Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Twilight of Chomsky’s foreign policy

I may be the only person who watched the now-famous “Justice vs. Power” Chomsky-Foucault debate and realised how much of a charlatan Noam Chomsky actually is. Michel Foucault not only won the debate, he won the rest of the twentieth century Baudrillard didn’t capture.

And ol’ Baldy continues to rack up points well into this Ritalin-addled twenty-first century. Chomsky contents himself with packing out meetings of the Socialist Student Union in every private university kids attend when they can’t get into to Ivy Leagues. On linguistics, Chomsky is unquestionably brilliant, but on politics, he has always sounded like a teenager.

This guiding light of the I-hate-my-daddy contingent of the unemployable political left continues to argue with sophomoric equivalency that the US in its conduct of the War on Terror should be governed by standards of international law. This is gross anti-intellectualism. The world should be fair and equal, and that’s that. It is not an argument, it is a belief without foundation in evidence.

Noam Chomsky
The problem is that it doesn’t hold anyone else to this standard (except arguably for Israel). When you point out people’s hypocrisy, don’t forget about the casualty-producing systems. If you focus on only one system, as Chomsky does, you can’t really claim any standard other than hatred of that system. He’s no more limited to criticising the US than he is limited to criticising his own family or the whole world. Those are both systems he’s a part of, but he doesn’t feel limited to them.

This comes down to two issues: the role of principles in the formation of policy, and the perpetual inability of the left to articulate a concrete platform for a future society. Without attention to whether one’s actions follow one’s principles, you leave yourself open to not only charges of hypocrisy but outright hostility.

But here’s the thing. There is no “international law.” There is no universally acknowledged sense of anything except hunger and gravity. There is only one rule: the most powerful make the rules, and every nation has to follow those rules except the most powerful.

This exception is part of the rule. It’s the most important part of the rule. It says when Country A invades Country B, the US Marine Corps can take over both countries until Halliburton arrives and ensures it won’t cost the New Zealand taxpayer $75 to drive a Japanese import to the Warehouse for “quality” goods made by the most skilled child-labourers global capitalism can provide.

Chomsky and others on the left call this “exceptionalism.” Exceptionalism is bad, you see, because it’s unfair. Everyone should be held to the same standard. Everybody should have to follow the rules, including (and especially) the US. But these people only bring up exceptionalism when they can score cheap points by crying “hypocrisy!”

What is exceptionalism? Exceptionalism is why the unemployment rate in the US, France, Germany, Japan and New Zealand is between 5-9%, but in Spain and Greece – where people are rioting – it’s approaching 15-25%. Exceptionalism is the first set’s ability to play with the global economy while citizens of other countries bear the brunt of any mistakes.

If the US was held to the same standard the conditions of most of Chomsky’s listeners (the 98% who think the top 2% should pay more taxes) would revert to that of Eastern Europeans. But if fair is fair and right is right, then they should just wait. The global economy is due for another recession soon.

Let me rephrase the one and only rule of international law: whoever has the guns and the money gets to make, break and enforce the rules. That is not my opinion of what the rule should be. That’s what the rule is. It is a property of nature based on thousands of years of historical evidence. It is as immutable as the laws of physics. Failure to acknowledge it is a mark of insanity.

But still, Chomsky grinds on: “We should be treated like we treat others.” He plays the “should” game. The world should be like this. The government should do that. That’s why he’s still so popular in the age of Trump with a crowd that has no skin in the game. It’s easy to dictate terms without accountability.

Progressives have historically been very good at critique and awful at implementation. Ascribe the evils of the world to control, institutions, the Panopticon or whatever, but at some point, there needs to be a plan that’s more than “tear it all down.” Most small utopian communities are either too obscure to inspire or die in their cradles from infighting. Chomsky should focus on pragmatic, constructive efforts rather than generating reams of paper cataloguing the failures of modern society.

And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that there’s a reason why left’s systems seem fascist: because they have to be fascist in order to implement the systems. Fighting fascism means reducing government, not pushing for more of it. This is Tolkien’s lesson. Any system that requires a great degree of government control is, (almost) by definition, fascist, which is the same thing as progressive but with a “for the people” stuck on the end of the state motto.

Ol' Baldy: Michel Foucault
Chomsky could not come to terms with reality. Foucault lived reality. Foucault was very much about getting to the bottom of what is. And though he found the same state Chomsky did – language and media as instruments of social control – Foucault found much more. He flourished in the idea of total dominance by power. He explored and dissected it, holding up its organs for all to see. You can see it in this passage:

The proletariat doesn’t wage war against the ruling class because it considers such a war to be just. The proletariat makes war with the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power. And because it will overthrow the power of the ruling class it considers such a war to be just…One makes war to win, not because it is just…it seems to me that the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented and put to work in different types of societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power or as a weapon against that power.

And yet the trouble with Foucault is that he demands a brutal and total acceptance of reality and a suspicion of everything else. After all, any illusion of what should be may simply be an internalised expression of the State’s control over you. So you must never say should. You must only see and, if possible, take some power for yourself.

With Chomsky, all that’s necessary to understand international relations is to reverse and flip every word uttered by the great academic. So for that reason alone, he is useful to read. Foucault died long before the world proved him right. Chomsky has lived long enough to have learned better. And yet still he persists. What’s that word for people who do the same thing over and over expecting a different result…

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Climate change and the beast of consumerism

It might sound strange, but climate change is deeply geopolitical. What will sound even stranger is that the reason it is geopolitical is because business is involved. It is important to see how its inclusion is actually a defence against change. Companies know this, which is why they offered to help.

Consumerism is a beast, a global beast, far more powerful than any mere government and perhaps Gaia herself. A business response to any problem will always be to merge product with identity and lifestyle, to keep everything exactly where it is.

It must do this because obtaining energy from solar or wind is far more expensive than getting it from fossil fuels. The ethics part is pure marketing and spin. It is postmodern: Buy this product and a portion of the proceeds will go to a charity which stands opposed to the damage caused by that same product. The response is an attempt to integrate forgiveness for consumption into the act of consumption itself.

Business needs to be absolutely modern about climate change. It must acknowledge the inherent shortcomings of a consumer society. Any solution lies in science and careful social progress. The consumer society is being replaced by a social society, where people base their lives on the actions they take and not the goods they buy. People need to stop being alienated from each other and forced together creating a gross asymmetry between the consumer choice and its social alternative.

No, this doesn’t mean more immigration. It means public transportation should be free, paid for by astronomically high petrol taxes, vehicle taxes and road tolls. This would force a social choice to see cars as inferior and lead to their use being discouraged. The problem is not in discarding the car – which is the greatest symbol of personal freedom ever devised. The problem is in evolving modern society away from consumerism, which is what a car really represents. Business cannot do this.

The need is obvious. Infrastructure wouldn’t be expensive to maintain if people refused to buy junk they don't need. The junk wouldn’t arrive from China at ports, wouldn’t get transferred to rail cars then to articulated trailers headed on long haul highways. And none of that junk would land in grotesque shopping malls, all of which require a snake pit of roads, junctions and overpasses.

New lightbulbs aren’t enough, they are the problem. A radical social choice is needed to eliminate the illusory freedoms provided by consumerism (the false choice among commodities for which a need is created artificially by the dominant ideology) and elevate true freedom (the freedom from the anxieties of basic human survival). The penalties of consumption must be integrated into the consumption itself, forcing people to act with full understanding of the consequences.

Sure, one complaint may be that institutions shouldn’t be co-opted by wealthy corporations. But those institutions were never really democratic. They aren't supposed to be. The Western model was predicated on the assumption that the voter, the fundamental unit of democracy, was a wealthy educated landowner. It assumes the wealthy elite doesn't need to influence the government by way of back channels because only the wealthy elite can elect the government in the first place.

From this perspective, anything that falls short is a defective compromise. The radical’s greatest opponent is not the conservative, but the liberal. Because the liberal is the pleasant face of a dominant mythology. Anything short of radical transformation leaves some aspect of the old system intact. And as history shows, eventually, the old system grows and spread like cancer to take over the entire edifice.

If it’s true such a social change is required due to climate change, it needs to be accepted that the great adventures of capitalism are now entirely out of the question. The egalitarian, dignified society doesn’t send people to the moon – desperate consumerist hegemonies do. Those adventures are trying to prop up deteriorating myths with grand and magnificent spectacles.

The consumer society produces as its consequence the art factories in Hollywood and New York because it industrialises everything, including the production of art. Consumerism eats even philosophy, turning it into new goods. Philosophies are supposed to compete, but consumerism is different. Humans have not yet discovered a philosophy powerful enough to attack consumerism and survive productisation. But doing this is the only way climate change can be assuaged.

Rest assured that the hobbled compromise with consumerism that is liberal democracy will ultimately supply free healthcare and universal basic wages, but it will also ensure citizens have to use them. It will create doctors so it can make us sick. It will sell affordable insurance so it can sell us sexy unsafe cars.

