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Empathy, Survival and Human Oneness: Informed Reflections on Trump’s Atavistic Worldview

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“Each of us is both the subject and the protagonist of his own nontransferable life.” José Ortega y Gasset, Man and Crisis

America First,  the most conspicuous mantra of Donald Trump, makes no logical or diplomatic sense. Indeed, contrary to the American president’s narrowly imagined expectations, Americans, both individually and collectively, will soon need to identify more broadly with the world as a whole.  In essence, to survive and prosper, the United States must quickly change direction from such plainly refractory political mantras, and prepare instead for greatly expanded patterns of international cooperation.

Before we can all become true beneficiaries of modern diplomacy, we will first finally have to acknowledge that we inhabit a single and indissoluble global habitat.

Even from an expressly American standpoint, there is nothing unpatriotic about articulating any such universalizing prescription. To wit, the alternative Trump vision can lead the United States only toward an endlessly Darwinian global struggle. Inter alia, this would mean a fully consuming and retrograde conflict in which the corrosive principles of “every man for himself” would produce further chaos and perpetual suffering.

Significantly, especially for those concerned with modern diplomacy and international law, the attendant and sometimes reciprocal problems are not “merely” spiritual. Above all, they are profoundly intellectual. Back in the nineteenth century, the American Transcendentalist philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, had counseled “plain living and high thinking.”

For this American president, there is a timeless message here. Currently, however, it is anything but closely heeded. To impresario extraordinaire Donald Trump, the best path, going forward, is to “circle the wagons,” to huddle together as an endlessly fighting nation and then do whatever it must againstall others.

Always, “against” is the operative word in the White House. Curiously, for US President Trump, world politics is always reassuringly reducible to bitter struggle against one despised “enemy” or another, or perhaps even a sinister coalition of “enemies.”

There is more. Any such primordial or “zero sum” advice is not merely harsh or needlessly adversarial. It is also deeply immoral, manifestly contra to elementary codes of civilized human interaction.

Unsupported by any defensible reason or scintilla of logic, it is starkly incorrect.

To be sure, there are much better paths to human salvation, secular as well as spiritual. It follows that to help rescue America from a myriad configuration of mortal dangers, Trump will first need to assist the imperiled earth in general. Inevitably, the American president should avoid having to deal piecemeal with the next foreseeable eruptions of genocide, war and terror.

Everything, he will very quickly need to appreciate, is interrelated.

By embracing “high-thinking” instead of demeaning rally slogans and vacant banalities, US President Trump could finally have to recognize that American well-being and security are inextricably linked with the much wider “human condition.” Assuredly, this reluctant recognition will take him some time. He will also need to embrace another even more subtle kind of understanding.

 It is that pertinent human social and governmental linkages may not always present themselves in readily decipherable historical, social or economic terms.

 Now is the only suitable moment for Mr. Trump to recall the essentially “Buddhist” wisdom of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’,'” explains his The Phenomenon of Man, “is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

The high-thinking Teilhard was right on the mark. At their very deepest level, genocide, war, and terror are not just the hideous product of an ordinary world politics and diplomacy gone awry. Rather, they stem from the unbearable apprehensions and persistent loneliness of individual human beings.

 Normally unable to find either meaning or safety outside of certain available group memberships, billions of individuals across the globe will still often stop at nothing in order to acquire some comfortingly recognizable acceptance within a presumptively protective “crowd.”[1]

All such crowds, whether at Trump rallies, prizefights or earlier gladiatorial competitions, love to chant in chorus. Absolutely. What is injurious and even potentially grotesque about such orchestrated mutterings is not the content being chanted (which is usually incoherent, and sometimes also insidious), but rather the corollary disappearance of personal empathy and residual individual responsibility.

Whether it is as a nation, a social organization, a terrorist band, or a new political movement, the crowd tempts “all-too-many” (a favored Nietzschean term in Zarathustra)  with the false succor of  group communion. Always, this temptation lies at the heart of its ritually compelling and possibly incomparable attractions. Typically, though rarely identified or understood, it is the generally frantic human search to belong that most assiduously shapes national and international affairs.

Both national and international affairs. 

