For those who didn’t make it through, and those who did, and those who have worked every day to make it better…
Here’s a video of the memorial at night, from some number of years ago. You can look into those holes, the water flowing down and away. You can also be with everyone else for a moment, looking at the beauty around you; the bustling city.
Dear Reader, I think I’m a reasonably normal person. My primary loyalties are to those I love most (and how politics might affect us). Should the terrorist threat become dangerous enough, no sitting President, nor anyone responsible for the security of American citizens at home, will allow organized terrorist organizations a staging area in Afpak. The lower probability, but higher consequences, of a terror attack here, will likely dictate some sort of action there (SpecOps, intel, cyber warfare, drones etc.). This can affect my family/loved ones directly (the attack and the laws and policy coming out of the threat, and the incentives for all of us dealing with the threat).
People on the right, and myself more often, place higher value on defeating external threats. We’re more likely to route decision-making through a few nodes against these external threats (or tens of thousands of nodes in the current, bloated, semi-woke monstrosity of a Pentagon and contractor complex). I hope it’s in as good faith as possible.
The common defense is the primary reason we have a government in the first place.
People on the Left, as I see things, generally will see the primary threat within the West (the oppressor), and/or rally their troops against the threats to health/education and the institutions in which they gather (COVID safetyism and authoritarian impulses through the health/education industrial complex, for example).
My next ring of loyalty is to those few I know who’ve served in Afpak who are friends and fellow citizens. They volunteered and heard the call. They saw, and sometimes did, some shit…to keep us safer here. This is a thankless task. I live in a country of laws and borders. It’s a place. This place is my home. It comes with freedoms and responsibilities.
My next ring of loyalty (concentric rings) are to those standing up for policy and who claim to speak in my name as politicians and lawmakers, and maybe those who stand up for Afghanistan (Afghanis) with the help of our troops. This loyalty is much more negotiable for me personally, and lately, much more negotiable than ever in my lifetime. I simply don’t really trust our politics to handle immigration reasonably at the moment.
This saddens me, because some honorable, decent people are getting chopped up as a result.
The fact which worries me most: Our political leadership is especially sclerotic, failing in many important ways, for many important reasons. The Afghanistan withdrawal disaster was a conscious decision, and a clusterfuck.
Politics, to some extent, corrupts military leadership. The longer ex-generals hang around the political sphere, the less honor and respect they tend to wield. The longer politicians hang around Washington (especially past their sell-by date), the less honor and respect they hopefully wield (there’s probably a point of ideal ripeness/rottenness). At this point, the rank and file has more reasons than ever to question our political and military leadership. And we’re not even at the bottom of woke yet, with many illiberal and righteous actors leveraging bad knowledge in bad faith (as I see things).
The more conflicts that pile up from the bottom of a military hierarchy, and the more reasons anyone on the bottom has to question, bypass, endure or challenge the hierarchy itself, the more brittle the hierarchy.
When truth and reality fade, from the views within institutions; when the virtue required to maintain a Republic wanes, the rot merely becomes more visible. Legitimate authority becomes much, much harder to maintain.
Oh, there always have been horse-tradin’ types, somewhere between used car-salesman and admirable men sacrificing their liberty for the rest of us. There were always assholes and charlatans, glad-handing lifers, as well as principled men sticking their fingers into the political winds for their turn at the wheel.
Gathering some views on the Afghanistan ‘withdrawal’, and the current clusterfuckery.
Through my indirect experience, most of the people who serve are called. Honor, duty and sacrifice figure heavily. Smashing things, adventure, skill-development and money tend to be important variables, too. Over time, money and stability become more important, as they do for anyone aging up, or through, an institution. Few of us spend time imagining waking up every morning, with thirteen intricate steps to put on a prosthetic, seeing what the day holds.
That’s where our duty comes in, as fellow citizens, to make the losses more bearable.
From where I stand: Yes, the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, NPR, and most major media outlets are in a process of negotiation/conflict with elements of a radical and activist Left. Some will follow the logic towards Good/Evil with their own countrymen, in a pose of childish and irrational rebellion (utopia always better to any reality). Others will settle into some kind of protagonism/antagonism with new authority; major Tech companies having to make and enforce rules, in relation with many lawmakers.
