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Donald Trump, Foreign Policy Incoherence and Inadvertent Nuclear War

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“In a surrealist year….some cool clown pressed an inedible mushroom button, and an inaudible Sunday bomb fell down, catching the president at his prayers on the 19th green.”-Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958)

From the start of his presidency,  Donald Trump has displayed unmistakable signs of debility, venality and intellectual impoverishment. Most conspicuous, in this regard, is Mr. Trump’s evident unfamiliarity with history, diplomacy, intelligence and law. Slightly less obvious, but only if one were willfully blind to unassailable evidence, is this president’s rancorous and brittle emotional state.

Even when considered separately, these presidential liabilities are worrisome.

Taken together, however, they become palpably fearful and potentially intolerable.

This cumulative liability reaches its nadir when considered with a debilitated  president’s lawful exercise of nuclear command authority.

In principle, at least, these risks and consequences of US presidential shortcoming are generic; that is, they are not necessarily “Trump specific.” At this level, they also represent bewilderingly complex matters about which I have been lecturing and publishing for half a century. Some of my long term personal conclusions can be pried interpretively from historical examination and from certain more-or-less coinciding logical extrapolations.

In all such matters, analytic competence and confidence must stem from calculably valid assurances that both complementary operations are being carried out dispassionately, and in tandem.

The bottom line here is unhidden. Principal national security risks America currently faces as a nation are prospectively immediate and formidably existential. Such risks can be fully understood only in light of the plausible or at least conceivable intersections arising between them. This is because such critical intersections are more-or-less likely (a conclusion based on formal logic, and not on any actual history) and because some of these reinforcing intersections could sometime prove “synergistic.”

Contradicting what was first learned in the eighth grade, this means (by definition)  that the “whole” of  intersectional nuclear risk effects must be greater than the simple arithmetic sum of component “parts.”

Always, in any staggeringly complex strategic risk assessments regarding military nuclear intentions and military nuclear forces, the concept ofsynergy must be included.[1]

Always, any such necessary inclusion must be reasonable, rational and purposeful.

The only conceivable argument for a president ignoring possible effects of synergy  is that US defense policy consideration is “too complex” (i.e., intellectually bewildering) and therefore “too daunting.”

When US national security is at stake – as it is in this case – any such dismissive argument is unacceptable.

Prima facie.

How could it not be?

I have been thinking about precisely such difficult issues for fifty years. For analytic purposes, the development of my own personal conclusions about strategic national security decision-making can be summed up in the following brief paragraph:

 After four years of doctoral study at Princeton in the late 1960s, long an intellectual center of American nuclear thought (recall especially Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer) I began to consider adding a modest personal contribution to an already evolving nuclear literatures.  By the late 1970s, I was cautiously preparing a manuscript on US nuclear strategy, and by variously disciplined processes of correct inference, on  certain corresponding risks of a nuclear war.[2]  

Already, at that early time, I was especially interested in US presidential authority to order the use of American nuclear weapons.

From day one of my studies, I learned, inter alia, that allegedly reliable safeguards had very systematically been built into all operational nuclear command/control decisions, but that these same safeguards could not be applied at the highest or presidential level. To a young scholar searching optimistically for nuclear war avoidance opportunities, this ironic disjunction didn’t make any obvious sense.  Nonetheless, within the broader context of credible nuclear deterrence requirements, there did exist a reasonable argument for accepting such a significant gap in relevant decisional protections.

For needed clarifications, I had reached out directly to retired General Maxwell D. Taylor, a former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. In reassuringly rapid response to my query, General Taylor sent me a detailed handwritten reply. Dated 14 March 1976, the distinguished General’s informed letter concluded presciently: “As to those dangers arising from an irrational American president, the only protection is not to elect one.”

Until recently, I had never given any extended thought to this candid and authoritative response. Today, during the increasingly problematic presidency of  Donald J. Trump, General Taylor’s 1976 warning must take on  substantially greater and more demonstrably urgent meanings. Based on ascertainable facts and logical derivations (technically called “entailments” in philosophy of science terminology) rather than on narrowly wishful thinking, we should reasonably assume that if President Trump were ever to exhibit any accessible signs of emotional instability, irrationality or openly delusional behavior, he could still order the use of American nuclear weapons. He could so this officially, legally and without any compelling expectations of  nuclear chain-of-command “disobedience.”

