The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Colonization, Conquest, and Our Unconscious Civilization

Let’s start with this little video of the geographical spread of China over time.

Looks like the Han conquered a lot of other people. They then imposed their culture, their writing, and over time, their language on those people.

Here’s the rule: Any people who get a significant military advantage, use it to conquer. They may not do so immediately, but eventually they do so.

The Mongols conquered the largest land empire in history. They were undefeated for generations; absolutely crushing military advantage.

The Russians, later, with the gunpowder advantage, conquered their large land empire.

The gunpowder advantage was big, but not that big. It worked in the Americas because of a plague that killed off over 90 percent of the population. Absent that, at worst/best you have a situation closer to India, though probably with a bit more successful colonization.

In ancient history, the Greeks had a huge military advantage. They knew they had it for a while before it was used by Alexander to conquer a huge swathe of the ancient world. (This is similar to the Mongols’ horse-archer advantage; they had to wait for a Genghis Khan to use it effectively.)

Shaka would have done something similar, had he been born a thousand years earlier, but he had the bad luck to run into the Brits, who posessed a much larger advantage.

We know nothing about the Druids because the Romans slaughtered them, colonized most of their lands, and made the Gauls into semi-Romans. The Christians later finished the job.

The Norse are gone because they lost a multi-century religious war against the Christians. We have weird ideas about the Norse: They were reacting to a hegemonic religious ideology that was already force-converting pagans. Charlemagne (a profoundly evil man) forced Saxons to convert, then killed them. Figured he was saving their souls, no doubt.

So the Norse built a wall across the south of Denmark (being outnumbered) and took to the seas, where they had an advantage. They raided and destroyed monasteries not just because that’s where the loot was, but because it was Christianity driving the forced conversions.

The Norse, despite their “terror,” lost. The last Norse pagans, in Iceland, converted because if they didn’t, they would have lost the ensuing war.

The industrial revolution probably created the greatest military advantage the world has ever known. It was used to conquer most of the world that was still agrarian, and where it didn’t conquer, it humiliated. The second the Japanese industrialized, they went on their own conquering spree. Mao, unifying China, immediately conquered Tibet (ironically using a claim based on the notion that, “The Mongols conquered you and us at the same time, so you should be ours.”)

Again, the rule here is simple. People are people. When a group gets a massive military advantage, they use it to conquer and colonize (Greek colonies in the ancient world were endemic.) The larger the advantage, the more conquests. In time, conquests that are unsustainable go away, and those that have largely eradicated the indigenous culture (sometimes through genocide, sometimes by just getting rid of the culture), remain, even if nominally independent. Canada, Mexico, and even most South American countries are NOT resurgences of the people who ruled the countries before Europeans showed up. Neither are most of the areas China conquered in its millenia long march.

What China is doing in Tibet and to the Uighurs, in that light, is simply a modern version of what the Chinese have done for ages.

None of this means that colonialism and conquest and cultural or actual genocide are good. They aren’t.

They are, however, our current pattern. We are living through a holding pattern right now, to an extent, only because of nuclear weapons. If a massive advantage is obtained which neutralized nukes, this pattern would re-emerge.

If we want this pattern to end, we need to figure out why it happens: What creates the enabling conditions, and we need to become a conscious world civilization.

Right now, if you look at the “greenhouse gas” curve or at the “species extinction curve” and compare it to the curve of a bunch of bacteria in a petri dish growing uncontrollably until they die in their own waste, you won’t see any significant difference.

At the civilization and cultural level, we are not conscious. We do not make choices, much as we think we do. Instead we act like any other animal, driven by unconscious impulses and drives we apparently cannot control.

None of the evils we inflict, as societies, on each other or on the other species of the world, will cease for any significant amount of time, if we do not become conscious and work to change these behaviours.

If we can’t, we will likely go extinct. If not this time around, then next. We will keep careening into absolutely forseeable problems and doing nothing about them until its too late, and one of these days, it will kill us.

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When You’ll Get a More Equal Society


Open Thread


  1. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    (1) Death.

    (2) Taxes.

    (3) Ian Welsh will make Cassandra, Jor-El, and Eeyore all look like Pollyanna. 😆

  2. Hickory

    “People are people” – this seems too general. There have been hierarchical cultures in the americas for millennia, and yet when Europeans arrived there were still plenty of hunter gatherers and other healthy non-authoritarian cultures. The hierarchical ones didn’t spread like the plague that they did in other parts
    Of the world.

    Any idea why?

  3. R

    There’s some massive secrets being concealed for centuries.

    Vatican has artifacts and books from the Library of Alexandria that would blow minds.

    Can this information ever be broadcast to the world? Would people want to know? Or is it Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

  4. Joan

    Exciting article! I can’t think of a way to respond to it that doesn’t get metaphysical, so instead I’ll include The Valley of the Black Pig by William Butler Yeats.

    The dews drop slowly and dreams gather; unknown spears
    Suddenly hurtle before my dream-awakened eyes,
    And then the clash of fallen horsemen and the cries
    Of unknown perishing armies beat about my ears.
    We who still labour by the cromlech on the shore,
    The grey cairn on the hill, when day sinks drowned in dew,
    Being weary of the world’s empires, bow down to you,
    Master of the still stars and of the flaming door.

  5. Ché Pasa

    China is and has long been a domestic empire, not an overseas empire like Britain and the United States, Rome and even Alexander’s brief Macedonian empire.

    By “domestic empire” I mean within the bounds of continental limits, and not necessarily fully in control of that continent at any given time. By that standard, Canada is a domestic empire, as is Brazil.

    Whether you view empire as a good or bad thing often depends on your position within the imperial framework. Most of those who served and ran the British Empire, for example, were devoted to it and many still consider it to be an almost unmitigated good thing. Those who suffered under the British lash and exploitation have quite a different view. As well they should.

    I think Ian asks the right question: “Why does this happen?” And when “we” as a society become conscious of why — the real reasons why, not the hyperbole, mythology and propaganda that empires tell themselves to justify anything their ruling cliques do — societies can begin to control the impulses that lead to imperial adventuring and all the consequences thereof.

    We almost got there post-WWII and then backed off the realization. With the advent of the so-called War on Terror, the Anglo-American imperial impulse reasserted itself with a vengeance and reaping the whirlwind has only just begun.

  6. Eric Anderson

    In an ironic parallel, the same is true of extinction events.

    It’s easy to track the disappearance of species to technological breakthroughs.

    For example, invention of gunpowder did a whole lot more than upset homo’s political balances of power.

  7. Mary Bennett

    Should we look at countries which were not conquered? Such as Japan and Siam? What is to be learned from them. What I notice from the modern history of Japan is that when Japan did join the modern world, she did so mostly on her own terms, even though being a small and resource poor nation. Maybe isolation is not always A Bad Thing.

    Greed colonies were “endemic”? What does that mean?

  8. Astrid

    I’ll be a little more optimistic and say the will to conquer isn’t inherent, but competition tends to advantage the belligerent and expansionist in the end (and unsustainable practices may force previously peaceful groups to become belligerent and expansionist). Switzerland, the aboriginals of Australia and much of the Americas, managed to avoid the expansionist bug while maintaining their identity. Humans managed to have large settlements for millenniums before becoming expansionist.

    I would dispute the motivation for Germany, Italy, and Japan’s imperialism. I don’t think that’s so much inherent but because the ruling elite saw imperialism as the successful modality of the day and want to imitate it to become successful. Direct imperialism is out of vogue, even if the US is practicing de facto imperialism. I don’t think the Chinese or Russians (or Indians or Brazilians) will necessarily go down the same road. They see this crypto imperialism sucking the US dry too, on behalf of a tiny internationalist minority.

    The European strain of imperialism, driven by Christianity and”civilization”, has been historically particularly insidious. It’s very easy to perpetrate horrible evils when you’re fully confident that your all knowing, all mighty God wills it. But religiousity had been declining throughout the world, so hopefully that reduces the incentive for aggressive imperialism going forward.

    But I don’t think we’ll have enough time to sort out a workable solution at this point, at least not for civilization as we know it.

  9. Chicago Clubs

    >religiousity had been declining throughout the world, so hopefully that reduces the incentive for aggressive imperialism going forward.

    Religiosity is stronger than ever and has been behind the most aggressive imperialism in history, it’s just that the dominant religion is called “economics” and the imperialism is directed toward the creation and expansion of markets everywhere and in everything rather than the acquisition of territory.

  10. Plague Species

    At the civilization and cultural level we are not conscious. We do not make choices, much as we think we do. Instead we act like any other animal, driven by unconscious impulses and drives we apparently cannot control.

    Yes, the impulse and drive, conscious or not, to grow is irresistible. Like a drug. Growth no matter what. No matter the consequences. In fact, there are no negative consequences to growth that can not be overcome, at least according to the economists and technological priests. It’s pretty much all upside and our imperative afterall — to grow.

    The cable news has been harkening our return to “normalcy,” I call it insanity, this past week laying the groundwork for Biden’s speech last night. They even mentioned people flying again like they did before the pandemic and, of course, zealously consuming which flying expedites.

