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#69- The Russia Connection A Conversation with Anne Applebaum

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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24 March 2017 08:55
 

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Anne Applebaum about Russia’s meddling in the U.S. Presidential election and Trump’s troubling affinity for Vladimir Putin.


The Russia Connection A Conversation with Anne Applebaum

This thread is for listeners’ comments.

 
NL.
 
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24 March 2017 14:08
 

Applebaum sounded very knowledgeable and professional but I have a hard time seeing her take on this, i.e., that Trump admires Russia because Russia is an authoritarian dictatorship, and is now using Russian political techniques. Trump just doesn’t strike me as an ideologue. Heck, even Putin, if he is one, either doesn’t show it or is the most nonplussed ideologue ever. It’s hard to picture them conspiring to get some uber conservative ideology in place in the US. What did seem more intuitively plausible was the idea that these are just people who move in the same business circles and so the enculturated attitudes of the average American weren’t guiding their actions - essentially that they saw them as friends and interacted with them as friends.


Regarding Putin’s growing approval rating with Republicans, I’m assuming Applebaum is rather liberal by US standards, like Harris, and I do think they missed something there. Trump just confuses me, but if Putin were equal and equivalent to the propaganda that he puts out there, then yeah, as a centrist with conservative roots, I understand his appeal. His most overarching, defining trait is usually described as loyalty, and he seems to bring this out in others as well (if someone is just truly an unbearable prick all the time, you won’t usually find a lifelong circle of stalwart supporters and friends around them, and yet he shows just the opposite pattern - creating longterm supporters in unlikely places.) If he is, deep down, driven by revolutionary ideology or insatiable greed, he hides that very well. He has stowed a way a ton of money, obviously, but given that that’s expected - maybe almost required - if you hold political power in Russia, and that he’s been willing to clip his own wings in that realm when it comes to lifestyle (becoming a pariah in places over political moves, when he could have cozied up to Western movie stars and been featured in USWeekly jetting around the Riviera or whatever - it seems to me that in functional terms, some large amount of ‘being wealthy’ is contained in your opportunities and lifestyle, the rest is just an abstract number in an account somewhere.) He plays the part of devoted public servant very well in front of the scenes, if not always behind them - and even there, it’s still hard to say if his moves are driven by greed or power lust, or if fake news and poisoning dissidents is - while still evil in its own right - a continuation of this attitude, something he’s doing because he thinks it will help to put his country ahead. The most definitive criticisms I would make of him is that he clearly thinks evil means justify the ends; and he often falls into that trapped ‘backwards is better’ mindset - trying to squash events back into old ideas that have already had their time and played out rather than seek new ones that fit the moment. But on everything else? Maybe he’s evil, maybe he’s a victim of circumstance (poisoning people is capital E Evil, but if the alternative in the environment you find yourself in is a failed state, it’s at least an attempt at utilitarian evil), I really don’t know. Maybe he’s just a good actor (or really just a blasé enough person that he’s a decent sounding board for various projections,) but I think the “volatile, egomaniac dictator” characterizations that you see out there miss the mark.


Ironically, in the end, what Applebaum describes in saying that in Russia, so much speculation is thrown around that people throw up their hands and say the truth can never be known is probably also true of this story. Who the heck knows? It seems like all we can do now is try to beef up cybersecurity and crack down on the ‘fake news’ phenomenon.

 
 
Otto117
 
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25 March 2017 11:07
 
NL. - 24 March 2017 02:08 PM

Applebaum sounded very knowledgeable and professional but I have a hard time seeing her take on this, i.e., that Trump admires Russia because Russia is an authoritarian dictatorship, and is now using Russian political techniques. Trump just doesn’t strike me as an ideologue. Heck, even Putin, if he is one, either doesn’t show it or is the most nonplussed ideologue ever. It’s hard to picture them conspiring to get some uber conservative ideology in place in the US. What did seem more intuitively plausible was the idea that these are just people who move in the same business circles and so the enculturated attitudes of the average American weren’t guiding their actions - essentially that they saw them as friends and interacted with them as friends.

