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You Are Not in Control

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (February 14 2017)

My recent book tour was very valuable, among other things, in gauging audience response to the various topics related to the technosphere and its control over us. Specifically, what seems to be generally missing is an understanding that the technosphere doesn’t just control technology; it controls our minds as well. The technosphere doesn’t just prevent us from choosing technologies that we think may be appropriate and rejecting the ones that aren’t. It controls our tastes, making us prefer things that it prefers for its own reasons. It also controls our values, aligning them with its own. And it controls our bodies, causing us to treat ourselves as if we were mechanisms rather than symbiotic communities of living cells (human and otherwise).

None of this invalidates the approach I proposed for shrinking the technosphere which is based on a harm/benefit analysis and allows us to ratchet down our technology choices by always picking technologies with the least harm and the greatest benefit. But this approach only works if the analysis is informed by our own tastes, not the tastes imposed on us by the technosphere, by our values, not the technosphere’s values, and by our rejection of a mechanistic conception of our selves. These choices are implicit in the 32 criteria used in harm/benefit analysis, favoring local over global, group interests over individual interests, artisanal over industrial and so on. But I think it would be helpful to make these choices explicit, by working through an example of each of the three types of control listed above. This week I’ll tackle the first of these.

A good example of how the technosphere controls our tastes is the personal automobile. Many people regard it as a symbol of freedom and see their car as an extension of their personalities. The freedom to be car-free is not generally regarded as important, while the freedoms bestowed by car ownership are rather questionable. It is the freedom to make car payments, pay for repairs, insurance, parking, towing and gasoline. It is the freedom to pay tolls, traffic tickets, title fees and excise taxes. It is the freedom to spend countless hours stuck in traffic jams and to suffer injuries in car accidents. It is the freedom to bring up neurologically damaged children by subjecting them to unsafe carbon monoxide levels (you are encouraged to have a carbon-monoxide detector in your house, but not in your car – because it would be going off all the time). It is the freedom to suffer indignities when pulled over by police, especially if you’ve been drinking. In terms of a harm/benefit analysis, private car ownership makes no sense at all.

It is often argued that a car is a necessity, although the facts tell a different story. Worldwide, there are 1.2 billion vehicles on the road. The population of the planet is over seven billion. Therefore, there are at least 5.8 billion people alive in the world who don’t own a car. How can something be considered a necessity if 82% of us don’t seem to need it? In fact, owning a car becomes necessary only in a certain specific set of circumstances. Here are some of the key ingredients: a landscape that is impassable except by motor vehicle, single-use zoning that segregates land by residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial uses, a lifestyle that requires a daily commute, and a deficit of public transportation. In turn, widespread private car ownership is what enables these key ingredients: without it, situations in which private car ownership becomes a necessity simply would not arise.

Now, moving people about the landscape is not a productive activity: it is a waste of time and energy. If you can live, send your children to school, shop and work all without leaving the confines of a small neighborhood, you are bound to be more efficient than someone who has to drive between these four locations on a daily basis. But the technosphere is rational to a fault and is all about achieving efficiencies. And so, an obvious question to ask is, What is it about the car-dependent living arrangement, and the landscape it enables, that the technosphere finds to be efficient? The surprising answer is that the technosphere strives to optimize the burning of gasoline; everything else is just a byproduct of this optimization.

It turns out that the fact that so many people are forced to own a car has nothing to do with transportation and everything to do with petroleum chemistry. About half of what can be usefully extracted from a barrel of crude oil is in the form of gasoline. It is possible to boost the fraction of other, more useful products, such as kerosene, diesel fuel, jet fuel and heating oil, but not by much and at a cost of reduced net energy. But gasoline is not very useful at all. It is volatile (quite a lot of it evaporates, especially in the summer); it is chemically unstable and doesn’t keep for long; it is toxic and carcinogenic. It has a rather low flash point, limiting the compression ratio that can be achieved by gasoline-fueled engines, making them thermodynamically less efficient. It is useless for large engines, and is basically a small-engine fuel. Gasoline-powered engines don’t last very long because gasoline-air mixture is detonated (using an electric spark) rather than burned, and the shock waves from the detonations cause components to wear out quickly. They have few industrial uses; all of the serious transportation infrastructure, including locomotives, ships, jet aircraft, tractor-trailers, construction equipment and electrical generators run on petroleum distillates such as kerosene, jet fuel, diesel oil and bunker fuel.

If it weren’t for widespread private car ownership, gasoline would have to be flared off at refineries, at a loss. In turn, the cost of petroleum distillates – which are all of the industrial fuels – would double, and this would curtail the technosphere’s global expansion by making long-distance freight much more expensive. The technosphere’s goal, then, is to make us pay for the gasoline by forcing us to drive. To this end, the landscape is structured in a way that makes driving necessary. The fact that to get from a Motel 8 on one side of the road to the McDonalds on the other requires you to drive two miles, navigate a cloverleaf, and drive two miles back is not a bug; it’s a feature. When James Kunstler calls suburban sprawl “the greatest misallocation of resources in human history” he is only partly right. It is also the greatest optimization in exploiting every part of the crude oil barrel in the history of the technosphere.

The proliferation of small gasoline-burning engines in the form of cars enables another optimization, forcing us to pay for another generally useless fraction of the crude oil barrel: road tar. Lots of cars require lots of paved roadways and parking lots. Thus, the technosphere wins twice, first by making us pay for the privilege of disposing of what is essentially toxic waste at our own risk and expense, then by making us pay for spreading another form of toxic waste all over the ground. Suburban sprawl is not a failure of urban planning; it is a success story in enslaving humans and making them toil on behalf of the technosphere while causing great damage to themselves and to the environment. Needless to say, you have absolutely no control over any of this. You. Are. Not. In. Control. You can vote, you can protest, you can lobby, donate to environmentalist groups, attend conferences on urban planning … and you would just be wasting your time, because you can’t change petroleum chemistry.

That the need to make people buy gasoline trumps all other considerations becomes obvious if we observe how the technosphere reacts whenever gasoline demand falters. When rampant wealth inequality started making owning a car unaffordable for more and more people, the solution was to introduce larger cars for those who could still afford one: minivans for the mommies, pickup trucks for the daddies, and for everyone the now common SUV. And now that gasoline demand is dropping again because of falling labor participation rate and an increase in the number of people who telecommute, the solution will no doubt be driverless cars which will cruise around aimlessly burning gasoline. Mommies may think that a minivan will keep their kiddies safer than a compact would (not true unless they have eight or nine kids). Daddies may think that the pickup truck is a sign of manliness (true if you are some sort of gofer/roustabout; pickup trucks are driven by picker-uppers, a subspecies of gofer/roustabout). But all they are doing is obeying “The Third Law of the Technosphere”, if you will: “For every improvement in the efficiency of gasoline-fired engines, there must be an equal and opposite improvement in inefficiency”.

So, perhaps you should just relax and go with the flow. After all, being a slave in the service of the technosphere is not immediately life-threatening … unless you crash into a tree or get run over by a drunk. But there is another problem: this arrangement isn’t going to last. The net energy that can be extracted out of a barrel of oil is quickly shrinking. In less than a decade the energy surplus required to maintain a car-centric lifestyle will no longer exist. If private car ownership and daily driving are required of you in order to survive, then you won’t survive. There goes at least eighteen percent of the world’s population, which will find itself stranded in the middle of an impassable landscape. Oops!

Given that you are not in control, and given that the car-centric lifestyle is an evolutionary dead end for your subspecies, what can you do? The answer is obvious: you can plan your escape, then join the other 82% of the world’s population, which is able to live car-free. Some of them even manage to live entirely outside of the reach of the technosphere. Let their example be your inspiration.

https://cluborlov.blogspot.jp/2017/02/you-are-not-in-control.html

Categories: Uncategorized

America Third

Donald Trump Is Giving the Phrase “Multipolar World” New Meaning

by Michael T Klare

TomDispatch (February 14 2017)

Note from Bill Totten: I am an admirer of Michael T Klare and I usually agree with what he writes, which I post here every month. But I strongly disagree with several parts of this article. Nevertheless, I am posting this article because (1) it is the first of Michael Klare’s articles I can recall not agreeing with and so (2) better than ignoring it, I think it best to post it with my own comments, which are at the places marked ===> below.

* * * * *

If there’s a single consistent aspect to Donald Trump’s strategic vision, it’s this: US foreign policy should always be governed by the simple principle of “America First”, with this country’s vital interests placed above those of all others. “We will always put America’s interests first”, he declared in his victory speech in the early hours of November 9th. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first”, he insisted in his Inaugural Address on January 20th. Since then, however, everything he’s done in the international arena has, intentionally or not, placed America’s interests behind those of its arch-rivals, China and Russia. So to be accurate, his guiding policy formula should really be relabeled America Third.

