The Universe of Repulsion

 

ravenstealssunboddhisatva

My own depiction of Pacific Northwest Raven as a Tibetan wrathful Bodhisattva, or perhaps anti-Bodhisattva. 

Concurrent with my 3 years of delving into speculative realist philosophy has been a simultaneous exploration of the historical intellectual thought in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. I remain as much a materialist and atheist as I have ever been, but find the intellectual journey of these religions far more interesting than that of the Abrahamic faiths I have been surrounded by for most of my life. In some ways I believe they can show glimpses of what intellectual life would be like in the western half of Eurasia (and its descended colonies) were it not for the rise of Christianity. Particularly in Japan, Mongolia, and China, where foreign religions largely integrated with pre-existing polytheism rather than simply replacing or expunging them. The only places in the west where such syncretism occurred is in Afro-Caribbean influenced places, some Native American modern beliefs, and New Orleans voodoo-and those of course are heavily dominated by surrounding Christian cultures.

Hinduism had outright atheistic and materialistic schools of thought, and Buddhism denies the immutable soul and upholds philosophical inquiry as dialectic exchange. Certain concepts, such as ‘Indra’s Web’ (shared by both), a concept of the universe as a web containing droplets where each droplet reflects the others ad infinitum, have a remarkable level of confluence with Whitehead’s process theory or to be much more contemporary Bryant’s ‘democracy of objects’- with the notable exception that the philosophical trends are expressed materialistic, and the religious concepts usually are the opposite. Still, much of this way of thinking effectively did not exist in the west from late antiquity until Shopenhauer and its interesting to follow its trends as thought in parts of the world where it was in effect never interrupted.

This bring me to my main point here with the post, and its a problem I have with both process theory and other adjacent to the new speculative turn schools of thought as well as those eastern religions. The problem is quite simple: sure the universe is all interconnected, but this certainly does not mean that it is all *one*.

One of the reasons I have always been partial to hard polytheistic cosmologies as cultural complex is because while there is the acknowledgement that the pantheon of (I would hold, symbolic) figures all takes place in the same world, they are fundamentally different and sometimes at odds. While many philosophical trends, secular and eastern, are superior to the brute certitude and absolutism of Abrahamism, they still can’t quite bring themselves to see the power of chaos and repulsion. In fact, repulsion seems one of the few universal values that can be said to observably exist.

I generally find metaphysics that are not grounded in actual science or natural philosophy to be nothing but faffing about and New Agey nonsense, and fortunately my background in being an astronomy nerd is in fact much longer and more robust than that of philosophy. Dark Energy, so far considered the dominant force of our universe, immediately comes to mind. If the concept of negative mass can be proven it will contribute to this. The fact that gravity is universal and omnipresent, but also weak compared to the forces of energy (dark or otherwise) also makes a case of interconnections not being enough to overcome repulsion. But this is, first and foremost, a humanities blog and there the immediate effects of repulsion seem most obvious.

In international relations we find the natural desire for all states, no matter their official ideological inclination, to balance and counter-balance each other so as to maintain the maximum freedom of action in an anarchic inter-state world that is possible. In culture and politics we see competition leading to rivalry which leads to divergence, and unity only possible when a majority is willing to countenance the use of force to keep such unity alive. Societal bonds break down both for oppression from an increasingly alien ruling class as well as in times of immense complacency and opulence. New mergers are often only possible when two groups fear a third group more, in which case unity itself is the product of an even higher level of repulsion. Foreign attack or invasion is the best way to create unity, because the level of general repulsion is often held to be greater than that which occurs naturally within a society when not under existential threat. When things are left to their natural anarchic state, repulsion is the norm. It is unity that is the artificial construct and temporary state, beneficial as it can often be. But repulsion seems to be the baseline all is working from on the macro-scale. As the Arab proverb goes (paraphrasing here): ‘My country against other countries, my region against my country, my town or city against my region, my family against my town, me against my family.’ What we see here is that unity is only truly reliable when a greater force of repulsion is present. Even those insufferable kinds of people filled universal love show this by the scorn they heap upon those that deny their vision and the hierarchies of condescension they create from those who follow the doctrine they espouse down to ‘the unenlightened’ who do not.

