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

Tag: Ideology Page 2 of 4

Ukraine Through the Lens of an Honor or Mafia Society

There’s a good thread here, on how Russian prisons work. Go read it, and come back.

Now, I’ve never in been in prison, but I grew up in boarding school and I was near the bottom of the hierarchy most of the time I was there. I’ve also spent time in poverty in rough neighbourhoods and jobs, in which I was not near the bottom of the hierarchy, because I learned my lesson.

One of the best memories of my life is the day someone tried to push me around (reasonably, if you live in this ethos, I had been a coward and was known as one), and I realized I didn’t care how much I got hurt, but I was going to hurt him. My life got a lot better after that day.

At its simplest, the rules are as follows:

1) You must be willing to fight rather than be pushed around, even if you know you’ll lose.

2) Your word must be good: If you say you’ll do something, you always do it.

3) You protect your allies and friends. Again, even in fights you’ll lose, because if you don’t, you won’t have any allies or friends.

4) If you one of yours gets hurt or taken out, you do the same to one of theirs, and often, more than one of theirs.

The movie the Untouchables had Sean Connery state this ethos simply. It’s 15 second, watch it.

This is why I have said that, even though I think the Baltic states, for example, should never have been let into NATO, if Russia attacks them I support war, and if it goes nuclear, so be it.

It is at the emotional core of much of the disagreement over how far the West should go to help Ukraine. Ukraine was not in NATO. It was not in the EU. But for many Europeans and whites, Ukraine parses emotionally as “one of us.” And you don’t let one of us swing.

We didn’t give our word to protect Ukraine and I’m not willing to risk nuclear war over it. Others, feeling more of an emotive tie, are. This is also one reason why, during NATO expansion, so many people said something like, “Are Americans/Europeans/We really willing to die for the Baltic Republics or Poland (or Ukraine)?” What they were trying to say is that expanding an alliance to people we really weren’t willing to die for weakens the alliance, because what makes a defensive alliance work is that there’s no question that fucking with one of you means all of you jump in.

If you make that promise for someone for whom you’re not really willing to get the shit kicked out of you (or to die), and then you don’t keep the promise, even former members of your group, who were solid before, start becoming unreliable. “If they didn’t step up for Lithuania, will they die for me?” thinks Germany.

Next thing you know, your alliance is broken. This is why Russian requests to kick members out of NATO were a non-starter*: Once they’re in, kicking them out means threats can break our alliance. To others, the implication that Russia would get a veto over Ukraine was too far, for the same emotional logic. (Emotional logic is real logic, humans run on emotion, not reason.)

Note, however, that the code of honor also includes “keep your word.” NATO expanded, though it promised the Russians it wouldn’t. We broke our given word. When they asked us to remove most of the new NATO members, they too were acting on the code of honor: You said you’d do X, and you didn’t. Make it good, or else. When someone breaks their word to you, they must either make it good or be punished.

This puts us in a bind. We did break our word, but having accepted new members into NATO, we can’t kick any out without risking the entire alliance. This is one reason why we should never have expanded NATO.

We gave our word, and we broke it. There were bound to be consequences.

This is one reason why smart people have always opposed the US and its allies breaking the international laws they enforce on other people. The law is supposed to apply to everyone. Once people realize your word is bad, that it doesn’t apply to you, they not only despise you, they will certainly come to see no reason to keep your rules, because those rules are just a form of force. You’ve said, “We can do it, because we’re powerful and you can’t.”

And they say, “No, fuck you.”

So, when the West created the new country of Kosovo, despite the notion that borders are supposed to be inviolate, Russians were angered. So they started doing the same thing, over and over again. North and South Ossetia, Crimea, Ukraine. Because to not do it when the powerful do, is to show weakness.

This is also why Russia did not, and will not, give into sanctions. Even if sanctions hurt them more than the West, they still hurt the West. To give in is to submit to inferior status, to say, “You can do what you want to me and I’ll just take it.”

