Friday, 30 September 2016

All those beautiful people

Here's the rule:

If someone is making money off their appearance, or otherwise directly capitalising on their appearance to further a career or for financial gain, it is okay to comment on their appearance.

In other words, if people objectify themselves for money, it's okay to criticise the worth of that object.

It isn't sophisticated. This isn't their ability because they aren't in control of their image. They aren't taking the publicity photos, directing the videos or designing album covers. And those things are unquestionably on the order of "She/he is hot, buy her/his crap." It isn't the act at issue because we don't see the act. We see the image constructed by people who own the creative output. Grace Jones was cast in Conan precisely because she would look good and strong wearing next to nothing. In other words, the decision was made in advance of casting to have the female lead be almost naked.

If they didn't want their appearance at issue, they wouldn't allow their beauty to be the central part of their image. Some people will take the "If you've got it, flaunt it" attitude, but then it becomes perfectly acceptable to discuss whether or not you've actually got "it."

We aren't talking about sex or beauty. We are talking about commerce. That so many people are confused about this illustrates why, consistently over time and regardless of the trend or target demographic, sex sells.

Ok

Blah blah blah look at me drone on endlessly for 1000 words blah blah redundant redundant redundant redundant blah blah token link to the first result in a google search of whatever I'm blathering on about.

ha ha setup the funny joke typo typo grammar error used which instead of that used that instead of which agonised over it and still got it wrong back to main point blah blah blah punch line back to point blah self-doubt blah blah forgot to include the word 'not' in the sentence and now it reads like I agree with the thing I'm disagreeing with blah redundant blah copy paste error blah too insecure about my writing to ever proofread or revise so i just plow on through blah blah

begin substantive paragraph awkwardly and without transition blah blah self-doubt gives way to self-loathing i wish i knew how to write blah blah i wish i was better looking and more charming in person blah no one will read this because they hate me blah blahdie blah blah who the fuck is going to read a post with so many blahs in it blah blah i wish i was dead blah blah here's where I rage rage and rage against the dying of the long forgotten light blah blah ruin a famous quote with my hamfisted paraphrasing blah blah should have just made a two-line joke about a pants monster and moved on oh well too much invest in this now to delete it blah blah God so many typos cut-and-paste and grammar mistakes what the hell is wrong with me

i'm tired blah blah i'm hungry blah blah i think I'll just end this now blah blah I meant the comment blah not my life blah not yet anyway blah

token poignant ending sentence blah blah i should have my fingers severed and my blog revoked

Blah.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The winners and losers of the Trump/Clinton debate

What’s fascinating is that people in New Zealand are actually talking about the US election. It has nothing to do with our politics. We can’t vote. Almost no one who comments understands the US government. And it saps precious energy and time for most people with absolutely no tangible benefit.

I know the US electorate is being conned by Trump, because they think he represents change or a body-blow to the political establishment. But the mere fact he turned up to the debate proves he only wants to be part of the system (in control of it) and leave the entire thing pretty much alone. He may not know he can’t change Washington, yet I don’t think he cares. He just wants to say he is president because that’s what his American narcissism promised (“you can be anything you want”). He campaigns and debates on the idea of change (where did we hear that before?) but just like Obama, who actually DID naively think he could alter Washington, Trump doesn’t care. He just wants in. A crowd-sourced super-ego.

But I also get the suspicion we’re being conned, all the way down here. The point about not understanding the US government, and the one this author made about the rumour Clinton will “sign TPP shortly after coming into office,” are the same. Figuring out the short con (Trump is catering to his super-ego demands) is part of the long con (the US actually has democracy). Trump and Clinton are distractions so no one notices how the executive branch is the least powerful part of government, yet the most “amenable” to voters. Congress and the Senate organise the form and function of Washington, while the ultimate sovereign power rests with the Supreme Court. The voter has zero access to influence those. Yet nothing about this is considered strange or unnerving to people who believe in democracy. Instead, everyone expends their limited grumbling energy on hating Clinton and Trump, leaving only fumes remaining to attack the other two branches.

And it digs deeper. The election framing offers New Zealand media a playbook for the same distraction next year. It shows, once again, how easy it is to focus attention on PEOPLE rather than the system. You gotta remember, propaganda doesn’t teach you what to think, it teaches you how to act. And setting the frame this way dispels frustration away from the powerful, nameless few in parliament and the courts creating the rules we all have to follow. The propaganda stirred to final release at the climax of election day isn’t about picking your pocket, it’s about making you into a battery. All you’re good for, according to this structure, is what you can do FOR the structure. And the message from the media is to do nothing. No change needed, please. Move along.

I think if Trump was really the revolutionary his people want him to be, he would have refused to do the debate at all. “Oh, these are your rules? I don’t care. Politics is the problem, and I don’t want anything to do with it.” He should then use whatever time and media coverage he has available before he gets dragged off by the soldiers to implore his voters not to vote AT ALL and for all Republican Senators to step down and for the party to disband. The result would be a Clinton victory and a single-party state, exposing the true nature of the regime AS IT ALREADY IS. The Republican Party is a pretend opposition anyway. It allows the Democrats – of which 90% of the civil service is – to run a theatre of politics without any real danger. It LOOKS like there’s opposition, but there is effectively NONE. If Trump cared less about his identity, he would try to expose it, even though he lacks the power to do anything about it. That’s the point of revolution: to expose the evil of a system and spur a critical mass of people to resist and rise up.

Instead, there was a debate. A vanilla, unreal, media-channelled circus. Both candidates reinforced the system (only one of which knew actually exists), while every viewer believes it now moves to the final denouement in November. But it is a lie. There is no denouement. Nothing will change in November. The world won’t end, either. The candidates don't run the risk of moving the money, let alone the power. They couldn't be less irrelevant - for the US populace and New Zealand.

The only losers this week were those who thought they were watching the machinery of democracy. Which looks like everybody, from my viewpoint.

Might Saudi Arabia already have a nuclear weapon?

I've been thinking about the Middle East dynamics and something doesn't quite add up.

The Iranians, are likely happy with a nuclear weapons programme rather than owning a viable weapon. They'll use it as a bargaining chip and not an actual project. I see no reason to disagree with this because the lesson for every rogue state is that a nuclear weapons programme – and the decision to finally finish it – is a balance. But every such state seems to think it's an important process to have.

The Turks are protected by an (assumed) US umbrella in-country. The Israelis aren't exactly coy about their own weapons. And we know the Iranians at least have a programme.

But the Saudis are strange. They were up to their eyeballs in nuclear proliferation, have plenty of money and see a clear and present danger across the Persian/Arabian Gulf justifying their own nuclear capability. They can rely on the US, but how much? Would Washington really risk a nuclear exchange with Iran over Saudi Arabia's integrity? How can they trust that assumption today? There's a gap here, and it makes me suspicious.

I suspect Saudi Arabia is almost certainly already a nuclear power. In 1987 it bought a few dozen IRBMs from China. We know Saudi Arabia paid for Pakistan’s bomb program while China provided Pakistan with the bomb designs. And of course, Chinese warheads fit onto Chinese missiles.

If they do have a bomb, the Israelis are remarkably discrete about it. Particularly in light of how the Israeli Air Force has experience in destroying whatever nuclear facilities it feels may threaten Israel – Operation Opera or Operation Orchard, for instance.

We also know the Israeli government has long exaggerated Iran’s nuclear weapons programme for its own interests. If Saudi Arabia has the components of nuclear weapons, is there a geopolitical scenario where it is in Israel's interest to stay quiet about that programme?

To my knowledge, there hasn't been a single word from Israel regarding Saudi nuclear weapons, in comparison to the existential threat of Iranian nuclear weapons that may exist at some point in the future. Given the region's dynamics, that seems strange.

