Two decades, one peace deal.
I am hopefully going to have a much larger and depth write up on Afghanistan’s likely futures out soon. I will post that once its done. In the meantime just a brief commentary on the now diverging fates of Kabul and Washington.
1. The second the US decided to go on its quixotic Iraq crusade rather than focus on Afghanistan and reigning in Pakistan vis a vis the Taliban was the second this war was lost for Washington. Everything since has just been an incredibly expensive buying off of the inevitable. Afghanistan’s mere location in the world ensured it could never be a long term development project like some US cold war allies were (Thailand, South Korea). I still blame Bush and Pakistan first for this and everyone should really. Before that point this war was indeed (briefly) winnable. And it should have been won then. Everyone save the Taliban would have been better off.
2. Though Afghanistan’s immediate future will enter a dark readjustment, the long term prospects are what they have always been due to geography. China and Russia matter more in the fate of Afghanistan than America ever really could. Even if the Taliban take power totally (not a certainty, state failure or a splitting of country factions seem at least as likely) the situation has changed enough that other powers will act to contain any designs they have outside of the country. Russia and China’s capabilities are much greater than they were in 2000 and the 90s. Also, the Taliban does not get along with ISIS and even fights them quite effectively now, a trend that will only increase as the common American foe leaves. The Taliban have to be somewhat tired of war. It would be unwise for them to take part in any more international schemes, and if they do it will most likely target Ashgabat, Dushanbe, and Urumqi than NYC or Paris (still unwise). Local powers will find containing a resurgent Taliban from outside Afghanistan’s borders a more sustainable long term project than America could from this incredibly vulnerable position within the country. They are also more likely to be able to successfully negotiate with them since they cannot be waited out like distant America could. And the only country truly capable of reigning in Pakistan is their patron China.
3. From the US perspective its very important that once we leave Afghanistan we no longer have to rely on Pakistan for anything. The U.S. re balance towards India (and the admitting that Pakistan was always a Chinese goon before it ever could be an American goon) has infinitely more geopolitical significance to Washington than anything that ever happened in Afghanistan-including the Soviet invasion itself. Having to rely on Pakistan for logistics has really deformed this process.
So the U.S. lost the war in a sense. It negotiated itself out of a failure for only promises that might not be kept. But rather than being weakened, its likely strengthened on the world stage. No longer does this small outpost surrounded by rivals tie a maritime power to remote mountains deep in Eurasia. Security efforts move towards Moscow and Beijing’s pocketbook. And the Taliban ‘won’ but only in a way where they now face a local system even more likely to check their ambitions than before.
So who actually won here, if anyone? In a clear cost/benefit type of way? Pakistan I suppose, but a stronger more assertive China being their guarantor against India means perhaps not.
I think if anyone gets out of this with a strengthened hand its Iran. U.S. forces out of a country they share a large border with coupled with the rise of a threat that makes makes other local countries view Iran (and its proven sunni-fanatic killing abilities) a more desirable country to partner with. Tehran is coming out of the cold.
Here we are. After years of the professional managerial class moaning about violated norms and decorum, those very same people are now turning towards a figure as personally odious as Trump and on policy arguably much worse in order to save them. Save them from what? The systemic breakdown of a dying neoliberal order is the correct answer but these aggressive presentists only see one incredibly dumb man in the White House as the source of all the woes. Get rid of him and it all goes back to normal, they think. Never mind that Trump is a product of all those normal policies that got us here in the first place. Orange Man Bad.
But these are not people who read books of history and political philosophy to inform their world view, but rather react to cable news and fictionalized portrayals of politics as seen in the pablum of Aaron Sorkin style programs. They overestimate their popularity and appeal because they all consume the same media, attend the same cocktail parties, and yes, share the same class interests. Consider the track record of the neoliberal centrist in the 21rst Century. Gore, Kerry, Romney, (H) Clinton all lost the presidency. Obama ran as a reforming outsider but once that was shown to be a false claim he oversaw the greatest loss of Democratic seats in the legislature in generations and only won re-election because his opponent was such a cartoonish parody of the plutocrat class. Hawkish centrists perform terribly not just on policy but in national elections. Meanwhile, the policies of Reagan and Clinton that the center defends makes the poorer more poor, the rich more rich, and environment more degraded, and the living standards and sustainability of developed countries more and more precarious and less and less developed. Feudalism returns through tech and finance with a shiny new woke veneer. These are processes enabled and abetted by the bipartisan establishment, its most fanatical elements are the lingering miasma of Paul Ryan’s disastrous tenure in governance.
And who best represents these bipartisan liches now that Ryan has slunk off into obscurity, perhaps hoping to be forgotten about as the tides of both parties turn against him? Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor was like the Bush-Obama years in exaggerated microcosm. An already existing mass surveillance state was greatly expanded into something that would have made East Germany’s Stasi shudder in unease. Stop and Frisk policies and his eugenics-level disdain for local minorities under his governance are quite famous criticisms of him already so I feel little need to elaborate on them further here. Perhaps more shocking to those not in the know is his depths of sexist ranting which borders on sexual harassment. I thought a major part of the liberal critique of Trump was his misogyny, but his own terrible record on the issue pales in comparison to Bloomberg’s in sheer frequency and vindictiveness.