Given nineteen months of bravado public rhetoric, there was no way to imagine a Trumpian presidency that would favor America’s leading competitors. Throughout the campaign, he castigated China for its “predatory” trade practices, insisting that it had exploited America’s weak enforcement policies to eviscerate our economy and kill millions of jobs. “The money they’ve drained out of the United States has rebuilt China”, he told reporters from The New York Times in no uncertain terms last March. While he expressed admiration for the strong leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he decried that country’s buildup of advanced nuclear weapons. “They have gone wild with their nuclear program”, he stated during the second presidential debate. “Not good!”

Judging by such comments, you might imagine that Donald Trump would have entered the Oval Office with a strategic blueprint for curbing the geopolitical sway of America’s two principal potential great power rivals. Presumably, this would have entailed a radical transformation of the strategy devised by the Obama administration for this purpose – a two-pronged effort that involved the reinforcement of Nato forces in Eastern Europe and the “rebalancing” of US military assets to the Asia-Pacific region. Obama’s strategy also envisioned the use of economic pacts – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (“TTIP”) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”) – to buttress those military measures. But Trump had made known his disdain for Nato and the TPP, so it was reasonable to assume that he would arrive in Washington with an alternative plan to ensure America’s primacy on the global strategic chessboard.

===> I think Trump’s policy is not China first, Russia second, and America third but, instead, American workers first.  I think Trump was wise to abandon TPP,  because it was predominately a scheme to exploit American and Japanese workers to further enrich giant American and Japanese corporations and their executives and stockholders. See many other articles on the TPP that I’ve posted here.

As President Trump has made clear in recent weeks, however, his primary strategic priorities do not include the advancement of America’s status in the race for global strategic preeminence. Instead, as indicated by the outline of his “America First Foreign Policy” posted on the White House website, his top objectives are the extermination of what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism” and the enhancement of America’s overseas trade balance. Just how vital these objectives may be in the larger scheme of things has been the subject of considerable debate, but few have noted that Trump has completely abandoned any notion that the US is engaged in a global struggle for power and wealth with two potentially fierce competitors, each possessing its own plan for achieving “greatness”.

===> The US neocons want a unipolar world dominated by the US neocons while Trump, Russia, China, and I prefer a multipolar world dominated by no cabal nor nation.

And it’s not just that Trump seems to have abandoned the larger geopolitical playing field to America’s principal rivals. He appears to be doing everything in his power to facilitate their advance at the expense of the United States. In just the first few weeks of his presidency, he has already taken numerous steps that have put the wind in both China’s and Russia’s sails, while leaving the US adrift.

Trump’s China-First Foreign Policy

In his approach to China, Donald Trump has been almost exclusively focused on the issue of trade, claiming that his primary goal is to combat the unfair practices that have allowed the Chinese to get rich at America’s expense. It’s hardly surprising, then, that his nominee as US trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, is an outspoken critic of that country’s trade behavior. “It seems clear that the US manufacturing crisis is related to our trade with China”, he told Congress in 2010. But while trade may be an important part of the US-China relationship, Trump’s single-minded fixation on the issue leaves aside far more crucial political, economic, diplomatic, and military aspects of the Sino-American competition for world power and influence. By largely ignoring them, in just weeks in the Oval Office, President Trump has already enabled China to gain ground on many fronts.

This was evident in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. While no senior representative of the soon-to-be installed Trump administration even put in an appearance, China was represented by no less than President Xi Jinping himself, a first appearance for a Chinese head of state. In a major address, denouncing (no names mentioned) those who seek to turn away from globalization, Xi portrayed China as the world’s new exemplar of free trade and internationalism. “Say no to protectionism”, he insisted. “It is like locking yourself in a dark room. Wind and rain are kept out, but so are light and air.” For many of the 1,250 CEOs, celebrities, and government officials in the audience, his appearance and remarks represented an almost mind-boggling shift in the global balance of political influence, as Washington ceded the pivotal position it had long occupied on the world stage.

Six days later, on his first weekday in office, President Trump appeared to confirm the Chinese leader’s derisory comments by announcing his intent to withdraw from negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, thereby abandoning US leadership in efforts to vastly augment trade in the Asia-Pacific region. From Trump’s perspective, the twelve-nation trade deal (which included Australia, Malaysia, Japan, and Vietnam, while carefully excluding China) would harm American workers and manufacturers by facilitating exports to this country by the other participants (a view shared by some on the left). At the same time, however, many in Washington saw it as bolstering American efforts to limit Beijing’s influence by increasing trade among the prospective TPP member states at China’s expense. Now, China has an unparalleled opportunity to reorganize and potentially reorient trade in the Asian region in its direction.

“There’s no doubt that this action will be seen as a huge, huge win for China”, said Michael Froman, the trade representative who negotiated the TPP under President Obama. “For the Trump administration, after all this talk about being tough on China, for their first action to basically hand the keys to China and say we’re withdrawing from our leadership position in this region is geo-strategically damaging”.

Among other things, China is expected to encourage Asian countries to join it in an alternative trade arrangement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (“RCEP”). Including the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (“ASEAN”) as well as China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and India (but not the United States), the RCEP aims to lower barriers to trade – without the environmental and labor-rights provisions incorporated into the TPP.

===> The proposed TPP clearly excluded China, but my understanding is that the RCEP does not exclude the United States; the United States merely has chosen, so far, not to join the RCEP.

On January 28th, in a phone conversation that ended abruptly, President Trump further undermined America’s geopolitical stature in Asia by berating Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, a country that has been a staunch American ally since World War Two and which houses several US military bases. According to press accounts, Trump responded angrily to Turnbull’s plea to honor a promise made by President Obama to take in some 1,250 refugees – many from Iraq – being held by Australia in squalid conditions in offshore detention centers. “I don’t want these people”, Trump is said to have shouted before hanging up on the Australian leader. The insulting tenor of the call has provoked widespread revulsion in Australia, with many people there reportedly questioning the value of that country’s close association with the United States.

Above all, his rebuff of Turnbull is thought to be beneficial to China. “Trump is needlessly damaging the deep trust that binds one of America’s closest alliances”, said Professor Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University in Canberra. “China and those wishing to weaken the strongest alliance in the Pacific will see opportunity in this moment”.

Trump, China, and the Global Climate Fight

Perhaps the greatest gift Trump has bestowed on China, however, has been his drive to scuttle the Obama administration’s clean energy initiatives and its commitment to the Paris climate agreement. By turning the clock back on climate action and putting in office a crew of climate-change deniers, Trump has opened the door for China to emerge both as the world’s leader in green technology (while creating millions of new jobs for Chinese workers) and in international efforts to slow global warming.

Recall that in pursuing progress on clean energy, President Obama was driven not only by a concern for the future depredations of climate change, but also by a desire to ensure American preeminence in what he perceived as a global race to master the green technologies of the future, a race in which China was feared to be a likely winner. In 2013, he pointed out that, until recently, other countries had “dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it, [but] we’ve begun to change that … As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we”.

To assure American primacy in the clean-energy race, Obama channeled vast sums of money into the development and deployment of renewable technologies, including advanced solar power plants and electrical storage devices. He also assumed a leadership role in the diplomatic drive to gain approval of the Paris accord, meeting personally with Xi Jinping and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, among others. From an international perspective, this lent the United States the aura of an enlightened, forward-looking world power.

Donald Trump aims to turn his back on all of this. More interested in pleasing his friends in the fossil fuel industry than saving the planet from ruin, he has repeatedly expressed his resolve to eviscerate Obama’s clean energy plan and withdraw from the Paris agreement. “The US will clearly change its course on climate policy”, said Myron Ebell, the climate-change denier who headed Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) transition team. “Trump has made it clear he will withdraw from the Paris Agreement. He could do it by executive order … or he could do it as part of a larger package”, Ebell told reporters on January 30th.

Whether or not Trump and his prospective EPA director, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, succeed in unraveling everything that Obama achieved, the new administration has already ceded leadership in the global climate fight to the Chinese, who have been all too happy to seize the limelight. In January, Beijing’s chief climate change negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, affirmed his country’s intention to be out front on climate issues. “China is capable of taking a leadership role in combating global climate change”, he told reporters from China Daily.

While gaining international recognition as the new leader in this area, China is also moving swiftly to assume primacy in the development and deployment of new green technologies, assuring future domination of a global market expected to grow by leaps and bounds in the decades to come. On January 5th, the country’s National Energy Administration announced a plan to spend $360 billion on renewable energy systems between 2016 and 2020. This is expected to create perhaps thirteen million new jobs. Although detailed spending plans were not disclosed, much of this largesse will undoubtedly be devoted to new wind and solar installations -fields in which China already enjoys a substantial advantage over the rest of the world.

