I pride myself on avoiding echo chambers and groupthink. I believe whether they be big media entrenched interests or small diseased hives of conspiracy theorists or cause loyalists, its not the size but the monotone that dooms ones ability to critically think. But this does not imply that I assume all opinions start equal until proven otherwise. And despite my own repeatedly demonstrated ability to evolve my views when confronted with (superior) evidence for changing them, it would be only natural if every 5-10 years I draw a line or two on issues where compromise is capitulation-because one side is just that objectively wrong.
Keeping away from obvious cases where actual scientific evidence is at play which makes drawing such lines obvious and really an exercise of the sane vs the unhinged (man made pollution’s effect on the climate, the need for evolution in science class, the scourge of anti-vaxxers, etc) and sticking straight to the humanities only, I can think of one issue last decade and one issue in this where compromise cannot and must not be made with the unhinged-lest we simply want to give up and join the postmodernists in their quest to believe any simple uninformed opinion is the final arbiter of reality.
Last decade, this issue was gay rights. It is not something I talk about much on this blog given its foreign policy focus, and it wasn’t my primary or sole issue of concern a decade ago either, but it was what I might call a ‘Decider Issue’. So named for the famous declarative statement of ‘I’m The Decider’, the then chimpanzee-in-chief, George W Bush-himself an example of a presidency that could be considered a great example of a Decider Issue in how it is interpreted.
There was no rational nor logical nor even purely blinkered individual self-interest argument against expanding legal rights for gays. There wasn’t. None. The only arguments were fear of change and utterly brain numbing religious screeds from those too foolish to put aside what should be their private culture for the public good. There were policies that mitigated harm to no demonstrable increase in harm to another-a rare in politics. Any aggreivement of enacting such policies was perceived and self-projection only, not in any way real or material. There was, quite simply, no actual compelling case for opposing gay rights. And even with a solid and successful push on many fronts and gay marriage now legal across the entire nation-the most important fights (housing and employment nondiscrimination) have yet to move beyond the state and federal employee level to the same degree as the more performative (if symbolic) marriage fight did. The fight remains, but most of the cultural side of it appears to be won. This is good. It helped immensely that when the fever seemed to break around 2006-2009 or so that an enormous amount of right wing cultural warriors from senators to ‘public policy experts’ to clergy were exposed as closet cases or with sex lives which deviated from their own stated norms in new and interesting ways. Larry Craig, Ted Haggert, George Reckers, Rick Santorum-ok, I made up that last one (but come on, you at least suspect to the same level one does Pence), the parade of humiliation and hypocrisy was like a conga line of rejects tagging on the back end of a pride parade. Their side was wrong. Debate was legitimizing them, they needed to be mocked, defeated, and crushed. This was an issue to end friendships over (and I almost never advocate doing that for political reasons).
A new such issue has arisen this decade. It is in foreign policy-something increasingly relegated to the back-burner since the anti-war movement got sidelined in the Obama years by the visage of a respectable technocrat apparently taking it over from the frat boys of the Bush years. Because of this sidelining, this issue isn’t as clearly an obvious choice to most people-but it should be. That issue is NATO intervention in Syria. So, in a weird abstracted kind of way, Syria is the gay rights issue of today. A debate where one must draw the line of people who have a legitimate point on one side, and people who quite honestly should shut the hell up and go away on the other. I had a useful professional contact and acquaintance who was both pro rebel and said ‘if you sympathize with the Damascus government or the Turkish coup plot, defriend me now.’ Well, I did exactly that. I have no regrets. No one can learn from people so involved with their own ideology no matter its actual effects.
When I have spoken of Syria before on this blog I have largely done it by appraising the interests of each actor and how I believe that the best realistic solution (and this I have held as a consistent view since 2012 when I first got engaged with the issue) is government victory. I have never pretended to be happy agreeing so heartily with Russia (see gay rights positions, above) on an issue, and I have never used it as a generic ‘NATO is bad’ argument, which is tiresome and usually moralistic. This is geopolitics, there is no good and bad. But there is stupid and smart though. Rebel victory, (most likely just a total sectarian Balkanization of the country in effect with some kind of caliphate as the strongest faction) would be demonstrably bad for Syria and most Syrians for sure. But even speaking from the purely American standpoint-it is bad for NATO too. Already, by jumping on the regime change bandwagon but backing different mutually hostile factions, Washington and Ankara-the two biggest NATO contributors-are ready to tear their alliance apart. And for what? As it is the prolonging of the war (thanks to American arms and allies) has increased the refugee crisis which in turn increases the far right (the real threat to most trans-atlantic alliances and Russian containment in Europe). Idlib is possibly the greatest outdoor zoo of Al Qaeda the world has seen, and Iran-that great bogeyman of the west-is stronger than before.