What may be true, however, is rumours about the Saudis wiring its oil facilities to make them unusable in the case of invasion, including the potential spreading of radioactive material as part of the plan to destroy those installations. The difference between buying radioactive material – caesium 137 is not exactly expensive, and already used in the oil industry – and building a bomb is immense in practice.

The second story of Skittles and warfare

Sun Tzu wrote how the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. He was right. And it's curious that a simple candy can prove the West’s victory in this so-called war.

“If I had a bowl of Skittles and told you three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian problem,” the son of a US presidential candidate said recently. He is updating the “one rotten apple spoils the entire barrel” analogy to outline the problem of hundreds of thousands of Muslim peaceful refugees with a few potential Muslim terrorists in their midst.

This connects to the “so-called war” mentioned above. It refers to how the core countries of the West have fought, along with their allies, a global battle against a particular strain of Islamic monotheism since the autumn of 2001. This conflict was never clear on whether it met the criteria for respectable warfare or criminal prosecution, hence why it still doesn’t have a name.

If it is war, that would require a particular enemy and measurable victory conditions. But since this conflict has neither, it’s more enlightening to view it as a criminal prosecution. So, what is the fundamental ingredient for organising suppression of a criminal threat? Both the criminal and the legal apparatus must be in the same jurisdiction. And what happens when the world is assumed to be a single jurisdiction? You get the last 15 years.

Acceptance of a global jurisdiction requires a predominance of the world’s humans to agree with the tenets of a particular set of beliefs. As I often write, the shorthand for this preponderance is called the “international community” – a set of beliefs led by the tools, statecraft and institutions of the US. The “rules of the road” in every sphere are written or are being written by Washington and those who share its viewpoint.

Those Skittles (people) travelling to Western countries do not come from another planet. They have lived in a world of a single power structure for almost 30 years. During which they have consumed and subsumed the media and ideology of that power structure. True, their own traditions of Islam and local beliefs mix with this global ideology, but aside from a few individuals their traditional ideas cannot overwhelm the acceptance of the power structure in their neighbours.

The West can conduct a criminal prosecution of Islamic radicals because those radicals live in a world where they accept the default assumption of the overarching power structure. They rail against Washington and demand their viewpoints are included. But this is founded on the assumption that the US has the authority to set standards and norms. In their captured brains, their reflex is to complain about the contents of the world order, not assert the insignificance of that order.

It is impossible to bluff someone who isn’t paying attention, and figuring out the short con is part of the long con. Islamic radicals do not think the US-based power structure is legitimate, but they will let it have power over them in exchange for the right to brag that they know it isn’t legitimate. This obsessive worry about what Washington does or says is completely predicated on the assumption that its institutions have the power to decide what is true.

If anything, the three dangerous Skittles represent as close to victory conditions for which Washington could have planned. In fact, someone better check they didn’t plan this. Millions of Muslim migrants is not the “Islamification” of the West, it is the westernisation of the Middle East.

Arabic social networks code in English, the product is translated to Arabic after the fact. The internet oozes Western values – it is the quintessential Western invention: free, egalitarian, laissez-faire, etc. And, most importantly, it accepts Western-style advertisements. In other words, advertisements which are aspirational, not representational, showing the viewer how to want (not what to want). Showing them they can only be happy or feel accepted if they adopt Western assumptions.

Six months, let alone 10 years, of the internet beamed into a pliable migrant’s mind is all the magic the Western power structure needs. Any Samaritans waiting for migrants at the airport terminals will turn to their fellow placard-holders and say, “you know, they’re not so different from us, they want the same things we want!” Of course they do. Why do you think that is?

Pretending to fight a war when 98% of the Skittles don’t even know they are actually on your side is a police action. That there are real missiles and stealth aircraft involved is theatre. The West won the “fight” even before al qaeda changed the New York skyline. Is this power structure impervious to the hate of the recalcitrant 2%? No. But changing the force of the Western status quo would be like using one’s arms to clear a path through the ocean. Good luck with that.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Sitrep - 28 September, 2016

The Republika Srpska (Serb Republic), a substate of Bosnia-Herzegovina, conducted a referendum over the weekend on whether to continue observing Statehood Day on January 9. The public holiday recognises the day Bosnian Serbs declared their own state. An overwhelming 99.8% of voters chose to retain the holiday, yet the decision to hold the referendum highlights tensions in the Balkans.

The region is one of Europe’s poorest and most diverse. At the end of the 20th century, powers from within and outside Europe intervened militarily to stop the strategic mountainous area from exploding into widespread violence. Since then, dozens of countries have emerged as a patchwork, not all of which are recognised by the international community or their neighbours.

Another micronation, the Free Republic of Liberland, occupying a 7 sq km plot between Croatia and Serbia (neither seem to want the land) is also relevant. The question of statehood for Balkan groups is still largely undecided, and a tenuous lid sits on territorial tensions. More than anywhere, though, history suggests it is not a good idea to move borders around in Europe which is why the referendum and micronation matters.

In South Asia, the disputed Kashmir territory is once again the reason India and Pakistan are threatening to launch a hot war. In July, Indian troops killed a highly popular militant leader, spawning dozens of Kashmir citizen protests against India over the intervening months. More than 80 people were killed by Indian security forces during the demonstrations.

Then last week, a raid by Kashmir militants on an Indian army outpost resulted in the deaths of 18 Indian soldiers. New Delhi angrily blames Pakistan for supporting the militants, but whether Islamabad directed the raid is as yet uncertain. Military forces of both nations were repositioned to a war footing as the week progressed, while Pakistan closed its airspace to commercial traffic.


The Kashmir problem this time appears to stem from a domestic political struggle. In the past, India and Pakistan have used Kashmir for their own political purposes, often to the point of limited warfare. But neither country desires stoking what could be a nuclear exchange. India both needs to attract more foreign investment but also respond to its soldier’s killings in a way that shows strength. The balance will be tough, but war is unlikely.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Trump's campaign starting to smell like victory

I

Seems as though no one wants to hear it but Donald Trump is probably going to win the US election.

People blame the media and the establishment for this outrage, saying the consequences of a Trump victory will bring the death of both. The media has failed to defend the Democrat Party, leaving too much room for the Republican Party.

The media and the permanent government, connected by the state religion of post-Christianity progressivism which dominates American social thought, is failing in real-time to direct the attention of 318 million citizens towards the ‘truth.’

But let’s flip this over and look at the redacted obverse. Trump is not a Republican. That is, after all, what the Republicans say. They don’t listen to him or want to be associated with the guy at all. This is weird, because in limited warfare (politics) only size matters. Arrive on Election Day with one fewer supporter than your enemy and you lose. Simple as that.

Here’s the thing, I agree with those Republicans. I don’t think Trump is a contemporary conservative, neither is he a Democrat. But when I listen to his policies, all I hear are progressive ideals. The maths doesn’t add up. Until that is, one asks: From which American era does he draw those policies?

II

Don't worry, the media hasn’t failed. Far from it. Donald Trump is verbalising what the mainstream media has parroted for years.

He concentrates on Islamic terrorism. Why? Because every day, the media plays footage of Islamic terror from the remotest corners of the world. The media’s job after 9/11 was to “inform” society (or rather perpetuating dread) so the government could conduct respectable war against a defined enemy. After all, we’ve always been at war with East Asia …

So now in 2016, Mr Trump flails around denouncing Muslims, telling his supporters he will block Allah’s believers “until we figure out what’s going on.” He rails against any country that “has been compromised by terrorism,” by which, of course, he means Islamic terrorism – what other media-approved terrorism is there?

He has opinions about Russian president Vladimir Putin but “doesn’t really know the guy.” At least this is consistent. Outside the foreign policy wonks, who knows anything about Mr Putin? The Russian leader is on television occasionally but not in any digestible context. Why is he important? Why is he dangerous? Most people would guess “Ukraine” but even that seems peripheral and imaginary.

