Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Sitrep - 30 November, 2016

Embattled South Korean President Park Geun-hye says she is willing to resign if the National Assembly agrees on a timetable and procedures to ensure an orderly transfer of power. Several staunch loyalists recommend that Ms Park step down. Opposition parties are drawing up a draft impeachment motion and expect to put it to a vote by as early as December 2.

Outside, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans continue to protest the administration since allegations of influence-peddling with a spiritual figure emerged earlier in the year. But the crisis is more than just political in the young democracy. It is economic, institutional, social and geopolitical factors. Most important is stagnating economic growth after decades of speedy expansion.

The compounding crises could push the East Asian country towards a reactionary popular response. Its largest companies are powerful, its politicians are blatantly corrupt and a division deepens every year between the economic winners and losers. Protectionism and a new regime are the least of South Korea’s worries even if Ms Parks party retains control.

A tough year of Brazilian political chaos is not over. An impeachment proceeding against replacement President Michel Temer has been filed based on accusations of improper influence, but it is unlikely to move. He is relatively popular with a majority of lawmakers and the opposition party would need to siphon off this support if the impeachment is to succeed.

However, a plea bargain being negotiated by engineering company Odebrecht in connection with the Petroleo Brasilerio corruption scandal – which deposed former President Dilma Rousseff – could be enough to break the Temer administration. The deal could include evidence of illegal campaign donations and wrongdoings of more than 100 serving lawmakers.

Political infighting will continue into next year as politicians manoeuvre to avoid jail and take power once the dust settles. And, just like South Korea, the country struggles to reinvigorate growth and control an influential and oligarchical business elite. Latin America’s largest economy isn’t finished with its slow motion explosion, but Brazil has survived worse.

The garment-rending of the post-religious

If you hover over this hyperlink, it looks like you’re being redirected to the Guardian, that bastion of free thought and liberal values. But I'm telling you, at the other end of this link is a religious person.

This “happily married” “white man” loves virtue signalling and long walks on the beach. He identifies himself by symbols and other people’s ideas, and yet I know nothing about him. But narcissism aside, I want you to notice specifically how Christian this person is.

His article is dripping with religious language. He says the “thought of racism has always been abhorrent,” and it sounds exactly like how the thought of sin makes a religious person physically ill. He talks about watching debates on YouTube being a gateway drug or the “thin edge of the wedge” as they used to say back in Christian dating propaganda. Then there’s this:

“I knew I was ashamed of what I was doing.” 
“I am ashamed to admit” 
“I’ve spent every day since feeling shameful”

He says this without irony. I wonder if he knows Christianity invented shame as the terrible currency it became today. He writes about his terrible experience with the “alt-right” as a need to repent from his sins. He wants to apologise to his wife and “tell her that I certainly don’t believe it.” Because no god-fearing progressive would want their congregation to think they’re one of those nasty heathens.

It is really important he chooses to do this online as well – especially on the Guardian website. It is, in effect, crowdsourcing the superego. Please don’t do this, it will lead to your ruin.

This generation deals with guilt by externalising it, converting it to shame and then taking comfort in support online. Everyone is famous to 15 people, and that's just enough people to help you sleep at night. Externalising the rule means you can explore the grey areas without guilt. It’s always been this way, to an extent. But the new factor is access to media, our connectivity. So it becomes impossible to completely block out the judgment of others – and if that judgment is to your benefit, you’ll desire more crowdsourcing anyway.

I'm telling you to be careful with your lives. Every time you crowdsource the superego a piece of you carves off as bad, leaving the rest of you intact as good. "I'm not a bad person, I just did a bad thing." The downside is you’re training yourself to think of all events and behaviours as happening to separate parts of yourself – you don't fully own them – which means that when something good happens you can't own that, either. Everything will come with self-doubt.

What's necessary for this dude’s “curiosity” about the Brexit/Trump voters isn't a surrounding community that supports his dive into sin, but a group of people who validate that some behaviours are shameful. In other words, someone to crowdsource the superego. "I don't condone what he did, but I understand." If he gets even one of those responses, then his identity is saved.

That’s why this article works so well. For him. It’s an archetypical religious fable with exactly the story arc understood by Guardian readers. Do you understand now why progressivism is simply Christianity without God?

Anyway, Nietzsche said "God is dead" because he knew God was no longer necessary for our morality. We killed God when science, scepticism and education led us to disbelieve miracles. But as this article shows, a consequence of this loss is that we become lost, with no goals, no aspirations and no values. God was fake, but He gave us a reason to progress. The emptiness means we’ll either despair, return to medieval religion or look deeper within to find a new source of human values. Yet, none of those things happened.

Post-modernism suggests we didn't kill God at all – we enslaved him. Rather than abandoning God or taking a leap of faith back to the "mystery" of God, He was kept as a servant to the Id. We accept a morality exists but secretly retain the right of exception: "yes, but in this case..."

Atheists do this all the time but pretend they don't believe in God. "Murder is wrong, but in this case...." Here they aren’t referring to the penal code, but to an abstract wrongness they rationalise as coming from shared collective values or humanist principles or etc. It's still God – a God behind the "God" – something bigger which preserves the individual's ability to appeal to the symbolic.

The words "...but in this case" presuppose an even higher law than "thou shalt not."  This God – which isn't a spiritual God but a voice inside your head – examines things on a case by case basis and always rules in your favour, which is why he is kept around.

But this enslaved God isn’t to justify one's behaviour or assuage the superego. Absolution could have been obtained from a traditional Christianity by saying "God, I'm sorry I committed adultery, I really enjoyed it and can't undo that, but I am sorry and I'll try not to do it again." Although, Christianity never prevented people from acting on their impulses either, and atheists invented Viagra, so...

The absence of guilt is not the result of the justification, it comes before the justification. Like a dream that incorporates a real life ringing telephone seemingly before the phone actually rings, the absence of guilt creates an explanation for its absence to preserve the symbolic morality: I don't feel any guilt...because in this case.

So the anonymous “happily married” “white man” can safely plumb the heathen depravity and come up white as snow if he recounts his trials using the internet as his confessional, the faceless readers as his fellow congregants and his wife as the priest. What does it matter if he dumps all his shame onto her? After all, she’s nothing but a means to an end, a member of the supporting cast to his leading role.

“The good news for me is that my journey toward the alt-right was mercifully brief: I never wanted to harm or abuse anybody verbally, it was all very low level – a creeping fear and bigotry that I won’t let infest me again. But I suspect you could, if you don’t catch it quickly, be guided into a much more overt and sinister hatred.”