And, this is why Ukrainians are fighting hard. “Okay, fine, but we’re going to make you pay.”

The problem with all of this is that “honor societies,” let alone mafia societies (which is what Russia is, internally), suck to live in. They are horrid places. Russian prisons (and American prisons have a similar dynamic) are some of the worst places in the world. Even if you’re at the top, you’re never free of threat or fear.

Most of the good part of civilization is getting rid of this logic. It is why weregild was introduced, where, if you kill someone, you pay a fee to their relatives, in order to avoid the murder devolving into a blood feud, into the “Chicago Way.” Because if they put one of yours in the hospital, and you then put one in the morgue, well, they then have to put two in the morgue. You scare people with torture and rape and you kill their women and children, if the society gets sick enough.

Societies that live like this have a very hard time advancing, because they’re armed camps. They can only advance when a great tyrant or group arises who can say, “You all belong to me, and only I get to kill people” — and they have to make that stick. This is, sadly, most of what civilization has been. “I get to hurt people, and no one else does.”

To live in a good society, where the weak aren’t treated terribly (and the weak are often, y’know, the scientists and artists and all the people who make the world worth living in), and where even the strong are not in fear all the time, means getting out of this trap.

To do so, you start by treating everyone equally, and by keeping your own laws. If you say someone else can’t do it, you can’t do it either. This makes people trust you, and in time, trust each other. If you move from the rule of a tyrant to the rule of a group that enforces fair and equal rules, then you move into a place of trust. Fear goes down and down, and the society or civilization becomes a better and better place to live.

But unless there is only one society or group, there are always outgroups and the fear of what they do. Things like international law were attempts to make only group, one set of rules, and so on. In practice, the problem has been twofold. First, international law has been obeyed only by the weak — except when the strong have made a law it’s not in in their short term interest to break. The second is that some groups, for example the Chinese, weren’t allowed to meaningfully participate in making the rules. (Heck, in some ways, even Europe wasn’t. The US controlled half the world’s industry, and they made the rules.)

To create a good society, the powerful have to look to the long-term interest; they have to obey rules that are not in their short-term interest. If they are known to obey their own rules and to make fair rules, they are trusted by others and therefore, much safer.

The tweeter in the thread at the beginning of this post said that asking China to intervene with Russia was crazy, because we think they’re our enemies. But, while there are wrongs on both sides, we’re the ones who sanctioned them in order to cripple their largest tech company. We did that in part (this is the DC view) because they were breaking the rules of the international order, but they don’t regard those rules as fair or see that we are bound by those rules.

And so on.

The last important point is that this stuff is at the heart of the pathology of choosing really evil leaders. We often judge how a leader will protect us from outsiders based on how he treats insiders: Is he a mean bastard? One problem is that a mean bastard will spend most of his time ruling you, not fighting outsiders. The next problem is that if the leader has insiders, they aren’t you. Biden is a lovely father and a great boss, by all accounts. But you aren’t his son, his friend, or his employee. You’re an outsider, and to you he will be a bastard.

All of this emotion comprises the trap in which we find ourselves, as a species. We have to pick good leaders, who are kind and fair to people who aren’t in their group, and yet, are able to defend our group. Corbyn, for example, was not this. He was kind and fair and lovely and would not even attack people who were his enemies.

FDR, on the other hand, was more or less this — if you were white (he was a racist). He cared about all white Americans, but not really about blacks, and he hated the Japanese (the one ethnic group he did like was Chinese).

To live in a good society, we must make rules that are fair to everyone, and everyone must respect them. Rules that are ignored by both the leaders and the powerful destroy civilizations and lead to eras of internal and external war. Society must work for everyone, or it will eventually work for no one, and this includes global society.

We have chosen not to respect our own principles and laws and to create laws and principles that are not good for everyone who tries to operate in good faith. As a result, our societies are rotting from the inside, and on the outside, we are slouching towards multiple possible armageddons.

Be fair, be just, be tough, and be kind, or soon, there may be no humans left to be any of these things.

