Astropolitik: A Hypothetical Near Future

Sulaco_approach

On a three dimension plane, where does a country end? If nations have such things as air space then the question of how high that space goes must be asked.

In the present day we have agreed that while satellites can be the property of a nation or a corporation-and so Earth orbit itself seems to be a neutral zone-this could change. Trump’s much derided ‘space force’, while hugely preemptive and likely just a PR gig for the time being, is still a very real future we Earthlings will face in the future should our technological capacity (and ability to support it) continue growing. This may provoke some kind of renegotiation for space and the power projection and militarization of it.

My personal hope would be that we could, in fact, put our Earthly differences aside when in the vast leagues of the solar system. But I know from history that hope is a hopeless bet. So long as there are multiple advanced nations on Earth a future of a solar system wrapped up in our power politics is very likely.

The Earth rotates of course, so unless we wanted to deal with the annoyance of an eternal airspace that oscillated throughout the cosmos based on Earth’s spin it seems most likely to me that competing space powers of the near future would seek to carve out distinct ‘zones of influence’ (mostly for mining and research stations) in specific locations. The earlier powers to Space Race 2.0 would have a huge advantage in finder’s keepers–though this could inspire the first offensive combat fleets from the late coming revisionist powers to take their fair share in turn. Certain asteroids and moons with deposits of useful materials would be the first stage of potential conflict zone. Whichever nation (or multinational) which held these in the long term would be given in turn a huge boost to their position back on Earth.

Keep in mind that one difference between all of this and present terrestrial warfare would be timing. War is faster and more instantaneous now than ever before…but that is just on Earth. Space itself and the distances under our present technological limitations drag out the pace of operations. Even information warfare that could be effectively conducted at the speed of light would no longer seem as instantaneous as it does back home, with such actions now having to be measured in light minutes and hours. Speed would matter more than anything else, including speed of physical weapons. Perhaps some kind of electronic equipment frying wave is the first attack followed by guided kinetics. The levels of sophistication in any conceivable future probably argue for a focus on larger, durable, and versatile vessels.

Let us push a few more hypothetical generations out. As a species we have managed to outdo my expectations and actually started the process not only of solar system colonization, but of terraforming. This means colonies are not little space-supplied pockets of experts but rather baby societies in the making with a self sustaining populations and basic tech levels.

It seems quite possible that if there were multiple nations on Earth with space-faring capacity, there would be nationally oriented colonies. Far less likely than see expensive and possibly pointless war between colonies on different celestial bodies, we would see multiple national colonies on the same most valuable celestial bodies. Think the Seven Years War in North America. So if Mars and Europa are the best place for colonists you would have multiple competing colonies on each. Geography, and geopolitics, come back into the fore in this new and more established phase of astropolitik. The underwater colonies of Europa, for example, moving towards negotiation over the space between the ice shelf ceiling and the sea floor in diplomacy with fleets of submarines to bolster their claims. The open nature and low gravity of Mars might be a boon for vehicles who can change from high to low altitude with great speed for a variety of technical purposes which could, in turn, be harvested strategically.

Of course, as  colonizing itself becomes easier with logistical improvements new colonies might bud off from the older ones which diverge from national origin and become ideologically or sectarian based. Political dissidents, religious fanatics, utopian experimenters, escaped prisoners, etc. This is the kind of future phase extremely well portrayed by my personal favorite computer game, Alpha Centurai, despite that game starting out with the initial settlement already being ideological rather than national. Think Pitcairn Island, the Gulla culture, Iceland being settled and then settling Greenland, the Qara-Khitai Khanate, etc.

But if the core assumption of geopolitics is that geography shapes the strategy (and historically, the people) of a place then this colony on colony rivalry eventually might give way to greater levels of solidarity against Earth. Food and basic tool production, once achieved on the colonies, makes them more functionally autonomous. The various second tier non-national colonies begin to influence their mother societies (for better or worse). Colonial conflicts might increasingly become more akin to civil wars, where one faction seeks to take the entire body of settlements for itself, or remove some kind of dangerous local pest, rather than its mother nation. Mother nations back on Earth, in turn, might themselves collapse leading to colonies being stranded, independent, or being absorbed by others. New home grown factions topple loyalists allied with the Motherworld to make new deals and institute reforms unwanted by home base.

In the end, the distances, assuming we never develop the truly impressive drives made necessary for storytelling in so much of science fiction (it does seem improbable to happen anytime soon from today’s vantage point) practically ensure many colonies become independent. Some might go a Qin Dynasty route with a Shi Huangdi type figure forcibly unifying and then making a whole celestial body uniform. Others might be anti-Earth (or anti-other colony) coalitions that are domestically autonomous. Some might descend into total city-state style colony on colony warfare once a common external threat is no longer viewed as possible. A truly successful terraforming project coupled with exploitation of some new abundant locally available resource might even see a colonial power come to rival or even out-class Earth itself…which might in turn be a boon for peace on Earth as the common, now properly ‘alien’ threat might just bring those fractuous nations of Earth together for once.