If you didn’t solve the problems of authority/hierarchy, totalizing and authority-beholden types beneath your Ideals, well…you haven’t solved those problems.
You’ve probably noticed this, too-Deeper and emergent Western thinking, along humanistic lines, is becoming more dominant: Conceptualizing the main purposes of war as advancing humanistic ideals (War vs Peace, (G)lobal (M)an vs the (I)nhumane) motivates much American institutional authority and leadership. No institution has avoided the rising waters of presumed freedom, diversity and inclusion, pushed often by liberation activists (making the personal political). I’m not sure of all the deeper currents and reasons, but this seems pretty unstable.
To be a ‘Kennedy Liberal’, Nationalistic and proud, has begun to emit a curious odor, a moral stench in the culture-at-large (as long ago has anything Christian, traditional, patriotic, and proud).
Perhaps it’s true: Today’s liberal idealist might well find himself where yesterday’s ‘neo-conservative’ found himself, willing to underwrite the Western project, with American military force if necessary, to vindicate highest ideals.
This blog’s thinking: The cultural revolution of the 60’s is a more consequential beast than most Boomer’s and Gen X’ers have realized. We’ve pretty much all of us internalized elements of these ideas, doing with them as we will.
If you are joining the armed services, for reasons of honor, duty, and sacrifice, you’d probably do okay to think about these elements of American leadership and political authority.
Robert Kaplan makes the argument that geography and history are destiny in Pakistan’s case:
‘Pakistan encompasses the frontier of the subcontinent, a region that even the British were unable to incorporate into their bureaucracy, running it instead as a military fiefdom, making deals with the tribes. Thus, Pakistan did not inherit the stabilizing civilian institutions that India did. Winston Churchill’s first book as a young man, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, wonderfully captures the challenges facing colonial border troops in British India. As the young author then concluded, the only way to function in this part of the world is through “a system of gradual advance, of political intrigue among the tribes, of subsidies and small expeditions.’
‘The term AfPak itself, popularized by the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, indicates two failed states — otherwise, they would share a strong border and would not have to be conjoined in one word. Let me provide the real meaning of AfPak, as defined by geography and history: It is a rump Islamic greater Punjab — the tip of the demographic spear of the Indian subcontinent toward which all trade routes between southern Central Asia and the Indus Valley are drawn — exerting its power over Pashtunistan and Baluchistan, just as Punjab has since time immemorial.’
‘When Hill came to Yale in 1992 — his wife, senior lecturer Norma Thompson, was a professor in the political science department — he already had a decorated record of foreign service. After graduating from Brown University and completing his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he worked foreign service postings in Switzerland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Vietnam. Among other positions, he served as a policy advisor at the State Department, an advisor for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, political counselor for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, executive aide to Secretary of State George Shultz and an advisor to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1992-1996 Secretary-General of the United Nations‘
It’s Yale, so I wonder with whom he’ll be replaced:
As to who’s minding our institutions, and where the logic has led: If you start in radical resentment and a rejection of legitimate authority, you cultivate radical resentment and a rejection of legitimate authority:
What’s advertised on the box isn’t what’s inside the box:
‘The initial training session is titled “Managing Bias.” The intent is to teach “participants…how biases affect their actions and impact others when left unchecked, including creating unhealthy work environments and reinforcing unjust practices.” Again, this may sound reasonable, until it becomes apparent that, to the academic left, nonconforming opinions are usually due to bias.‘
Strolling along, Avital Ronell, professor of German and Comparative Literature at NYU, invites you for a walk in the park, for whom 10 minutes of profound explication can never be enough:
I’m guessing that in the past, and maybe still in the present, some Nimrods find both the Catholic Church and/or the Priesthood of Impenetrable Jargon attractive life options.
‘In September 2017, New York University launched a Title IX investigation into Avital Ronell, an internationally acclaimed professor who had been accused of sexual harassment by her former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman.’
Roger Scruton suggests that the co-opting of university philosophy and literature departments by similar postmodern schools of thought (post-ish Marxist) does a disservice to young people interested in both philosophy and literature:
On that note, it doesn’t matter so much if ideas are true, or falsifiable, but rather if they can be held with conviction, made into policy, and acted upon in the world. People are going to do politics, whether you like it or not. It’s a basic human activity.
