Saturday, January 31, 2015

The revolutionary status quo Power

Based on a comment I originally made here.

The US is at once both a revolutionary and a status quo Power.

It is a revolutionary Power in the straightforward sense that it is the only contemporary state seriously trying to export its revolution, apart from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It is also a revolutionary Power in a somewhat more subtle sense, in that it produces so much of the technology that continues to transform the world. Which puts the US in a similar situation during its Pax Americana, as Britain during the Pax Britannica: being the premier source of transforming technology while trying to foster international stability.

But the US is also a status quo Power, in that the current arrangement of world affairs suits its interests--as the major economic, financial, trading and military Power. It tends to act as the central manager of the international system--its performance as such is very much affected by its own interests, because that's what Powers do. But precisely because the US has a bigger stake in international stability than any other polity, it tends to be more active in trying to maintain that stability.

But being a status quo Power is not very compatible with being a revolutionary Power. And even more so, vice versa. It would be hard to argue that its attempts to export its Revolution to Mesopotamia and the Hindu Kush have been exactly stabilising, even as it sought to create a (new) stability.

A hardy perennial in (failed) US policies has been ignorance of history. Both the US as status quo Power and US as revolutionary Power tend to encourage history-fails. A status quo Power has a tendency to live in an eternal now. A revolutionary Power has a tendency to fixate on its own framing of social patterns and desirable outcomes. Add to that American exceptionalism, and you have a recipe for serial history-fails.

As has been particularly obvious in US interventions in the Middle East.

As Somaliland shows (the successful, formerly British, bit of the former Somalia), a House of Elders (in other words, a House of Lords) would very likely have been sensible policy in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as it would have connected government into traditional social structures. But hereditary and religious legislators, can't have that! Because we're Americans and we don't think like that! Our Revolution is explicitly about no hereditary government, and separation of church and state, so a House of Elders (or Shura Council, or whatever) becomes unthinkable and unthought.

And holding a vote on whether to restore the king in Afghanistan (pdf) would also have been sensible policy. But we're Americans and we don't think like that!

Yes, but those folk you're trying to help: they're not Americans and they don't think like you. Alas, American exceptionalism and the US-as-revolutionary-Power trumps trying to understand the local societies in their own terms and building something that might work for them.

Similarly, Iraq should have been divided into three, as any "Iraqi" identity was too shallow to survive any serious stress. But the US is a too much of a status quo power (and a little too ignorant of Middle Eastern history) to think like that either.

Being at the same time a status quo and a revolutionary power is a difficult double. Alas, it is also very well set up to create serial policy failure.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Plan or strategy?

In Austrian school economics, and economics influenced by the same, there is often talk of entrepreneurs as making plans. This turns up, for example, in Mark Casson's entrepreneurial theory of the firm (pdf).

As someone who is actually in business, I find the notion of plan somewhat problematic. The business I am a principal of does not make plans in any strong sense, it adopts strategies. It is not about a planned-out sequence of steps, but making decisions about purchases, procedures and communication. Yes, they are aimed at achieving certain outcomes, but in a flexible and operational way.

I suspect the plan usage is something of a holdover from when manufacturing was the dominant mode of private production. Making things does involve a certain amount of planning (and the bigger the thing being made, the more than is true). But, even manufacturing, firms are engaged in commerce, so are about (if they are to be successful) connecting to customers, and you do not control your customers or your competitors. So, the planning of manufacturing is still embedded within commercial strategies.

This is more than a semantic point. Operational strategies are more flexible things than plans. Strategies typically do not regiment decision-making, they coordinate it. The trick is not to target a precise outcome, but to have an outcome within the ambit of success for your commercial strategy. Which procedures such as, for example, just-in-time logistics make easier to achieve.

At a macro level, this makes coordination between commercial strategies somewhat easier. It also makes the entrepreneurial function less like something bureaucratic and more what it is--something very hard to replicate in a highly bureaucratised environment.

Which is my other objection to the plan usage. It does not make clear enough that what goes on in commerce and what goes on in the apparatus of the state tend to be significantly different.