Of course, Africa begat humanity and the Middle East begat urbanized agrarian civilization, and those have never yet unified in the face of outside threats so…there is always the chance that powerful colonies than completely reverse the process and begin fighting with each other on Earth over slices of Earth proxies and junior partners. You have to admit, there is a certain humorous irony in that. Especially if it eventually ends up creating Pan-Earth-Solidarity through anticolonial resistance to the occupation of the ex-colonies.

For this entry I was keeping solely with what seems realistic for a future expanding multi-polar humanity to achieve. In the future I might consider a less reality rooted hypothetical of faster-than-light transport and what it would mean for an interstellar empire or a few of them. If you are new to the blog and want to see the few other times I have talked about science fiction you can find my take on Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and IR theory (specifically neoclassical realism) here, and the overlooked but interesting concept of geopolitics and anticolonial war in Heavy Gear here.

 

Cheers and Jeers, Not Tears for Dead Missionaries

North Sentinal Island

(Creative Commons A-NC-SA)

Credit: Christian Caron

‘Come in and meet our Gods,

This is not your day.’

~Korpiklaani

North Sentinel Island is a place most people never heard of before this week. I recall finding out about it about ten years ago when I saw an article and some photos about a helicopter being driven away by the impressively long range arrows of the inhabitants (known by us, if surely not themselves, as the Sentinelese). I had forgotten about it for quite some time until I was reminded this week of the place because of the death of missionary David Allen Chau.

One thing that makes me overjoyed is that the overall reaction of people, if the internet is any judge, is one of overwhelming hostility to this man and his mission. Had this story came to news prominence in, say, 2004 or about, no doubt reactions would be split 50/50 in the American media as we were still in a mindless post 9/11 fervor where rallying around the flag also meant rallying around the cross for many. And no doubt the people who recognized that such a person would deserve their death would have still treaded on eggshells disproportionately. This was, after all, the time of the Bush administration- evangelical alliance’s height before a countless barrage of sex scandals and their total inability to not make asses of themselves caused the growing brand of theologically inclined social reactionaries to start crawling back under the rock from whence they had first emerged in the 80s.

But not today. David Allen Chau is clearly and rightly seen by most people as anywhere from dangerously deranged to downright evil. His attempt to contact a tribe that has kept the outside world at an arms length for tens of thousands of years was a monstrous breach of any sense of remotely logical ethics, if for no reason than the very real danger a man of globalized world’s bodily pathogens coming into contact with an isolated people who are likely to have very few immunities to anything he might be carrying. To put it succinctly, he very well could have committed unintentional genocide of an entire culture just so that he could spread his religion. A culture, by the way, that no one off of the island can even communicate with.

This is the first and obvious take away from this situation. Sure, the Indian government wants to protect people from the tribe, who have clearly taken an isolationist stance since they were first invaded by a small British exploration force in the Victorian era…but they also want to protect the community from literal biological death. It has happened enough (and often at the hands of missionaries themselves) in human history that this should be a no-brainer. While it is clearly irregular for a group of humans to still be so isolated, its uniqueness also argues in favor of protecting them. They might survive in situations were many of the rest of us would not. And to maintain constant habitation of one place for so long clearly implies they want for little and are clearly doing something right. I am no romantic primitivist, I know far too much of history for that, but what works works in each ecological niche. And part of appreciating human diversity is appreciating that individuals and groups alike also have the right to opt out-even if in an ideal world all children of said groups can also choose to opt-in, if they so desire.

But this is where I stop giving you the typical arguments you can find anywhere, and were I go into territory many commentators won’t. This is where I get mean. Because Chau was not a misguided but good hearted man, or even just a criminally negligent man (though he certainly was that too), but a bad man. The kind of man we should discourage from even showing their faces in a remotely self-respecting society, much less other societies.

Even if it were not for the obvious biohazards of the situation, I would still laugh and cheer and the death of David Allen Chau and people like him. Not only do I believe that the Sentinelese acted in self defense, I also believe that they did the world itself a favor. Be it tribal, rural, or urban, human society has had enough Chau’s in the past two thousand years. Such people are the lowest level of scum to be found on this planet. If you doubt me you need only be aware that according to the diary his own family released that he wrote, he referred to North Sentinel Island, possibly the most stable and by some metrics successful society on Earth still around today, as ‘Satan’s Last Stronghold.’  Yup. Swell guy.

