Paul Ryan’s Pandemic

paul ryan workout
Preemptive apologies for the odd formatting of this post, wordpress seems to be struggling with depicting spacing as it appears in the writing box when posting. Getting paragraph breaks appears to be haraam today.
I would hardly consider myself a coronavirus alarmist. I am far more concerned about the public panic and response than the disease itself. Still, it is already having real effects on global markets so it is worth talking about why some countries respond much better than others.
Not a peep about HoW aRe We GoInG tO pAy FoR iT to once again bail out the stock market from the ‘fiscal conservatives’, Paul Ryan Pie Chart Dipshits, and SensibleSerious Neoliberals. Imagine my surprise. Never enough money for bailouts and the Pentagon, but god forbid we have a healthcare and pandemic testing response system…or modern infrastructure, or name any issue here.
Meanwhile as our dogshit healthcare system collapses the worlds largest economy is shown more and more to be based on a house of cards of 70% consumer spending. The supposedly all consuming power of the American economy rests on people being consoomers. The utter hollowing out of civil society means that this tottering pre-Punic War Carthage model of empire cannot even sustain this fragile economic balance when push comes to shove.
Joe Biden, who I generally regard as doomed in a general election against Trump, might even have a shot now considering how badly mangled the Trump administration’s response to this issue is.
That malignant little weasel may have slunk out of the public limelight, but we very much live in Paul Ryan’s America. Nowhere is that more clear than in the pathetic U.S. government response to coronavirus. This is not to say that he himself is solely responsible by any means, but as the hollow empty cipher for the model of hard-right neoliberalism and austerity embraced by the most complacent countries on Earth he is as good a hate symbol as any. Almost universally beloved by the mainstream press for most of his career, he was by any objective standard, an utter failure as a politician.
Kind of like the ‘free global markets’ ideology, Paul Ryan was a vapid nonentity who existed only to serve massive upwards wealth transfers with slick superficial ideological excuses. This required huge cuts to programs that increased societal stability and group cohesion. The privatization of civil society turned everything into a consumer good, but its OK, because its chief acolytes were edgy.
But Reagan and Thatcher are dead, and the Clintons and Bushes are dying. Paul Ryanism is being rejected left and right not because he was rational and they are extremists, but because, under the time of the Ryan-wonks, it was the center that became the true extremists who lived and breathed for the dismantling of society. Meanwhile, the organized and disciplined responses to pandemic from non-austerity practicing countries are well on track to put us to shame.
For the body politic to recover we need immunization from the virus that is Paul Ryanism. We have let this pandemic of pie charts run rampant for far too long. Meanwhile, the young fogies who take after his lead continue to fill corporate boardrooms and government offices all across the United States, the United Kingdom, and other similar countries, striving to defend the dystopia they themselves made. Right now Pence is probably having a conversation just like this, but with more snake handling.

The Slithering Death of Bush’s Last Legacy

Afghanistan-and-Its-Neighbors

 

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.

Bloomberg is the Greater Evil

Trump-bloomberg-getty-img

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:

  1. All of the same economic policies Trump supports sans the trade war aspect.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. A return to the 90s-era expansion of the mass incarceration state and possibly a re-vamping of the calamitous drug war.
  5. 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 Diplomacy- Book Review

mughal painting

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.

Geostrategic Vamachara: The Case for a Left-Handed Strategic Art

mitlantehuchi

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, A Book Review

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.

The Second BrExit Referendum and the Utility of Scottish Nationalism

uk battle map

Plan B: Operation Celtic Revenge

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.

immortan jo

Big Shocker

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.