    The pandemic was, still is in fact, a candle in the well we are digging. A candle who’s flame was extniguished meaning imminent danger if we continue to dig the well. A canary would do as well as a candle, but at least with a candle you don’t have to kill a canary.

    The candle is extinguished, the pandemic has warned us and is warning us as many things have that digging the well is not safe and will kill us if we continue, and yet we continue unbated and undeterred.

    We are a plague species and just as a scorpion impulsively stings without thinking, we impulsively grow without thinking until we drown and or suffocate in our own excrement.

  11. Sue

    We are a plague species and just as a scorpion impulsively stings without thinking, we impulsively grow without thinking until we drown and or suffocate in our own excrement.

    Not all of “us.” Unfortunately, resistance is increasingly futile for those who recognize other ways to live.

    Actually, resistance is in many ways always futile, in that “what you oppose is what you maintain.”

    If you don’t resist, what do you do? You walk away and start anew. The problem these days is that there’s no place left to go. Every place is the same. It’s like that old scary movie where the couple is at a house of horrors and manages to escape multiple times, only to find all roads they take circle back to the same house of horrors.

  12. Hugh

    The modern Chinese empire is pretty much the same Chinese empire of any in the last 2,000 years, with the same strengths and mistakes of previous iterations. Tiananmen in 1989 wasn’t an aberration. It was a template. The Uighurs, Tibet, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, they are not about law or history. They are about the exercise of power. If China can exercise power, it will, and make up the rationales later. If you are Taiwanese, you only have to look at Hong Kong to see how much an agreement with China is worth. And even if you are further afield, a country like Australia, a major raw materials producer for China, the Chinese will use that relationship to pressure Australia into toeing the Beijing line. It is all about power, even when that power is bad for both China and its neighbors.

  13. S Brennan

    The US under Clinton, Bush and Obama the tried to break out of MAD in the aftermath of the VOLUNTARY break-up of the post WWII Soviet [1945-1989] Empire. An empire of ~40 years span, in which the conqueror, for the most part, subsidized it’s holdings in order to maintain them.

    The Russians were slow to respond to US antagonism but, nuclear deterrence is not easily overcome. Additionally, Russian federated peoples have shown themselves as willing to fight to the death and that makes US military planners [not all of whom are military] somewhat squeamish. It’s hard to get a civilian population to accept the immediate loss of 25%, followed by an aftermath loss of at least another 25% even under 24/7/365 propaganda barrage…all for the promise of a faraway land colony solely intended for the uppermost 0.1 percent’s exploitation.

    But speaking of that 24/7/365 propaganda barrage, what sentient being would accept the canard that the Russian, at this point in history, are land hungry? Russia is ranked #9 in population at 145,872,256 souls but by land mass it’s #1 at 6,323,482 miles^2, while for comparison#2 Canada weighs in at 3,855,100 miles^2 [source Wikipedia/CIA]. Russia will have to struggle mightily just to retain it’s current holdings. The reality is, should Russia commit to war in the west, it’s resource rich east will be taken by China and if for some insane reason Russia would war to the east…well, that’s insane. And yet, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, a vast majority of Americans [& Europeans] spent the last five years being convinced by the west’s propaganda organs, our Ministry of Enlightenment, our “free” media that, “THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING”.

    I mean WTF…you would think that being “educated” means you had the mental capacity to look up on a world map and check a few numbers and realize that “THE RUSSIANS AREN’T COMING”, that the propaganda emanating from our Ministry of Enlightenment was nothing but sewer gas..but no, that’s not what happened. Three pols, representing entirely different ends of the political spectrum were tarnished with the phantom “Russian master plan of conquest”. Jill Stein, of course, Trump and Tulsi Gabbard, the only thing these three politicians had in common politically is the desire “to give peace a chance” vis-à-vis Russia.

    To this comment sections credit, Jill Stein was ignored entirely, as if she didn’t exist, however, our commentariat eagerly took up the cudgel of our propaganda organs when it came to Trump and Tulsi Gabbard.

    Which brings me back to the issue of war, if the USA/Anglo-countries/EU does not have a viable “left” that is anti-war, if only the, as Hugh says, fascist wing of the USA is [now] antish-war, do the left/liberals/regressives have a future? I mean, what is the purpose of the left if it is, in a time of relative peace, pro-war? Every war starts with a propaganda barrage, if the “left” takes part in that…are they not part of the war itself?

    After WWII, the machinery of war was plentiful, but the population to man it was not nearly so plentiful, the machinery was largely scrapped, not mothballed, scrapped. Ian’s contention is not without merit, but, before metal is shaped to form swords, minds must be shaped to accept the cruelty of war. After what I have witnessed over the last five years, the prospect of peace has never been more remote.

  14. Charlie Dozen

    The account of the Norse is rather flawed:

    1. Norse paganism survived longer on the mainland than on Iceland. When Iceland was Christianized (1000), paganism was still dominant in central Sweden, and the Christianization of (central) Sweden is usually put to late 11th century. And there appears to have been pagan worshippers in Sweden and Norway as late as 13th century.

    2. Danevirke predates Charlemagne with a few centuries. It is however true that it was reinforced to block Charlemagne.

    3. The idea that the Viking raids were a reaction to Christianization is interesting but very dubious. Rather, as you say, the Norse had gained an advantage in shipping which made raiding easy. They went west, east and south and raided what came in their way, Christians, Muslims and pagans alike. It was also expansionist; they established kingdoms in Russia, on the British Isles, in Normandy and on Sicily. Meanwhile, whereas there was some pressure on Denmark, most of Scandinavia was pretty much unmolested by outside forces (there was of course a fair amount of inter-Scandinavian molesting).

    4. The Norse didn’t lose and didn’t disappear; we’re still around (although we’re no longer called Norse, but that has nothing to do with Christianization or some imagined losing). A Christian Norseman is still a Norseman, just as Franks didn’t cease to be Franks when they were Christianized some centuries before the Norse.

    Of course there was force involved, but that was between the Norse themselves; there was no conquest from the outside. So some Norsemen lost and some won, but such was life both before and after this era; Christianization neither introduced nor ended internecine warfare in Scandinavia.

    The Christianization of Iceland is typical: it was Icelanders against Icelanders with outside pressure coming from Norway. If the pagan faction hadn’t yielded it would have meant civil war between the two factions, with the Christian one getting help from Norway.

  15. Astrid

    High, your knowledge of modern Chinese history appears to be at the same level as your knowledge of pre-wwii European history. To you, every territorial annexation(except by the Israelis or Americans, on which you might actually have a right to an opinion, as an apparent USian) equals another Hitler (of 1941-45) and every move made by the Chinese or Russians is some example of exceptional expansionism.

    Yup, Hugh the humanitarian interventionist, eager for the US to bring it’s brand of humanitarian interventionist to countries outside of the middleeast. Let’s do some preemptive nuking too, for humanitarianism.

  16. Willy

    When most people think of the Mongol horde, they usually talk about Genghis Khan. As if it was Genghis Khan who manned the catapults launching the severed heads, and then running over there to fire a few arrows, and then running over here to feed all the ponies, all super-speedy like. He must’ve had a lot of help.

    I don’t think the question is about origins, because Mongolia was a pretty danged humble place back then.

    I don’t think the question is about the reward either. Would you want to trade the simple pastoral lifestyle of tending ponies, painting yurts, and playing with hunting eagles, for the stress of saddlesores, risk of injury or death, and eating fermented cabbage day after stinking day? I mean, it’s not like Baghdad was much of a threat to Temujin’s tribe.

    It seems the question would be more about what would make all the Mongol men want to head out and conquer most of the known world for pretty much just one guy and his family. I understand Genghis’ military sun tzu-machiavelli brilliance. He was just going with what floated his temperamental boat. I got that part down. What I want to better understand is why the everyday Mongol, and all the other people they persuaded to be in cahoots with them, would want to go out and do such a thing.

  17. Hugh

    Stalin was just a peace loving guy, dontcha know. And the Chinese too. Just ask any Uighur. They’ll tell you the same thing, –or else.

  18. Astrid

    Strawman is the last refuge of the liberal humanitarian interventionist. Why respond to actual critiques when Hugh can just put out a sarcastic non sequitur.

    In the real world, go ask the people in PRC, Iran, and Russia, on how many of them would want to trade places with an Iraqi, Ukrainian, or Palestinian, who have been on the receiving end of US humanitarian interventionism.

    With Uighurs, there are the little problems that all Western information sources on them are hopelessly compromised and put out by known liars and that there were a number of terrorist attacks carried out against the Chinese civilian populations. Is US and Israel the only countries allowed to brutally respond to terrorist attacks?

    And of course, Hugh doesn’t bother to ever recognize the similarities between the fates of the Uighurs and Palestinians. I guess the Chinese need to work on coining an equivalent to antisemite for the critics of the Chinese regime (they have been using imperialist for a long time, but we need to brush that up for the woke 21st century), for that analogy fully work out.

