Here’s Why We Groan Today

John Pavlovitz posted an eloquent piece about the loss of the US presidential election to Donald Trump called, Here’s Why We Grieve Today. It provides a thoughtful, passionate explanation of the grief felt by many of the Never-Trumpers. As a former national security geek, I also am aghast at his victory and cringe when I think of America’s future under his administration. I understand your pain, but way of offering a little self-insight, please allow me to deconstruct it.

Mr. Pavlovitz writes,

It feels like living in enemy territory being here now, and there’s no way around that. We wake up today in a home we no longer recognize. We are grieving the loss of a place we used to love but no longer do. This may be America today but it is not the America we believe in or recognize or want.

If you feel this way then, as they say, check your privilege.

You assumed that almost everyone around you shared your values – values that serve as a identity badges that help you connect with like minded people. You are shocked and frightened that this now seems not to be so. And you feel a bit intimidated about sharing those identity badges as widely as you once did. You are grieving for a loss of privilege for your point of view.

“How does it feel to be a working class white male?” I asked a Trump supporter who is an Asian-American suburban professional with an advanced degree. We laughed, still friends even though we voted opposite ways this time. There were plenty of other people from other demographics who went for Trump. The idea that only working class whites supported Trump is a kind of prejudice. The idea that all working class whites are racist and/or anti-LGBTQ is another.

It’s true that Trump won in part because for the first time working-class whites voted more or less as a block, which is the voting pattern one might expect from a minority – even though working class whites are the largest single demographic (about 36% according to a 2012 PEW analysis) among US voters. By the numbers they are not marginalized, but their voting pattern indicates that they feel marginalized. They too are grieving a loss of privilege. And they show it by being the only US demographic experiencing decreased longevity – due largely to addiction and suicide.

Marginalized by whom? Well, if you feel as Mr. Pavlovitz does, then maybe by you and the elites you support. Elites who are now trying to get rid of the Electoral College, an act which will further marginalize them.

As hard as it may seem, I suggest you use your grief to try to feel a little empathy for them. This is still America. We need to talk with each other rather than try to force all of our values on one another, all the way. We need to embrace negotiation, persuasion, compromise and consensus. Otherwise, we can probably date the loss of American primacy in the world from this election.



Patriarchal Honor/Shame: The Common Thread in so-called “Islamic” Terrorism

Somali boys are taught by their parents to hit first whenever someone insults or taunts them. So explained Ayaan Hirsi Ali to a social worker when she was a translator and student in the Netherlands (see her book, Infidel). In the West, this is a recipe for juvenile delinquency and prison. But in a Patriarchal Honor/Shame (henceforth PHS) culture like Somalia’s, this is how boys are taught to defend their honor.

Three recent so-called “Islamic” terrorist events of high enough profile to be mentioned in Western media include

  • April, 2014. Boko Haram abducted 276 students from a rural school for girls in Nigeria. They were forced to convert from Christianity to Islam and marry to their abductors. So much for #Bring Back Our Girls.
  • December 2014. The Pakistan Taliban gunned down 132 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar.
  • January 2015. Three self-radicalized gunmen killed more than a dozen people at the offices of a satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

While the perpetrators of these three atrocities are all self-professed Muslims, the common thread of religion running through these events diverts our attention from the more critical common thread of PHS culture. Women are objects for men’s gratification, perpetual minors who cannot conduct business without a male escort, even if he is their minor son. PHS values are the only true values, no others shall be taught. PHS Girls shall not be educated. PHS boys strike first.

The conflation of culture with religion is almost universal, because culture seizes upon religion for support. Medieval Christendom imagined that its hierarchy imitated and emanated from the hierarchy in Heaven. The current example is the use of Islam by some adherents of the world’s PHS cultures. They claim that Islam is more than a religion: it is a total way of life, i.e. they claim their PHS culture is mandated by Islam, and is therefore identical with Islam. Indeed, the idea that a satirical cartoon or essay depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) needs to be answered with violence is equivalent to claiming that God participates in the Honor/Shame culture of the perpetrators. This is idolatry, even in Islam, because Allahu Akbar, God is greater (than everything). God is greater than any culture or its values, including PHS culture.

Modern, Western cultural influences are everywhere. Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells of how liberating it was to read trashy romance novels in English when she was growing up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria in her book Infidel. Western cultural ideas were leaking into PHS cultures even before the internet. Now the leak has become a flood.

