Thursday, October 31, 2019

I Totally Called It On Brexit

In February of this year, I predicted that there would be no Brexit by the 29 March deadline. I was right. The next magic day was 31 October, which has proven equally uneventful. Now it’s time to think about how all this fits into the long arc of the rise and fall of British democracy.
Way back on February 27 of this year, less than a week after I started blogging at Twilight Patriot, I predicted that there would be no Brexit. This went against the conventional thinking on the matter: the British people had voted to leave the European Union, the May government had spent nearly two years negotiating the terms of departure, and the promise was that Britain would be out by 29 March.

In the three-years-and-change since the June 2016 referendum, the mainstream media and the alt-media have both put out a copious stream of thinkpieces expressing a dizzying array of opinions about the meaning and significance of Brexit. While these writers can’t agree on whether the outcome of the election was good or bad, they generally at least see it as something important, a sign of the ongoing populist revolt against the technocratic global elite.

Needless to say, my belief that the whole thing would end up proving to be no big deal didn’t get a lot of traction. But when Brexit day came and went, and came and went again, and is now coming and going the third time, I think that events have borne me out. Granted, the British government is, for the moment, maintaining the pretence that Brexit will happen – right now, the date is 31 January – but when Boris Johnson’s protestations that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit past today (it now being 31 October) didn’t pan out, I don’t think it’s wise to assume that the future will be any different than the past.

In my post in February, I claimed that elections, across most of the western world, now have very little impact on public policy. This is actually even more true in the United States than it is in Britain. Just consider how useless all those referenda against same sex marriage turned out to be, or the fact that, shortly after their big win in the 2014 midterms, Republicans were treated to the legalization of several million illegal aliens in the DACA program, an action which President Trump, after riding into power on an outraged electorate, has been forbidden by the courts from reversing.

The reason that the elites get to ignore elections these days is that they can do so without facing civil unrest. If, in 1815, Federal Marshals had shown up in a small town in Kentucky in order to arrest the county clerk for refusing to marry same-sex couples, the Marshals would have gotten tarred and feathered, in an optimistic scenario. If, in 1816, Britain had voted to leave an international organization, and that organization’s officers hadn’t responded by promptly vacating their British posts, the populace would have responded by rioting and burning their offices.

And if my defence of mob violence as a necessary support for democracy seems too crass, I invite you to consider where political power, in general, comes from. Our word ‘political,’ after all, shares a root with ‘police,’ and people obey the police because they know that if they don’t, they could get arrested, beaten, or shot. They obey mayors, governors, and judges because those officials control the police. And state and local governments, with their mayors, governors, judges, and policemen in tow, obey the central government because the standing army is even more powerful than they are.

In short, we have the rulers we have because those rulers are willing, and able, to respond to disobedience with violence. Violence doesn’t have to happen often – in the United States, for instance, the federal government hasn’t had to wage war against noncompliant states since the 1860s, and it hasn’t even had to threaten them with soldiers since the 1960s. Still, the memory of violence is there, and the obedience follows.

In a democracy, revolutionary violence has to be a possibility if the dictates of the common people are spurned – otherwise, the people don’t rule, and the regime isn’t a democracy. When election results are overturned or ignored by the intelligentsia, civil unrest ought to follow. Otherwise, the whole idea of ‘power to the people’ is a sham.

The whole history of British democracy is a testament of this. All the rights that the common Englishman has gained since that day in 1215 when King John signed the Magna Carta on the meadow of Runnymede are rights that were at first given grudgingly, when the King or the nobles realized that the alternative was another uprising. Throughout the centuries, as countless Englishmen bore arms in defence of their liberties, a consensus emerged about what the people's rights were – or in other words, what lines the King couldn’t cross without having another insurrection on his hands.

The American War of Independence was an offshoot of all this. Among the most sacred of the traditional rights of Englishmen was the right not to be taxed without the consent of an elected body in which they were represented. For the first century or so of the English settlement of America, colonial governors, who represented the King, shared power with local elected legislatures, whose consent was needed to impose taxes. Americans were generally content with this arrangement, King and all, but when the distant Parliament in London decided that it could make laws for both the mother country and the colonies, the desires of the local representative houses being irrelevant, war ensued.

Nowadays it seems like this arc is coming to an end. Unlike their ancestors who fought war after war to preserve their rights of self-government, the people of modern Britain have shown that their electoral preferences have no teeth. The people being thus unwilling to hold onto political power, the right of rulership has passed on to someone else – not, of course, back to Her Majesty the Queen, but to an assortment of ministers, judges, and unscrupulous MPs who don’t feel bound to carry out the agenda their constituents voted for.