  19. Willy

    Everybody talks about various cultures as if they’re in a state of relative permanence. As if Chinese boys will always be Chinese boys. But this doesn’t explain the prevalence of American-style family water parks in China today. Or why modern Norwegians would today much rather wear floppy hats and eat lutefisk than raid monasteries from rowboats. Or the Germans with that brief little Nazi phase. Did Alexander inspire the Macedonians to conquer India just because they were tired of being the bastard children of Greece? What makes your everyday man, from whatever culture or origin, want to suddenly follow obvious sociopathy and go out and raise mayhem?

  20. nihil obstet

    As I understand Hugh, the world is a zero sum set of entities. One entity’s good is arrived at by another entity’s bad. So if you’d rather live in the U.S. under Biden today than in the Soviet Union under Stalin in the 30s, you must never, ever, ever see anything bad in the U.S. or anything good in the ex-Soviet Union.

    You cannot, for example, notice that the U.S. is running a carceral state of prisons so brutal that rape jokes are de rigeur in discussing it, where at some point in their lives one third of the men in our largest minority will be brought up against it. Thereafter, they are likely to suffer various permanent loss of civil rights. But the zero sum mindset sees that criticizing the U.S. for this is to detract good from the U.S., just as any missed opportunity to say bad about countries we don’t like is to give that good to the country. And that’s to be unjust to the Uighurs!

  21. Chiron

    Your forgot to mention that we basically still living on the Anglo-American global Empire, USD is the world reserve currency, the US military bases everywhere and bombing every Muslim country that it can and supporting genocide of Palestinians, everyone speaks English. Maybe only Russia and China can break this hegemony in the next decades, maybe if the EU federalize and makes itself into a United States of Europe (ending NATO) we can live in more equal world.

  22. Hugh

    Astrid, you need to work on your gungho pro-China shtick. There are about 10 million Uighurs in China and about a million of them are in Chinese concentration camps. Maybe like the nazis before you, you could make propaganda videos telling us what great places these Chinese versions of Dachau really are.

    No, nihil, just because I take issue with goofy statements about China and Russia doesn’t make me default pro-US in its foreign policy. I just don’t get the up side for progressives to counter right wing nuttery with left wing nuttery.

  23. nihil obstet

    Hugh, so your introduction of Stalin into the discussion is taking issue with goofy statements about China and Russia? Man, that sailed right by me.

    The U.S. is enabled in doing things I think are wrong, including military invasions, bombing campaigns, and child-killing sanctions, by the propaganda that the U.S. is always good-hearted and nearly always in the right, while other countries are evil and oppress their citizens. The upside for honest thought and speech is to try to move people away from supporting the mass incarceration of our citizens to thinking about what is good and bad in the use of state power. Us good, Them bad! leads to us being very bad. What has been tried on these issues of state power, both foreign and domestic? An honest appraisal of our own and other countries’ histories enables us to see the results of various approaches, and to decide what trade-offs we want. The whole “Let’s impose sanctions on Russia because Stalin” doesn’t get us there.

  24. Mark Level

    An interesting and thought-provoking piece, as usual. I appreciate Chi Clubs’ take, yes religion is always a big driver of tribalist identity, which more generally creates us/them dualities and gives societies the ideology to believe they have the “right” or duty to conquer others who don’t do things the “right way.” I’m sure we are all well aware of how the Spanish justified the murders, rape and despoilation of the indigenous Meso-Americans with the fact that “We bought them Jesus and salvation in the afterlife.” Under the Neoliberal order, the Anglo-American axis imagines it will rule forever with the kind of Neo-Imperialism we practice. It seems pretty unsustainable (as do the economies of the “developed countries” as a whole) but will only collapse when conditions ripen.

    3 decades ago, I recall reading Fredy Perlman’s Against His-story, Against Leviathan, a pretty nice survey of hegemonic history up to the 20th century from an anti-authoritarian perspective. Just recently, I stumbled across references to Ian Morris’ Why the West Rules For Now, which I may look into . . . from the reviews, he seems to have made the point that “the West” was at a comparative disadvantage relative to “the East” until the Renaissance began to change the equation, which certainly makes sense to me. I do think that despite the promise that the Enlightenment (so-called) once promised, the greed and emptiness of the modern, post-WWII order is coming to an end, though it’ll be interesting to hang on as long as possible and see how much of the collapse is Bang, and how much is Whimper. Same as it ever was, as somebody once observed . . .

  25. Sue

    an Iraqi, Ukrainian, or Palestinian, who have been on the receiving end of US humanitarian interventionism.

    A significant minority of the United States population – less than 3 percent – have some combination of religious, ethnic, and/or cultural ties to those regions – historically to the present day. For some within this community, the ties are strong; for others, there are essentially no ties at all. Then there’s everything that falls in-between these two poles. The actions of the very organized segment of this community and its movers and shakers have unfortunately often been attributed – and often by the elite segment of this community itself – to the group as a whole. This is not at all unique to any group structure.

    The largest population of this minority group – outside of what the entire world quite recently knew as Palestine – is found in the United States.

  26. Hugh

    nihil, SB was going on about the Russians weren’t land hungry and Astrid was kneejerk defending China. There’s not a lot you can do with what doesn’t come up to the comic book version of history other than ignoring it or making fun of it.

  27. Sue

    David Ben Gurion’s “terrible power of the purse” is being brandished not only from above – as he himself wrote – but from all directions now.

    There is no greater power than the power to decide how resources – and other forms of power – are allocated. It’s the preeminent power. Obviously.

  28. Astrid

    “Economics”, or rather the “there is no alternative” economics, is strong amongst the ruling class and some of their servants, but it doesn’t quite come with the moral blank check that monotheistic religion does. I hope that it would break faster and think it’s already happening. COVID-19 show what “but think of the economy” gets us versus the more disciplined responses of China/Vietnam/Singapore/Taiwan. It’s one thing to look to your one and only God and eternal salvation/damnation to justify your actions, but economics is weaker sauce and more akin to Jupiter, so I think the break with reality is not so great.

    I believe the Mongols were always good at war. Even today, they have polo and other traditions that sharpen their warmaking skills. Any group that is comfortable on horseback presents an often overwhelming advantage to agarian foot soldiers. They have to defend their pastures against others and they practiced raiding even during their peaceable times. Having a great war leader and possibly going through a period of climactic or trade disruption just amped up the war making part. The Arabs had a similar spate of remarkable conquests after Mohammed joined the squabbling tribes together and conquored the Persians, something the Romans never managed. The capability was there but unfocused, having a great war leader can change that quickly. In more modern times, look at how quickly the Germans went from WWI to Weimar Republic to WWII to incredibly nice friendly people most often met with in national park hiking trails.

    The Chinese have always been infatuated with all things American. From the Chinese perspective post-1840, the Americans were the least imperialist and most helpful of the major imperialist powers. The English waged the Opium War and annexed Hong Kong, the Dutch had their interests in Formosa, the Russians then Germans then Japanese annexed the Shandong peninsula. The Americans mostly seemed friendly, they used the Boxer Rebellion reparation money to sponsor Chinese exchange students to American universities and worked with the Nationalist government. They supported the Chinese in their war against the Japanese. When given the option to emigrate, until 2020, the US was unquestionably the first choice. I think COVID-19 is the first real disillusionment.

  29. Astrid


    First you accuse me of being KKK. Now I’m a pro-China Nazi. Did I mention that I also speak negatively about the Israeli regime WRT to their treatment of Palestinians? Shouldn’t I also be an antisemite, or does the KKK and Nazi accusation cover the antisemite part.

    I don’t support Chinese actions against the Uighurs, I don’t have a horse on either sides though I think Uighurs are likely better off under Chinese rule than the Saudi influenced theocratic rule envisioned by the more radical Uighur separatists. I also compare them to the plight of the Palestinians, who based on my knowledge (which is not extensively, I’m not invested in either areas so I just pick up what is filtered to me via sources I do regularly read) who appear more oppressed since I am not aware of Chinese settlers or soldiers picking off Uighurs for kicks. So I’m not praising the Chinese government or minimizing the particular suffering endured by the Uighurs (or the Tibetans, who were the previous poster children of Chinese oppression).

    What I have a problem is you and liberal “humanitarian” interventionists like you, who are quick to stir up hatred for workings of other governments when it’s none of your business. For thinking that war or sanctions against civilian populations is justified “for the right reasons” even given the US’s universally terrible track record. For thinking that the Chinese/Russian/Iranian people have no agency and cannot decide for themselves, but someone like you who demonstrate very poor and skewed knowledge is privileged with deciding about and for them. Then there’s your source of information, the million Uighur bit has been discredited so many times (and I don’t seek out this information, so if it gets through to me, it’s out there) that it’s hard for me to believe it wasn’t an intentional misuse of false information. You spreading this false information mindlessly makes you a tool.

    Your claim was that oppression against Uighurs is an exceptional Chinese national character flaw. I say it is not exceptional or unusual and in fact, they’re the logical step after Saudi funded radical Uighur nationalists started to attack Chinese civilian targets. For its own legitimacy and territorial integrity, the Chinese regime had to act. Any government that wants to maintain its legitimacy to its populace would be forced to act in essentially the same manner. The USian regime did a lot more against Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and shoes, on far less solid provocation.

    As I said before, you’re like a PETA activist or a Dallas Cowboys fan, you actively turn people off from your causes. Let’s hope this is a trend for humanitarian interventionists in general and kills off this god awful line of thinking.