Christianity and Islam, those two incestuous brothers of trying to take a Jewish ethno-cult and turn it into a universal global religion, are by far the biggest two ideological scourges on this planet. Both past and present. The reason they are so uniformly prone to aggressive expansion, thought policing, and being unable to rest while The Pagan Other still lurks ominously in their fever dreams is because they have only one absolute god, who they also maintain is the god of everyone. And the only way to get closer to said god, of course, is to kowtow to their theologians who have only the correct interpretations. In its most diseases sects they can also stress that pure belief, rather than community or being useful to society, is the most noble of goals.

This, which could be argued is the true invention of virtue signaling as ideology, has to have been the worst idea any human has yet had. It has delivered no measurable or material positives while also giving many negatives, especially in regards to the destruction or near destruction of numerous cultures of people and artwork. Including literally all of the Americas. Pagan gods could be ruthless, but it was an honest ruthlessness that didn’t pretend also to be your Very Concerned and Loving David Koresh like Father. Gods across the polytheistic world were adopted in each other pantheons or merged together all the time. People of various personality and professional persuasions had their own gods and cults far better suited to their interests of choice than one bland, homogenizing, and yes dare I say, neoliberal, omnigod who was to be all things to everyone at once. Despite the many artistic accomplishments of Christian and Muslim artists once the initial fires of fanatic faith burned out leaving the craving for culture in its wake, these still remained at periodic risk due to revivalist and reformist movements who often re-awakened the latent puritanism of the original dark days of the faith. From Calvinism in the 17th Century to Wahhabiism in the 18th Century and ISIS today, all of us who live within majority Abrahamic societies must live in fear of the worst messianic instincts of our foolish fellow citizens who follow such ideologies rising up in periodic resurgences of insanity. All of us who deviate from their norm in thought, sexuality, or creed must always stand on guard to protect the precious innovation that is secularism simply because such people exist.

But lest I go over previous treated ground on a sad cultural legacy of monotheism and fanaticism and how it still lives with us today, I want to specifically mention the sheer entitlement of the modern American Christian missionary and why they, as a class, are never to be mourned when they die doing such ridiculous cultural invasions as that of Chau on North Sentinel Island.

While I started this essay with an expression of happiness at the overall attitude toward this fool’s death exhibited by the public, there are, of course, dissenters. Almost all of whom are evangelical and fundamentalist Christians in America and (probably also) Western Africa and enclaves in Latin America. I’m not going to drive up any of the traffic of these fool websites and commentators, but I can sum up what I have found.

There is a near universal consensus by such types that they are a persecuted people. They point to people being mean about their fellow traveler online and how the Indian government will not prosecute (someone even called the police for this ‘murder’-the American police no less-these people are beyond parody). They try to draw a connection between the Modi government of India and this totally excluded and autonomous island. But lets be real, a fundamental aspect of Christianity has been and probably will always be crying ‘persecution!’ They do it when they are the majority community who sets all the standards, they do it when they are the *only* people around and then subdivide into numerous warring sects for they apparently cannot even exist without sectarian strife. They do it when someone they are oppressing merely complains about their being oppressed, they do it when they see something they disagree with, and they do it when people don’t buy shitty chicken sandwiches from a chain restaurant. Their societies have enslaved and exterminated too many to tell and yet the deaths of those at the hands of societies that resist is somehow an attack on all of them and a great tragedy. And naturally, if you point this out they say ‘not all Christians!’ For a people so eager to generalize all of the planet that exists outside of their yoke, they are remarkably adamant that you never generalize them.

Foolish ‘secular humanist’ types can also follow this trope by lamenting the loss of life, as if pacifism ever got anyone anywhere. But a humanist is just a secular Christian when it comes to values so the point still stands. History is not a teleology with a heroic endgame or moral platitude that triumphs, its a mass of cycles of chaos and circumstances alone determines who stands and falls. But on those rare moments when a choice can be made…just shoot the fucking missionary.

When we see such events as David Allen Chau’s misguided adventure and death we should not hesitate to be as mean about it as possible. We should celebrate such victories as many of us would be better off had our societies resisted the missionary as well. He had it coming. That empty-headed smile he shows in his selfies is a testament to the bland mediocrities who often crawl through this planet with designs of ‘saving’ the world from divergent thought. He is the photogenic Christian version of those smiling jihadist selfies of those wreaking devastation on the culture and people of the Iraqi/Syrian border but bourgeois and socially acceptable. The policies of the 17th Century Tokugawa Shogunate and 19th Century Kingdom of Madagascar to remove the Christian population as harbingers of a coming colonialism and as a matter of national security were not misguided, but correct. Religious freedom can only work under either polytheism or secularism, which means the freedoms of those who don’t believe in freedom must be curtailed. Knowing this its about time to make the profession of missionary as extinct as that of court eunuch, foot binder, or witch hunter.