Unsurprisingly, as the seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes concluded in Leviathan, about “state of nature” crowds, they portend a lamentable life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

 Once again, for the sake of both America and the wider world, it is time to situate “high thinking” in the White House. The irrepressible search to belong, to draw a pertinent term from Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s The Undiscovered Self, represents “the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption.” Jurisprudentially and diplomatically, the most tangible expressions of our incessant human search for rescue in groups can be found in the utterly core legal principles of sovereignty and self-determination.

 Alarmingly, the celebrated “self” in all such traditional jurisprudence and diplomacy refers to entire peoples, never to singular individuals.

Too often, as US President Trump ought finally to understand, the ironic result of such hegemonic thinking is a measureless orgy of mass killing and ever-expanding human exterminations.

This conclusion is self-evident and incontestable.

Divided into thousands of hostile tribes, almost two hundred of which are called “nation-states,” many human beings still find it easy and pleasing to slay “others.” As for any remediating considerations of empathy, these are typically reserved for those who happen to live within one’s own expressly delineated “tribe.” It follows, and crucially, that any expansion of empathy to include  “outsiders” must represent a basic condition of authentic peace and modern diplomacy.

Without such an indispensable expansion, our entire species would remain stubbornly (and suicidally) dedicated to its own incremental debasement and eventual disappearance.

Understanding this particular wisdom should already have become an indispensable corrective to the presidential nonsense of “America First.” This grievously resurrected political mantra is eerily reminiscent of American “Know Nothing” history, and also the incomparably destructive slogans of the Third Reich. Let us be candid.

In brief, and however well-intentioned, America First now represents Trump’s specifically Americanized version of “Deutschland uber alles.”

Nothing less; nothing more.

But what must Americans and others actually do to encourage a wider empathy, and thereby to foster aptly caring feelings between as well as within “tribes”? Correspondingly, how can a US president meaningfully improve the state of our dissembling world so as to best ensure a dignified future for the American Republic? These are not easy questions.

Nonetheless, they are the ones that need to be faced by Americans and (ultimately) by all others.

Already, soberly and ironically, we must concede that the essential expansion of empathy for the many could become “dreadful,”  improving human community, but only at the intolerable cost of private sanity. This imperative concession stems from the way we humans are “designed” or “hard wired,” that is, with very particular and largely impermeable boundaries of feeling. Were it otherwise, an extended range of compassion toward others could quickly bring about each cooperating individual’s own emotional collapse.

A paradox arises. Planning seriously for national and international survival, Americans in particular must first learn to accept an unorthodox understanding. It is that an ever-widening circle of human compassion is indispensable to civilizational survival, but is also a potential source of insufferable private anguish.

How, then, shall human union and American politics now deal with a requirement for global civilization that is simultaneously essential and unbearable? Newly informed that empathy for the many is a precondition of a decent world union, what can actually create such obligatory caring without producing intolerable emotional pain? In essence, high-thinkers must duly inquire: How can such a stunningly anti-intellectual US president correctly deal with ongoing and still-multiplying expressions of war, terrorism, and genocide?

By building walls, or instead, by solidifying wide-ranging and always-pertinent human bonds of interrelatedness and connectedness?

The answer is obvious. It can never be found in ordinary speeches and programs, especially in the cravenly shallow rhetoric and embarrassingly empty witticisms of American presidential politics. It is only discoverable in a consciously resolute detachment of individuals from lethally competitive “tribes,” and from certain other collective “selves.” 

In the final analysis, a more perfect union, both national and international, must lie in a fully determined replacement of “civilization” with what Teilhard de Chardin calls “planetization.”

The whole world, Mr. Trump should promptly acknowledge without fear of contradiction, is a system.[2] He must finally understand that the state of America’s national union can never be any better than the state of the wider world. He will also need to realize that the condition of this entire world must itself sometimes depend upon what happens inside the United States.

Ideally, in fully acknowledging such a plainly misunderstood mutuality, this vital human reciprocity, the overarching US presidential objective should become the sacred dignity of each and every individual human being.  It is precisely this high-minded goal that should now give specific policy direction to President Donald Trump, not his continuously specious and universally destructive commitment to “America First.”

It will be easy to dismiss any such seemingly lofty recommendation for  human dignity as silly, ethereal or fanciful.   Still, in reality, there could never be any greater American presidential naiveté than championing the patently false extremity of “everyone for himself” in world politics and diplomacy.