Correction: Commenter Dorian notes and is right: Point of order – it was never a Russian demand that NATO literally kick any countries out of NATO. Rather, it was that all NATO members pre-1997 expansion remove their forces from post-1997 expansion countries. The post-1997 expansion countries would still have the benefit of NATO membership and security guarantees, they just couldn’t be used as a base for foreign military infrastructure and troops.





Why the Left Doesn’t Copy the Truck Protests

One of the reasons I didn’t condemn the strategy used by the truckers is simple: For a couple decades now, I’ve been saying that this general sort of thing is what the left should do. Change happens only when you inflict real pain. In fact, the trucker protests aren’t that new, this sort of thing happens in France all the time. Truckers have big vehicles they can use to block roads in a way that’s harder to stop than a bunch of people just lining up or even chaining themselves up.

Commenter someofparts, riffing off Lambert said it well:

So then, the question Strether raised that I keep thinking about is – why isn’t it the left wing doing this? Since a caravan that disrupts the supply chain is a brilliant way to pressure our leaders, why isn’t it being done by the big unions instead of the shopkeepers?

Obviously the real question I am chewing on is to wonder what needs to change so that it IS the unions doing this instead of the bourgeoisie? I don’t have any ready answers to that question, but I figure that having a clear idea of where we need to go is the first step. The prospect of supply chain disruption sponsored by the teamsters on behalf of the real working class is a good place to start.

Unions are scared.

They have central headquarters and bank accounts. It is trivial and easy for them to be broken by seizing their assets. They feel they must keep within the letter of what the law allows, because they know what happens if they don’t.

For whatever reason, the truckers here are not scared of asset seizure, which is interesting, because the government easily could take their licenses and their trucks and probably hit them with damages.

As part of my politics book series, I talked about legitimacy. In the neoliberal world order, the right is legitimate, and so are neoliberals (our “center”) but the left and unions aren’t. It is okay to mess other people up in the name of right-wing values, but not in the name of the left-wing (economic, not social) values. There’s some tolerance for cultural left-wingism, since neoliberal elites are more than good with it, but not for economic left-wing populism.

Back during “Occupy Wall Street,” I saw a march in Toronto. It was surrounded on three sides by police (the fourth being pressed up against one side of the road. They had paddy wagons and horse-cops right there, right next to the protesters. I also saw the G-7 protests in Toronto, with the kettling of protestors and mass (unconstitutional, but not illegal) arrests.

Protesting the fundamental economic relationships that control our society is not allowed. Effective  unions lead to wages rising faster than inflation and it is FUNDAMENTAL to our order that wages for most people must not rise faster than inflation. (Yes, that’s not what the figures say, but the inflation statistics are systematically manipulated.)

The left cannot do what the truckers do because if they did, they would be shut down with extreme violence — if they were even allowed to get going. Remember, the Ottawa police chief let the truckers set up, knowing in advance what they were going to do.

Note also, that the right uses decentralized action a lot. Their shooters are created by their ideology, but act individually. The truckers may have organization, but they are individuals. Each truck has to be seized individually. There is some central organization, and when its visible it’s taken out (the shut down of the GoFundMe) but mostly it’s buried in the financial and third-party weeds. Ezra Levant of Rebel news, for example, hired a lawyer to fight parking tickets for the truckers. He’s not directly involved so far as we know yet, but he is indirectly involved.

Then there’s Ontario’s Prime Minister, Doug Ford. Doug could have this stuff broken up easily, and if it truly does need the military, he’s the person with the authority to call them in (the Feds arguably can’t without passing a new law). Doug’s daughter is with the protesters.

FDR alleged (but only allegedly) once said, “You’ve convinced me. I agree with what you’ve said. Now go out and make me do it.” Doug almost certainly agrees with the truckers, but he knows that polling is against him.

“Make me do it.”

Killing people for the market is economic orthodoxy. Impoverishing people so the rich can get richer is economic orthodoxy. Taking care of people, in the US, Canada, and Britain is against the ruling ideology — it is actually not legitimate. (It is in China and Japan, as people there are viewed as productive assets, not as assets to be mined.)