Then of course comes the terrifying idea of one billionaire president being exchanged for another. Worse, Trump at least ran a pretty bare bones campaign reliant on donations. Clinton outspent him on the campaign trail nearly two to one. Being the grifter he is, he actually spent very little of his own money on running for office. Bloomberg, on the other hand, is purchasing media left and right directly with very little campaigning or small donor support. He is buying his presence in this election in a way beyond anything seen before. The Norms Nerds who tend to be sympathetic to his run should consider that this is more norm-busting than anything yet seen in American politics. If allowed to triumph it may well end any remaining checks we have on the ruling classes and usher in a new era of techno-feudalism, where all major political parties are beholden to different oligarchic patrons based on the social issues/values they espouse and literally nothing else. A never ending culture war to keep the proles divided and prevent any unification against their Lords and Ladies.
Considering Trump’s rampant racism and the horror he has inflicted (particularly on the southern border), one could still make the argument that Bloomberg and Trump are tied. But we haven’t even gotten to the meat of my argument. This is an internationally focused blog foremost, and in Bloomberg’s foreign policy views we find the true horror of his candidacy.
To say Bloomberg is an arch-Zionist even by American standards is nothing new. One suspects that everyone skeptical of just how close the U.S.-Israeli alliance is knows this. But his rampant neoconservatism remains largely unchecked by a media class who remain one of the few constituencies left in contemporary America where sympathy for that ideology runs rampant. Bloomberg was an ardent supporter of the Iraq War and still is, despite everything that has happened since from the expansion of Iranian influence in the region to the rise of ISIS-neither of which could not have happened without the American invasion of Iraq. He has come out for the other disastrous American regime change operations, whether they ‘succeeded’ like in Libya where slave markets are now commonplace or clearly failed (at great cost to everyone but Al Qaeda and defense contractors) in Syria. He would most likely deploy military forces to Venezuela under the guise of helping our generation’s Pu Yi in Juan Guaido and probably not have even Trump’s ability to step back from the brink when shooting incidents happen between the U.S. and Iran. Regime change wars in the 21rst Century have been a universal failure for America and they must be stopped for our sake and the rest of the world’s. As we have seen time and time again, they also exacerbate the refugee crisis which in turn increases the appeal of the far right and racist politics in developed countries. Bloomberg would be at least as hawkish as Hillary Clinton on these issues. Hillary Clinton, who many independent voters (myself included) did not find a ‘lesser evil’ to Trump specifically because of foreign policy issues-the most important issues handled by the president it must be remembered- also tended to lose swing districts where war casualties were highest.
Do I think Bloomberg is likely to win the democratic nomination? Not particularly. But I do think he has a better chance at it than some others. Democrats seem not to understand that independent voters are not necessarily centrists. I am not, and I find most of the disdain for the democrats to come from precisely that they are the centrist party. I know for a fact that I am not alone here. But the party is convinced a hyper-centrist is always the best option. No, getting voter turnout with independents is…something Obama did as a relative outsider but not Hillary as the penultimate insider. Bloomberg would do the opposite of this.
I think Bloomberg has an even smaller chance of winning the general election than in the democratic primary. He is probably the exact kind of candidate that Trump wants to run against in a general election-out of touch, no organic support, a clear representative of the failed policies both parties support and thus a perfect foil for anti-establishment times. I remember an Ann Coulter (of all people) quote from the 2012 election. ‘If we don’t run Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and we will lose.’ It is looking like you can take that quote into today, switch its party and replace Christie with Bernie (or even anyone not Bloomberg at this point) and Romney with Bloomberg.
But lets say Bloomberg (Boomerberg?) pulls it off and buys not only the primary but the general election. What could we expect? Here is just a little list off the top of my head:
- All of the same economic policies Trump supports sans the trade war aspect.
- Silicon Valley/Manhattanite/Beltway social liberalism used to disguise a further harrowing of workers rights, union power, and the like. The ruling class would keep getting more diverse in a purely racial way but not at all in an ideological way. Class mobility would de facto cease for most.
- More wars, especially in the Middle East. Possibly escalating to showdowns over smaller countries vs Russia. The worst actors like the Saudi royal family and Erdogan indulged to make this more feasible.
- A return to the 90s-era expansion of the mass incarceration state and possibly a re-vamping of the calamitous drug war.
- A greater ability to ‘get things done’ than Trump by bringing together the two party establishment, which means more of the above policies actually getting enacted than should be possible.
On the bright side maybe it will prove accelerationism to be true and we will get a true political revolution down the line? But most likely people will be so beaten down and disaffected that politics will just divorce itself from the daily struggle to survive for most people. Full banana republic mode.
Keeping these factors in mind, it is extremely likely that a Bloomberg presidency would in fact be worse than a Trump second term. He would be able to ‘bring together’ the worst people of each party and marginalize the few remaining best. He would empower the far right as a seemingly ‘credible’ opposition while discrediting most others by virtue of now being a democrat. This leads me to believe that a second Trump term (preferably handicapped by democratic control of the house and senate of course) would be a significantly less terrifying prospect than a Bloomberg presidency.
Trump is the weakest and least effective American president since Jimmy Carter. If Bloomberg is the alternative and promising that ‘Mike can get it done’ should we be in such a hurry to replace him?
International Order in Diversity: War, Trade and Rule in the Indian Ocean by Andrew Philips and J.C. Sharman is the kind of book that immediately jumps out to me. As an international relations scholar always interested in elevating overlooked historical experiences that break the absolutism of theoretical schools of understanding diplomacy, it is pretty inevitable that I turn to books like this whenever possible. If I agree with them its more people to cite on ‘my side’, and if I don’t it helps me refine my critiques and be challenged to provide a counter-narrative.
In this case I find myself largely laudatory. The authors are interested in debunking mainstream liberal, constructivist, and realist assumptions about diplomacy being made (be it by culture, competition, or some combination thereof) in a homogenizing manner. Where before the modern era there was divergence and gradually we have come to greater and greater levels of convergence as powers interact more with each other. This narrative has taken on the aura of teleology among some theorists.