It will produce the trendy sustainable and “green” object and be there to collect it from the garbage after it sells the counter-trendy “green” object. It will treat society towards a boom so it can enjoy the bust. Consumerism will make sure people are rich enough to desire things they don't have, but poor enough that some things are always outside their reach.

So we have to pick. The choice is between a radical restructuring of modern society or continued ruthless global consumerism upholstered in postmodern liberal democracy. If climate change is a reality business cannot be the answer. Consumerism will eat the movement – it already has – morphing it into a product to feed the beast.

The choice is between a poverty of consumer choices on the one hand and the poverty of the consumerist life on the other. Those are the only two choices. The religious fundamentalists and the fascists are merely reactionaries. Their problem, quite literally, is that they find the global environmentalist’s lack of faith in their own ideals disturbing.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The doomed dark alliance of progressives and Islamists

In the last three months, the UK has suffered three high-profile terror attacks. It would be the easy to push them aside and “carry on,” which is the code word for “get on board with the plan." But that explains nothing. And these attacks need explanation.

It's not the constant attacks bothering people, it's the lack of a counterattack. Sure, the British military is fighting overseas, but it has always been at war with East Asia, I mean, the Islamic State. Apologies, my fiction sometimes leaks into reality...

But no matter how much our rulers deny the agency of Islamists, the jihadists know something many Britons don’t: they are locked in a game of power. Until this reality is understood, every move by those justifiably concerned by terrorism will be the wrong one.

Terrorism is a ring of power. And the problem with forging rings of power is they tend to slip from one's finger. While it's tempting to organise special powers to benefit a cause, no one can be in power forever. And in their fight for control, the progressives built a jewellery shop. They didn't learn Tolkien's lesson: the thing to do with power is destroy it, not wield it. And now the Islamists have the ring.

Terrorism isn’t complicated. Terrorism is anarchism: a shattering of order. Islamic terrorism (which is in every case left-wing – as you can see every time Osama quotes Chomsky) is productive because it results in increasing communal deference to the Islamic community and expansion of the political power and privilege of Muslims and their progressive sponsors.

Terrorism works in a democracy because political action is the capture of the psychologies of the power base (the population) to prefer one form of democracy over another. Placards and door-knocking are both fine, but violent action is not only allowed, it is expected.

Think of it like this. If there is no terrorism at a particular time, either the democratic ideology that benefits the most from terrorism is so overwhelmed by the power structure, or that ideology actually has power. In other words, the terrorist succeeds when, and only when, he is allied to an interested third party or political force.

Another thing to consider is those terrorists in the UK were second or third generation Britons. This is not unexpected. Children of Islamic communities in the UK have been taught about democracy from day one and now wish to boost Islamic values through democratic activism. To do this, they utilise a leftist tactic to compel the system to bend to their demands. That deserves an A+.

This is how the democratic system works, nothing is broken. To defeat terrorism, democracy must be removed, not Muslims, and order restored. Either that or Muslims are allowed to succeed in shifting society and taking control over the machinery of government. I know this is true because it has been done before – by the progressives themselves.

So why can’t progressives, who control Western government and used both terrorism and free speech to gain this power, recognise what’s happening? They are paranoid about a return of the white middle-class and ancien regime, the historic domestic enemy of the scholar caste – an enemy that quite simply no longer exists. A husky shell of its former self.

The other problem is progressives don't enjoy thinking of themselves as rulers because that would mean that a) the revolution is finished and b) they must mature into an aristocracy and shoulder the responsibility of governance. They don’t seem to realise there are only three fundamental versions of human government: aristocracy, monarchy and democracy.

Democracy is useful to undermine a power structure but never for permanent governance. Democracy evolves into aristocracy, which in turn becomes a monarchy – the default system of government. (Nation-states are probably a bizarre historical blip and will likely devolve into city-states eventually, a far more manageable structure. But that's another story.)

The paramount question for modern rulers is: what should we do with all these people? There also wouldn’t be much point to ruling without wealth, so how can rulers ensure GDP growth? For the UK and Europe, the importation of millions of adult Muslim males is a rational but misguided policy to answer both questions at once.

From the system’s perspective, immigrants are batteries, meant to produce and consume, and keep the GDP ticking ever upwards. Of course, if the British people had been encouraged to breed instead, none of this would be necessary. But since the white middle-class is a political threat to the ruling progressive scholar caste, natural population growth was replaced by immigration on the assumption that immigrants can be controlled with welfare money and the odd political concession.

The white middle-class traded feigned (and sometimes sincere) belief in the progressive ideology in return for safety and prosperity. They were willing to put up with the deconstruction of traditions, to accept gender-neutral bathrooms and recite the hymns of human equality if only they could get on with their lives in peace and security. But they were lied to.

Progressives are funny creatures. Brexit and Trump aren't harbingers of an old aristocracy creeping back. They are a consequence of progressives refusing to take responsibility once they took power. Permanent revolution is not a recipe for sound governance. Chaos must at some point form into order, or the whole show collapses and no one gets to rule.

Because of their paranoia, progressives took the rational step to allow Islamists to terrorise the white middle-class with near impunity (for instance, with the Rotherham rape gangs because those girls are the daughters and sisters of the men who pose an actual threat to progressive rule). This is simple mathematics. Terrorism and crime keep one’s political enemies thinking about their safety, not political change.

But progressive rulers have missed one crucial fact: Muslims have agency. Progressives can’t seem to see that the Islamists are using terrorism not to be represented within the existing system, but to collapse and replace it with Sharia.

If the Islamists succeed, they won't let the progressives remain in power simply because of leftist virtue. Arabs aren't like the US imports from sub-Saharan Africa. They bring an ancient ideology, dreaming for a thousand years about global domination – just like their Christian siblings.

While the progressives promised change but only took power, Muslims want actual change and power. To them, the democratic process is a means to eviscerate the system from within. It appears no amount of "just love each other" will stop this, the only answer is the imposition of order.

Eisenhower said the plan will always fail catastrophically. It is planning that matters most. Janissaries begin as tools, but end as executioners. It didn’t work in Ottoman Turkey, and it won’t work now.

The plan will fail. Might makes right and no amount of rhetorical warping will bend reality. It might be “nice” to believe everyone is good and that people are made, not born. But strong responsibility and order must be introduced. If progressives will not do it, then the Islamists will. There is no such thing as an alliance between competing power structures.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Why progressives hate freedom of speech

I've noticed a transmogrification of free speech. The violent protests at the University of Berkely, California, the historical bastion of free speech and open debate, was a major example of speech being confined to the Official Truth or the Big ShutUp, as Mark Steyn says. Something has shifted.

People seem confused that progressives want to ban free speech when they championed it only a handful of decades ago. Yet from a framework of postmodernism, the debate is a tool of oppression. Accepting free speech risks "normalising" opposing ideas, creating a default assumption that because both sides are speaking, therefore the ideas are worth talking about. In the culture wars, this sneaky reasoning was necessary to undermine the establishment. But now that the progressives own government, free speech is "problematic." Hmmm.

Simply put, free speech is no longer useful for the "correct side of history." When the various revolutionary movements began in the 18th century, they held a single goal of deconstructing the existing order to replace it with a more equitable regime.

The establishment at the time was broadly monarchical and clerical, in which status is conferred by birth, breeding and personal character, with wealth serving as a prerequisite but not a mark of actual distinction. Oh, and it was heavily Christian.

In fact, precisely because the establishment system was built from Christian assumptions, the revolutionary ideologues (who were themselves built from Christian assumptions) employed the Christian concept of truth above all else as a major weapon. Other Christian or Greek concepts such as freedoms of assembly and speech, humanitarian ideals and the "last will be first" were integral to the messages of the Jacobins, Georges Eugène Sorel, Karl Marx, etc. The fight was between traditional Christians and progressive Christians from day one, competing for control over the Christian machinery of power.

In a monarchy, most people just get on with their lives. Power politics occurs between elites in the capital. Sure, sometimes people are drafted to fight in a king's war. But no monarch goes to war because he wants to, he goes to war because he has to. Anything remotely resembling total war for ideological domination is out of the question. The Treaty of Westphalia and Classical International Law limited those horrors even further. Every king must stick to his own patch.

But in a democracy, a peasant may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in him. It's not who you support, but which version of democracy. And so it goes. A democracy is only secure when the entire world bends to its will. Today, the most successful mainline Protestant sect today is the Unitarian progressives, aka state-transcendentalists or socialists.

There are few doctrinal differences between secularists, nontheistic Unitarians, theistic Unitarians, and for that matter all the Protestant sects described as “mainline.” But, since I am not a Christian but a dead Chinese philosopher, the divinity of this or that, or the validity of ritual X or Y, does not really concern me. What concerns me is following Stalin's principle: Who? Whom?