Some Brexiteers still hold out hope that the next parliamentary election, scheduled for December, will turn out a government committed enough to strike a deal before the new deadline. But they shouldn’t hold their breath; none of the previous elections did that. In any case, the vote back in June of 2016 was close; “Leave” only won by 52% to 48%. Eventually, the Tories will become disillusioned and their turnout will suffer, Labour will win a majority in one of these snap elections, and the whole thing will end up dead and buried, alongside the larger project of British democracy.

American democracy, on the other hand, is already a nonentity, having seldom reared its head since the Warren Court overthrew what was left of the constitution in the 1960s. Congress is now impotent, most policy is dictated by lobbyists, and on those rare occasions when the people get around to making their voice heard anyway – like they did in the same-sex marriage referenda – no charade of compliance is necessary on the part of the elites. Justice Kennedy delivered his ruling, the media celebrated, and the people who had voted on the winning side of the election were denounced as bigots six ways from Sunday.

Now, some of my readers are probably doctrinaire conservatives who, though agreeing with much of what I say, are bothered by my characterization of the government under which we once lived as democratic. “We’re a republic, not a democracy,” they say, seemingly oblivious to the fact that human language only has the meaning that its users agree upon, and that for the vast majority of the people who have used these two words throughout the last few centuries, they were synonyms.

And this is as it should be, because “Democracy” and “Republic” started out as Greek and Latin words that meant the same thing. That is why, for example, the Hellenic Republic (the country which westerners, going back to Roman times, have called ‘Greece’) is called in its own tongue Hellenik√© Demokrat√≠a.

The question of why so many conservative intellectuals make so much hay out of this imaginary distinction – a distinction which, I should add, ought to have little relevance to people living under an oligarchy – is something that I plan to address next week..

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Stop Projecting Things Onto Russia

A fair examination of Russian affairs will reveal a human rights record that is, in most cases, better than that of the United States. So why does the American media use Russia as a blank screen on which to project its image of tyranny?
Recently, one of my readers contacted me to share his lengthy train of opinions about my blog and the topics it deals with. Mostly, these opinions were positive. He especially liked my use of the Blind Men and the Elephant as a metaphor for the civilizational decline that we’re currently in – a decline so broad and multifaceted that different observers can perceive totally different causes for it, and yet all be partly in the right.

But he had a major disagreement with me regarding my inclusion of Vladimir Putin in a list of people I admire in a post I wrote back in June. “I would not use the word ‘admire’ for Mr. Putin or people like him,” this reader said. “We can ‘understand’ how Russians feel, we can appreciate the skill of a Putin in playing to those feelings and accomplishing, to some extent, his goal of Russian national regeneration – without admiring him.  The same applies to other skillful politicians: Lenin, Hitler, Roosevelt.”

There’s just one problem with this reader’s characterization of the situation – I really do admire Vladimir Putin. I am aware of his country’s less-than-perfect human rights record, but even so, the Russian Federation is far from the autocratic caricature that Western media outlets have drawn. Indeed, I think that, in our times, Russia is a greater defender of human rights than United States. In any case, the Russia of today is certainly a vast improvement over what Putin inherited from Yeltsin back in 1999. Comparing Putin to Lenin and Hitler is ridiculous. (And including a Roosevelt – either of them – in that list is also ridiculous).

The event that prompted me to finally write this article was when the Drudge Report made a top headline story – and a bright red top headline at that – out of Russia’s test of RuNet, the all-Russian version of the internet designed to maintain Russia’s self-sufficiency in the face of the American-dominated global version.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, how the media would react in an alternate world where some country other than the United States – China, perhaps – controlled the global information lanes, and America decided to build an independent backup system out of China’s reach. Nobody would question the propriety of such a project. But when the country building a local internet is Russia – the blank screen onto which Americans project their visions of dictatorship – you’ll hear all about how Vladimir Putin is trying to stamp out freedom of speech and cut his people off from the rest of the world.

Just don’t stop to wonder why Vladimir Putin would need to do that.  He won last year’s election with 77 percent of the vote, and even in his closest election – in 2000 – he got nearly twice as many votes as his closest rival. In America, by contrast, the elections are nearly all squeakers, and the most recent one has featured the defeated party trying every gimmick it could think of to reverse the result.

Some Western pundits try to discredit Putin’s victories by attributing them to fraud, but everybody who’s been on the ground in Russia knows that the President is immensely popular. In any case, the intelligent observer should ask himself which situation is more likely to be influenced by fraud: Vladimir Putin walloping his opponents by two- and three-to-one margins, or what happened in Florida in 2000?

Then you have the people who compile democracy indices for publications like the Economist, who fault Russia because its President is too powerful. What they overlook is that the reason that President Putin can make whatever laws he wants is that his party, United Russia, has won huge majorities in the Duma over and over again.