The “good news,” indeed…

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Sitrep - 23 November, 2016

The siege on the Islamic State-held (IS) northern Iraqi city of Mosul is entering its second month as Baghdad’s forces slow considerably. Little progress to enter the city at any of the compass points will extend the battle’s predicted completion time to at minimum late January, or even February.

The 9th and 16th Army divisions are poised in the south and north respectively, while Shia militia have their sights on the town of Tel Afar to the west of Mosul. However, Iraqi forces are paused due to IS battlefield preparation inside the city. Not only is the militant group using civilians as human shields, its sniper nests are situated atop family homes, denying the use of airstrikes.

Yet the eastern parts of Mosul were supposed to be simpler. The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) is bogged down in these neighbourhoods and suffering heavy causalities. The service is the most elite of Baghdad’s forces so its losses will be noticeable and could lead to more infighting. Future operations in the well-defended western neighbourhoods must now be re-evaluated.

In Syria, the other major siege in the region on the city of Aleppo appears to be all but over. It is not a matter of if the city will fall to loyalist forces, but when. Russia also announced a “major operation” and restarted its airstrikes after a month-long pause. Moscow says its warplanes are targeting terrorist positions, but sources on the ground say the rebels are in the crosshairs as well.

Some of the sorties come from the newly-arrived Admiral Kuztnetsov aircraft carrier group – Russia’s only operational carrier – positioned in the eastern Mediterranean. It is the first time the aircraft carrier has been used in combat, showcasing Russia’s military prestige. Embarrassingly, a fighter jet quickly crashed on approach due to mechanical failure.

The airstrikes are assisting regime troops around Aleppo attempting to push back a rebel counteroffensive. So far all significant gains by rebels have been repulsed and neighbourhoods held by the rebels since 2012 have been retaken. The reversals are crippling for rebel forces and loyalists will now prepare to retake the city of Idlib next year to crush the last of the rebel’s urban holdings.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Why were Americans surprised by Trump’s victory?

The partial explanation of Donald Trump’s win is simple. The Clinton campaign made mincemeat of the reality, but Mr Trump is actually a progressive. He might not sound like a progressive, but that’s because, as per the name, the movement has “progressed” and look very different in 2016 than it did when Mr Trump was 20 years old.

When his ideas are dissected, it’s clear they are drawn from the standard progressive beliefs around the American of the 1970s – when he was 20 years old. At that age, not only is everyone incredibly impressionable, but all the “cool” people are believing the same thing and universities are adamant their views are correct. How many of us change our beliefs as we grow up?

Simply put, Mr Trump is a progressive from the 1970s. There’s an old joke that asks: what does it take to change a liberal into a conservative? Twenty years. In other words, beliefs considered radical today will be centrist and mainstream in about a generation because young Americans eventually become leaders, and those young people believe more progressive things than their parents.

This is how Mr Trump won. Firstly, his message resonated with people frustrated by the culture of boundary-pushing by the newest crop of progressives. But the key was Mr Trump’s connection with voters who came to maturity in the 70s, 80s and 90s. And there are far more of them than the 2000s progressives. That’s the partial explanation anyway, I’m sure there’s much more to the story.

What bothers me is the amount of high-level geopolitical commentators saying they are "surprised" by the result. For a start, it’s not fair to choose to comment on the US election in detail, only to miss the obvious, not only of the falsity of the polling method, but also the frustration of vast numbers of your countryfolk, only to retreat behind an excuse that the reason they missed the prediction is they’re actual job is geopolitical forecasting, not political forecasting. That’s disingenuous.

American forecasting companies such as Geopolitical Futures, Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting), and others are often perfectly accurate on the big stuff, the large cogs moving in the global system. But what happens if the small and medium stuff aren't well understood? How long until the weight of all those missed factors begin to affect predictions of the big stuff? I think this has been happening all year.

It was always suspicious that they could analyse other country's politics or national dynamics so well but spent such little time on analysing the United States. There seemed to be an inability of analysts to distance themselves from the US sufficiently to see what's really going on in their own country. Non-American analysts rationally predicted Mr Trump’s victory, yet very few American analysts did.

An article appeared a few years ago in the US online newspaper Vox in which American reporters attempted to report on riots in the US using the same processes they would normally use to report on demonstrations in China. The article is interesting not for its content, but because the reporters had no idea how to do this. It read like a fictional world. All the buzzwords and analyst-speak were there, but those phrases were often presaged by the politicised language used daily about US society. The reporters couldn't help themselves.

That was strange to read, and it wasn’t immediately clear why they couldn't analyse their own country in a detached way. Then I realised American reporters have never seen the US from outside. Not only do foreign reporters only comment on other countries (that is their job, after all), they have an inbuilt assumption that the American way of life is the default for the entire world system. To them, all other countries are either already full-blown American-style democracies or on their way to becoming full-blown American-style democracies. There is no third or way, no outside.

So everything becomes a commentary on that spectrum. And like a self-fulfilling prophecy, countries that consume this American media read about themselves and begin to subconsciously conform to the default assumption about America as the model of good society. That’s the strength of soft power.

To American analysts, Iran is seen correctly as a theocracy in the middle of a clashing dynamic between the two major forms of Islam – the Centre Party of Shiite theocrats and the Outer Party of Sunnis or other weak factions. China is seen as a partial communist state with Maoist/market-based Centre Party ideas clashing with Outer Party power factions for control.

But in the US, those same analysts stick to a strange narrative of two equal political parties they believe oscillate over ideological control of Washington. Everybody else on the planet knows this is false. There is only the Centre Party and the Outer Party. The Centre Party represents progressivism – the ideology of the civil service – forming the backbone of good government, and it hopes to export that idea to every other country. We can all see this, why can’t they?

Americans can comment on other countries using robust models, but to spin those same models back on the US somehow results in exclamations of "surprise." The one country which Americans understand the least appears to be their own. What is it about the American narrative that keeps them from seeing their country for how it really is?

I don't know. None of this is to say Stratfor’s model is inadequate for understanding broad geopolitics. Only to point out how a claim of "surprise" at their own election result suggests a disconnect between the way the world is and the way it is portrayed. The remedy must start inside the minds of analysts working within the US. But it is still a warning sign for readers.

Perhaps painting a self-portrait will never entirely cancel the narcissism of unconscious brush movements. But when someone from another culture paints what they see about the subject – not what the subject wishes to be seen – the portrait often comes out surprisingly differently. The key is to learn something from that experience.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Sitrep - 16 November, 2016

The US elected Donald Trump to office on November 8. Despite his campaign talking points, the invisible hand of geopolitics will continue to direct his presidency. The President-elect’s introduction to international relations this week will present to him the left and right-hand boundaries of choices available in the most complex era in modern US history. Mr Trump is about to see reality.