This book shows that even with the rise of what is commonly taken to be the modern world (the European overseas expansion, Westphalian diplomacy) there was really no move towards standardization until the 19th Century. In the Indian Ocean in particular, where the book spends almost all of its time, European expansion came across to most involved on all sides of trade as far away foreigners coming to pay homage to vastly economically and militarily superior Asian states and access their markets.
In doing so, there was a diverse arrangement whereas sea-bound Europeans were extremely peripheral (but potentially useful due to this uniqueness) actors in a greater Mughal-dominated regional system of power and commerce. Perhaps most laudably from western academic authors, the book does not present the Mughals as ‘the old ways’ and the Europeans ‘the new’ but rather introduces the Portuguese, Dutch, and Mughals all as early invasive empires on the make. The Mughals had Central Asian origins under a Timurid prince after all, and only broke into the Indian peninsula in the same period Cortez was invading Mexico and after the Portuguese had entered the ports of the Indian Ocean. It was the Mughals who came to control what was then one of the most populous and economically dynamic empires in the world, possibly only tied with early Qing China. They had everything that they wanted and it was on land. The Portuguese and later the Dutch and English could have the sea. Of what use was that to an empire based in Delhi whose primary income came from agriculture? Indeed, it would be two centuries before the balance of power in the Indian Ocean would even flip towards the maritime powers. There is a reason that my own book, which tries to limit its geographic scope to being more immediately adjacent to the Eurasian steppe, includes a section on the early Mughal Empire. It was foreign to South Asia but very different from the Europeans and is an interesting example of pastoralist military integration with a new agrarian base.
The Mughals, like their ‘gunpowder empire’ contemporaries the Ottomans and Safavids, had empires that were changing with technology and bureaucratic capability but still were clearly descended from their nomadic ancestors. This meant that while there were certain core military regions, a diversity of systems and vassals were the majority of ruling tactics rather than direct central control. When Europeans entered this system they largely integrated themselves into this style but with a seaward rather than landward direction. It was only when technological changes made seaborn trade more efficient and warships more potent that the balance of power shifted in favor of Europe. And even then, as the authors point out, attempts to homogenize the styles of imperial rule led directly to major rebellions in India and Indonesia which even at the height of European colonial power and success often caused the colonial powers to backpedal those ‘reformist’ policies.
All of this is to state as a thesis that the systems of geopolitical power are not destined to homogenized, either in the past or today. Countries cave have widely different economic objectives, domestic policies, and systems of alliance building and yet still enter into long term agreements.
My only major disagreement with the authors- and one I know I have mentioned towards other books in past reviews- is the assumption that realism supports homogenization. I have long held the opposite position and that its one truly global thing-the Westphalian diplomatic system-is more an ad-hoc statement of decorum for getting along than a truly unified and standardized system. In fact, its major point was recognizing domestic autonomy of all actors involved to protect negotiations from religious fanaticism and archaic imperial claims. This is why in the present day it is China, and not the Europeans, which seems to be the largest scale and most consistent defender of Westphalian state sovereignty while North American and Northern European (ahem, culturally protestant) actors that constantly advocate for policies that interfere in the domestic affairs of nations they do not like. An ironic turn considering the reasons behind the original 1648 consensus. Much like how Europeans came into a South Asian (and East African, it should be noted) system as foreigners and then eventually became its greatest manipulators after a long time of adaptation, now it is China who, having the Confucian tributary system of being the ‘Middle Kingdom’ stripped of it has adapted itself to being a real Westphalian actor. What goes around comes around.
Be on the lookout for an upcoming opinion piece in the American Conservative by me about the utility of the Westphalian world view and the dangers of rejecting it sometime soon-edit, here you go. Had nothing to do with reading ‘International Order in Diplomacy’, just good timing there.
Considering that the Indian Ocean was the biggest pool of maritime trade anywhere in the world before the late 18th Century North Atlantic, it is imperative that IR scholars look at examples like it to further refine their theories. The authors of this book are doing a similar thing that I and others have done towards the Eurasian steppe (and what I want to expand doing with indigenous America in the future) in bringing sadly neglected regions and eras of history into the discussion of geopolitical strategy. International Relations, despite its name, is still a grotesquely Eurocentric and presentist school of thought in its mainstream currents. And theories divorced from history are nothing but obscure hypotheticals with little evidence to back up longer term trends.
Its common in international relations history to refer to historical figures like Kautilya and Han Feizi as their societies’ version of Machiavelli. This is a somewhat strange order of comparison as both of these figures as well as many others in the global realist tradition predate Machiavelli by numerous centuries. It does show one thing, however…that Machiavelli stands out first and foremost in the European (and Euro-American) mind. This is because he has a reputation for transgressiveness while the other realists have one for sound statecraft. Because he lived and was first disseminated in Christian cultures, the societies where his works arose were morally incapable of seriously dealing with him until mass secularization started to make inroads.
Briefly skimming through my more recent posts here to see if there was an organically unfolding theme to my thinking that I hadn’t yet explicitly addressed, I realized that it must be this: Material concerns should dominate the thought of any serious political thinker and culture war is largely a secondary front-*but*-its a secondary front that can be worth fighting if for no other reason than to open up the possibilities of discourse and have a propaganda wing and aesthetics that help you win the battle. This means that even those who are materialists first are unwise to just entirely cede the cultural front lest they suddenly find themselves swamped in a realm of discourse filled with preaching, sanctimony, moral panic, reactionaries, and the reactionary-progressives I have come to know as wokecels. As one of my favorite cultural critics, Anna Khachyan, once said on the Red Scare podcast, ‘the internet has just made men more autistic and women more hysterical.’