For unions to do what the truckers do they would have to start by decentralizing. No significant  headquarters, few assets to be seized, and leadership that doesn’t matter because anyone can lead. If the “president” is locked up, it doesn’t matter because someone else steps up, and regular members know what to do anyway.

Plus, there needs to an implicit threat. “If you take us out by force, we will keep showing up, and you can’t lock us all up.” The “truckers” (most truckers disagree with them, including the Teamsters) belong to a movement that shows up at school board meetings, that pickets hospitals & legislatures and threatens nurses, and that is generally perceived as dangerous. Politicians don’t feel entirely safe using force and law against them, though this is (or was) far more true in the US than in Canada. The left has spent generations telling themselves that violence is always bad and that even the threat of it should never ever even be considered because Gandhi, Gandhi, Gandhi.

All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others. All protests are equal, but some protests are more equal. Some ideologies are far more equal than others.

In the thirties, it was not unknown for unions to fight the police, straight up. The Feds would often stay out of it, and usually there was no attempt to destroy the union as a whole. Unions were legitimate, especially since FDR generally supported them and wouldn’t let the Feds intervene.

Today, unions are illegitimate according to the dominant ideologies. Practically the first thing Reagan did was break a major union (the Air Traffic Controllers). Thatcher showed she was in charge and that things had changed by defeating the Miners in Britain. Punching left is good, punching right is verboten.

The “truckers” can do what they’re doing because they’re doing it in service of right-wing values, not left-wing ones, and they are supported by powerful elite factions, including most of Canada’s Conservative party.

They may well be stopped, and even have the law used against them, mainly because they’ve stopped trade between the US and Canada, but they would never have been allowed to run this far if they were left-wing. They’re legitimate, they have elite backing and the cops are sympathetic.

These are also, by the way, the pre-conditions for revolution: An elite faction in support, enforcer class unwilling to step up, and a popular faction in support (although they are decided minority, which is the only reason they aren’t already in charge).


Today’s Center Is Yesterday’s Extreme

And tomorrow’s center will be today’s extreme.

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In the 1950s US, the top marginal tax rate was 91 percent. In 1925, the idea of such a rate was an extreme position. Today, it is an extreme position.

In 1935, the US had a small standing army and believed that was the way to be. After WWI, it had demobilized a huge army, but after WWII it chose to keep a large standing army.

Segregation was the normal position for much of the country before the 1960s; today it is theoretically illegal.

Women could not, effectively, hold most jobs in the 1950s; today they can. Married women couldn’t even have their own bank accounts without permission from their husbands; today they can.

Before the 1940s, almost no countries had universal health care, now virtually all developed countries (except the US) do.

Limited liability corporations didn’t exist throughout most of the history of capitalism, and were opposed by many capitalists when introduced; now they are the norm.

Most land was owned and managed by the commons for most of history; now, most of it is private land or government-owned. The idea that every local shouldn’t have access to local land and resources was EXTREME for almost all of human existence.

(Capitalism, generally speaking, is an extremely radical ideology when viewed through the lens of human history and pre-history.)

The center, of any period, is the extreme of a previous period. Truly, new ideas start from the extremes, then, when radicals win, they become centrist ideas. Adam Smith did not agree with the orthodoxy of his day, any more than Karl Marx did (though he had the advantage that he was championing a wealthy minority, not a poor one ,and thus didn’t live his life in poverty and misery like Marx.)

Confucius was an extremist who could not get hired by those in power. Jesus was an extremist. Muhammed was an extremist. Thomas Paine was an extremist. Luther was an extremist, and so was MLK.

The center does maintainance and refinement of ideas, but they have few if any truly new ideas. It is radicals who create new ideas, and centrists support them only afterwards.


The Core Social Principles of Ideologies

Every ideology has a few core principles: guiding lights, or pole-stars, which believers should use to guide themselves.

