The Arab Spring, frustration about political arguments, and Nietzsche: Early experiments in essays for which Armchair Mutineer begs the reader’s forgiveness in advance of reading.
The Arab Spring
Most major world events are unpredictable. The protests in the Middle East came out of nowhere and we have no idea what they will lead to. Tunisia and Egypt threw out their strongmen; Bahrain, Libya and Morocco may do the same. Will this spread to Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia? Will these countries end up being fledgling democracies with a Muslim flavor, or will they become like Iran? Who replaces the strongman, a mullah, another general, or a real politician? Regardless, the volatility of the region and the world just increased. At some point this is going to get bloody, and the US can do fuck-all because we’ve had our fill of Middle East intervention, thank you. The first order analysis spewed by the US media tends to focus on young people using Facebook to overthrow corrupt tyrants, bringing about a democracy through sheer determination. It’s admirable without question, but i can’t help but wonder who or what fills the vacuum. The tradition is dictatorship and theocracy; the popular uprising in Iran in 1979 resulted in an autocratic theocracy wearing a veil of democracy. Everyone sees the irony that democracy spread to these countries and the US did not even have to invade them, but I don’t think we ought to be too quick to celebrate. Those dictators were prime A douche bags, but who (or what) will replace them?
By the way, where is that gang of super-humans lead by that mastermind and arch villain Osama bin Laden in all of this? It really makes the 9-11 overreaction look so ridiculous.
The chances of these revolutions being good for the world are low. This has nothing to do with oil prices in the short term. Oil prices skyrocket upon any excuse. The zealot’s hand may be revealed soon in some of these uprisings, feeding the need for the poor and the ignorant in those countries to have something to hate. Revolutions are often followed by war on neighbors. France’s revolution was followed by the Napoleonic Wars. China’s revolution was followed by a bloody intervention on the side of North Korea. Iran found itself in a war with Iraq. War is always the best excuse for tightening control over a populace, and a new government may wish to occupy the masses in order for them to forget their recent revolutionary zeal.
In this case the targets will be Israel and the West that’s been intervening in the region for decades. I’m mostly concerned with Egypt as it was under Mubarak’s reign we avoided any full scale Arab-Israeli conflict. But, once again, the policy of coddling dictators — even for peaceful ends — will come back to haunt us. These changes will also help China extend its influence in the region now that the Russians no longer have imperial aspirations. My greatest fear is if any of these new regimes end up being crazy enough for war, there may be a cause for Israel to use nuclear weapons. The Israeli bomb is the best insurance that the West will intervene – again – in an Arab-Israeli conflict, furthering this pointless centuries long Christian – Muslim cold/hot war.
Pointless Political Dialogue
You’re at a dinner party and the subject of politics comes up. Immediately you know the political beliefs of the people who are impolite (at best) and afflicted with borderline personalities (at worst). This is the “talking head” syndrome where people pretend they are on a so-called “debate” on Fox News or channel their inner-Rachel Maddow. “Look, there’s no question that blah blah blah.” “Look, I know the face of evil blah blah blah.”
Meanwhile most people sink into their little uninformed corners and wait for the horse shit tossing contest to end. It is easy to like people like that — they are just being sensible or polite. Many of us are not good at confrontation because we tend to get pissy and nasty. It is usually best to sit and listen but, at times, one will be drawn into the horseshit hurling and contend with Savvy Urban Left and the God-Loving Suburbanite Right.
People who think they are political in the US hate it when you tell them there is virtually no ideological difference between Democrats and Republicans. Or they grant the point but never really think about it. There’s a loss of objectivity in our political debates in that if you put the Dems and GOP on an ideological scale that starts with old-school commies and ends with anarcho-capitalists, they are someplace sitting together right in the middle, rubbing elbows. It’s Coke vs. Pepsi. The distinction is in policy and not in underlining beliefs. You can point to extremes within each party — the ‘wingnuts’ — but the big tent platform of each causes the a diluted message and agenda, and the extremists are not even that far from the base.
Armchair Mutineer has more respect for Greens and Socialists than anyone who would label themselves Democrat or Republican. At least those individuals have done some higher-order thinking on it. Like religion, it seems most people pick a party based on what their parents supported, like having a religion jammed down your throat and never asking why (a whole other topic).