The best way I can describe what's going in is that the progressive version of Christianity is in near total control of the system of Western Christian power constructed over 2000 years. How did this happen?

After defeating the other two major forms of Christian democracy -- German fascism and Soviet Communism -- the American progressives were the last ideology left standing in 1991. They were so close to achieving total psychological capture over the planet. For ten years in the 90s, they stood unopposed using the official press (mainstream media) to align every country on earth.

But then the internet was invented.

This created a parallel information organ the progressives could not control. Not because they didn't want to, but because the machinery of government the progressives had just taken over lacked the access and tools to capture and utilise this new internet structure. The only moves it has are attempts to introduce oversight and regulation. Progressives want to abolish online anonymity, forcing their enemies into the offline world where their government power still exists. Following the recent terror attacks in London, UK Prime Minister Theresa May is trying again to do exactly this.

Put it down, Boromir
"We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide," she says.

Mrs May is not stupid. She knows success in a democracy depends on who controls the information organs. The Gutenberg press in 1440 started a trend to undermine the information dominance of divine-right monarchs and clergy and usher in a world of democratic totalitarianism in which the newspaper organised everyone (acting in the required direction).

The internet is simply a natural evolution of the Gutenberg press. Mrs May's attempt is futile, but at least it's comprehensible and rational from a perspective of power. She knows the internet is undermining democracy itself.

But anonymity is a feature of the internet, not a bug. It will never be expunged. So the next best tactic is to equate the use of free speech with Nazis. People have been trained well enough not to miss the significance of this. Everyone learns at school, written and directed by progressive true-believers, that fascism is the embodiment of evil. Not necessarily because Nazism was uniquely horrifying but because fascist democracy is a direct competitor to progressive democracy. Rule number one for rulers: crush your enemies.

So today, anyone who defends free speech is considered a threat to the progressive regime and must be silenced. The ring of power called "free speech" wielded by the progressives to undermine their historical enemies.

But as Tolkien predicted, the problem with forging rings of power is they tend to slip from one's finger. While it's tempting to organise special powers to benefit a cause, no one can be in power forever. And the modern state is a virtual jewellery shop. The progressives didn't learn Tolkien's lesson: the thing to do with power is to destroy it, not wield it. And now their enemies have the ring.

The revolutionaries started out with a righteous goal of changing the status quo to be more equitable. Weapons were assembled and rings were forged. But they didn't want change, only power, just like any hominid. They were tricked by their own greed. And all their supporters believed real change was coming, only to find themselves back under subjugation by new rulers.

Yet the internet has exploded a white hot ball of power into a million pieces. Those who can scrape up a piece will never have to scrape again. Where once freedom of speech was a weapon to achieve victory, it is now a threat to that victory. The progressives have no one else to blame but themselves. They threw away their ring as they climbed onto the throne.

“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge,” warned Galadriel.

Now it has been found.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Donald Trump, climate science is not the science you're looking for

Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss spoke in Auckland recently. He gave an hour-long sermon drawn from the "Doomsday Clock" document published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, of which he is a sponsor and chairman.

I think it's fair to say Dr Krauss doesn’t like US President Donald Trump. It's not clear if the feeling is mutual, but the scientist probably appreciates the 45th President even less after this week. Climate change is high on Dr Krauss' list of deadly, dangerous and downright dynamic developing disasters dooming Donald’s domain.

I didn’t watch Mr Trump abandon the Paris Agreement on television, but I hear the speech was mostly good with some small inaccuracies, notably about how staying in the agreement would only reduce global temperatures by two-tenths of one degree Celsius. It’s actually more like a six-tenths of one degree by 2100, for a cost of $100 trillion. That’s trillion, with a “T.” And only if everyone in the agreement sticks to it.

Mr Trump's little temperature hiccup is a pity because when you stand up against the Machine one needs to be right all the time, not just most of the time. According to Dr Krauss, the science is in. And his Bulletin editor-in-chief John Mecklin agrees “the science is clear” saying “Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change has no basis in fact.”

But none of this squabbling helps to see what's actually gone wrong. To do that, we need to split three things apart: the science, the politics in Washington and the international politics. Of course, the mere need to split these three indicates that they are, in normal circumstances, very much joined. Which should raise red flags.

International politics is downstream from Washington politics, which in turn is informed by academics. To scientists, Mr Trump isn’t simply acting politically he is directly countermanding their authority. But who are they? By what means did they achieve positions of authority? It certainly wasn't democracy. And do their disciplines use the wonderful error-correcting quality of Popperian science? Or has this been, in some way, neutralised or bypassed? Was it never there in the first place? These are good questions.

The problem, as I see it, is twofold. First, empirical evidence is not experimental evidence. Nature is not a controlled experiment. For the perils of uncontrolled experiments, see Richard Feynman. It's also worth pausing to consider that the Lysenkoists also called their work "science."

Unless one adopts a tautology -- in which science does not include pseudoscience -- "science" is whatever the people who practice and organise it say it is. More specifically, since pretty much all "science" is funded by the government, the working definition of "science" tends to wash out as "whatever my government decides to fund and calls science." No, I don't like this either.

This all boils down to the circular statement that climatology can't possibly be pseudoscience because it's funded by the US Government. And Washington (unlike Moscow) would never fund pseudoscience. This is a rather broken epistemology, to say the least.

Do I have it right? If not, where's the error? If so, what information do you have about the US Government that justifies trust? And if Washington isn't to be trusted, what institution is? The IPCC? What makes you trust those humans instead? If the field of climate science as we see it today was not scientific, but rather pseudoscientific, how would you know? And who would you expect to step in and shut it down? Again, all good questions.

Imagine if we had a couple of toy Earths to experiment with. Scientists could isolate all the variables and set different CO2 concentrations on otherwise identical planets. Compared to the results of those experiments, climate science's present "empirical" evidence looks pretty lame, I think. In fact, anyone who could perform such a controlled experiment, but chose not to, and instead relied on the natural experiment of driving our SUVs while maintaining full employment of an enormous contingent of climate scientists, would be immediately, and quite accurately, described as a pseudoscientist.

Second, most people criticising Mr Trump appear to be misinformed about the nature of science. They are under the impression that scientists are motivated by curiosity and the pursuit of truth. This has never entirely been the case, but perhaps they used to be motivated by such things before we decided scientists should have money and power. Or, more accurately, before we decided that science should be part of the State.

The problem is not just government funding. The problem is the triangular relationship between granting agencies, scientists and the press.

A good rule of thumb is that anyone whose name appears regularly in the media is a media prostitute. Think of all the scientists whose names you know because you see them in newspapers. I'm sure they're all good people doing wonderful work. But they are all prostitutes. Including Dr Krauss.

To the vast majority of scientists, far more than journals (because no one reads those anyway) they deeply desire their work to be published in the most powerful journal in the world: the New York Times. This makes perfect sense because all power flows upward. Also, those granting agencies are organs not just of the State, but of the political system. They have to fight like hell to get their cash. There is never enough money to go around. So in this system, funding is directly proportional to the quantity of headline space their prostitutes can score. If it wasn't so insidious, I'd be impressed.

Journalists, in turn, can't get enough. And why wouldn't they? They are the controllers of the universe. They stick out their fingers and they alone go bang. Who cares if the average science reporter has only an undergraduate degree? Has the average business reporter ever worked for a real business? Has the average war reporter ever fought in a war? Would these reporters suddenly be "objective" if they had done these things? Ignorance, as usual, turns out to be wisdom.

And just as there is never enough money to go around, there are never enough stories. Climate change is marvellous because it generates a permanent stream of content-free, but not quite monotonous, press. Observant scientists figured out long ago that finding a way to work "climate change" into any kind of research almost guarantees their chances of getting funded. So, of course, climate change appears everywhere (I thought it was the whisky keeping me up at night...).

Obviously, climate change is not the cutting edge of science. The cutting edge of science doesn't look like such a joke. That's because those scientists know what they're doing. Sure, there’s plenty of "empirical evidence" for climate change. But it is also all generated by researchers who are operating under the same set of incentives that brought us "Global Warming Could be Reversing a Trend that Led to Bigger Human Brains," which led to this insanity and therefore became true. An entirely predictable result.

The whole system is one giant conflict of interest. The only effect of the Paris Agreement appears to be to tax everyone and create more jobs for the scholar caste. It should not at all be surprising this caste has lifted climate change to such a glorious quasitheological status. My only worry is if the word "science" remains nested with Official Truth for much longer, it may have to be discarded. Then we’ll really see some power games.

I can't see any systematic fix for this. There’s far too much money to be made. The climate change industry is an academic fraud of mind-boggling proportions, so "solving" it is the last thing anyone wants to do.