Nothing made this more immediately apparent than this past week’s war scare. (I imagine many regularly readers of this blog probably expected my next post to be about that. Sorry to disappoint you, though you can read my prior thoughts on war with Iran here and an op-ed I wrote about the issue elsewhere just this week here.) Discourse immediately degenerated into flag-humping on one side and humanitarian whimpering on the other. There was little true discourse on the strategic wisdom of the act of assassinating Qasem Souleimani that did not dip into whether or not assassination itself is wrong or hand ringing about the internal structural of the Iranian government.
Having transformed itself from transgressive outlet to moral fad arbiter, the internet itself has created an echo chamber that abolishes discussion of strategy for strategies’ own sake. To admire the achievements of Souleimani is to be an apologist for a hostile theocracy in the mind of the public, not simply someone who appreciates a general who was good at their job in an era where few of any nation meet that criteria. We live in an era that, like Machiavelli’s, is going to try to suppress strategic and critical thought in order to uphold the pieties of the day. It is truly a new Great Awakening and also a potential new dark age. People are often shocked by my admiration of certain people in history who I obviously politically disagree with, but an admiration of ones strategic political skill is not the same as an endorsement of their beliefs or even the net impact they had on the world at large. This should be obvious but in our society it is not by most-including (and sometimes especially) the highly educated commentator class. This is particularly strong in the case of Protestant-derived societies like that of northern Europe and North America. So it must be admitted that those who wish to have real strategic discussions in these societies have to think of new ways to connect with each other among a hostile landscape.
Obviously, those with high rank and power probably (and hopefully) have frank and honest discussions with each other away from the public. But its sad that public discussion of strategy among lay people is so suppressed by the inherited cultural baggage of Christian, post-Christian, liberal, nationalistic, and other forms of discourse. It is my belief that a secular ‘left handed path’ of strategic discourse should be made so that the wisdom and art of various geopolitical and military decisions can be discussed among non-practitioners in order to provide an outside but non-idealist form of criticism not dissimilar to (good) art and cultural criticism. While, no doubt, niche groups online and in real life do this, they are small and highly atomized and still vulnerable to ideological partisanship. One still has to walk on eggshells and insert truly endless amounts of quantifiers to have any kind of opinion extolling the skill of a ruthless commander lest any comments be immediately redirected into one’s own sympathies.
So, to open up the space for this left handed path of strategic analysis a secondary culture war, like was alluded to above, must be waged. But it is not a conventional war targeting the masses by any means, but rather one targeting people with niche interests. More of a shadow war that remains above the mainline of culture and solidly with the recruitment of the outsider in mind. It would have to be subversive, transgressive, and for people deemed worthy. In many ways like the esoteric and left hand paths of tantric thought in South Asian philosophy. Despite being inclusive to ideological and cultural background, such an approach still has as many do-nots as dos in order to keep its core character intact and to remain useful as a network.
Below I will outline some things I think such a practice would entail:
-The rejection of monotheism and its secular descendants. If a person believes that one political, spiritual, or economic system holds all the keys to bettering society and policy than they lack the ability to appreciate good strategy wielded by people they do not like and will forgive bad strategy wielded by people they feel kinship with. If someone believes in these things but can separate these beliefs from their appraisal of the art of politics, however, than its fine. Its just that I believe this combination to be much more rare than its claimed to be.
-The rejection of absolute relativism. While some relativism is good for analyzing the art of power and strategy, absolute relativism will mask successful applications of strategy from less successful ones. Some standards are needed, even if they are flexible.
-Ignoring people with aggressively basic and uncritical opinions. People have been trying to work on these forever, they are just marks waiting for the next grift or fad. Don’t bother.
-People who show a capacity for critical self-reflection are always good recruits, but not those who are self-flagellates and guilt mongers, they are just waiting for a chance to make any discussion a morality play.
-It is important to place yourself in the circumstances of the strategist you are examining, to be able to judge them based on the criteria for a job well done that they were given by their superiors or constituents, not on the opinions we have about them today from whatever society you personally hail from. This includes transgressive thought experiments like ‘if my job is to eliminate my rivals so thoroughly they all die or leave forever, what is the best way to go about it?’ Thinking about some of the worst things you can find in history is often illuminating as to how and why the bizarre things that happen unfold.
-In order to expose more people who might be receptive to these kinds of thought experiments it becomes important to bring in the ‘culture war’ aspect. Never let this take over your primary goals but always plant the seeds of doubt in your audience about how limiting to intellectual growth certain dominant trends (from mass consumerism, wokeness, racism, religion, individualism, and other forms of stultifying identity politics) are to those who want to take their explorations to the next level. Always be aware of historical examples that debunk the placid assumption of inherited popular ideologies. Be an agent of casting doubt in received wisdom. Battle sanctimony like it was robbing your house, because in a way that is exactly what it is trying to do.
-Reject the self as the arbiter of analysis. Even the most powerful actor you find was still part of a geographic, institutional, historical, and technological assemblage. Individuals are just another cog in a process known as strategy and that goes for oneself as much as it goes for other actors. The most important thing is the process itself, not its separated out components.
-Never give up the detachment necessary to remain an outsider. If you want to really understand the strategic forces that make our world work it simply requires some level of nihilism vis-a-vis value judgement and the morality of actors. We all have enemies and friends and we all make moral judgements as to where we stand, of course, but this should never be conflated with sober analysis.
