James Graham, Marquess of Montrose: A Modern and Relevant Career

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Montrose led to the gallows in Edinburgh by the Covenanter theocracy.

I just finished C.V. Wedgewood’s short biography on James Graham, Marquess of Montrose. Though I had previously read her seminal work on The Thirty Years War, I had no idea she had written a book on Montrose until I randomly discovered it in my local used book store. By the way, please patron your local used book store. Mine is Second Story Books in Washington DC, and it absolutely rules.

Montrose is my favorite military commander of the British Civil Wars (more famously but erroneously called ‘The English Civil War’ even though it began in Scotland and ended in Ireland). Unlike many unjustly lionized loser-generals (ahem, Lee, Hannibal, arguably MacArthur), Montrose was a guy who lost in the end, but showed immense skill and daring in an impossible situation practically no one would be expected to pull off a stalemate in, much less a succession of improbable victories.

Montrose originally began the war on the rebel side, finding the overreach of the King and his neglect of his Scottish birthplace galling. As is so often the case both in our world and that of the past, rebels have a real reason to pissed. But as is also the case, when rebellion jump the shark loyalties change. Montrose served successfully as a commander in the rebel forces to seek negotiation with the King. When it became obvious that the rebels were no longer interested in negotiation now that they had a window to establish a theocracy of their own and a chance to force Presbyterianism on the population of Scotland by fiat, however, Montrose defected to the monarchy as the lesser of evils and began to set up a resistance within the very country he had just cleared of pro-Stuart forces. Perhaps he had been naive to believe in ‘moderate rebels’, certainly many can be. But few at the earlier juncture could have seen the unexpected rise of Archibald Campbell, First Marquess of Argyle and the leverage he would give to fanatics once he wormed his way into Scotland’s body politic as the chief powerbroker.

With a class of theology nerds, the 17th Century equivalent of alt right neckbeards and the tumblrgelicals of today but guided by all the screeching antireason of the modern day evangelical right, ensconced in power in Edinburgh, Montrose raised and led a tiny and ramshackle coalition of all those opposed to the rule of a single theocratic faction. With Irish Catholics, disaffected Scottish Protestants, Stuart royalists, and those driven to extremity by the Covenanter occupation all serving as one, Montrose’s small band darted in and out of the Highlands, scorching Campbell’s home bases, liberating Aberdeen  and numerous small towns, and defeating much larger Covenanting forces with shock, surprise, deception and maneuver which led their tiny band to have an outsized effect on the conflict. Scotland, which had been entirely won for the rebel cause before the war was yet decided in England, now teetered in uncertainty before a truly crushing set of victories by Montrose liberated the country and put anti-Covenanter forces in power again, with Argyle fleeing the country he had once sought to rule.

With such an emergency on hand, the Scottish rebels fighting under David Leslie in England were recalled and Montrose finally defeated by a numerically and technologically superior force. Seeing the war was basically over in the decisive theater of England (this stage of it anyway) Montrose negotiated terms from his Highland bases, ensuring escape for many of his band before they were declared outlaws. He made his way to Norway, and then, later when the rebels executed the King and the Covenantors broke with the English Parliament over it and other issues, he raised exile support from the new heir-in-exile, Charles II. Montrose would land in Orkney and raise a new army in support of Chucky, but would be double-crossed in negotiations of that monarch with the restored Argyle. Eventually, he would be captured, put on a show trial, and executed in Edinburgh and Charles II would flee after failing to make a compromise with the ruling fanatics. All accounts of the humiliating parade of Montrose on his way to execution state he was calm and composed, even staring down Argyle who then elicited the jeers of the crowd for looking away. The way things were going, he knew history would vindicate him and not his opponents. In the end Cromwell would invade and take over Scotland before all the kingdoms got fed up with his Puritan rule and after his death invited back Charles. The Covenanters would go on to be hunted to near extinction, and total suppression, in the coming well-deserved revenge.

Montrose’s legacy in his homeland, however, would only soar. In a messy and complicated legacy left by the Stuarts, he showed what was best and what could have been under their arrangement had things worked out differently. A multi-confessional and multi-ethnic reign but under contract. This would indeed be what Scotland would eventually become, if in a very different way and time period. Even the Scottish National Party of today, despite its seemingly nativist name, courts the votes of minorities and immigrants and had the independence referendum apply to those who lived in Scotland and had residency no matter their background, while denying it to those who lived outside of Scotland. It was the land itself, and the governance thereof, that was what was important over sectarian absolutism, now as it was under Montrose tiny band of anti-theocracy fighters.

Since it is my personal opinion that opposition movements both to tyranny and fanatacism should learn to work with, rather than against, national movements I feel that this example of leadership, and those like it, are worth revisiting today. We live in a world bifurcated between a collapsing and flailing global ruling class who views finance, unsustainable resource extraction, and endless peripheral war as the key to everything on one hand and extreme identitarian nutjobs on the other (be they called ‘moderate rebels’ to describe sectarian jihadists in the Middle East or ‘alt-right’ /white nationalist fascists in the developed world) and the rest of us are just waiting for everything to get worse as these fools hiss at each other over the scraps of a dying planet.