ADDENDA:  The plan usage may also be, as Nick Rowe suggests in a comment, a response to socialist planning claims. In fact, that is more likely.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Good appeasement and bad appeasement

Appeasement--in the form of conciliatory concessions--can be a perfectly reasonable way of dealing with folk. It entirely depends on how limited their aims are.

Mixed past
So, the Middle Realm's Sons of Heaven used appeasement successfully for centuries in dealing with the steppe nomads to their north, the only open border of a unified China (with the partial exception of the Tibetan Empire) until the Europeans started projecting state power across China's coasts in the C19th. The steppe rulers wanted resources to support their social position, particularly to pay their beholden warriors. The Sons of Heaven regularly obliged with extensive "gifts", thereby purchasing border peace much more cheaply than did serious military campaigning.  If anything, there was some under utilising of appeasement: the Southern Song did rather mishandle the expanding Mongol Empire, for example. 
The Son of Heaven has been generous again, no raiding his lands this year.

The reason appeasement has such a tainted reputation is because of the failure of the policy of appeasing Hitler. The problem was that Hitler's aims were much grander than the Anglo-French Alliance were prepared to concede. Unifying Germans into a single Reich was a limited aim. Achieving a lebensraum empire in Eastern Europe, not so much. Since that really was the aim of Hitler's policy, indeed, his entire economic and military management of Germany, no policy of appeasement would have avoided conflict between Germany and the Democratic Powers unless the Anglo-French alliance was prepared to hand over all of Eastern Europe to Germany. Which they were not, with British public opinion in particular shifting strongly against further appeasement after Hitler's occupying of "Bohemia and Moravia" clearly demonstrated that his aims extended well beyond just unifying Germans into the Reich.

Good or bad?
The Western democracies are currently running a policy of appeasement on the cultural front. It is perfectly fine to satirise, lampoon and critique Christian and Jewish religious beliefs and sentiments as much as one wants. Doing the same to Islamic religious beliefs and sentiments, not so much.

Nor is there any mystery why. There are some Muslims perfectly prepared to assault and kill in the name of enforcing "respect" for Islamic beliefs and sentiments. The process may be selective, but the reality is clear.

So, is this good appeasement (conciliation that avoids conflict by giving folk enough of what they want) or bad appeasement (concessions that only encourage further demands)? Well, it depends on what the aims of the jihadis are, since they are the "pointy end" of the violence, the conflict attempting to be avoided.

Working out the aims is not hard for the jihadis are, like Hitler, clear about their ultimate aims. Just as reading Mein Kampf excellent insight into the aims of Nazi policy, so do the statements of the jihadis. For example, to them the Reconquista, the loss of al-Andalus, is a grievance that should be redressed. The existence of Israel is obviously a grievance. To Osama bin Laden, Australia supporting the independence of (Catholic) East Timor from (overwhelmingly Muslim) Indonesia was a grievance. The notion of democracy not subordinated to Sharia is a grievance. And that we do not accept Sharia as our law is a grievance. (Their conception of Sharia, obviously.)

So, the short answer is no; the aims of the jihadis are not sufficiently limited that appeasement is going to work.

So, what about the current cultural appeasement, treating Muslim religious sensibilities with greater sensitivity than Jewish or Christian ones? Simply by killing a relatively small number of people, and implicitly and explicitly threatening to kill a few more, a fundamental principle of Sharia is seeping throughout the Western world--that Islam is entitled to superior treatment in the public arena than other religions. I would call that a win for both the jihadis aims and their chosen operational methods. Indeed, from their perspective, an inspiring win, given that lots of Muslims support giving Islam special status.

So, does the current cultural appeasement fulfil the jihadis full aims? No. Does it represent progress towards their aims? Yes. Is such appeasement going to work? Only in the sense of appeasement of Hitler "worked"--it will inspire them to keep doing what they are doing. So, the cultural appeasement will have the opposite effect regarding conflict--it will not lead to less, but to more. For the aims of the jihadis are too grandiose for appeasement to work. (And note that nothing in the above is an argument against Muslims having equal protection of the law and being accepted as citizens.)