-And that brings me to the final point (for now). Treasure your rivalries. If you forget you have enemies then you forget why it is so important to know and learn from strategy. If you don’t think you have any I have news, you do…you just don’t know it yet. They might be institutions rather than specific people. You do not want to be caught unprepared, so if you don’t have any, make some. To be unprepared leads to a slowing or stopping of self-improvement through adaptation. You were born into a species of apex predators who have spent all of their recorded history and much of their prehistoric time on this planet being its own biggest threat. Our social bonds are strongest when they have something to exclude, and not everyone can get along. This isn’t a tragedy, its a strength.
‘Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World‘ by Jairus Victor Grove was a book I had to get the second I found out about it. It merges the disciplines of international relations, ecology, and speculative realist thought and long time readers of this blog know that that is something I myself have endeavored to do for the past few years. Naturally, it is interesting to see someone else work their way through this combination of interdisciplinary issues, especially when they come to different conclusions than myself.
Grove seeks to bring the new materialisms into IR theory specifically in the context of the present environmental crisis we find ourselves in. In doing so he argues that the very practice of geopolitics has enabled this present ecological dark age by forcing the world into a hyper modernist European-led state system he refers to as the ‘Eurocene.’ The competitive arms race and its focus on expansion or continuation through war has in effect played a major role in the climate crisis of today. He then goes through many examples of how a new framework of discussion to international affairs must be created that cuts through the assumed narratives and back to a materialism that will enable us to survive this self-inflicted misery.
I believe it would be easier to split this review into two parts-the parts I am with the author on and the parts I disagree with. First up, where me and the author agree.
I am entirely with Grove that materialism is necessary and vital in a time of terrifying natural changes and a new human-led mass extinction. And speculative realism in particular offers the best way forward to making a new school of thought in this direction. I also agree with his premise that we shape the natural world but are also products of it which are shaped in turn. Humanity is more of a process than it is a dynamic primary actor. We need to recenter how we talk about politics more in the direction of how we talk about zoology. To quote a Godspeed You! Black Emperor lyric, ‘we are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine…and the machine is bleeding to death.’ But its a machine we helped build to rule even though it rules us now. We need to stop thinking like good civilized people and realize some barbarism is exactly what we need to break our own self-inflicted misery-if that is even possible anymore. And the first step of that is rejecting anthropocentrism and civilized niceties not just in ecology but in politics.
Where I disagree with the author, however, is his very concept of the ‘Eurocene.’ If the present international state system wasn’t working for states across the globe it would be dying out, but it seems to strengthening. There is no way we are getting through what I will remain calling the anthropocene without some level of a command economy for resources and research direction for technologies. Many of these resources will be scare and will be competed over. The competitive nature of the state system means something Darwinistic is occurring, which is good as we do not yet have the answer for surviving our current era and so multiple approaches must be tried and the best will serve as models for others and the worst will die out.
I also do not see anything particularly European about modernity anymore. While a new era did begin with the biological and demographic takeover of the western hemisphere and its forceable wedding to Europe-previously a minor and not particularly important subcontinental peninsula of Asia-any Eurasian actor could have potentially done the same thing. The bureaucratic state was first born in China and the agricultural state came from the Middle East, and those strike me as just as relevant to where we are now than the maritime-industrial states of post medieval Europe. Furthermore, as India and China move their way into full industrialization on their own terms and countries like Japan have long held that position dating back to the colonial era, I find little to argue for something called specifically ‘The Eurocene.’ That being said, the author is entirely correct that our currently unsustainable methods of development are a type of self-replicating virus imposed by force. But so too will any solutions have to follow that path.
It may come as no surprise that I, a person very into geopolitics (and making speculative realist geopolitics in particular) also take a more neutral tone on the field than this author. I think geopolitics are as likely to get us out of this mess as they are to dig us deeper. Aside from general environmental goals, I see little universal in how we will escape from pollution and mass extinction and more a variety of paths which depend on the varying ecologies of different countries. As it is, some countries will benefit from climate change and their interests cannot be said to be comparable with those who will suffer. A stateless world is a de facto neoliberal world in practice and the author’s fear of political homogenization is not caused by realism or geopolitics but rather prevented by those same actors. Diversity can only thrive in the absence of grand universal projects.
So our approaches are very clearly different as I see realist geopolitics as the garuntor of ideological, economic, and ecological diversity, not its foe. But Grove is an excellent writer so I enjoyed his take on it anyway.
I have been meaning to do a post on Scottish nationalism for about a year now. Other more topical issues kept displacing it in the order to writing though. But I suppose the 2019 UK elections finally have made it the topical issue of the time that can no longer be avoided. Therefore, this is going to be a two for one special both on the just completed UK elections and the future of Scottish nationalism.
First its time to preempt the incoming SensibleSerious™ hot takes that will be bombarding us from both sides of the Atlantic in no time. No, Labour did not lose because it had gone too far left. It lost because of its inability to run with BrExit as a settled policy. The wishy-washy ‘we want both sides’ position was the last thing anyone wanted. In particular the working class base of the party whose interests are very divergent from the middle class Blairites who still control so much of the upper echelon of the organization. People clearly wanted this three and a half year nightmare to be over-one way or the other. And the way things are going (especially in regards to long held Labour seats suddenly defecting despite generally being anti-Tory bastions) meant that Labour would have been better off embracing BrExit than running against it…or running in a way that sidelined the issue altogether, which is what they did. That second referendum the Remainers asked for? We just got it. It was this election.