For old but cool footage of both brief trade and then conflict with the Sentenelese, see:

For a Finnish musical take on this topic from the correct perspective which I quoted at the top, see:

 

‘The Hell of Good Intentions’, A Review

hell of good intentions

Stephen Walt was one of the most influential contemporary international relations theorists to me when I first entered the field of IR as a Master’s student over a decade ago. Of the currently active crop of IR thinkers he remains my favorite, so it should be no surprise that the coming of his newest book, ‘The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy’ was an instant acquisition for my massive nonfiction library. Though Walt and I have diverged on some issues in the past few years, our overall diagnoses of both what ails the US foreign policy mainstream as well as what to do about it remains extremely similar.

I am not going to go over the details of the book as many of its themes have been covered on this blog multiple times already. From the incestuous navel gazing of the Court Eunuchs of the Beltway ghoul class to the virtues of America’s fortuitous geography in its rise and options towards grand strategy, to the virtues of offshore balancing to those lucky enough to be able to practice it, all can be found here in various posts. If you know many of my bugbears you can guess what are Walt’s, and vice-versa.

What I will do, however, is review how good a case Walt makes for covering this topic as a single book meant for a large audience. Unsurprisingly, this book is meant for a similar audience as the very one it rightly criticizes. This means Walt takes a very different tactic than I do. Whereas I tend to go after people outside-of-the Beltway and show how the fables of liberal hegemony are directly counter to someone’s interests, Walt wants to convince those who are a bit more integrated into these elite circles. This is not a criticism of mine, as its important to be firing on all cylinders here. I am merely acknowledging that if he is the Martin Luther King Jr of foreign policy realism than I am more the Huey Newton-to use a somewhat tortured and tongue in cheek analogy. I try to convince people who are non-centrist independents, the few sane paleocons, and leftists and he goes more for the liberals and centrists.

Keeping this in mind, Walt does an excellent job. Not only does he wage a thorough and quite multi-topical demolition of both the record of our very own Late Ming court eunuch equivalents whose lanyards are the modern version of the old quill said eunuchs once used to hold in their piss (analogy once again mine), but also the long term effects of these luxury wars we have found ourselves in. For someone who is sometimes (unjustly) criticized in academic circles for ignoring domestic factors and how they shape foreign policy, it is worth pointing out that, so far, this book seems to have little in the way of big newspaper reviews. Quite possibly because it also criticizes the general neoconservative/liberal bias of major legacy papers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times’ op-ed section. Had this book come out in the twilight of the cursed Bush II presidency I have no doubt it would have been given more media attention, but in a world where both parties now identify openly with unthinking hawkishness-from Trump embracing Pompeo and Bolton to the Democrats rallying around the flag of the national security state and even bizarrely ex-Bush Junior officials-there is little mainstream attention paid to this work so far despite the fact that Walt is a distinguished and well known scholar in the field.

Fascinating that. I’m sure its just a coincidence.

Needless to say, this is *the* work to get your foreign policy orthodoxy questioning people to engage with series realist critiques of both the present system and what to do about it. The book even helpfully closes out a useful list of talking points and arguments that could be deployed to make the case for a more restrained offshore balancing strategy. Worth keeping around to push the needle especially as a reckoning with the establishment must be only one or two more of their failures away.

My only real critiques of the text as follows:

While Walt does mention how the Lanyard Ghoul (once again, my phraseology) class has an intrinsic reason to back mindlessly hawkish policies due to them making money and status off of such policies, he only barely mentions the privatization and for profit militarization of much of the DoD in the past few decades. This is not something that could be easily reversed without major structural reform not only of The Pentagon, but also our entire political-economic system as it presently stands. This, along with environmental issues, are some of the reasons being a realist actually made me evolve more structurally left wing positions over time. Also, when living in DC, as I currently do, one sees how this recession-proof city really functions as more and more ‘Beltway Bandits’ move in with the attached monstrous apartment complexes clearly designed for pod people in tow. In DC the policy is made, and DC itself is increasingly economically reliant on what Eisenhower once called ‘the military-industrial complex’….except that now said complex has a profit motive above all, and thus far less reasons to uphold the national interest first. This entails not only many jobs that rely directly on the perpetuation of bad policies to exist, but also an army of lobbyists to see that their voices are disproportionately heard in government.