When attacked for not wanting so much government, Armchair Mutineer recommends pointing out that government is not an a priori condition in our existence. Once upon a time in the magic land called “Europe” most people where serfs who crawled around in the mud working on farms, eating rabbits and squirrels, being pressed into military service and (if lucky) dying at the ripe old age of 45. Do you think those poor creatures could imagine a world without King and Church? What would they say about our world? We are in a similar state of barbarism, dealing with wars, taxes, and a nanny-state. But there does not have to be a national entity governing us. I think it is easy to imagine a future where there is a free market anarchy where people look back and laugh at all the sheep who voted for Bushes, Kennedys, and Clintons.
Consider a thought experiment: Let’s say the dinner party has 20 people at it. Now imagine the 20 people are put on an island together (like on the TV show “Lost” except without the Smoke Monster and The Others). That island has no competing civilizations or nation states. All 20 people add value to the community, providing what they can and living on what they can earn. Could those 20 people get by on a simple set of laws and mores, and without an elected, established leader with power over the other 19? Yes, assuming those 20 are all civilized, educated, non-psychotic people. The same is probably true for an island of 200 people. Maybe even the population of 2,000 people can get by on this system. But when you get to 20,000, there are bound to be enough uncivilized and psychotic people who will harm others. What is the percentage of “uncivilized people” among us? What percentage of people steal, are violent, do not work, or are just dangers to themselves? Like a heckler’s veto, it’s this small minority that gives us the need for criminal law that have to be enforced on behalf of the civilized. Enforcement requires a day-to-day administrator and government is born. At its basis, government only exists because we have uncivilized people among us. Clearly, the greater the assurance a populace does not break laws, can be self-sufficient, and not produce psychopaths, the less government is needed. Unless we are regressing as a species (and that argument may be made by some people), on a long enough timeline the need for government goes away.
Taxes are coercion, and they are the very fuel of the state. Not paying taxes means a man with a gun shows up your home and takes away the majority of your freedom. Armchair Mutineer will not side with a Republican on anything other than ultimately lowering and abolishing taxes in the long-run; in the short term, to deconstruct the state, taxes may need to be raised to pay-off debts and honor social service commitments (after all, holding true to contracts is the very basis of any functioning economy, and even if those contracts were made by a democratic republic government on behalf of its citizens, the commitment must be honored by those individual citizens).
“Pro-business” is not the same as being pro-capitalist and a ‘free market’ supporter. We should be free to pursue self-interest and accumulate property by lawful means. The minute someone owns land, a building, equipment used as means of production, or similar investments, that person becomes a capitalist. There is gigantic difference between our system today (crony capitalism, allowing elites to benefit from rent seeking) and a truly free market. Republicans and Democrats do not support free markets; they are statist parties that support a plutocracy where those with government access succeed beyond their needs, with a large number of educated people profiting from the system but kept at a level of subservience (wage slavery), and most living a step or two above poverty, with too many at the bottom living on handouts and fighting over scraps.
Nationalists against free trade are totally insane, living in some time bubble in 1959. Too many otherwise smart people on the left long for the days of all of those great factory jobs coming back to the US with swelling ranks of union members (ironically, if those jobs do come back from emerging markets, it will be because conditions in the US resemble those of emerging markets: weak currency [the dollar no longer the reserve currency], low cost of living due to collapsed asset prices, and accommodating government policy that will benefit owners more than citizens). Automation is bound to displace the vast majority of factory workers anyway. Anti-trade is left-wing elitist sentimentality, probably aimed more at going after votes than actual policy. Besides, have you ever worked in a factory? It is mostly mindless, draining work. Mankind will be better off when no one has to work in a factory — whether in Ohio, Mexico or China. Until that day, free trade is the best way to realize efficiencies in production though comparative advantage.
One thing the Democrats and Republicans will agree on (and try to one-up each other on) is the love for our military. The peace movement in the US is a failed undertaking, and we should all regret that. Right now, the meta-threats of war and terrorism are reasons Armchair Mutineer will grant having government. These are symptoms of the sorry state of our world, having the same pointless ethnic, religious, and territorial scales we have had since the Stone Age. A strong military is the classic “libertarian” point of view (especially in the US, where even the anti-government community seems to give a pass to a powerful military), but this has never been a propensity toward fascism. Libertarians do not believe in aggression and seem to love the idea of strong defense. Nevertheless, when ‘defense’ is construed into pro active interventions and invasions, or when the concept of defense is extended to multiple nation states and causes, the result is more like the British Empire than a vigilant volunteer defenses force imagined in the libertarian mind. We only have a military to protect against external threats, but its continued existence must scream “We are all savages” to us. If anything could regress, it would be the size, sophistication, and killing power of the globe’s militaries. At the very least, disarmament of mass-killing weapons is a policy everyone should support.