In America, on the other hand, big changes in the law usually have nothing to do with who controls Congress. Just consider who was behind DACA, or the legalization of same-sex marriage. It isn’t your elected representatives who are writing the laws. Yet America still gets sky-high ratings from the Economist, because the neo-liberal intellectuals who write democracy indices don’t care whether elected officials are making a country’s laws or not, as long as they get laws that they like.

Russia also fights in a lot fewer foreign wars than the United States. Granted, when the Russians ally with someone like Bashar al-Assad in the fight against ISIS, the US media goes all in about how awful Assad is. But the Americans also fought on Assad’s side, except when we didn’t. And we fought for the Kurds, until we sold them out – basically, we’ve fought on nearly every side of this war. The Russians just picked a side and stuck with it until the Islamic State was stamped out, and they shed a lot less blood in the process.

Another bone of contention for Westerners is Russia’s invasion of the Crimea back in 2014; what most people never talk about is that the Russians only did this after the government of the Ukraine was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup. Also, the Crimea immediately joined the Russian Federation and is now represented in the Duma alongside all the other Russian constituencies. America, on the other hand, has held Puerto Rico for 121 years without giving it any representation in Congress.

Russia is nonetheless without its flaws, of which police brutality is a major one. It also has a worse-than-average incarceration rate, with 316 prisoners per 100,000 people. America, on the other hand, has 655 prisoners per 100,000, which is literally the highest incarceration rate in the world. A country doesn’t earn a distinction like that if all, or even most, of its prisoners actually deserve it. But with a combination of exorbitant sentences for nonviolent crimes, uncritical faith in the testimony of jailhouse snitches, and ignorant jurors who believe, more often than not, that it’s the defendant’s responsibility to prove his own innocence, America has managed the feat.

Also, in Russia, putting children on Ritalin and similar drugs is strictly illegal. If you were to take the Western media’s word for it, this is more evidence of how backwards the Russians are – i.e. they are ignorant of the prevalence of ADHD among children.

But the truth is that the Russians aren’t, nor have they ever been, ignorant of the fact that most children fidget and squirm in their seats, make careless mistakes on their schoolwork, and would rather be playing outside than sitting at a desk. In other words, children are more rambunctious and distractible than adults, and by definition, half of them are more so than the average child. The only difference is that the Russians have not chosen to categorize these things as a mental disorder.

The science behind child-drugging is sound: the symptoms of ADHD really do go away under medication; it is possible to make a child act less like a child by giving him a drug that suppresses his growth, makes him more aggressive and irritable, and dampens his desire to socialize with other children, play outside, climb trees, and do other things that healthy children do. And while the drugs work well for imposing conformity in America’s factory schools, research has failed to find any lasting academic benefits.

Also, drug dependency in childhood has been shown by neuroimaging to lead to permanent deficiencies in dopamine and GABA+, the same chemicals that the drug is boosting in the short term. So the upshot is that some ten to fifteen percent of the male population, plus a smaller number of girls, will grow into broken adults who suffer from depression, delusional thinking, and all sorts of mental illnesses, because some of their neurotransmitters are just missing.

In America, the authorities have decided that this is an acceptable tradeoff for a few years of improved behavior in grade school. But that is not the way that things are done in Holy Russia.

And I shouldn’t even need to get started on the advantages of living in a country where child custody disputes do not involve the question of whether the child should be raised as a boy or a girl.

Some people, after hearing about these kinds of things, like to console themselves by saying that, despite its shortcomings, the form of government that America’s founders gave us is still the best in the world. The trouble is, we are no longer operating under the government that the founders set up.

The founders didn’t create a Congress that had no say in how the laws are made. They didn’t give the President unilateral power to wage war. They didn’t give the Supreme Court power to amend the constitution. And they set up protections for defendants’ rights which, if followed, would have kept us from having the world’s highest incarceration rate.

 And if the other human rights abuses that I just described never factored in by the men who wrote the Constitution of 1787, it’s because the power of human beings to anticipate future madness only goes so far.

If we valued what the founders gave us, and shared their outlook on life, then we would respond to the refusal of our government to protect these inalienable rights in the same way that they did – by having a revolution.

But instead, most Americans have chosen to turn a blind eye to the evil going on in their own land, and instead project the shadow onto a nation and a man who have done far more to defend human rights than anyone on this side of the ocean.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Don’t Be America’s Client State

Back in 1776, America claimed a “separate and equal status” with other nations. But now, our alliances are usually based on an understanding that the other nation has fewer rights than we do. And in the end, America’s client states always end up getting sold out by the regime in Washington.
Foreign affairs have accounted for a larger-than-usual share of notable events this week, with newsfeeds blaring out headlines like the following:

US Withdraws From Syria With Tail Between Legs!

Trump and Syria: The Worst Week For US Foreign Policy Since The Iraq Invasion?

Trump’s Betrayal Of The Kurds Will Echo For Generations.

