nature (our biology, limited resources, etc…) or you can rail against ourselves—what we have done with the hand nature dealt us.  (You could also blame God or Gods, but this amounts to blaming nature.)

Humans are responsible for human society

2) Some humans are more responsible than others.  Duh.  Nonetheless, as a group, we are responsible.  If the 99% rose up against the 1% tomorrow, it’d be over for the 1%.

Some Humans bear more responsibility than others.

3) Unless you posit a universe without free will (an entirely intellectually respectable position), you must allow human agency.  Technology changes the optimal strategies, but within each technological framework there are kinder and less kind options.  Looking through the vast varieties of agricultural societies, one would have far rather been alive in early Tang China or certain long stretches of Roman history, even as a member of the lower classes, than in Early Norman England.

Technology and Nature Constrict our options and set up incentives.

We choose how we respond to the incentives created by technology and nature.

4) Humans are neither innately hierarchical, nor innately egalitarian.  They can be either.  For most of human existence, the best evidence is that we lived in very egalitarian societies.  For most of agricultural history, we lived in non-egalitarian societies, with a few exceptions: but those exceptions existed.

5) Character is created by circumstances, and circumstances constrict what character types are successful but we have a great deal of control over circumstances, especially those who are most powerful.  The men and a very few women who voted to get rid of Jim Crow were almost certainly mostly racist themselves: it was virtually impossible to grow up in that society and time and not be racist.  They voted against their own racism.  You can look at your own character, find it lacking, and act in ways that are contrary to it.  I may want to beat someone to a pulp for an insult and figure I can, yet decide not to do so.  We could have decided to allow developing states to keep their agricultural sectors and food subsidies, we chose not to, for what amount to trivial gains in money which are offset by larger losses in markets in the not very long run (poor people, as has been observed, are shitty customers.)

We Can Act Good Even if Not Good.

We can change the circumstances people grow up, changing the character of the people.

The argument of free will versus pre-determination is ever-ongoing.  To deny the effect of circumstances is to be inhumane: to be the type of fool who blames poor blacks for being poor blacks and not pulling themselves, en-masse, out of poverty thru sheer willpower.  It is to blame Bangladeshis for being born in Bangladesh, stupid people for being born stupid or getting inadequte nutrition as children; many psychotic adults for being sexually assaulted as children.

There are injuries and circumstances which most of us will never rise above.

But to assume predestination is all is to deny any hope of improvement that is not determined by what amounts to blind fate: it is to deny human agency.  It is to say that if we invent a weapon (like effective ground combat robots – about 10 years out) which tilts the playing field towards a small elite oligarchy (or does it?) then there is nothing we can do about it.  It is to say that because monopolies and oligopolies naturally form, there is nothing we can do.  It is to say that we can’t choose to create the circumstances in which racism, neo-imperialism, and sexism don’t harm billions.

If most of us assume predestination, assume, in effect, that we can’t make things better, then it is a self-fulfilling prophecy for those people.

Either we are responsible, or we aren’t.  If we aren’t, then we admit, in effect, the impossibility of any change which wasn’t already predetermined; wasn’t already going to happen.

In some ways that’s a comforting world to live in. It allows us to say “not my problem” and go about our lives–building our McMansion, trying to snag the Homecoming King or Queen as our mate; doting on our children, and ignoring the world beyond the reach of our arms.

The choice, really, belongs to each of us.  As the years go by, more and more I am inclined to shrug.  People complain, but are unwilling to do what it takes to live in a different world, a kinder world.  That might be predestination, that might be choice, but either way it is what it is.

The rule for living in a better world is simple enough, and virtually every sage has told us what it is: to love others as we love ourselves, or at least act like it even if we don’t.

We might start by feeding the hungry, since we throw away far more than enough food to do so, and then go on to house the homeless, since we have more empty homes than homeless people.  But you know, and I know, that we won’t do either of those things.

Predestination?  Choice?  Some of both?

It doesn’t matter to the people who are starving and dying of exposure; it doesn’t matter to the men and women being systematically raped in the Congo; it doesn’t matter to all the children in Iraq being born with birth defects due to American weapons, nor to their despairing parents.

Predestination?  Choice?

Shit either way.


If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.