Healthcare and education would be far better off without government involvement but neither major political party will ever let that happen. These are areas people scream each other about.
The young suburban set (or soon-to-be suburban set) is usually obsessed with education given their blinding biological urge to breed. Suddenly, with the chance to free ride on other people’s money, they say, “What could be wrong with public schools?” The US spends more per pupil each year but has seen an overall decline in results, so throwing money at the bureaucracy is not a solution. Given the wealthy educate their children privately or in elite public school districts in suburban enclaves, upsetting the status quo is unlikely. The egalitarian left makes sanctimonious arguments for more money for children, never suggesting to take the money from the rich school districts and give it to the poor ones (rather, we must make the pie bigger and not take away the swimming pools, film clubs, and lacrosse teams of the suburbs!). The right is better on this issue, with the GOP supporting educational reforms like vouchers. Unfortunately, the religious fanatics have also infiltrated the right, wanting to get tax dollars for schools that will indoctrinate more than educate. Nevertheless, a free education market without teachers’ unions and school bureaucracies that has multiple schools competing for tuition dollars would tend to create a better product, i.e. better prepared kids who add to a more educated and civilized populace. Want proof? America’s colleges and universities are the best in the world. These institutions compete for students and are funded with tuition dollars and private foundations (sure they receive some government handouts but you can also certain most could survive without them given fundraising prowess). Even the large state schools operate like private institutions, e.g., a state college’s funding and governance is more similar to that of private college than a public high school. Most colleges and universities also compete for the best instructors and scholars without the interference of a legally protected trade union.
Healthcare has been intervened with by the government since the dawn of modern healthcare. Staring with licensing laws that provided competitive advantages to certain professions over others, the story of the healthcare industry in the United States is a story of an industry beholden to government policy and macroeconomic trends. Like education, immense cost does not translate to wellness and the healthcare system in the US is the best in the world … provided you have money. Still, the science and skill being advanced by the US healthcare industry will accrue to the benefits of all people in the long run. Getting rid of tax policies and government-sponsored payment programs will ultimately lower costs. The demands of the international economy and consumers demanding more value and better health really spell the end to the healthcare system as it stands today. The system is in the process of rationalizing itself from its inefficient and resource-wasting past, and yet another program extending insurance coverage with some scheme of taxes and fines (i.e., President’s Obama’s healthcare bill) is not going to help that process; in fact, it will probably just delay it.
The pursuit of self-interest, the self-determination of every person, and the realization of a person’s own moral code are the highest orders of being a human being. Armchair Mutineer argues Friedrich Nietzsche best-identified the nobility of defining and acting on a self-defined moral system. He railed against notions of meekness, piety and equality. To Nietzsche, a “good” moral belief valued life-enhancing notions that would make a man heroic, similar to values reflected in the literature and myths of classical Greece and Rome. Calling Christianity a “slave morality” Nietzsche observes that Western culture demonizes the man who desires wealth, power and fame, and is aggressive and self-centered so that he can obtain his desires. While this may be less true today given the prevalence of hedonism and consumerism, Western values are still geared toward Christian values and lefty, egalitarian notions like equality, fairness, and social engineering. Nietzsche calls for man to define his own moral system and embrace life-affirming values that affirm his individual power. Or, turning to psychology, think of Maslow’s hierarchy and its pinnacle of self-actualization.
Merely following the law or abiding by societal norms does not make someone a moral person. Morality is about self-governance and has no repercussions when it is violated. Western society and cultural norms are mostly superstitious and repressive nonsense we can thank Christianity for. Luckily religion is dying out in most places — slower in the US, furthering its national reputation of being a bunch of idiots. When events like 9-11 take place Americans suddenly become cognizant of God and country — or at least it becomes “vogue” — but love of country doesn’t tell someone how to comport themselves. A flag on your car
Religion has always worked hand-in-hand with government. Armchair Mutineer believes organized religion is a barbaric tradition that only serves to further divide people. In fact, for most of history religion was government. It has always been a system of control that has masked itself through spiritualism and other superstition, appealing to mankind’s fears and taking advantage of the ignorant and weak. Religion attempts to kill the individual by immersing him or her in a meaningless mass of “brothers and sisters” where no single person may stand out … except the religious leader.
To advance humanity we have to move away from slave ethics and embrace our individual power to impact history. A group of people with a strong morality do not need a Big Brother, whether he wear a uniform or a cleric’s robe, to watch over them.