Still more worrisome, President Trump could become emotionally unstable, irrational or delusional, but still not exhibit such intolerable liabilities manifestly or plainly.

What then?

A corollary core question must now also come to mind:

What precise stance should be assumed by the National Command Authority (Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and several others) if it should ever decide to oppose an “inappropriate” presidential order to launch American nuclear weapons?

Could the National Command Authority (NCA) “save the day,” informally, by acting in an impromptu or creatively ad hoc fashion? Or should indispensable preparatory steps already have been taken, preemptively – that is, should there already be in place certain credible and effective statutory measures to (1) assess the ordering president’s reason and judgment; and (2) countermand the presumptively inappropriate or wrongful order?

 Presumptively, in US law, Article 1 (Congressional) war-declaring expectations of the Constitution aside, any presidential order to use nuclear weapons, whether issued by an apparently irrational president or by an otherwise incapacitated one, would have to be obeyed. To do otherwise, in such incomparably dire circumstances, would be illegal. Here, in other words, any chain-of-command disobedience would be impermissible on its face.

There is more. In principle, at least, US President Donald Trump could order the first use of American nuclear weapons even if this country were not under any specifically nuclear attack. In this connection –  again, in principle at least – some further strategic and legal distinctions would need to be made between a nuclear “first use” and a nuclear “first strike.”

While there exists an elementary yet markedly substantive difference between these two options, it is a distinction that candidate Donald Trump had fully failed to understand during the 2016 presidential campaign debates.

What next? Where should the American polity and government go from here on such urgent decision-making issues? To begin, a coherent and comprehensive  answer will need to be prepared for the following basic question:

If faced with any presidential order to use nuclear weapons, and not offered sufficiently appropriate corroborative evidence of any actually impending existential threat, would the  National Command Authority be: (1) be willing to disobey, and (2) be capable of enforcing such expressions of disobedience?

In any such literally unprecedented crisis-decision circumstances, all authoritative decisions could have to be made in a compressively time-urgent matter of minutes, not hours or days. As far as any useful policy guidance from the past might be concerned, there could be no scientifically valid way to assess the true probabilities of possible outcomes. This is because absolutely all scientific judgments of probability – whatever the salient issue or subject – must be based firmly upon the discernible frequency of pertinent past events.

In relevant matters of nuclear war, there are no pertinent past events. This is, of course, a markedly fortunate absence, but one that would inevitably stand in the way of rendering reliable decision-making predictions. The irony here is both conspicuous and problematic.

Still, whatever the scientific obstacles, the optimal time to prepare for any such incomparably vital US national security difficulties is now.

In the immediately specific matter of North Korea (Iran is not yet nuclear), President Trump must take special care to avoid any seat-of-the-pants analogies  (whether openly expressed or “merely” internalized) between commercial and military brinksmanship. Faced with dramatic uncertainties about his counterpart Kim Jung Un’s own expected willingness to push the escalatory envelope, the American president could sometime (suddenly and unexpectedly) find himself faced with a stark choice between outright capitulation and nuclear war.

Even for a genuinely gifted US president, any such grievously stark choice could prove paralyzing.

To avoid being placed in such a limited choice strategic environment, Mr. Trump should understand from the start that having a larger national nuclear force (a “bigger button”) in these sorts of negotiations might not bestow any critical bargaining advantages. To the contrary, it could actually generate unwarranted US presidential overconfidence and various resultant forms of decisional miscalculation. In essence, in any such wholly unfamiliar, many-sided and basically unprecedented matters, size might “count” inversely, or even not at all.

The field of international foreign policy making is not comparable to the commercial bargaining arenas of hotel construction and casino gaming. While the search for “escalation dominance” may be common to both sorts of deal-making, the cumulative costs of any corollary losses would be wholly incomparable. In brief, money or status losses in the commercial sector can never reasonably be compared to mass death or civilian dismemberment.

In  certain matters of world politics, even an  inadvertent decisional outcome could sometime be a nuclear war.

Here, whether occasioned by accident, hacking, or “simple” miscalculation, there could be absolutely no meaningful “winner,” not even for the side with the once cherished “bigger button.”