But no matter what, I think it's simply unhealthy for scientists to take money from anyone who has an interest in steering their results. And that includes the State. In fact, it goes double, triple and quadruple for the State - which is not, contrary to popular belief, endowed with divine powers.

Scientists appear not to have applied their considerable critical energies to the problem of drawing the line between science and "science." How much of what we see as science, rather than "science," is the product of uncontrolled experiments or subjective judgments? And what would happen to Dr Krauss’ worldview if we shove it back over the line?

Friday, 2 June 2017

Is 'hacking back' really dangerous, or is something else going on

US Representative Tom Graves has a bill that would allow hacking victims to use defensive measures to strike back at their attackers. Called the Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act - which would alter the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act - the measure lets individuals and companies use defensive measures beyond their own network to identify, and potentially stop, assailants. The practice is commonly known as "hacking back."

However, US Cyber Command chief Admiral Mike Rogers warned lawmakers against passing such legislation, saying cyber-experts think hacking back will have unintended, dangerous consequences and create even more confusion about who's behind certain digital assaults.

"My concern is be leery of putting more gunfighters out on the street in the Wild West," Adm. Rogers told a House Armed Services subcommittee.

Adm. Rogers isn't the only one sceptical. Everyone seems to think there’s no way this would work. If you fire back, you might be hitting an old granny's computer in Thailand or something. Blah blah blah.

I can’t help being sceptical. Like, I get the technical realities and the criticism is probably real. But I know a turf war when I see it. The US government invented the internet and it got out of hand. Businesses took it away, tinkered with it, and now they won’t give it back. Governments are slowly realising the future of the world will be online, and they’ve effectively been locked out. Everyone bashes the NSA for “spying,” but almost no one worries about companies doing dodgy stuff with your info.

The only difference is people have a reason to be suspicious of governments, but not many philosophical reasons to be suspicious of industry. And the online companies such as Facebook and Google also have direct commercial access to the online news machine. They can bump up or down any story they want. So, of course, the NSA looks like the bad guy and Google looks like a saviour.

And to be honest, the threat of firing back and hitting an “innocent party” isn’t necessarily a limitation. We even have a name for it in the real world: collateral damage. Creating order is dangerous. The entirety of human history suggests it’s impossible to guarantee safety in times of chaos, and we definitely are in a period of chaos online right now. Furthermore, the threat of hitting an innocent party might actually force companies to take cyber-security seriously as it’ll be their bottom line at risk.

Besides, how bad can a misfire-back really be? It’s not like we’re shooting rifles or missiles. Who cares if someone’s computer goes down for a few hours or is taken offline permanently. Insurance can buy more computers. No one’s gonna die. And even if hospitals might be at risk, who said they needed to be online anyway

The biggest danger -- and this is where it really gets interesting -- is creating a scenario in which people decide that all this online stuff is too much of a hassle. Too much risk. The cyber criminals are a pain, but now everyone is actively defending themselves with cyber guns. Woah, slow down there DeadEye Jones. All anyone wants to do is send remittances to family in Tonga or sell a car on TradeMe or play a computer game or chat with a loved one in Spain.

But it all becomes too hard with the constant updates and downtime from attacks. So they log off. They choose to roll back the clock and use other forms of commerce, maybe not dark age methods, but certainly not 21st-century options. You can feel the system tremble even thinking about this. Or worse, someone decides to create a parallel internet so they don’t have these problems -- or at least fewer problems. Perhaps the alternative is an internet based on nation-state borders, as Russia and China are talking about implementing. Even the US Defense Department is discussing, and probably has already started building, a new internet for classified networks using all the lessons of the old internet. The internet is global, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s just the way it is now.

Suddenly, all that effort and money and capital spent to construct the online is wasted. Most of that money is illusory anyway. It’s not like it will just shift between people. Once you take it off the rich people and move it around, poof, it vanishes.

I think that’s the major threat here. It’s why neither governments nor companies are taking cyber-security seriously. The moment they tighten the screws, it becomes less of a global commons and more of a rigid, regulated system in which even the simplest tasks are tough and, quite frankly, not worth doing. After all, the consumer system doesn’t see you as a person, it sees you as a battery. The only thing you’re good for is producing and consuming. This system cannot be set at risk, there is too much money at stake. It will fight fiercely to avoid even approaching this outcome.

The system will even convince us that “the online world is inherently unstable and risky, and you just have to get used to all the cyber-threats.” Hmm, where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, the French prime minister Macron recently described terrorism as an “imponderable problem” which will be “part of our daily lives for the years to come.” He isn’t the only one. This logic is common with elites.

Maybe it’s just the way I am, but it all smells like power. Philip Bobbitt talks about this as a transition from the nation-state – in which it’s the government’s job to facilitate business, but to be in overall control – to a new form called the market state – in which the government’s job is to maximise business, and as a consequence forgo much of its power to the new global businesses. He sees this as a natural transition and doesn’t apply any ethical attributes to it. You don't have to look very hard to see this playing out vociferously in the online world.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The shadow of Manchester and your choices

I have a question for parents.

What did you tell your kids after the Manchester bombing? What did you tell your boys?

If the conversation went something like this: "it's never ok to attack eight-year-olds. Why didn't they stop this?" you are pretending that the question “who can fix this” is more important than realising “I helped cause this.” No, that's not backwards, it's the only way out of this mess.

Do you really have no clue why this society is worth defending? Sure, some parts of Western history are pretty nasty, but there's a lot to be proud about. You think you're raising better kids, but you're only succeeding in being a better parent. If you don't see how those are different, your kids do.

To have a meaningful life requires having faith that every one of your actions really matters. Responsibility is a gift because freedom comes in two varieties: positive and negative. Freedom from and freedom to. Remember that next time some pretend adult yells about oppression. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but Nietzsche once wrote about this saying, "give me a why and I can endure any how." He knew meaning is proportional to responsibility. Your kids need to know this, more than anything else.

I was going to write about how terrorism in a democracy isn't a bug, it's a feature. Politics will always mirror demographics because violence and politics are on a continuum. I think it explains what's going on. But I realised it'd be using Islam as a hate symbol when the real target is democracy itself. The question is not how do we "get over" our prejudice of Islam, but what purpose does hating it serve in the first place, why is Islam the preferred expression of hate of this time?

Then I saw how every desperate explanation was only a deflection to get parents off the hook.

Forget about teaching kids what to love about Western culture, freedom of speech and blah, blah, blah. Why aren't children taught how to respect this culture? The barrier is only yourself. None of this is done because if the problem is Islam -- They's fault, external -- then parents can shrug and say "those damn radicals are at it again," and get back to drinking whisky at the gentleman's club while the nanny picks Alex up from soccer practice.

I get it. It's difficult/impossible to raise a child to be part of the system, yet also to teach him to fight against that system "sometimes." The only way to make kids understand there are legitimate times when they must operate outside the prevailing system is by teaching them that there are even higher systems. I don't specifically mean religion, but some kind of higher ethical duty. For lack of a better term, I'll call it a strong superego, which says, without needing to explicitly define every case, "there's a right and a wrong, and you know what it is." Don't worry, someone you would never choose in a million years will explain this to your kids. Or do you think the bomber in Manchester discovered the idea of shredding eight-year-olds on his own?

"Yeah, well, we just have to get used to terrorism now." Stop it. Listen to yourself. How much do you have to hate your kids to say something like that? The one job a government has is to protect its people. If it fails in this, Rousseau's social contract is broken and we're back to red in tooth and claw. Yet every civil servant will look on those mangled bodies and nod that they are doing good and insist their actions are beyond reproach. Madness.

Actually, not quite madness. But it's damn close. What killed those kids is the failure for each of us to understand just how insane and evil we really are. I can sense you pulling back from this, but every person has a shadow side, bubbling with negativity. "Everyone carries a shadow," Carl Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." A person cannot have existential power over their psyche without its assimilation.

"I'm a good person, I am just making bad choices." Wrong. You're not a good person until you make good choices. Until then you are chaos. It's the easiest thing in the world to tell someone they're good. But it never seems to take. Something feels weak or missing. The thing about doing good is there should always be a doubt. There's no such thing as an unmitigated good action. No action is beyond reproach, regardless of how many people say it is.

Don't shake your head in wonderment at how a bomber can click the detonator in a crowded concert hall. Bow your head in reverence because it is a mirror. It can be you. It is you. Now embrace that understanding and set it down on one end of the spectrum outlining all possible human actions on this earth and never go there. Ever. Let that side gather dust. This is your only job in life.

Jung's point is simple: without embracing your shadow, how can you know your actions aren't close to that evil end of the spectrum? After all, no action is too horrific if Utopia is near. Anyone who doesn't agree is part of the problem and must be exterminated. All it takes for a person to justify terrible actions in a world where God is not dead, but enslaved, is a single instance of someone else saying "I don't condone what he/she did. But I understand." Without the embrace of your shadow, all actions are good and righteous, regardless of consequences. There is no reference point. No map pointing to where you are. To you, evil is something others do.