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Friday, January 2, 2015

Don't mention the inconvenient

So, a black guy with a long criminal record, a history of mental illness and attempted suicide, attempts to murder his girlfriend, kills two cops in Brooklyn and then shoots himself. A mainstream newspaper provides details on his life, ignoring an obvious one; he was Muslim (his name being Ismaayil Abdullah Brinkley is something of a hint).

There are some fairly obvious similarities with the Martin Place hostage taker. Violent misogyny: check. Homicidal self-righteousness: check. Terroristic grandstanding: check. Since police killing unarmed blacks (or civilians generally) is not a currently prominent issue in Australian society, that does not seem to be the link between the two homicidal grandstanders, despite the enormous rhetorical fuss made over that aspect of the Brooklyn killings in the US. Some of which commentary is stunningly innumerate and almost all of which is a case of just don't go there. (And a black man walks up and kills two cops: that will of course do nothing to reinforce police fears of black men--this is John Wilkes Booth level of homicidal stupidity.)

Juan Cole insists that the media should not parade lone-wolf nuts as "Muslim terrorists". (He is apparently getting his wish in the Brooklyn case, where it is being fitted into the preferred narrative of reaction to homicidal racist cops.) I think a much more interesting question is; why are there such similarities  between two "lone wolf nuts" who happen to be Muslim from opposite sides of the globe?

Not all "lone wolf" terrorists are Muslim, but a disproportionate number are, with the disproportion increasing in recent years. Radical Islam seems to becoming the strongly preferred framing for grandstanding de-personalised homicide.

Something of a pattern
In the case of the Martin Place grandstander, it was not a case of no warning signs. The hostage-taker was someone whose dangerous qualities were presciently identified in a 2009 piece by an ABC religious affairs reporter. More recently, a SMH reporter was a little less prescient: she was, however, following Juan Cole's preferred approach.

The Martin Place tragedy has now brought down the NSW Opposition Leader. But the late unlamented Man Monis is a perfect icon for culture war dispute--an asylum seeker, on welfare and out on bail as an accessory to murder. So, someone the Australian state let in, paid for and then let out. With all the rhetorical power, and statistical pointlessness, a single recognisable case provides.

The question of commonalities is even more interesting because of a somewhat similar case that occurred in Broken Hill a century ago and because such behaviour is being engaged in on an organised basis. With extras: is not part of the appeal of the Islamic State homicidal psychopathic sex tourism? With self-righteous religious rhetoric to match. An appeal than cannot be said to be entirely random; there are now apparently more British Muslims fighting for the Islamic State than in the British Army. Probably also true in Australia, although Australian jihadis are apparently being killed about the same rate as new recruits. The Syrian civil war has attracted thousands of foreign fighters, many of whom have ended up fighting for the Islamic State.

The jihadi movement considers democracy blasphemous or heretical--since it presumes for mere humans to take on the law-making prerogatives of God--engages in violent misogyny, Jew-hatred and queer-hatred while using modern technology (such as social media) to promote a violently atavistic warrior ethos which extols the triumph of the master-believers over all others. To the point of massacre, slavery and teaching children courses in beheading, with practice on (temporarily) live victims.

Atavistic counter-reaction
It is the contemporary version of Nazism: like it a violent atavistic counter-reaction against the stresses of modernity. As if to emphasise the point, there is a nasty cat's cradle of links between Nazism and both Arab nationalism and radical Islam. Hitler, unsurprisingly, thought Islam a better religion than Christianity:
Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers--already, you see, the world have fallen into the hands of Jews, so gutless a thing is Christianity!--then we should have in all probability have been converted to Mohammadism, that cult which glorifies heroism and which opens the seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world. Christianity alone prevented them from doing so (p.667).
Taunting a captured Iraqi officer.
The jihadis are even more explicit in their violence and brutality than the Nazis. It is not wildly unreasonable to suggest different religious framings might be a factor here: the teachings and actions of the Gospel Christ really are profoundly different from those of the Received Muhammad (who had folk who said bad things about him beheaded, massacred defeated males and sold their women and children into slavery--all of which may sound vaguely familiar).