  30. Astrid


    I’m thinking of the “average” person in Iraq, Ukraine, or Palestine. I know it’s an abstraction but I was just making a point that US intervention (or support of their oppressive leaders) resulted in a far worse situation than before the intervention.

    I’m sure there are plenty of people in these communities that support the US actions. They focus on what’s wrong and bad in the current system (many things, Xi is authoritarian and there are many ways he can drive China severely and permanently off the rails) and forgot that it’s still a better option than being “humanitarian” sanctioned or “justifiably” bombed by the USA. I suppose a few of these people might be so terrible that they would favor the scorched earth techniques as being worth it, but they’re scum of the earth and typically treat all people as instrumentalities and do not care about the suffering of others.

  31. Astrid


    Thanks for that. That makes a lot of sense and provides a clear explanation of Hugh’s hatred for Trump, Putin, NakedCapitalism, Glenn Greenwald, etc. People and countries and groups can’t just be wrong or right about some things, it has to be all good or all bad, and anyone who ever uttered even a partial defense of the “bad” on any topic is also KKK and Nazi bad. I’m not hurt by any of his accusations, but I am scared by how many of my real life acquaintances (plus what I read and hear on podcasts) might actually think like him. Expensive liberal arts education does nothing for ability to distinguish bull from shit, in fact it probably helps homogenize the two.

  32. mago

    Economic freedom=social freedom. Those that’s got the goods gots the goodies. And you can exercise power in myriad ways depending on myriad factors, not to sound all metaphysical about it. Empires, dynasties and the cosmic monsters past present and future who create, run and topple said enterprises arise from diverse causes and conditions.
    Having said all that, Astrid scores. Sorry Hugh.

  33. bruce wilder

    I like Ian’s point that, as a polity, we seem to lack responsible self-consciousness of the kind that could anticipate the consequences of simply doing what comes naturally in the short-run. If the human race could collectively recognize the consequences of living like hungry bacteria filling a petri dish with our own waste and to bind ourselves in some way, to limit our own fecundity.

    Someone upthread remarked on the unexpected surge that led Europeans to invade and conquer much of the globe, dominating for a time, seemingly richer civilizations like China or India.

    That impulse to use any emergent surplus to conquer others stands against the commonplace tendency to immiserate one’s own as well as the inability to choose to walk away from a means of temporary surplus and permanent misery.

    The backward Europe that wallowed in war for pillage after the utter collapse of Roman civilization under the weight of ravening plutocracy was done in and rescued ironically by the same trigger: bubonic plague that wiped out excess population. The Plague of Justinian that did in the Latin empire and the infamous Black Death that triggered the Renaissance were shocks to the system of the time.

    The long decline of Rome had left agriculture unable to produce the surplus to feed an urban civilization. Charlemagne could not have a permanent capital seat because no region — not Regensburg or Paris or even the Po Valley could feed his Court for long. Advances in the High Middle Ages — iron-faced heavy ploughs and crop rotation and so on were over-matched by rising population numbers until famine preceded the Black Death in the mid 1300s. Killing off millions left the survivors a surplus they put to new purpose including eventually world conquest.

    China in 1500 had already succumbed to the enervating power of overpopulation: barely able to squeeze enough from three crops of rice a year grown by farmers on the edge of starvation to grant 6% an urban life. India, rich in culture and resources, attracted extractive conquerers and succumbed to overpopulation.

    The techno-optimists think education and women’s rights are going to rescue us, failing to note that we have overshot the carrying capacity of our global petri dish by a factor of ten. Luckily, perhaps our plastic waste may well make most males infertile and impotent by mid-century. Oh, happy accident!

  34. Willy

    Maybe from these humble beginnings we can get the world to give up greed no matter what tricks the PTB plays? I for one gave up TV dinners.

  35. CH

    Basically, once we ascended to the top of the food chain, man became both predator and prey. Rather than preying on animals, we prey on each other.

    Modern societies came about through conquest. It started with chiefdoms. I wrote about it here (part of a series of posts on the book The Human Swarm).

    Violence took a great ramp upward with the neolithic and the resulting population pressure. Just today I saw this: Ancient massacre site yields its victims’ DNA

    As the the second comment in the thread from Hickory: the difference seems to be the lack of large domesticable animals in the Americas. There was a study a few years back that looked at inequality levels in premodern societies. They found that Old World cultures were far more unequal, whereas New World cultures reached a certain level of inequality and then plateaued. They attributed this to the lack of domesticated animals like cattle, which were a major store of wealth in Eurasia. Plus Eurasia had horses, which supercharged both inequality and large empires. Given the lack of horses in the New World, it’s quite remarkable the large-scale empires they managed to achieve without it–especially the Inka. However, large empires in the New World seemed to be inherently more fragile, which is one reason why they fell so readily to small groups of Spanish invaders.

    Charlemagne 772: Saxon violence. Just always wanted to use that.

  36. Jesse

    Swanson Hungry Man Turkey and Stuffing with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy was decent, as TV dinners go. The Banquet version wasn’t so good. You get what you pay for.

  37. S Brennan

    “S B[rennan] was going on about the Russians weren’t land hungry…[a] comic book version of history, ignore it or make fun of it” – Hugh

    Please explain using specific example your point:

    S Brennan permalink
    March 12, 2021

    The US, under Clinton, Bush and Obama tried to break out of MAD in the aftermath of the VOLUNTARY break-up of the post WWII Soviet [1945-1989] Empire. An empire of ~40 years span, in which the conqueror, for the most part, subsidized it’s holdings in order to maintain them.

    The Russians were slow to respond to US antagonism but, nuclear deterrence is not easily overcome. Additionally, Russian federated peoples have shown themselves as willing to fight to the death and that makes US military planners [not all of whom are military] somewhat squeamish. It’s hard to get a civilian population to accept the immediate loss of 25%, followed by an aftermath loss of at least another 25% even under 24/7/365 propaganda barrage…all for the promise of a faraway land colony solely intended for the uppermost 0.1 percent’s exploitation.

    But speaking of that 24/7/365 propaganda barrage, what sentient being would accept the canard that the Russian, at this point in history, are land hungry? Russia is ranked #9 in population at 145,872,256 souls but by land mass it’s #1 at 6,323,482 miles^2, while for comparison#2 Canada weighs in at 3,855,100 miles^2 [source Wikipedia/CIA]. Russia will have to struggle mightily just to retain it’s current holdings. The reality is, should Russia commit to war in the west, it’s resource rich east will be taken by China and if for some insane reason Russia would war to the east…well, that’s insane. And yet, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, a vast majority of Americans [& Europeans] spent the last five years being convinced by the west’s propaganda organs, our Ministry of Enlightenment, our “free” media that, “THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING”.

    I mean WTF…you would think that being “educated” means you had the mental capacity to look up on a world map and check a few numbers and realize that “THE RUSSIANS AREN’T COMING”, that the propaganda emanating from our Ministry of Enlightenment was nothing but sewer gas..but no, that’s not what happened. Three pols, representing entirely different ends of the political spectrum were tarnished with the phantom “Russian master plan of conquest”. Jill Stein, of course, Trump and Tulsi Gabbard, the only thing these three politicians had in common politically is the desire “to give peace a chance” vis-à-vis Russia.

    To this comment sections credit, Jill Stein was ignored entirely, as if she didn’t exist, however, our commentariat eagerly took up the cudgel of our propaganda organs when it came to Trump and Tulsi Gabbard.

    Which brings me back to the issue of war, if the USA/Anglo-countries/EU does not have a viable “left” that is anti-war, if only the, as Hugh says, fascist wing of the USA is [now] antish-war, do the left/liberals/regressives have a future? I mean, what is the purpose of the left if it is, in a time of relative peace, pro-war? Every war starts with a propaganda barrage, if the “left” takes part in that…are they not part of the war itself?

    After WWII, the machinery of war was plentiful, but the population to man it was not nearly so plentiful, the machinery was largely scrapped, not mothballed, scrapped. Ian’s contention is not without merit, but, before metal is shaped to form swords, minds must be shaped to accept the cruelty of war. After what I have witnessed over the last five years, the prospect of peace has never been more remote.”

  38. Willy

    The Aztecs were despised by their neighbors, always being raided for sacrificial victims and all. So all the Conquistadors had to do was pretend to be some prophesy fulfilled. Should be a lesson in there for our PTB. Now all we need is a prophesy. I tried the “meek shall inherit” bit but too many vangies are still on board with the PTB.

    Most modern technology has its roots in war. But does it always have to be that way? I thought somebody would note that at the peak of spending on NASA in 1966, the US Military budget was about ten times that, during Vietnam and all that expensive Cold War NATO R&D effort. Today it’s closer to 35 times as much. Sure, space is going private, but 35 times?

  39. Jackie

    Schumer and a Teachers’ Union Boss Secure Billions for Private Schools

    The pandemic relief bill includes $2.75 billion for private schools. How it got there is an unlikely political tale, involving Orthodox Jewish lobbying, the Senate majority leader and a teachers’ union president.

    Schumer, Weingarten, Weingarten’s rabbi husband, Orthodox Jews, blah, blah, blah

    What the Jews want the Jews get. Check your antisemitism.