The only narrative Mr Trump knows is the US war with Islam. Mr Putin isn’t Islamic, and Russia isn’t a superpower, so he isn’t a concern. There’s every reason Mr Putin can be reasoned with. After all, he wears a suit, holds elections (I know), has a parliament, works with the UN, borrows from the IMF, etc. None of this suggests Russia is an enemy. Mr Putin is simply not yet American enough.

III

Mr Trump says illegal immigration is a threat to the American way of life. Cue the hatred. But isn’t that the media’s message up until only recently? President Ronald Reagan in 1986 signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, granting amnesty to about three million illegal immigrants. What was the lesson for average citizens? The government will steal citizen’s legitimate jobs while never stopping illegal immigration.

Now Mr Trump is attacked for saying exactly the same message back to the media. Note how the link says the media is changing its tone on immigration, as in, it used to talk about illegal immigration very differently. The media doesn’t hate him for what he’s saying, they hate him because he hasn’t been born again as they have. This is what systemic disavowal looks like.

“Make America Great Again” is a media-approved, establishment-stamped idea with decades of pedigree. The 20th century demanded a new American patriotism as the US stared down the Soviet Union. Rather than allow the US to split along historic lines, undermining the project of pooling the nation’s resources, the government invented modern Americanness to cut across the divisions.

The same was true in the Soviet Union, a mixed society of racial and ethnic groups. Everyone knew what it meant to be Russian (Orthodox, Slavic, white) but being a Soviet neatly pasted over the divisions in this meaning. Soviet ideology allowed everyone to pull together as a single superstate.

Mr Trump’s “Make America Great Again” line makes perfect sense in this context because he grew up under the Soviet threat.

Millennials (like me) will never understand the dread of knowing how the next false-alarm in an ICBM field could bring about Armageddon. No one would know if the launch was in anger or error. The sky would turn to fire and humanity would step into the void. I can’t feel that fear. I guess you had to be there. Mr Trump was. This is the economic and psychologic universe in which he finds himself.

IV

A Trump victory in November would be the consequence of a decades-long, media-approved messaging. He is the epitome of the kind of person the establishment wants behind and underneath it, urging on their broad-brush policies while they paint the final picture out of sight in Washington with careful, nuanced strokes.

Mr Trump is operating on 20th-century industrial-age values, which don’t quite mesh with 21st-century information-age values. Make America great? Of course, that’s how the US stays dominant. Keep a lid on immigrants? Of course, Americans must stay American and have plenty of jobs. Be cautious of Muslims? Of course, the US needs an enemy to justify its global spread of democracy.

Can you see how Mr Trump is a direct product of this America? Can you see how he reflects a nexus of progressive values and ideals from both the Cold War and the War on Terror?

The sociologist Robert Nisbet spoke of five “cultural premises” in the idea of progressivism. These nest almost perfectly with Mr Trump’s plans: value of the past, nobility of Western civilisation, worth of economic/technological growth, scientific/scholarly knowledge obtained through reason over faith and the intrinsic importance and worth of life on Earth.

Those were the progressive values drilled into Mr Trump’s brain from childhood. He wants them back – and back in exactly the way they were promised when he was growing up but he feels were taken away.

The problem, from the establishment’s perspective, is he represents the kind of American they want behind and below them, not in front and above. This is a failure of class warfare. The media treats Mr Trump as a virus because he is out of step with modern progressivism. They laugh and mock him when he can’t recite the nuanced rituals and impossible language of the 2016 progressive doctrine.

But, like millions of others, he was raised with the fundamentals. Equality, acceptance, universalism and democracy. These values are integral to the identity of Americanness. Mr Trump delivers those fundamentals in language Americans can understand.

And they approve of the message because their agreement is the difference between maintaining a life-long identity and dealing with messy existential and psychological damage of altering this identity. People will do anything to avoid change and, when their identity is threatened, they get angry.

V

It’s no wonder then the most vicious attacks against him come from millennials – they were raised on this new set of progressive tenants.

Protestants once fought Catholics over pretty much the same dynamic. American Protestantism (old) now wrestles with progressivism (new) for the next turn of the Judeo-Christian doctrinal supremacy wheel. These factions wrestle not with weapons, but with limited warfare (politics).

We are witnessing the pendulum return to the centre. But the centre creeps ever-leftward.

The centre in 1960 was the extreme left in 1920. And the centre in 2016 was the extreme left in 1970. Mr Trump was born in 1946, which means he was 24 in 1970. So why are people surprised when his 2016 policies mimic the ideas he was taught by the cool people in 1970? He knows no other way of being. And why are people surprised that millions of others agree with him? They know no other way.

Mr Trump is not the death of the progressive movement. He is a progressive through and through – but a progressive from the 1970s. His election, should it happen, will only slow the progress of progressivism, not cancel it. The internet as a technology virtually guarantees the domination of the progressive movement, not just for the US, but for the entire wired planet, for at least another century.

If you live anywhere outside the US, Mr Trump is a red herring. Do you want to know what a Trump-esque presidency in 2062 looks like? Listen to the new progressive millennials yelling on social networks.

Are you worried now?

Syria and the strategy of chaos

Few expected Syria’s ceasefire last week to persist without serious trial. Too many players and too many moving parts are involved. So it’s no surprise the guns have started firing again.

It seems a major tipping point was a US mistake. An accidental airstrike by two USAF F-16s and two A-10s, accompanied by UK, Danish and Australian aircraft, killed 62 of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops. The incident occurred at a key location in Syria near the Islamic State-controlled eastern city of Deir ez-Zor, a common target for US warplanes.

The troops were fighting IS near a mountaintop, and the US aircraft, acting on intelligence, engaged what they thought were enemy forces. Russia, which has been trying to set up a joint intelligence platform with the US for the Syria theatre, immediately claimed the strike as proof Washington’s hatred of the Assad regime extends to duplicitous “support” of the jihadists and promptly complained to the UN Security Council. Washington denies the airstrike was deliberate.

The fog of war hangs heavy over Syria, even with a vast constellation of satellites orbiting above. The conflict remains a focal point of the world system, not because the Syrians are fighting, but because it now involves every major power. Even the Chinese are there, both as militants fighting with IS and with the Russians behind Assad. That’s concerning because what happens in Syria doesn’t stay in Syria.

Two immediate lessons. First, the Pentagon will now assess what went wrong, how its targeting data was corrupted and whether the scenario can be avoided in the future. If the joint intelligence project with Russia is further along than publically known, then this raises questions as well, especially given Russia’s stated support of the Syrian regime.

Trusting Russian intelligence on who is an enemy and who isn’t would only be marginally more risky than trusting a fox with guarding the proverbial henhouse. Simply put, it works in Russia’s favour if the US appears reckless and barbaric.

Second, the failure of yet another ceasefire, which will probably have the effect of splitting the various Syrian rebel factions even further apart, isn’t an entirely bad situation for the US. Washington has persistently deferred engaging in any decisive way in Syria, even though it could, preferring to contain the fighting by using strategic strikes or support for “vetted” rebels where necessary.

It does this because it needs breathing room and time to think about what comes next. A collapse of the regime will lead directly to a jihadist leadership over the broken country. That’s not a useful outcome. And a perpetually embattled Assad also secretes the distinct smell of schadenfreude. The Syrian despot, after all, facilitated the movement of thousands of jihadists into Iraq during the last decade who worked to kill US troops by the thousands. Seeing him struggle must feel good.

But geopolitics isn’t personal. The subtlety in Syria is a nasty but perfectly legitimate imperial strategy of maintaining chaos as an end in itself. The entire region – the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, North Africa and increasingly Eastern Europe, – is destabilising in worrying ways. A lot of pent up geopolitical energy from this destabilisation is leaking out through Syria.