More than anything else, “America First”  is a grievously misconceived presidential mantra. Devoid of  all empathy, intellect and human understanding, it can only lead America as a nation toward distressingly new depths of strife, disharmony, and collective despair. Individually, “America First,” left unrevised, would point everyone to an  insufferable and potentially irreversible vita minima, that is, toward a corrupted personal life emptied of itself.

By definition, such a life would be meaningless, shattered, unfeeling and radically unstable.

Only by placing “Humanity First” can US President Donald Trump make America First. The latter is simply not possible without the former. Not at all.


[1] “The crowd,” says the great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.”

[2] “The existence of system in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature,” says Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, ” no matter whom….Each element of the cosmos is positively woven from all the others….”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Americas

Poll Shows Trump’s Israel Policy Is Opposed Even by Republicans

Eric Zuesse

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On Monday, November 18th, Reuters headlined “U.S. backs Israel on settlements, angering Palestinians and clouding peace process” and reported that, “The United States on Monday effectively backed Israel’s right to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank by abandoning its four-decade-old position that they were ‘inconsistent with international law,’ a stance that may make Israeli-Palestinian peace even more elusive.” This article made clear that, of all entities Reuters could contact about the matter, only U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thought that these illegal settlements are legal, and even Pompeo was offering no other reason than that “‘The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,’ Pompeo told reporters at the State Department, reversing a formal legal position taken by the United States under Carter in 1978.” It was merely his dictat, as authority for this major U.S. policy-change. 

One poll was recently taken of Americans on the matter. It was done by Scarborough Research, a joint venture by The Nielsen Company and Arbitron, and its sample size was unusually large for such a poll and employed rigorous sampling techniques. Thus, its findings should be considered to be close to the reality. Here is a summary of that poll’s methodology and findings. [I add my explanations in brackets].

The survey was carried out September 12 – October 9, 2018 online from a nationally representative sample of Nielsen Scarborough’s probability-based panel, originally recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of adults provided by Survey Sampling International. The national sample was 2,352.

Q57. As you may know, the United States has been acting as a mediator between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, with the aim of reaching an agreement in the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. Whether or not these efforts succeed, there is a question about what kind of future for Israel and the Palestinians the U.S. should be supporting over the long term, and many analysts feel that time is running out for some options. Here are four possible approaches that are frequently discussed. Please select the one you think the U.S. should support.

Rep Dem Ind Total 

1. A two-state solution: Israel and a Palestinian state side by side. The Palestinian state would be established on the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967. 24% 48% 31% 36% [That’s 24% “Rep”; 48% “Dem”; 31% “Ind”; 36% “Total.”]

2. A one-state solution: A single democratic state in which both Jews and Arabs are full and equal citizens, covering all of what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  33% 36% 38% 35%

3. Annexation without equal citizenship: Israel would annex the Palestinian territories, but keep a majority-Jewish state in the expanded territories by restricting citizenship rights of Palestinians. 14% 3% 4% 8%

4. Maintain the occupation of both the territories Israel has captured in 1967 and the Palestinians inhabiting them indefinitely. 18% 5% 13% 11% 

Refused 11% 8% 14% 10%

[71% support either a two-state or a one-state solution (a sort of democratic solution). 19% support either “Annexation without equal citizenship” or Israel’s permanent militarily imposed “occupation of both the territories (West Bank and Gaza).” On this question, only 19% support Trump’s Israel policy, but 25% of Republicans do. However, 67% of Republicans don’t.]

One of the issues of tension between the United States and Israel has been its construction of Israeli settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. These settlements are considered illegal by most of the international community and have been opposed by every U.S. administration, both Republican and Democratic. The Israeli government has continued to build settlements. … How do you believe the U.S. should react to new settlements?

1. Do nothing: 38% 17% 33% 28%

2. Verbally criticize: 30% 22% 27% 26%

3. Economic sanctions: 17% 41% 22% 17%

4. More serious action: 9% 15% 11% 12%

[Trump’s “Do nothing” is supported by 28% of American voters. That even includes only 38% of Republicans. 56% of Republicans want some type of at least criticism against Israel.]

Consequently: Trump has now gone far out onto a far-right limb here in his policies toward the state of Israel and its dictatorship over Palestinians (the people who are the descendants of what were the vast majority of Israel’s population until the ethnic cleansing that slaughtered and displaced them).