  40. someofparts

    Just a quibble – justice for women, since it must include the right to control our own fertility – is an essential first step toward population control.

  41. Astrid


    Population control will happen. It would be nice if it occurred voluntarily and before Earth is turned into a hell world but all indicators are that by itself, voluntary reduction won’t occur fast enough to put off the involuntary culling. Women having education, rights, ability to support themselves away from men, and full control of their bodies are all good things, but it’s not a panacea.

    Furthermore, the overall population fertility decreases mask the fact that certain groups are procreating at well above replacement levels. Exponential growth being what it is, send more like population replacement at work, with the end result of still hitting ceiling at maximum supportable population. Even assuming a portion of the offsprings rebel against their upbringing and become low procreators, the dynamic is still selection for high procreators unless there’s an involuntary limitation on those high procreators.

    Also, we are being oppressive by using gender markers, don’t you know.

    My beef is of course the inherent specist assumptions in that style manual. I am oppressed by the mainstream’s identification of me as hu-man, insisting that I get a hu-man job, and denying me glorious days of basking on kelp floats and eating mussels and urchins. No doubt creatures currently oppressed by identification of bear and tiger will now rise up and demand their guns and hunting licenses as hu-mans.

  42. Cesar

    What is China doing in Tibet or to the Uygur? Emancipating Serfs and demolishing religious -feudalism in Tibet? And with regard to Xinjiang, you can’t find anything that distinguishes their actions to be anything other than an effective government administrating its own department; of course in a kinder, and more just way, than any governmental administration in the American empire.

    I think this site does a great job identifying and discussing the philosophy of death that dictates daily life here in the West. One thing we should recognize is that, while we may see the malignancy in our system, our interactions with it have created scars within ourselves. Like abuse victims who are striving for emancipation, our present trauma will inform our future interactions. Americans then have an inclination to see government as always evil. Can you blame them? They abide by the neutered notion that :power corrupts and absolute power…and so on. Rather than absolve us from sin, this notion makes us complicit in our own exploitation. We give up power to institutions and individuals whom we judge to be the “lesser evil” rather than utilize it ourselves.

    I notice this often, for instance in the thread on preparing for bad times. Where the advice, while well meaning and functional, seems predicated on the desire for isolation rather than cooperation. Go silently into the night purifying your water and growing your backyard crops.

    It is hard for us to lose the scar tissue we have grown from living at the heart of this empire, to some extent this scar tissue acts like armor and protects us. But just as very interaction isn’t a battle, armor isn’t appropriate to wear all the time. Just because our government are bastards doesn’t mean all other governments are.

    It is interesting to me that Putin’s Russia has disavowed conquest of the Kiev regime, which they could likely do in a matter of weeks. That China has held the strategic advantage over Taiwan for 70 years and continuously voices it’s preference for diplomatic solutions. That Cuba has sent its military to fight overseas, to liberate Africans fighting racist colonial regimes. And so on. Perhaps conquest isn’t in the social DNA of any materially superior people. Perhaps that notion is an outgrowth of the defense mechanisms we have developed as an abused people. Perhaps others remember that governments are there to defend and improve the material conditions of the governed.

  43. Trinity

    Well. Ian mentions the need for consciousness, and most respond with facts or attacks. Facts may appear to explain something (the Mayan didn’t have horses, but still managed to overshoot with their greed and violence) but these explanations never really satisfy because complexity, the complex nature of our world defies simple explanation. It’s never just one thing in complex, living systems, especially considering that there are nonlinear, chaotic and probabilistic elements involved.

    Meanwhile, the problems remain unsolved and unresolved, but hey! The economy is working just fine (for a few, in some places). We should celebrate by reading more history, even though we unconsciously know that the only things recorded are the activities of the very powerful and their targets. And that pesky complexity has thankfully been distilled into a suitable narrative to guide the future. History of power and conquest are the myths we love to repeat, even celebrate, and certainly focus our consciousness on, so they naturally become our present and our future, through careful curation and conservation (and thankfully also maintain the status quo).

    Most people cannot even conceive of a different myth, let alone a different world. They prefer to remain unconscious, focusing on trivia, playing with gadgets, trotting out the exact same arguments in endless circular conversations that lead nowhere, solve nothing, change no one’s mind, and (thankfully) maintain the status quo.

    Let’s start by being honest with ourselves: we really don’t want to change anything.

    “Except maybe a few policies. Oh, and maybe we should stop incarcerating black and brown people. And putting children in cages. And polluting the atmosphere, groundwater, and land. And maybe give the little lady a chance to express her concerns. End bipartisanship. And create more jobs. Stop endless war. Yes, and we especially need to punish those people I don’t like. Yeah, this should take care of all our problems! If we do these things, we’ll be fine.” (Overheard from someone rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while the band played on.)

  44. Hugh

    “the canard that the Russian, at this point in history, are land hungry”

    Yes, the Russians never annexed the Crimea in 2014 or backed a Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine or occupy a third of Georgia, Nope, never happened.

  45. Astrid


    I disagree that China was distressed by living on the population edge in 1500. Intensive rice paddy agricultural is quite sustainable and keep in mind that rural China is different from rural Europe. These were denser and closely located population settlements that supported markets and specialized artisans without being urban. The dynamic is different from European and Central Asian city states that are reliant on trade for their wealth accumulation. Sure, the population will be impacted by a run of bad harvests, but I would argue less so than a less sophisticated civilization living “less” on the population edge because they had public granaries and the ability to move surpluses across a large expanse of territory.

    My memory is blurry on this but I believe the short season rice only came into use someone after 1500 and was one of the things that spurred the Qing population growth (along with corn, potato, and sweet potato on marginal land, to terrible ecological outcomes because upland farming caused much more erosion and is less sustainable). So rice culture was less intensive in mid Ming. I believe 3 crop rotation is only practiced in frostfree southern China today, even with much higher population pressure and improved seeds. I believe it’s more typical to have a crop or two of rice, followed by wheat or legumes, except in the South where it’s not possible to grow wheat.

  46. Astrid


    That’s specific argument has been debunked so many times here and you’ve never bother responding to the debunking, only to trot it out again and again to support your bad faith argumentation. Here it is again, it’s not because the Russians are land hungry, they took those actions to protect the majority ethnic Russians and Russian interests that were actively harmed by a Ukrainian government (with actual Nazis, not just Hugh-Nazis) brought about by a US color revolution coup. There is nothing extraordinary about this acting and it’s been done many times, under less provocation, particularly by the US and Israeli governments.

    Hugh, you have done a great deal to turn me against the PMC that I’m a part of. I used to think people like you are just misguided. Now I think you (maybe me too) all may be irredeemable.

  47. alyosha

    None of the evils we inflict, as a societies, on each other or the other species of the world, will cease for any significant amount of time, if we do not change that and become conscious.

    If we can’t, we will likely go extinct.

    I think full extinction is unlikely. More likely is a remnant that 1) has managed to side-step most of the catastrophes created by unconsciousness civilizations, 2) sees that the central problem is unconsciousness and has developed practices to move beyond this. Seeds of this are here if you look.

    It’s not a lot different than the great extinction events of the past, new species arise from the tiny fraction of life that survived.

    Great article.

  48. Astrid


    While the Tibetan (1913-1949) and Uighur-stan track record on human rights were pretty dismal (I went through a spate of reading Western travelogues for the two regions, the head lamas and ethically Uighur or Hui warlords were by and large not nice people) let’s not whitewash Chinese actions there.

    The Chinese definitely want control and access to the local resources and are willing to be very brutal (but not needlessly so) to keep control. They also are strategically important as Chinese controlled buffers against India ( and USSR back in the day). Even if the brutality is not measurably different from how resource extraction happens elsewhere, say in Papua New Guinea or Africa or Appalachia, it is still brutal and a terrible time for people living under it.

    But I do agree that Uighurs as a people are likely more free and prosperous under China than as a “free people”, we can look to the various silk road -stans to see the alternatives, assuming that the theocratic contingent doesn’t take over and turn it into a poor freeze dried version of Saudi Arabia.

  49. Willy

    They’re still discovering pyramids in the Mesoamerican jungle, each representing the center of a city. In 800AD the Mayan population density was at least twice that of modern New Jersey. Apparently that whole Mayan region was once either farmland or urban areas. By 950AD as many as 95 percent of the Maya had died. While Apocalypto isn’t seen as historically correct, being a Mel Gibson action movie and all, it did give a taste of the dynamics behind the collapse of a human civilization. He did a pretty good job at illustrating the detachment which power elites can develop from the common citizenry they’ve been allowed to serve, or taken most power away from if that’s your perception. Even if that place had only been a bunch of city-states, there was a culture binding all that together which ultimately yielded results so disastrous that a once great civilization never recovered.

    I wouldn’t be so forgiving of power elites from Russia, China, the Ukraine or the USA.

  50. Cesar


    I’m not asking to whitewash or explain away actions. But to look at results. I think this sort of analysis is something that is getting rarer each day within the confines of the American polity. I would say that Americans don’t really have a political discourse. Politics is conflict, it is decision making around resource distribution. In the US we don’t argue about these things but imagine at best, who you’d drink a beer with, or at worst who is a less malignant rapist. Through nearly two months of a new administration and other than the racial or gender composition of the perpetrators the crimes remain the same.

