Category Archives: BigThink

Monday link roundup

Characterization of Environmentalism

A random thought: A useful way of distinguishing amongst environmentalism is that people see the world as a museum that can never be changed, and mankind must adapt their behavior to suit it, and not the other way around. A good example would be those who would have us reduce our carbon emissions rather than take positive steps to take carbon out of the air (for instance using the proposed carbon vacuums or the algae-iron flakes method).

I realize it’s the views are seldom in stark conflict.

Tuesday Rapid Fire

A telling point in the Boyd biography

I’m currently reading Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War and I read a telling passage that stated (approximately) that autodidacts crave approval from conventionally educated academics and professionals. For those who don’t know fairly obscure word, it’s Google defines the word as

Autodidacticism (also autodidactism) is self-education or self-directed learning. An autodidact is a mostly self-taught person (also known as an automath), or someone who has an enthusiasm for self-education, and usually has a high degree of self-motivation.

(tip, if you type in “Define:Word to be dined” into Google it defines the word for you.

This seems to be a good explanation for a lot of the tensions in the blogsphere. It also seems to be a natural healthy thing. As I put it in a previous post, science advances funeral by funeral. It follows that if left to their own devices, any field of thought or industry will spend it’s time polishing the corpse of some grand new idea that is mutually agreeable to all (think of the US auto industry before the Japanese came along.

Funny and strange quotes

From this rather odd article about the future of Israel

As Peter O’Toole said as Lawrence of Arabia in the movie of that title, “Nothing is written.” However, it seems clear how to bet. As so often in history, bet on the horrible outcome.

I think the post is flawed as it assumes that the current Israeli situation will not change by several orders of magnitude in qualitative ways as the decades roll by. Of course, there is no reason for the changes to be good, but current trends seldom hold before Bit Rot settles in. Worth reading

Random theories I haven’t thought through yet

Of fact-checked for that matter. Nonetheless, here are two bigthink ideas that have occurred to me recently:

  • With the notable exception of Imperial Japan, America hasn’t gone to war with any country that likes itself in the past 100 years. While I don’t usually go for theories involving Constructivism, all of the countries we’ve had conflict with, Nazi Germany, North Vietnam and North Korea, et al, are all fighting to some degree for national pride. This is why I’m not particularly worried about Iran, because the Iranians seem to like being Iranian.
  • The rise of dominant militaries can be summarized as discipline vs identity. By this I mean that the troops can be effective via skillful execution of a central plan, or simply by being themselves. The Romans were a good example of a disciplined group. They were able to carry out the will of their commanders due to training and tight organization. On the other hand, the Mongols required little central direction and usually just had to be their fearsome selves to successfully win wars. Most of the major conflicts through history can be characterized as a clash between these two tactics.

Random snapshot of my brain

Whilst waiting for a program to install I came across this article. Blurb:

A North Pole expedition meant to bring attention to global warming was called off after one of the explorers got frostbite.

I then had the thought that there is no evidence that nature, though beautiful, likes us. Then I thought of the metaphor that everyone views the environment like it’s their grandparent’s house. “Oh, everything is so old and irreplaceable, let us gaze in rapt awe and try to be worthy of it someday”. Mind you, what we do with it is another story.

Then I was reminded of an Ayn Rand line which goes something like “Technology is man’s victory over nature”. Then I Googled that trying to find the exact quote. That led me, somehow, to this page about one of my favorite thinkers, Albert Jay Nock. His excellent auto-biography Memoirs of a Superfluous Man is still one of my favorites. Then I started thinking of my other favorite social critics and came up with Eric Hoffer, H.L. Mencken, as well as Nock. All three of them have a distinctive, elegant style which I associate with urban living prior to the fifties. All three of them wrote from cities (San Francisco, Baltimore and New York) and two of them published all their work between 1900 and 1950. I’m also drawn to movies set in cities in that era.

I wonder why those circumstances have that appeal to me, then I decided to write it all down to clarify it in my head.

And there you go.

A rogue Core

Subadei has some interesting thoughts on the possibility of a new and hostile Core (shortly defined as a group of connected, interdependent nations) involving Iran, Venezuela. However, I think there is not much to be worried about. Assuming they do create/evolve into a second core, they would have enough incentives/core-like attributes not to do so.

I guess that raises the question, can there be two Cores? Wouldn’t the opportunity cost of maintaining the divide between the two Cores? Wouldn’t the opportunity cost of maintaining the divide between the two Cores become too costly for the divide to be sustainable?

:Edited for clarity

Current Iraq thoughts

To update my many readers of my thoughts on Iraq, here they are.

Short and Medium Term Recommendation:

  • Accept the fact that a multi-ethnic democracy with strong group loyalties and a medium to high population density that has no overriding equalizer, (i.e. a market economy, strong religion, nation of uprooted immigrants, cult like leader, animosity towards some other country or religion etc) is a very bloody affair.
  • Let the country break apart into a very loose confederation, – There will probably be one to 3 Shia distinct regions in the South, 6-12 distinct Sunni regions and one distinct Kurdish region. Withdraw to the friendly areas, i.e. Kurdistan and probably a couple of Sunni areas and let the various sides fight it out. They’re doing this anyway and there is no need for American troops to get caught in the crossfire.
  • Accept the fact that there will be massive ethnic cleansing with the above option, much is happening already. Do as much as possible within some give time frame, say 10 months to let the ethnic cleansing be as bloodless as possible and not verge into genocide. This is going to happen anyway, many lives could be saved if we do it on our terms.
  • Drop the 60s idealism (called nation-building/neoconservatism, or whatever baby boomer term you want to label it) and admit that what is happening in Iraq IS democracy, it’s just bloody and ugly. Diversity only works if no one cares about the differences between people. Primary loyalties are primary.
  • I think Robert Kaplan thought of this first, but the proper metaphors for the current Middle East is not WWII, but the Barbary Pirates and the Indian Wars. I.E. it’s time to think small, and act small. Also, let the military get back to what it’s good at, i.e. killing people and breaking things.
  • Reward our friends and punish our enemies, but above all, be clear in our foreign policy. We would be well served by coming off of our high horse (bringing democracy, enlightenment, etc) and admitting that we’re in pursuit of our own interest, just like everyone else. We’ve long believed our own hype about our own greatness. While largely true domestically (thank you founding fathers and your division of power) it is much less true internationally due to the way our system is set up. Most of the good things we do are diffused in the form of trade and a myriad of private charities. It’s time to say less and to behave much more predictably. Cross cultural communication is hard enough without adding nuance and tone into the equation.

Long Term Recommendations

  • Get out. The Coase theorem applies to the Middle East just like everywhere else. We’re buying our oil now and we’ll be buying it in the future. And contrary to popular belief, it will be less important in the future. Plus, it’s quite likely the Kurds will be very pro-western and peaceful. Their primary loyalty is not divided and it’s not against us.
  • Be honest in our dealing with Israel – we don’t have that many common interests, but we are friends – it’s less like the US and the USSR in WWII and more like the US and Japan in the present day (excepting North Korea)

Consequences of The Above

  • Lots of blood will be shed – but it will be shed anyway. The key is minimizing it
  • People will be uprooted and new vendettas will be started that will last for centuries.
  • The Sunni and the Shia factions of the Middle East will have a battleground to fight their proxy wars, much like the Nazis and the Soviets had a battleground in the Spanish Civil War. Then again, they have that now.
  • American troops will be used in raids and attacks in the loose confederation of what we’ll still call Iraq.
  • Turkey will be quite angry – but that is manageable and can be minimized by the use of carrots and sticks.

I’ll have my post on what I was right and wrong about (regarding Iraq that is) later.