Following the election results, sitting President Barack Obama announced his intention to cease lobbying for the passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Although he still has the option to ask the Senate to move quickly on the trade deal before his term finishes, he may choose to leave the final decision on TPP to the President-elect.

In failing to pass TPP, Mr Obama has no one to blame but himself. He spent almost no political capital on the deal and avoided every chance to sell the agreement to the American people. It reflects his overall poor US engagement with Asia as well, a consequence of which will be Asian nations choosing to act without the US as first priority in the future.

Mr Trump’s campaign also attracted plenty of connection with Russia, some of it unwelcome. Russian president Vladimir Putin is reportedly pleased with the US election result. The US and Russia are clashing at a deep geopolitical level and Mr Putin considers the looming Trump administration as a chance to return to the negotiation table with fresh seriousness.

Ukraine is still at the centre of all Russian foreign actions. It is integral to the coherency of the Russian state, and Mr Putin will continue to push for the country not to align with Europe. The US is concerned a Russian victory over Ukraine may embolden it to drive further west. Ultimately, the best outcome is a neutral Ukraine, which will frustrate Kiev, but could avoid sending Eastern Europe to war.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Thoughts on the US election

I

Did anyone else notice the sheer number of Trump supporters demanding to work? I understand the difference between jobs and work but these people wanted work. They didn't want to just earn money, they want to work. They don’t want to tear down the system, they want the system to operate as promised – but with them in charge.

Instead of taking the opportunity to reject the establishment (word of the year), they fell in behind a message of becoming more servile, more under control and less free. And they used this demand to feel powerful but only became more impotent. If there is a stronger example of the complete and utter simulation of a free society, I am yet to see it.

French philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and FĂ©lix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus could see this, and the more I follow the 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 reality is no one wants to rip down the establishment, not because it’s dangerous to do this (it isn’t really), not because they don’t want to go to jail (some would actually invite this), but because while the people in the street might hate the corrupt system, the majority of voters don’t. Not really. They know the system is corrupt, of course but up until a few years ago, most of the people complaining about their lack of work were hoping to be on the other side of the corruption.

How do I know this? Because setting aside the people with health problems, no one spoke those messages in 2005 when the future looked up and everyone dreamed of one day being at the top. No one made a YouTube video saying “All I've got is a $95,000 a year salary” or “I’m a graphic designer at a start-up with zero revenue and $20 million in seed capital.” As long as there was home equity (“real estate always goes up!”) or another VC ready to throw millions at ill-conceived websites with insane logos, then everyone was happy. When people accept the preposterous notion that something cannot fall in price, they have already stopped examining reality.

Let’s be blunt: Before 2007 we all knew the economy was a carny hustle but we were fine with it because we all thought we were the carnies doing the hustling. Do I need to remind everyone that in the dot-com era, Yahoo traded for $US246 a share before registering any profit? Do I need to remind everyone that in 2005, 40% of US homes sold were second homes? You knew the system was a sham but you thought you could win. Only later you learned you were the rube all along, and now you want the socio-economic equivalent of a refund.

What those yelling about economic woe want is not systemic change, but to be the ones on the other side of the divide. Most of the complaints, especially among the young, amount to “I lost my job and now things suck.” The message is that they want another job. They would love a Wall Street or Madison Avenue job. They would love to work for Facebook, Google, CNN or Fox News. Those jobs pay well. People would love to be at the right of the bell curve, but they don’t want the curve flattened out.

And that’s how it’s always been. Do you really think the hippies wanted communism or socialism? No, they wanted access to the old boy network. They wanted to be part of the establishment. They wanted control and ownership. When a system gives the top 1% ownership of 42% of the nation's financial assets, the 99% don’t want to tear that system down. They want to squeeze into that 1%.

Everybody on the outside wants in, and everybody already inside wants to go higher. And once they get to the top, they want to pull up the ladder and close the door. And both the Trump and Clinton supporters banging on that door, all they want is to get in so they can close it again behind them. Don’t kid yourself that all of a sudden millions of people are egalitarians and socialists.

What this mass protest really represents is a new twist on Gandhi's famous advice: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

And then you become them.

II

Let's assume you, dear reader, appreciate democracy and thought last week's circus was a great example of the Greek invention.

All the rhetoric and fearmongering that Mr Trump will "undermine climate science" should concern you. The implication is the science must be defended. But who should keep up the good fight? Who should do the job of defending policy? Why, the very people who drafted and enacted the policies in the first place: the permanent civil service.

If you believe in democracy, then you must guard against the narrative that the world is so complex that computers and armies of faceless people are needed to organise sound policy. This prepares the public to trust the civil service in all matters of importance for the state. How will one know whether something is important or not? If elected officials are telling you about it, then it isn’t. The political opposition is only the opposition in exile. The civil service is the opposition in residence.

III

Both Trump's opponents and supporters made him into a partial object. A caricature of a person, not a whole person. His image as a human is irrevocably stolen from millions of American's minds. There was no attempt to humanise him on either side.

Even his sexual remarks about women - (notice how he said women "let" him touch them when he is famous, indicating the women have the agency to choose. This is not sexual assault, it is the standard dynamic of sexual relations in his world, and everyone in that world was absolutely fine with it for thirty years) - were not countered by his supporters as being the private discussions of a normal, healthy male who is interested in sex. That was an opportunity for men all over the country to say there is nothing wrong with achieving fame and fortune and winning the attraction of females. Not only is that the historical story of humanity, that's what the women say they want as well.

IV

Many of my friends are sharing Jonathan Pie's fiery explanation of why Trump won. In short (and you can watch it here), he says it was the progressives' fault for making life too difficult and people elected Trump in response. A lot of Trump supporters seem to appreciate Mr Pie's description but I want to tell you to resist this because it is poison.

It sounds comfortable and it's easy to gloat that the other side is filled with idiots. And it looks like liberals are about to eat each other. But that's not what's going on. Mr Pie’s words are a trick. And if you are wondering who would be convinced by such a scam, well, did you share the video? Have you nodded quietly along with anyone saying the same lines? If you're seeing it, it's for you...

Saying that people voted as a reaction to something implicitly suggests they lack the agency to act while neatly denying them the initiative. It is insidious because it assumes a political force is still in control even when it "loses." The trick is you will argue his conclusions but it will be impossible for it to occur to you to argue the form of the question. So "why did Trump defeat the progressives" is literally understood as: "since it is a fact that the progressives are in control, why did Trump win?"

It is much more powerful to outline why nothing the other side does can impact the conversation. You must seize the initiative in any way possible. Saying you are a "conservative" is precisely not the way to do this. A conservative is someone who is acted upon and is only given power. And, if power is given, then the receiver is not in control – actual power can only be taken. Conservatives have never been able to understand this fundamental power dynamic. They are always acting in response to something, rather than with the initiative. There is no clearer signal of weakness.