From an economic perspective, the implications of this drive are hard to miss. Many energy experts believe that the demand for oil and other fossil fuels will begin to decline in the years ahead as consumers increasingly favor clean energy over carbon-emitting fuels. If so, the demand for renewables will skyrocket. According to the latest projections from the International Energy Agency in Paris, the demand for wind power in electricity generation will grow by 440% between 2014 and 2040, and that for solar power by over 1,100%. Given the world’s colossal thirst for energy, growth on this scale is bound to generate trillions of dollars in new business. In other words, the anti-green posture of the Trump administration offers the gift of the century to China: an extraordinary shift in global wealth.

===> What concrete progress, domestically or internationally, has the US made toward climate change or clean, renewable energy? If the US has taken and shows no signs of taking any leadership, what’s wrong with China taking the leadership?

Trump’s Russia-Second Foreign Policy

If President Trump appears determined to make China the world’s leading power, he also seems strangely intent on elevating Russia to the number two spot. In his single-minded drive to enlist Moscow’s help in fighting ISIS, he appears willing to eliminate any barriers to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s undisguised campaign to establish a sphere of influence in the territory of the former Soviet Union and other areas once under Moscow’s sway.

===> Russia is actively fighting the ISIS in support of its ally Syria, which has for long leased a naval base vital to Russia, while the US is financially and militarily supporting the ISIS effort to overthrow the Syrian government.

Ever since assuming the presidency in 2000, Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his determination to restore Russia’s former glory and to reverse what he and like-minded Russian analysts view as Nato’s encroachment on Russia’s legitimate security zone in eastern and southeastern Europe. This led to the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and the barely-disguised Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine. For the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – and other Eastern European countries once under Moscow’s thumb, this has, in turn, rekindled fears of a new Russian drive to subvert their independence. More recently, Putin has sought to reestablish the former Soviet Union’s ties to the Middle East, most notably through his military intervention in Syria.

===> Russia didn’t annex Crimea! After the US, led by Victoria Nuland, admittedly spent $5 billion to overthrow the democratically-elected Ukraine government and install an anti-Russian (and anti-Russian-speaking) fascist government, over 95% of Crimeans voters chose to withdraw from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. Observers to that Crimean referendum included members of the European Union’s parliament, as well as MPs from various European nations, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia and Poland, and observers quoted regarding the conditions of the referendum corroborated claims of the referendum having adhered to international standards, with no irregularities or breaches of democracy.

In conjunction with America’s Nato allies, President Obama sought to curb Putin’s plans by imposing tough economic sanctions on Russia and by bolstering the defenses of Nato’s front-line states. Last July, at a Nato summit in Warsaw, he and the leaders of Britain, Canada, and Germany agreed to deploy reinforced battalions to Poland and the three Baltic states as a deterrent to any future Russian attack on those countries. Had she been elected president, Hillary Clinton was expected to step up the pressure further on Moscow.

For Trump, however, Putin’s transgressions in Europe and elsewhere seem to be of little consequence in comparison to his possible collaboration in fighting the Islamic State. “I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together”, he declared during the second presidential debate last October. As for Nato and the Europeans, Trump has indicated little sympathy for their worries about Moscow and has shown little inclination to increase America’s contributions to their defense. Not only did he claim that Nato was “obsolete” last March, insisting that it wasn’t doing enough to fight terrorism, but that it was “unfair, economically, to us”, because “it really helps them more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share”.

Since assuming the presidency, President Trump has behaved as if Russia were indeed a key ally-in-waiting and the Nato powers were former lovers who had lost their appeal. Yes, he met with British Prime Minister Theresa May before any other foreign leader, but he remained silent when she spoke of the need to maintain pressure on Moscow through sanctions, making her look at that moment like an unwelcome houseguest.

Later, he spoke at length with Putin by telephone. From published accounts of their conversation, they avoided awkward topics like Crimea and the Russian hacking scandal of the election past, discussing instead increased collaboration in counterterrorism operations. While the Trump team had little to report on the specifics of what was said, Russian officials were effusive about the conversation. “The two leaders emphasized that joining efforts in fighting the main threat – international terrorism – is a top priority”, they indicated.

According to the Russian media, Trump and Putin agreed in their January 28th phone call to arrange high-level meetings among their senior security staff to facilitate collaboration in the anti-ISIS war. Included in many of these reports was speculation that the two leaders were moving towards a “conceptual understanding” whereby Washington would grant Moscow a “zone of influence” in the former Soviet space in return for Russian cooperation in battling ISIS. Whether or not Trump agreed to any such plan, it appears that events are beginning to proceed as if he had, with Russia evidently playing a more aggressive role in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks.

In this way, Trump’s embrace of Russia as a legitimate partner in anti-ISIS operations has given Putin what he seeks more than anything else: recognition as an equal player on the world stage with the United States and China – despite the fact that he presides over a rickety petro-state with a weakened economy the size of Italy’s.

Choosing Number Three

For all his talk of placing America’s interests first, Donald Trump appears to be advancing the interests of China and Russia, not as the result of conscious policy, but because he’s driven by such a narrow view of America’s foreign policy priorities: counterterrorism against Islamic radicalism, the exclusion of Mexicans and Muslims from the US, and an improved balance of trade. The broader dimensions of international relations do not seem to register on his mental radar screen, such as it is.

How does this affect us? The biggest danger: that China and Russia will feel emboldened by Trump’s narrow-minded approach to seek geopolitical advantage in some area like the South China Sea or the Baltic Sea region that is either important to the United States or seen as bearing on its prestige and credibility. In that case, the president, feeling personally threatened or affronted on the issue of America’s presumed paramountcy, might respond forcefully, possibly igniting a major crisis with nuclear implications. Even if such a crisis is avoided, it’s likely that American influence in such areas as Eastern Europe and South Asia will diminish, resulting in fewer trade opportunities and possibly a rollback of rights and liberties (which could, of course, happen in the US as well). Certainly, if his first weeks in office are indicative of what a Trumpian vision of an America First policy means, we are entering a period when the phrase “multipolar world” will gain new meaning.

Most important of all, the abandonment of US leadership in the struggle to slow global warming will mean both the surrender of technological preeminence in the fields most likely to dominate the world economy in the decades to come and a far greater chance of planetary catastrophe. This should be considered a betrayal of all Americans – and especially of those who voted for him in the belief that he would ensure America’s political and economic primacy.

_____

Michael T Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left (2012). A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil (2005) is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands (2016), as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead (2016), and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (2014).

Copyright 2017 Michael T Klare

(c) 2017 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176243/

Categories: Uncategorized

A Muddle of Mind and Matter

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (February 22 2017)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

The philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, which we’ve been discussing for the last two weeks, has a feature that reliably irritates most people when they encounter it for the first time: it doesn’t divide up the world the way people in modern western societies habitually do. To say, as Schopenhauer does, that the world we experience is a world of subjective representations, and that we encounter the reality behind those representations in will, is to map out the world in a way so unfamiliar that it grates on the nerves. Thus it came as no surprise that last week’s post fielded a flurry of responses trying to push the discussion back onto the more familiar ground of mind and matter.

That was inevitable. Every society has what I suppose could be called its folk metaphysics, a set of beliefs about the basic nature of existence that are taken for granted by most people in that society, and the habit of dividing the world of our experience into mind and matter is among the core elements of the folk metaphysics of the modern western world. Most of us think of it, on those occasions when we think of it at all, as simply the way the world is. It rarely occurs to most of us that there’s any other way to think of things – and when one shows up, a great many of us back away from it as fast as possible.

Yet dividing the world into mind and matter is really rather problematic, all things considered. The most obvious difficulty is the relation between the two sides of the division. This is usually called the mind-body problem, after the place where each of us encounters that difficulty most directly. Grant for the sake of argument that each of us really does consist of a mind contained in a material body, how do these two connect? It’s far from easy to come up with an answer that works.

Several approaches have been tried in the attempt to solve the mind-body problem. There’s dualism, which is the claim that there are two entirely different and independent kinds of things in the world – minds and bodies – and requires proponents to come up with various ways to justify the connection between them. First place for philosophical brashness in this connection goes to Rene Descartes, who argued that the link was directly and miraculously caused by the will of God. Plenty of less blatant methods of handwaving have been used to accomplish the same trick, but all of them require question-begging maneuvers of various kinds, and none has yet managed to present any kind of convincing evidence for itself.

Then there are the reductionistic monisms, which attempt to account for the relationship of mind and matter by reducing one of them to the other. The most popular reductionistic monism these days is reductionistic materialism, which claims that what we call “mind” is simply the electrochemical activity of those lumps of matter we call human brains. Though it’s a good deal less popular these days, there’s also reductionistic idealism, which claims that what we call “matter” is the brought into being by the activity of minds, or of Mind.