Your righteousness leads to desiring perverse absolution for a perceived history of civilisational crimes, an idea drawn from a Christian logic in which all people are equal and brothers.

So you open the borders wider.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Is there really an infestation of Nazis?

All this talk about Nazis proves my point that the century we understand the least is the one that just ended. Somehow, it’s acceptable to castigate anyone wearing brown but the colour red is only worn by harp-playing cherubs.How did this happen?

Any rational moral condemnation of anyone who supported or empowered Nazism or racism has to include Communism as well. There is no way at all to conclude that either ideology is more murderous than the other. And the Jacobins can be thrown in there, too – along with Napoleon.

But if this test is applied it winds up throwing out three quarters of the writers and artists of the last two centuries. If this had a point, it's not really clear what it would be. So why is it still important to perform ritual kowtows to anti-Nazi McCarthyism?

Despite what universities say, pre-war Nazi Germany was in no way comparable to Stalinist Russia, or even East Germany. As Simon Wiesenthal once said, "The Stasi was much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people." The Stasi at its apex boasted almost two orders of magnitude more employees than the Gestapo.

And the gap between East Germany and high Stalinism is just as wide. Nothing at all like the cannibalistic insanity of the Stalinist purges took place under Ulbricht, Honecker and other Germans.

Before the war, the Nazi state was extraordinarily popular with its citizens. In Richard Evans' history of the Third Reich, he quotes extensively from the dispatches from the exiled Social Democratic leadership. Sometime around 1938 they were admitting that opposition to the Nazis essentially no longer existed, much as opposition to the New Deal no longer exists in US society today.

Remember that the Holocaust was a military secret. It is inextricably bound up with the history of WWII and is best understood as a war crime and it’s difficult to imagine anything similar happening in a peacetime Third Reich.

Supporting the Nazis in the 1930s meant wanting to expel Jews from Germany, not murder them. How people feel about, say, the whites of Kenya and Rhodesia, is perhaps a rough approximation to the same sentiment. It is difficult to find anyone these days who has not given some kind of moral support to one or another species of totalitarian nativism.

People also say the Communists had "good intentions" whereas the Nazis were somehow intrinsically evil. But that is ahistorical. Both movements were entirely sincere in their beliefs, and both were purveyors of hatred on a massive scale. There is no contradiction in these statements. Why is it somehow worse to hate someone because of their race, than because of any other accident of birth – such as class origin?

Has anyone read Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s explanation of why Stalin is not a dictator? To summarise, Stalin is not a dictator because he is not officially a dictator. He is just the organiser of the democratic process by which the Party makes decisions – his was no more than a clerical position or “general secretary.” But of course Stalin was a dictator. And of course welfare is a vote-buying operation. The votes stay bought, don’t they?

In some ways German anti-Semitism bore more resemblance to black racism than to white racism. It was the racism of resentment, not the racism of contempt. National Socialism, unlike mainstream socialism (which was aristocratic and intellectual from day one) was in many ways a genuinely lower-class and lower-middle-class movement.

The rhetoric of racial struggle is a two-way street. In Nazi Germany, the white proletariat won the battle for power, and created a state which genuinely reflected their hopes and fears. But in the US, and ultimately in the world, it went the other way around, and the socialist elite rule the white proles, using ethnic underclasses as a sort of paramilitary army. Sam Francis's phrase for this is “anarcho-tyranny.”

Only by understanding these "totalitarian democracies" (in Jacob Talmon's phrase) as proper parts of history can we defend ourselves against them. Exceptionalising the Nazis promotes a fiction which is not, in any way, shape or form, useful to anyone.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

How to read a US president’s speech

In his first overseas visit, US president Donald Trump landed in the Middle East to give a speech. If that reminds you of someone, it’ll be because his predecessor did the same thing. Don’t be surprised, Washington has a remarkable way of encouraging continuity.

The foreign policy in the second term of Bush 43 was more similar to Obama 44’s two terms than either will admit publicly. As the events of 9/11 faded into history the realities of organising a balance of power in the Middle East were emerging. The US needed Iran, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia to balance each other and avoid Washington’s central fear: the domination of Middle Eastern energy by a single entity.

Back in 2009, Mr Obama said: “the first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.” Presidents 43, 44 and 45 all avoided using the term “Islamic terrorism.” Mr Trump came the closest when he said last week “Islamic extremism, and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds." What does this avoidance tell us about US foreign policy in 2017?

Mr Obama’s evasion was expected. There are only two kinds of people in the US: Christians and communists/progressives. Have you ever considered the possibility that Jesus was a Marxist? Well, I suppose with the historical order of things, we'd have to reverse this. We'd have to say not that Jesus was a Marxist, but that Marx was a Christian. Or more correctly, that Marxism is a sect of Christianity. Immediately, two groups will be horrified by this proposition: Christians and Marxists. By my count, this is, oh, pretty much, everybody.

Why is this relevant? Terrorism works for leftists – and so do many other forms of democratic activism. Terrorism is anarchism: a shattering of order. Is there such a thing as right-wing anarchism? Of course not: the concept is silly. If the word "right" means anything, its goal is not to shatter order but impose it. Therefore, terror in the Middle East aligned with Mr Obama’s leftism, which explains his hands-off attitude.

But Mr Trump’s verbal stumbling offers a chance to observe the incredible power of the US position. When people say "everyone has their own opinions," this is not a sign of weakness, abdication or relativism. Quite the contrary. It is the assertion that the concept of free speech and rational discussion has complete sovereignty over the conversation. And, as it turns out, those concepts are the bedrock of the Christian West. This is power in action, hidden behind a thin veil.

So when US presidents say there is no clash of civilisations between Islam and Christianity, we must see this for what it really is. They are giving us an important message: since the Christian West is in total control of the world's system, we deny Islam the specific freedom even to be at war with us. And we all sit back, nod our heads, and agree with this form of statement. That is true power.

Islam is not the enemy because it has already been subsumed into the US-led “international community.” The conflict is only with those who act in competition – the extremists. Mr Trump has Washington’s playbook, even if he’s a little behind the times. The US is under no threat because it robs its rivals of agency. Almost an entire religion has consented to this without argument. Power isn’t about making things true or untrue, but the ability to make things exist or not exist.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

After massive cyber attack, State Department sharpens its knives again

From the New York Times:

"Hackers exploiting malicious software stolen from the National Security Agency executed damaging cyber attacks on Friday that hit dozens of countries worldwide, forcing Britain's public health system to send patients away, freezing computers at Russia's Interior Ministry and wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers elsewhere."

Nasty stuff. But not entirely, shall we say, unexpected.

Cyber attacks have been growing in sophistication and show no sign of cooling down. It's the Wild West out there, folks, and the government is about two day's ride on a fresh horse. Everyone online knows the cavalry isn't coming and it's up to you - whether as a corporate or an individual - to find and install your own cyber defences. Buck up and defend yourself, learn some jiu-jitsu or something.

The central problem here happens in the physical world too. When a scientist invents a new class of weaponry, eventually that technology falls to peasants and militia. It's the law of the concrete jungle: you can't keep a secret, especially if that secret might help other apes gain power. We do love our power. Perhaps nuclear weapons won't filter down, but that doesn't mean bad actors won't try to get their stinky hands on some suitcase nukes.

In the cyber world, the chances of the equivalent of a nuclear weapon falling down the food chain onto the databases of non-state actors are actually pretty high. The internet was built for one node to talk to all other nodes - all of which they know, and all of which they trust. Security was an afterthought because bottlenecks create inefficiencies and the whole point is the speed of communication. Scientists just wanted to pass documents. Today the internet is a series of tubes touching almost every square metre of human importance. You could say it got out of hand...

The efficiency incentivised actors with gigantic resources, such as nation states, to construct and use cyber weapons. However, when you fire a bullet it doesn't smash into the target and wander away. It explodes with bright flames. But cyber weapons do actually float around once they're used and anyone who knows how to do so can fire them again, and again. Of course, some of the more sophisticated weapons are difficult for the unintended user to operate. But cracking the code is surely just a matter of time. (Or you could just break into the NSA. Whatever's easiest.)

The most sophisticated weapons of nation-states will inevitably filter to the second tier actors of organised crime. After a while, they then find their way down to non-state actors, terrorists, anarchists and others. Again, this is not unusual in the history of weapons. The difference is the speed, which is made all the worse when the top tier can't hold onto their weapons.

So that's the reality of the cyber world. Cyber is difficult. Humans will figure out what to do eventually (the US military is already thinking about a parallel internet avoiding all the pitfalls of the first attempt). But for now, cyber attacks will be depressingly common. Hopefully, criminals are parasitical and don't want to kill the host. That's the best outcome because it doesn't take much imagination to see how autonomous cars, for instance, are frighteningly vulnerable targets. What if the cars were told to turn left, right now? Yeah...happy dreams, my Uber-riding friends.