V

Some say if more young people voted the result would have been different. This is probably true but not for the reasons those people suspect.

Did you see the demonstrators? This is young people complaining about living in a democracy. They have been conditioned in universities to expect and desire a stable one-party government, confusing freedom of action with acting in the desired direction. If you want to know how Hitler got to power through the compliance of the German people, this is how.

We are witnessing the flow of power from one form of government to another. Perhaps the last serious election in the old form was Bush 43's in 2000. To really deal with the problems/goals of the new century, the civil service needed a long-term strategy far away from molestation by elected officials. The narrative to these kids became that politics is bad but government is good.

They are told to listen to the Department of Whatever in any conversation. So the president doesn't want to act on climate change? Well, the civil service has the facts and the process will continue anyway. He doesn't want to get involved in Syria? Then the president is trying to “politicise” the issue – which is equivalent to fascism, apparently. Rather than deferring to the extended civil service (media, universities, multinationals, think tanks, NGOs, etc), the civil service proper is positioning itself as the arbiter of truth and good government.

Those marching young people are told at university and school the narrative is still about democracy but that word doesn't mean anything near what it used to. They are being trained to dislike the old form, and defer to a civil service entirely captured by the progressive movement. The person of the president of the United States is nowhere near the revered position it was two decades ago. It is a position not quite as ceremonial as the Queen of England but give it 100 years.

Barack Obama's election was seen as a post-racial America allowing a black man into the "most powerful position in the world." Hillary Clinton's potential nomination was going to represent a post-sexist America. But no one stopped to ask why so many black people and women were allowed in. It might be regressive to ask that but it is instructive.

If power for thousands of years has been in the hands of serious white men, then why all of a sudden in 2008 and 2016 was that power given to a black man and nearly to a woman? Actual power has been withdrawn, one step ahead. And at this rate I fully expect 2016’s excited social justice warriors to nudge their five-year-old daughters towards political studies so they can be part of the Women in Government conference of 2033. Don't bother, it'll be in Springfield.

People will always prefer the system they are taught in school. The young demonstrators might tell their children stories about the seriousness and the wall-to-wall coverage of the electoral process back in the early 21st century. We are living through a transitional period in which the fragments of the old system are still in use because the new system’s quilt hasn't yet been knitted.

VI

Why is "the world" surprised by the result? Did anyone ask why so many New Zealanders were talking about it? We had greater detailed knowledge about another country's politics than perhaps our own. This is a serious level of psychological capture. But to what end? For what purpose is this capture?

The narrative that must be defended against here is that the US president is the most powerful job in the world, and that the world is watching. That way lies madness. Under this narrative, we must eventually come to see the New York Times as the world’s newspaper and that the US represents the only model of good government. Down all other avenues lie only pain and suffering until every government sees the light. If you are not watching America, you are not part of the story.

Stop letting America tell you who you are. People in New Zealand say the US just voted a person into power who doesn't set a good example. This is madness. When did we agree to give America the specific power to telling us what a good example looks like? This is the equivalent of complaining about Photoshop in advertising portraying a harmful expectation of beauty.

This idea is predicated on the assumption that the US – or more precisely the US media – has all the power to decide what's desirable. And therefore, of course, it does. But the important point is not that you believe this to be true, the point is that you want this to be true. You want it to be true the US sets the standard because in the insane calculus of your psychology you have a better chance of changing Washington than you have of changing your own government.

Turns out that's true as well.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The era of scientific government

This year has been compelling not for all its changes, but for exposing how much has already changed. Although it is difficult to get hard numbers, many are noticing government is different to what they were told, but they can’t put their finger on what’s going on.

Citizens of the UK note with increasing alarm the concerted attempt to find a disqualifying law to reverse or undermine the sacred vote of Brexit. The US election displayed the interchangeability of the two candidates, while all the energy was frustratingly funnelled into useless elections.

Not only do we not live in a world of good government, we live in a world of disastrously bad government. If the 20th century does not go down in history as the golden age of awful government, it is only because the future holds something much worse. The question is if nothing can be done about these creeping changes, why bother? Why think about government?

When describing modern government across the world most will say “democracy” or perhaps “representative democracy” is best. But if this is interpreted as a system in which power is held by representatives chosen in democratic elections, then countries are representative democracies the same way the Roman Empire was a republic, the UK is a kingdom and the Chinese Communist Party is communist. So, not the same at all.

If one considers themselves fashionable they will loathe and fear not democracy but politics. A “political” person is always a terrible person. Alternatively, an apolitical or bipartisan person fills the heart with warmth and affection.

Yet “apolitical democracy” doesn’t sound right. How is it possible to have representative democracy without politics? Wouldn’t it be a strange world if citizens tolerated two parties, hated single party states but think having no parties at all is perfection itself? In that world, politics is the problem but democracy is desired, so can this contradiction be reconciled?

Of course, it can, but a great many people will need to be convinced, and that will take time. Who, in the ideal apolitical, nonpartisan, or post-partisan state, calls the shots? The answer is: public policy. Public policy is the belief that government, when conducted properly in the public interest, is an objective discipline. We can call this scientific government. But it must be always and everywhere be called democracy – at least for the time being.

The 20th century is the century of scientific public policy. There is only public policy. There is no "who." There is no rule. There is only governance. It is, therefore, inappropriate for UK officials to politicise the “debate” about membership in the supranational European Union or to drag the climate change debate into the mud of politics. When politics intrudes on the realm of science, it's more than just a violation.

In classic Machiavellian style, the word democracy has been redefined. It no longer means elected representation controls the government. It means the government implements scientific public policy in the public interest. US constitutional scholar Philip Bobbitt says this “market state” promises to maximise the opportunity of the people by privatising many state activities including public policy.

The gradual, creeping rebranding of democracy was discussed throughout the 20th Century (all the fighting can be understood as a 100-year battle between three ways of organising modern democracy). Consider here the words of Teddy Roosevelt’s close friend, the muckracker Lincoln Steffens. He wrote in 1930 while visiting Russia:

“In Russia the ultimate purpose of this conscious process of merging politics and business is to abolish the political state as soon as its sole uses are served: to make defensive war abroad and at home and to teach the people by propaganda and by enforced conditions to substitute new for old ideas and habits. The political establishment is a sort of protective scaffolding within which the temporary dictatorship is building all agriculture, all industries, and all businesses into one huge centralised organisation. 
“They will point out to you from over there that our businesses, too, are and long have been coming together, merging trusts into combines, which in turn unite into greater and greater monopolies. They think that when we Western reformers and liberals resist this tendency we are standing in the way of a natural, inevitable economic compulsion to form "one big union" of business…Aren't we wrong to oppose it?”