But beyond that vaguely similar situation of needing to cobble together motley coalitions, its Montrose’s battlefield leadership itself that I feel would be illustrative as instructive to the future. Likely, many groups of people forced to fight and survive in the conflict zones of our world will begin as small bands unable to take or hold territory but merely showing that an opposition still exists. The leaders will share hardships with their followers. Then with success and greater recruitment come more conventional operations and the dangers of multi-faceted factional politics and shifting alliances. His life and complicated results serve as an illustrative example of both what once was, but also what might be again-and already is a reality for many in the world. More modern examples of this form of leadership, which I would like to discuss in a later post, are Paul Kagame in Rwanda and Tito for the former Yugoslavia.

Plus, Montrose is a fellow St Andrews University alumnus, so of course I want to claim him. Not to mention that as someone who lived in Edinburgh for years any enemy of the grotesque theocracy that once occupied it and ruled it in a manner similar to how Saudi Arabia is governed today is a friend of mine. The Stewarts, like the Assads, had their huge flaws and helped create the circumstances that led to conflict against them, but the alternative was so much worse. When it comes to the dying present order and the extremist alternatives to it, however, environmental concerns mean such a dynamic of lesser evilism may no longer apply. Another option is needed. I do not know what it is but I do know that like Montrose’s band it will start small, have to cast a very wide tent for supporters, and combat destructive ideology on behalf of the land itself and those living in it rather than specific sectarian or ethnic grievances. I also know that, unlike Montrose, in the end it must not fail.

 

‘Russiagate’ Will be Terrible for Everyone (Except Geotrickster and Independents)

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So far in the unfolding saga of The Election That Never Ends two members of the Trump Administration have been found pretty much dead to rights on being guilty of collusion with a foreign power. One, with Israel. One with both Israel and Turkey. Their names are Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn. Meanwhile, so far, Russia has only been found to have spent a few hundred thousand dollars on facebook ads almost no one clicked on and smugly giggling as America’s political system melts down in a way that gives the Kremlin inordinate credit.

Is it possible that that Russia had sketchy contacts with Trump campaign, for sure. It is more then justified to have an investigation into this issue given its potential importance. It is not, however, something to A. assume is true with what little we know now, and B. assume is a unique event. The way the partisan ‘return to the status quo at all costs’ types of the Democrats and disaffected rump Republicans act about this issue, one would assume Pearl Harbor and 9/11 just happened at once but no one can see it except people who get Verrit verification codes and write tired and scolding op-eds.

So far, we have been given far more evidence of collusion with foreign governments for Israel and Turkey than Russia, yet this elicits next to no reaction in the mainstream press. The reason is, well, the main topic of this blog: Geopolitics, baby. Turkey and Israel are allies of the United States, if awkward ones. As such, they have numerous think tanks and lobbyists, along with the far more odious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to shape a narrative and be part of the networked in-crowd. I even remember (though sadly cannot find right now) a commercial from around the time of W’s re-election campaign that ran which was just a really blatant and gross ‘your friends in the KSA are your strong allies in the War on Terror piece of propaganda.

It would cost too much to go after these countries, as they have friends in both major parties. Russia, however, has few friends in America outside the diseased corners of the alt right and edgy conspiracy theorists. It is an easy to target to go after, and it is certainly not an ally in any capacity. It is a deeply unsympathetic nation to most people, and, after the invasion of eastern Ukraine, rightly so. Russia further likes to bolster its cred as the anti-west on the world stage by serving as a kind of reactionary foil to the America’s liberal overreach, a set of policies yet to reach the ghastly conclusion I suspect (though we see dark ruminations in Chechnya). There are many points that the U.S. is right to rival Russia on, and other points it should not (such as Syria and combating Daesh). But it should not conduct its foreign policy merely on a popularity contest which as of yet still resides on assertions and not proof.

And then the question is: What if RussiaGate is true? It is still possible, after all. Well then, the problem is that while such proof will obviously necesitate an upgrade in national cybersecurity, it will also count as a well played payback for the late 90s.

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Whoops.

Turns out, in geopolitics there may be friends and foes, but no one is exceptional unless everyone is. And if everyone is exceptional than really no one is.