My second criticism is just a minor oversight but one worth mentioning. Walt rightly bemoans the lack of foreign policy focused elected leadership in office currently. While I agree with the argument overall, and also with his complaint that the cause suffers when certain people from a family with the last name of ‘Paul’ do much of the public speaking on its behalf, he is missing one very persistent and vocal figure in congress: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. The entire reason she has managed to restore realist and restraint positions to the discourse is because she is charismatic and is a rare figure focused on foreign affairs. Personally, I would love to see Walt support her mission in congress as congruent to his own.

 

Will Taiwan Fight?

taiwan_strait_98

It is the nightmare scenario of policy planners in Beijing and Washington alike. It is the hypothetical that keeps many an IR scholar pondering the many ramifications and dangers. It is a war over Taiwan.

To the fellow traveler interested in world history, Taiwan’s ambiguous status on the world stage is hardly a new thing. The island was one of main progenitor points of Polynesian culture and eventually would attract a Dutch trading fort due to its simultaneous remoteness to dense population but also close proximity to China proper. The Dutch would in turn be evicted by Ming Dynasty loyalists fleeing the collapse of their government and the birth of the new Manchurian Qing Dynasty. Once the pirate base for Ming loyalists was subdued the Qing recognized the need to incorporate this nearby landmass firmly into their state.

After the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5 the island’s ownership was transferred to Japan and Taiwan soon became the new Japanese Empire’s first major overseas possession (that wasn’t under the assumption of one day becoming a home island). The Japanese met significant resistance from the native population (though not the Chinese already there) and would eventually go on to incorporate indigenous scouts into their Pacific forces once this initial colonial conflict was over. There is even a metal song about these units.

Taiwan was restored to China-then the Republic of China-after Japan’s total defeat in World War II. Shortly afterwards, the civil war in China would drive the Republic’s government and forces (with the state treasury in tow) to the island as their position rapidly collapsed in China Proper. Late Ming history repeating itself. Here the Kuomintang forces under Chiang Kai-shek would survive, unlike their Ming forebears, due to the protection of the American navy and the weak post-war status of naval forces now held by the People’s Republic on the mainland.

Not giving up its official title to be the legitimate government of China, the Republican forces on Taiwan would in fact hold China’s seat in the UN until the United States and Beijing came together during the Nixon administration to work out defensive arrangements against a perceived common Soviet threat. Much like democratic peace theory today or the US-France ‘Quasi War’ during the aftermath of both countries revolutions, international communist solidarity turned out to be hollow words easily undone by the brute realities of great power competition. The price for the US to gain this new inroad with Beijing was, of course, to put the PRC in the drivers seat as the internationally recognized government of China. Washington also had to agree that Taiwan was a part of China-but it retained its influence over the island and reiterated that it would defend the island from a reunion with the mainland that would be conducted with force.

So it remains up through today. In the meanwhile, there have been significant if minority calls in Taiwan to cease being the Republic of China and simply become Taiwan, a fully independent nation. Its historical experience has certainly put it on a more divergent path than the simple warlord renegade provinces of modern Chinese history before World War II. Of course, everyone knows that a blatant declaration of independence might well trigger a full blown military response from the mainland.

This all sounds quite convoluted, and as history and political baggage it certainly is. Will Taiwan come back into the fold through force? Diplomacy? Will even the PRC one day unexpectedly collapse leading to Chiang’s long delayed dream of reunification from Tapei a strange new reality? Will Taiwan become a fully sovereign and recognized state?

But one way it is not complicated is in what will happen to Taiwan’s future if that nightmare scenario of a military invasion to forcibly reunify the island breaks out. Despite what you may assume about such a complex issue, the entire fate of the island and of great power conflict will rest solely on one factor: Do the people of Taiwan resist the PRC or do they not?

It seems simple and perhaps reductive to break down the fate of this issue in a confrontation to this one factor, but I will list reasons why I believe this to be true:

-Neither China nor the United States wants to fight each other directly, especially as neither country knows the effectiveness of its naval strategy against the other. China has bet a lot on diesel submarines and shore based anti-ship missiles, the US on carrier battle groups, nuclear submarines, and air power. The Taiwan Straits could be the death zone of an invading fleet coming across American technological power projection, or it could be a perfect shooting gallery for mainland missiles restoring coastal defenses to their pre-gunpowder days of sabotaging troublesome fleets. Either power, or both of them, could be fatally weakened with global consequences in such a confrontation.

-The morale of the Chinese forces would be higher than that of the American forces, considering the historical ties to the island that one shares and the other do not. For Americans to be willing to take the casualties necessary to either defend or (more likely) re-take Taiwan the country would have to be united in the cause. The country could *only* be united in such a cause if the people of Taiwan were seen to be oppressed and victims of an unwanted annexation like that of Iraq invading Kuwait in 1990.