A “protective scaffolding” indeed. As the last century shuffled on, politics was side-lined into nominal power while scientific public policy came to occupy formal power. Policies emerged from universities, which in turn consecrated persons for positions in the civil service complex, through which the machinery for organising actual power in the modern state is located.

To the extent that democratic politics still exist in the Western world, it is in the form of the two-party system. The parties have inherited various names. But there are only two parties: the Centre Party, and the Outer Party. It is never hard to tell which is which. The function of the Centre Party is to delegate all policies and decisions to the civil service complex. The function of the Outer Party is to pretend to oppose the Centre Party, while posing no danger at all.

Sometimes Outer Party officials are elected, and they may even succeed in pursuing policy. The entire complex will unite in ensuring those policies either fail or are perceived by the public to fail. Since journalism is part of the civil service complex and pipes directly into everyone's brain, this is not difficult.

What people feel, but can’t quite pin down, is that power in our modern society is not held by democratic politicians. The intelligentsia is in a minority and in theory their entire way of life hangs by a thread. But looking at history over any significant period, they only seem to get stronger. It is their beliefs that spread to the rest of the world, not the other direction.

And when Outer Party supporters embrace stupid ideas, no one has any reason to worry, because the Outer Party will never win. In the new system, when the Centre Party goes mad, that’s when you should worry. Has it gone mad? You be the judge.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Sitrep - 9 November, 2016

The US and Turkish governments announced a plan to launch an assault on the Islamic State’s (IS) de facto capital of the Syrian city Raqqa. It comes three weeks into Baghdad’s efforts to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the militant group, which has become bogged down already. However, a US general clarified that only shaping operations and the “isolation phase” has begun in regards to Raqqa, not a full assault.

Those operations could take months and it isn’t clear whether the forces agreeing to fight inside the core of IS territory will cooperate. The US is backing proxies on the ground, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Washington says is a mix of Arab and Kurdish fighters. But Turkey – and the rest of the world – know that group is almost entirely Kurdish which could pose a problem.

Raqqa will be significantly tougher for ground forces to occupy than Mosul. Not only does it constitute IS’ centre of gravity, the surrounding land is not historically claimed by Kurdish groups. To a large extent, if the people around Raqqa want the militant group gone, they will have to do it themselves, and will not appreciate foreign forces intervening. That the people haven’t done so already indicates at least partial preference for the status quo.

Tokyo lodged a diplomatic complaint against Beijing after it discovered a Chinese drillship moored and operating near several natural gas fields along the median line of disputed waters in the East China Sea. The Japanese say up to 12 Chinese drilling platforms could be in the Chinese waters, and more may be planned inside the disputed waters.

Potentially 200 million barrels of oil are estimated under the East China Sea, with another 30-60 billion cubic metres of natural gas, so the geographic area is not exactly important for both economies’ energy needs. The complaint, then, is about setting a precedent of allowing China to take the initiative in pushing into territories claimed by both countries.

To that extent, Japan’s coast guard will find it difficult to stop a determined Chinese industrial push. The lines are not clear at the best of times and seemingly benign actions such as undersea exploitation risk China rearranging the status quo over time. Japan will continue to look for diplomatic agreement, but China shows little sign of halting its gradual push east – at least until it hits resistance.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Jonathan Haidt and the WSJ just want Americans to love each other

I friend linked me to a Wall Street Journal article by psychologist Jonathan Haidt. It has this...what should I call it?...message in it near the end - "But the true test of our democracy—and our love of country—will come on the day after the election." I'll get to that shortly but, holy shitballs...

I understand what Haidt is saying here. He is just as frustrated with the dialogue and vitriol launched against two pretend "sides" of a debate loosely called an elections process. Even from all the way down here, it has been a bit exhausting. But I want to suggest his words and the effect of those words are two very different things.

The key is in the paper the piece is published within. The WSJ allows certain kinds of speech to be published because it cannot allow other kinds of speech to be spoken. I realise that's cryptic. What I mean is, if Haidt had decided to say "hey, what's with all the ridiculous splitting of two sides, don't you crazy people know there's only one side and you weren't invited?" he wouldn't have an article, let alone a university role.

That's what makes the piece interesting. It cannot conclude with the obvious: that the two candidates are interchangeable and the POINT of the debate is to present the conclusion and force the debaters into arguing the details. So we have a years-long process during which, by Haidt's own admission, the voting public hates each other but evenutally will find peace together after the election to return to love. And we do this (the universal democratic "WE") every few years, like a baby looking into a mirror expecting to see something different over and over and over and over. But nothing changes because all of that hate and rage and disgust and frustration is released into the stratosphere, circumventing the true target. The Hate/Love cycle spins again.

Wanna know the opposite of love? It's not hate. It's indifference. Wanna know the conversation the WSJ and Haidt cannot have? Indifference to the voting and electoral system. If you do that, not only with the Hate/Love cycle disrupt, you'll notice the target shifting towards the true cause of the rage and frustration. Remember, always remember, the system doesn't care about people telling the truth, it only cares about more effective lies.

If you think this voting ridiculousness isn't worth your time because you don't feel powerful or free, you have to think of something else and put it in place. The first step to doing that is indifference to the present form of government. There's no point in violent revolution (hate) because that assumes the hated system sets the agenda, that it is the default assumption. It has to be ignored. You have to stand still, like they tried to do in Egypt in 2011. Because if you stand still and just BE here, it means the oppressors aren't.

"Americans are losing their proximity" - No, just...no. The WSJ wishes this to be true because it avoids the horrible fact that they have no more power over controlling people's minds. Let me tell you something about the internet: the WSJ and every other faction of the official press has no idea how to utilise it. They will blame that machine on all their problems without realising (disavowing) that it is their own lack of creativity to think about how to use such a perfect direct pipe-line into people's brains, and therefore abdicate the role of information-giver to the internet companies, that is really to blame for ideas like "Americans are losing their proximity."

Google doesn't talk like that. Facebook is trying to set up free internet to Africa via satellite. How is that a good investment if people are "losing their proximity"? The internet is the most powerful and young tool for controlling people's thoughts the world has yet seen, and to say it atomises human interaction is precisely backwards: the internet brings people together in the only way that matters - towards an assumed underlying reality shared by all from which there is no outside, no escape. If the WSJ cannot see that, good ridance. It will have no space in cyber.

Haidt says it is impossible to change people minds by arguing with them? Then, buddy, you are doing arguing wrong. Arguing on a battlefield set up by other people using other people's rules will NEVER succeed in changing anything. That way lies madness. You have to stop yelling about where the lines are drawn and start asking about who draws the lines.