Further out still, you get the eliminative monisms, which deal with the relationship between mind and matter by insisting that one of them doesn’t exist. There are eliminative materialists, for example, who insist that mental experiences don’t exist, and our conviction that we think, feel, experience pain and pleasure, et cetera is an “introspective illusion”. (I’ve often thought that one good response to such a claim would be to ask, “Do you really think so?” The consistent eliminative materialist would have to answer “No”.) There are also eliminative idealists, who insist that matter doesn’t exist and that all is mind.

There’s probably been as much effort expended in attempting to solve the mind-body problem as any other single philosophical issue has gotten in modern times, and yet it remains the focus of endless debates even today. That sort of intellectual merry-go-round is usually a pretty good sign that the basic assumptions at the root of the question have some kind of lethal flaw. That’s particularly true when this sort of ongoing donnybrook isn’t the only persistent difficulty surrounding the same set of ideas – and that’s very much the case here.

After all, there’s a far more personal sense in which the phrase “mind-body problem” can be taken. To speak in the terms usual for our culture, this thing we’re calling “mind” includes only a certain portion of what we think of as our inner lives. What, after all, counts as “mind”? In the folk metaphysics of our culture, and in most of the more formal systems of thought based on it, “mind” is consciousness plus the thinking and reasoning functions, perhaps with intuition (however defined) tied on like a squirrel’s tail to the antenna of an old-fashioned jalopy. The emotions aren’t part of mind, and neither are such very active parts of our lives as sexual desire and the other passions; it sounds absurd, in fact, to talk about “the emotion-body problem” or the “passion-body problem”. Why does it sound absurd? Because, consciously or unconsciously, we assign the emotions and the passions to the category of “body”, along with the senses.

This is where we get the second form of the mind-body problem, which is that we’re taught implicitly and explicitly that the mind governs the body, and yet the functions we label “body” show a distinct lack of interest in obeying the functions we call “mind”. Sexual desire is of course the most obvious example. What people actually desire and what they think they ought to desire are quite often two very different things, and when the “mind” tries to bully the “body” into desiring what the “mind” thinks it ought to desire, the results are predictably bad. Add enough moral panic to the mix, in fact, and you end up with sexual hysteria of the classic Victorian type, in which the body ends up being experienced as a sinister Other responding solely to its own evil propensities, the seductive wiles of other persons, or the machinations of Satan himself despite all the efforts of the mind to rein it in.

Notice the implicit hierarchy woven into the folk metaphysics just sketched out, too. Mind is supposed to rule matter, not the other way around; mind is active, while matter is passive or, at most, subject to purely mechanical pressures that make it lurch around in predictable ways. When things don’t behave that way, you tend to see people melt down in one way or another – and the universe being what it is, things don’t actually behave that way very often, so the meltdowns come at regular intervals.

They also arrive in an impressive range of contexts, because the way of thinking about things that divides them into mind and matter is remarkably pervasive in western societies, and pops up in the most extraordinary places. Think of the way that our mainstream religions portray God as the divine Mind ruling omnipotently over a universe of passive matter; that’s the ideal toward which our notions of mind and body strive, and predictably never reach. Think of the way that our entertainment media can always evoke a shudder of horror by imagining something we assign to the category of lifeless matter – a corpse in the case of zombie flicks, a machine in such tales as Stephen King’s Christine (1983), or what have you – suddenly starts acting as though it possesses a mind.

For that matter, listen to the more frantic end of the rhetoric on the American left following the recent presidential election and you’ll hear the same theme echoing off the hills. The left likes to think of itself as the smart people, the educated people, the sensitive and thoughtful and reasonable people – in effect, the people of Mind. The hate speech that many of them direct toward their political opponents leans just as heavily on the notion that these latter are stupid, uneducated, insensitive, irrational, and so on – that is to say, the people of Matter. Part of the hysteria that followed Trump’s election, in turn, might best be described as the political equivalent of the instinctive reaction to a zombie flick: the walking dead have suddenly lurched out of their graves and stalked toward the ballot box, the body politic has rebelled against its self-proclaimed mind!

Let’s go deeper, though. The habit of dividing the universe of human experience into mind and matter isn’t hardwired into the world, or for that matter into human consciousness; there have been, and are still, societies in which people simply don’t experience themselves and the world that way. The mind-body problem and the habits of thought that give rise to it have a history, and it’s by understanding that history that it becomes possible to see past the problem toward a solution.

That history takes its rise from an interesting disparity among the world’s great philosophical traditions. The three that arose independently – the Chinese, the Indian, and the Greek – focused on different aspects of humanity’s existence in the world. Chinese philosophy from earliest times directed its efforts to understanding the relationship between the individual and society; that’s why the Confucian mainstream of Chinese philosophy is resolutely political and social in its focus, exploring ways that the individual can find a viable place within society, and the alternative Taoist tradition in its oldest forms (before it absorbed mysticism from Indian sources) focused on ways that the individual can find a viable place outside society. Indian philosophy, by contrast, directed its efforts to understanding the nature of individual existence itself; that’s why the great Indian philosophical schools all got deeply into epistemology and ended up with a strong mystical bent.

The Greek philosophical tradition, in turn, went to work on a different set of problems. Greek philosophy, once it got past its initial fumblings, fixed its attention on the world of thought. That’s what led Greek thinkers to transform mathematics from a unsorted heap of practical techniques to the kind of ordered system of axioms and theorems best exemplified by Euclid’s Elements of Geometry (circa 300 BC), and it’s also what led Greek thinkers in the same generation as Euclid to create logic, one of the half dozen or so greatest creations of the human mind. Yet it also led to something considerably more problematic: the breathtaking leap of faith by which some of the greatest intellects of the ancient world convinced themselves that the structure of their thoughts was the true structure of the universe, and that thoughts about things were therefore more real than the things themselves.

The roots of that conviction go back all the way to the beginnings of Greek philosophy, but it really came into its own with Parmenides, an important philosopher of the generation immediately before Plato. Parmenides argued that there were two ways of understanding the world, the way of truth and the way of opinion; the way of opinion consisted of understanding the world as it appears to the senses, which according to Parmenides means it’s false, while the way of truth consisted of understanding the world the way that reason proved it had to be, even when this contradicted the testimony of the senses. To be sure, there are times and places where the testimony of the senses does indeed need to be corrected by logic, but it’s at least questionable whether this should be taken anything like as far as Parmenides took it – he argued, for example, that motion was logically impossible, and so nothing ever actually moves, even though it seems that way to our deceiving senses.

The idea that thoughts about things are more real than things settled into what would be its classic form in the writings of Plato, who took Parmenides’ distinction and set to work to explain the relationship between the worlds of truth and opinion. To Plato, the world of truth became a world of forms or ideas, on which everything in the world of sensory experience is modeled. The chair we see, in other words, is a projection or reflection downwards into the world of matter of the timeless, pure, and perfect form or idea of chair-ness. The senses show us the projections or reflections; the reasoning mind shows us the eternal form from which they descend.

That was the promise of classic Platonism – that the mind could know the truth about the universe directly, without the intervention of the senses, the same way it could know the truth of a mathematical demonstration. The difficulty with this enticing claim, though, was that when people tried to find the truth about the universe by examining their thinking processes, no two of them discovered exactly the same truth, and the wider the cultural and intellectual differences between them, the more different the truths turned out to be. It was for this reason among others that Aristotle, whose life’s work was basically that of cleaning up the mess that Plato and his predecessors left behind, made such a point of claiming that nothing enters the mind except through the medium of the senses. It’s also why the Academy, the school founded by Plato, in the generations immediately after his time took a hard skeptical turn, and focused relentlessly on the limits of human knowledge and reasoning.

Later on, Greek philosophy and its Roman foster-child headed off in other directions – on the one hand, into ethics, and the question of how to live the good life in a world where certainty isn’t available; on the other, into mysticism, and the question of whether the human mind can experience the truth of things directly through religious experience. A great deal of Plato’s thinking, however, got absorbed by the Christian religion after the latter clawed its way to respectability in the fourth century CE.

Augustine of Hippo, the theologian who basically set the tone of Christianity in the west for the next fifteen centuries, had been a Neoplatonist before he returned to his Christian roots, and he was far from the only Christian of that time to drink deeply from Plato’s well. In his wake, Platonism became the standard philosophy of the western church until it was displaced by a modified version of Aristotle’s philosophy in the high Middle Ages. Thinkers divided the human organism into two portions, body and soul, and began the process by which such things as sexuality and the less angelic emotions got exiled from the soul into the body.