*  *  *
Ironically, in the end, what Applebaum describes in saying that in Russia, so much speculation is thrown around that people throw up their hands and say the truth can never be known is probably also true of this story. Who the heck knows? It seems like all we can do now is try to beef up cybersecurity and crack down on the ‘fake news’ phenomenon.

I did not understand Applebaum at all as saying that Trump admires Putin because Putin is an autocrat. To the contrary, I believe her point was two-fold. First, that Trump admires Putin because his way of running Russia is one that ‘scratches the backs” of the oligarchs and enriches himself. This is the parallel she was drawing to Trump. Trump admires leaders who think like he does—and Trump’s appointments support this view amply. The second point of similarity is where both Putin and Trump stand in relation to the truth. I don’t think this story can be doubted on the level of “who the heck knows?” Maybe it could be in Russia, but people who doubt it either don’t have enough information (they should read more), or they’re like 9-11 truthers or the flat-earth crowd who invent vast conspiracies based on either no information, misinformation or lies.

 
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25 March 2017 15:56
 
Otto117 - 25 March 2017 11:07 AM

I did not understand Applebaum at all as saying that Trump admires Putin because Putin is an autocrat.


I thought she did say this but I’m not invested enough in the opinion to go back through the podcast trying to pick out one minute of audio that could be anywhere, so will settle for saying I remember this but cede I could be remembering incorrectly.

 

I don’t think this story can be doubted on the level of “who the heck knows?” Maybe it could be in Russia, but people who doubt it either don’t have enough information (they should read more), or they’re like 9-11 truthers or the flat-earth crowd who invent vast conspiracies based on either no information, misinformation or lies.


What story, specifically? The fake news activity seems pretty well established but I thought everything else was still under investigation. And I guess the thing is, functionally, I don’t know how much it even matters at this point. People have as many dots as they need to back whichever ideological narrative suits them, and the real world outcomes of that exist either way. People already have the most unfavorable view of Russia they’ve had since Gallup began polling on the topic; liberals have already chosen the general theme as their call to arms. Gut intuitions have already been formed, it seems.

 
 
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25 March 2017 18:10
 
NL. - 25 March 2017 03:56 PM

What story, specifically? The fake news activity seems pretty well established but I thought everything else was still under investigation. And I guess the thing is, functionally, I don’t know how much it even matters at this point. People have as many dots as they need to back whichever ideological narrative suits them, and the real world outcomes of that exist either way. People already have the most unfavorable view of Russia they’ve had since Gallup began polling on the topic; liberals have already chosen the general theme as their call to arms. Gut intuitions have already been formed, it seems.

Applebaum’s story—i.e., what is already known about The Donald, his advisors, and his family, and the conclusion that Trump admires Putin and stands in relation to truth for the reasons I stated in my post (i.e., the reasons that Applebaum stated in the interview). Applebaum’s conclusions don’t require connecting any dots or application of ideological narrative. They are unambitious, in the sense that they are reached by the shortest possible route, based on what is known, and not assisted by speculations into the unknown. The only outstanding question is whether there is more to know. That is not an ideological question, nor of intuition, but one of fact.

 
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25 March 2017 19:32
 
Otto117 - 25 March 2017 06:10 PM

Applebaum’s story—i.e., what is already known about The Donald, his advisors, and his family, and the conclusion that Trump admires Putin and stands in relation to truth for the reasons I stated in my post (i.e., the reasons that Applebaum stated in the interview).


Does it matter if Trump likes Putin? According to the Washington Post, Putin polls better with Republicans than Obama - while I think that’s ridiculous (I heart Obama, and Putin, whatever “evil means for well-intententioned ends” he might [possibly - possibly not] contain, still poisoned my neighbor… I feel it is impossible to ever give a true thumbs up to someone who sneaks organ failure inducing poison into the food of someone who probably frequents the same Starbucks as you.), I don’t think a Republican admiring Putin is particularly unusual.

I’m not quite sure what, specifically, you mean by “relationship to truth”.

 

Applebaum’s conclusions don’t require connecting any dots or application of ideological narrative. They are unambitious, in the sense that they are reached by the shortest possible route, based on what is known, and not assisted by speculations into the unknown. The only outstanding question is whether there is more to know. That is not an ideological question, nor of intuition, but one of fact.