The only persuasion technique worth comprehending is if the idea you are discussing was not invented by you, then you are fighting someone else's war and will share in none of the spoils but receive all the punishment. You already get the sneaky suspicion that the fight is not for you anyway, that you do not really want this. But the trick is always that the conclusions are set before you start. They wouldn't let you talk in the WSJ if those conclusions weren't organised anyway, there's no money in chaos.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Why Trade-Me will rule the world

The first dynamic here is the connectedness of the internet, not only internationally, but domestically as well.

The New Zealand internet is the section where the culture, opinions and norms expressed are Kiwi. It's the part of the internet where no one defends Chinese internet censorship, or defends passionately the tradition of stoning people to death. There are mainstream sites on the internet - in other languages - where those are the dominant opinions expressed, and simply reflect the culture of the people who post there.

The internet spans the whole world in much the same way the real world does, and like the real world, there are portions of it with their own norms, mores, behaviours, cultures, biases, etc. The part of the internet in which you spend 100% of your time is not at all the same internet frequented by someone in Iraq. Is there an Iraqi site like Blogger out there? If so, it'll be just as easy for you to read it as it is for you to read this. But you don't read that one, and furthermore you don't know if it exists. It doesn't matter if you are reading Blogger from Japan or Chile or if you are Japanese or Chilean. It's a matter of culture.

The internet can connect you with every kind of person in the world. But nearly everyone uses it to connect with people who are just like them, not physically or ethnically, but culturally, politically and behaviourally. And the part I'm interested in is the domestic selling platforms such as Trade-Me or E-Bay. Because the second dynamic is the weakening of export data from major exporting countries.

Chinese exports fell 2.8% in August compared to the same time last year, while Japanese exports declined 4.8%. German exports dipped 10% year-over-year in July, while the European Union’s overall exports fell 2% between January and July compared to a year earlier. Other data suggest US demand for imports is declining, threatening to further undermine the stability of already struggling exporters.

The US is not only the world’s largest economy but also its biggest importer. It accounted for 14% of global imports in 2015. Demand in the US for new foreign goods is a key engine of economic growth elsewhere. New Zealand imports most of its new consumer goods as well. But the most important word here is "new" goods. My curiosity is why the economies of New Zealand and the US seem to be working fine even though the purchase of new goods is declining. By the logic of the status quo, economies need a steady flow of new goods to maintain productivity growth. But productivity seems to still be functioning, even though the data suggests it's not. Something's screwy here.

Perhaps the answer is in the impact of the relatively new online domestic trading platforms. Trade-Me and E-Bay facilitate the transference of goods from owner to owner. From an economic perspective, they do not encourage new goods to be created, they only encourage buying and selling existing goods. Before Trade-Me was invented, most goods were discarded and replaced by new goods because of planned obsolescence or people needing to replace the object due to advertising pressure. Objects weren't sold on to second, third or fourth buyers with the product lasting years within the system longer than it otherwise would have and avoiding a fate at the landfill.

If a smartphone is being used by a second person for three years longer than it would have by a single person, then for three years no new smartphone is purchased by that second person and therefore no new smartphone was created. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands of types of goods and hundreds of millions of high-cost goods (because only goods with worth are usually sold on those online trading platforms). It will appear as though the economy hasn't grown. That may be illusory because if the goods still operate as expected by the second or third owner, then there's nothing to worry about from the perspective of that subsequent owner and the task still gets done - hence, productivity growth.

Sure, if an economy relies on wages and the resultant consumption based on those wages being spent back into the economy, which are both predicated on capital earned by a company selling new goods to primary purchasers, then the economy will APPEAR to weaken if that process is disrupted.

Yet if wages are decreasing because new goods aren't being sold, people will compensate by purchasing second-hand objects on Trade-Me and thereby obviating a need to spend money on new objects, so there is no practical effect on the economy if wages decrease - old goods can still be bought at cheaper prices. In this dynamic, the utility of an economy made possible by the sum of existing goods in that economy can maintain the functioning of that economy far longer than historically possible before those goods require replacement with new goods. This appears to be a decline, but that's a partial illusion - at worst it's a long lag. The functioning of the economy continues. The only thing that changes is the amount of new goods produced and sold into that economy, not the amount of goods being used for particular functions in that economy.

I have a sneaky suspicion this is part of the story of the so-called exporter's crisis. The data suggests there should be a problem within our economies because new goods sales are down, but everything seems to be working fine. The (partial) answer: goods which would have been thrown away are still in use. The bubble created by a consumer culture of buy-new-buy-now-buy-often is what's changing, and the business world will have to adapt (or double-down on advertising/marketing to pull us away from E-Bay and back to shopping malls) or those companies reliant on bloated and outdated systems of consumption will begin to fail and cede ground to new businesses - such as Trade-Me.

So it's not so much a financial crisis or an exporter's crisis which is hitting us as it is a natural convergence within advanced economies of major internet domestic trading platforms and a saturation of identical and interchangeable goods. There's no need to purchase AS MANY new items, which means what we're actually witnessing is a change in the assumptions of how the consumer society is organised.

Which also suggests a significant chunk of power once held by manufacturers to accumulate wealth and control over economies could be flowing to online trading platforms. Better get on board with Trade-Me or E-Bay stocks now while they're still cheap.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Hillary Clinton: The Bully in Chief

I

Business audiences know about the Dilbert cartoons. The melancholic wageslave's office shenanigans barely ever reached the level of “excitement,” but that was the whole point. The strip captured the pretend seriousness of interactions in a cubicled workplace.

Creator Scott Adams’ success with the cartoons derived from his acute ability to distill complex ideas and dynamics down to the fundamentals and still be funny. He continues to do that, by the way, except he’s reinvented himself online as a blogger. And amid all this noise and Chinese water torture of the US presidential debate, Mr Adams' perception stands apart from the general commentariat explaining what he sees in the election.

Mr Adams is a trained hypnotist and student of persuasion. What drew me back to his blog months ago (let’s be honest, without this election his commentary was getting a bit dry) was his observations about Republican nominee Donald Trump’s “master persuader” skills. Mr Adams says he’s never seen anything quite like it.

Far from being a bad thing, persuasion skills will serve a president well, he says. As with any skill, using it for good or ill is usually the central debate but Mr Trump has no peer in the public spotlight at the moment, which explains, according to Mr Adams, why the nominee is “98% guaranteed” to win the election next week.

That’s the highest prediction I’ve seen, and I don’t think he’s put money on it, so I’m not sure how seriously to take him. He dropped the prediction to 80% or so before the final televised debate solely because of Mr Trump’s associations with women and the nominee’s alleged “groping” activities. But it’s back up to nearly 100% for one reason only: Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton is a bully and encourages bullying.