Even after Thomas Aquinas made Aristotle popular again, the basic Parmenidean-Platonic notion of truth had been so thoroughly bolted into Christian theology that it rode right over any remaining worries about the limitations of human reason. The soul trained in the use of reason could see straight to the core of things, and recognize by its own operations such basic religious doctrines as the existence of God: that was the faith with which generations of scholars pursued the scholastic philosophy of medieval times, and those who disagreed with them rarely quarreled over their basic conception – rather, the point at issue was whether the Fall had left the human mind so vulnerable to the machinations of Satan that it couldn’t count on its own conclusions, and the extent to which divine grace would override Satan’s malicious tinkerings anywhere this side of heaven.

If you happen to be a devout Christian, such questions make sense, and they matter. It’s harder to see how they still made sense and mattered as the western world began moving into its post-Christian era in the eighteenth century, and yet the Parmenidean-Platonic faith in the omnipotence of reason gained ground as Christianity ebbed among the educated classes. People stopped talking about soul and body and started talking about mind and body instead.

Since mind, mens in Latin, was already in common use as a term for the faculty of the soul that handled its thinking and could be trained to follow the rules of reason, that shift was of vast importance. It marked the point at which the passions and the emotions were shoved out of the basic self-concept of the individual in western culture, and exiled to the body, that unruly and rebellious lump of matter in which the mind is somehow caged.

That’s one of the core things that Schopenhauer rejected. As he saw it, the mind isn’t the be-all and end-all of the self, stuck somehow into the prison house of the body. Rather, the mind is a frail and unstable set of functions that surface now and then on top of other functions that are much older, stronger, and more enduring. What expresses itself through all these functions, in turn, is will: at the most basic primary level, as the will to exist; on a secondary level, as the will to live, with all the instincts and drives that unfold from that will; on a tertiary level, as the will to experience, with all the sensory and cognitive apparatus that unfolds from that will; and on a quaternary level, as the will to understand, with all the abstract concepts and relationships that unfold from that will.

Notice that from this point of view, the structure of thought isn’t the structure of the cosmos, just a set of convenient models, and thoughts about things are emphatically not more real than the things themselves. The things themselves are wills, expressing themselves through their several modes. The things as we know them are representations, and our thoughts about the things are abstract patterns we create out of memories of representations, and thus at two removes from reality.

Notice also that from this point of view, the self is simply a representation – the ur-representation, the first representation each of us makes in infancy as it gradually sinks in that there’s a part of the kaleidoscope of our experience that we can move at will, and a lot more that we can’t, but still just a representation, not a reality. Of course that’s what we see when we first try to pay attention to ourselves, just as we see the coffee cup discussed in the first post in this series. It takes exacting logical analysis, scientific experimentation, or prolonged introspection to get past the representation of the self (or the coffee cup), realize that it’s a subjective construct rather than an objective reality, and grasp the way that it’s assembled out of disparate stimuli according to preexisting frameworks that are partly hardwired into our species and partly assembled over the course of our lives.

Notice, finally, that those functions we like to call “mind” – in the folk metaphysics of our culture, again, these are consciousness and the capacity to think, with a few other tag-ends of other functions dangling here and there – aren’t the essence of who we are, the ghost in the machine, the Mini-Me perched inside the skull that pushes and pulls levers to control the passive mass of the body and gets distracted by the jabs and lurches of the emotions and passions. The functions we call “mind”, rather, are a set of delicate, tentative, and fragile functions of will, less robust and stable than most of the others, and with no inherent right to rule the other functions. The Schopenhauerian self is an ecosystem rather than a hierarchy, and if what we call “mind” sits at the top of the food chain like a fox in a meadow, that simply means that the fox has to spend much of its time figuring out where mice like to go, and even more of its time sleeping in its den, while the mice scamper busily about and the grass goes quietly about turning sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into the nutrients that support the whole system.

Accepting this view of the self requires sweeping revisions of the ways we like to think about ourselves and the world, which is an important reason why so many people react with acute discomfort when it’s suggested. Nonetheless those revisions are of crucial importance, and as this discussion continues, we’ll see how they offer crucial insights into the problems we face in this age of the world – and into their potential solutions.

_____

John Michael Greer is Past Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {1}, current head of the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn {2}, and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

If you enjoy this blog and can handle discussions of Druidry, magic, and occult philosophy, you might like my other blog, Well of Galabes {3}.

Links:

{1} http://www.aoda.org/

{2} http://www.druidical- gd.org/

{3} http://galabes.blogspot.com/

https://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.jp/2017/02/a-muddle-of-mind-and-matter.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Liberals Beware

Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas

by Mike Whitney

CounterPunch (February 22 2017)

The New York Times is currently engaged in one of its most ambitious projects: Removing a sitting president from office. In fact, Times columnist Nicolas Kristof even said as much in a recent article titled “How Can We Get Rid of Trump?”

Frankly, it’s an idea that I find attractive, mainly because I think Trump’s views on immigration, the environment, human rights, civil liberties and deregulation are so uniformly horrible, they could destroy the country. But the Times objections are different from my own. The reason the Times wants Trump removed is because Trump wants to normalize relations with Russia which threatens to undermine Washington’s effort to project US power deeper into Central Asia.

Trump’s decision to normalize relations with Moscow poses a direct threat to Washington’s broader imperial strategy to control China’s growth, topple Putin, spread military bases across Central Asia, implement trade agreements that maintain the dominant role of western-owned mega-corporations, and derail attempts by Russia and China to link the wealthy EU to Asia by expanding the web of pipeline corridors and high-speed rail that will draw the continents closer together creating the largest and most populous free trade zone the world has ever seen.

This is what the US foreign policy establishment and, by inclusion, the Times are trying to avoid at all cost. The economic integration of Asia and Europe must be blocked to preserve Washington’s hegemonic grip on world power. That’s the whole deal in a nutshell.

So don’t be fooled, the Times doesn’t care any more about the suffering of immigrant families who have been victimized by Trump’s extremist policies than they do about the three million refugees that have fled America’s wars in Libya and Syria. The fact that the Times continues to mischaracterize this vast human exodus as some sort of natural disaster instead of the predictable spillover from persistent US aggression, just confirms the fact that the Times is not a reliable source of unbiased information at all. It is a political publication that crafts a political narrative reflecting the views of politically-minded elites whose strategic objectives cannot be achieved without more brainwashing, more coercion and more war.

Let’s consider, for a minute, the Times article that precipitated the current furor over Trump’s alleged connection to Russian intelligence. This is the article that’s been held up by numerous members of congress and the media as ironclad proof of Trump’s collusion with Moscow. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election. {1}

There’s no reason to read any further, because the entire article follows this same basic pattern, that is, the article is shaped to create the impression that the Trump camp teamed up with the Russians to torpedo Hillary’s campaign. Unfortunately, the Times presents no hard evidence that the “call logs and intercepted communications (that) are part of a larger trove of information that the FBI” even exist. Nor have they proved that anyone in the Trump camp ever communicated with people in Russia (excluding Michael Flynn, of course) let alone, collaborated to undermine the presidential election. It’s all 100% uncorroborated fluff.

So what’s going on here? Why would the Times run an article alleging impeachable offenses – which has sharpened the attacks on Trump by his critics in the media, the congress and in foreign capitals – without providing any evidence that their claims are true? None of the intelligence agents cited in the article have come forward and identified themselves (as one might expect when the charges are this serious), and as the Times admits, “The FBI declined to comment”.

So they have nothing, right?

One can only conclude that the real intention of the article was to generate as much suspicion as possible – in order to damage to Trump as much as possible – without really saying much of anything, that is, to create the impression of wrongdoing without providing any proof of wrongdoing. And, in that regard, the Times certainly succeeded. It has been a very impressive smear campaign.

(By the way, in a Sunday morning interview on Fox News White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said that top intelligence officials told him that their was no collusion between Trump’s people and Russia. Priebus said that “top-level people”, in the intelligence community told him “that that story in The New York Times is complete garbage. And quite frankly, they used different words than that.” Not surprisingly, Fox News host Chris Wallace demanded that Priebus reveal his sources, a demand that Wallace never made of the Times.)

Here’s more from the Times piece:

 

 

The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael T Flynn, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergey I Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. In those calls, which led to Mr Flynn’s resignation on Monday night, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December.

 

 

More disinformation. So far, all we know about Flynn’s conversations was that he said that the administration would “review” the newly-imposed sanctions when after Trump was sworn in as president. There’s no evidence at all that Flynn did something illegal or in violation of the Logan Act. None. The media has used the incident to suggest that illicit activities had taken place when in fact, there is no evidence of wrongdoing at all. As far as we know, Flynn was just doing his job.

What’s more interesting is the fact that Obama decided to impose the new sanctions on Russia in late December (after Trump had already been elected) knowing that Trump probably wouldn’t support the sanctions.

That seems strange, don’t you think? Why would Obama do something so disrespectful at the eleventh hour unless he had something else up his sleeve? Was Obama setting a trap to get rid of the man (Flynn) who was the driving-force behind better relations with Russia?