-Therefore the decision falls into Taipei’s ball court rather than Washington or Beijing. Taipei and the common people of Taiwan in general. The island is riddled with underground defenses and weapons caches to fight and delay any invasion until a bailout from America can occur. Much of its terrain is extremely mountainous. It also has a large amount of jungle. Taiwan could indeed put up quite the fight-if it were willing to. Conventionally it might be plastered (unless the PRC really screws up the initial operations) but a popular war waged by the army and militia and common civilian resistance could flounder an invasion. More importantly, such resistance is the single factor that could bring in open ended American commitment for a fight until the issue is settled with a fully independent Taiwan. (Or, if American was being extra clever, a unified China that had to legalize the KMT throughout the entirety of the mainland and open the system up to competitive elections).

And this is the question, is Taiwan willing to do this? Literally everything in a conflict over the island boils down to this single factor. Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t think most people in Taiwan even really know with certainty. But I do know that this is the factor on which US-China rivalry will hinge on in any confrontation. Without something that at least looks like a genuine people’s war, America might roll over and acquiesce as easily as a compliant Taiwan would. After all, it barely effects the core of American Pacific strength and provides a rallying cry to get more nations on Washington’s bandwagon. But if the Taiwanese are clearly fighting as allies expecting a delivery then this flies out the window. If Taiwan were to fight all sides would have to see it through for the sake of their preexisting commitments and the very legitimacy of their governments.

So to get the heart of the mater, will Taiwan fight or not?

 

 

Post Midterm Predictions

Since the mid terms went pretty much exactly as I predicted (house to dems, GOP keeps senate) I’m feeling my prognosis game back on after it derailed a bit 2 years ago (though not as derailed as most people’s were)…so here are some of my predictions for the next two years:

-Opposition party taking the house but not the Senate in a mid term is weird and won’t mean much for any sides’ commentary in the next week.

-There will be a concerted push by a faction of the Dems to run Beto for president against Trump in 2020…despite the fact that Beto lost to Cruz…a guy who previously already lost to Trump.

-On that note, the fact that a nationally famous incumbent republican senator in Texas had such a close race opens up the possibility that this is Cruz’s last term and that he will retire or not run again next time lest he have future career prospects ruined by being Santorum’d. Very possible he gets out while still ahead to become the new Gingrich type media gadfly that occasionally runs for president.

-If you thought Pelosi underperformed as speaker from 2007-2011…well get ready for a whole new level of bumbling incompetence.

-That guy that offed Cantor a few years ago got offed himself, which shows how fast people turn on the Teabag types now that they are already old news.

-Now that Mitt Romney is a senator, we will all have to suffer through the media fawning that will occur when he ‘stands up to Trump’ (while voting overwhelmingly with him) and his approval rating, like Bush’s, will skyrocket with Democrats but not, tellingly, with Republicans.

-The interesting fight still remains inside the Democratic party, who has not yet decided what it stands for, if anything.

-Tom Cotton will continue to be the pinnacle of awfulness to which all the worst ghouls in either party can only aspire.

Can a Realist be a Capitalist in the Anthropocene?

Rising_seas_Isaac_Cordel

Rising Seas by Isaac Cordell

Short Answer: No.

Long answer:

There is a common stereotype in American academia that foreign policy realists are conservatives. In a purely philosophical sense this is true. Conservatives are supposed to disavow schemes to artificially socially engineer society to create a utopia. Of course, it could also be said that by this philosophical definition American conservatism hardly applies, being a radical project tied up inextricably with religious and theoretical economic faith and little in the way of accepting reality as it truly is. That and clearly psychological projecting one’s desire for a stern father figure to lay down the rules.

One thing I found in my graduate studies abroad was that this stereotype of realist-as-conservative, which applied to me little in the past and even less now, basically did not exist. At least among other realists. If anything, a realist in the UK academia was far more likely to be significantly left of the mainstream. Conservatives, much as in the US, were the ones more likely to gravitate towards liberalism and even constructivism, as the first prioritizes the interests of the present ruling class’ mythology of individualism and the second centers culture above all else. I got along best with Marxists, who, if for different reasons, had a similar material understanding of power relationships and the brutal truths of reality. If one separates foreign and domestic policy into distinct spheres, one could certainly be both a Realist and a Marxist at once. Plenty of historical figures actually meet this criteria. If one does not, however, there are certainly issues that prevent a full convergence. Since I personally do share the historically verifiable view of human civilization as cyclic, non-universal, and non-teleological, with all gains being temporary and all ‘golden ages’ occurring at different times and places for different societies, I myself cannot be a Marxist. But I certainly can take a view critical of capitalism as well as the historical position that we should not judge Marxist governments on base with more or less of a critical eye than we judge our own…something most in the west are conditioned to do early on by a selective reading of history.

