The Black Longhouse

“You’re feeling the oppression of Christian hegemony in conflict with native animism,” he said. “Self-righteous, puritanical men seized this land. You’re also feeling the eyes of the vultures evaluating the sweet texture of your skin. The eyes of many animals. Animals endure.’

~Laird Barron, ‘Worse Angels’

What follows is a symbolic manifesto of sorts. Take from it what you will.

In a world built on bones there is an entire hemisphere that is especially shattered by abrupt displacement. On the northern continent of that hemisphere is the seat of a degenerating world-empire. Within that empire are a people unmoored from the reality of the ancient land beneath their feet even as it dies because of them. They cling to the ideologies of a failing state despite these very beliefs having brought them to this point. The universal idealism of a simple moralistic world and one set of values to make sense of it has not just failed them-it has made everything worse for everyone. The ubiquity of their communications networks brings what was once left at the pulpit of the puritan into an unceasing daily bombardment of affirmation for collapsing monoculture.

But there was a time that lasted far longer before the coming of Christ and Cotton Mather when these lands had no such grifters. Tribes existed and fought each other as humans always do, but had no concepts of messianic religion, ‘biological’ race, or the glorification of victimhood. These many diverse peoples were wiped out by an unprecedented hemisphere-encompassing apocalypse where smallpox and plague took the majority as a prelude. Then came shattered bands of survivors still alive in a time where the recently dead outnumbered the living by multitudes and were forced to respond to an alien invasion of technologically advanced extremists. They went down in a hell of a fight that took centuries and their descendants are still live today, despite the odds.

In their place came a civilization that broke all contact with this past and rushed to fill the vacuum with their own inheritance…but not all these things were a sensible fit for the new locale. Despite the cultural disconnect of most of its inhabitants, its earthy chaotic gods sleep much closer to the surface than the long-buried and fully domesticated pantheons across the sea. This is not a land of mellow meadows and shires, but of earthquakes, blizzards, tornadoes, and towering thunderstorms. This is a land that scorns weakness.

The newcomers could breed to the point where they were immune to native syncretism-avoiding the natural fate of conquerors. This further cut off the northern reaches of the hemisphere even beyond that of the rest. We live in their world now. But now, in the early 21rst Century, we see their world view cracking under the strain of its own hubris and excess. The opportunity to build something new is opening before our eyes. Something that fits this place better. Something that can at least bridge some of the gap between the incongruous ideological imposition of today and the natural state of a beautiful and terrible land.

There are those of all backgrounds and persuasions who find no tribe amongst the degenerating postmoderns of our time. They find the amplification of faddish superficial issues a distraction, the busybodies of the commentariat and consumer as the front for a past-prime ruling class in crisis. Witch hunts are everywhere as the fearful and ostensibly secular descendants of those original puritan settlers and conquistadores blame heretics for their own inadequacies.

Those who reject this status quo may find themselves walking in the woods as they travel apart from the trends. Let us say in the northeast or Great Lakes region-though it could be anywhere. The new growth forest of the woodlands hacked down and re-grown is filled with underbrush and small trees. Ticks lurk everywhere as un-predated deer strip the biodiversity as they spread like locusts.

Eventually these travelers make their way to a place deep in the woods. Giant ancient trees tower above in the old growth grove. Here, the underbrush is lighter. Flowers bloom again. Sharp unseen eyes raise their hackles as they know the deer tread lightly in this place for fear of predation. At the center is a longhouse. Those redoubtable large bark clad structures that could house many people and supplies. But this longhouse is different. It is jet black and angled as only a modern construct could be. It draws from the forgotten past but is no slave to it. It would seem incongruous to those who came across it accidentally, but not to our band our travelers.

On the inside they find the interior lit only by the fire pits. The shadows cast about imply a structure far larger than seems from the outside. There wait for them masked figures-wooden shamanic grotesques with distorted and leering features. Beneath this they wear well-tailored suits. They tell the travelers that to accept the uncertainties of a new future is to draw strength from a different past. The pipe is passed around as the masked ones speak of a land people belong to, and not a land belonging to people.

‘Mankind sought the death of Coyote, an animal once confined to the plains and Rockies. His attempts to kill it made it breed and migrate outwards. A century after this campaign began it has unintentionally spread the animal over the entire continent. Here, in the east, it has bred with Canadian wolves up north before moving south. It has thus grown in size and pack mentality.