I don’t know, but the facts are pretty suspicious. First, Obama imposed the sanctions in late December knowing that Trump would oppose them.

Second, Obama knew that Russia would want to discuss the sanctions with Flynn, right?

Right. So was it a trap set by Obama to trip-up Flynn?

Maybe “yes”, maybe “no”. It’s hard to say. But what we know is that seventeen days before Obama left office, he issued an executive order expanding the powers of the NSA “to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s sixteen other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections”. (New York Times)

Why does that matter?

It matters because Flynn had already had his conversation with the Russian ambassador, so if the Intel agency that illegally gathered the information wanted to escape prosecution, the best way to do that would be to spread the information around to other agencies making it impossible to hold any one agency accountable. Simply put: They were taking the precautionary step of removing their bloody fingerprints from the murder weapon.

Check this out from Zero Hedge: “According to civil rights expert and prominent First Amendment Supreme Court lawyer, Jay Sekulow, what the agencies did by leaking the Trump Administration information was not only illegal but ‘lmost becomes a soft coup’, one which was spurred by the last minute rule-change by Obama, who intentionally made it far easier for leaks to propagate, and next to impossible to catch those responsible for the leaks …”

This is his explanation:

 

 

There was a sea-change here at the NSA with an order that came from president Obama seventeen days before he left office where he allowed the NSA who used to control the data, it now goes to sixteen other agencies and that just festered this whole leaking situation, and that happened on the way out, as the president was leaving the office.

Why did the Obama administration wait until it had seventeen days left in their administration to put this order in place if they thought it was so important. They hadeight years, they didn’t do it, number one. Number two, it changed the exiting rule which was an executive order dating back to Ronald Reagan, that has been in place until seventeen days before the Obama administration was going to end, that said the NSA gets the raw data, and they determine dissemination.

Instead, this change that the president put in place, signed off by the way by James Clapper on December 15 2016, signed off by Loretta Lynch the Attorney General January 3 2017, they decide that now sixteen agencies can get the raw data and what that does is almost creates a shadow government. You have all these people who are not agreeing with President Trump’s position, so it just festers more leaks.

If they had a justification for this, wonderful, why didn’t they do it eight years ago, four years ago, three years ago. Yet they wait until seventeen days left.

One potential answer: They knew they had a “smoking gun”, and were working to make it easier to enable the information to be “leaked” despite the clearly criminal consequences of such dissemination. {2}

 

 

It’s an intriguing twist to the larger story, but it is not one that I can independently verify. Besides, what really concerns me is the emerging alliance between the Dems, the agenda-driven media, the deep-state agencies, the all-powerful foreign policy establishment and the progressives that are desperate to get rid of Trump by hook or crook. Glenn Greenwald summed it up perfectly in a recent post at The Intercept. He said:

 

 

I happen to think that the Trump presidency is extremely dangerous … They want to dismantle the environment. They want to eliminate the safety net. They want to empower billionaires. They want to enact bigoted policies against Muslims and immigrants and so many others. And it is important to resist them … (But) if you’re somebody who believes that both the CIA and the deep state, on the one hand, and the Trump presidency, on the other, are extremely dangerous, as I do, there’s a huge difference between the two, which is that Trump was democratically elected and is subject to democratic controls … But on the other hand, the CIA was elected by nobody. They’re barely subject to democratic controls at all. And so, to urge that the CIA and the intelligence community empower itself to undermine the elected branches of government is insanity. That is a prescription for destroying democracy overnight in the name of saving it. {3}

 

 

In other words, if you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas. Leftists should avoid the temptation of aligning themselves with groups and agencies that might help them achieve their short-term goal of removing Trump, but ultimately move them closer to a de facto 1984 lock-down police state. Misplaced support for the deep state Russophobes will only strengthen the national security state’s stranglehold on power. That’s not a path to victory, it’s a path to annihilation.

Links:

{1} https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/14/us/politics/russia-intelligence-communications-trump.html?_r=0

{2} http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-02-18/jay-sekulow-obama-should-be-held-accountable-soft-coup-attempt-against-trump

{3} https://www.democracynow.org/2017/2/16/greenwald_empowering_the_deep_state_to

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/02/22/90663/

Categories: Uncategorized

The Conflictual Relationship (II):

Between Donald Trump and the US “Deep State”

by Federico Pieraccini

http://www.strategic-culture.org (February 21 2017)

In just two weeks as president of the United States, Donald Trump has left traces of how he intends to tackle various international political situations. The previous article dealt with a series of possible sabotage efforts suffered by the Trump administration. In this second and concluding article, I intend to analyze the situations in Iran, Russia, Ukraine, and Syria as well as the stance towards Nato, the EU and China. The goal is to decipher how Trump has used admissions, silences and bluffs in order to advance his intentions and obviate the deep state’s sabotage efforts.

Deep-state sabotage is in full swing and is increasingly influencing the Trump administration. The latest example can be seen in the resignation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He was forced to resign either for inappropriate contacts with the Russian ambassador in the US prior to his appointment, or for not telling the truth about his phone call to the Vice President and President.

As with the whole Trump presidency, it is very difficult to understand whether we are facing an act of sabotage from the deep state or whether this is yet another semi-improvised strategy to muffle the drums of war. We all know of Flynn’s closeness to his Russian counterparts, a rapprochement that cannot be placed in danger with the dismissal of the new National Security Adviser. Trump needs Russia more than Russia needs Washington; improving ties is something that Trump needs in order to avoid major conflicts and de-escalate the international situation. One could even imagine that Flynn was wisely removed given his harsh and trenchant positions on Iran that would send Washington on a terrible path of war with Tehran.

There are several international situations in which the intentions of the new administration are very difficult to understand and sometimes even provoke amazement. Let us first examine the administration’s attitude towards the Iran and Yemen. As noted a few weeks ago, very harsh words from the US administration were directed towards Tehran following a legitimate missile test, and especially with the defensive actions of the Houthis in Yemen. With Yemen and Iran not looking like diminishing their legitimate actions, the affair regarding Flynn could fall into a de-escalation strategy to contain excesses in Islamophobia expressed by the former National Security Advisor.

Trump has always preferred to counter deep-state sabotage attempts with substantial bluffing, as seen with the strong rhetoric used against Tehran regarding its recent actions, exactly as in Yemen for the actions of Ansarullah defense forces. The Trump strategy seems to want to please the factions closest to the neoconservative wing, the Israeli and Saudi lobbies. Targeting Yemen and Iran with words has at least temporarily quietened the drums of war of an important part of the establishment in Washington. Trump has to carry out a careful balancing act involving his words and actions in order not to not draw too harsh a response from the Washington establishment.

Flynn’s dismissal could also be seen as an easy attempt to sabotage and prevent a rapprochement with Russia; indeed this is likely to be so.

But meanwhile, we can consider one positive aspect: Flynn has always been highly Islamophobic, tending to find it difficult to distinguish between Wahhabi terrorist goons and legitimate Islamic fighters like the Houthis or Hezbollah. Flynn has usually maintained pro-Saudi positions and even pro-Qatar Muslim Brotherhood positions. It may even be that Trump has torpedoed his own personally chosen pick dampening the excessive saber-rattling against the Islamic Republic of Iran that was possibly laying the groundwork for an escalation that Trump had to reign in. This is pure speculation, but everything is possible with this unpredictable presidency.

Much Talk, Little Action

Trump still gives the strong impression that he intends to avoid any further conflict. Bluffing on Iran and Yemen seems to be the ideal choice for the Trump administration: harsh tones and words to placate the most hawkish factions without actually taking any action appears to be the new normal. The first strategy of Trump’s foreign policy therefore seems to be to employ a tactic of inaction. Not acting could well represent a new turning point in American foreign policy, avoiding further involvement in the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf. This would represent the first confirmation of Trump’s intention not to squander American resources by going to war and betraying his election promises, thereby further impoverishing the United States. Observing the very intense words on Iran, let us try and analyze the intentions of the Trump administration. Certainly having people like General Mattis within the administration is a big test for how Trump will manage to contain the most anti-Iranian wing of his inner council. Could Flynn’s departure be the first step of this internal cleansing, a warning signal to other pro-war figures? Or maybe it is none of the above and in actual fact the first successful sabotage from the deep state.

Silence as a Strategy of Inaction

Another important approach in Trump’s presidency is a frequent silence or lack of comment on international events. Two most recent cases concern Syria and China. With regard to the “One China” policy, Trump confirmed assumptions made in the past, namely that his intentions are anything but malicious. The tone was initially hard, only to be replaced by a long silence, and then finally words one would not expect, averting an international crisis on this front. It is a modus operandi that should be taken as an example for understanding the psychology of Trump. At first he was critical in a decisive way, calling into question China and Taiwan, then he no longer mentioned the topic, and finally he gave his blessing to the “One China” policy, initiating a likely mutually fruitful cooperation.