For context, as recently as 2012 the Obama Administration (who began as quite naive about the dangers Putin posed to them it must be admitted) was still, rightly, criticizing Mitt Romney and his campaign’s ‘Russia is the real enemy’ line of attack on foreign policy. See below:

At the time this was an example of rote-wisdom hawkishness from the Beltway war lobby (which Obama famously referred to as ‘The Blob’) and the Republican Party. But only a year later decidedly unqualified pundits affiliated with the Democratic Party began to take over the exact same opinions they had once mocked of the McCain-Romney wing. I remember the first time I noticed this fixation with Russia was when this clip was brought to attention of a clueless pundit trying to lecture a journalist with on the ground experience in Russia and reporting on Russia based off of bland moralism inheirited from the Cold War:

This has been building for a long time. The neoliberals need a scary and large foreign entity with which to rally support behind them. With the failure of Huntington style ‘Clash of Civilizations’ rhetoric to galvanize the right about anything but the Middle East, the center and center-left have taken that tired old thesis and re-purposed it away from culture and into a new cold war narrative about political ideologies.

Considering the low priority this issue carries with most American voters, whose situation only continues to get more dire due to entirely to domestic factors, its already a bit of a trap. If the best it could get us even was a resignation do we then get President Pence? This seems the absolute worst-case scenario to me. Pence, despite being a theocratic dingus and probably a harvester of torsos (male only, I imagine), would then be acclaimed as ‘respectable’ for not being abrasive, which would only allow him more ability to enact his twisted ideologies. This seems a bad move for Democrats.

Even if they got both Pence and Trump, then foreign connections become a major thing looked for as a viable political weapon on all sides. This would benefit me as Saudi Arabia and even possibly Israel would start to become toxic sledgehammers to wield against all sides, but that sure as hell will backfire on the Democrats who are just as in bed, on average, with those countries as the GOP is. So in a sense, even Russiagate skeptics like myself should hope it opens up a big nasty can of worms. The problem though, and its a problem for everyone, is the rank McCarthyism of all of this. I lived over 4 years in a foreign country. I have been to 20 others-including one which (when I was there) the US did not have full relations with yet. I have friends and contacts from all over the world. None of them, Im afraid, are Russian. Sorry Neera Tanden. But still, where does this end? Much of the rhetoric coming out in Democratic circles today is simply blatantly xenophobic ignorance, fearmongering, and redirecting away from obvious explanations for problems closer to home so that vested interests can blame someone else. It really ends up just looking like their side’s version of the infamous Freedom Fries.

If you wish to go further into this topic I recommend some of the episodes of the largely excellent ‘Moderate Rebels’ podcast:

The fact that RussiaGate is most popular with centrist neoliberals also begs one very salient question: If you believe in the free flow of information and capital across borders, then you have to own up that you will have difficulties with fully sovereign elections. And if you want fully sovereign elections you might have to re-think your support of an international system that prioritizes open borders for international finance at all costs.

When Allied with Puritans: My Brief Critique of the Contemporary Left

The Iroquois Confederacy once allied with the New England Puritans against their mutual foes in Quebec and among the Whampanoag. This did not make the Iroquois puritans. In fact, the Iroquois took a much more strident anti-missionary position than even most native confederacies in the 17th Century. But allied strategic interests are what they are.

Not a long post, but a clarification I feel the need to have up here. Geotrickster is openly and admittedly a realist/strategy focused study which gives priority-but not exclusivity-towards foreign policy issues. Overall though, political strategy is both foreign and domestic with the only difference being that in a functional society the same state of anarchy that characterizes international affairs is greatly reduced due to the existence of one government as the final arbiter of issues.

Nonetheless, it should be apparent that this blog has tilted left (as in leftist, not liberal) on a variety of issues before. The reason for that is *not* some kind of ideological commitment but rather the simple (and very realist, in my opinion) desire to make common cause with capable allies against common foes. In an era of economic breakdown, rising nationalist-chauvanism, and above all environmental collapse it just so happens that the left has the most interesting and critical critiques of many issues. Leftists are also the most likely to see serious issues from a structural or material perspective rather than a purely ideological and brand name one (a la conservatives and liberals). This all meets with my approval.

But I feel that, due to this overlap, it might be worth just coming out honestly and stating what my disagreements with mainstream currents of leftism is both to show my independence and to make the point that being allied to the left does not necessarily equate being a leftist itself. I am going to do this in a simplified list form rather than long hand explanation as this is not generally the type of issue for a super detailed post on this blog.

The Limits of Internationalism:

Possibly my biggest single issue of substance. Even in a world where we clearly need a global response to environmental catastrophe, expecting class struggle to be something which could unite people around the globe is patently ridiculous. Sure, a temporary outbreak of anti-rich activity might one day occur, but as important (and often overlooked) as class is, no amount of solidarity will overturn the prioritization of local politics first and the divergent interests which they will inevitably come to represent. Think Sino-Soviet or Yugoslavia-Soviet splits. Core interests of any kind of state on the international scale cannot be overruled by domestic affinity. After all, the left often rightly mocks the democratic peace theory pushed by liberals, so why bother having their own version of it? Even on environmental issues, interests will diverge after a core consensus is hopefully reached. Some regions, after all, will benefit from climate change. It also behooves us as a species whose primary strength is adaptability that we should look towards a diversity of both political and economic systems, rather than a single direction, as it introduces more options of policies to try and replace. Not to mention that the idea that humanity is moving in one linear direction towards an inevitable and predictable future (aside from, of course, eventual extinction at some point) is ridiculous no matter who has it. Surely those who can see the foolishness of Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’ theory of neoliberalism can see the foolishness of making the same Hegelian error but with Marx this time.