Personally, I don’t believe a universal economic system should ever exist, as different societies find themselves in different places at varying times, with attendant issues such as divergent population density, ecologies, and the like. What communism stated it could do-create a universal system-it never did nor really could ever have done. But this is what neoliberalism has done. While a few countries hold out, it is the neoliberal order which has come the closest to global domination.

While I heavily suspect that we would be living in the Anthropocene no matter what the present economic system was, the fact remains that the more powerful and entrenched the system, the harder it is to change. And it has to change. So long as it pays to pollute by cutting corners on the profit motive or to manufacture far out of proportion to what is needed, our home planet, the only one we have, will continue to become a worse place on which to live. Speaking a realist language specifically, this is both the power and the threat that we must balance against. With greens, with leftists, with the communities most effected, and with enemies of the present economic order that will not change itself so long as the chimera of eternal economic growth and profits remains its driving purpose. Fight for the Earth now no matter the odds or live under the occupation of an aristocracy out of touch with the consequences of their own actions.

A vibrant discourse of varying strategies could be proposed, some at odds with each other, and that is fine. But to begin the common threat needs to be addressed directly-there will be more mass extinctions, more loss of biodiversity, more unpredictable weather and natural calamity, more refugees, and a greater divergence between the rich and poor as a form of capitalist-neofeudalism begins to emerge under various (and often unhinged) billionaire personalities who are all that is left since they continued to defund the state and civil society. And then, when that created a less functional society, used this breakdown as an excuse to defund it even more. This is already a measurable problem as gigantic private companies as well as the upper classes disproportionately contribute to the problems of pollution and climate change. For the first time since World War II, a genuine global threat exists. And this one is not to be fought by fighting merely a few states, but rather as a fight both internal and external in almost all of them.

We, as realists of history, diplomacy, policy, and war, cannot promise a golden ideal of a bright new future. Its neither in our nature nor in the issues we deal with when we engage public policy to do so. We are not purists and can put our skills in the service of many different from ourselves for the love of strategy and the calculation of what hay can be made from a new or old balance of power. We cannot and do not pretend to predict specifics of the future outside of general trends. But this isn’t about any of that. This is about taking steps right here and right now to make the future less terrible. To understand that a systemic approach to reforming or replacing our present drive towards growth and production at all costs is necessary to prevent an enormous downgrade in the quality of life for most people and resulting conflicts and disease outbreaks that will ensue. It is therefore contingent upon political realists of all stripes to join with those who looking at systemic structural reform in economics and ecology and contribute what we can. Analyzing strategy is our forte, so why not apply it here and now on the very issues of combating a Sixth Mass Extinction and the rising seas?

There surely can be no strategic problem more worthy. And there won’t be enough court monkey positions in the scattered few palaces of Vampire Billionaire fiefdoms for the vast majority of us. And those will likely only take those whose main talent is flattery rather than critical thought.

Seven Types of Atheism: A Book Review

chuckyjacksoff

Seven Types of Atheism, by John N. Gray is a book I have been meaning to get my hands on for a few months now. Gray is my favorite living philosopher for a number of reasons, mostly related to his ability to critique most of the currents in European political thought from a kind of Taoist-Antihumanist position. He is an atheist but not a progressive or believer in the power of humanity. Though on contemporary politics we are extremely different, him going for Burkean conservative secularism and me for a kind of regionally adjusted geopolitical realism that ers on the side of hard left due to ecological concerns and the current failings of our contemporary ruling classes, but we come from the same place…that history is not a teleology, it has no predetermined end point nor a guiding overall ideology-and that attempts to impose a universal moral ideology is a horrific mistake. Rather, history is a cyclic process of constant crisis management and adaptation which knows no clear cut answers that work in every location or time period. He ends up more on the managed decline side of things-where I used to be I might add-though I now end up more on the ‘seize the moment to start a new cycle lest you be dragged down further’ side, but it is the kind of disagreement on big issues that reasonable people can have.

The reason I came to Gray was due to a recommendation from someone I knew who said that my attempts to articulate my own general position towards political theory sounded like his. I read Straw Dogs shortly after that, and since have gone on to read all his major works. I enjoy and learn from all of them, if not to equal extents. Straw Dogs and above all Black Mass I would contend remain his top works. Though I have moved in many ways in a different direction since, Gray was still the pivot point of my turn away from much of mainstream liberalism.