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The Intellectual Doomsday Clock: 30 Seconds to Midnight?

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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As someone who has dedicated his entire professional career to higher education, to engaging young minds and striving to advance new thinking across a whole host of critically important global issues, it is with great sadness that I write this article. Not only do all of the scientific surveys point to a coming calamity, my own career provides extensive anecdotal confirmation of the sad reality that we are, as a human society, pushing ourselves down into an intellectual abyss from which we might not be able to emerge. Perhaps most disturbing of all, this pushing momentum is not done by accident. Rather, most of society today seems hell-bent on orgiastically rejoicing in our diminishing skills and our dismissal of ‘smartness.’ Refined thinking, nuanced analysis, and subtle reasoning are now the supposed domain of out-of-touch elite, of people who do not know about reality and are therefore happily removed from the debate/discussion stage. This is not the same kind of anti-elitism we have seen in decades past. This is not simply a fight between the benefits of ‘book learning’ versus ‘experiential wisdom.’ This is more about total war being waged against the intellectual process itself with adjacent side-battles against research, open-mindedness, and scientific thinking. It is not about the quality of the journey of intellectual engagement. It is about the attempt to annihilate discussion in total, surrounding ourselves with our own anti-intellectual camps of sycophantic chatter amounting to nothing. It is not about inquiry leading to epiphany. It is about the biased construction of self-affirmation. We are a society of self-delusional dullards. May this be a not-so-subtle early warning to stop our own dumb and dumber destruction.

Source: axios.com

The above chart is fairly self-explanatory. The chief aspect to focus on is how most Democrats will actually use this as supposed ‘proof’ of their open-mindedness and ability to think more independently, far more so than the other two representative groups covering most of society in America. While I can grant it is horrifically appalling to see percentages amongst Republicans to go all the way to 92% and even “independents” proving they are not so independent at all by going up to 4/5 of their numbers, the surveys still show one out of every 2 democrats, slightly more than that actually, are in the exact same boat as the other members of society. Why does this matter? It matters because on one very crucial aspect this chart explains the secret ingredient that currently powers the base rationalization and self-justification most people use to fuel their purposeful refusal to seek out alternative arguments, embrace people with differing viewpoints, and understand the crucial humility needed in the world of politics and social order, that being there are very few, if any, questions that have one single undebatable answer that should rationally end all further debate. When you can reject all of these things, it allows you to be content with rejecting even the search for multiple sources, the comparative analysis crucial to any real truth-finding, and the rational thinking that creates true deep thought and nuanced intellectualism. The rejection of the impartiality of news sources as an entity de facto turns into behavior that rejects the need to be discerning about sources overall. If the sources are all tainted, then why do we need them at all? All we need is our own thinking, backed of course by the resident echo chambers we create by surrounding ourselves only with like-minded people. As long as the people I spend most of my time with (and that is increasingly becoming a measure based on ‘virtual exposure’ rather than ‘face-to-face living engagement’) agree with me, why do I need to care about other fools with different opinions?

Source: realclearscience.com

The above chart clusters Republican (red) and Democrat (blue) representatives on a spectrum of ideology (defined by how often they vote with the rest of their party) then links opposite party members according to their votes together. The links grow larger and darker the more often representatives vote across party lines. In this case, that symbolizes the positive representation of independent thinking and the ability to make decisions NOT according to knee-jerk party lines or blind ideological allegiance. The graphs’ evolution over time is simply remarkable in that not only does the prevalence of cross-party line votes diminish radically over the decades, the behavior by 2011 de facto evaporates while adhering staunchly to party ideology. Exclusionary thinking becomes intensely concentrated and exclusive. It is also disappointing to note that this fascinating study ended in 2011: one year before the second term of President Barack Obama and fully five years before the controversial first term of President Donald Trump. It is not scientifically radical to say the ideological tendencies in American partisanship have only worsened since that 2011 end-of-study date. In fact, heading into 2020, most political discussions in America no longer even include the possibility of any cross-party thinking, let alone behavior. The idea itself is dismissed as being symbolic NOT of independent thinking but of social betrayal that should be shunned and punished.