This attracts not only nation states, but non-state actors as well (jihadists, criminal gangs and other low-lifes). A lot of proof-of-concept techniques and weapons are being tested in the shattered country, both high end (Russian cruise missiles, fighter-bombers) and simple (IS assault attacks, explosive devices). It is a gladiator’s academy. The same thing occurred with the Spanish Civil War, which ended five months before the beginning of WWII.

The longer the fighting goes on, the more those techniques are honed. But the obverse of this is also true. Adventurous young men from around the world are drawn into the meat grinder, and the fewer of those left to wander the streets of Paris, London, New York or Auckland, the better. From a geopolitical perspective, as long as there is a narrative of anti-western feeling in Eurasia, the better chaos in Syria is for the status quo power (US). At least warplanes can legally bomb in Syria.

No one looks at the last few years in Syria and says, "See the US can be scared off, so we can scare them away too," because that isn't the lesson. The lesson in Syria is that defiance of the US could result in the defiant country being cast into the abyss of anarchy and civil war. The US may not win, but no one else will either. Petty? No, this is geopolitics.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

H.L.Mencken on Trump...I mean, George Washington

I just found this. It was written by H. L. Mencken in 1918. The following excerpt is found in the first chapter in his book, "Damn! A Book of Calumny."

"If George Washington were alive today, what a shining mark he would be for the whole camorra of uplifters, forward-lookers and professional patriots! He was the Rockefeller of his time, the richest man in the United States, a promoter of stock companies, a land-grabber, an exploiter of mines and timber. He was a bitter opponent of foreign alliances, and denounced their evils in harsh, specific terms. He had a liking for all forthright and pugnacious men, and a contempt for lawyers, schoolmasters, and all other obscurantists. He was not pious. He drank whiskey whenever he felt chilly, and kept a jug of it handy. He knew far more profanity than Scripture, and used and enjoyed it more. He had no belief in the infallible wisdom of the common people, but regarded them as inflammatory dolts, and tried to save the republic from them. He advocated no sure cure for all the sorrows of the world, and doubted that such a panacea existed. He took no interest in the private morals of his neighbors.  
"Inhabiting These States today, George would be ineligible for any office of honor or profit. The Senate would never dare confirm him, the President would not think of nominating him. He would be on trial in all the yellow journals for belonging to the Invisible Government, the Hell Hounds of Plutocracy, the Money Power, the Interests. The Sherman Act would have him in its toils; he would be under indictment by every grand jury south of the Potomac; the triumphant prohibitionists of his native state would be denouncing him (he had a still at Mount Vernon) as a debaucher of youth, a recruiting officer for insane asylums, a poisoner of the home. The suffragettes would be on his trail, with sentinels posted all along the Accotink road. The initiators and referendors would be bawling for his blood. The young college men of the Nation and the New Republic would be lecturing him weekly. He would be used to scare children in Kansas and Arkansas. The chautauquas would shiver whenever his name was mentioned..."

Mr Washington sounds a lot like a certain Republican candidate...

Sitrep - 21 September, 2016

The Syrian regime declared a seven-day ceasefire over, blaming opposition fighters for repeated violations. UN investigators claim loyalists shelled 18 of its trucks making an aid delivery to civilians in the northern city of Aleppo. The international body says the attack was a war crime, although Russia – which backs the regime – is yet to weigh in.

A few days before, a US airstrike appears to have been the tipping point for the ceasefire’s failure. More than 60 of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were killed by US aircraft in a mistaken strike near the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor. The Islamic State (IS) occupies most of the city, but it appears US targeting intelligence was incomplete or inaccurate.

As more nations dedicate armed forces to the Syrian theatre, the conflict grows more complex and mistakes such as this will be more common. Another ceasefire is in the early stage of discussion, but the chaos appears to be uncontrollable for now. To some extent, that’s exactly the way the US wants the theatre to remain.

Because back in the mainland US, a series of improvised explosive devices were either detonated or failed to detonate in New York and New Jersey. An arrest of a 28-year-old Afghan immigrant was made yesterday in connection with the bombings after a short shootout with police. The devices targeted public events but failed to kill anyone, although more than twenty were injured.

The failure is a mixture of luck and poor tradecraft, the bomber was untrained and inexperienced. IS has relied on lone attackers to target Western countries for more than a year, indicating it cannot deliver trained terrorist operatives to those targets. The reason, it appears, is because its skilled operators are being killed regularly in Syria. The attraction of such people to Syria is why the US has an incentive to ring-fence the theatre and leave it in chaos.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The failure of feminism

I

I’ve noticed something.

Open up almost any social networking site (ok, perhaps not Pinterest) and see how frustrated men seem to be about powerful feminism.

They complain how women can publish any article they want on almost any media channel, but men are too afraid of the social backlash they might receive if they pen a story about defending males. Even if it's prostate cancer or prison rape. Men are being hounded out of the public sphere, men say, and the power of feminism has created a world in which hatred of men is acceptable.

But that doesn’t sound right. I want to suggest the only reason women can get away with saying nasty things and doing horrible things is because men are self-controlling their physical strength. That isn't a popular opinion, I realise. But the entire history of humanity can be boiled down to "might makes right." If you do not have the might, then you do not have the right to make laws because you have no way of defending or prosecuting those laws.

So feminists must ask themselves: why is the weaker sex, which is generally disgusted at violence, able to operate in such positions of power? Consider how women are better represented today as leaders, politicians, CEOs and much else. Why do they feel invincible when they spit in men's faces and insult them in ways that if a male said the same thing would get him beaten up? What is it about modern society that creates this space?

II

The feminist movement has been tricked. Feminists do not realise they are fighting on a battlefield they did not choose. Even when they win, they will drill deeper into the system created by men.

Women are legitimately concerned about inequality. But they almost always make the mistake of seeing the symbols of power men gather for themselves – such as certificates, uniforms, titles, money, etc – thinking if they can achieve those too, then they will have power. Not power over people, but existential power. The power to choose and to not be robbed of agency. The ultimate power of being taken seriously as a human, without the need of symbols.

Women will never gain parity with men if they fight for greater access to the system men created. Many men fall into this trap too, but no man confuses the title of CEO with his maleness. A CEO has to be a leader. The person must fight horribly in turf wars and nasty ladder-climbing for that title. Men created the idea of hierarchy to secure such victories. They invented symbols of authority for the same reason. The title "CEO," "General" or "Professor" screams to other men words it appears women cannot hear.

Instead, modern feminists assume being called CEO suddenly makes them a leader, to whom subordinates will bow and follow willingly into whatever combat lies ahead. That some women are actually seen as leaders reinforces this point: they have had to act like men so their subordinates see them in a way that correctly reflects the title.

This is what happens when a movement fights to control an oppressive system, but its members do not understand true revolution. The movement becomes everything it thought it hated and is subsumed into the old system.

III

Men don’t have to worry. Feminism is not actually winning, it is merging neatly into the male-created system of modern society. Why do I know this? Because it is an “issue” in the media. The moment a movement is discussed in media is the moment the system obliterates it. Someone, somewhere, figured out how to make money at its expense.

Women can get away with shouting and screaming at men, hitting them, firing them from jobs, enforcing gender diversity and everything else because the cause poses no threat to the male-created system of consumption/production and the economic status quo.

If a feminist becomes the CEO of Goldman Sachs, what will happen? The system of corrupt money flow will continue without obstacle. Why? Because the feminist chose to control the company, not attack its ideological bedrock. She might think she has power, but power over people is inferior to existential power. Feminism fails here in the only way that matters: pro-status quo.