And so the boys of PHS culture strike first. It is incorrect to ridicule Islam and its Prophet. The boys of PHS culture, who remain too immature to contain their own lust, and make women do it for them by concealing themselves from society – those are the ones who need to be ridiculed.

We are having a clash of modernity with Patriarchal Honor/Shame cultures. Although this clash should be a conversation within Islam, the terrorists drag the rest of us into it. The ideas of a clash of civilizations or religions are simply diversions from the underlying reality.

World Ebola Day

Last Saturday, October 4, was the last day of the Hajj, the great pilgrimage to Mecca that is the duty of every pious Muslim to make at least once in his or her lifetime, if at all possible. Muslims from every country on earth gather, perform holy rituals, and then disperse back into the world. The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj is quite diligent about screening for serious communicable diseases, and takes care to limit mingling of populations that are normally geographically separated. Let us pray that they have been successful in preventing Ebola from becoming part of this year’s Hajj. If they have not, then as of last week Ebola may have reached many, if not all countries on earth.

And of course, some evil-minded propagandists will blame it on America, or the West, or Israel, or the Jews. It just isn’t exciting enough to blame it on African bats, and on people in the affected West African countries failing to voluntarily abstain from Hajj until the outbreak is over for the sake of their fellow believers.

What is the so-called “Islamic State?”

President Obama has been criticized on the right (by Charles Krauthammer, for example) for saying that the so-called “Islamic State” is neither a state nor Islamic. Actually the President is right on both counts, but wrong to think that it matters.

To understand what the “Islamic State” is we must first point out that there is a continuum between

  • Terrorism and Insurgency – get enough terrorists together to form a small army and they will try to take and hold territory, destabilize governments and take over. It has been said that every terrorists wants to grow up to be an insurgent. One past example is the LTTE, aka the Tamil Tigers. They took over part of Sri Lanka, before the Sinhalese wiped them out.
  • Terrorism and Organized Crime – manpower, arms and ammunition all cost money. Organized crime is a way to pay for it all. The FARC, aka Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia got so involved in their finances that they are more of a drug cartel than a terrorist group or an insurgency.
  • Terrorism and Cults – in order to justify heinous acts of violence against innocents to yourself, you need to be a true believer in your cause, whatever it is. Aum Shinrikyo was a cult that perpetrated the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.
  • Terrorism and Social Movements – this is what Islamofascist terrorism has become now that al-Qaeda’s Senior Leadership has been degraded by operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by time itself. Rather than the command-cadre organization that it was prior to 9/11/2001, al-Qaeda has spawned numerous organizations, some very loosely affiliated, and others, like the so-called Islamic State even in rebellion against it.

So the “Islamic State” is a terrorist insurgency that funds itself via organized crime (among other sources) and is an instance of the cult-like social movement that Francis Fukuyama termed “Islamofascism.

President Obama announced that he plans to solve this problem by a sustained counter-terrorism strategy. It’s going to take more than that. Let’s hope he’s holding more cards than he’s showing right now.

Put Putin in a Box

Last week Russian President (probably for life) Vladimir Putin saw fit to warn Western powers obliquely that they had better not intervene to help Ukraine as his troops invade it. He said “Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.”

Mr. Putin should realize that Americans and Europeans have never for a moment forgotten that fact. But he should also understand that what President Obama was seeking between the United States and Russia was actually a kind of mutual accommodation. The collapse of the Soviet Union, which Putin views as a geopolitical catastrophe was what Americans and Europeans should properly call a “reset.”

That reset was the successful culmination of the Western policy of “containment.” Containment imposed great costs on America and the West as well as the Soviet Union. But America and the West were better able to bear those costs than the Soviets. Given Russia’s economic and demographic prospects, Putin should be more loathe to provoke a rematch of that contest.

Why I think Snowden is a Spy

Here is why I think Edward Snowden is a spy:

  1. He was a single thirty year old guy, working at a well-paid job in Hawai’i, yet he gave it all up to live in Russia. Is there any part of Russia that comes close to Hawai’i?
  2. He had multiple legal ways to bring up his concerns within the system, including his line management, his peers, several different Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs), members and staff of the Senate and House Committees on Intelligence, and the FISA court. He appears never to have tried any of these.
  3. According to the press, he stole over a million documents, when it would have taken say, a hundred, to make his point about the NSA collecting too much information on Americans. Moreover, according to the press, most of what he stole seems to be about other subjects.
  4. He was an IT guy, not subject matter expert, yet he had no trouble figuring out which documents to take. To me, this indicates that he was coached, probably by a foreign intelligence officer.
  5. He got out of the US really fast. Rapid escapes are one thing that intelligence officers of all countries plan and facilitate for the agents they recruit to spy for them.