Source: dailymail.co.uk

This final chart is the cherry on top of the stupid sundae. It shows the clear and inevitable path that global IQ is taking from 1950 all the way to 2110. Some may say that a decline from an average of 92 to a new average of 84 is not much given it is covering 160 years. Some might even be motivated to invoke the old “Malthusian Dilemma” to criticize the data, pointing out that such long-term extrapolations are only based on current trends remaining immutable and cannot, therefore, take into account what future counter-measures might be taken by society to right the wrong indicators. I would like to be a member of the Malthusian camp, quite honestly. In its own way, this article is an effort to kick-start those supposed Malthusian strategies, bringing future resolutions to our ‘stupid problem’ sooner to the forefront rather than later. But all of this is wishful thinking. It is not hard science. My hopes, in fact, are based on the opposite of what the data shows, what society currently rejoices in, and what so many individual people profess as being an advancement in ‘popular intelligence.’ As long as our global society, led most decidedly by the most powerful and influential country on earth, continues to revel in anti-intellectualism as proof of its own grassroots intelligence, as long as people rationalize away critical reasoning and analytical thinking as just so much elite ivory tower snobbery, then the only path we craft for ourselves as a society is one of blissful ignorance, confrontational delusion, and self-righteous obliviousness. The only society to emerge from this path is a dead society. A society of stagnation and regression. The intellectual doomsday clock is at 30 seconds to midnight. The ability to shift the ticking second hand backwards, back to enlightenment and dynamic knowledge engagement, may already be gone. May the Malthusian Army appear soon.

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U.S.-Turkey relations: From close friendship to conflict of interests

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Relations between the U.S. Turkey have strained since the failed July 2016 coup in Turkey. Now, the most important reasons for the tension is Washington’s strong opposition to Turkey’s plan to buy S-400 missile system from Russia and Turkish military invasion into northern Syria.

Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the U.S. on November 13 was intended to resolve the two countries’ disputes and open a new horizon in economic and trade relations, differences still remain. 

Though after the meeting at the White House, Trump made some pledges, including increasing trade ties to $100 billion, it takes a long time to fulfill these promises.

Contrary to such pledges, the Pentagon announced that it had replaced all F-35 fighter parts made by Turkey.

While the Turkish and U.S. leaders were meeting, F-35 production program executive Lt. Gen. Eric Fick said at a congressional hearing that Turkey would be completely phased out until March.

At the moment the U.S. has narrowed the number of parts down from 1,000 to 12.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord affirmed to Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., that as of Wednesday, Turkey’s exit from the program was not expected to cause any F-35 production delays.

The U.S. government believes Ankara’s move to buy S-400 missile system from Russia is not in line with NATO policies. Washington also sees Turkey’s decision as a threat to U.S. F-35 fighters. However, Ankara has announced that it will go ahead with its decision to buy the missile system.

Erdogan said it is not a right policy to ask Ankara to deprive itself of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Erdogan’s remarks came in response to some reports that Trump had requested Turkey to cancel the purchase of S-400 system, a defense system that has been deployed in some parts of Turkey since July 2019.

But after Trump and Erdogan’s meeting, the Turkish president claimed that the U.S. president had a positive view on buying the missile system.

Though Trump may seek to strike a deal with Erdogan on the S-400 missile system and F-35 fighter aircraft, based on his own businessmen approach, Ankara’s military intervention in northern Syria and its insistence on buying the S-400 system are at odds with Washington. For this reason, the House of Representatives has passed two resolutions against Turkey.

On October 30, the House approved a resolution against Turkey recognizing the Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915. 305 representatives voted in favor of the resolution, with only three opposing it. It also passed another resolution calling on Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey over military operations in northern Syria. The resolution was also adopted by 403 votes in favor and 16 against, a move that rose Turkey’s anger.

After Erdogan’s meeting with Trump, attended by some Congress representatives, senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee vetoed the resolution recognizing the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. 

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Robert Menendez had called for the resolution to be approved. Lindsey Graham noted that he had listened to Erdogan’s speech at the White House and criticized a House resolution that recognized the Armenian genocide. 

Menendez argued that “U.S. policy must be unanimous and honest in the face of human rights violations, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide” and sent it to the Senate for approval.

There is a difference between the White House and Congress in how to deal with Turkey. Also, there is a difference between Republicans and Democrats despite Trump’s promises to Erdogan.

From our partner Tehran Times

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