In the paroxysmal aftermath of any unintended nuclear conflict, those authoritative American decision-makers who had once accepted President Donald J. Trump’s stated preference for “attitude” over  “preparation” in strategic negotiations would question their once-visceral loyalties. But it would assuredly be too late. Most plausibly, as survivors of a previously preventable conflagration, these now-disoriented officials would merely envy the dead.

With their president, they too would have been caught unprepared on the “19th green.”


[1] See earlier, by this author, at Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School): https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/

[2] This book was subsequently published in 1980 by the University of Chicago Press: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics. http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Nuclear-Catastrophe-World-Politics/dp/0226043606

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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Countries Ranked on ‘Democracy’ in 2020

Eric Zuesse

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NATO and its supporters and member-nations are hiding the fact that the predominant belief in many of these nations is that they’re dictatorships that merely pontificate ‘democracy’ to other nations.

NATO, which is America’s propagandistically ‘pro-democracy’ military alliance against Russia and against China, polled the people in 53 countries — some of which are in NATO and some of which aren’t — and asked them whether they believe “My country is democratic,” and found that NATO’s own core country, U.S., was, itself, #38 down from the top, and China was #5, and Russia (NATO’s main target or ‘enemy’ nation) was #48, and that two of the most anti-Russian countries on the list were near the very bottom: the rabidly anti-Russian NATO member Poland was #49, and the NATO-aspiring Ukraine was #47. Anyway, since NATO hid their results, instead of publicizing them, the complete list, with the indicated rankings, are finally being published here (wherever that will be effectively allowed), for the very first time anywhere. 

The rankings have been figured out only by a careful analysis of the visuals that the NATO-affiliated polling organization did publish. The NATO-affiliated organization that paid for the polls of those 53 countries was the billionaires-founded group that calls itself the “Alliance For Democracy,” and they issued a report on the poll’s findings, but excluded from their report the rankings, and made very difficult for a reader to figure out what the rankings were. No one till now went to the trouble of finding out what the rankings were. The NATO-affiliated international-corporate advisory organization, the Rasmussen Group, had selected the German corporate PR firm Dalia Research to do the polling, and the data were presented by them as being “based on nationally representative interviews with 124,000 respondents from 53 countries conducted between April 20th and June 3rd 2020.” So: this was a major research-endeavor for NATO-affiliates (agencies of U.S.-and-allied billionaires); and, since the scores and rankings were hidden by them, instead of having been published by them, the information that is being published here may reasonably be considered to be American samizdat, or prohibited to publish in the United States and in its NATO vassal nations. In other words, publication of this information is effectively blocked in all NATO countries, though the information comes basically from NATO. Publication of this information is effectively banned throughout the U.S. empire, but perhaps this information will become published in whatever news-media are not controlled by the billionaires who control the U.S. Government. Presumably, media such as CNN, New York Times, Fox News, and The Atlantic, will reject this article, which is being simultaneously submitted to virtually all English-language news media throughout the U.S. and its allied countries. 

Here are the findings, and the rankings:

% saying yes to ‘My country is democratic’ 

(ranks shown are out of the 53 countries that were surveyed):

78% Taiwan #1

77% Denmark #2

75% Switzerland #3

75% S. Korea #4

73% China #5

73% Austria #6

71% Vietnam #7

71% India #8

71% Norway #9

69% Argentina #10

69% Sweden #11

67% Germany #12

66% Netherlands #13

65% Philippines #14

65% Portugal #15

64% Canada #16

63% Singapore #17

61% Malaysia #18

61% Greece #19

60% Ireland #20

59% Israel #21

57% Indonesia #22

56% Spain #23

56% Australia #24

56% UK #25

56% Turkey #26

55% Belgium #27

55% Peru #28

54% South Africa #29

54% Romania #30

54% Italy #31

53% Saudi Arabia #32

53% Pakistan #33

52% France #34

52% Mexico #35

51% Brazil #36

49% Kenya #37

48% U.S. #38

46% Japan #39

46% Colombia #40

45% Thailand #41

45% Algeria #42

43% Nigeria #43

42% Chile #44

41% Egypt #45

40% Morocco #46

40% Ukraine #47

39% Russia #48

38% Poland #49

37% Hong Kong #50

36% Hungary #51

28% Iran #52

24% Venezuela #53

Here is the background, after which will be presented more information from this poll, and from polls on related issues:

On June 15th, the NATO-allied (that’s to say anti-Russian and anti-Chinese) “Alliance of Democracies”, and the neoconservative or Rhodesist (pro-imperialist UK-U.S. “Special Relationship”) German corporate PR firm Dalia Research, released their annual “Democracy Perceptions Index” surveys that were taken in 53 countries, regarding the extent to which each country’s population considers its Government to be a democracy. The secretive “Alliance of Democracies” was founded with international megacorporate donations in 2014 (not in 2017 as Wikipedia alleges), by the ideologically libertarian (or anti-socialist, pro-megacorporate) former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who had been Denmark’s Prime Minister, who had tried, during his time leading Denmark, to weaken his own country’s socialism, and to strengthen the control of Denmark by U.S.-and-allied international corporations (especially Lockheed Martin and the other U.S. Government contractors that sell only to the U.S. Government and to its vassal governments). 

Rasmussen Global (which likewise was founded in 2014 by Anders Fogh Rasmussen) “advise[s] clients on transatlantic issues, international affairs and public policy management” and funded these surveys (which are part of “public policy management” or, as they say, “cutting through the noise” — by boosting only such “noise” as they want their publics to hear). Among the 53 surveyed countries are U.S., UK, Canada & Australia, but not New Zealand (which Rhodesists consider to be part of the core of the empire, but apparently it isn’t a big enough nation to be included in these surveys). Here can be seen the official published summary of the latest year’s survey findings:

“Democracy Perception Index – 2020”

https://daliaresearch.com/blog/democracy-perception-index-2020/

The surveys poll these 53 countries on “My country is democratic,” and on “My government serves only a minority.” (Also covered are some other issues, which will be covered subsequently here.) The United States ranks slightly below the good side and toward the bad side — and below 50% good — on both. China ranks near the top on both: 73% of Chinese answer “My country is democratic,” and only 13% say “My country serves only a minority.” However, since the “Alliance of Democracies” is Rhodesist and therefore intends ultimately to conquer China (it’s a target of NATO, instead of a member of NATO), this “Alliance” nonetheless categorizes China as being “Not Free,” and categorizes U.S., UK, Canada & Australia as “Free” (even though the poll found that a vastly higher percentage of Chinese think they live in a democracy than of people in U.S., UK, Canada, or Australia, do). The “Not Free” category includes only the following few countries among the 53 surveyed: China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia (for once, their opinion is correct on Saudi Arabia, but 53% of Saudis have a different view and say “My country is democratic”), Algeria, Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Venezuela. (All of those are countries that Rhodesists especially want to conquer, or — in the case of Saudi Arabia — have already conquered but which is too blatantly dictatorial not to include in the “Not Free” category. On 15 July 2016, NATO unsuccessfully attempted — or else merely assisted — a coup against NATO-member nation Turkey, aiming to restore Turkey to its prior control by the U.S. Government, such as Turkey had been when it was admitted into NATO in 1952.) 

Venezuela is an outlier like Saudi Arabia, in that both countries’ populations have an unrealistic view of their Government. For example: by an overwhelming net margin of +42%, the residents of Venezuela (which the U.S. regime keeps trying to conquer) say that the U.S. helps democracy around the world. (Most countries’ populations predominantly say that the U.S. regime hurts democracy around the world, and this belief includes the publics not only in China, Russia and Iran, but in Canada, UK, and Australia. So, U.S. imperialism is widely feared, but not in Venezuela.) Only 24% of Venezuelans say “My country is democratic.” 74% of Venezuelans say “My Government serves only a minority.” So, Venezuelans overwhelmingly want the U.S. regime’s coup-efforts to overthrow their Government to succeed. Apparently, the U.S. regime’s propaganda saying that the economic depression in Venezuela was caused by Venezuela’s Government instead of by America’s economic blockade against Venezuela has overwhelmingly succeeded. Venezuelans trust the U.S. Government more than they trust their own.