To make a long story short, when President Trump abruptly withdrew American troops from Syria, Turkish forces poured across the border to secure the territory and finish off the last of ISIS. Caught in the crossfire are the Kurds, the only faithful allies that America and Israel ever had in that part of the world. Kurdistan’s brief foray into self-government, which began when the regimes in Baghdad and Damascus fled ISIS’ territory and left the Kurds to fight the Islamic State alone, is now on the verge of being stamped beneath the Turkish boot.

This turn of events is certainly dismaying, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody with a memory longer than that of a goldfish. About two years ago, in September of 2017, Kurdistan held an independence referendum with 93% voting in favour. The United States, despite characterizing itself as Kurdistan’s ally, refused to support Kurdish independence, as did most other countries, the main exception being Israel.

Ever since then, it’s been obvious that, while America might have an alliance of convenience with Kurdistan, that alliance isn’t based on any concept of equal rights. The Kurds do not, for instance, have the right to self-determination that the Americans exercised in July of 1776.

And the outcries that recent events have elicited from President Trump’s political rivals should be taken for the crocodile tears that they are. Neither party’s mainstream has ever supported Kurdish independence. That the Kurds should have less rights than we do is a matter of agreement; the question is only how much less.

And now the upshot of it all is that the nation which bore the brunt of the fighting in the ground war against ISIS will learn the same bitter lesson which nations like Taiwan have already learned – that America will always sell out its client states.

No doubt the opponents of Kurdish independence have reasons for their point of view. For one thing, national identities based on ethnic heritage are considered backwards in the world of today, where the inhabitants of the Middle East and Africa are expected to instead direct their loyalty based on lines arbitrarily drawn on a map by European colonial powers. And for the Kurds, those lines point toward Baghdad and Damascus.

Another reason is simply that Turkey, which is an important geopolitical partner of the United States, doesn’t want an independent Kurdistan.

Still, if one goes back and reads the American Declaration of Independence – the piece of legislation on which our ideas about when a country has the right to become independent ought to be based – one will find that appeasing the largest nation in the area wasn’t a driving concern for us. And it wasn’t a driving concern for other countries, either: France, Spain, and the Netherlands all recognized American independence before the Revolutionary War was over.

And when General Cornwallis was surrounded at Yorktown both on land and by sea, and he tried to surrender to the French navy rather than endure the embarrassment of surrendering his sword to the rebels, the French refused the offer. Cornwallis had to surrender to Washington.

A little over a century later, America found itself in a similar situation to the one that France had been in. The Spanish-American war was near an end, and the defeated Spanish force in Manilla, caught between an American fleet and the land forces of Filipino independence leader Emilio Aguinaldo, ignored Aguinaldo and surrendered to the Americans. The Americans not only accepted the surrender, but reneged on their promise to support Philippine independence and spent the next few years fighting a brutal counterinsurgency against their former allies, at last reducing the fledgling Philippine republic to just one more American territory.

Such transparent landgrabs aren’t in fashion in the world of today, and in any case, the United States is past the phase in its history where expansionism is seen as desirable. Now, the process of betrayal simply consists of abandoning an ally to the depredations of whichever large, nearby country believes that said ally has no right to exist.

This is what happened with Taiwan, when America suspended diplomatic relations in order to appease a larger and wealthier new partner in Red China, and then bullied the Taiwanese into giving up their nuclear program. Now Taiwan is defenceless against the day when the Maoist regime finally decides that the time has come to retake a territory whose allies have already decided that it deserves fewer rights than they do.

This is what is happening to the Kurds right now, and it’s what will probably also happen to South Korea, once America no longer has the resources to keep a huge garrison in that country and the South Koreans realize, all too late, that keeping Kim Jong Un’s men out would have required a military that could stand on its own two feet.

But there is one country that is often mistaken for an American client state, even though it doesn’t actually deserve that label. A country which has a close military alliance with the United States and which, like Taiwan, is surrounded by enemies who insist that it has no right to exist. But rather than relying solely on American garrisons to protect itself, that country used universal conscription to build the strongest military in the region. And that country also refused to be bullied into not developing nuclear weapons.

The country that I am talking about is, of course, Israel. And the reason that Israel will probably continue to exist in the post-American world is because, unlike Taiwan, South Korea, and Kurdistan, Israel has avoided becoming America’s client state.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Playthings of the Wind


As I am too busy to write a new post today, I will instead share one of my favorite poems: the second of Carl Sandberg's Preludes on Playthings of the Wind.

The doors were cedar
and the panels strips of gold
and the girls were golden girls
and the panels read and the girls chanted:
    We are the greatest city,
    the greatest nation:
    nothing like us ever was.

The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
where the golden girls ran and the panels read:
    We are the greatest city,
    the greatest nation,
    nothing like us ever was.