II

Over the weekend, three short videos emerged showing an elderly black female homeless Trump supporter lying on the footpath in a foetal position after Clinton supporters pushed her around and angrily tore up her handmade political signs.

“Didn’t I tell you about five minutes ago that somebody’s gonna walk by here and no, I would not defend you? ‘Cause you spewed hate, and you got hate. You got exactly what you were dishin’ out. I told you. I warned you on that,” one of the cretins is heard saying.

Except, the still unidentified woman was only trying to defend Donald Trump’s Hollywood Boulevard star from Clinton supporters who were trying to vandalise the plaque, and who the previous day had violently attacked it with a pick-axe.

Two of the woman’s ripped placards said: “20 Million Illegals and Americans sleep on the streets in tents. Vote Trump” and “Obama threw our black asses under the bus, he owes the Clintons, flip this script (get off the Clinton plantation).” So any “hate” in those signs is more likely projection by those who hate fellow their citizens rather than engage with them in honest debate. I predicted this would happen.

The Dilbert creator sees the same thing and until recently nervously laughed about being a Clinton supporter “because he was concerned for his health.” He watches her supporters abuse Trump fans every day in California, tearing down political signs, defacing cars emblazoned with Trump stickers and hearing people lose their jobs for talking about Trump.

Not to mention the hundreds of videos on Youtube of Clinton supporters attacking Trump supporters unprovoked, often in gangs and incredibly violently. Investigative journalists at the Project Veritas news site revealed how all this violence, campaign subversion and incitement is organised from the top of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and is probably known and allowed by Hillary Clinton herself.

“On social media, almost every message I get from a Clinton supporter is a bullying type of message. They insult. They try to shame. They label. And obviously they threaten my livelihood,” Mr Adams says.

“Team Clinton has succeeded in perpetuating one of the greatest evils I have seen in my lifetime. Her side has branded Trump supporters (40% plus voters) as Nazis, sexists, homophobes, racists, and a few other fighting words. Their argument is built on confirmation bias and persuasion. But facts don’t matter because facts never matter in politics. What matters is that Clinton’s framing of Trump provides moral cover for any bullying behaviour online or in person. No one can be a bad person for opposing Hitler, right?”

So Mr Adams, presumably at great danger to his well-being, recently announced his support for the Trump campaign precisely because he does not want a leader in the White House who prefers to splinter Americans from each other rather than pull them together to create something larger than themselves. The latter is Mr Trump’s core campaign line.

III

As the end of this strange and other-worldly election (but not unusual for US history) looms, the Clinton campaign is leading in some major US polls but others show Mr Trump either in the lead or so close behind he enters the “margin of lawyer,” suggested by Canadian commentator Mark Steyn.

“As I've said for many years, Republicans have to win "beyond the margin of lawyer" – because otherwise the Democrats will discover an extra 3000 votes in a dumpster around the back of DNC HQ and then find a friendly judge with impressive powers of divining the true meaning of lightly dimpled chads.”

The Project Veritas reporting also discovered a dark proclivity of DNC top echelon to skirt so close to the line that a reasonable person might just say they were knowingly dirtying an otherwise healthy democratic race. It’s almost like they took my advice of “if you’re not cheating, you’re not playing hard enough” way, way too seriously.

But that’s what the Republicans don’t understand. If Mr Trump wins next week, as per Mr Adams' predictions, it will be because the entire weight of the US political/government system could not recapture the psychologies of a critical mass of US citizens. For millions of frustrated Americans, his victory probably will sound excellent but a fair chunk have already seen far enough behind the curtain to be fooled again into thinking they can ever achieve victory via elections.

The modern American political system – after FDR’s coup in the mid-20th century – was built to fail in predictable ways. The main way is by oscillating every few cycles between two “different” political parties. The reality of Washington’s true control is becoming clear for many people: The Republicans are a pretend political party, maintained as a pet of the progressive movement.

The civil service is always and everywhere filled by progressives. But they need a controllable enemy to trot out and poke every few years to make it appear as though the US isn’t a one-party state. Best if that enemy has no chance of moving the money, let alone the power.

Even the Republican establishment is funding attack ads against their own candidate because he doesn’t “represent” their values. There’s no other way of explaining this. If anyone cared about the Republican establishment, their actions would be a scandal, but it only seems to confirm for most Trump supporters that the game is rigged from all directions. The curtain no longer covers the truth.

IV

I hate to end this piece with a reference to filmmaker Michael Moore but his cringe-worthy shtick condescendingly explaining the psychology (ha) of Trump supporters to eager Clinton supporters was the focus of a recent bizarre one-man stage show. During his train-wreck of presumption, Mr Moore spun closer to the truth than he realises:

“Trump’s election is going to be the biggest ‘f**k you’ ever recorded in human history – and it will feel good.”

That’s the game. That’s how this all plays out. The sheer visceral hate displayed by fellow Americans for each other proves how pointless this whole theatre is: No one despises Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as much as they hate Trump supporters and Clinton supporters.

The debate isn't the point – indeed, you aren’t supposed to see how similar the two candidates actually are – the hate is the point. The candidates themselves are interchangeable.

If your personal politics make it difficult to understand this, let's try it the other way. The “Right's” main criticism of Barack Obama is that he is ... secretly more liberal than he appears to be. Hence their obsession with his former imam and alleged recordings of him saying he hates white people. But so what? I've observed him daily for eight years pretending to be George W Bush. What is he waiting for? The last day of his last term so he can call Russia on his iPhone and tell them the US surrenders?

But then if the election game is rigged to constantly drive the progressive movement forward – which it certainly is – then is winning this election by bullying the other side and alienating 40% of one’s own populace worth it? Because that seems to be the insane calculus in the minds of US progressives.

The standard media-constructed bipolar political conflict is a cash cow for sure but it's not real, please stop yelling at each other, it is madness. The true debate cannot be spoken aloud: "Pick Whatever Side You Want, As Long As You Vote To Reduce Corporate Labour Costs."

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The tension under the US election

In the long run, personalities don’t matter. During election seasons it can feel as though personalities matter, but they do not. So whoever wins the US election on November 8 must deal with the impersonal realities of governing. When the integrity of a nation state is in question, there are only two choices: pass or fail.

One of those questions is the demographic zeitgeist, on which Republican nominee Donald Trump has capitalised so well. For whatever reason, he knew exactly what the frustrated masses in his country felt. More importantly, he knew there actually were frustrated masses in the US, a fact still not believed by most in the US government.

Since the enormous increases in population size after the 18th century, the fundamental question for government became: what do we do with all these people? The “masses” never really posed a threat when they were poor, malnourished and easily scattered. For most of human history, other armies were the central concern.