And yet, I doubt that Snowden realizes he is a spy. I think Snowden believes that he is the altruistic, patriotic Daniel Ellsberg of his generation, which is probably the line fed to him by the case officer who recruited him. It’s so credible that even Daniel Ellsberg believes it. The global press buys it, which enables Snowden’s handlers to direct the press to various items in the giant trove of leaked information as they find convenient — for example, the revelations about the NSA spying on Europeans, which may have been intended to weaken the cohesion of NATO and ease the way for Russia to go adventuring in Crimea. A set of revelations that has nothing to do with Americans spying on Americans, I must point out.

Snowden is a beautiful recruitment and a beautiful propaganda tool. In some country, probably Russia (since that’s where Snowden ended up), an intelligence officer is the envy of his or her peers.

Finally, there are important differences between the Snowden and Ellsberg cases. Ellsberg stood his ground, and stood trial. There was no rapid escape for Ellsberg. One could also argue Ellsberg did limited harm — he did not cause America to lose the Vietnam War, he merely revealed that America was already losing it. Snowden revealed what people in the intelligence business call “sources and methods,” which get cut off when they are compromised. Which means that other countries and corporations will go on collecting information that America can no longer get.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Christian Republican

American Thinker posted this one today.

I wonder which way his politics would lean today, if the assassin’s bullets had missed him? He was enlarging his quest for racial justice to include economic justice – which suggests left, but his Christian side may have led him to preach against economic incentives and cultural trends that break up families – which suggests right. On the other hand, he was a servant of God, and God is above and beyond our politics.

See also:

Greens Engage in Class Warfare

During the past 200 years the world has been getting healthier and wealthier, and the population is stabilizing. The idea that the world is subject to runaway population growth is a myth. The trends worldwide are generally good, and all we need do is not to screw it up. Enter the Greens.

The Greens are trying to stop the development of genetically modified crops that will make it possible to feed the world’s population. Without them Europeans may still eat, but sub-Saharan Africans will starve to death. The Greens who oppose GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) crops are engaging in a kind of class warfare against the world’s poorest populations. Or should I say genocide?

Designing Away Inequality

President Obama wants to make restoring (upward) economic mobility to Americans the number one priority for the remainder of his term in office. He offers a rationale for the government to step in and make it happen. No doubt there are things the government can do, and some of them may even be things the government should do.

The current worldwide winner-take-all vacuuming of the planet’s economic growth over the past 40 years has indeed enriched the wealthiest while wages for the rest of us have stagnated. The cause is simple: technology enabled economic globalization to surge so that wages are equalizing, and since there are many more people worldwide making low wages than there are Americans making higher wages, wages for Americans are equalizing down. But the technology was not the internet – it didn’t exist forty years ago. The technology was containerized shipping. It drove the cost of shipping down so low that it became cheaper to have manufacturing done overseas. The computers that came later just made the accounting easier and faster.

In effect, the jobs that used to pay a decent wage to people without a college education were engineered out of the US economy. Now product and process engineers need to get together to design those types of jobs back in. It’s not just what gets made, it’s how it’s made, who makes it, and what abilities they need to have. It’s one thing to train people for jobs, it’s another to design jobs for people to do, in the same way that we design products for people to use. I’m not talking about government make-work. I’m talking about designing the middle class back into the economy.

Entrepreneurs, designers, engineers and investors, I leave it as a challenge in social responsibility to you all.

America in Your Face

American Exceptionalism has long meant that Americans reject the old Balance of Power politics in favor of some moral, or at least lawful order of international relations. Instead of ceding “spheres of influence” to other great powers, Americans ask, like Rodney King, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Because America rejects spheres of influence as a way to organize the world, other countries think that America  considers the entire world to be its sphere of influence. America is in everyone’s face, so many of them push back.

On the other hand, there is good reason to be skeptical of spheres of influence. Timothy Snyder describes what can happen when spheres of influence are conceded and contested in his book, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Vintage Books, 2010). Between 1933 and 1945 over 14 million people were killed by bad government policy in operations not related to combat.

But the confrontation with America is cultural as well as political. Japan, the world champion at importing cultural ideas and making them its own, is now asserting its cultural identity by drafting a new constitution that purports to have a distinctively Japanese concept of individual liberty, which does not include disturbing the public order. America has few enemies, but even its friends push back.