I’d argue that the decline of religion along with the intellectual currents in many academies have conspired to produce enough space for the following in our politics: Morally righteous people interested in how you should live your life. People who are deeply anti-religious and narrowly ideological.
‘We now have Russia and Turkey involved in two proxy wars in the region: Syria and Libya. While we have serious issues with Turkish “adventurism” on the part of President Erdoğan in both theaters, the bottom line remains: Russia presents a threat to the United States across a variety of fronts; Turkey is a key NATO ally.’
‘America’s alliance-level relations were formed in the context of the Cold War with Egypt, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. These contacts and programs have been successful and should not be dismantled or downgraded, but redesigned.’
Let’s not forget Nagorno-Karabakh.
Vice magazine: Totally woke, painfully edgy and ideologically captured at home, still some decent guerilla journalism in the hot-spots.
I have a nagging suspicion that within certain social sciences and fields of study, people are self-selecting for shared ideals. The discipline itself trains a method which can transcend such dynamics, but it becomes the air many breathe and the water many drink.
The subtle, subconscious way in which we are all influenced by others through our senses, language, behavior and thought drifts towards those shared ideals. In-group and out-group dynamics soon form, and heretics, disbelievers, or skeptics learn to keep quiet or join a tiny minority.
In the case of radical ‘-Ismologists,’ whole epistemologies are woven out of whole cloth, in a web of true-enough-sounding-bullshit, the heretics, disbelievers and skeptics are punished.
Many progressive knowledge claims involve the assumption that (H)istory can be known from one vantage point, and because this is true, the telos of (M)an is known or can be known, and ought to be reached through political activism any day now.
And now for something mostly different. As posted:
Gurri offered an interesting take on matters socio-cultural:
‘The dilemma is that this present is defined by a radical distrust of the institutions of industrial society, and of the elites that control them, and of their statements and descriptions of reality. The conference organizers got our predicament right. At every level of contemporary social and political life, we are stuck in the muck of a profound crisis of authority.’
‘One remembers Weber’s epitaph for the Protestant Ethic, as he contemplated a devitalised bourgeoisie spiritlessly tending the petrified mechanism their ancestors had raised. Adapted, without apology, it might also be used to depict that petrified Utopia of the New Ruling classes of the East.
There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?
No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.
“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.
Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”
Via a reader: Stephen Kotkin on Lex Fridman’s podcast:
Roger Scruton on creating museums to the failures of Marxism, much as we do other forms of fascism:
‘One thing we should surely learn from the Russian revolution is that resentment is always on the lookout for the theories that will justify it. And the lesson that bore in on me in vivid and unforgettable ways during my own journeys behind the Iron Curtain, is that resentment, when it finally takes power, spells the death of politics. The real purpose of politics is not to express resentment but to contain and conciliate it.’
A lot of people in positions of authority outside the West (Russia, China, Venezuela, North Korea, Vietnam etc.) are wedded to institutional structures forged out of the very same ideology. Their interests don’t necessarily align with ours, and these institutions and are often used to undermine U.S. interests and do harm (for a lot of other reasons as well).
It’s often very idealistic and utopian Westerners (some deeply resentful, indeed) who insist on bending Western interests ONLY towards global institutions. Presumably, they have access to universal ideals which will benevolently guide their behavior and the institutions they design towards some promised future, which has yet to materialize (there certainly are design, incentive, and capture problems at the U.N.).
A lot of people in the West are wedded to the doctrines of revolutionary praxis, too. There are real radicals out there and religious institutions, deeper legal and cultural traditions, universities, the family, the military etc. are looked on from this point of view as antiquated and cloying at best, oppressive and evil at worst.
All of the above deserve to be battered, destroyed, or co-opted according to followers of radical doctrines, and many liberal idealists are quite unwilling to challenge such radicals beneath them.
‘Marxism, Dalrymple explains, answers several needs:
‘It has its arcana, which persuade believers that they have penetrated to secrets veiled from others, who are possessed of false consciousness.
It appeals to the strongest of all political passions, hatred, and justifies it.