    But even that small sliver of Americans who realize something is wrong lack the analytical capacity to conceive of a solution. That’s why some rich idiots want to colonize Mars. That is why a lot of “left” discourse is centered around doomerism. I can understand that; if over your lifetime you’ve seen things continuously get worse how could you expect anything else. That’s not the case for the average Chinese citizen, it’s not the case for the average Russian even. There despite the catastrophic turn of the 90s, they’ve managed to get their house in order. Other societies are able to improve the lives of their citizens. Even the poverty of Venezuela or Iran or Cuba is nothing when compared to their neighbors. Imperial bastions of liberty like Colombia, Iraq, or the Dominican republic.

    But we are like an abused spouse that imagines that all relationships must be as dysfunctional as our own. This has bred in us a perverse cruelty, and we take solace in thinking others have it worse. I think that’s demonstrated in Hugh’s inane jab regarding Russia. I say it’s inane because it doesn’t move discussion forward. It’s almost designed to anchor you to inaction. It wallows in the notion that there is no alternative. The tragedy, or perhaps comedy, is that the world has moved on from us

  51. Steve Ruis

    One think you left out: “the people” don’t start wars. Feuds, yes. Skirmishes, yes. Lawsuits, yes. Wars, no.

    To start a war you need elites, which have been the drivers of civilizations and wars since the beginning of civilizations. To create a “domain” for elites one needs large scale agriculture. Hunter-gatherer people did not want to do all of the extra labor that large-scale agriculture required, so they were forced to by new elites: soldier/guards. Since local labor was rarely enough, raids on nearby population centers (villages, etc.) became more common and large-scale slavery was invented . . . by elites.

    Civilization is a process whereby elites coerce the masses to serve the interests of the elites, both secular and religious. At the end of the “expanding domain” road for the elites is always war . . . always.

  52. Willy

    This shouldn’t be news for normal functioning adults with any real-world experience: most people who acquire power aren’t like us. Sure, they may know all the terminology, even get some things right, but their focus isn’t on being the most meritorious member of a meritocracy.

    They only wish to appear so. Their focus is on climbing (or hacking, backstabbing, cheating…) their way up to the next rung. The game is more important than their whatever product produced. There’s tons that’s been written about this. For most of them who I’ve known, actual meritocracy is a game for the losers. And I believe that not only does tolerance for this thing vary wildly by culture and particular moment in time, it also trickles down into the common culture as well with all of the inevitable disastrous result.

    So what’s the appropriate action?

  53. bruce wilder


    A comments thread is no place to go into detail to make one’s self understood. I can only sketch here.

    China began in its Yellow River cradle as an hydraulic civilization, and practically defines the term. The hierarchy to manage the collective efforts that make possible China’s civilization has to contribute to the surplus and it must be fed. Not surprisingly it falls short periodically in its battle with nature, and famines have recurred.

    My point, not clearly expressed, was not how proximate famine might be, but that China’s politics never put a brake on congestion on the farm: the numbers on the farm simply increased, putting pressure on the surplus at point of origin, choking off what could be thrown off to feed cities, artisans, traders, bureaucrats.

    The Roman world resorted to slave-run latifundia to generate agricultural surplus to feed cities and the oppressive methods of extraction exhausted the soil and depopulated the countryside. China did much better than that! But, never found a way to limit the labor intensiveness of its agriculture and by 1500 the the huge surpluses of improved rice cultivation that fed the flowering of the Ming (and its enormous Army) were dissolving under the pressure of rural population growth, increasing the intensity of farming backfiring. It would be another century and a half before the political system broke under stress, its original economic foundation gone.

    Congestion in increasing the exploitation of resources has predictable consequences in the long run but political mechanisms to constrain the impulses that lead to congestion (and exhaustion from intensification) are not always stumbled upon by polities. Neither China nor India found such.

  54. Ian Welsh

    Interesting to see all this “Han Man’s Burden” stuff. Had to conquer them and colonize them and destroy their culture and turn them into pseudo-Han for their own good.

  55. S Brennan


    To your remark; “I used to think people like you are just misguided. Now I think you (maybe me too) all may be irredeemable”

    The Jimmy Dore show [yes, yes, already, he can be annoying] had an interesting segment about one “independent thinker” that tweets opinions that track a 100% neoD/DNC line, I mean, the guy bats a straight 1.000 And as it has been known to happen, it turns out that this “independent thinker” was paid over $250,000/year by various DNC groups. So, a fella that purports to be an ordinary Brooklyn “Joe” is secretly a highly compensated political operative…imagine that?

    Far from being irredeemable our “Hugh” might be such an “ordinary Joe” or an “independent thinker” who wants in on that gravy train.

    Hell, if the DNC wants to pay me 250 grand a year, I’ll stop tearing them a new one every day and start sucking up to them like Hugh does. In fact, let’s skip the $15.00/hr crap, let’s really build a national consensus by having the DNC open it’s corporate coffers and pay all people who wish to be DNC hacks $250,000.00…under those circumstances, I could really warm up to Kamala and Joe. Just think of it, the DNC offers up the first anti-poverty program in 60 years, money for minds.

  56. someofparts

    When I was young I used to spend time with a household of Diggers that lived in San Francisco. The reason I mention it here is because those people were serious about changing themselves in a baseline way. It can be done and has been done, but you know when you fall into it that you are closing the door utterly on this world and on the world you were raised in. That is a step too far for most people. But I have to say, when the material walls come down between people, it’s astonishing how much human warmth emerges.

    and Astrid, yes – what I spoke of is just one of the first steps, but doesn’t really address the whole scope of the problem

    as to the woke culture nonsense around gender – it makes me think of a category Halper/Taibbi have on Useful Idiots – news so weird it makes you feel stoned even if you aren’t – except I would stretch the metaphor and say some of this woke stuff makes me feel like I’m having a really bad trip, even though I’m not

  57. Astrid


    I don’t think that’s the argument at all. I think the discussion is just an exploration of alternatives and norms, which do not look very good for Tibet and quite bad for Uighur-stan. Brutality and oppression are what they are should not be whitewashed from the record, but a clear eyed review of the history and nearby comparables suggest that Tibetans and Uighurs are leading better lives than available alternatives.

    If you look at the map, there is a core Chinese area that excludes Mongolia, Manchuria, Uighur-stan and Tibet. That’s a natural land mass taken over by Han (and they definitely assimilate and displaced others, many of the minority ethnicities in Guangxi and Yunnan started out further north). It’s a core that largely persisted over 2,000 years, developed sophisticated art and culture, was largely peaceful, had a tolerable justice system and adminstration, and allowed the average peasant to lead better lives than than most of their contemporaries elsewhere. Sure there was plenty of cruelty and injustice, but it was a stable and quite self contained civilization that was big enough to resist conquest most of the time, and not lose itself when the Mongols or Manchus did take over. China had a little bit of trade and a tribute system with Korea, Vietnam, etc., but never much interested in conquest. The Chinese ruling elite had everything they could need within it’s borders. The only thing the Europeans could trade with was silver, until the Brits innovated the opium trade.

    The most expansionist portions of that map came under the Tang, Yuan, and Qing dynasties, under non-Han rulers. The acquisition of Tibet and Uighur-stan were about security vis a vis USSR and India. China is a good example that empires don’t have to be expansionist but still keep their individuality.

    Gunpowder, the industrial revolution, and the virus of monotheistic religion through the Taiping Rebellion, did that China in. I don’t think the Chinese now are interested in empire per se, though they are interested in access to resources and very touchy about land that they felt were lost through actions of imperialism empires. The projection of desire for Western style expansionism is an inaccurate understanding of the Chinese psyche.

  58. S Brennan

    Bruce, long term, I think, “Han China*” will relieve it’s congestion by swallowing up it’s “traditional lands” from Tiski to Lake Baikal, whereupon they will “discover” additional “traditional lands” to the west that also need to be returned.

    I can hardly wait for the English to copy the Han Empire’s lead and demand that Ireland, the US and Canada be “returned” to the British Crown as “traditional lands”. And surely by China’s logic, South America must be returned to Spain & Portugal. And then the Empire of Mecca surely must be entitled to it’s old empire…wait a minute, I think they are already moving their populations into Europe.

    Anyway, China’s policy that “traditional lands” must be “returned” is going to be a bit messy, particularly if other former empires follow suit but…if you bribe enough quislings…er..ah…”world leaders”, it probably won’t be that bloody…right?

    *As Ian correctly references

  59. someofparts

    Joe Bageant had observations about what some Americans did when they moved to Mexico. He said they would buy are a large, comfortable, securely walled-off property and then they would reach out to locals just long enough to hire household staff. After that, they stayed behind those walls and were rarely seen in public.

  60. Ché Pasa

    Ian says:

    Interesting to see all this “Han Man’s Burden” stuff. Had to conquer them and colonize them and destroy their culture and turn them into pseudo-Han for their own good.