I wasn’t referring to Applebaum’s specific comments, as I feel like she didn’t really conclude anything specific. She said Trump seems to like Putin - which, ok, he’s said that himself - and then speculated about why (which is speculation, not really a conclusion.) So when I said “this story”, I meant “this news story”, not “this podcast”, sorry for the confusion.

 
 
Trumanhw
 
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26 March 2017 02:22
 

First, again, another excellent podcast. Anne is brilliant ... and a wonderful follow up in the series which included Kasperov. If only Americans considered the subjects these two talked about in school. Perhaps politics and philosophy should be mandatory in school rather than spanish. Or the Ming dynasty. Or Art. Lets organize school to reflect the ways in which our economy then civilization can both be lost in the sorting of classes that rank as important.

Putin/Manifort’s contributions to Trump is a propaganda machine which creates fake news.

Perfectly plausible remuneration for Putin? CONTINUE calling US [real] news, fake news.

Back in 2013 I saw the rise of youtube channels like, “StormCloudsGathering”  WITH the very bullshit they said RT promulgates; US will create WWIII. US has no moral bases for it’s global agenda and all the other things that undermine the confidence of average citizens in news, our fundamental differences between the US and Russia, etc.

But none of this would have mattered if there wasn’t the undertow of RIDICULOUS SJW politics driving everyone insane—and the democratic agenda to disarm law abiding americans. I say this as an american who’s not allowed to own a gun. After SERVING HONORABLY in the USMC. Having never committed a violent act. And while I feel there’s a moral debate to be had for my own rights to be restored, I will honor that law. But it is ABSURD that people who have their full rights have the right to defend themselves against creeps is constantly under threat.

When Hillary turned a muslim killing homosexuals in to a cause to fight the 2nd amendment she may very well have lost of those either on the fence or ... made derelict those who’d vote for her too disgusted to vote—at all.

It took the perfect storm of a weak candidate like Hillary, who’s morally distasteful, devoid of political gravitas, who campaigned on SJW bullshit. Attacking white people and men, of which, that combination created poli-sci and intellectual property such that the United States had the money to actually [be] a super power.

The left missed no opportunity to imply white men hold women back, are just as “murderous” as fanatical jihadists, and after abiding by the law—should lose their rights to defend themselves.

This is DISGUSTING.

[ Edited: 26 March 2017 02:36 by Trumanhw]
 
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27 March 2017 08:15
 

As much as I hate to give any props to Alex Jones, I must admit the name of his news organization seems like an appropriate description of our time.  We have entered the era of infowars (again).

Last year was a wake-up call for those who have lived through only peaceful times, that there is no universal law that stipulates progress only moves in one direction.  Enlightenment ebbs and flows, and one step forward is no assurance against two steps back.  Humans have to find a better way to equip ourselves and each other to ensure we know how to process information accurately and make the best decisions accordingly.  Or not, in which case we might be looking at a Mad Max, Fury Road kind of future, in which case, I call dibs on the guitar player strapped to the truck!

 
John V. Linton
 
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03 April 2017 07:46
 

I’m just stunned that Sam Harris doesn’t produce a more intelligent good-faith, hard-nosed assessment of why highly intelligent people might have preferred Trump to Clinton.

Trump can be viewed as a sociopathic liar but still also as a point-mass vector against the dominant statist media-govt collusion of the hard left.