On the face of it, the jihadi movement is a violent denial of everything Western progressives are supposed to stand for. And their collective inability to confront it in any useful way extends at times to active protection of, or even implicit collaboration with, its adherents and advocates. Going with the principle that any sin indicts Western civilisation or Western capitalism or Western whatever and no sin indicts Islam.

It is, as Nick Cohen puts it, the great betrayal. And yes, the generic indictments are bunk, but it is the selective willingness to engage in, or tolerate, them that is revealing. When lone wolf killers are white supremacists or extreme nationalists, going for general indictments is all the rage among progressives. If a lone wolf killer is a Muslim, that fact gets downplayed or simply ignored and general indictments are furiously denounced.

It is striking how intellectually impoverished modern progressivism has become: when real Nazism was stalking the world, progressivists did not attempt to frame the debate as "let's not be nasty to Germans". Nowadays, in the face of the homicidal reality of the jihadi movement (the overwhelming majority of whose victims are, in fact, Muslims), it appears that the only framing that is seriously adopted is "let's not be nasty to Muslims". 
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem saluting the Waffen SS Handschar division in Yugoslavia in 1944. 
In a speech he apparently stated that there were 
"considerable similarities between Islamic principles and National Socialism".

Apparently, anything resembling Nazi evil can only be committed by folk with white skins. A moral infantilising of the non-white on a massive scale. Not anti-racism at all; just massive purblind condescension passing itself of as compassion and anti-oppression while averting eyes from inconvenient victims (which, in the case of the Middle East, seems to be any minority except the one which is a majority elsewhere--the Palestinian sub-group of Arab Sunnis). Parading as modern moral bwanas "protecting" their mascots of the moment.

A betrayal with consequences. Do folk really think that the attack on Sony over the film The Interview has nothing to do with the Mohammad Cartoons affair or the Satanic Verses fatwa? Demonstrable ability to be intimidated--or, worse, side with the intimidators--just encourages others to play the game (or pretend to, it is a bit murky what precise game was being played). Which, yet again, has been shown to work, at least to some extent.

And yes, the neocons and fellow travellers have demonstrated amazing capacity to be blundering fools or worse. But if they are the only "willing to do something" game in town, they will end up being the people turned to when the next mass attack happens. Nick Cohen makes a similar point about the British state's predictably ham-fisted response to the domestic manifestations of radical Islam. (A somewhat similar point was also made by Marcia Langton and Noel Pearson {pdf} about the Northern Territory Intervention and progressivist aversion from issues of simple functionality in indigenous communities.) When public speech primarily becomes a game of "I am more virtuous than you" dealing with issues that profoundly affect people's lives gets lost in the game-playing.

Not that anywhere in the Anglosphere has gone anywhere to the extreme of Sweden in blocking free speech and basically "rigging" national politics to make (Muslim) immigration an absolute non-topic, even as the Swedish police have released a map of 50 "no-go" areas and the ambulance union demands military-style protective gear to enter such areas.

OK, let's not be nasty to Muslims generically. But let's actually have an open debate about strains within Islam (both as a religion and as a civilisation), let's not engage in the massive condescension of refusing to critically examine ideas held by non-white folk, let's critically consider using religion to project viciously nasty ideas (other than, and much worse than, conservative Christians) and accept that evil is not limited to folk with white skins. Especially as, in the world today, Christians are disproportionately the victims of inter-religious violence.

Let's also not hide inside a Condescension Virtue Bubble, congratulating oneself on moral courage and perception and the wickedness of dissent; an impoverished perspective that does not seem to have anything to say about homicide, massacre, slavery and vicious misogyny beyond "let's not be nasty to Muslims".

Really folks, how would "let's not be nasty to Germans" seem at the time, or in retrospect, as a preferred response to Nazism? 

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]