‘The coyotes were misfits, but they came together to survive and perhaps for revenge. Now, they thrive while we decline. Be like this beast. Adapt to the new by breaking old bonds of safety. Your mouth must be red with venison for the flowers to bloom again and the ticks to recede. Face your fears directly and make them your allies against your foes. Come together at decisive points in time and scatter when countered. Always help to sabotage the complacently powerful and their defenders.’

These travelers realize their personal differences do not need to be ironed out-the diversity strengthens them. Here they can debate the most taboo subjects openly, shrouded from view of the puritans by the walls of the Black Longhouse. They have something more important now: common enemies. The missionary, the financier, the complacent monoculture that upholds them all.

As the travelers dance around the fire they revel in being both distinct and as-one. They know that their odds are low but that such difficulties only increase the glory of the fight. The future they want is yet un-defined but by taking the first step away from a failed consensus the mere possibility to building something new has been created. All of them now carry the Black Longhouse inside them.

The travelers walk out of the old growth region, through the moat of the striplings, and back into the roar of modernity. But rather than be sad as before, they see now that within this degenerating world is an abundance of new opportunities. Every decaying town is a chance to rebuild not in some nostalgic way for what it once was, but a new way to that leans forward and draws from a different and much neglected past. Many peoples, gods, and cultures united against a common old order and its increasingly hysterical defenders. What were the covenant chains of past entities on this land before colonization but the agreement that difference and divergence was fine, and could all serve a struggle against a common enemy? Such was the thought of people who lived in older longhouses. Already, one can hear the sounds of this new synthesis of forgotten old and dynamic new if one listens.

Somewhere inside a tacky suburban home at night, a clergyman (either of faith or of human resources and professional management) spots something outside the window. He peers through the glass to see the leering face of a coyote with wolf-like dimensions. The lights go dark and he screams, fumbling to bring them back on. But against one who sees in the darkness as if it was its own form of light…

In a time of monsters be the biggest baddest monster of all. And bring your friends. This ancient land demands no less of you.

Can a Realist be a Capitalist in the Anthropocene?

Rising_seas_Isaac_Cordel

Rising Seas by Isaac Cordell

Short Answer: No.

Long answer:

There is a common stereotype in American academia that foreign policy realists are conservatives. In a purely philosophical sense this is true. Conservatives are supposed to disavow schemes to artificially socially engineer society to create a utopia. Of course, it could also be said that by this philosophical definition American conservatism hardly applies, being a radical project tied up inextricably with religious and theoretical economic faith and little in the way of accepting reality as it truly is. That and clearly psychological projecting one’s desire for a stern father figure to lay down the rules.

One thing I found in my graduate studies abroad was that this stereotype of realist-as-conservative, which applied to me little in the past and even less now, basically did not exist. At least among other realists. If anything, a realist in the UK academia was far more likely to be significantly left of the mainstream. Conservatives, much as in the US, were the ones more likely to gravitate towards liberalism and even constructivism, as the first prioritizes the interests of the present ruling class’ mythology of individualism and the second centers culture above all else. I got along best with Marxists, who, if for different reasons, had a similar material understanding of power relationships and the brutal truths of reality. If one separates foreign and domestic policy into distinct spheres, one could certainly be both a Realist and a Marxist at once. Plenty of historical figures actually meet this criteria. If one does not, however, there are certainly issues that prevent a full convergence. Since I personally do share the historically verifiable view of human civilization as cyclic, non-universal, and non-teleological, with all gains being temporary and all ‘golden ages’ occurring at different times and places for different societies, I myself cannot be a Marxist. But I certainly can take a view critical of capitalism as well as the historical position that we should not judge Marxist governments on base with more or less of a critical eye than we judge our own…something most in the west are conditioned to do early on by a selective reading of history.

Personally, I don’t believe a universal economic system should ever exist, as different societies find themselves in different places at varying times, with attendant issues such as divergent population density, ecologies, and the like. What communism stated it could do-create a universal system-it never did nor really could ever have done. But this is what neoliberalism has done. While a few countries hold out, it is the neoliberal order which has come the closest to global domination.

While I heavily suspect that we would be living in the Anthropocene no matter what the present economic system was, the fact remains that the more powerful and entrenched the system, the harder it is to change. And it has to change. So long as it pays to pollute by cutting corners on the profit motive or to manufacture far out of proportion to what is needed, our home planet, the only one we have, will continue to become a worse place on which to live. Speaking a realist language specifically, this is both the power and the threat that we must balance against. With greens, with leftists, with the communities most effected, and with enemies of the present economic order that will not change itself so long as the chimera of eternal economic growth and profits remains its driving purpose. Fight for the Earth now no matter the odds or live under the occupation of an aristocracy out of touch with the consequences of their own actions.