Postmodernism:

While its true that the left is turning away from its monstrous creation with rapidity at the same time said beast is being embraced by liberals and especially conservatives, it still must take responsibility for this issue being popularized and corrupting public discourse into something purely performative, identitarian, and anti-intellectual. Postmodernism is many things, but above all the diametric opposite of materialism, which brings me to my next point…

Leftists are often Moralists, and hence TERRIBLE Materialists:

Since materialism is both on some level quantifiable and observable, materialist outlook is key to understanding political philosophy and case studies alike. Leftists, however, are often recruited from a pool of people who have a psychological need for perpetual moralism. From ridiculous antics on college campuses, to linguistic tone policing, to a general refusal to engage with anyone willing to acknowledge due deference to a subjective set of values, leftists often enjoy performance over action and preaching over working. More directly, a true materialist does not start out with assumptions as to the moral rightness of, say, egalitarianism or human rights. The proper materialist response is more utilitarian and is based on the appraisal of what works best for society where examples could be learned from. If I thought massive wealth divides and top-down class war was actually on net good for society, and could prove my point, I would not be interested in egalitarian policies. I however think the exact opposite. History is replete with examples for societies crumbling due to out of touch ruling classes and alienated populaces, divided by increasingly hoarded wealth. More egalitarian societies also tend, when things are remotely fair, to outperform others in military conflicts. These are real life points one could use to make the case for a sustainable society that are not simple (and simplistic) moralist appeals. Not to mention, I find the moralistic personality type utterly irritating and suspect many others who might otherwise be interested in adopting more left wing policy positions are turned off by what in effect often comes through as humorless evangelicals and church lady fussbudget equivalents. No one who takes themselves *that* seriously is ever going to be good at analyzing strategy from a materialist perspective.

Also, you know, someone disagreeing with you is not the same as someone oppressing you. But that goes for libs and cons alike as well.

And in closing, ‘Problematic’ is a stupid, content-free whine of a non-word, and if you use it unironically in public you should re-think your life.

All Hail the Revolutionary Vanguard of the Republican Party!

You are more likely to hear some Very Serious People give their takes on the new tax bill that now seems very likely to pass once the house and senate versions get merged. But I present you with something else.

The Republican Party, like the Democrats, is largely just a giant incompetent monster that hoovers up donor cash and spews forth priorities based on that with a few hot button issues thrown in as an afterthought in order to maintain the facade of freedom of choice among partisans. Like below:

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What the above misses, however, is that the Democrats actually seek to maintain the status quo through just enough (often topical) maintenance that it can at least survive enough to stave off civil war. The Republicans, since Reagan anyway, are under no such pretense. They want full Late Imperial Russia of the 1890s-1917 while forgetting what happened to that state. Full speed ahead until a collapse is inevitable. If you think about it, they are taking an enormous bet that they can turn the bland neoliberal status quo that democrats love so much and ramp it up into a type of globalized neofeudalism where corporations become landlords over an increasingly serf-like labor force (with no doubt some jus primae noctis thrown in for the libertarian wing). Now, this plan could totally work if they paired it with a guaranteed basic income, some social service giveaways, full support for universal access to VR, and full drug legalization. But as usual, the hubristic codgers are want of imagination or long term strategy and think only of short term gains no matter the costs to themselves or especially their children. Considering the ramifications of Reagan era tax reform are largely the decay of infrastructure, the erosion of non-partisan civil society, the massive growth of largely parasitic defense contractors who double the defense budget but without doubling the results of the spending, and the entrenchment of American power as a fragile thing based on arms sales and not internal strength, a second round may just yet bring about its collapse.

So if one was to assume that the GOP leadership is rational (I don’t, but lets humor ourselves here), one must assume that they are in fact Revolutionary Vanguards participating in Accelerationism. As Lenin said, ‘Worse is better.’ He did of course, mean for him, not for the Tsar. Still, with Reagan having made America into a nation defined solely by its empire and business interests, and whose contradictions became most apparent when Dubya signed into law massive tax cuts the same year he started a war in Iraq that soon proved bankrupting in more than one way, its quite possible that America will not survive a further bout of supply-side policy. The irony is that in making the state solely about business and empire that supports only said business rather than a more general national and geopolitical interest, these lawmakers have only guaranteed that if the empire loses legitimacy as the prime force of the state then the entire system will also lose it subsequently since no other institution that makes policy does so with civic responsibility for all citizens. Ibn Khaldun would diagnose our society as having entered the terminal stage where a decadent and incompetent ruling class of the spoiled generation has sabotaged any future for its state by removing all the bonds of group-feeling (assabiyya) necessary for societal cohesiveness and loyalty. The future is thus made by the next regime, whatever that might be.

