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


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.




All Politics is Dominance Politics

mans look magazine

In grad school in International Relations Realists and Marxists always got along, especially at the expense of the Postmodernists and the Liberals. Even right-realists, though in my experience as time moves on into an era of neoliberal dominance realists as a whole move left to adjust to such euphoric theorizing. This is because both groups understand the reality and necessity of power.

The New Republic, like The Washington Post, is largely famous these days for being an old anachronism that largely rest on past laurels, and for championing every ill conceived war it could. Unlike the WaPo, however, TNR doesn’t really do on the ground reporting or even footwork to among the elites to rumormonger. It merely editorializes.

Its newest little number, by Jeet Heer is something I have been expected for awhile. Chapo Trap House is the only non-horror fiction podcast I like. I am hardly a good example of its average fan, being from a decidedly realist rather than solidly left position, but its intelligence combined with ruthless humor fits me perfectly. It also, like myself, despises the ‘acceptable’ political positions of mainstream liberals, centrists and conservatives alike as terribly obfuscating and self-delusional, especially when such people claim to have an objective view which is, if anything, based in their lack of ability to critically appraise the very system they live in and whose proclamations they automatically take for granted. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before someone like Heer noticed and reacted in a bit of pique. Such op-ed columnists are either of a class of clueless ‘common sense’ prognosticators or (more likely and proportionally) an impoverished and desperate group of sycophants who one day wish they could pull a Brooks or Freidman and be payed six figure salaries by joining said class in order to be fashionable and wrong all the time.

In affect, his entire take on a single phrase accurately stating that the mainstream of the Democratic Party is utterly lost, confused, and obsolete and should take guidance from its strategic betters is to tone police. The Lanyard class, which is related to and among its older members probably directly spawned the vampire castle dwelling tumblrwokes, is all about form over substance. Tone policing is the favorite way of such people to make an argument. ‘Check your privilege’ replaces any actual substantive critique of the point made on Chapo. Not to mention that no actual human being talks in the right and proper homilies of the Neocalvinist wing of evangelical liberals and that insisting everyone speak as such just turns most people away. Humor is a weapon. If the author can accurately state that Chapo is a runaway Patreon success, does it not speak volumes about their approach versus, oh I don’t know, the Democratic Party?

Heer criticizes what he labels as ‘dominance politics.’ How dare someone seek to project their will onto others? But this is politics. Stripped of niceties it is no exaggeration to say that all of politics from the dawn of the human race through now is deciding which form of power projection benefits some over others, and how the alliances fall when trying to figure that out. Literally, (a word liberals are fond of using incorrectly) politics is dominance, always and forever. In order to enact change or refuse to change a regime must be in power. A regime is a government by monopolizing the use of force within its core territory for large periods of time. If you want to make policy over a territorial entity you must have the ability to disproportionately coerce (what power really is), and to do that you must have an in-group and an out-group. Alliance building is impossible without enemies and unstable without an internal hierarchy. Someone, often many someones, must always bend the knee for an order to exist. To deny this is to deny all of human history.

The fact that Chapo Trap House, a comedic entertainment podcast, recognizes this while a writer for a ‘respectable’ publication such as TNR does not is an overt condemnation of how ahistorical back patting has replaced actual deep historical analysis. No government in history has ever seized and held power by nice and equitable methods. The American Revolution itself, often held up as an ideal by technocratic SensibleSerious™ types , was extremely contrarian and very, very brutal. It was justifiably so, as was the later French one. The treatment of the British Loyalists after the war was a necessary measure to ensure some domestic stability in a war ravaged land, and we all know that Brooks and Will and the Clintons would have been Tories had they been there then.

I have long had a theory that the pet causes of pearl-clutchers in politics are often the bugbears of their personal sexual pathologies. Last decade when the GOP was trying to keep its relevance by being ‘The Anti-Gay Party’ it seemed not  a week could go by without another virulently homophobic conservative being outed as massively queer. Reckers, Haggard, Craig, Pence (OK not yet on that last one but you know its coming) basically created the idea that public homophobia=suppressed attractions. With the liberals and centrists (who are increasingly indistinguishable) harping constantly on being made uncomfortable by understanding power dynamics or the ruthless nature of politics rooted in power and applying fears of sexual-based domination onto anything they criticize I have to wonder…are all wokes secret bondage addicted Gorean LARPers? There is some legit Larry Craig toe-tapping in the bathroom stall going on with these hot takes and I just have to wonder if self-flaggelation at the hands of the ghost of Joe McCarthy is whats dancing in the heads of these people now. ‘Other me! Objectify me! Make me your exotic Oriental!’

But if that is the way it goes then here is an analogy to stick: left or right, authoritarian or libertarian, top or bottom, dom or sub, no matter how you take your own ideals, you will never enact them without power. And that is one of the few universal rules of politics. And I don’t care if thats ‘problematic’, because you were born a human, and human life and consciousness is by its nature ‘problematic’, so get over yourselves.

For now, lets (maybe) do Heer a disservice and assume this article is largely representative of what the cast of Chapo would call ‘Lanyards’ or ‘Lanyard Ghouls.’ This is a loose term to describe people who are overly committed to policy wonkery who often let their worship of a system that usually exploits them cloud their judgement on that actual cost/benefits of said system. You know, people who think the whole world can and should function like its portrayed on ‘The West Wing.’ I work in an official capacity myself, and thus wear a lanyard, so I admit to more than normal levels of familiarity with this class-but the difference is that I never wear mine on the *inside*.

If one was going to do a liberal-style ‘discourse analysis’ here of this class one would be forced into the following conclusion–that the people who have the most socially acceptable (and thus often least critical) views on the political system think its impolite to disagree with them and question the elevation of their ideals. Why, its simply uncivilized. The reason they think this, of course, is because they sit atop a vast pile of economic, military, and other systemic forces that monopolize their power so much they do not even have to reckon with the fact that they reflect a power wielding class. They are simply ‘reasonable people’ who can win any debate in good faith with ‘the right means tested facts.’ But, by virtue of being atop that pyramid of socially acceptable ideological privilege, they are utterly unable to see that people outside of these socially accepted norms of polite uncritical discourse obviously do not benefit from engaging with their assumptions…and so why should those others bother? New dynasties are not built by wandering the dust between long deceased Pharaohs.

In short, we have spent the last few decades bowing the knee to these people and they are so used to it they didn’t even notice. Considering their many, many failures I think its only natural the time should come that they bend the knee to us.

Otherwise its just like listening to more of this, period adjusted, for every damn era.