Bold claims perhaps, but I have evidence to back them up. Its quite simple really. The Liberal Democrats were the hard Remain party. True neoliberal centrists, they basically come across as if American Democrats were grafted onto the UK political system. If Labour voters were dissatisfied with the more left wing direction of the party under Corbyn (who, by the way, delivered unexpected and impressive gains two years ago in the last election when BrExit was less of an issue) they would have defected to the Lib Dems. But the Lib Dems, under Immortan Jo, got their clocks cleaned in this most recent election too. Jo Swinson herself, the leader of the party, lost her seat to the Scottish National Party. Outside of the two major parties there was generally a telling result: the Lib Dems bombed and the SNP gained.
So now we come to the bridge between this election and my other point about Scottish nationalism. And that is that class and regional differences are now so strong that the very integrity of the United Kingdom is fatally compromised. The working and ruling class alike’s turn against the EU in England is very different from the situation in Scotland, where remaining part of the EU was a major motivating factor in handing the pro-union forces a victory in 2014. After all, the Union campaign said ‘if Scotland goes rogue it will be outside the EU and will have to re-apply.’ Less than two years later BrExit happens and…whoops. The Independence referendum was held under false pretenses.
I lived in the UK for over half a decade. One year in London and the rest in Scotland. I began my time as a temporary immigrant (I refuse the smug neoliberal term ‘expat’) and had little knowledge to start with about UK politics. At that time I found (then still Blairite) Labour and the Tories equally gross and largely just watched things happen as bemused observer. I was pro-union in the building Scottish Independence question, but only mildly so. I encouraged pro and anti sides to debate in front of me and always had a great deal of respect for independence leaning people. The degree to which I was pro-Union gradually eroded to only just barely, which is what I was left with when the vote came and ‘my side’ won.
But despite starting out on the other side, I came to realize that Scottish nationalism was a much different creature than pretty much any other contemporary nationalism I had ever experienced. While I have never been a fan of nationalism on a personal level, I recognize its utility and generally find it an often necessary, if distasteful, thing to appeal to in order to mobilize the coalitions needed to get policies done. But Scottish nationalism was different.
At first I thought it was just the affinity I had developed for my home-away-from-home, something I never felt when I was living in England and even arguably something I never quite felt growing up in the United States either. Scotland fit me really well and if it was up to me I probably never would have moved out (thanks for the new visa restrictions then Home Secretary Theresa May…well, at least she ended up getting her just desserts in the end). Naturally, I thought I was just being more forgiving to a place I had come to enjoy living in. But that wasn’t it. Unlike most nationalist groups, the SNP was always ethically and culturally diverse. Its concept of Scottish civic responsibility stems directly from a geographic rather than ethnic self of what makes Scotland unique. Scottish nationalism is, in effect, parallel to a lot of what I have come to advocate as a geopolitical strategist for a sustainable society: The situational and ecological tie to a specific place’s interest and its resulting unique political identity as a physical thing, rather than a romantic nature of ethnicity. Speculative realism meets the political world. For instance, in the 2014 vote on independence the rules were that UK citizens living in Scotland could vote in it, no matter where they were from originally, but Scots living elsewhere in the UK could not. It was all about what was best for the country from the people who lived there, no matter who they were. The important and unifying point is that it is (or should be) a distinct civic entity from its giant and increasingly reactionary southern neighbor.
But the feeling of fondness and respect for these trends only intensified once I moved out. And with its intensification my views on independence changed. David Cameron continued to gut the country and oversee the most incompetent government since Atlee. He also maybe fucked a dead pig. He promised a referendum on the EU that he didn’t need to make, and then, contrary to all expectations including his own, lost it. Cue the BrExit shitstorm, the trainwreck of Theresa May’s government, and the eventual saddling of the world with Boris Johnson, a truly Trumpian clown who isn’t even as funny or memeable as his American counterpart. Ever since all of Britain has been David Cameron’s Pig being fucked by London elites and Tory politicians and my views on Scottish independence went from mildly pro Union to massively pro-Independence. This also came in tandem with a former neutrality on Northern Ireland tilting strongly towards full Irish reunification.
There were many reasons to be opposed to the EU, some good and some bad. But surely the unraveling of the Good Friday Accords in Northern Ireland was an inevitable part of BrExit. Scotland itself, a small country with interests throughout Europe, needs connections to larger entities to survive. But its political culture is diverging rapidly from that of England as BrExit and the rise of the SNP clearly show. And it seems to me that England is holding the non-Anglo parts of the British Union back. Perhaps even dragging them down with it. While England sinks further and further into the morass of petty bitter nativism, the country where I once lived and had impromptu street parties I joined when Thatcher died is clearly turning away from both Tories and Labour and for the SNP, presaging a re-invigoration of the Independence debate. I would not be surprised if I, as an individual, end up outliving the United Kingdom.
My only hope is that, going forward, more countries could take cues from Scottish nationalism in general: a type of green-civic-geographic program of tying together people based on place rather than ethnicity. I believe it offers a far better future than either the tired neoliberal status quo being rejected around the world right now or the nativistic rise of the chuds that seems the only force yet striving to take its place.
Or you could just take the black pill and keep on voting for a country where someone like Greg Knight just sits in Parliament taking up oxygen and making the worst campaign videos ever seen by man. A slow death by mediocrity and Little Englandism.
In the run up for 2012 a bizarre medley of hippies, conspiracy theorists, people who badly misread Mayan calendars and seemed to forget that their civilization collapsed before they could finish putting together future dates all came together to warn us of the end of the world…or at least of an era.