Big business is already extremely unpopular. But the military remains a bedrock of public support. Defense contractors, however, when exposed to the light do not retain such veneer. Interventionism was dealt a major blow by Iraq, leading it to be more covered up like a dirty secret, though its popularity has never returned to 2003 and before levels. With our society going to end up increasingly hollowed out as money is distributed upwards and social mobility withers on the vine to the increase of social alienation, the question of future political partisanship remains only to which revolutionary party and/or Mad Max style gang of post-apocalyptic bandits one wishes to sign up for. We are just one more disastrous interventionist war away from having to choose. And the wise Accelerationists of the GOP have gladly offered up their own lives in the coming class revolt as the first sacrifice to make a bold new tomorrow. For surely, in the utter impotency of the two party system to deal with climate change and properly harnessing technology and infrastructure, only a clean break could offer us some future. And make no mistake about it, a clean break will come for them and their donors first.

Its just a question of timing at this point. For years I feared this outcome and wanted to do anything possible to stave it off, but now I think I am quite coming to welcome it. Even if it does not come in my lifetime, it surely will come. And we must all prepare to be accelerationists of one stripe or another as strategists if nothing else. The Revolutionary Vanguard of the GOP has forced the issue, choose the future or die like a dog!

Otherwise we’ll end up just as more self-justifying tools unwittingly digging their own graves, like Paul Ryan, lanyarded policy wonks…or the Warboys. But having to chose, maybe we should chose to be Furiosa instead? The decision has been forced on us, why not revel in it?

 

The Glorious Subversion of Tabletop Roleplaying

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As you probably know, Stranger Things is quite the thing these days. For once, a popular trend I can thoroughly get behind to boot. I haven’t indulged in any television commentary since what is probably my largest entry, on Deep Space 9, as very little TV is interesting to me or overlaps with topics worth going into detail over if it is. But I really don’t want to go into detail about Stranger Things in particular so much as use its reflection of one of my hobbies and the greater societal reaction-at least initially-to that hobby.

The shows seasons, so far, depict a time before I was born (even if the second season is only months away) and yet still so accurately depict the tabletop roleplaying middle schooler world which I was part of over a decade later. Before the internet was fast enough to reliably have all forms of entertainment on command in a convenient package, the tabletop roleplaying game served the multiplayer needs of those seeking dynamic, impromptu role playing experiences with friends. Of course, it still does, and its popularity if anything seems to have grown in time even with the greater convenience and sophistication of the electronic forms of gaming in the role-playing field. In addition to the obvious bonus of it being better to set mood and tone in person, it also seems like the tabletop can provide a greater level of authenticity and a break from so many of our indoor entertainments.

It wasn’t always so. In the mid-80s time that Stranger Things depicts roleplaying games, especially Dungeons and Dragons, was new and innovative. While recruiting agencies for child actors quickly saw the advantage of a dynamic rules-based system for innovation, on the spot problem solving, and basic tactics in teamwork, numerous hypochondriac parents saw a terrifying moral panic. DnD and other games were linked to Satanism, suicide, and criminal behavior-without a shred of evidence-in a first round of cultural wars waged perpetually throughout American history by the recurring trend of willful know-nothings of American conservatism. This was in congruence, of course, with the famous pursuit of out of touch politicians (chief among them the Gores) against heavy metal and hip hop as well. But while that campaign is rightly infamous in history for its ridiculousness and naivete, many people forget about the even more hysterical movement against roleplaying games in general.

There was a certain extra emphasis, in the time, of the danger of DnD and similar games that went outside just the casserole-quaffing church ladies and easily sensationalized news-manipulated suburban parents. It was a more general phenomenon, sucking in the apolitical and the ostensibly progressive as well. Keep in mind that the 80s was the decade where Baby Boomers first started becoming one of the more politically powerful constituencies, which in turn mean a lot of ageing ex-hippies. In other words, many people who thought the ideal youth was ‘peace and love mannnnnnn’ had to confront that subcultures existed where children fantasized about becoming characters they invented, going underground (or wherever) armed to the teeth to slay scary monsters. Nevermind that this had been a significant part of both children’s literature and mythology since probably prehistory, an imagination used for something other than relentless positivity by children older than was normally considered acceptable to ‘play pretend’ was a dangerous imagination.

But games like DnD did more than become a creepy new fad to fuss over for navel-gazing parents. They challenged the entire world view of what was fast becoming the new dominant political culture of the times: neoliberalism. Whereas the 80s and 90s would be about rampant individualism, faith in market forces, and the belief that society was running forward to a new and glorious cosmopolitan and global future, many fantasy settings show a world filled with crumbling ruins of civilizations and technologies too numerous to speak of which all in the end collapsed. The treasures of the past are the only way to circumvent a rigid class system or regional poverty, and require skill and the facing of danger to unearth. Rotten monsters crawl in formerly glorious ruins either as all that remains of past civilizations or perhaps simply the first scavengers to arrive at the charnel house. In such a world, only teamwork, group solidarity, and risk taking can possibly succeed for those not born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Ibn Khaldun would be proud.