    Interesting. That’s actually as close as I’ve ever seen in the West to the argument the PRC makes for taking control of Tibet — minus the ‘destroy their culture’ part, as the People’s Republic preserves, protects and defends the cultures of all peoples. Don’tchaknow.

    It’s just the bad parts they do away with. For their own good.

  61. Cesar

    Ché Pasa,

    It’s always hard to tell over online communication, but I detect a tone of sarcasm at the end of your comment. I suppose sarcasm is a part of American culture, but I think there is a sincerity in the PRCs actions. I’m trying to understand if you think Tibetan Feudal slavery was a cultural feature worth preserving. Would you say the same of antebellum slavery in the US? Curiously enough the argument the PRC makes for “taking control” of Tibet is most similar to Lincoln’s argument for keeping control of the land usurped by the Richmond junta.

    As for Ian’s characterization of the discourse as Han Man’s burden. I’d say it’s a disappointing straw man. The origin of the phrase, and its initial racial distinction comes from the unique nature of European imperialism and its evolution into today’s American imperialism. Yes our R2P interventions and IMF led missions of economic progress are distinctly different then those carried out by communist China. The proof isn’t in our feelings about them, but in the end result. Where the white man’s burden was hoisted, death, destruction and plunder followed and persist today. I think you’d have a hard time finding any evidence of equivalent Chinese actions, real evidence not some intelligence community distillation from Gordon Chang or Adrien Zen.

  62. Astrid

    I think the Chinese always saw outside contact as a cost center rather than a profit center. Something they have to do for border security or to bolster the emperor’s prestige, but not likely to pay it’s own way. Why would the Chinese bother taking territory directly, when it can gain access to the resources without the hassle by doing deals with local leaders? Joint exploitation of eastern Siberia is much more profitable to Russia and China, than fighting over it. It’s very far from either’s heartland and there’s plenty of room for everyone for now.

    Bruce, I disagree. The population grow significantly under the Qing and early Qing had plenty of resources to fight it’s border wars. The lack of resources of the mid to late Ming was due to poor administration and priorities, not poor resource base. They just took the French approach to defending against the Germans, and got pwned when their general let the Manchus past the Great Wall. You could argue that some of the peasant uprisings in Late Ming were evidence of the demographic cliff, but again, that cliff didn’t give way and reached new heights in the Qing.

  63. Hugh

    Let’s see. We’re not supposed to call American fascists fascists. Dictatorship isn’t dictatorship if it is Russian. Imperialism isn’t imperialism, if it’s Chinese. Along with that, I guess we shouldn’t call their re-education camps concentration camps. I wonder how long it will be before there is a whole dictionary for not calling things what they are.

  64. Ché Pasa

    Actually, conditions for the common people in Tibet prior to the Chinese takeover were often worse than horrible, by anyone’s standards including those of many Tibetans. It was no Shangri-la.

    Chinese means and methods, however, seemed no less brutal than those of the British, Germans, French and Belgians in their imperial conquests. But as an outsider, I’m not in a position to say with certainty. There were long horror stories in the press describing the destruction of the lamaseries, the cultural subjugation, the introduction of what could only be called Han Chinese colonists. Disruption and destruction what the constant theme. The Dali Lama’s flight into exile, of course, merely added to the general tone of misery on the Tibetan plateau.

    Yet travelers sometimes reported something else altogether. Yes, the Chinese were disruptive, sometimes destructive, and almost always high handed and authoritarian, sometimes contrary to Mao’s injunctions on how party cadres should behave toward the People. But the common people were no longer under the brutal thumb of a conniving feudal aristocracy that never had the least interest in their well-being, and living standards for the least among the Tibetan people were rising. The lamaseries were an architectural and artistic loss in many cases, but the lamas were hardly the People’s friends, and their lamaseries were escape hatches for the surplus boys of the well off. They helped keep the People in subjugation, superstition, and yes, slavery.

    Travelers recently have reported a poor but surprisingly open country — it’s not a hermit kingdom — with a population that generally seems “happy.” Most people have access to decent housing, running water, electricity, education, something like the rule of law, and the wider world. In theory, the Chinese and the Tibetans are equals, but it’s a nice theory that doesn’t necessarily prove true in real life. In theory, Tibet is autonomous, but like everything else, “autonomy” has a particular meaning in the PRC that wouldn’t be recognized in the West as autonomy.

    I think most people in the West have no idea how deplorable conditions for the common people were in Tibet, and how powerless the People were to change things for the better. There was and in some ways still is a fantasy of kindly, peaceful Tibet and its multitudes of prayerful, exotic Bodhisattvas in the lamaseries leading pure and uplifting lives, and it’s very far from the reality.

    On the other hand, the Chinese can be arrogant, thoughtless, destructive, and (in my view) stupid in dealing with the locals — who still really have very little say in their country’s governance. They behave very much like the Western imperialists Mao’s forces struggled against.

  65. S Brennan

    “conditions for the common people in Tibet prior to the Chinese takeover were often worse than horrible”

    Wow…now folks, that is a 1st class lesson on how to dissemble. In 1950, throughout Asia, but particularly in Communist China “conditions for the common people were worse than horrible”. Hell Ché, Korea was considered a hardship posting in the US Army until 1984.

    If Dick Cheney had only known, he’d of hired Ché Pasa to sell the Iraq Invasion, had Obama only known, he’d of hired Ché Pasa to shill for the massive bombing campaign of Libya, had…oops, I almost invoked Hitler….not “orange Hitler” of Hugh’s fantasies, the real @$$#ole. FYI, Hugh’s “orange Hitler” forgot to invade anyone…four years without an invasion, thank God he’s gone and we can start invading again.

    Anyway, I hope people get my point, just because “conditions for the common people [are] worse than horrible” doesn’t mean they need a good ‘ol invasion to…wait for it…snap them out of it. Ché, that sounds as bad as something an antebellum plantation owner would say about his slaves, “the conditions here are horrible, what my slaves need is a good solid whipping…that’s what’ll improve morale…Jamison, fetch me my #10 whip”.

    That’s some pretty wild thinking Ché but hell, this is the internet.

  66. Astrid


    In your mind, all things are possible. Outside of it, not so much.

  67. Ché Pasa

    for those who might not know, SB is somewhat “irony impaired” …;-)

  68. S Brennan

    And the reason I am “irony impaired” is because those who claim “irony” haven’t apparently bothered to read the definition:

    “a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character”

    Yesterday another writer/character claimed the same defense as my learned opponent “Ché” without understanding that..if you “claim” that at the first instance, you were not being “ironic”. You can’t claim duplicity, you could claim ignorance/stupidity…but not foreknowledge.

    Be careful how you use “irony” as a defense, it is, as the Greeks are wont to say, a Trojan Horse that should not be paraded around the inner walls.

    And yeah…I really do think.

  69. Willy

    It took Hitler 5 years to annex Austria, and more than six years before he semi-invaded Czechoslovakia and fully invaded Poland. Had Trump been given more time, would he have tried to invade Antiqua or even Puerto Rico perhaps? Many seriously doubt this, since Trump didn’t even know where Puerto Rico was. The closest thing Trump ever had to the Reichsparteitag were his MAGA Superspreader Events. Hardly inspiring, militarily. It took Hitler 4 ½ years to get to Kristallnacht, although if Trump had succeeded at remaining in power he could well have orchestrated similar events against the DNC, CNN, BLM and had QANON and OAN blame antifa Jews for it all. Trump’s only coup attempt failed badly, although a great many ideas for cartoon characters and comedy sketches resulted.

    While his time in office was distressing for many Americans, I must conclude that none of this was compelling evidence for an “Orange Hitler”. If S Brennan prefers to continue to call Trump “Orange Hitler”, or even repeatedly implies that others do when they clearly do not, then that’ll be his own business. I won’t go there again.

    Some time in the future I may hold a contest for a more appropriate nickname for our most ridiculous worst president in history, with consolation points for something which Trump might have called someone like himself. Until that time when a better name arrives, I shall henceforth refer to Trump him as “President Rebel Without A Clown Car”, although names like “Adolph Twitler” or “Trumpty Dumpty” might be substituted, from time to time.

  70. bruce wilder

    I do not think I would be as ready as Astrid is to project a kindly insularity onto China’s national character.

    My few encounters in person with Chinese nationals lead me to think China is currently enveloped in a belligerent and self-justifying “patriotic” fervor that may well bring a dark shadow to its neighbors. Han China was expansionist for much of its history and it seems to have a fairly expansionist mindset now; certainly China as a state seeks global dominance. The only good thing about their ambition may be their patience.

    As for Tibet, I remember a commenter here explaining that whatever the historic and ideological motivations, now it is all about controlling the water.

  71. Ché Pasa

    There is rarely one answer or reason why political events occur, let alone why the imperialism we’ve been discussing from various perspectives continues.

    The PRC has claimed suzerainty over Tibet in one form or another since 1950, but the Tibet Autonomous Region was only formally brought into being in 1965. This makes Tibet a Chinese provincial territory subject to rule from Beijing, and yet “autonomous” in the sense that local conditions and culture can and do influence the implementation of that rule. Tibet is not independent nor was it prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It had been a peripheral part of China since at least the 18th century.