If anyone has been following his output recently, nothing in ‘7 Types of Atheism’ may necessarily surprise you. In the past 5 or so years he has written numerous criticisms of the myopia of seeing atheism as a purely progressive and humanistic endeavor for the patrician bourgeois of the western world’s developed nations. He not only does this to critique New Atheists, who he rightly scorns as charlatans and entertainers, but also to return awareness of the rich diversity of atheist thought which is not reflected by many contemporary trends. He is especially interested in non-liberal incarnations of the atheist world view, both ones he clearly dislikes as well as ones he respects. ‘7 Types’ is in effect the ultimate coda to these various positions he has scoped out over time. He starts with the New Atheists and Secular Humanists, and his largely negative views of them, then continues on to a mid-tier of various types (scientism, misotheism, etc) which he doesn’t like much either but sees at least some things worth engaging in. He then ends with what is clearly his favorite grouping, the ‘Atheists Without Progress’, and the ‘Mystical Atheists’ (Santayana and Conrad in the first and Shopenhauer and similar thinkers in the second).

I personally have never engaged much with Santayana, though I probably should considering there is a lot of overlap with my interests, but I certainly define myself in this ‘atheist without progress’ category. The impersonal and directionless nature of the cosmos is not what we make of it, as postmodernists and existentialists might claim, but rather simply a fact. The natural world is a material world, and a material world is stuff and energy. Our ability to control our responses to this are just as much slaves to nature as the other animals-even if we have perfected the art of deluding ourselves otherwise. It is not *all* for the worst of course, it gave us art and music after all. Its neither bad nor good because nothing is, the cosmos has no morality and this is fine.

Rather than go through each case study or argument piece by piece, I think it would be perfectly succinct to simply state the best and worst part of the book as I found them.

The best part of the book is that in many ways it serves as a slap in the face to the many Christians who have recently been drawn to Gray because of his savage critiques of New Atheists and Stephen Pinker type euphoria. Gray had developed a bit of a weird fan base that kind of missed the part where his critique of many contemporary atheists was precisely that they were too Christian and behaved as if they were the inheritors of all that baggage. The faith in progress, of human perfection, of a linear path going towards an end goal in history, of good and evil being repackaged as reason and unreason, it was all a very Christian form of atheism. Gray is more in line with the pagan thinkers of old, being fatalistic and skeptical of attempts to seek an artificial ideological improvement for the human race at large rather than localized and contextualized harm reduction. Universalism, outside of the big rules of hard science, is simply a method of moral posturing that heightens rather than reduces tensions and whose only benefit is as a psychological palliative for those who wield it. By re-centering his opposition to the monotheist world view as the core of his critique of many types of atheisms, Gray is reminding (intentionally or not) the faithful of Abraham that they created this mess in the first place. Perhaps if there were eight types of atheism I could consider myself a ‘pagan atheist’, or one who denies the reality of the gods but sees the use in the world view of personified natural forces for festivals and community building. But the point remains that Gray is reminding us of the origin of many of the bad ideas we struggle with, secular or religious, are monotheistic in nature-and stem from a religion that unlike most makes specific factual claims it cannot back up (a la the Resurrection of Jesus).

The worst part of the book to me is a general critique I have developed of Gray in the past few years: I do not think it realistic that many humans could become a kind of apathetic renunciate.  We are an action species by and large. To reject the idea that we are reasonable means accepting the fact that we will take action regardless of being able to see the pointlessness of much of it in the long run. We still have short term goals after all, which are far more immediate. There are people who renunciate, of course, but the realistic observation is that such people never become powerful, and powerful people count for much more. That means, if you like them you have to actively support them, and if you do not you should oppose them. Humanities’ ‘warring interests’ that Gray accurately points out are more likely to lead to a call of arms than a peaceful withdrawal. Since I believe individualism as politics to be a waste of time, one can only take such views from a deeply personal perspective-and even then this only applies to some people. I myself may want one day to live in remote A-frame cabin in Southeast Alaska’s temperate rainforest, but before that point I want to uphold my friends and revel in the misery of my enemies. You can only get things done by building communities, and all communities need foes and challenges to provide that extra glue of solidarity. I can always renunciate when I am old if I want to, and if I’m dead before then I already, in effect, have.

Since Gray used numerous fictional authors to help illustrate his largely non fictional point I believe it is only fair if I do the same to summarize this one respectful disagreement I have with his work. Robert E Howard, creator of Conan, Kull, and arguably the entire sword and sorcery subgenre, was someone who shared my view that history is cyclic, civilizations decay after apogee, and the future is barbaric-just as the barbarians one day will be the civilizational apogee before they collapse in turn. This view came, like mine, not from theory or philosophy but from years of a rigorous study of world history. There are enough of such people who would say the following: ‘But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood,’ that walk this Earth. And even more of us who are not like that for the most part but have just enough appreciation of the ups and downs of irrational humanity as to have a little bit of that storm in them. For now, this is where I consider myself to be.

Or to take it from the mouth of Howard’s most iconic character:

‘I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.’