Spoiler Alert: it turns out this was a more realistic vision of the future than the one pushed by that era’s political and cultural elite. Perhaps this was the reason that it struck so many as a heretical and threatening activity, at least on a subconscious level. After all, policy makers had the ability to see that less money was being spent on public infrastructure, and that crime was spiking to record breaking levels. What they lacked was the ability to see that perhaps it was they who had more responsibility for that state of affairs than some kids seeking to escape the first stages of Hellworld currently then being fashioned by their elders. After all, a world filled with monsters the luck of the dice and some smart character building can slay is a world far more filled with hope than our own for many people.

So, why don’t we sell the line that RPG’s are a recruiting tool for critical thinkers and those to challenge the status quo? I mean, younger generations are far less into individualism and capitalism than anyone previous since the Great Depression, and now people are used to the cyber realm having all sorts of things but largely confined to slactivism. After all, groups of young people, meeting in ‘meat space’ in shadowy locations to learn communal action against the odds—all while a show that popularizes the idea that adults and authority figures are either clueless or malignant and it’s up to the youth to take action is popular-could be once again labeled as a threatening thing. And if it was so…its coolness factor would increase exponentially like an album with an explicit content label and the inevitable reaction from the perpetually out of touch would be at least hilarious, if not further engaging to recruitment for those opposed to them.

As Dustin said in Season 2’s finale: ‘If one member of the party is danger, the whole party acts’ (from memory, not exact quote). And as the newest member of the party, Max, showed, you have to earn your place by fighting for the community and showing your outsider status…but once you do…

And we can always hope that on a future season of Stranger Things, Jerry Fallwell or Tipper Gore is the monster.

Death Dealer WEB

The Death Dealer, because

The Unexceptional Hubris of Exceptionalism

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I recently got back from Alaska, which as you can tell from the picture above was quite nice. Naturally, while I was there I had to continue my now two years on reading quest into speculative materialism. One of the works I was reading was ‘Unthought: The Power of Cognitive Nonconcious‘. Though not strictly in the canon of that school of philosophy, the overlaps were palpable-especially when it came to combating the trend of human exceptionalism in western philosophy. Katherine Hayles dives into multiple fields, from biology to technology, to show how so much of what we do-by far the vast majority-is running on autopilot. That is, in effect, running on instinct. This has large and obvious questions for our definition of consciousness and its status in other animals as well as in increasingly complex automated systems we ourselves create. Good timing with that Blade Runner sequel, by the way.

Just a few days ago, PBS Nature had an excellent documentary on how red foxes are thriving like never before due to canny adaptations to human civilizations. Most people know rats, cockroaches, mice, and other animals benefit from our existence, but larger more independent animals like the fox are often overlooked. Perhaps even more remarkable is the story of the coywolf. In addition to being the name of a band I like, the Coywolf is also a remarkably successful wolf/coyote hybrid who, taking advantage of the coyote’s impressive success in the human era, has been migrating steadily eastwards and then southwards for the past few decades, becoming a new dominant land mammal predator throughout much of North America and fueled not in spite of, but by human civilization. One can hope a larger more aggressive hunting animal can also take advantage of too-numerous deer in the east and get them moving again, saving much of eastern flowering plant life and reducing overall lyme disease rates. Nature needs its predators, and as part of nature, so do we to even keep our systems running at peak performance.

What is nice to see is how so much of speculative materialism is clearly striving not only against bad European philosophical ideas but a common human hubris that most likely was engendered by the rise of monotheism itself, and certainly exacerbated by certain trends in modern and postmodern thinking alike in more recent times. We should, in some sense, be able to view our own species with the detached study of instinctual behavior we often only reserve for wild animals. Perhaps, one day, we will be doing the same thing with robots. Robots who will be programmed to behave as if they have a consciousness and thus cause us to question our own ideas about consciousness and what it really is. Many Speculative Materialists would answer, ‘the small self-aware tip above the water line of a very, very large ice berg of automated processes.’ And there is an excuse for another photo, even though its of a glacier and not an iceberg:

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So many of our presently debilitating blind spots, be it climate change, sustainable resource extraction, or loss of biodiversity come about by a human hubris that makes one question the utility of the level of self-awareness we have. It is becoming increasingly clear as hurricanes batter the shores, sea levels rise, and honey bees enter a critical terminal phase that our hubris must be scaled back to see our impact objectively. One of the more harrowing things I have seen is the boat pilot for the trip pictured above pointing to where the glacier *used to be* when they started running that route 17 years ago. It was a loss of over a mile.