Early feminists could see how the male-created system of modern society hurt not just females, but men as well. They wanted to change the structure by fighting to be taken seriously as human beings without the need for titles or millions of dollars.

Men know how the system of power works. A man without any power can walk into a room and talk to powerful men and they will take each other seriously. Can a woman do this? Can a feminist? Feminism is not in control of anything. It should notice that the moment powerful men feel threatened, they will crush the movement like a bug.

IV

This is true for the civil rights movements as well. Those with real power figured they could make more money from coloured people and women if they funnelled their revolutions onto a battlefield where, even if the usurpers won, nothing would change. And even worse, those radicals would begin to fight for their own slavery.

French philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, wrote about how people fight for slavery, and the more I follow the present culture wars, the more relevant these writers become:

"That is why the fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: 'why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?' How can people possibly reach the point of shouting "more taxes, less bread"?  
“As Reich remarks, the astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others go on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike: after centuries of exploitation, why do people still tolerate being humiliated and enslaved, to such a point, indeed, that they actually want humiliation and slavery not only for others but for themselves.  
“Reich is at his profoundest as a thinker when he refuses to accept ignorance or illusion on the part of the masses as an explanation of fascism, and demands an explanation that will take their desires into account, an explanation formulated in terms of desire: no, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism, and it is this perversion of the desire of the masses that needs to be accounted for."

The failure of feminism and other equality movements is a deep shame because they all had such great potential to clean up this male-created mess of a society. But they stood no chance against the incredible forces of power systems arrayed against them.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Pay attention to the wrong thing, that way you'll see nothing

I

Australian senator Pauline Hanson spent 30 minutes this week explaining how her country is “in danger of being swamped by Muslims.”

During the speech, a group of MPs pointedly left the parliament debating chamber in protest, but Ms Hanson managed to finish. The One Nation MP says Islam has a “hyper-masculine and misogynist culture” and suggested that Muslim migrants failing to assimilate into Australia should “go back from where you came from.”

Coming from a female, the frustration about Islam’s treatment of women is more believable. But over in France, while they prepare for civil war against Muslims, the present debate about female beach attire follows along with Ms Hanson's claims. I won’t be the first or the last person to point out how removing the agency from women to choose what to wear is a profoundly sexist thing to do. Although, as I'll point out, it's not actually about the women. It's about the men.

“I feel sorry for these women who have been forced to wear [the burqa]. I reckon many Muslim women would love to break out of it… If our law states you cannot have full face coverings, no one — including Muslim women — should be able to cover their face. Wearing such garments is not the Australian way of life.” Ms Hanson says.

No, it certainly isn’t the Australian way of life. The key in Australia is to depict women with impossibly high standards of physical beauty and sexuality in the media first, then convince mothers to obsess over their daughter’s physical appearance until they figure out they can eat whatever they want as long as they throw it back up. Only then, with their self-esteem and body image completely shattered, can they be shamed into having a baby.

And if daughters are often told about the dangers of sex so they stay at home until they get married, it's much easier for mothers and grandmothers to pester them constantly about how they need to find a husband because "they aren't getting any younger." Or to monitor their diet "so they don't lose their figure" and can "still attract a man." Mothers have to ensure above all else their immaculate and virginal daughters are not exposed to the sinful influence of [insert despised political faction, ethnicity, religion, art form here].

You know, sometimes it's like politicians don't know anything about oppressing half our species.

II

I will say this, though: Ms Hanson clearly has no idea how men think about women on the fundamental psychological level.

Every part of sexism discussions – sexual shame, oppression, objectification, etc – are the civilised manifestations of what goes on inside men’s minds. Those are the mechanisms men put in place for the purpose of containing men, not women. Obviously, burqas oppress women, I'm not arguing with that. But oppressing women is not their primary purpose.

When thinking about the Islamic world, it’s crucial to assume one is looking back into the deep history of human society. This culture hasn’t changed much in a long time, and it prides itself on that. Whereas Christianity moved north out of the Middle East, through Greece and Rome, picking up law and rationality along the way, Islam travelled south and deeper into basic humanity.

In the Islamic world, the third world and in rural Europe until the Second World War, women covered up. Some places more and some places less, but they covered up. The reason they are required to do so is simple, and still offered by Islamic authorities mandating the practice today: it is to protect women from being raped. That isn't a joke or a rationalisation.

Unless overwhelming social control, laws and cultural mores are brought to bear, men will pursue women for sex. In places lacking such mores, the men are largely uneducated if not totally illiterate, and there is little in the way of police authority. They are aggressive and incredibly hormonal. If a woman walked down the street in little clothing, she'd be assaulted because the men there have no impulse control.

The men in charge understand how other men have no impulse control, despite the fact Islam mandates it. Those men in charge also lack the resources for an obvious police presence. But they do have the power to require women to cover up. From their perspective, the danger isn’t that a women’s sexuality is so powerful it must be contained, a burqa is an acknowledgement that men at their basest can be incredibly impulsive and violent, so it helps prevent arousing those impulses.

The number one searched-for term on the internet in Pakistan is sex. Apparently, there's an unspoken but widespread homosexual underground in the Arab world too – “women are for babies, men are for pleasure.” This is surprising considering how often and harshly the religion and wider Islamic culture seem to oppress gays. But try as you might, you can't suppress biology.

A lack of impulse control doesn’t just occur in pre-civilised cultures either. Recall the "wilding" incidents in New York. Also, many women have stories of ex-boyfriends becoming stalkers or acting creepily shortly after a break-up.

III

The womb-envy argument doesn't explain this either because it requires over-intellectualising a base instinct.

Most men are glad not to have to go through childbirth, or experience the menstrual cycle. Having womb envy would require thinking about babies as creation and magical, which is unnatural. Other animals don’t seem to have womb envy. And, as should be clear to everyone, humans are little more than animals when culture is stripped away. We are a species of primate, after all.

Don’t worry, unlike Ms Hanson, I’m not singling out Muslims. Yet it is the largest culture currently maintaining the practice of covering women, while also offering an explanation for doing so.

The concern over male behaviour is innate to males everywhere. How else can Western expressions like "dressing modestly" be explained? Or even “dressing provocatively?” Older women still wear headscarves in rural Greece and Italy. In the summer. When it's hot. Younger women pretty much never wear them anymore, but they did prior to the war.

And where did the defence of rape cases until only recently that "she was asking for it" come from? It accepts the implied but universally understood the notion that without external forces or training, most men can't control their sexual impulses.

True, sex shaming often is leveraged against the woman rather than the man. That’s because the common perception is that women can control sexuality by covering up. It is also assumed men can't control the impulses, so how could someone be blamed for something which cannot be controlled? Of course, this is unfair, and feminists are correct to fight it, but we are talking about a power mechanism invented in ancient cultures without a strong central authority. It's understandable there will be some residue even today.

If, as a male, you are right now controlling your sexual instincts, understand it is because you are educated. You live in a country of particular rules where the law is quickly felt at the round edge of a police baton. Furthermore, you were raised in an environment where the culture, mores and religion have all taught you to control sexual impulses from early on.

IV

Even in enlightened New Zealand, sex still sells, right? Is there a single product which hasn't been sold with an attractive woman next to it? They sell cars, boats and even airline seats with bikini models.

Companies do this because although men are trained not to objectify women, their natural instinctive impulse is to look at the woman. We are biologically wired to do this.

Don't believe me? It's Friday night. Go to any busy city street and watch the eyes of any man on the street when an attractive woman passes by. I'm not suggesting those men are thinking of raping the woman. I actually suspect they aren’t thinking of sex. But they all watch because they can’t help it. Even when they’re talking on the phone, they don’t even pause. Their eyes still move.