Why doesn’t Harris seem interested in:

a) the REASONS a majority of Americans view the media as less trustworthy than Trump

b) the commensurate dishonesty of Obama about his two signature achievements—the ACA and the Iran deal—which in their policy prominence mean that such lies matter quite a bit for overall trust in govt (perhaps these big lies matter as much as Trump’s multitudinous smaller ones)

c) the 70+% of the electorate who last fall thought we WERE GOING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION, and the exceedingly simply syllogism that democracy means nothing if the people cannot engage in the most fundamental of binary choices, i.e., “Throw them out”

d) the refusal to acknowledge the enormous pressure of the concatenation between:  1) PC identity politics as seen on today’s campuses; 2) state-media agitprop via CNN and the NYT for both Obama and Hillary; 3) Clinton having been so corrupt yet assuming such power with her multiple felonies

What Harris NEVER gets is that the email scandal is not about jesuitical legal parsing by right-wing fanatics but rather about whether the rule of law should apply the same to elites as it does to average people—and about the stupendous implications of having Clinton, having been gotten off by the FBI, the DOJ, Obama and Lynch (via their own corrupting of standards of justice and the plain-text meaning of the law)—assume the position of the chief law enforcement officer of these United States when she clearly can be found to have committed major felonies.

Gross negligence requires NO INTENT, and Clinton was guilty clearly of that under the Espionage Act.  She was also, by Occam’s razor, most probably guilty of intent violations as there is no other plausible raison d’etre for the server than to thwart FOIA.  She destroyed federal records, she most likely obstructed justice, she very likely suborned perjury from subordinates like Mills and Abedin—and this is all a mere yawn for Harris because he himself is blind to the degree to which he is an elite who can write off such legal violations when the rhetorical mood seizes him.  Yet this is banana republic stuff.

Why doesn’t Harris have really intelligent conservatives like Victor Davis Hanson who made this hard-nosed case for Trump on his show?  Is it because he believes he would be compelled to agree with too many of the counter-arguments and is not ready to do so?  Instead of shills like Andrew Sullivan, who’s never met a PC bromide he didn’t chase?

And where is the commensurate concern for the Orwellian leaks of the Obama people—or for the “bird-dogging” that OFA is encouraging at townhalls across the country to stymie speech, or Obama’s intrusion into local jurisdictions to pick sides in trials before the facts were known or the process completed—or a million other issues?

[It is fitting if the breaking news is true that Susan Rice was involved in the illegal unmasking of Trump campaign people, as it was she who infamously lied to the American public on 5 separate occasions one Sunday morning about Benghazi to propagandize for Obama’s election campaign and cover for Hillary Clinton, who herself is now known to have privately written her own daughter and the King of Jordan emails about the true genesis of the attack being Al Qaeda.  What a shameful moment of dissimulation when Clinton lied to the Benghazi families, having told her daughter the real truth.]

Does Harris not understand that the media’s six-month jihad about Russia-gate WITH SO LITTLE EVIDENCE reflects a profound and frightening type of propaganda that post facto justifies Trump’s election to many people?

And if you want to talk about a nihilistic propensity to revolution, why not address more forthrightly people’s concerns about the statistically unfounded claims of BLM or the Left’s propensity to political violence throughout the past campaign?  Harris and Applebaum act as if the threat of right-wing political violence is obviously greater, yet it should be noted that no Clinton political rally was ever shut down by rioters.  Indeed, if that had happened, the media would have reported for months on the story as a sign of Kristallnacht come to America.

Trump is terrible, I did not vote for the man, but please stop playacting that you cannot produce a more intelligent litany for why morally sentient adults might have preferred him to the civilizational collapse of not backing the nation’s police, not enforcing the laws as written, lying about Islamic terror, suppressing any meaningful reform of the public schools via the school choice initiative, reforming healthcare in a way that actually works, pulling back from environmentalism-as-religion, and so on for a thousand other questions…  Keep in mind too we would have been trapped on this Obama-Clinton PC path for another 4-8 years, with the major media aiding and abetting.

[ Edited: 03 April 2017 10:02 by John V. Linton]
 
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03 April 2017 08:09
 
NL. - 24 March 2017 02:08 PM

Applebaum sounded very knowledgeable and professional but I have a hard time seeing her take on this, i.e., that Trump admires Russia because Russia is an authoritarian dictatorship, and is now using Russian political techniques. Trump just doesn’t strike me as an ideologue.


Authoritarian leaders aren’t generally ideologues (unless you consider intense self-interest being an ideologue), that’s an authoritarian follower characteristic. The leaders are just taking advantage of that, so they pretend to be ideologues even if they do so pretty transparently—doesn’t generally matter for the purposes of manipulating authoritarian followers. They tend to have some serious talent with strategic agnosia in that regard.