This hubristic exceptionalism can be broken down into smaller more humanistic units as well. A country earnestly and honestly believing in its own special providence certainly strikes me as one of the more dangerous things that can happen on the world stage. Though revisionist powers seeking a re-orientation of the balance of power in their favor is hardly new, the utter calamity of German and Japanese exceptionalism in the Second World War, fueled by ideologies of nations with a unique and inherent destiny of supremacy, made the process a far more horrific affair then even the already terrible cost of conventional war alone necessitated. In the Cold War both major powers held themselves in high ideological regard, but as they competed for the ‘third world’ they had to make themselves accessible and attractive to do well. But with the fall of the U.S.S.R. checks and balances were removed, and the United States began to believe it had won the future and the world itself through virtue and being ‘on the right side of history’ alone. But since then American Exceptionalism has brought us over-extension, endless war, a rise in religious fanaticism, and a power so successful it has crossed the dangerous threshold into having its policy making elites actually believe its own propaganda. Much like humanity and man-made environmental crisis, this is to court disaster through hubris and complacency alone. When you think you are the solution, its hard to see how you might also be the problem. The outside perspective is needed, and that becomes almost impossible to achieve under hubris.

In Tlingit and Haida mythology the lines between humanity and the rest of nature was extremely blurred, with shamans that could transform into animals and animals that could masquerade as people. While not literally true, this kind of dethronement of self-centering certainly could have its uses.

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Odious Romanticism vs Material Victory

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I want to talk about some Civil War generals, and no, not the rightness or wrongness of their statues being in public spaces.

What I have always found bizarre about the myth of Confederacy is not its blatant rise with attached romantic artwork convergent with the last gasp of segregationist politicians in the public sphere-that is perfectly logical in its own way-nor even the memorializing of the United States’ greatest act of treason by segments of the population most chauvinistic and flag-waving on most other issues (though that is bizarre), but rather the myth of Robert E. Lee himself as this amazingly seminal general and leader of men. This is often combined with a myth of the Confederacy as a uniquely impressive battle against the odds akin to Finland’s Winter War or the Norman rise in Sicily.

In a time where America realizes it still must reckon with the painful wounds of its past by bringing up the public status of Civil War era issues, I feel it’s time to turn a critical gaze to the military part of this odious romanticism.

Let us begin with Robert E. Lee. A great tactician, surely, but as the ghost of Hannibal could tell you, this does not necessarily equate a great strategist. Lee’s rise to prominence came about first by skilled junior officer actions as an engineer in the U.S.-Mexican War of 1848, and then by accurately reading the psychology of General McClellan as he advanced on Richmond in 1862 and pummeling his forces with offensives to cause the famously timid general to retire despite getting the better of most of the engagements…convinced as always he was outnumbered. So far, so good.

We then can witness Lee run roughshod over several ineptly led Union armies. Despite the poor quality of leadership of these forces, we can still give Lee a hefty dose of credit in this period. And yet, amongst this time of Confederate triumph (in the east anyway) came Lee’s first botched invasion of the north, which undid many of successes when he was checked at Antietam (by McClellan, of all people) a battle whose strategic implications enabled the Emancipation Proclamation which in turn would fatally undermine the southern war effort by both enabling Union armies to legally liberate slaves in secessionist states as well as sabotage British and French efforts to directly aid the Confederacy.

Even including Antietam, up until now it would still be a fair point to consider Lee the best general of the American Civil War, but the Union was just getting started-and it would be there that the best leadership would actually emerge. It was also, in 1863 and flush with hubris after Chancellorsville, that Lee would once again commit the mistake of invading the north.

As someone whose favorite army in history is that of the medieval Mongols and whose favorite navy in history that of late 16th Century Korea, I am hardly the one to take a universally critical view of taking the offensive when your forces are outnumbered if the opportunity looks promising. The problem with the Civil War context is that Lee himself had proven time and time again that this was an era where defense held clear battlefield advantages. Indeed, superior Union industrial and material strength were for much of the war totally offset by facing the most difficult challenge of having to reconquer a third of a continent in an era of defensive primacy. It had been such on the battlefield starting in the Crimean War, where a Russian army armed with outdated firearms and a piss-poor logistical system had managed, at least temporarily, to stymie two of the best armies of the time, even if they lost (barely) in the end. It would remain thus until the Brusilov Offensive in WWI when that same Russian army would innovate the interplay between offensives and artillery use to restore mobility to the battlefield-a process later honed by the Germans and then perfected by Foch and Allenby. Even Lee’s boldest moves in previous battles had been often paired with a key defensive element. His smaller army could move faster to seize the better terrain, and in an era where the minne ball merged with the last gasp of linear field formations, this made a huge difference. And in Gettysburg it was the Union who held the high ground and the defensive posture, and it was the Union that won. Soon after, Meade was superseded by Grant, and Grant would be the superior general to Lee. Not because he was a brilliant commander nor because he simply ended up winning in the end, but because he was a general of the times who truly understood the nature of industrial warfare. Lee’s many victories could be undone by a few missteps, but Grant could suffer multiple reverses at Lee’s hands and still win the campaign.