Maybe I overstated things when I said "most" men. But here's the thing. If there are a hundred men on a street in Kabul and a bikini-clad woman walks by, it only takes one man to lack impulse control to make the entire city unsafe for the woman.

So I'll revise my argument, slightly. Absent cultural programming and the apprehension of the imminent blunt-force application of the law in the minds of men, the number who might lack sexual impulse control exceeds the threshold beyond which it is safe for any woman to dress provocatively in that environment.

If that’s too convoluted, try some mathematics. When X% of any male population misbehaves, then it isn't safe for any woman on any street because there is a high likelihood one of those X% would be on any given street at any given time. My contention here is that X is probably a single digit number.

I'm not saying this is good, or acceptable, or that women should be forced to cover up. Neither am I rationalising Islamic or other laws or justifying this power. I am simply suggesting the mechanism these rules evolved from over time was based on some practical necessity to maintain social order absent a central authority.

V

Yet it doesn’t answer why women are educated less in Islamic cultures. If walking around in a burqa solves the problem of male biology, why is it that women have fewer career opportunities?

This is a good point, and I have to admit I didn't think this all the way through (hey, I never studied anthropology, so I'm at a disadvantage to those who've thought about this). My guess though is related to agrarian societies requiring offspring to do work. In this context, women become a valuable asset because they can produce boys as labourers, or women who can be married off.

Non-agricultural primitive cultures (which still exist) appear not to have these sexual hang-ups or widespread female oppression. There are hunter-gatherer cultures of the tropics where women routinely wear less clothing than Venice Beach. I suspect the appearance of agriculture in human history has something to do with the reduction of women to property, which led eventually to general objectification.

In 2016, it is completely abhorrent for any culture anywhere on earth to continue to operate like this. In the 15th century, the situation was different. And no amount of hand-waving or pseudo-science will change the fact that many Arab and Asian cultures still operate today like it's the 15th century.

If those cultures interact with western society, evidence suggests the reflex to cover women for their protection will dissipate. But 200 years ago they had no choice. Misogyny still exists in Australia, but female immigrants eventually figure out they don’t have to be oppressed like this anymore.

At that point, they might think of fighting for a new kind of existential power with feminism.

But this article is already long enough.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Dealing with the migrant crisis

Refugees, immigrants and migrants. The nomenclature keeps changing, yet the reality of millions of people fleeing war and poor economic conditions continues, stoking anger. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The media seems to have settled on “migrants” as a politically neutral term for the individuals. Although a fraction qualify for refugee status, a large chunk are actually economic travellers looking for better jobs and who took advantage of the refugee influx to seek a financially better life. “Migrant” as a catch-all term for this isn’t so bad, even if it’s a bit disingenuous.

The US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all resettled thousands of these people. But European politics are showing signs of stress from public frustration at what many consider an uncontrolled immigration policy. Even the UK is talking of building a wall near Calais to stem illegal migrant flow.

Nevertheless, the hundreds of thousands of people moving westwards from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia in the past year is slowing, both due to a clever EU/Turkey border deal (in which one unverified migrant is swapped for a vetted migrant) and the present tenuous ceasefire in Syria.

The ceasefire was achieved after months of negotiations and takes effect this week. It comes a week after an encirclement of the rebel-held northern city of Aleppo by regime forces. Now a ceasefire gives all sides time to rearm and consolidate their respective fighting positions for when fighting inevitably breaks out again.

Other countries in the region teeter towards fragmentation. The only forces fighting for the concept of “Iraq” or “Libya” are the US and international forces. Everyone else in those geographical representations are organising their future borders at the tip of an assault rifle.

All of which suggests the “migrant” “problem” will continue for some time yet. And aside from declaring martial law or building thousands of miles of unpopular walls, there is little Europe or other Western destinations, including New Zealand, can – or will – do about the pool of new people arriving in their countries.

Actually, the incentive is to open the borders wider. Considering their woeful demography, an injection of (mostly) healthy and able-bodied workers into advanced countries such as Germany is a political and economic no-brainer. German birth rate last year fell lower that of even the notorious demographic lightweight Japan to 1.4 births per woman. Replacement rate, remember, is 2.1.

A 20-year-old migrant enters an advanced country entirely skipping the heavy state expenses of birth and childhood, and enters in the middle of the person’s prime consumption and production years. From the state’s perspective, a couple million such people spread around demographically dying countries is the equivalent of printing money. And yet it isn’t all proving so smooth.

In the past year, the reaction from natives in the destination countries has been harsh. Claims of racism are thrown about, often without good reason, but sometimes accurately. Political parties campaigning on promises to put a tourniquet on immigration are gaining power in many countries, although again, at the expense of governments with open-border ideals.

So if neither ceasefires nor tighter immigration rulebooks can deter or remove the migrant crisis, and many leaders, including New Zealand’s, are likely to encourage more people to migrate to their countries, is this ballooning into a threat worth worrying about?

Perhaps. But the destination countries are “advanced” for a reason. Each has a robust framework of institutions and mechanisms to cope with the fundamental problem of government: what must be done with all these people? Western countries have been dealing with this problem for hundreds of years, and there’s no reason they can’t deal with it this time around.

The new people represent different cultures, sometimes radically different (in every sense of the word). They bring with them alien ideas, values and desires often antithetical to western ethics. But ideas, values and desires are all malleable. The transition period may be tumultuous but if there’s one task the west is excellent at, it is convincing other people that the west is best. The job is mostly done before they reach our shores: why else would they travel westwards in the first place?

Facing all these new folk, western leaders should be as warm and receptive as humanly possible. St Francis of Assisi would be a good role model. It is perfectly possible to connect the triangle of boosting economic output, embracing desperate people and securing western societies.

But the moment a leader finishes their welcoming speech they should immediately turn to their security agencies, media, universities and other social machinery to say, “Make sure nothing bad happens.”

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Sitrep - 14 September, 2016

An unusual calm settles over the yearslong civil war in Syria as a ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia comes into effect this week. The deal took 10 months to negotiate, and violations from both regime and rebel groups have already been recorded, but the plan is for it to hold for at least seven days.

At that point, the US and Russia hope to jointly begin targeting Islamic State and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly the al qaeda-affiliated group in Syria) groups as moderate rebels split away. The ex-AQ and ISIS groups have been the most effective rebel forces in the war, so the other rebels aren’t too pleased with being separated from them.

But the loyalists certainly retain the upper hand in the ceasefire, as does Russia and Iran which both support the deal. Splitting the moderate rebels from jihadists will make the regime’s job of crushing the opposition far easier. Although if the ceasefire holds, the next stage for peace and power-sharing negotiations could begin, and move one step closer to ending the conflict.

North Korea tested its fifth nuclear device, the second this year, and South Korean intelligence warn it could be in the midst of preparing a sixth test shortly. The isolated regime has been busy testing ballistic missile systems all year, many of which could house a miniaturised nuclear device to deliver to targets as far away as Japan and US bases in the Western Pacific.

However, it is unclear whether the devices tested are thermonuclear (fusion) or simpler nuclear (fission) weapons. It is also unclear how far along the North Koreans are in weaponising, hardening and miniaturising these devices for use in combat.

Nevertheless, the regime has rapidly accelerated its nuclear programme this year in what is looking more like a race to the finish than ever before. It is timing the push during both the US and South Korean election cycle, knowing the two powers are distracted. Yet if the North Koreans are closer to a demonstrable and deliverable nuclear device, the US is running out of time to act militarily.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

On toothpaste and God

I

If the machinery of media is failing, the entire modern state structure will warp.

The media is far more influential as an instrument of power than most people think. When the fourth estate does its job correctly, it frames every conversation at a specific level, below which is stacked hundreds or thousands of assumptions about proper society.

Consider how many assumptions it takes just to understand this headline:

Why a Chemical Banned From Soap Is Still in Your Toothpaste.”