Much like with opposition to gay rights before, a strange cavalcade of unqualified theorists and gibbering loons is swarming over the media, hoping to make a quick buck or get a signal boost from playing on the famously vulnerable heartstrings of a public addicted to quick fix media and knee jerk moralism. Samantha Power and Anne Marie Slaughter, the appropriately named duo, wax poetic about the dangers of not setting moral lines across the globe, as if the UN will collapse if we don’t scold Assad on using weapons I honestly would rather be killed by than many conventional munitions. These are simply cranks of a dying order, saying their piece before irrelevancy takes them. They are supported by legions of journalists who really are nothing but establishment cheerleaders and who imply anyone who denies America’s role as Global Ruler-Bearing Nun-Cop is either a foreign agent or dangerously unhinged.
The philosopher John Gray, writing in one of his more recent books of antihumanism, noted that one of the reasons Mesoamerican human sacrifice is so interesting is because they were societies that were really very honest about the performance of blood ritual in the maintenance of power and hierarchy. Most other societies invent elaborate charades like ‘just war theory’ or messianic prophecy and other dances around issues of ‘having to do something’ to cover up their naked thrusts for power-no matter how misguided and even self-destructive such policies can be. The worst ones even believe this rhetoric is truth, and these both humanitarian charity workers and defense contractors alike enjoy the services of the best. Seen in this context, the recent American airstrikes in Syria are a type of ritualistic bloodletting, the ceremonial reminder of international hierarchy for audiences both and home and abroad. Though I increasingly suspect their effectiveness is waning-but more abroad than at home. Much as the historical record in Mesoamerica shows that as the states began to come off their height of power, their sacrifices for public spectacle only increased until they couldn’t anymore. No one needs more reassurance that the hierarchy stands than those in decline. One fears for the future if present trends continue. Even if you change the government, the Democrats too have shown their propensity to love virtue signalling by cruise missile.
In such a situation, a firm line must be drawn. I do not simply *disagree* with those who support further or continued intervention in Syria, I despise them. They are my enemy. I wish them ill not only professionally but also personally. They have had seven years to realize the errors of their ways and if they have not done so yet, nor noticed the accurate depictions of those of us who have consistently predicted how the conflict would go, only to be ignored as the same talking heads who championed Iraq and Libya argue for another go on specious intelligence. They have chosen their camp and they are not to be reasoned out of it as they are clearly not motivated by reason. They are incapable of performing any kind of cost/benefit analysis-which is the real key to informed political views- and thus are nothing but ideologues. For any improvement to be made they must be confronted, shown to be the hollow shouters they are, and utterly disrespected at every turn. Those of us opposed to the neocons, Bolton, Kristol, Rubio, and the like, should make their opinions on these issues as loathsome and shameful in the public sphere as once happened to their forebears. This is The Decider Issues at work.
As a notable aside, Rubio is wrong on both of these Decider Issues of mine. In fact, I have generally taken the view that Rubio is always wrong on everything-and that if he has an opinion it must be wrong no matter what it is. Just as once my greatest political moment was seeing Rick Santorum’s kids cry on live tv as he lost his senate re-election, so too do I long for the day when Rubio, Power, and their ilk mope pathetically as they realize their time is over.
P.S. Considering that conservatives have lost the cultural war on gay rights issues (for now), I am far less bothered by temporary alliances with paleocons for mutual foreign policy interests than I am the general Democrat trend of allying with neocons and the Beltway War Lobby but being woke on social issues. Its easy to be ‘woke’, and often politicians do it performatively anyway. It is much harder to strike against the established moneybags of Big Defense and Gulf lobbyists. Hence the picture used for this post which might as well be the new MSNBC logo.