The fundamental proposition; the IDEAL, of Confucian government, is that the rulers should govern as if they are benevolent parents. If they do not do so, they are not legitimate, but tyrants.

The fundamental proposition of feudalism and related ideologies is that some bloodlines are better than others, and those from those bloodlines deserve to rule.

The fundamental proposition of capitalism is that money is earned by providing “utility” and that those who have money have it because they have done the most good. This easily turns into oligarchy, “those with the most money are the most virtuous & should rule.”

The fundamental proposition of democracy is that all legitimacy comes from the citizenry (people) and that they should rule, sometimes by selecting others; sometimes directly.

The fundamental proposition of Westminster style democracy (parliamentary) is that “Parliament is Supreme!” It can do whatever it wants, and one Parliament cannot tie the hands of another one. (Treaties have been used to try to get around this, doing so is illegitimate.)

The fundamental proposition of American enlightenment democracy is that everyone is equal. It was originally phrased as “all men”, but that is an error requiring correction, and much of American history is about the attempt to properly live up to the proposition.

The fundamental social teaching of Jesus, was that we should help the least of us, and that great wealth is an evil.

Buddhism, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a great deal of governing philosophy, but the proposition is that life always involves suffering and that we should try and end or reduce suffering as much as possible, including in animals.

Communism’s core proposition is that the means of production should be controlled by the masses: that power should not be a consequence of wealth or property.

Once you’ve identified the core proposition of an ideology, you use that as your pole star, moving ever towards it. You’re not a communist if you allow private concentration of wealth to control the economy or don’t keep control of economic activity in the hands of the workers in specific and the people in general.

All founders make mistakes and their disciples and heirs make more. It is your duty, if you follow a great ideology, to correct those errors. In Confucianism this includes Confucius’s treatment of women. In American democracy, systematic inequality and disenfranchisement.

In Buddhism this would be indifference to suffering because, hey, there’s no self anyway, amiright? In parliamentary democracy, it is believing the supremacy of Parliament either can be used against the people’s interest OR trying to bind Parliament and thus the democratic will.

If you have an individual philosophy or code of conduct/honor, it too may have a polestar. Mine is truth. In matters of public import, I try not to lie, because I believe we can’t make good decisions if we believe wrong things.

I also try to correct. I try to be open to being wrong, without being so open-minded I accept nonsense. Just had a long conversation with a friend that convinced me I had misunderstood some important things about the modern left. I was grateful to learn where I had been wrong.

Use this post as a spur for thought. What are the polestars for various ideologies? What are your polestars in various parts of your life.

Bonus: if there’s more than one polestar, where do they conflict or help each other and when?

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Is Cruelty Required?

Is it possible to have a society without cruelty?

That’s really the fundamental political question. (Economics, as you know, is a subset of politics, not different from it. So it’s also the fundamental economic question.)

It’s fair to say that there has never been a major society without cruelty baked into it, at least not since the rise of agricultural kingdoms about three thousand years after the invention of agriculture. Previous societies often had a lot of violence, but it’s not clear they all did, and some hunter gatherer band level societies seem to have had little cruelty.

But every major agricultural civilization has been cruel, and so has every major industrial society, though some are less cruel than others (insert reference to Scandinavia). Even those, however, are enmeshed in a system of industrial production that is, at best, exploitative, as in the case of conflict minerals, low paid workers, killed union organizers, and so on. Because it is not possible to run a decent society in the modern work in autarchy, even relatively kind societies are enmeshed in economic arrangements that cause great suffering hundreds to thousands of miles from them.

Cruelty is endemic even in good societies in the sense that our fundamental economic relationships are based on coercion; if you don’t work for someone else, probably doing something you wouldn’t do without the whip of poverty at your heels, and under supervision, well, you will have a bad life. School is based on coercion; do what you’re told when you’re told, or else, and so is work for most people.

That’s just the way our societies work, and while details vary, it’s more or less how they’ve worked since agriculture. Oh, the peasant may not have had close supervision, but they gave up their crops, labor, and lives under threat of violence, and they knew it well.