Well, the joke was on them. Or was it really? Maybe the joke is on us. Because now, at the end of the 2010’s its apparent that we have entered at least one new type of era-the era of mindlessly entitled and approval seeking behaviors. With the collapse of the world economy in 2008, neoliberal individualism could only maintain its existence and credibility through the hijacking of social issues and identity politics-and with the spread of social media’s popularity and up and coming generations of people who had never known any alternative but the post Cold War status quo-a whole new age of stupid was ready to descend.
2012 was indeed the decisive year. Obama won re-election easily against a cartoon parody of a vulture capitalist and then proceeded to continue down the path of tepid centrism not far removed from his opponent. That perpetual puppy dog Cory Booker defended Romney’s laughable non-career and began his own pivot towards the voice of American Thatcherism which he still does (to ever diminishing audience). Even more in line with the zeitgeist was the rise of the low-information voter appealing humanitarian hipster who was an easy mark for the Christian missionary front and unintentional Pentagon dupes of Kony 2012. It ended with the movement’s frontman, a kind of theater kid closet-case precursor to John Allen Chau, having a naked drunken meltdown in public while ranting about the devil. And possibly nothing was as emblematic of these times as Upworthy, the clickbait trollfarm of liberal virtue signaling that did so much to make the internet a cesspool of the rebirth of evangelism from the religious right to the social issues left. You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next, and Number 3 Will Shock You.
Before this period the internet was a refuge from aggressively complacent world views. It was a cynical, secular, and wonderfully unorthodox place. It was much meaner too, but in a direct and less psychologically manipulative way than the quest to mine a scarcity of virtue makes it today. Like a hippy boomer, it went from counterculture distraction to the mainstream in record time and with the most pearl clutching reactionary pathos possible.
While this new era of the Mayan Long Count may still be upon us for some time, I can think of no better time than the end of 2010’s cultural decade to reflect on who the spirit totem of this neoliberal sundowning era could be. And there is one obvious answer: Rachel Dolezal.
While Dolezal, famous for perhaps the most in depth attempt to LARP in blackface since Al Jolson (but with far more commitment to the bit as a serious exercise to be fair) is funny, she is also tragic. She was raised by seemingly abusive religious fundamentalist parents she broke with. She serves as a kind of microcosm of Late Capitalism and identity politics in one person. The utterly alienated and powerless, either too lazy or too ignorant to realize the true structural forces that make them miserable, latch onto increasingly niche social causes or communities they are not part of in order to have some power over their lives through the construction of a new identity. What interviews with Dolezal show is her levels of tragedy fueling her narcissism. The situation that caused her to seek a new identity is quite real, even if her response to these problems is mistaken.
This is so many people today, especially the terminally online. If a real commitment is not made to elevate the discourse towards materialism and away from postmodernism this is also our future. More and more powerless and perhaps originally sympathetic people just turning towards fantasy and identity. We see it in the Harry Potter obsessed liberals and the adults whose greatest travel dream is Disney World everyday. The problem with that is what little power you have becomes even more diminished when you start viewing public issues through the lens of inner reflection and personal labels. Only collective efforts can address the major issues of our times, and that requires relegating identity to a secondary status in service of the public good and causes that effect more, rather than less, people.
To end the Dark (or not-so-dark) Age of Dolezal we must usher in a new Golden Age of Civic Responsibility. To do that means not to give up personal issues but to wield them constructively in alliance with greater public causes outside of simply self-validation and attention seeking. It means calculating interest not based on personal fashion choices or cultural affinities but rather real calculable interests about how to distribute resources and who should have the power to do so.
I have seen a plethora of theories about how social media, the internet, and mass media in general is driving us insane by increasing the number of shut-ins and people who forgo real life social interaction for the sad-sack replacement of dehumanizing cyberspace. They are so common as to not be worth summing up once again here. While I certainly agree that the internet seems to have weaponized a specific type of cheap and clueless discourse that lacks depth and seems to empower the most hysterical and autistic-leaning elements of public speech at the expense of all else, I disagree on why this is with the mainstream theories that are out there.
I believe it is over-socialization, rather than under-socialization, that is the true bugbear of this problem. The internet is enabling more connectivity than ever before, and in so doing it is abolishing private space to think and reflect. This is hardly a new process-it clearly began with television-but it is being accelerated more than ever before by social media in particular. We see people’s opinions unfiltered whereas before they would either have to be teased out or would naturally come out as part of a normal conversation between people who at least sort of know each other. Cyberspace may be filled to the brim with posturing and fakeness but all of human social interaction is. It is just more on display than ever before. Everyone no matter how irrelevant can now behave as golden age of Hollywood celebrities types do…and since our society idolizes those very people it becomes a model to emulate.
None of this is really any faker than normal interaction, it is just jacked up to 11 and dosed with a big helping of agoraphobia. The true alienation is with nature and the outdoors, not with human civilization. It is humanity that is in fact being overdosed on. If people are withdrawing from social interaction in the real world it may very well be because they already have too much of it online.
So what we are seeing with the widespread panics and ever more rapidly shifting zeitgeist of cultural wars, tribalization, and the like is really what happens when we are trained to be too social. People have too many ‘friends’. They have too many people watching them and care about the approval of too many outside forces. Privacy has been abolished as a value and to tune out of the mainstream is now a freakish occurrence rather than a respectable one. A contemporary definition of a thinker is now someone who tweets approval-seeking self-marketing in a desperate bid to thrive in the gig economy. I don’t think any but the most obnoxious among us were designed to be exposed to other people so much for such a large percentage of our waking hours. We need quiet to really be with ourselves. One of the biggest turn-offs for me when I meet a new person are those who clearly cannot be alone with themselves for long stretches of time. It implies that they have little of interest going on inside save perhaps for insecurity.