39% of Russians say “My country is democratic,” and 59% say “My government serves only a minority.” And 40% of Ukrainians say “My country is democratic,” while 70% of Ukrainians say “My government serves only a minority.” (Only one of the 53 surveyed countries had a higher percentage — it was 71% — who said their Government “serves only a minority”: Brazil.) Therefore, clearly, around 10% of Ukrainians are confused about what “democracy” even means. (If a country’s Government “serves only a minority,” then how can it be “democratic”?) As regards Russia, surveys of Russians have shown that most Russians distrust the Government but trust its President, Vladimir Putin. Surveys in the U.S. show that most Americans distrust the President, Donald Trump, but distrust Congress even more than that. 52% of Americans in this survey by Dalia Research said that their Government “serves only a minority.” 49% said “My country is democratic.” So, only around 3% of Americans were confused about what “democracy” means. (Scientifically minded political scientists aren’t at all confused about that: the measure that they use in order to determine whether or not a nation is a democracy is the extent to which its Government serves the majority of its residents. What they have found regarding the United States is that it definitely isn’t a democracy.)

As I summarized all of the data from other sources as-of 2018, on 6 May 2018, “Although one can reasonably debate the degree to which any nation is a democracy, the United States certainly stands rather low on that factor, and stands well below China, and is perhaps lower than Russia, but none of these countries is among the world’s worst — except, perhaps, the U.S., for its having the world’s highest percentage of its people in prison.” All of that is still true today.

In any case: not even America’s allies are fooled any longer about the U.S. Government’s posturings that it is a democracy. And there is extensive history also documenting that Americans are less and less fooled about this. But, because America is not a democracy, this article probably won’t be published in any major media inside America, though it is being submitted to all of them. So, if you’re not seeing it in U.S. media, that’s the reason why.

Also, recently, the “2020 Edelman Trust Barometer” results were published. The methodology in that was “Randomly selected 1,150 respondents in each of 28 countries around the world, surveyed by Edelman Worldwide, between 19 October and 18 November, in 2019.” It showed how much the people in each of the 28 countries trust their Government, and also how much they trust the news-media in their country. What it found was that trust in the country’s Government was the highest, 90%. in China, and was only 39% in U.S., 33% in Russia, and 20% in South Africa. Also: trust, by the people, in the given country’s media, was the highest, 80%, in China, and was 48% in U.S., and the lowest, 28%, in Russia, but South Africa wasn’t shown on that particular question.

Furthermore, the polling by Dalia Research found that these nations were rated by their residents the highest, and the lowest, in regard to the coronavirus challenge:

1. China

2. Vietnam

3. Greece

4. Malaysia

5. Ireland

6. Taiwan

7. Australia

8. Denmark

9. S. Korea

10: Austria

44. Hong Kong

45. Mexico

46. Russia

47. Italy

48. U.S.

49. Japan

50. Spain

51. France

52. Chile

53. Brazil

Moreover, though the residents in U.S., and also in Japan, low-rated the coronavirus-performance of their own Government, those people were profoundly deceived by their newsmedia regarding how well China’s Government had handled this challenge. This polling report stated:

“Nearly all countries say that China’s response to the COVID-19 is better than the US’s”; but that:

“When asked to assess China’s and the US’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all countries rate China’s response as much better. The only countries that think the US’s response is better are Japan (+17% in favor of US) and the US itself (+13% in favor of the US).”

In other words: the ‘news’-media in Japan and in the United States are (and this is proven in the latest data concerning all nations) grossly misrepresenting the reality (which is that China’s response has been enormously more effective than America’s has, in controlling the spread of this infection), and the news-media are far less deceptive in all of the other nations surveyed — far higher percentages of the people in all of those other nations recognize that the performance of China’s Government regarding the coronavirus challenge has been vastly more effective at controlling this plague than America’s Government is

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Fighting Existential Angst: Vainly Seeking “Therapy” On The Social Networks

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“The crowd is untruth.”-Sören Kierkegaard, Point of View, That Individual

Early philosophical explorations of anxiety are best traced to Sören Kierkegaard in the nineteenth century. For the seminal Danish thinker, this concept – often referred to colloquially as angst – has its core origins in existential dread; that is, a literal fear of  “not being.”[1] Whether or not such a primal view of anxiety ought still obtain (Freud, for example, introduced several important “modifications”), one corollary remains certain:

Therapeutic benefits are increasingly being sought on the computer, smart phone or some other crowd-oriented gadget.