Another important part of Trump’s policy of silence involves Syria. Since becoming president, Trump has rendered events in Syria irrelevant, making the issue disappear from the media radar. Thanks to Trump’s guerrilla tactics, lobbing smoke grenades hither and tither and signing two executive orders a day, the media simply does not have the time and perseverance to keep up with everything. One of the sacrificial victims has been the reality in Syria; but a lack of attention from the mainstream media is currently the best hope that we can desire for the Syrian people. Trump’s attitude seems to be deliberately cautious and silent about developments in that nation. The situation in Syria is firmly in Russian hands, and what seems to be occurring is an indirect coordination between Washington and Moscow against Daesh in the country. The silence from Trump certainly irritated the most radical and extreme wing of the deep state, but any attempt to sabotage this progress in Syria now seems to be wrecked thanks to the inaction of the Trump administration and the actions of Moscow. The final coup de grace would be to openly cooperate or act in joint US-Russia actions to defeat terrorism in the region.

Admissions to Confirm the Election Promises

Finally, Trump has never hidden and indeed has often touted his vision of the approach that should be taken with the Russian Federation. A rapprochement with Putin to combat terrorism is one of the pivotal points around which the Trump presidency rotates. During the election campaign he has never hidden his positive intentions, even though this increased the criticism directed towards him. This part of his tactic is based on the admission from the beginning of his campaign of his intention to reach a deal with Moscow. The first confirmation of this intention can be seen in Syria, with Washington apparently ceasing the flow of money and weapons to the so-called moderate rebels, pleasing Moscow and looking for a de-escalation of the conflict. Another important aspect regarding Trump’s statements in terms of foreign policy concerns the role of Nato and his European allies.

During the election campaign he repeatedly attacked the role of Nato, but then was forced to reach an agreement given the importance of the international framework guaranteed by Nato in Europe. This provided a very clear indicator of how Trump’s strategy works out if he has to defer to other considerations. He changed his initial positions by placing a strong emphasis on the need for US allies to pay their share of military spending, namely two percent of GDP. Currently all Nato countries, excluding the United States and Greece, fall below this commitment. Sharp focus is brought on the EU members on the cost of keeping Nato alive, forcing them to come to terms with the harsh economic reality that this implies. In the long term this could lead to a strong treaty revision of Nato. EU countries are increasingly facing difficulty in increasing defense spending, especially when considering existing austerity measures as well as the lack of importance placed on Nato by the European public, with the exception of the EU elite.

This tactic will further weaken the integrity of the European Union. In a sense, the Trump strategy in this case is crystal clear and will probably achieve its objectives.

This situation will provide the perfect opportunity for the European populist and nationalist parties to further attack the foundations of the European Union and its security framework guaranteed by Nato. If Trump wanted to undermine the EU’s foundations, pointing to the futility of Nato and at the same demonstrating to his base that he will act on his election promises, then this strategy seems perfectly calibrated.

Ultimately, we can already say that the relations between Trump and the deep state are essentially based on sabotage efforts against Trump, and the asymmetrical responses of his administration, ranging from bluffing, to silences, and admissions.

To correctly assess Trump’s foreign policy, one should divide into three categories the vicissitudes of the United States. In a first column we can include words and rhetoric; in the second, inaction; and in the third, actions taken.

While it is clear and obvious that the first column includes Iran, Yemen and the EU/Nato, it is worthwhile noting that the second column certainly includes inaction like shown towards China, Syria, and the events in Ukraine. The third column, for the moment, essentially concerns the first steps towards Russia and the rapprochement with Moscow. In this sense, it is worth remembering that the resignation of Flynn may just be a deep-state move to sabotage Trump before he takes decisive action to settle a deal with Russia. The tactic of not acting, or of inaction, is difficult to sabotage, as the deep state came to realize when Obama decided not to act in Syria in 2013. Criticizing actions taken is much more effective and easy for the media, as seen with the attacks on Trump’s team for ties with Putin that are deemed too close. In this sense, the hypothesis that Flynn has been sacrificed should not be discarded in this context as a way of promoting a rapprochement with Russia, eliminating one of the most contentious issues between the administration and the deep state.

On this aspect we will need to await the developments between Moscow and Washington, and how this will possibly change the rhetoric against countries such as Yemen and Iran, two countries long criticized by Flynn and his colleagues.

Conclusions

The only possible conclusion relates to the previous point, namely the clear division between words, actions, or inaction. At the moment, the Trump team’s strategy seems to use these three options to further advance their own interests and strategic objectives. Given the uncertainty surrounding the intentions of Trump’s administration, the only sensible attitude seems to wait and see whether the aggressive rhetoric remain just that. Another consideration relates to actions taken by the administration to approach and mend troubled relations with the Russian Federation. Finally is the inaction in foreign policy that amounts to a precise tactic. If words remain words and inaction will continue to remain a key part of the current presidency, perhaps for the first time in decades we will see in practice a positive change in direction from the new US administration.

In all this it remains to be seen whether Trump will really change the direction set by liberal hegemony with its global ambitions for a more realistic one as repeatedly suggested by the school of political realism represented by Mearsheimer. Only time, and actions, will tell.

 

http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/02/21/conflictual-relationship-between-trump-and-the-us-deep-state-ii.html

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The Conflictual Relationship (I):

Between Donald Trump and the US “Deep State”

by Federico Pieraccini

http://www.strategic-culture.org (February 14 2017)

In just two weeks as president of the United States, Donald Trump has given indications of how he intends to tackle various international political situations. So far we have observed the controversy over Iran, the events related to Nato, rapprochement with Russia, escalation in Ukraine, silence on Syria, the US special-forces operation in Yemen, verbal clashes with the EU, and the absence of further criticism of China. This first article will focus on the US deep state’s possible sabotage attempts of the Trump presidency.

Tensions continue to rise unabated in the first two weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, as more decisions come across Trump’s table. While we have seen many executive orders and pieces of legislation, most regard domestic politics, which is a core focus of the Trump presidency. On the other hand, in foreign policy, Trump seems to be using the common tactic of many politicians, which involves much talk and little action. Since US foreign policy has been a mess for quite some time, militating against common sense, taking little action can actually be a positive thing, the best thing a US president has been able to do in almost thirty years! If there is one thing that is clear to everyone about Trump’s way of doing things following two weeks in office, it is that it is completely different from his predecessor, especially in relation to the press and his willingness to engage with it.

The use of executive orders looks more and more like a weapon to flood the press and news agencies with talking points concerning domestic policies, leaving little room for particular pressure on foreign policy from the media establishment. It almost looks like a tactic of guerrilla warfare to overwhelm the mainstream media. It could and probably is also a public relations stunt to show the American people he is doing what he promised. Stunt or not, acknowledging the power of the media in creating a pretext for war, and therefore putting a stop to the drums of war, is one of the first key marks of his success.

The main problem continues to be the ongoing war with the US deep state, something that will not be going away anytime soon, and a campaign that may have entered a new stage against the Trump presidency.

Sabotage or Incompetence?

The first two weeks of the new presidency have already provided a few significant events. The operation that took place in Yemen, conducted by the American special forces and directed against Al Qaeda, has reprised the previous administration. Being a complex operation that required thorough preparation, the new administration thereby had to necessarily represent a continuation of the old one. Details are still vague, but looking at the outcome, the mission failed as a result of incompetence. The American special forces were spotted before arriving at al Qaeda’s supposed base. This resulted in the shooting of anything that moved, causing more than 25 civilian deaths.

The media that had been silent during the Obama administration was rightfully quick to condemn the killing of innocent people, and harsh criticism was directed at the administration for this operation. It is entirely possible that the operation was set up to fail, intended to delegitimize the operational capabilities of the new Trump team. Given the links between al Qaeda, the Saudis and the neoconservatives, something historically proven, it is not unthinkable that the failure of the operation was a consequence of an initial attempt at sabotaging Trump on a key aspect of his presidency, namely the successful execution of counter-terrorist efforts against Islamist terrorism.

Another structural component in the attempts to undermine the Trump administration concern the deployment of Nato and US troops on the western border of the Russian Federation. This attempt is obvious and is one of the strategies aimed at preventing a rapprochement between Washington and Moscow. The EU persists in its self-defeating policy, focusing its attention on foreign policy instead of gaining strategic independence thanks to the new presidency. It is now even more clear that European Union leaders, and in particular the current political representatives in Germany and France, have every intention of continuing in the direction set by the Obama presidency, seeking a futile confrontation with the Russian Federation instead of a sensible rapprochement.