 
 
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03 April 2017 08:58
 
NL. - 24 March 2017 02:08 PM

Ironically, in the end, what Applebaum describes in saying that in Russia, so much speculation is thrown around that people throw up their hands and say the truth can never be known is probably also true of this story. Who the heck knows? It seems like all we can do now is try to beef up cybersecurity and crack down on the ‘fake news’ phenomenon.

I think your overall assessment is correct that there is something (probably unconsciously) tendentious about Applebaum’s analysis of Trump’s supposed propensities and level of Russian corruption.  But I think where you subtly go wrong is in your final formulation about policing fake news.

It begs the question because what is precisely at issue is whether the media has almost exclusively focused on the Trump-Russia nexus despite inadequate evidence for six months now as a proxy for delegitimizing Trump’s victory.  And also one needs to ask whether a commensurate amount of attention has been paid the Obama-people’s leaks of highly sensitive information which has not yet resulted in a smoking gun.

In many ways the media’s campaign to prove this nexus shows something very troubling about the media, and that it cannot be a neutral arbiter any longer about what is “fake” and what is “real”.  Our best check is a multiplicity of voices via the Internet—not top-down gatekeepers who are ideologically blinkered.

 
NL.
 
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03 April 2017 17:43
 
SkepticX - 03 April 2017 08:09 AM

Authoritarian leaders aren’t generally ideologues (unless you consider intense self-interest being an ideologue), that’s an authoritarian follower characteristic. The leaders are just taking advantage of that, so they pretend to be ideologues even if they do so pretty transparently—doesn’t generally matter for the purposes of manipulating authoritarian followers. They tend to have some serious talent with strategic agnosia in that regard.


It’s an interesting semantic quandary. Yes, if drawing a Venn diagram, I suppose not all authoritarians would overlap with ideological zealots. But I do think they have to have almost a religious or zealot-like fire driving them. I don’t see Trump as being that kind of “My way or the highway” personality type. When Noam Chomsky says he’s worried about Trump planning a false flag terrorist attack, I guess my thought is that I just can’t see it (whereas, as sorry as I am for the people in the Russian bombings today, and as horrific as that was, my first thought when I saw that story was “I wonder if Putin did that because of the recent protests?”) Whatever you think of Trump, he seems relatively flexible. Authoritarianism of the type that causes you to kill and essentially enslave your own ‘tribe’ (the psychology behind out-groups is very different, I think,) seems as if it requires an iron will and an imperturbable desire to instate or impose it on the world. I mean just in terms of work, being a dictator requires a tremendous amount of effort and personal risk that pretty much never ends. Ideological zealotry might not always be the cause of that but there needs to be some strong motivation for a true authoritarian, I think, otherwise it becomes a “why bother” situation, when there’s generally plenty of reward (whatever one’s poison happens to be - money, fame, power, whatever) - for far less effort to be found in other places. (I will say, this equation might not apply so much in very unstable or underdeveloped countries, where dynamics are often bloodier and come down to might-makes-right force, where people are ‘fighting’ for power in a much more literal sense of the word. In that case it seems more like a game of Chicken, where the person in charge is often the biggest risk taker who doesn’t mind gambling with death over and over to defeat others. But I think once you have at least a semi-stable and permanent government in place, that dynamic changes.)

 
 
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03 April 2017 17:54
 
John V. Linton - 03 April 2017 08:58 AM

I think your overall assessment is correct that there is something (probably unconsciously) tendentious about Applebaum’s analysis of Trump’s supposed propensities and level of Russian corruption.  But I think where you subtly go wrong is in your final formulation about policing fake news.

It begs the question because what is precisely at issue is whether the media has almost exclusively focused on the Trump-Russia nexus despite inadequate evidence for six months now as a proxy for delegitimizing Trump’s victory.  And also one needs to ask whether a commensurate amount of attention has been paid the Obama-people’s leaks of highly sensitive information which has not yet resulted in a smoking gun.