A vibrant discourse of varying strategies could be proposed, some at odds with each other, and that is fine. But to begin the common threat needs to be addressed directly-there will be more mass extinctions, more loss of biodiversity, more unpredictable weather and natural calamity, more refugees, and a greater divergence between the rich and poor as a form of capitalist-neofeudalism begins to emerge under various (and often unhinged) billionaire personalities who are all that is left since they continued to defund the state and civil society. And then, when that created a less functional society, used this breakdown as an excuse to defund it even more. This is already a measurable problem as gigantic private companies as well as the upper classes disproportionately contribute to the problems of pollution and climate change. For the first time since World War II, a genuine global threat exists. And this one is not to be fought by fighting merely a few states, but rather as a fight both internal and external in almost all of them.

We, as realists of history, diplomacy, policy, and war, cannot promise a golden ideal of a bright new future. Its neither in our nature nor in the issues we deal with when we engage public policy to do so. We are not purists and can put our skills in the service of many different from ourselves for the love of strategy and the calculation of what hay can be made from a new or old balance of power. We cannot and do not pretend to predict specifics of the future outside of general trends. But this isn’t about any of that. This is about taking steps right here and right now to make the future less terrible. To understand that a systemic approach to reforming or replacing our present drive towards growth and production at all costs is necessary to prevent an enormous downgrade in the quality of life for most people and resulting conflicts and disease outbreaks that will ensue. It is therefore contingent upon political realists of all stripes to join with those who looking at systemic structural reform in economics and ecology and contribute what we can. Analyzing strategy is our forte, so why not apply it here and now on the very issues of combating a Sixth Mass Extinction and the rising seas?

There surely can be no strategic problem more worthy. And there won’t be enough court monkey positions in the scattered few palaces of Vampire Billionaire fiefdoms for the vast majority of us. And those will likely only take those whose main talent is flattery rather than critical thought.

Two Reluctant Cheers for Authority

hadrian

In today’s discourse you will almost never come across someone self-identifying as ‘authoritarian.’ In fact, the word seems merely to exist as a straw man for half baked and childish libertarian ‘political tests’ which are superficial and designed to make literally everyone on the planet think they are secretly libertarian. Of course, my own test based on the same axis is much better as it captures the essence of everyone and everything in all times and places which ever once had a political opinion of any kind.

But maybe the term authoritarian requires at least a partial resurrection. Coming off of the heels of a century of unprecedented state-directed terror this may seem odd, but that was also then, and this is now. As John Gray so accurately points out in The New Statesman, it is the stateless parts of the world which are the problems now more than the overly-governed.

This is not to say we need an overreaction which apologizes for the excesses of the NSA or admires the more terrifyingly over-regimented societies on the planet. As Gray reminds us, this is not a question of good and evil and freedom versus slavery. All political stances are in fact the decision of who to regulate and who not to, rather than some simplistic quest for freedom for beautiful caged birds who write poetry standing at odds against regimented hordes of riding crop wielding jackbooted thugs. A regime which is free to one kind of person can be unfree to another and vice-versa. So if merely to call for a recognition that the state is still the best form of self-organization we have, and that we should not be so quick to topple those of others lest we threaten backlashes which can make our own less free is to be authoritarian, by all means, let us be ‘authoritarian.’

Personally, I fear the political backlash to terrorism more than the acts themselves. They are far more likely, proportionally, to affect me directly. But it also means we have to be serious about what kinds of freedoms we want and don’t want. And we also have to acknowledge that most likely we will not be the ones to decide. What is relevant right now is that authoritarianism may very well make a come back, and that doesn’t have to be *all* bad. And no, I don’t even think terrorism will be the main reason it comes back, but rather ecological catastrophe. Whatever terrorism brings us now in debates on state power is merely the prelude to a greater debate on responding to a rapidly changing planet.

And this is where authoritarianism might be selectively helpful. We have already seen how some kinds of regimes in sectarian-divided countries keep minorities safer than they would be otherwise by being undemocratic. We also know that authoritarian states have a pretty good record at crisis response. Particularly on environmental issues. The world’s largest polluter and most rapidly developing country, China, is also the one going through a crash course in large scale sustainable energy which puts its rivals and some developed countries to shame in ambition and hopefully effect. But let us go further.