This is hardly a mysterious or controversial corollary. These days, we can all casually witness the reassuringly deep pleasures bestowed by any shiny new communications “device.” Indeed, for seemingly uncountable souls, little can meaningfully compare to the palpable joys of some impending or imminentmessage. Reciprocally, however, nothing can produce a more pervasive private darkness or despair  than the  dreadful reverberations of extended machine silence.

“It is getting late,” remarks the poet W.H. Auden knowingly in The Age of Anxiety, “shall we ever be asked for? Are we simply not wanted at all?”

Explanations, though lamentable, are nonetheless obvious. Personal devices, expressly interlinked, promise us more than suitably efficient routings to enhanced personal safety or some accessible method to “stay in touch.”  However inconspicuous, conversing or messaging can grant the communicating individuals a satisfyingly easy and convenient “therapy.” Above all, they can permit both sender and recipient to feel needed, valuable, less anonymous, and  –  most importantly, always – less alone. 

If there has ever been reason not to doubt the perceived importance of avoiding aloneness, of being “asked for” or “wanted,” one need only consider American risk-taking behavior during the ongoing pandemic. Even now, when the high dangers of disease transmission have been well-publicized and the grievous consequences of Covid19 well-established, millions of our fellow citizens seek out glaringly unprotected public spaces. On both Memorial Day and July 4th, the urge to be “less alone” generated wide swaths of misplaced conviviality and corresponding fatalities.

Ultimately, a diminished sense of aloneness is what the social networks are all about. There are even certain “macro” or “cosmological” issues discoverable in every conceivable mix of plausible explanations. The known universe is probably  billions of light years “across.”  Yet, here, in a rapidly dissembling America and virtually everywhere else on this imperiled planet, most human beings lack the will[2] to become individuals.

Plainly lack this will.

“…it must be in every man’s power to become what he is, an individual….,” reminds Sören Kierkegaard in Point of View, That Individual. “From becoming an individual no one, no one at all, is excluded, except he who excludes himself by becoming a crowd.”

The ironies are several, and bitter. “Why bother?” the American crowd seems to reason. “Why even take the existential (or near-existential) risk of becoming a person?” Better just to “fit in” and do what is expected. And what is the most evident result of such cowardly thinking?

 In a distillation, it is the patently deranged presidency of Donald J. Trump.[3]

There is more. The cell phone and its related social networks have not actually “caused” users to suffer, exhibit or confront any “fear and trembling” (a mesmerizing conjunction earlier made famous by Kierkegaard).  These devices remain “just” tell-tale instruments of assessment, “diagnostic tools” that can – at least in principle -help one to identify and conquer any deeply primal angst. Without this prosaic but still-satisfying tool, such core apprehensions might otherwise lie undetected and infinitely dormant.

 In all pertinent instances of philosophic reflection, a revealing leitmotif must finally make itself known and understood. Most regrettably, there exists a more-or-less universal human wish to remain inconscient, unaware, not only of myriad external or “systemic” threats, but also of oneself. Minute by minute,  this very conspicuous wish leads millions of anxious souls[4] to stray dangerously far from the redemptive potential of authentic personhood,  toward the more easily cultivated but always-deceptive security of one or another “herd.”

Often, especially in generally affluent societies, we humans fear personal exclusion more than anything else, sometimes (as we can recall perilous personal behaviors on Memorial Day and July 4), more fearfully than personal death. This evanescent fear uncovers a critically important decisional calculus, one that may be responsible for manifestly assorted instances of war, terrorism and genocide.  Incontestably, the human need to belong can become so utterly overwhelming that many will literally killvarious others –at times, any others and many others – rather than face prolonged personal isolation or some presumed social ostracism.[5]

“Shall we ever be asked for….?” asks the poet Auden, knowingly.

The inner fear of loneliness so keenly expressed by social networking  gives rise to still another problem, one with a distinctly special significance for high school and university students. To begin to understand this special significance, one must first understand that nothing important in science or industry or art or music or literature or medicine or philosophy can ever take place without at least some already endured measure of personal loneliness. So as to exist apart from the mass – that is, to be tolerably extracted from what Freud had called the “primal horde” or what Nietzsche termed the “herd,” or Kierkegaard the “crowd” – is indispensable to any exceptional intellectual development.