Read the article if you want, but you’ve seen many of these before. The formula is standard and a perfect example of the fourth estate working precisely as it was intended.

Let’s tease out only one aspect: the word “banned.” When it comes to how power works, this unassuming little word is more useful for the maintenance of the status quo than an array of surveillance cameras or GCSB data mining tools. It is a weapon in the war for your mind.

People value a free choice and personal responsibility to purchase toothpaste but are being told it is safe to value those things only because they expect a certain amount of absence of choice and freedom from responsibility. This is Isaiah Berlin’s two concepts of liberty: positive (freedom to do things) and negative (the freedom from things happening). The Times article works because it maintains the assumption that people would not be allowed to make a truly dangerous choice. They would be saved, in some way, from hurting themselves.

To see how power is working here perfectly, understand why that the problem isn’t the toxic toothpaste, it is all of the correctly manufactured toothpaste. If that seems abstractly unrealistic, I'll simplify: the chemical isn’t dangerous because it hurts people, it is dangerous because a higher authority says it is.

Whether the chemical actually is unsafe is irrelevant. The article perpetuates a society in which people are taught not to be careful about toothpaste because a higher authority is invoked in some symbolic form, such as an FDA stamp or an article in the New York Times.

People are taught from day one to appeal to a higher authority. Their cynicism of other humans splits loyalties making us highly suspicious of individuals in authority, yet simultaneously reflexively obedient to symbols of authority as long as there is no defined individual attached to it.

II

What a reader of the NYT doesn't consciously understand is that their judgment of risk is based on the fact that they believe in God, and this is even more accurate if they think they don't believe in God.

I sense this is making you feel uncomfortable because you too think you don’t believe in God, but sadly, you do. And I know this because the word “banned” means something important to you.

Stories such as this attract so much hate for companies only because the correctly manufactured toothpaste exists. And if those products exist, they must be safe or else “some other omnipotent entity” would not have permitted them to come to existence. Here the secular religion of the West is laid bare, the machinery of power, and you cannot change it. All of the metaphors of the West imply this omnipotent entity, from “free market” to “inalienable rights” to “world peace.”

Here are some comments on the toothpaste article. Put your sunglasses on:

•             “I will stop using Colgate immediately. No kidding. The protective microbiome in the mouth should not be destroyed by a lobbying corporation.” 
•             “I'm ditching my TOTAL. I have allergies to lots of chemicals and have been searching for the culprits that is making my skin and eyes so itchy. I've already changed shampoos because of this but it hasn't helped.” 
•             “You'd think they would know better than to keep this chemical in toothpaste. I have such a lack of faith in these stupid greedy conglomerates. I'm not going to buy any of their other products anymore either.” 
•             “Just threw my tube of Colgate in the trash.”

Leave aside how quickly these people acted, why would the FDA catching a toxic toothpaste substance make people angry? The anger should be a clue something insidious is happening.

It isn’t because the government intrudes into our lives – that’s why the government exists. These commenters are irate because it constitutes evidence the system wasn't – and therefore isn’t – omniscient. Freud knew about this. When toothpaste is correctly manufactured, it confirms Dad (God) is reliable. But when a danger is discovered later it suggests Dad can be unreliable, and there's nothing worse than an unreliable Dad (God).

III

You can see the three characteristics of this “other omnipotent entity” everywhere: it is omnipotent, it opposes the existing order and its sole job is to protect you from yourself – not from the world – but from your bad decisions. And if one piece of the system’s machinery appears to be inept, our broken brains immediately reach past it for the next “omnipotent entity.”

How do you, dear reader, know toothpaste is safe? You aren’t a chemist or a toothpasterist (whatever, I’m tired). You’ll flick open the lid without thinking, because "some other omnipotent entity" allowed it to exist. The better question is: how do you know this Entity can be trusted? You know, because it even tries to ban trivial chemicals such as triclosan. A perfect loop. The system wins.

Observe how the journalist, working exactly as their institution requires, finally asks the most critical question of all: what do dentists think?

“Dr Richard Niederman, a dentist and the chairman of the epidemiology department at the New York University College of Dentistry, isn’t particularly worried about his patients’ using triclosan-containing toothpaste.”

You can’t see, but I am bashing my head against this Auckland Council-approved GIB wall. No no, finding a dentist wasn’t enough for the writer. Those devious tooth-scrapers. For Richard Niederman to help perform the ritual of reinforcing default assumptions, he needed a clear symbol of authority. In this case, “Dr” Niederman has to be a university professor. All hail the modern-day clergy.

IV

See how easy it was to go over the government to a higher authority, to find "some other omnipotent entity" to save the system. There is no need to show why a university is more legitimate than the FDA, only that the journalist says it is so.

The journalist will always find such an entity because society cannot live without it. You cannot live without it. We look immediately for “who can fix this” so we can avoid the existential terror of “I’m helping cause this.” After all, the only thing worse than too little freedom is too much freedom.

What is the final common pathway of all of this? The point of consumer protection is not protecting the consumer from the market, but protecting the consumer for the market.

The purpose of any ban is to deliver the impression of a caring, watchful eye so we can yell about living in a nanny state while simultaneously whispering “and thank God!” The extra twist is that all this futile yelling has to be done via a comments section on a news site. How else will the ad impressions be served?

All from just one word. One lousy, benign word. If none of the above rings true, then let me know and I’ll update my Signs I’m Going Crazy list. Banning things looks like freedom, but at what cost? Is this really freedom? I still won’t eat Chinese food until I see the laminated “A” symbol hanging like an eye above the weird waving cat statues on the counter.

This social machinery, when it works well, has no need of an absolute ruler. When it’s done right, not even the people doing journalism know why they write. All that’s required is for them to exist. But if the machinery grinds and pieces fall off, as is clearly happening, what then? Do we want to find out? Or do we want journalists to remember their original purpose?

Saturday, 10 September 2016

When media fails, what else will be destroyed?

I

A major project of mine is trying to paint how power works, how it flows. I can’t see where it is or whether particular humans have it. But I get a better idea by thinking about why power structures were built in the first place. I guess the project is like an intellectual archaeological dig.

There’s no name for power relations, only representation. Because in knowing we control, and in controlling we know. The concept here is that we know through abstract ideas which represent what we know. Many layers of assumed truth are built into every packaged idea.

Using the allusion of a road map, even if one has never seen the actual road, one can imagine it by just looking at a map. But the representation itself may have an origin elsewhere, out of sight. Finding the origin is my project so I can see structures clearly today.

As far as I can tell the dark secret of power is that no one has it. We are all equal, expending frantic energy on what is ultimately nonsense as a defence against impotence. Not power to rule the world, but existential power. What is the purpose of my life? What is this all for? I get that all this money needs to be spent, but is that it? Shouldn't I be able to do more than this?

The media is the primary way power systems teach us how to want, but for the same reason its own power is invisible. The media and other power structures are not natural. They require centuries of thought, around which an entire eco-system was built to maintain them. It is difficult to explain to someone the reason they live their life the way they do is because of structures, which were built to help them live that way.

But I want you to consider, dear reader, how journalism’s collective forgetfulness of its fundamental job of assuming the veracity of power structures is exactly the place for this archaeology to start.

II

The system operates autonomously, it is meant to. But too few people remember why and for what purpose all the pieces were built. I’ve written about this before.

In the media, this is especially true, but so too in business, government and security. In media, we have journalists and people who do journalism. They are not the same person. And now that I’ve written it like this, you know exactly what you are too, regardless of where you work. You’re either trained to have this thought or trained not to have it. Which one are you?

The first group of people understand the machinery of media, business, prisons, psychiatry, policing, and advertising. They implicitly seem to comprehend how there was a time before humans invented a particular institution, and a time afterwards – and they know why.