It provides a highly intellectualised rationalisation of a discreditable but almost universal and ineradicable emotion: envy.
It forever puts the blame elsewhere, making self-examination unnecessary and self-knowledge impossible.
It explains everything.
It persuades believers that they have a special destiny in the world. For disgruntled intellectuals, nothing could be more gratifying.’
Aside from the radical doctrines, it’s apparent that many in the West have placed their hopes and aspirations into various flavors of political idealism. Man’s nature is assumed to be fundamentally good, for the most part, merely in need of liberation from previous traditions, injustices and illegitimate claims to authority.
“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”
The below links are to whom I’m indebted in cobbling such posts together on alas…a blog:
How do the extremes, and the people desperate for meaning in their lives through anarchy, ideology and chaos come to dominate downstream of popular and mass liberation movements?
Who are the kinds of people attracting to 20th century mass movements?
Eric Hoffer-A man deeply suspicious of top-down organization and intellectuals running things, yet a man deeply curious and taken with ideas: He strikes this blog as something of an anti-intellectual’s intellectual.
Armenia is one of the oldest Christian nations going, sitting in a region surrounded by non-Christian nations.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan were later additions to the U.S.S.R, and are now independent nations once again (Moscow still being a natural power center). The two have been disputing a region to which both claim ownership, Nagorno-Karabakh.
‘Nagorno-Karabakh is a majority ethnic Armenian enclave entirely within the borders of Azerbaijan, which broke away in a war that started amid the fracturing of the Soviet Union in 1991. With backing from Armenia, the ethnic Armenians who predominate in the territory have run their own affairs, despite the territory being internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.‘
The Turks to the West, if you’ll recall, comitted a genocide against the Armenians this past century, and are now aligning with the Azeris in their renewed bid to reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh, sometimes attacking civilian populations. Escalation is likely.
‘Ankara appears to be betting that the Azerbaijanis can overcome entrenched Armenian defenders in the mountainous region before the Armenians can persuade Russia and Armenia’s Western friends to force an end to the conflict. The Armenians, especially the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, have a well-deserved reputation as tough fighters. But without outside help, the odds are not in their favor. Azerbaijan has about four times the gross domestic product of Armenia and three times the population, and Azerbaijan has invested heavily in its armed forces since a military and political collapse forced it to accept a cease-fire in 1994.’
If you accept some realist foreign policy assumptions (no friends, only allies) then the closest Moscow and Washington D.C. have been in the past few decades is on the issue of Islamic terrorism:
‘The conflict challenges Russia in perhaps the single most sensitive place on its frontiers: the South Caucasus. The Kremlin wants good relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Its nightmare scenario is conflict in the southern Caucasus that spreads into Russia, where the Chechens are not the only Muslim ethnic minority who chafe under Moscow’s rule.‘
Other involved players include Tehran and Paris (showing some support for the Armenian cause).
‘If Obama and Kerry had not spent so much time and treasure on the ill-advised Iran nuclear deal, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia would not be so worried about a potential nuclear-armed Iran. (See my article from earlier this month, Saudi Arabia and China nuclear cooperation – is Riyadh seeking nukes?)‘
‘This summer, word came that Keith Christiansen, perhaps the single most distinguished curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was beset by the mob. His tort? Commenting via his Instagram account on a drawing of the French archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir. Lenoir devoted himself to saving French monuments from the all-consuming maw of the French Revolution. “How many great works of art have been lost to the desire to rid ourselves of a past of which we don’t approve[?],” Christiansen wrote.‘
Just looking for contrary thinkers around here, standing against the prevailing winds, where tides of moral sentiment push into bays, inlets and swamps.
Edward Feser discusses the work of Paul Feyerabend, and the view that some people are turning the sciences into a kind of religion.
‘First: science as an institution, and liberalism as its house philosophy, have taken over the role that the Church and its theology played in medieval society.
Second: the case for this takeover rests on the purported superiority of the methods and results of science, but crumbles on close inspection.
Third: when consistently applied, the most powerful expression of the liberal idea—John Stuart Mill’s defense of free speech in On Liberty—tells against rather than in favor of the hegemony of scientism. Let’s consider these themes in turn.‘
As for me, I’m still sympathetic to the following.
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’