Some schools of thought in speculative realism, especially Harman’s Object Oriented Ontology, adopt a view more closely to what I am getting to with repulsion. Despite being more on the process theory side of things (as, I think increasingly, am I), Bryant talks about such issues as well. These thinkers speak not only of withdrawn objects and and the core of objects being inaccessible, but also of the real material basis for divergence between objects in thought. As stated before, I myself am not into the metaphysical side of things enough to bother as much with this aspect, but I do think that one can acknowledge that everything is interconnected through processes while still rejected the idea that ‘all is all one’-unless that one thing is base struggle. Interconnections need not mean monism or uniformity. In fact, rivalry and division are also a form of being connected to things. A kind of connection through repulsion-which is still a type of relationship of course but one of many rather than of one.

All of this is to quibble with semantics of course. But I feel for those of us who study the competition of societies vis-a-vis each other, or the unpredictability of change in any form, it is a useful rhetorical tool to have. It also has the positive value of being able to repel hippies and anti-intellectual ‘its like, all one mannnnn’ type people who deny the very real existence of power struggle and the importance of divergences in thought while still engaging with some concepts common in discourse that are not themselves wrapped up in Platonic forms or absolutism.

Or in other more flippant words, maybe interconnections through repulsion is the true, ahem, ‘middle path.’

Geotrickster is all in for Tulsi Gabbard

Geotrickster is all in for Tulsi Gabbard.

tulsi gabbard pic

First, a reminder that Geotrickster was ahead of the curve of Tulsi Gabbard, who announced her interest in seeking the presidency in 2020 today.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has been on my radar since 2013. She was the first non-Rand Paul voice criticizing the Obama Administration’s foreign policy towards the Middle East which was clearly starting to go off the rails around the time of the 2012 election. She has been a consistent advocate against the Bipartisan Perpetual War Party that has driven America and much of the world it claims to ‘police’ into the gutter so far in the 21rst Century. And she did this without being the opposite extreme of being an isolationist or far right crank.

Tulsi Gabbard has demonstrated, time and time again, that not only is American foreign policy off the rails and hijacked by special interests awash in their own self-congratulatory ideology, but that restraint is not only the less costly policy in terms of lives and money but also the superior way to combat extremism and avoid the alienation of allies. Having myself worked for the State Department in countering violent extremism in the past, I can assure you that this position of hers is correct. Regime change wars fuel Islamic extremism and sectarian division, diplomatic engagement can help diffuse them and build partnerships abroad. And with far less danger of direct blowback. While Trump alienates allies and the mainstream Democrats stoke hawkishness in a blind knee jerk reaction to his few better instincts, some few people, with Tulsi in the lead, represent a proper realist alternative that understands the need for cost/benefit analysis over ideological devotion. Besides, being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is no good for us.

But despite the foreign policy focus on this blog, this is not the only reason I want to express my happiness at the declaration of Tulsi Gabbard. Congresswoman Gabbard is among that rare clique of Democrats who are reform minded away from the destructive, self-consuming, and ultimately right wing-neoliberal policies of the Clinton Consensus that has dominated the party since 1992. She does this without being a starry-eyed idealist or beholden to some teleological world view about the end of history. And considering her strong endorsement of indigenous rights and environmental action, she can be taken seriously on the most pressing issue of our time: climate change. It is for many of these reasons that she has Democratic, Republican, and Independent admirers alike. If there is anything the 2016 election shows, it is that having appeal outside the closed world of partisan hacks is necessary for national elections. Both casual voters and nuanced non-partisan voters are desperately seeking a candidate that represents an alternative to the ossified nature of center-left and far-right.

It is important to acknowledge that Tulsi Gabbard, especially as a relatively anti-establishment candidate running within a party notorious for self-selecting right-to-centrist-wing candidates for the sake of the donor money and ‘expert’ strategist hires it is so fond of, is going to come into a large amount of criticism in the time ahead. The Democratic establishment as much if not more will attack her than the Republicans do. We will be subjected to the intense irony of people who support the mass bombing of the Middle East calling her Islamophobic for preferring diplomacy to endless war. We will see her former record on gay rights be called into question. She will be called an isolationist. Many of these critiques will not just be from rote liberals but also proper leftists.