If it were different, Americans would be getting their medical and scientific counsel from the all-too-numerous political hucksters, and not from the acclaimed epidemiologists. Recently the Lt. Governor of Texas urged Americans not to listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci about the pandemic, but instead to a president still shrieking at his incoherent “rallies” that  the virus will soon simply “disappear.”

I belong. Therefore I am. Turning philosopher René Descartes’ famous reasoning on its head, this now pitifully twisted mantra best expresses the sad credo common to all social network “addictions.” Among other things, it reveals a not-so-stirring manifesto that recognizable social acceptance is not merely vital, but immanent to one’s own personal survival.  

 Today, quite easily, the noisy and uneasy mass has infested our solitude.  Upon most of us, the telltale traces of “herd life” (the Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung would have called it a “mass” life) may have become indelible.  Accordingly, we have already prodded entire societies to nurture their own intellectual and ethical declensions.

There is more. Unambiguously, human life is always death’s prisoner.  Until we can face this ultimately overriding truth, we can never experience our carefully limited and  numbered moments with any sincere pleasure. Presently, despite our manifold efforts to stay connected with cellular telephone calls, tweets and texts, our bewildering personal doubts  have become cheerless and inexhaustible. In essence, this is because we continue to look “outside,” to others, to define (1) who we are; and (2) what we might still become.

 In part, at least, the immense attraction of cell phones and related social networking derives from our manifestly breathless and machine-like existence. Now, “We the people” typically celebrate any available expressions of a convenient push-button metaphysics.  Now, absolutely every hint of personal passion must expectedly follow a narrowly uniform pathway.

Always, we are expected to become each other, fully compliant and duly homogenized.

 Nonetheless, in glaring disregard for truth, we stubbornly insist that we can still remain in full control of our machines.

Credo quia absurdum! “I believe because it is absurd.”

Always, such insistence is shallow and unsupportable.

 Wherever we might choose to turn, we witness an implicit reciprocity between creator and creation, an elaborate pantomime between users and used.  Predictably, our multiple and intersecting techno-constructions are making a machine out of both Man and Woman. In what amounts to a prospectively unforgivable inversion of Genesis, we humans now generally behave as if we had been created in imago machina, in the image of the machine.

Could there be any greater “blasphemy?”

There is more. Preoccupation with personal devices and social networking is merely the most visible symptom of a much deeper pathology. Accordingly, the basic “disease” that we now suffer is a variously painful incapacity to be at peace with ourselves. In the United States, where this particular sort of corrosive primal illness can choke off the future as well as the present, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s earlier call for “high thinking” has gone unheeded; it has already been supplanted by the insufferably banal syllogisms of a barren national politics[6] and by an “everyone for himself” ethos of entrepreneurial or professional logic.

Any such ethos is inherently self-destructive and prospectively lethal. In the exact words of distinguished Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man.  this corrosive ethos must inevitably prove “false and against nature.” Today, as the United States shamelessly expresses an orientation much too casually described as “America First,” this country has become the reductio ad absurdum of what the seventeenth century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes had earlier called “a war of all against all.”

In any such war – which Jefferson and the American Founding Fathers had recognized as a bellum omnium contra omnes – there can be no tangible victories. To wit, under the crumbling Republic of Donald J. Trump, America’s status and power in the world have descended to once-unimaginable levels.

We live at a moment of genuine “plague,” of pestilence, of rapidly spreading viral disease that threatens each and every one of us with extinction, as individuals. It follows that angst may now have a new and less subjective source of justification.[7] It follows also that incrementally available therapies will stem not from any tangible locations on a beloved “device,” but from the more traditional drug-based remedies of contemporary medical science. This will hardly represent the long-term societal cure that is required, but it would at least allow us more time to cumulatively build back what we have so shamelessly neglected and dismantled. As Americans, the survival imperative is unambiguous. It is an overriding obligation to fight against existential angst not under the hypnotizing banners of any “crowd,” but as individuals accepting a common national obligation to think seriously.