But the reason I highlighted this story is it shows the largely silent battle for Washington bubbling to the surface. The NYT likes to pretend it's innocent here, and all decent, reasonable people are horrified by the idea that the government might control the press. None of them seem to be concerned at all that the press might control the government. Journalists and professors are all part of what is essentially one large institution: the press and university system. There are few ideological arguments between major universities, or between universities and the mainstream press. Even in its heyday, the intellectual diversity of the Catholic Church was a good deal higher.

In the article above, a connection has been made between the cyber attack and the NSA. Indeed, it lands in the first sentence. True, the NSA did misplace some serious cyber firepower to a group calling itself the "Shadow Brokers," which then onsold the software to the highest bidder. Naughty NSA, why can't they keep anything secret?

But the article's point is not to outline the actions of thieves. The paper couldn't care less about organised crime. The story actually offers the State Department, which keeps a dripping umbilical chord tied directly to NYT editors, a chance to vilify the incompetence of its traditional enemy: the Pentagon.

A few months ago, the CIA also lost some cyber weapons. What's interesting isn't that the CIA is vulnerable to hacking. Of course the CIA is vulnerable to infiltration. Pretty much the only thing it does well is allow adversaries in (I'm only half joking). What was interesting isthe discovery that the CIA has created its own cyber shop. The CIA has an implicit agreement with the NSA to collect data at rest (documents in computers, safes, a person's mind, etc) while the NSA was to gather data in motion (signals, bits and bytes flying through the air). Now we have solid evidence that Langley clearly isn't on friendly terms with the folk at Fort Meade.

The Pentagon has had a rough time over the past ten years. The Iraq War didn't proceed very well (largely because State Department diplomat Paul Bremer decided to disband the Iraqi army. Anyone who thinks the US doesn't know how to occupy and govern a foreign country isn't paying attention. It does. However, the diplomats and soldiers made Iraq a plaything in their never-ending battle to undermine the other and draw power. That a million Iraqi's died due to this factional fighting is, like, totally terrible, dude. But hey, no one ever said running the world's largest empire would be bloodless). The Pentagon's other problem was the Edward Snowden leaks.

I'm not sure what you think of Mr Snowden, but just because he worked for the NSA, doesn't mean he was a Pentagon guy. One of the worst own-goals at the Defence Department was its brain-dead idea to use contractors. I'm not saying the decision was made lightly. The Pentagon calculated it didn't have enough personnel after 9/11. But it still made a dumb decision. Both Mr Snowden and Bradley/Chelsea Manning are the result of lower of standards and chasing a discounted price.

Anyway, the hatred poured on the NSA after the leaks came largely from media and privacy groups demanding the Pentagon accept new limitations. One of the most persistent lies they recited was that the US government spies on its citizens. Yet evenpassing knowledge of the leaks shows it would violate the laws of physics, let alone sanity, to do this. No one can "listen" or "read" your conversations if they only have the date, time and duration of the phone call.

Yet those privacy groups played an important role. With them on the front lines calling for reform, the generals couldn't fire back publicly at the State Department. But I am telling you now, everyone in Washington knew the real players. And it wasn't the privacy activists. The State Department wanted to carve off the NSA from the Pentagon and put it under its control, just like it did with the CIA in the 70s and 80s. The State Department smelled blood in the water after the Iraq War and it wasn't going to let the opportunity slip away.

And you could hear the clanging of steel on steel as the two factions fought it out. But in the end, the Pentagon held onto its intelligence agency. The only thing that altered was a law dictating that phone and internet corporations must now store the metadata, rather than the NSA. That's it. That's the only change. If you'd said that in 2012, I wouldn't have believed you. I don't know what the Pentagon had to give up elsewhere, but it held onto the budget, power and reach of the world's pre-eminent signals intelligence agency. That's a big win.

Now State has noticed a new opportunity to paint the NSA as not only rogue and untrustworthy, but a danger to the people of the United States. It's hard to see President Donald Trump buying this, considering his closest advisors are Pentagon lifers, but State and the NYT have noticed how Mr Trump reacts to the democratic winds and it'll be interesting to see if they can stir up enough populist reaction to impact Mr Trump's thinking on this.

The second aspect here is people can think the NYT is "fake news" all they like, but during the Snowden revelations the harshest critiques of the NSA came from internet companies. After all, Google, Facebook and the rest are competing to gather, store and use internet data. From their perspective, the NSA stepped into their turf. And on the internet, it's the private companies, not the government, that has actual power.

So will State now cut into its rival across the Potomac? It's hard to know. It'll try its best. And with a Republican in the White House, the generals usually have an easier time. But with the framing of Mr Trump's administration as fascist and in cahoots with the Russians, the Pentagon will probably struggle to keep the bleeding to a minimum this time.

I just really hope the two factions keep their arguing within Washington and don't use other countries as proxy battlegrounds. After all, the best place for a civil war is at home.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Looks like you need more diversity over here

The basic purpose of Gleichschaltung was to make sure there was no space in society in which antisocial perspectives can flourish. It wasn’t difficult to be an anti-Nazi in the Third Reich. But you had to keep the grumbling to yourself. And you definitely weren’t allowed to mingle with other anti-Nazis to share your pathetic bellyaching about the new Germany.

The problem was that German society back then, like any society, contained many organisations which had nothing to do with politics. And in those circles, it wasn’t long before antisocial misinformation sprung up and began to flourish.

No problem! Everything could be Nazified. Racism is evil, pretty much everyone would agree with that. But then again, any method of social control can be used for good or evil. It can be used to eliminate good anti-Nazis or evil racists. And by the time 1938 rolled around in Germany, anti-Nazis were about as shunned as, say, segregationists in the US in 1978. Nobody wants to be on the losing team.

In his diaries, Victor Klemperer says even the cat magazines were, by the mid-1930s, writing about the “German Cat.” Companies weren’t immune from Gleichschaltung either. Does your corporation have a board? It better have at least one Parteigenosse (party member) on it. And how many Parteigenosse occupy positions at university departments? Looks like you need some more diversity.

Of course, I’m not saying that diversity is a method of social control. Perish the thought! Its goal is to “heal deep spiritual wounds,” and to “correct the evils of the past,” such as segregation, lynching and questionable soft toys. Those damn racist gollywogs.

And if we’re going to be honest, members of historically disadvantaged groups and Parteigenosses are pretty much used in the same way these days. Victims and potential victims of racism, sexism and homophobia have all kinds of diverse perspectives on society. Which is why they need to be included. It has nothing to do with power. At least, that’s the party line, anyway…

But it’s pretty much impossible to live in a modern society, have any kind of professional career or even personal life, and be anything but a secret racist. And I can’t help thinking that diversity has a lot to do with this.

Of course, we’re all about progress – ethical, artistic and scientific. Diversity definitely cannot conflict with progress. Diversity is progress! And so is science. And perhaps one way to clear this up would be to require that all researchers in sensitive and easily misinterpreted fields are diverse individuals. Obviously, the investigators (Parteigenosse) themselves are in the best possible position to verify this information. A perfect feedback loop.

So in the future, institutions should consider requiring scientists to submit their own DNA profiles, to show disadvantaged ancestry, as a precondition of funding. Surely this is a simple and foolproof way to ensure the data isn’t misinterpreted. And if there are no disadvantaged investigators in the field? Well – that doesn’t look good at all…

Or maybe the better option is to create and follow law. The rule of law is blind to colour, class or caste. As someone once put it, the purpose of law is to defend a million men against one, or one against a million. The day we abandoned this principle was the day we descended into murder and anarchy, and no step back toward safety and freedom can be taken but on its terms.

But that’s not exactly a popular opinion these days.

I have an experiment for you, dear reader. Do an image search in Google for Muslim Mom and Child, Asian Mom and child, Black Mom and child…

-----Then try “White Mom and child”…

Now try an image search in Google for Happy Asian Women, Happy Black Women…

-----Then try “Happy White Women”- scroll all the way down…

Notice anything about the male they tend to pair the final category with 99% of the time? Makes it easy to understand why kids these days think it’s “so natural” and “no big deal” to “embrace multiculturalism.”

I don’t know how much the “mom” spelling (Americanised, as opposed to anglicised “mum”) has to do with the results. But if you think diversity is a “nice thing to do” and there isn’t a synopsis toward which society is moving, perhaps a Google algorithm can convince you. Or do you still think Google is just a handful of code?

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The curious case of terrorism in Indonesia

Indonesia’s president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo issued a ban against the hard-line Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia after the group led protests in Jakarta to tip a gubernatorial election away from the incumbent Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama.

The president banned the group for upholding values contradictory to the country's Pancasila principle of religious pluralism and threatening national unity. Jokowi’s decision reflects an increasing concern that the archipelago’s Islamic militant problem is once again gaining steam.