How does one combat this trend of over-socialization? Well, it is easy. You don’t fully have to disconnect…but rather take a step back and realize that when you say you need ‘me time’ or whatever it is you want to call it, that this also requires that said solo time is removed from the internet, television, or anything like that. Time to oneself, when a person’s most interesting thoughts occur since they are not simply being shaped by extremely temporary trends, is key to self-cultivation. And self-cultivation is nearly impossible in an over-socialized environment. Reading full books rather than articles is a start, but I would say that getting outside and adopting physical hobbies is also a part of it. Writing, even just for practice, helps too. Exploring a city on foot can even work as people who live among high population densities are very good at tuning other people out for necessities sake-a skill perhaps needed on highly trafficked social media websites as well.
Nature is among my favorite refuges. Nothing reminds one more of how things work without pretense than physical processes and less mentally cluttered other animals. The (fictional) writing I do is often most effectively inspired by trips I take to naturally beautiful locations for hiking or whatnot. Much like the life you live in meatspace, your online life should be regulated to a level that works best for you without overloading your own personal time. Otherwise you end up like an algorithm of a person with no depth of character. A human Marvel movie constructed for mass consumption rather than actual contribution beyond immediate gratification. It is the irony of the present times that those who feel the need to be most in tune with current trends are the ones basically guaranteeing their thoughts have no staying power. These are the people who will be first to fade into irrelevance.
The first step is to realize that while humans are social animals, this too must be held in moderation along with our other instincts. To have a meaningful contribution to others in the first place one must first be able to step back and look at things from an angle different from merely going along unthinkingly with trends.
Of course, there are entire industries based around relieving and avoiding self-reflection, so we have a society that incentivizes people not to really be quiet with themselves. But even in order to see that relatively mundane observation, it requires the knowledge that you are being manipulated…and that in turn requires some sense of distance.
One announcement regarding the future of this blog-and no, it is not related to the above post. I recently started a position where I will do a lot of foreign policy and strategic writing. Unlike my prior time at the State Department where most of what I wrote was not for public output, this one will be. So, with that being a big part of my near future I feel that is likely that the percentage of foreign policy specific topics on this blog will decrease in proportion to the other topics I like such as philosophy, history, domestic politics (of various nations), etc. When I write something particularly on topic for this blog elsewhere I will probably just link to it with a brief statement and then get to another topic.
I will not cease writing about foreign policy topics here, I am merely stating that its proportion will decrease. And even then, book reviews on that topic are almost certainly staying as is when it comes to output.
What follows is a proposal guaranteed to displease both the woke left and the racist right…and most likely please nearly everyone else if they think about it.
It should be beyond doubt at this point that the worst, most anti-intellectual, and loudest segments of the left and liberals alike have far more in common with right-wing reactionaries on a psychological level than they do with anyone else. This is not some lazy horseshoe theory on my part, as I have on multiple past posts made my scorn for the alt-center neoliberals quite clear. It is, however, a recognition that similar cultural, class-based, and other factors create Extreme Culture Warriors. These ECW’s are the dumbest people of left, center, and right alike and get in the way of anyone’s ability to have rational and productive conversations. This decade’s current epidemic of call-outs, scolding think pieces, and ‘canceling’ mirror the right-wing evangelical revival of the 80s, 90s, and early oughts. That one came as a reaction to the 60s and then was briefly recharged by 9/11, whereas the current one is a reaction to the 2016 election (liberal 9/11) and the failures of the Obama years to amount to much of anything. Both are entirely the wrong response to serious problems in need of addressing. Both, therefore, get in the way of finding solutions.
Both of these similar movements are also overwhelmingly demographically dominated by white people. Specifically, middle and upper-class white people.
Much as I loathe identity politics this class and ethnic overlap on widely different parts of the political compass cannot be ignored. But seeing as these ideologies often rub off on second and third-generation descendants of Asian immigrants who have mostly white friends it perhaps behooves us to refer to this faction collectively as ‘Anglo-Protestants.’ Besides, we all know that white Euro-Catholics in America are basically culturally Protestant anyway so it works. As it is, both come from the same original strain in North Atlantic history. And it is worth remembering that the whitest large city in America is Portland, Oregon. The very place the right hates the most. So if the far right got its own white ethnostate it would take about 1 generation for it to become overrun with SJWs.
What to do about this problem? Well, fortunately, present trends have already shown us some facet of the answer. Demographic Displacement. That’s right, the worst fear of the far right! This introduces a delicious irony…if the right wants to prove that they are in fact not racist than surely they will be able to commit to the destruction of ‘SJWs’ by acknowledging that the most effective way to get rid of them is to fundamentally undermine the white majority in North America. Meanwhile, on the other side of irony, both liberals and leftists of woke-persuasion will at first champion taking more Hispanic and Asian immigrants…until they begin to realize that this is swamping out their assimilationist tendencies and attempts to colonize other people’s language. Speed is the key. If the amount of immigration is too low then the Anglo-Protestantified second and third generations will also grow up surrounded by such people and be tainted by their moralism. The only choice to combat this scourge is to smash white supremacy with numbers. Open the borders to countries with non-protestant cultures, do not open them to countries with huge strident revivalist religions of all stripes.
So, righties, if you are serious about confronting the menace of the woke its time to step up and stick it to whitey. And lefties, if you really want that super-diverse world you claim to crave its time to accept that such a world will likely bury your ideology and make your performative politics irrelevant. Because when demographics kill off Luther and Calvin, they will also kill off Richard Spencer and Lena Dunham.
But time is of the essence lest we end up with more Kamala Harris-types.