    Whether Chinese rule of Tibet (direct or indirect) is a good thing depends on your point of view, of course. Tibetans by and large live far better materially under PRC rule, but material well-being is not the only thing Tibetans value. And so far, it looks like the Chinese have not been able to convince more than a minority of Tibetans that material well-being matters more than the spiritual lives they have long valued more.

    The contradictions have let to many conflicts between the Tibetans and Chinese. Some are resolved non-violently. Some are not resolved at all. Chinese have imposed many “improvement” projects that have been resisted by the locals, sometimes violently, and from time to time the Chinese back down. At other times they force compliance.

    Tibetans I know mostly laugh at the attempts China makes to rule in Tibet, while at the same time deploring Chinese resource extraction from Tibet. Water is an issue, it will always be an issue because so much of Tibet is so dry, and water sources in the Himalayas are deteriorating swiftly.

    Without water, the land becomes uninhabitable. At that point, what the PRC does or doesn’t do really won’t matter — except to the extent they provide (or don’t provide) for Tibetan refugees.

  72. Astrid: The proponents of economics — purveyors of the myth of an altruistic invisible hand that lifts all proverbial boats — rules the globe in an imperial fashion that makes any crusade that preceded it pale in comparison. Just because a plurality of people can sense the bullshit does not mean that it is not worthy of a religious analogy. For one class rules over all, and another class longs to secure the spot beneath them, if not among them — the mythological middle class, who as we now know is more mythological insofar as there is a growing swath of folks who falsely believe to be a part of it.

    State propaganda today is just another version of the religious and cultural myths of the past; it fueled by the wealth of both classes that dominate discussions and steer political decision-making.

    And I think that this answers Ian’s “why?” people are willing to follow the path of “their” conqueror — or as it is by the world’s current ruler, why so many are willing to go along by default in not resisting it.

    The promise behind religions, like that of economics, too, put the folk on the side of their despot, and hence with the help of the brutality of armies, we, any of us from wherever, interpret history through a lens of the exceptionalist worthy of whatever it conquers versus the despotic who need to be curtailed diplomatically, when not outright rallied against militantly.

    Not one of Ian’s aforementioned successors of military advantage was born in a vacuum. It had to begin first with someone’s (or someones’) quest for power. Beyond that it’s as simple as playing on the myths exceptional culture. For it’s a lot easier to go along to get along than to oppose the tradition of “one’s own”. Opposing the mythology of economics rule today is impossible without the military advantage. And once that’s accomplished you can wash-rinse, repeat.

  73. Hugh

    Astrid is a pro-China troll.

  74. Astrid

    Bruce: I am not saying that the Chinese cannot becomes expansionist in the future, just that their past history is not particularly expansionist and arguably anti-expansionist since mid-Ming. I don’t think the CCP has any reason to fight wars for territory in the near future, when they can get the same benefits without the downside by making deals with other governments. The belligerence you hear from the average Chinese, I think it’s more for internal consumption and maybe to prepare the population for what they see as the inevitable confrontation with the US. That’s not to say thinks can’t turn towards war or that the Chinese are pacific people, just that I don’t think they would want a hot war anywhere, until the Americans openly and belligerently challenges Chinese interests. That’s better for the local populations in that they won’t have war, but the Chinese can be as nasty in their merchantilist interests as any.

    Davidly:. You may be right and the grip of economics is as tight as religion. We don’t know the future and are just prognosticating. I think it’s weaker because there are other models and once capitalism is shown to be terrible for enough people, it will break. However, you can certainly counter that the industrial revolution and imperialism was horrible for most, but continued on for centuries because it was beneficial to the elite and their enforcers. Well, except that the 19th century was full of revolts by the proletariat and laid the groundworks for unionism and leftism of various sorts in the 20th.

    In religion, holding out the rewards of afterlife let’s people persist on perpetrating horrors and dying for hopeless causes, no matter the empirical reality. I think we are still in the Neoliberal regime because things haven’t gotten bad enough for enough people, the elites are still hugely benefitting, and BRIC’s articulation of alternatives hasn’t gotten out yet. But I think it’s coming and may be coming faster than we anticipated, Trump is a reaction to this crisis of legitimacy of orthodox Neoliberal economics, COVID19 appears to be an accelerant.

    S Brennan:. Sheesh, you’re almost as addicted to this un-understood iconoclast genius thing as Hugh is to The Rescue Game. You’re strenuously objecting to people who are largely agreeing with you on certain points and reading bad intent into efforts at honest discussion. I hope you can continue to engage in a less hostile and imperious manner. You say things that are very much worth hearing, but then put people off by your method of delivery.

  75. Astrid

    I think the best case scenario for Tibet would be Bhutan. It’s allied with India, not rich but not poor, and appears to have gotten lucky with a relatively benevolent monarchy who genuinely care about the welfare and spiritual wellbeing of his people. As the Dalai Lama appears to be a genuinely good man who wants to do right by his people, it could have worked and perhaps reduced some of the more heavy handed predations by the Chinese regime. It’s a pity that CCP ideology of 1949-1976 would not permit such an accommodation and then the post-1976 regime did not bother since they saw Tibetan as a trade trove of natural resources to be exploited for development.

    But even Bhutan cannot be entirely peaceful. It got into pretty hot water a few years back for expelling Hindu Nepalese migrants from its borders. Bhutan managed because it’s a tiny country whose primary resources are hydropower exported to India and tourism, where being a pristine Buddhist kingdom allow it to charge a considerable premium. Neither China nor India would have allowed the same for Tibet.

  76. Astrid


    In your mind, all things are possible. Outside of it, not so much.

  77. S Brennan

    Astrid, thank you for your efforts to “curate” this blog to your tastes…so many frustrated bloggers have tried…only to fail. I will watch your efforts to replace Ian with great interest. Best wishes.

    Now back to my important work for the betterment of the world…googling…”will acetone remove uncured 5200 bedding compound”

  78. Astrid

    S Brennan,

    You are certainly free to do as you like and I have no interest in moderation anyone, and Ian clearly said he’s not interested in moderation. I’m just telling you that your approach is likely to get your message tuned out and being antagonistic towards everyone and everything is tedious for those in the receiving end of your antagonism. But I suppose comment section are more about expression than communication and we should be allowed to be true to ourselves. So carry on!

  79. S Brennan

    Dear Astrid,

    I do so value your permission, I will treasure the moment until I pass this earthly existence.

    Warmest Wishes

    …now back to important information: “…to clean 3MTM Marine Adhesive/Sealant 5200 before it is cured, use a dry cloth to remove the majority of sealant, followed by a cloth damp with General Purpose Adhesive Cleaner*, P. N. 08984, toluene or acetone. Cured 5200 can be removed mechanically with a…”

  80. Willy

    davidly’s got it right. Certain humans acquire power because they know exactly how to adapt their behaviors to whatever cultural norms, in their insatiable drive to acquire power. Most cultures offer ample camouflage, many places to hide in plain sight, until the winners of power games leave others little choice but to “go along to get along than to oppose the tradition of “one’s own”.

    Astrid, @capitalism… I don’t think the system matters, much until those with a temperament for power can be successfully kept on a short leash. People with a temperament for power will always be trying to do whatever it takes to acquire power. And without effective checks and balances on them after they become pathological, bad things happen to those with less power. Even libertarianism will always lead to ‘kindly-master feudalism’ if we’re lucky, and deadly fascism if we’re not.

  81. Willy

    S Brennan,

    ProjectFarm tests a variety of products with methods which usually make good horse sense. He says that 3MTM Marine Adhesive/Sealant 5200 is a pretty good product. Flex Seal, not so much.

    I once hoped that ProjectFarm would test politicians before they acquired real power with a variety of good horse sense testing methods. Maybe not involving static weights or electric current, but maybe intelligence, temperament, and good horse sense tests. I haven’t gotten an answer back yet.

  82. Soredemos


    Maybe she is, maybe not. You, however, are simply a straight up fool.

  83. Soredemos

    Welsh, you perception of Viking history is downright bizarre, and I really want to know what book you picked it up from. Because it’s certainly none that I’ve ever read.

  84. Soredemos

    @Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Surprised no one else has pointed this out, but the entire point of the Cassandra character…is that she was right. About everything.

    Your intention was to ridicule Welsh, but all you accomplished was demonstrating how much of an idiot you are.

  85. Willy

    Mongolia started as a collection of squabbling horse tribes. After Genghis conquered them all, the war technology he took out of Mongolia was already a thousand years old. Attila had also made use of guerilla attacks from horseback using recurved bows and saddlebags full of fermented cabbage to eat on the fly. The Mongol conquest of far more populated and advanced places like China wasn’t done with Mongols alone. He took many cities with fighters and technologies developed by and from other nations. The Mongolian invasion ships of Divine Wind fame were built by Chinese and Korean shipbuilders. He and his heirs were expert with “join us or die” techniques.

    This is why any sort of authoritarianism is a bad thing. Don’t go worshipping demagogues and stay the hell away from cults of personality. Of course, even in liberal democracies the exact same “join us or die” techniques are used by corporate plutocrats to the fullest extent which the citizenry will allow. Conquerors are wired differently from the masses.

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