Even positive incentives are coercive. Get good grades and you’ll get a good job, etc… Please the mast… er, I mean, boss, yes, boss, and you may get a raise.

But a great deal of real cruelty lies behind the positive coercion in our major societies. American jails are startlingly cruel, filled with violence, rape, and fear. Chinese prisons aren’t so nice either. Police exist to throw you out of your house if you fail to pay the rent, which some double digit percentage of Americans are about to experience, because their society has mishandled an epidemic.

Sell cigarettes without the sanction of the state and your last words may be, “I can’t breathe.”

Our societies are based on positive and negative incentives. The amount of each varies with time and place. Finland right now has a lot more positive, and a lot less negative and a lot less consequences for disobeying. 50 years ago, the US put a lot less people in jail and gave those it allowed good jobs (white males) much better, nicer lives.

But there’s still always that threat in the background. And it’s always based on cruelty: “Bad things will happen to you, either actively or passively if you don’t go along.”

Now there are things we need to get done, collectively, in society. Build and maintain housing, grow and distribute food, keep the internet running (these days), but how much cruelty and coercion is required to do those necessary things? How much do you have to threaten people to get them to do those things? How cruel do you have to be to them if they don’t do them?

But another problem is that most of the coercion and cruelty in our societies has nothing to do with creating necessities like food and shelter and medicine and internet.

It has to do with making sure that some people have far more than they need, and others have far less. That some people have good lives with little coercion, while others live in constant fear. One problem with the boss, you lose your job, and you wind up homeless or in prison, and then even more terrible things happen.

Terrible things that are meant to happen, of course. We could lock up a lot fewer people and treat those few far better. We have more empty homes than homeless people and throw out at least a third of our food. No one need go hungry or homeless, and as for the internet, well, ISPs make close to 100 percent profit, so yeah, I’m pretty sure there’s no reason anyone should go without basic internet access.

So the cruelty in our societies is a choice. We can feed and house everyone, give everyone health care and have plenty left over, but we want billionaires and huge militaries or something, so we’re cruel. We’re cruel in the small details of everyday life (those maste…, er bosses) and we’re cruel in how we structure life, and it’s all a choice we’ve made.

Is it necessary? Must we be cruel? If we must be cruel, how cruel? What cruelty is actually needed, how much is just a preference or only required because we want very unequal societies?

Are we cruel of necessity?

Or desire?

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Christianity as a Religious Ideology

Religions are ideologies. They are little different from something like capitalism, or Marxism, or the divine right of kings, or humanism.

That is to say ideologies are sets of statements about how the world and people are, and how they should be.

Christianity takes humans as fallen. We are innately bad, and we must be reformed by good education, including punishment. “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” This is different from classic Confucianism, which assumed that humans were essentially neutral slates, or the Confucianism of Mencius, which believed that humans were innately good, similar to Rousseau. The Chinese Legalists, on the other hand, assumed humans were bad, and the Imperial justice system tended to run on their ideas, not those of Mencius.

If you believe humans are bad, you must change them; fix them. Such ideologies tend to be punitive. If you think humans are good, on the other hand, you have to mostly avoid screwing them up, and such ideologies try to avoid punishment and negative reinforcement.

Christianity’s caused a lot of suffering down through the ages, a statement I hope isn’t controversial. A lot of that comes down to Christianity’s metaphysical beliefs for most of that time.

  1. The only way to go to Heaven is through acceptance of Christ;
  2. If you don’t go to Heaven, you will wind up in Hell. Hell is eternal torment.

The combination of these two beliefs means that, logically, anything is acceptable if it leads to someone becoming a Christian. Charlemagne once force-converted ten thousand pagans, then executed them. They died as Christians, with no chance to sin, doubtless they went to heaven. Spanish conquistadors would burn heretics, because they believed that would send them to heaven. Conquering a country to convert its people was not only moral, it was the only moral thing to do. To do otherwise would be to condemn everyone born there to hell, which is to say to torture which never ends.