But since the deadly bombings in the early 2000s, terrorism has been poorly planned and executed in Indonesia. The militants clearly have the will, they just suspiciously lack the terrorist tradecraft to do so effectively. While Jakarta’s concern is legitimate, it’s worth unpacking how the Islam of Southeast Asia is different to the Islam of the Middle East, and why that matters.

Salafism, the virulent version animating the al qaeda movements, is primarily an Ossianesque reconstruction with obvious debts to Wilsonian nationalism. Communist intellectuals are responsible for Islamic terrorism but it hasn’t really caught on in the world’s most populous Muslim country. The question is why.

The Islam practised in the Middle East could be called “desert Islam,” while in Southeast Asia trade routes created a “merchant Islam.” For desert Islam, the Arab conquests stimulated a specific kind of process of Islamisation and militarisation. But it was commerce that spread Islam into Asia, transforming it into a highly prosperous trading zone.

Islam isn’t known for its agility and openness to interpretation, but that hasn’t stopped it from splintering. Merchant Islam has different politics and culture to its desert cousin. It recognises a tradition of mysticism, or Sufism, blending Hindu concepts of divinity. The Chinese, for example, often confuse Islam, Judaism and Christianity. In fact, Chinese and Japanese assumes Christianity was an exotic form of Buddhism.

But the Western colonial system had an impressionable impact on the evolution of both versions of Islam. Terrorism works for leftists – and so do many other forms of democratic activism. Islamic terrorism (which is in every case left-wing – as you can see every time Osama quotes Chomsky) hasn’t attached well to merchant Islam, but it nested with desert Islam sufficiently.

Islamic terrorism could work perfectly fine in Indonesia – if there was a need for it. Islamic terrorism is productive because it results in increasing communal deference to the Islamic community and expansion of the political power and privilege of Muslims and their progressive sponsors. In other words, the terrorist succeeds when, and only when, he is allied to an interested third party – either a military or political force.

So the question Jokowi really faces is: given that the politics of desert and merchant Islam are different, what conditions would compel an interested third party to provoke terrorism? If there is no terrorism, then we can assume the ruling class in the country already follows the revolutionary’s ideas. The playbook is simple: Don't slaughter the opposing camp if you don’t need to – recruit the opposing camp.

And by that playbook, well known wherever the West’s ideas of communism and democracy land around the world, it appears the Islamic revolutionaries and their progressive allies have been mighty successful in Indonesia already. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Your mileage may vary.

Friday, 28 April 2017

100 day Trump scorecard: Tactical victories, unforced errors, mostly incomplete

The world has not ended, fascism is not reborn and the enormous Washington machine carries on pretty much as per normal as US President Donald Trump’s first 100 days finishes on April 29.

A tradition of the US political system since Franklin D Roosevelt’s tenure, the first 100 days of a presidency receives tight attention by media and voters alike. Mr Roosevelt signed 76 pieces of legislation during this time, compared with Mr Trump’s 28 (along with 34 executive actions).

The US president has dismissed the 100 days premise on Twitter, calling the standard "ridiculous," while also outlining how much his administration has accomplished in its first few months. "No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!" The term “S.C.” refers to the appointment of Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch.

"I think you can go back and find an area, one or two, and say, 'OK, well, he didn't do this.' But I think you have to look at it in totality of what he actually did get done," White House spokesman Sean Spicer says. The initial days were eventful, but plenty of work remains for Mr Trump.

At the end of his first week in January, the president signed a series of executive orders to enact campaign promises. They included plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), a fast-track for infrastructure projects, direction for building a border wall with Mexico, removal of federal funds for “sanctuary cities” and suspension of the US refugee programme.

All received loud opposition from Democrats, but the final order on refugees also led to blockages in the US court system which are yet to be resolved. Mr Trump responded to the criticism of the refugee order by re-drafting it in February. The order initially focused on halting movement from seven Middle East and North African countries, but was reduced to six in the second issuance.

In January, Mr Trump also extracted the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement following his “America First” policy. He cited serious concerns about low US workers from Malaysia and Vietnam wage competition.

The remaining 11 members of the TPP (including New Zealand) have tentatively upheld a reinvigorating the deal without the US. Japan, which spent significant political capital on the deal by breaking up its agriculture unions, is leading this effort along with Australia.

Other trade changes include a modernisation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which both Canada and Mexico say should be organised quickly. And although Mr Trump’s nomination for US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is still unconfirmed, the office has been instructed to re-assess all trade deals for upgrade opportunities, to find the causes of deficits and to “identify trade abuses,” according to Mr Trump.

Another of his campaign goals was to halt hiring at government departments. To achieve this, he signed a 90-day freezing order for hiring federal employees, which was lifted on April 12. National security employees were always exempt from the order.

Mr Trump also entered office with an empty seat on the Supreme Court. He promptly nominated conservative judge Neil Gorsuch. The final confirmation process was achieved with the “nuclear option,” referring to a Republican alteration of the success threshold to 51 votes, rather than 60.

At Mr Gorsuch’s swearing in, Mr Trump said: “a new optimism is sweeping across our land and a new faith in America is filling our hearts and lifting our sights.” Another Supreme Court seat could be vacated this year.

Republicans also attempted to “repeal and replace” the Obamacare health legislation. Led by House Majority leader Paul Ryan, the effort came close but failed to gather enough votes. The party and Mr Trump will try again to replace the healthcare package next month.

Pieces of Obama-era coal, waterways and climate change policies were also either reversed or cancelled. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received heavy criticism from the White House, including cutting its funding as part of the new administration’s fiscal budget.

That budget proposal aims to avoid increasing government spending, while increasing the US national security funds. To achieve this, Mr Trump announced intention to siphon money from the State Department and to slice programmes from other departments.

Republicans still hope to secure funding for the proposed border wall with Mexico, even as Congress is holding back the required money. Presently, the border wall is 930 kilometres long and the total length of the border is 3,201 kilometres. Mr Trump hopes to fill those gaps.

Along with Obamacare, three other major pieces of legislation are not yet completed. These include a national security strategy, a cyber-security executive order and a tax reform package. Regarding the latter, a handful of smaller actions emerged in April – review processes and winding back of banking measures introduced after the 2008 financial crisis.

However, Mr Trump reversed his intention to label China a “currency manipulator” after the Treasury Department did not allege China was committing such actions.

Throughout this time, Mr Trump’s political opponents attacked the administration’s alleged connections to Russia. In what essentially amounts to accusations of treason, they claim Mr Trump and his officials are colluding with the Russian government.

While no evidence has been submitted either of Russian hacking attempts on the Democratic National Convention (DNC) last year or of malicious and hidden high-level cooperation, the flow of Mr Trump’s first 100 days have nevertheless been undermined by the accusations.

A series of nominated department heads were hampered by unnecessary legal testimonies and delays in their confirmations. Some were even forced to step down or compelled to recuse themselves for ongoing investigations.

It was however revealed that the administration’s transition team was under surveillance during the 2016 election campaign by domestic intelligence services looking for Russian connections, yet no evidence of collusion has been discovered. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was dismissed after it was found he lied about a poorly-timed discussion with the Russian ambassador.

Mr Trump also launched a series of missiles at a Syrian airbase following revelations of a chemical weapons attack in the country. Syria is receiving Russian military support and the missile attack has removed much of the energy behind the collusion allegations.

Finally, in the foreign policy realm, Mr Trump has sent his defence secretary on tours of East Asia, the Middle East and Europe to reassure allies in those regions and gauge any requirements of US diplomatic and military support in the coming months.

North Korea also continues to provoke with its nuclear programme. As it stands, the US intelligence community assesses Pyongyang will theoretically have the capability to send a nuclear-tipped missile to the Eastern seaboard of the US within four years. Mr Trump is hoping to carefully change the calculation of acceptable risk regarding the hermit kingdom.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The EU, France and the welfare state

It’s not over yet. The recent French elections wrenched back into EU headlines the triple threads of immigration, welfare and unemployment which seem to be inevitably uncoiling the tapestry of the EU structure. The pot boils in Western Europe.

A February survey by UK-based Chatham House found 61% of French citizens are in favour of suspending immigration from Muslim countries. In response to the sentiment, Front National leader Marine Le Pen says if the enormous welfare programmes can’t be reduced, the only thing left is to restrict immigration. But her main target remains the welfare state.

This is a perfectly reasonable target, too. The welfare state is not a “moral imperative.” The policy is best interpreted in terms of the common human tendency to seek power. History suggests when the nature to seek power conflicts with the nature to help, the former generally wins.

Therefore, the former is stronger, and we should look to it first to explain social and political phenomena in our own time. If we ask: What is a “welfare” programme? Through the power lens, we can see it is simply clientism – vote-buying on a wholesale scale.