The three forms of democracy – parliamentarianism, fascism and communism – were an attempt to flow with the flood of people. Governments of democracies try to balance delivering promises with the general frustration of the inevitably broken promises.

In any country where frustration is general, there are bound to be fanatics waiting to be awakened by the right Messiah. Young men educated to use their brains (and to abhor physical work) who aware of the 21th century comforts – an awareness heightened by films and television – soon learn there is no need for their brains or should they find employment their pay will be a fraction of what it takes to live as promised.

American culture is predicated on the belief that anyone, even somebody with mediocre intelligence, can rise to the presidency of Microsoft or the country, provided the person has the ability to work out a sensible career and the determination to stick to it.

But except for a lucky few, a frustrated majority are doomed to lifetimes of being without what they are taught to want. The only way left open is to sacrifice their own interests and attach themselves to a cause – particularly one that is against something to vent their frustration.

Such movements are undesirable in one's own country, but extremely useful when the purpose is to bring pressure on the leader of another country. To a frustrated people, things are not as they should be and the government is only the most convenient target. It takes little ingenuity to convince fanatics of the wickedness of a government.

The final question – which must be answered by the next US president – is whether the energy of those young, frustrated men can be directed, because it will not magically disappear on November 9. If the top cannot do this, it will be directed from the bottom. And negative bottom-up action is a nightmare for all democratic governments.

The response so far has been to ignore or condescend. This is wrong. Dead wrong. Deadly wrong. The kind of wrong that will get people killed. In not engaging, the government dehumanises those who feel fear, rage and disgust. And in a culture where multiculturalism begins in kindergarten and messages of tolerance saturate the media, it creates an environment where outsiders feel there is no place for them in society.

Underlying this frustration is a fear of immigrants and immigration. Everyone who holds a US passport is fully American, which means even a Somali (with a US passport) who chews qat all day, beats his wife and sends half his benefits to al-Shabaab should be viewed as an American. Yet if anyone dares to look at the Somali as anything other than a full American, they are called racist and get a public black mark. The person is told their feelings are wrong, or “not human.”

Marginalisation begets reactionaries. Fear, rage and disgust are all human feelings. Real feelings. It isn’t a pose. And these feelings are as much a part of the human experience as the enlightened concepts of rationality and reason. To suppress the former is to cause it to turn violently against the latter. When certain thoughts are declared un-American, the people who have those thoughts are turned into anti-Americans.

The lunatic fringe, the extremists, are humans too. Their rage and fear may be wrong or run counter to social norms, but they are still real. And they come from a sense of dispossession and alienation. How their feelings are expressed may be unpalatable, but is isn’t wise to ignore them. It’s better to understand the origin of the neuroses.

Their attitude may be self-destructive, but the fact that they have the attitude is a symptom of society at large. The constant desire is to move forward, I understand that, but we must expect people to be left behind and be prepared to deal with that.

Making it embarrassing to hold a position might shut people up, but it will not change minds or improve a disposition towards minorities. A more productive process is to include the dissenting minds in the dialogue, not shame them into silence.

Silenced people feel wronged, and since they’re not allowed to voice those feelings because it’s frowned upon to even entertain those views, bad feelings fester. If a lunatic is invited to a debate, anything can happen. But if the lunatic isn’t invited, people with similar views who don’t consider themselves crazy will see it as evidence for justifying a feeling of persecution. In this context, lashing out is inevitable.

I’m not saying we need to detail particular strains of racism or nationalism, all the nuances, all its arguments. We don’t. We need to understand why these people became racists or nationalists in the first place, what planted the first seeds. Frustration? Joblessness? Wounded pride?

Don’t take anyone at their word, and don’t accommodate their demands. Taking them at their word still doesn’t answer the questions. I don’t know that the answer is, and neither does Washington. But it’s clear these vocal people are simply the most extreme representative of a docile but larger group of people.

It’s often said an extreme right wing is a response to a failed left, and if the left is supposed to be progressive, it means that the move towards progress left something behind. Maybe the left failed because the social stability and equalisation isn’t quite as stable or as equal as we thought. Or maybe the left failed because the equalisation worked too well, preventing people from breaking out and doing what they want with their lives. Or maybe it’s a million other possible unintended consequences.

I am not talking about negotiating with racists on issues of race. I’m not talking about giving him what they want. I’m talking about investigating the conditions which cause people to become racist, to understand the conditions giving rise to extreme views. The masses must not be told their feelings are inhuman. They need to be asked, “What is really wrong? What really worries you?”

Is it wise to defend the status quo of society and declare it perfect? Of course not, which means society is imperfect and can be improved. A reactionary sentiment is a clue to the location of one of those imperfections. It means in all this progress, all this enlightened thinking – which is good and right – something and someone got left behind. Time to find out why, don’t you think?

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Sitrep - 2 November, 2016

Week three of the assault on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul – occupied by the militant group Islamic State – reportedly starts with Iraqi troops near the city limits. Conflicting information says Iraq Security Forces (ISF) are either within rifle-range of the city or stalled 10 kilometres away. Either way, the easy part of the assault is over.

Tens of thousands of ISF, coalition, Peshmerga and militia forces now prepare for the next phase of combat: urban warfare. The US has not participated in a siege of a city of this size since World War II, and the ISF have no history of such engagements. The Islamic State (IS) have had two years to dig in and prepare defences and if they were going to flee, they would have done so by now.

An estimated 2000-10,000 IS militants will be outgunned and outmanoeuvred but the fighters intend to make the assaulting force pay dearly for every street corner they take. The group’s strategy will be to extend the fighting to hopefully exacerbate tribal and religious tensions among the ISF, weaken its morale and cause it to second-guess a follow-on assault on IS’ Syrian capital of Raqqa. As the bloody urban combat begins, IS’ strategy could work but ultimately it will lose Mosul.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wrapped up its sixth Plenary Session – a high level government strategy meeting – announcing President Xi Jinping as “core” of the party. This title adds to his position as head of the CCP, head of the military and head of state. Mr Xi is cementing his power base as an authority not to be questioned, a trend not dissimilar to the one followed by dictators Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong.

China also completed its first ever counterterror exercise with Saudi Arabia late last week and another with Tajikistan. Beijing hosted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, promising cooperation including allowing Filipino fishermen access to the contested Scarborough Shoal. China also participated in talks with Russia for working closely on the situation in Syria.

The loud foreign interactions follow a pattern. China’s engagement with the outside has increased over the last two years. China is attempting a difficult economic switch from a low-cost manufacturing country to consumer-based and expects its citizens to become more frustrated. The international displays of power show the Chinese people that the CCP remains in control and can be trusted to succeed in the transition.