The true genius of the war, however, was Sherman. William Tecumseh Sherman understood the material nature of war in the industrial age like Grant, but had a much greater sense of terrain and maneuver. His command of the western front, once Grant moved east to take command there, was the true decisive campaign of the entire war.

The west had been the mirror opposite of the east from the start. Union forces performed generally better than their enemies and capably used riverine naval forces to advance consistently along the vital Mississippi River. Winfield Scott (in my opinion, the greatest of all American generals, but that is another story) correctly saw that blockade and securing the central river systems of the continent were the key to victory in the war, rather than a quick advance on Richmond. Generally, Union forces under both Grant and Rosecrans at first (in Appalachia) made advances in this theater wisely using ships and a less pro-Confederate population in general. Yet, not until the fall of Vicksburg did this front’s decisiveness manifest itself.

Sherman up until now had been a subordinate commander of no great distinction. But when turned loose on his own to command the west in 1864 would prove to be the stand-out general of the war and, in my opinion, the second greatest of all American generals. Unlike Lee, Sherman did not set out to win set piece battles, but rather to crush the Confederacy’s ability to resist. Granted, Lee did not have the numerical option to do such to the Union, but that is precisely why he should have stuck to a more Longstreet-type plan of cautious attrition as the only realistic path to southern victory was exhaustion through casualties of the north. Where Lee gambled rashly, Sherman coldly calculated.

Sherman also maneuvered with the big picture, rather than individual battlefields in sight. As he advanced out of Tennessee and into Georgia through immensely difficult terrain and against the skilled defense of Joseph Johnston, he became the master of flanking movements to dislodge Johnston from favorable terrain and forcing him to open up more and more of the vulnerable heartland of the Confederacy. Even after battlefield reverses, Johnston would be forced to retreat by maneuver, gradually driving him towards less formidable defensive terrain.

By the time Confederate forces were entrenched around Atlanta, Sherman had already won in a way. While the disposition still favored the defender, now the Confederacy’s most industrial city and arguably second most important (after New Orleans, which had already fallen to the Union navy) was locked down on siege mode and its ability to assist the war effort already partly curtailed. And then the leaders in Richmond made the most fatal error they could have, they assigned John Bell Hood to replace Johnston.

The successive offensives against Sherman’s army led to disaster for the Confederacy at every step to the point where the previously defensible Atlanta had to be abandoned. Raw militia and crack units alike were thrown against veteran Union units increasingly starting to be armed with breech loading weapons like the Spencer rifle and carbine which held trenches and field works. Knowing there was no way to avoid being crushed by Sherman after a few of these failed battles, Hood tried to pull a reverse-Sherman and drive north in a bid to take Nashville. Of course, with a beaten and demoralized army this would have opposite the intended results and his entire army would eventually be liquefied by reserves sent after him.

Atlanta fell, and burned. Sherman cut his baggage train and took off across Georgia, feeding off the enemy territory and crippling their food production and morale all at once. He ‘marched to the sea’ and took Savannah before the end of the year. Concerned for their families, soldiers in the Confederate army began to defect in record droves from all fronts. The lowlands-gulf south was cut off from the east. Then Sherman turned north wreaking devastation across the hotbed of secession itself, South Carolina, before taking a more moderate tone towards the conduct of his pillaging troops in North Carolina-which was a less gung-ho about secession state.

By the end of the war he would make it to Virginia, where the looming advance of his forces played no small role in Lee’s surrender in the east.

It is easy to play up the Confederate romantic mythology here and state Sherman’s material and often numeric advantages. This is to ignore the far greater challenges of waging a truly continental scale long-form campaign of offense in an era that favored defense. This is also to ignore Sherman’s full grasp of total war, and the desire to crush an enemy in as many ways at once to create a collapse of both morale and logistics, which are the true sinews of war. He was in many ways the first great modern-industrial general. He fought not for flashy victories to be studied in microcosm but rather for war ending long term objectives. He accurately assessed the enemy’s weaknesses and responded accordingly. There have not been many generals or admirals in history who have so thoroughly understood how to crush the opposition-which is exactly a general’s job.

And that is something worth considering as a million Fox News Dads send up a simultaneous howl of ‘don’t erase our history that we can only apparently learn from statues, how will people at West Point learn tactics if they can’t idolize Lee?’

The answer is not to waste your time studying Lee when you could be studying Sherman instead. Hell, if you need a Confederate general to study take Forrest. Sure, the politically correct *really* won’t like that, but if your point is battlefield command ability…The problem is, most Fox News Dads and Basic History Bros don’t even know any commander who is not famous-and therein lies the problem of romanticism over materialism in the study of history.