They realise their role play is fake, but also that the larger illusion – order and form in society – relies on the role being played. And they recognise how to manipulate this machinery for their own benefit. Most importantly, they see a difference between actual power and the trappings of power (money, possessions, titles, accolades, etc).

The others – the 99% – need not understand their worldly roles at anywhere near the same depth. They turn up to work (accepting the basis of needing to work) to sit obediently at a desk.

The overarching institutions were created for them. They didn’t invent the keyboard, the newspaper, the cheque, the baton, the gavel – nothing. Their role is simply to plug in. But they are allowed to exist if, and only if, the machinery of the institution operates smoothly.

III

Because there is a ratio. In the same way a viable human society can only tolerate a certain number of murders before it become unviable, modern society can tolerate a certain number of people who do journalism, so long as actual journalists – the ones who understand the institution’s power – are playing their role correctly.

If the ratio tips to the former, the machinery gets rusty and its cogs grind horribly together. This grinding creates friction and centrifugal force. We can already hear the rasping of the gears. Consider the disappointing trend of media chasing ad revenue. When the grinding starts, if the original purpose of journalism is forgotten, who knows how many other parts of the system will break?

The fourth estate’s purpose, journalists like to say, is to “speak truth to power.” Fine. But how many realise the implications, the expectations? Do they realise the job assumes “power” exists in a particular form, and their role is to speak truth to it, not tear it down? A better question is: if they knew from the beginning, would they have taken the job?

Where is this power? What is media’s purpose? The moment a journalist in 2016 puts fingers to keyboard, they accept that power constitutes the truth of democracy, parliamentarianism, taxes, civil service and all the rest. The media’s purpose is the maintenance of the status quo, the connecting glue between desired action and ultimate outcome. A straight line runs from its failure to the failure of society. Perhaps media’s forgetfulness of its role answers why the western world feels verging on breakdown. The illusion is melting because the magicians are distracted by cats.

Here’s a breakdown of the media’s role. People are encouraged to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. The maintenance is: “voting exists as a concept.” That’s the level from where the entire conversation starts.

In this society, the conversation cannot, and must not, begin with “should a person vote?” or “should society be a democracy?” and when was the last time you saw an article asking whether there “should there be a leader, at all?” Power won’t allow it, power won’t even allow us to think about it.

IV

But when a journalist chooses to chase ad revenue, they choose not to report things which maintain those assumed truths. When you choose to purchase that chocolate bar, you’re also choosing not to spend the $2 on the infinity of other options instead.

Until a journalist chooses to write about a topic, society exists in a quantum superposition of multiple eigenstates. The minute a story is chosen, the form of society collapses onto a single state. The power structure, the “system,” being maintained here by the media is the sum of all these decisions.

The mistake is to think the other possibilities sent to oblivion somehow never existed. As if there’s a law of the universe bending towards the status quo. Nothing could be more wrong. But the effect of more cat stories may result in fewer political stories, and so fewer people voting. Some may not see any problem with that, but a society in which 40% of a population votes is radically different to one in which 50% vote.

Both realities are possible and the instrument of the fourth estate is the only thing standing between.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The true clash in the South China Sea

China is sending more “white hulls” to the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Two months after an arbitration by The Hague said China’s territorial claims are invalid, Beijing continues to defy the decision. What does this tell us?

“White hulls” refer to the Chinese Coast Guard, as opposed to the “grey hulls” of its military vessels. When it comes to sea disputes, a less aggressive move is to send coast guard cutters to intercept Philippine or Thai fishing boats – especially when camera lenses monitor the scene and no Chinese Admiral really wants to fight an enraged US Navy.

China perceives these territorial disputes. Beijing starts from a similar position to the rest of the international community by recognising the concepts of nation states, international legal decisions (getting angry is not as dangerous as ignoring decisions), the system of trade and even structures its government on a Western idea (Communism). China is deep in the status quo, but not deep enough.

Most of these are perfectly compatible with the international community yet there is encountering friction and that’s not good. Friction exists whenever two people want the same thing, but only one can have it. And in the modern world, if there is uncertainty around ownership, the two parties often settle it with a lawsuit, which takes friction into the realm of politics. But politics is simply limited warfare, and now the outlines of the dispute become clear.

China thinks it is up to Asian people to sort out Asian affairs. From this perspective, the US, Australia and New Zealand are not actually in Asia, so China pushes back when those countries intervene, no matter how altruistic their reasoning.

Of course, if the US was removed China would be the strongest regional power and would renege on its own sovereignty rules. After all, the country has been infected by a form of democracy (Communism), so without a power to check its ambitions, it would spread this form of government throughout Asia to attain peace. The history of the 20th century warns of all this.

But here is something interesting in the Chinese rhetoric. Beijing appears to know the game it plays. The infection of revolutionary government is deeply rooted in Chinese DNA. The sea clash is actually a skirmish of war for psychological control of the minds of Asia’s people. The friction emerges because the power with status quo control – the US – also plays this game. And it has been playing for 200 years.

Although it’s not a Chinese idea, Communism is a large part of China’s “soft power” image. The fundamentals of the idea compels Beijing to spread outwards. Joseph Stalin said “socialism in one country” was a foundation only. The ideology couldn’t survive without spreading to all countries eventually.

The friction arises as it abuts the dominant form of democracy – the US model. The US model is not so different to the Chinese – democracy always ends in socialism eventually. What causes the clash is the US model’s excellent soft power. In 2016, a critical mass of people think the US model is a righteous government structure. While too few people believe China’s model.

This is simply a failure to convince, not a reflection of a failure of a particular model. If China could grasp how to use the tools of soft power, there would be no question which ideology was “at fault” in the disputed waters. Yet China thinks it can buy its way to hegemony. It doesn’t realise money is the trappings of soft power, not actual power.

The US model of progressivism is assumed as default because Washington’s soft power captured the psychologies of Asia through the internet and other forms of media. It uses its riches only after the step of psychological capture is attained, or in conjunction. Never before. Beijing thinks money is power, and that is why it fails.

At this level, the victor in this present dispute is obvious. Without a coherent process to capture psychology – in fact, not just coherent, but better than the US – Chinese Communism will sooner or later morph into the US progressive model with Chinese characteristics. Consider Japan, Germany and (mostly) Russia. What are these but US progressivist countries with Japanese, German and Russian characteristics? Indeed, what is New Zealand?

But it is worth pondering China’s rhetoric about “Asian people dealing with Asian affairs.” This position is known as classical international law. The entire tradition of classical international law can be condensed down to two Latin words: uti possidetis ("as you possess"). The principle is that every government is de facto, legitimate and sovereign. Their borders are defined by the power of their military. And if two states disagree on borders, it is up to them to settle the dispute.

Classical international law, while never perfect, was a beautiful piece of engineering. It effectively solved a problem that today appears unsolvable: enforcing good behaviour among sovereign nations, without a central enforcer. You might call it a peer-to-peer architecture for world peace.

Its rules are designed for a world of genuinely independent states – as opposed to US protectorates. Something deep within China’s rationality knows this system is probably much better for eliminating friction. Will it encourage the older system? Of course not. China is operating a virulent model of Western revolutionary, world-eating government. All this rhetoric is only meant to undermine and replace the US project in Asia.

This concept of classical international law sounds strange to modern readers because terms such as independence, sovereignty, and international law no longer mean what they once did. Internationalists talk of international law, but what they mean is modern international law which is a recipe for more friction, not less.

For classical international law to work, all democratic states would have to recognise the true and actual independence and sovereignty of other states. Unfortunately, that’s not part of the ideological plan. The world took the long way towards world peace rather than the shortest route. China is trapped into playing the rules of the world-eating game, but it’s good to hear it knows there’s an alternative.