Note that power-seeking and help-giving don’t necessarily contradict each other. Both can be true at the same time – and typically are. Nonetheless, on a historical timeline set out on a level playing field, the preference for people to use help-giving as modes to power-taking is so lopsided as to be funny. As Bert Cooper on Mad Men said, “philanthropy is the gateway to power.” Right on, Bert. Have I mentioned before how excellent those first three seasons were?

And in 2017, I can assure you that everyone in the French government machine a) thinks they are “helping,” and b) is quite conscious of how real votes are obtained in French politics. They see the two as a beautiful synergy. As of course, they are.

Over the last two centuries, the world adopted the welfare state because the world adopted democracy. Conservatives fail to see this. (I am not a conservative, but probably a reactionary. I want both democracy and the welfare state gone.) The world adopted democracy, an Anglo-American form of government, largely because of the power and prestige of England in the 19th century and the US in the 20th. In every European country, the democratic/liberal faction was also the Anglophile faction.

The welfare state is a result of Europe being conquered by America – specifically, by the New Dealers. Washington faced no opposition to its ideas and today there is no real political opposition to the overall liberal system in Europe – there has been none for decades. Not that there’s much in the US, either. So the result is an implicit oligarchy.

(To see how the Anglo-Americans themselves progressed toward democracy happened, you might want to read Sir Henry Maine – one of the great scholars in comparative government and jurism – specifically his Essays on Popular Government (1893).)

When discussing these sorts of things, I think people make the common democratic fallacy of treating “public opinion” as an intrinsically ultimate cause. It’s not. To reverse what Andrew Breitbart used to say, politics is upstream from culture because the machinery of government works in one direction. Thus, today, Europeans love democracy and the welfare state. Even in Germany. Then again, in 1930s Germany, Hitler was only slightly less popular than democracy is today.

Conclusion: public opinion is a function of whose military forces control the TV station, and not much more. The mass mind is a lever anyone can operate. If you find the public believing in one thing, you can be sure someone somewhere is instructing them in that one thing. So every democracy is in a sense an autocracy – whoever is in power, is in power. The question of what the proles believe is ultimately arbitrary and contingent, dependent as I said on military results.

So if we ask, as a matter of history, why French President François Hollande supported programmes which give money to migrants? One answer would be: M Hollande loves Syrians and wants to help them as much as possible. Another answer is: M Hollande was elected by a massive vote-buying machine, which specialises in purchasing the electoral loyalty of migrants.

Now, the truth is: M Hollande probably does love Syrians, in at least some sense. However, my historical assessment is that he knew which side his bread was buttered on, and if the butter had ever found itself on one side and Syrians on the other, I am quite confident as to which side he would have picked. Power is, after all, extremely tantalising to hominids.

Today, almost everyone accepts the first explanation: M Hollande wanted to take other peoples’ money and give it to migrants because he loves and wants to help them. However, if this explanation is widely held a century from now, I shall be disappointed – it’ll mean nothing whatsoever has changed.

Ms Le Pen’s solution so far is to “cut down on welfare dependency” but might not be enough. The better solution is much simpler and more effective. If Paris owes a beneficiary some payment or benefit, it should compute the actuarial value of the benefit, pay it – in present or future money – to the beneficiary and terminate the programme.

Notice how this thought-experiment exposes the difference between wanting to control people, and wanting to help people. It provides all the help, but none of the control. (Clearly, if the “entitlement” becomes an actual financial debt, it is no longer producing its former vote-buying effect.) My plan is unpopular with liberals and conservatives alike, so it won’t be enacted. At least, not by any democracy! But Ms Le Pen is on the right track anyway.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Who is making Russia policy in Washington?

The Russians must think the Americans are crazy. The sheer breadth of fictitious allegations about Russian bogeymen is a twisted logic driving events toward war. Wittingly or unwittingly, it’s unclear why the US is doing this. Is war really what it wants?

Three years ago Ukraine exploded into chaos. The legacy of this continues and generally flickers beneath the radar but it’s exceedingly dangerous: Nato is building up forces on Russia’s borders, particularly in the Baltic and Black Sea regions. The US has deployed its most advanced F-35A stealth fighters to Estonia, among a serious amount of other impressive military materiel.

Then there is “Kremlingate” in which Russia is said to have infected the 2016 US elections and continues to "puppet" US President Donald Trump. Russia is also blamed for boosting France’s Marine Le Pen candidacy over the pro-American Emmanuel Macron. The latest story emerges from a briefing by a US general that Russia is apparently colluding with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In hearings last month, US officials implied Russia breached the Democratic National Convention’s emails, gave the contents to Wikileaks, which then released the emails to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and put Mr Trump in the White House. Washington says this constitutes an act of war, skyrocketing the whole debacle to an existential level. This is madness.

Despite media reports to the contrary, not a single piece of evidence has been released showing Russia had anything to do with affecting the US election. That two of the three largest US intelligence agencies (CIA and FBI) are “highly confident” is simply bogus. The one agency that could conceivably have done a forensic examination is the National Security Agency (NSA) and it says it was only “moderately confident.”

Think about that. You don’t marry someone based on “moderate confidence,” you definitely don’t go to war with Russia on “moderate confidence” and no one should be staging ridiculous theatre to destroy the presidency on “moderate confidence.” Besides, if I were American, I would find claims that Russia used propaganda to help elect Mr Trump deeply insulting. It is saying US citizens are mindless zombies ready to go anywhere Mr Putin leads them.

It might come as a surprise to some but Russia has its own politics. Across the spectrum, they are convinced America is preparing for war. Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said in April, following a US missile strike on Syria, “we are on the brink of war” and that relations are “absolutely ruined.” Mr Medvedev is considered the most pro-Western of Russia’s leadership.

Also in April, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Russia. He has been categorised by US media as Mr Putin’s friend because when serving as chief executive of ExxonMobil he worked for six years to access vast Russian oil reserves. Mr Putin knows Mr Tillerson well. The Russians would never have made that deal if they didn’t think he was a serious, honourable and reliable man.

Mr Putin wasn’t supposed to be at the meeting because a lot of the political class in Russia didn’t want him to attend. But he turned up anyway and stayed for five hours. I think the conversation would have gone something like this: Rex, what is going on in Washington? What is this about Trump as our puppet? Tell me, who is responsible for making policy toward Russia?

That last question is a dark indicator of how broken the relationship appears. Consider Syria. Mr Putin needed to know if the US still accepts the position that the choice is between the Assad regime or the Islamic State. Russia assumed the regime is the lesser evil.

But after the missile attack, the US seems to be drifting. Whatever Russia’s military posture in Syria, it would be based on Mr Tillerson’s answer. I don’t know what was discussed but it wasn’t good. After the chat, Mr Trump announced relations are at an all-time low and Mr Tillerson solemnly said there was no trust between the two countries.

In all these narratives, Russia is the villain without exclusion. The castigation of Russia’s leader has been going on for nearly 17 years, getting shriller every year. It has re-awakened Russophobia and the blaming of Russia more generally, which in turn is tapping into old Cold War discourse. Every time, Washington decides it needs to further militarise its relations with Russia. This is madness.

The attempt to paint Mr Trump as a Russian puppet is convincing Mr Putin of nefarious intentions. He has publicly said someone is trying to provoke a war between the US and Russia, although he did not say who. He suggests powerful forces in Washington did not like Mr Trump’s policy of detente with Russia and are doing everything they can to scuttle it.

What we do know is that the US intelligence community has been leaking to the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and other major media in ways that are not only highly detrimental to Mr Trump as a president but to his Russia policy as well. There is an obvious pattern here.

My concern is that Russia will overreact as it is prodded and prodded and prodded. The French have a saying for what's going on here: cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il ce defend. “This animal is very wicked; when you attack it, it defends itself.”

Forget North Korea, this provocation is more dangerous. At the height of the Cuban missile crisis at least satellite photos of Russian missiles were presented. There is zero evidence for Russian hacking today. Apparently, we have to take the intelligence community’s word on it and Iraq in 2003 suggests no one should be comfortable with that.

I’ll take one more turn of the wheel. Mr Trump’s presidency is being crippled by accusations of treason with no evidence. If this had happened to President John F Kennedy during the Cuba crisis, the only way to prove he wasn’t a Soviet agent would have been to launch nuclear weapons. This is madness.

So, when Mr Trump launched missiles at a Syrian military base, it was to show he isn’t a Kremlin puppet. It would be unwise to bash Mr Trump when he gets something right, and crushing the dangerous idea that Russia controls him at the minuscule price of 59 missiles was a good move.

But with all these messages, Mr Putin has no idea who is making policy in Washington. And if Russia’s pro-West faction is concerned, what might the Russian patriot faction be whispering to him? Mr Putin doesn’t want a new Cold War, neither does Mr Trump. But the Russian leader is right: Something is moving in Washington, something with sharp teeth.