When Jared Diamond’s book ‘Collapse’ came out in 2005 I was a sophomore history major in college and a fan of all things Diamond (in many ways I still am-this post was originally going to be ‘Hooray for Determinism’ after all before recent events changed its nature when I got around to it-though I might still write such a thing)  and also a libertarian. Having that simple (and oh so American) world view, I found myself invigorated by the challenge he presented. The two large scale examples he presented of a state successfully responding to ecological crisis were both very authoritarian states. One, the Dominican Republic, a blatantly racist and fascistic government under Raphael Trujillo, and the other, the mega-centralizing hyper-bureaucratic Tokugawa Shogunate. These were the states which he lauded for foresight. Two opposite poles of me were in a delicious conflict over what position to take on this issue.

Well, in about three years I made a full recovery from libertarianism and I knew the answer. Though to be fair, the materialist always lurking inside me probably made this inevitable. Libertarianism is, at its core, a type of Taliban-style liberalism of just taking one non-material ideology and ramping up it to 11 with philosophical purity as its key point. With this discarded, I could acknowledge that Trujillo may have been one of the biggest dicks to ever live, but a broken clock and all that. One doesn’t have to endorse a Shogunate as an ideal type of government to acknowledge there are many things that particular one did right, from public health administration to education and infrastructure. And of course, a national forestry system with an eye on conservation-in the 17th Century no less!

Weak states and loose confederacies are better at doing many things than stronger more centralized states. And I will always defend federal style systems as ideal for learning about the divergences in policy execution in the laboratories of regions and adapting accordingly. But crisis response is not one of them. Terrorism is only the tip of the iceberg. It is the less media sexy but slow burning fuse of ecological collapse which will drive state reaction in the long term. And we might just find certain types of authority useful.

After all, many of the greatest periods of multicultural cohesion have been under monarchies and pre-victorian empires. Many on the far right betray their true colors when they imply that a society which can accommodate many kinds of people is a threat to the social cohesion of democracy. Maybe they are right in some instances, but the Roman Republic appeals much less to me than the Roman Empire does. I would give up the vote before I would give my access to material goods of diverse origin and interaction with people of greater backgrounds. I doubt there will ever be such a dramatic either/or choice and I am largely playing devil’s advocate here, but should such a turn come, I will chose multicultural authority over monolithic democracy. History makes a better case for it in terms of overall case studies. Sure, one can always say most people are political idiots in any context, as it is I have already railed against the naive cosmopolitanism of liberalism on this very blog. But as a lesser of evils, wouldn’t you rather have a variety of idiots than the same kind repeated over and over again? Awash in a sea of vatniks or their American or whatever equivalent is a future far too boring and horrible for any type of interesting person to even fathom.

Previously, I waxed poetic about my love of the Heavy Gear setting for looking an a non-utopian science fiction of international relations. One thing I always really liked about the setting is that the Southern Republic was the best representation of a complicated authoritarian order. It was a zero tolerance regime for criticizing the government, but in exchange it was a patron of the arts and a subsidizer of the common citizen. It also allowed social libertinism unseen in other competing states of the setting. This reminds me of the Tang Dynasty, the early Mongol Empire, High Rome or any other period of effective cultural flowering. Of course, being able to the criticize the government is a right I would loathe to lose, but let us be honest-for most people food, sex, and housing matters most. If one can’t have it all one can get their priorities in a proper hierarchy. Principles be damned in the face of impoverishment or even in compromising the epicure.

As I stated at the start, this isn’t a post glorifying state power. It is a post building upon Gray’s call for a mature discussion of what freedom and authority really are without devolving into enlightenment baggage of good and evil and free and unfree. The world moves fast and change is constant. State collapse increases the negatives of this and as our biodiversity collapsed and our rapacious need for resources grows unchecked, its time to move beyond lame establishment narratives of NGOS and hippie activists saving the planet through fundraising and talk about what might be necessary for states to do.

And not to do.

P.S.: I love the Shadowrun games and find them (and the original rpg setting) a pretty brutal look at what a technological yet stateless society would look like. It aint pretty, even with all the cool magic and creatures. Its a setting which is clearly influencing one of my present creative projects in fact so it is on my mind. So, I leave you with the most recent (and best) entry in the series very good soundtrack. It gets much better in the second half by the way.