Christianity is a form of hegemonic ideology. “Everyone should follow this ideology.” Democracy is another hegemonic ideology, “Everyone should be able to vote for their leaders.” Oh, there are exceptions, but they are minor. A country that is not a democracy, to a believer in democracy, isn’t ruled legitimately. Plenty of wars have been justified by hegemonic democratic principles, and plenty of non-democratic governments have been overthrown when democratic powers defeated them (Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, for example.)

But remember that, after the Napoleonic wars, aristocracy was re-instituted in France. The hegemonic philosophy of the day can differ.

Islam is also a hegemonic religious ideology: everyone is supposed to eventually become a Muslim. That’s the goal, although it’s sort of okay for the other monotheists to stick around.

Hegemonic philosophies which get traction change the world. They evangelize. They conquer. When they go bad, they go really bad.

Religious hegemonic ideologies have the extra oomph of “God said.” If “God said,” well then, you can’t override that, because obviously “God is right.” The best you can do is to say “Well, perhaps we misunderstood part of this.”

Non-hegemonic ideologies find hegemonic ideologies horrifying. Hegemonic ideologies breed fanatics, people who aren’t willing to say “it’s okay for other people to live differently.”

Don’t think this is always a bad thing: Our ideology may radically oppose slavery, for example, or starvation, or torture or rape, and say “No one should every do these things!”

Is that bad?

Well, is it worth fighting wars over? That’s really the question. Is it worse using violence to stop this? How much violence? At what point are the evils of the violence you’re using worse than whatever it is you oppose, or whatever good you intend to impose?

Christianity’s monster state ruled by crusades and inquisitions and insisting that women bear the children of their rapists–that sort of thing. This isn’t in question, because we have a lot of Christian history.

This doesn’t make Christianity uniquely monstrous, or more evil than many other ideologies, but it is baked into the set of beliefs required to be Christian (forced conversion, death to pagans and heathens) or is easy to pervert a hegemonic ideology towards (abortion is murder, murder is always bad, unless you’re murder a non-Christian to force conversion of their society).

Other ideologies have other monster modes. We’re beginning to see Hinduism’s right now. We’ve been seeing how Islam goes wrong for many decades now. Communism regularly gets vilified for its crimes and I trust people know the crimes of capitalism, though they tend to be understated–because it is our ruling ideology.

But religious ideologies are always particularly dangerous, for the simple reason that one cannot admit God was wrong, because God can’t be wrong. (The Hindu Gods, oddly, can be wrong. Pagans are usually pretty clear that gods aren’t always right.)

Beware the consequences of monotheism with infallible Gods, and beware the consequences of hegemonic ideologies.

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Killing Herd Animals

One of the great crimes and tragedies of our world is how we treat the animals we eat (or whose milk, eggs, or other products we eat and use). Factory farming keeps them in tiny enclosures, feeds them monotonous foods, and then when they’re slaughtered, it’s a terrible experience–they’re terrified and die in pain.

There’s been a kerfuffle in Britain, where the Green Party leader said he’d bank Halal meats.

There’s an argument for this based on Nassim Taleb’s tyranny of the committed minority. If enough people simply won’t buy something unless it’s done their way, it makes sense for capitalists to just produce all of whatever it is that way. “Just butcher them all Halal.”

Halal killing is a cut to the jugular vein, and then all blood is drained. In part it’s fairly clear that the intent is to spare animals pain, same as it is in Kosher butchering, where the carotid and jugular and windpipe are all cut in one smooth motion.

So both these things seem good to me, but it seems that there’s a third style of killing herd animals that is even more painless: the Mongolian one. They make a small incisition in the neck, then pull out a vein. The animal dies quickly and painlessly (though it’s messy, as you’d expect.)

I have little respect for religious rules just because they’re religious, and that includes rules about how animals are treated. Animals, especially mammals, clearly have emotions and suffer. If you want to obey “God’s” rules yourself, knock yourself out–as long as it affects no one but you. But when it effects other people, those rules get no extra points because “God” said so.