In many ways the media’s campaign to prove this nexus shows something very troubling about the media, and that it cannot be a neutral arbiter any longer about what is “fake” and what is “real”.  Our best check is a multiplicity of voices via the Internet—not top-down gatekeepers who are ideologically blinkered.


I’m talking about things like “Pizzagate”. That said, I don’t know enough about the law to know if we need new regulations to handle things like that, or if they are already covered under slander / libel laws and the problem is more the dynamics of how information is disseminated on the internet (back in the day, it would be easy to find whoever published a story and apply those laws, with the internet, it’s quite different.)

 
 
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05 April 2017 05:21
 

First of all, thank you for another great podcast with Anne Applebaum.

To Sam Harris’ question of how to address the argument that the far left uses of the US being misplaced as a moral leader of the world with itself meddling and invading other countries, I found her answer deflecting from the question. Basically, she uses the black and white “you are either with us or against us” fallacy which does not hold true.
One can still be grateful of the liberties we now hold self evident and at the same time be critical of some aspects of the US and its policies.

I am a great admirer of NASA and other organisations of sciences in the US and how they have shaped the minds of people when it comes to the Universe and how we fit into it. Yet, I am not convinced of the benefits(other than jobs) of continuous state of war and its effect on our “free world” or democracy. While Anne Applebaum pointed out the benefits of soft power, the US still relies heavily on its military might to make deals and pursue its goals. I fear that while doing so it has created a less safe and more unstable world for all.

Thank you,
Esty

 
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06 April 2017 13:45
 
Esty - 05 April 2017 05:21 AM

I am a great admirer of NASA and other organisations of sciences in the US and how they have shaped the minds of people when it comes to the Universe and how we fit into it. Yet, I am not convinced of the benefits(other than jobs) of continuous state of war and its effect on our “free world” or democracy. While Anne Applebaum pointed out the benefits of soft power, the US still relies heavily on its military might to make deals and pursue its goals. I fear that while doing so it has created a less safe and more unstable world for all.


Thanks for sharing your post. In regard to this last paragraph, I think there is a strange paradox in this dynamic in that the very people calling for the US to not be “the world’s policeman” are often the countries saying, domestically, that only vertical power structures work. Which makes one go - “Well, which is it? If you’re such believers in checks and balances, why do you have no faith in them at home, then? And if you don’t actually believe in those things, then what does that say about your motives?” I think in that regard, the West kinda accidentally won a game of king of the hill and while we’re not crazy about standing where we’re standing, the would-be replacements look much scarier.


Ironically, what worries me about Russia, and what I admire about Russia, in that regard, are actually the same thing - a huge, overarching emphasis on personal loyalty in Putin’s regime. When viewed in a humanistic light, I think that manner of loyalty is one of the most important traits a moral human can manifest. Without it, there’s no basis to work from, you’re simply uninvested. When viewed in a tribal light, however, I think it becomes gangster-style thuggishness with no room for philosophical conscientious objectors. One thing I find fascinating about Putin is that he thinks “who he trusts” and “who has not betrayed him” should be one and the same. While I think this should hold if someone is going to literally kill you or something, I think as a rule it can be a bad idea - the people you trust should be the people who would ‘betray’ you (as in, not go along with it) if you acted in ways that were personally or spiritually damning, against God or your highest ideals or however you frame that. People who wouldn’t do that are not actually looking out for your best interests, in the long run. On the other side of the coin, I think areas of the world where you see a lot of religious fundamentalism go to the other extreme - valuing loyalty to an ideal over humanism. So to my mind the West is still a kind of middle path “least bad” option in terms of being the world’s default global police - but I do think it’s very important that we form some kind of global system - a regulated one - for interactions between countries. Right now we have a few standards in place but they are haphazard and pell mell at best. In a metaphorical sense our world shrank very, very quickly with the advent of new technology, and I think we have to catch up in terms of global policies.

 
 
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06 April 2017 14:17
 
NL. - 06 April 2017 01:45 PM
Esty - 05 April 2017 05:21 AM

I am a great admirer of NASA and other organisations of sciences in the US and how they have shaped the minds of people when it comes to the Universe and how we fit into it. Yet, I am not convinced of the benefits(other than jobs) of continuous state of war and its effect on our “free world” or democracy. While Anne Applebaum pointed out the benefits of soft power, the US still relies heavily on its military might to make deals and pursue its goals. I fear that while doing so it has created a less safe and more unstable world for all.