Europe continues to insist on failed economic and social policies that will lead to bankruptcy, using foreign-policy issues as diversions and excuses. The consequences of these wrongheaded efforts will inevitably favor the election of nationalist and populist parties, as seen in the United States and other countries, which will end in the destruction of the EU. For the US deep state and their long-term objectives, this tactic has a dual effect: it prevents the proper functioning of the EU as well as significantly halts any rapprochement between the EU and the Russian Federation. The latter strategy looks more and more irreversible given the current European Union elites. In this sense, the UK, thanks to Brexit, seems to have broken free and started to slowly restructure its foreign-policy priorities, in close alignment to Trump’s isolationism.

Finally the most obvious attempt to sabotage the administration can be seen in the events in Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, Senators Graham and McCain, two of the deep state’s top emissaries, visited Ukraine at the beginning of the year, prompting Ukrainian troops to resume their destructive offensive against the Donbass. The intentions are clear and assorted. First is the constant attempt to sabotage any rapprochement between Moscow and Washington, hoping to engulf Trump in an American/Nato escalation of events in Ukraine. Second, given the critical situation in Europe, is the effort to push Berlin to assume the burden of economically supporting the failing administration in Kiev. Third is the increasing pressure applied to Russia and Putin, as was already seen in 2014, in an effort to actively involve the Russian Federation in the Ukrainian conflict so as to justify Nato’s direct involvement or even that of the United States. The latter situation would be the dream of the neoconservatives, setting Trump and Putin on a direct collision course.

The new American administration has thus far suffered at least three sabotage attempts, and it is the attitude Trump intends to have with the rest of the world that has spurred them. In an interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, Trump reiterated that his primary focus is not governed by the doctrine of American exceptionalism, a concept he does not subscribe to anyhow. The religion driving democratic evangelization looks more likely to be replaced with a pragmatic, realist geopolitical stance.

This is how one could sum up Trump’s words to Bill O’Reilly:

 

 

“There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers!, Trump said. “Well, you think our country is so innocent?”

 

 

What the deep state refuses to accept is that they have lost the leading role in educating the rest of the world on humanitarian issues related to the concept of democracy. The main actors of the deep state clearly understand the negative implications for them personally in economic and financial terms associated with the abandonment of the pursuit of global hegemony. For over a hundred years, no US president has ever placed their country on a par with others, has ever abandoned the concept of a nation (the US) “chosen by God”.

In an article a few weeks ago, I tried to lay the foundations for a future US administration, placing a strong focus on foreign policy and revealing a possible shift in US historic foreign relations. In a passage I wrote:

 

 

Donald Trump has emerged with in mind a precise foreign policy strategy, forged by various political thinkers of the realist world such as Waltz and Mearsheimer, trashing all recent neoconservative and neoliberal policies of foreign intervention (R2P – Right to Protect) and soft power campaigns in favor of human rights. No more UN resolutions, subtly used to bomb nations (Libya). Trump doesn’t believe in the central role of the UN and reaffirmed this repeatedly.

In general, the Trump administration intends to end the policy of regime change, interference in foreign governments, Arab springs and color revolutions. They just don’t work. They cost too much in terms of political credibility, in Ukraine the US are allied with supporters of Bandera (historical figure who collaborated with the Nazis) and in Middle East they finance or indirectly support al Qaeda and al Nusra front.

 

 

The recent meeting in Washington with Theresa May, the first official encounter with a prominent US ally, revealed, among other things, a possible dramatic change in US policy. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom expressed her desire to follow a new policy of non-intervention, in line with the isolationist strategy Trump has spoken about since running for office. In a joint press conference with the American president, May said:

 

 

The era of military intervention is over. London and Washington will not return to the failed policy in the past that has led to intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

 

 

During the election campaign, Trump made his intentions clear in different contexts, but always coming from the standpoint of non-interventionism inspired by the concept of isolationism. It is becoming apparent that these intentions are being put into action, though the rhetoric regarding Iran has become alarming. In typical Trump fashion (which contrasts with the Iran issue), the situation in Syria is normalizing and the initial threats directed at China appear to have been put aside. The case of Iran is a different and complex story, requiring a deeper analysis that deserves a separate article. What will gradually be important, as the Presidency progresses, is understanding the necessity to distinguish between words and actions, separating provocations from intentions.

Conclusions and Future Questions

There is a whole list of Trump statements that are seen as threats to other countries, primarily Iran. The next article will further explain the possible strategy to be employed by Donald Trump to fight these attempts to sabotage his administration, a strategy that seems to be based on silences, bluffs and admissions to counter the perpetual attempts to influence his presidency. If one wants to place weight on his words during the election campaign, it should be taken into consideration that Trump won the election thanks to the clear objectives of wanting to avoid a further spending spree on destructive wars. This priority was made clear and expressed in every possible way with the adoption of an America First policy, especially regarding domestic policy.

The bottom line is always that Trump has the ability and willingness to be resilient to the pressures of the deep state, focusing on the needs of the average American citizen, rather than caving in to the interests of the deep state such as intelligence agencies, neocons, Israel lobby, Saudi lobby, the military-industrial complex, and many more. It is only in the next few months that we will come to understand if Trump will be willing to continue the fight against war or bend the knee and pay the price.

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Republishing is welcomed with reference to Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal http://www.strategic-culture.org.

http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/02/14/conflictual-relationship-between-donald-trump-and-us-deep-state-i.html

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Rogue Elephant Rising

The CIA as Kingslayer

by David Price

CounterPunch (February 17 2017)

With members of the CIA and NSA leaking materials on Michael Flynn’s communications with Russian officials, we are witnessing a slow boiling domestic coup that will transform American governance and the Executive Branch’s relationships with intelligence agencies. It remains to be seen whether these moves signal broader attacks on the Presidency by agencies long accustomed to taking out administrations threatening the Agency’s perceived interests.

This moment tells us more about the CIA revolting against a particular administration than it does about Trump’s people engaging in unusually diabolical-illegal activities designed to undermine an outgoing administration. We know enough about Reagan’s pre-election dealings with Iran to know that the CIA and NSA knew about these transactions, yet these agencies were content to remain silent; apparently glad to see Carter ousted and welcoming a new era of unparalleled “peace time” military and intelligence spending. Similarly, American intelligence agencies knew of Nixon’s efforts to sabotage the Paris peace talks before the 1968 election, and the CIA did nothing to undermine a new president who was going to give the agency the war it wanted. The leaking of Flynn’s information tells us little new about how incoming administrations act, but it suggests something new about US intelligence agencies willingness to take out an administration not to their liking.

To be clear: I see nothing wrong with the leaks themselves. I like intelligence leaks. I think they are generally good for democracy and reveal important truths about power. I am not worried about leaks, I am worried about the CIA and other intelligence agencies making a significant power grab that is not being critically considered. This is a move that no future president will soon forget, and that will make him or her think twice before crossing these agencies.

The left’s widely shared disdain for Donald Trump makes the current rushing national wave of schadenfreude understandable, yet there are few on the left who appear worried about what this domestic CIA coup portends for American democracy. Because of the long history of liberals’ attractions to using the CIA, perhaps we should not be too surprised at this elation, but we need to cautiously think beyond this moment.

It is no secret that many at the CIA hold disdain for Flynn. His years at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and in command of the Defense Intelligence Agency (“DIA”) coincided with efforts to move many of what had been CIA operational activities and covert operations away from CIA to DIA. With the CIA attacking the Trump administration so soon after the election with leaks of the Russian hacking report there were clear public fissures appearing between the Agency and the new Executive.

I assume that there are lots of reasons why many at the CIA and NSA wish to undermine the Trump administration – I even assume I may share a few of these reasons with them. While the agency is comfortable with much of the corporate looting that Trump appears ready to unleash, few in the agency like the sort of instability that Trump generates – and I suppose some within may take his ongoing barbs and attacks on Agency incompetence seriously.

As it is to many of us on the left, it is obvious to me that Trump is the most dangerous, unqualified, and reckless US President I have ever seen – much less imagined. And while it seems as if he will soon enough seize some opportunity to declare a national security disaster granting himself new unlimited powers, I know no reason to trust the CIA and other intelligence agencies any more than we trust Trump.

This attack on the Executive Branch is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The most historically interesting element of this moment is the rarity of seeing the CIA operating, in real time, not in its usual historical role as a covert arm of the presidency (which Congressman Otis Pike argued was its primary function), but as the sort of rogue elephant that Senator Frank Church and others long ago claimed it is. As members of the Republic, no matter what momentary joy we might feel watching this rogue elephant canter towards our incompetent Commander and Chief, we must not ignore the danger this beast presents to one and all.

We should welcome calls to investigate Trump, Flynn, Bannon, Pence and others within the administration, but we need to also investigate and monitor the CIA for this latest in its long history of attempted coups.

_____

David Price a professor of anthropology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. He is the author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State (2011).

More articles by David Price: http://www.counterpunch.org/author/david-price/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/02/17/rogue-elephant-rising-the-cia-as-kingslayer/

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