Both Halal and Kosher killing is better than what happens in most slaughterhouses. But if Mongolian butchering is painless, then that’s what we should use. It should be mandated by law, everyone who kills animals should be trained, and slaughterhouses should be inspected.

And if that means some Jews and Muslims (or anyone else) decide not to eat meat, they can go howl.

The point here isn’t really about slaughtering animals (though we should do it humanely, and yeah, I’m willing to see prices go up if that’s required and I’m poor enough that means I’d eat less meat), but about religions, ideologies, and policies.

Religions are ideologies which claim special status. “God said,” usually.

Those claims are laughable. It’s not that God may or may not exist, it’s that there are too many religions all claiming “God” said different things.

Obviously, most of them are wrong. Heck, they’re probably all wrong, even if God does exist.

So that means they’re just ideologies: a series of assertions about how the world is, how the world should be and how humans should think, feel, and act. As such, they are due no more deference than any other ideology, whether capitalism, the divine right of kings, the Pax Romana, or democracy. They are simply provisional sets of ideas, from a particular time, with a particular history, and they can be wrong, or more to the point, harmful. Some will be good, some bad, and so on.

As such they must be evaluated by the good they do, versus the harm, and if better ways of doing things, in terms of the welfare of humans, animals, and life in general are found, what some guy centuries or millennia ago said about what God wanted should be thrown out the window.

Religion, all religion, including yours, is just ideology in supernatural drag.

Treat it as such.

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When the Ideas that Run the World Change

Real political change happens infrequently. The cycles are decades long. So, most recently, there was the crisis of the 70s which led to the rise of neoliberalism: Thatcher and Reagan. Everything that has happened since then, in the Western world and Japan, has been an unfolding of that. There are some important sideshows, but this is a neoliberal world.

Before that the Crisis of the Great Depression and WWII led to the post-war era. In the US, that runs from 1933 to 1980, essentially, but it was in crisis from about ’68 or so.

There are other such cycles, for example, in the early 1900s there was a collapse of support for Imperialism in Britain. It disappeared in a few years (I know a lot less about this). Everyone had to support it for decades, and suddenly they didn’t.

During a period where a sub-ideology reigns (all of these were capitalist periods, but they were very different forms of capitalism) it’s almost impossible to do things against the trend. The best you can do is grip on for dear life and try not to lose too much. You can, alternatively, go orthogonal: Neoliberals are basically okay with identity politics, so you can make gains there. Doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it can be done.

But the real fight is over the NEXT period, the transition. Key ideologues created neoliberal thought long before Thatcher and Reagan. When things go to hell (stagflation is the end point of the 70s) for long enough, people become willing to change ideologies.

They choose from the available ideas. Ideas with muscle and money, or which appeal to elites (if the elites aren’t being changed), have a better chance. But the key point is that if your ideas aren’t there, and being considered in the crisis period, you’ve already lost.

The conservatives were and are right: Ideas have consequences. Ideas are powerful. Next to physical facts, they are probably the most important factors in human existence (every invention is an idea first).

We are probably in a transition period. If we aren’t, we will be soon. Take this into account: Whoever wins this transition period will rule, if not the world, then a significant chunk of it. Everyone else will either be working out their ideas, resisting them, or trying to do something orthogonal to avoid them.

Finally, there are different types of ideas. Technological ideas are one subset. They aren’t as determinative as we moderns think. They determine the possibilities, but possibilities can lie fallow for a long time. Certain societies are possible with the steam engine, or the internal combustion engine. Composite bows and stirrups make other societies possible. The stirrup and composite bow were around for a long time before Genghis Khan showed what they could truly do. The Chinese invented gunpowder, the Ancient Greeks had toy steam engines.

So beware of over-determination, and also beware of the idea that histories and societies which didn’t happen–or have not happened–were therefore impossible.

Meantime, transition period, ho. Get to work, your enemies (and you have enemies) are.

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