This last point now needs to be made emphatic. In a nation where the current president made his 2016 Convention acceptance speech in conjunction  with Duck Dynasty, and who campaigned on the bewildering principle of “I love the poorly educated,” citizens have a fundamental obligation to combat the stubbornly complacent American ethos of anti-thought. Looking ahead, if we should continue to abide the instrumental notion of education as an adornment, or as narrowly vocational preparation, we will continue to be led by grotesque charlatans and fools. To halt such a lethal continuance is still in our residual power, but only if we can first finally reject the suffocating anti-intellectualism of a “crowd.”[8]

Always, we must recall the singular wisdom of Sören Kierkegaard, “The crowd is untruth.”


[1] Such fear is not necessarily analogous to death fear. It is more far-reaching because it precludes any “mitigating” forms of resurrection, eternality or re-birth.

[2] Modern philosophic origins of the term “will” lie in writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Friedrich Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Goethe. also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[3] Seem by this writer, Louis René Beres/https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/06/01/donald-trump-the-crowd-and-a-nations-bitter-despair/

[4] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but clearly it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[5] This brings to mind Ernest Becker’s famous paraphrase of Elias Canetti: “Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.” See Ernest  Becker, Escape from Evil (1975).

[6] See, by this writer, at Princeton, Louis René Beres, https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/02/emptiness-and-consciousness

[7] In this connection, notes José Ortega y’ Gasset, the Spanish existentialist philosopher: “Each of us is both the subject and the protagonist of his own nontransferable life.” (Man and Crisis, 1958).

[8] In this connection, “Resistance to the organized mass,” says Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung in The Undiscovered Self, “can be effected only by the man (or woman) who is as well-organized in his individuality as the mass itself.” Plainly, Jung was intellectually indebted to Kierkegaard as well as to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

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Americas

The Free And The Fettered

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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It was almost two-and-one-half centuries ago — July 2, 1776 to be exact — when the American colonies voted for independence; two days later, on July 4, they ratified the draft of the declaration.  It includes the famous words:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident:  that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness …”

True today as they were then, these words remain a dream for ordinary people and a nightmare for dictators, factual and putative.  One only has to cast a glance at the two most populous countries in the world.  But then continuing on to the rest of it and the picture is no different in most.  Look to the east and west of India and keep going.  You end up in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans with nary a thought of Jefferson’s famous words. 

It is the Pacific where Hong Kong demonstrations have been protecting the erosion of freedoms promised when sovereignty was returned to China in 1997.  Now President Xi Jinping has signed into effect a new draconian law aimed directly at protesters.  It threatens prison for life and protesters have chosen quiet.  Demosisto, the pro-democracy organization behind the protests, has announced it will cease all operations and has disbanded. 

Perhaps Mr. Xi can keep a tight lid on the simmering anger in Hong Kong, although even a pressure cooker has a safety valve, without which the tighter the lid the larger the explosion.  There is also the thought that Hong Kong itself has been an outlet for those in mainland China seeking release from Mr. Xi’s ever tightening embrace.

Then there are the Uyghurs of Xinjiang autonomous region in northwest China.  Their restlessness under a relentless Sinicization regime has them interned in re-education camps.  What is required of them is to become culturally Chinese, giving their own way of life to adapt to Han customs and traditions.  It is a tall order and the question is, why?  Different peoples with different customs have lived together in the past, making the world richer in its diversity.  A narrow-minded focus on uniformity destroys languages and cultures; and our world is poorer for it.

Further south to India and to Mr. Narindra Modi’s Hindutva movement which believes in the country’s adoption of a solely Hindu culture.  A lockdown and communications blackout in Muslim Kashmir, the Sikhs in the Punjab demanding Khalistan; Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and other tribes in the northeast also still yearning cultural freedom.  If thousands of young men have been detained in Kashmir to curb protests, their detention is even less likely to befriend them to Mr. Modi whose iron fist relies on the tens of thousands of security forces in their homeland — even if they want to, who can shake hands with a fist? 

The story of a dominant group suppressing the weaker does not end there, and if one were to look at economic dominance over the centuries, one would notice the comfortable west trading higher priced manufactured goods for artificially low-priced raw materials.  It is how the Indian subcontinent became a pauper when once it generated a fifth of world GDP.

So as the US celebrates Independence Day, let us remember what it stands for, that ‘all men are created equal’; that they are endowed with the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.  And then let us remind ourselves of all the peoples still yearning for that simple yet eloquent dream. 

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