Thanks for sharing your post. In regard to this last paragraph, I think there is a strange paradox in this dynamic in that the very people calling for the US to not be “the world’s policeman” are often the countries saying, domestically, that only vertical power structures work. Which makes one go - “Well, which is it? If you’re such believers in checks and balances, why do you have no faith in them at home, then? And if you don’t actually believe in those things, then what does that say about your motives?” I think in that regard, the West kinda accidentally won a game of king of the hill and while we’re not crazy about standing where we’re standing, the would-be replacements look much scarier.


Ironically, what worries me about Russia, and what I admire about Russia, in that regard, are actually the same thing - a huge, overarching emphasis on personal loyalty in Putin’s regime. When viewed in a humanistic light, I think that manner of loyalty is one of the most important traits a moral human can manifest. Without it, there’s no basis to work from, you’re simply uninvested. When viewed in a tribal light, however, I think it becomes gangster-style thuggishness with no room for philosophical conscientious objectors. One thing I find fascinating about Putin is that he thinks “who he trusts” and “who has not betrayed him” should be one and the same. While I think this should hold if someone is going to literally kill you or something, I think as a rule it can be a bad idea - the people you trust should be the people who would ‘betray’ you (as in, not go along with it) if you acted in ways that were personally or spiritually damning, against God or your highest ideals or however you frame that. People who wouldn’t do that are not actually looking out for your best interests, in the long run. On the other side of the coin, I think areas of the world where you see a lot of religious fundamentalism go to the other extreme - valuing loyalty to an ideal over humanism. So to my mind the West is still a kind of middle path “least bad” option in terms of being the world’s default global police - but I do think it’s very important that we form some kind of global system - a regulated one - for interactions between countries. Right now we have a few standards in place but they are haphazard and pell mell at best. In a metaphorical sense our world shrank very, very quickly with the advent of new technology, and I think we have to catch up in terms of global policies.

Your point is quite acute and rarely if ever heard.  It’s often the case that a certain butter-not-guns mindset construes the world in a top-down state-directed way at home but cannot imagine extending that hegemony to bringing order to chaotic parts of the international sphere.

I have noted among my liberal friends the recent vintage of an all-or-nothing mindset regards the use of force, that there are no intermittent shades because everything must become Vietnam, etc.  Therefore say airstrikes against Assad are ill-conceived because we do not commit to occupying and ruling the country once we’ve deposed him. 

IMHO this type of argument is a dodge that one never hears regards domestic issues like how big we should make the entitlement pie for old people’s healthcare next year.  Yet it is implicitly understood there is a gray zone of negotiation between economic collapse in debt and giving people as many goodies as we can afford…

One could well argue that Syria’s dying children deputize the conscience far more than the (ever further) expansion of the mendicancy of America’s retired community (who are on average wealthier than the young).  Of course there is a sphere of practicable action, and of course many sorts of conflicts do not admit a partial solution, and of course it’s always worth asking if we can only be tactical and not strategic.  Yet it has become both uncool and uncouth to raise the specter of a partial deployment of force.

This particularly inheres in my analysis of Obama’s precipitous withdrawal from Iraq.  I was no particular fan of having gone in, but it’s not hard to make an argument against such precipitous changes on Burkean grounds and along the utilitarian lines that far more people shall die in the ensuing chaos—including conceivably Westerners who die as the instability spreads.  IMHO the chaos produced by irresponsible inaction is not intelligently enough gauged in many theaters.  (There are places in Africa where the mildest of subventions might have prevented horrendous carnage with low-tech implements.)

In reality the world is a complex place and people need to think excruciatingly carefully about when force should either be applied or withdrawn, and in what manner, because a great number of human lives may depend upon a surgical sensibility.  We did not have such a sensibility with the ideologically blinkered and obtuse Obama, and it’s very much unlikely that we have it either now.

 
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