My response to them is as follows. I know I am not alone in finding the level of leeway Islamic ideologies are given by people who are supposedly so secular at home. This represents the dangerous infiltration of postmodernism into the issue and ignores that many secularist individuals and movements also exist in Muslim majority societies. Weaponized Islamism is a danger in some parts of the world much like far-right evangelism is in North America. It is wise, not foolish, to remain devoted to security issues around this topic. It is, however, a problem for police and culture, not for militarized intervention. Gabbard recognizes that Islamist ideology is dangerous and requires a firm hand, but that war is usually not the answer. One can-and should-hold both of these positions.

Gabbard is also not an isolationist. She has endorsed a smart, rather than bullying, position for overall US policy. Such a powerful country cannot realistically retreat from the planet without leaving a dangerous vacuum-and few actual people endorse isolationism anymore. The problem is that the neoconservative-dominated foreign policy establishment will use the phrase ‘isolationism’ against anyone who is not ready to constantly and reflexively support their dangerous and wasteful militarism. But it is America behaving like a rogue state since 2003 that has left it more isolated than at any point after the 1930s. Just look at how America is viewed abroad.

As for gay rights, a lot of people, including the entire country itself, has changed its mind on these issues with relative rapidity in recent times. A change in position could be opportunistic, as it was with Obama and especially Hillary Clinton, whose virulent homophobia in the 90s seems to have been utterly excised by much of her more recent wokescold fan base. But Gabbard’s story on social issue evolution came before the country at large, which disavows it being beholden to polls. Furthermore, this evolution was the result of changing views based off life experience, i.e. seeing the disadvantages of social conservatism while being deployed in Iraq. This cannot imply an opportunistic John Kerry style flip-flopping at the drop of a hat or poll numbers, but the genuine changes of belief that happen. Her constant advocacy for minority rights since assuming national level office is proof of this. And in an era of rank racism and climate change denial from one party and complacency from most of the rest of the other she represents a true viable alternative who could connect with significant alienated parts of the present electorate.

After all, I used to be a libertarian and no one could accuse me of holding those views now. I learned through experience and am better for the process.

Her biggest negative is some casual sympathies to Modi’s government in India. While I myself am not a fan of this on the personal level, good relations with India are inevitable for a future America one way or the other. And while I have my strong reservations about the BJP, they are the government of India in the present time and diplomatic use could be made of such connections. India is not Nicaragua or El Salvador. The opinions of US politicians will matter little for its domestic policies. It is large, powerful, and established. Compare this dynamic to the bipartisan establishments many connections to Saudi Arabia and Israel which are not only beyond casual, but positively financial influence peddling many in DC as well.

First the Democratic Party and then hopefully the nation at large will have a choice in the near future: continue the failed Manicheism of two mutually hostile and increasingly aged political parties, or field a barrier breaking candidate running on actual issues rather than media signifiers, the status quo that has failed so many, and fear of criticism. Having learned the lesson of Obama, that charisma without a specifically attached set of policies will ultimately produce little, it is time to support the first candidate for high office who has an issue-driven career and platform and the sense and thoughtfulness to use it pragmatically.

I have seen myself how people across the board tire of endless deregulation and warfare. And I have seen that one of the few people elected in congress today that is well looked on by all of these people, who are largely unrepresented by officer holders,

It is time for Tulsi Gabbard. She is the best candidate I have ever seen to announce a run for the presidency in my entire life so far.

………………………………………………………………………….

 

P.S.

It is important to remember, in the media hysteria relating to the (correct) position to withdrawal from Syria and the resignation of General Mattis, largely due to his own disapproval of any policy that reigns in an over-extended American empire, that Tulsi Gabbard was one of the few public figures who had a record of grilling his pas ‘sage advice.’

And lets not forget the time she endorsed Bernie publicly at Hillary’s coronation:

Astropolitik: A Hypothetical Near Future

Sulaco_approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cheers and Jeers, Not Tears for Dead Missionaries

North Sentinal Island (Creative Commons A-NC-SA) Credit: Christian Caron

‘Come in and meet our Gods,

This is not your day.’

~Korpiklaani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

‘The Hell of Good Intentions’, A Review

hell of good intentions

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

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

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

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

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

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

My only real critiques of the text as follows:

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

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

 

Will Taiwan Fight?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Post Midterm Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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