The New Terrapin Gazette
25 February, 2012
Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on.
Media, Technology, Information And Filthy Dictators
Here’s an interesting talk for those who want to know how the internet is literally creating history and changing social, political and psychological systems. The thesis of the presentation is strong, though there are minor irritations: the speaker uses “media” as if it were a singular noun, and believes “text” can be a verb; he often mutters “That’s right” or simply “Right” after he makes what he considers major statements. Too, he weakens his argument a bit with one anecdote: when a website set up by Team Obama was hit by a wave of negative comments, the then candidate Obama did not shut the site down (as would the Chinese authorities); that option was scarcely open to Obama, however, so the fact that it was not exercised surprised and/or pleased absolutely no one. Nor does it prove that the current administration is above limiting the flow of information. Recall the attempted cover-up of Fast and Furious and the imposition of the individual mandate in Obamacare, both of which betray a strong desire to control.
The lecturer’s point is simply that the internet is a powerful medium for propaganda, due primarily to its technical novelty. This revelation is unsurprising — consider the invention of movable type, and its impact on civilization — and reminds of the role played by the video tape recorder in the downfall of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos controlled the radio, television, and print press, so the citizens had no information on how bad his misrule actually was. Television news broadcasts from the USA were tape recorded, spliced into the middle of VCR cartridges, and smuggled into The Philippines; this crack in the wall of censorship informed and inspired the rebellion.
Repressive regimes always seek to filter information, and as technology makes that task more complex, they adapt. Hitler used film to great effect. The USSR tried to jam Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and China has recently closed Twitter down. The internet can be censored, as the Chinese are demonstrating, but in the USA such efforts would be futile — pesky concepts of Liberty make life complicated for censors. Gradually, critics of the biased news media in the USA make an impression, and the public view of the lapdog press is increasingly jaundiced (bias is a form of censorship, and the principle should be reiterated: in order to be effective, censorship need not be total). In response, the White House digs in, tries to ignore the emerging diversity, and colludes with Media Matters, which is perhaps the most extreme collectivist organization with a substantial presence on the internet.
It’s all perfectly natural and predictable, of course. Common sense applies: what you can do in China, you can’t get away with in the USA, so you don’t try it — because you know the futile effort would make you look bad. Finally, the sheer dynamics of developments follow obvious rules, such as: a novel offensive weapon always inspires novel countermeasures — which may fail, as the Aztecs discovered. The more things change, the more they stay the same….
It seems that the USA and the West in general simply do not understand the civil war raging in Syria. If, for example, anyone is trying to figure out precisely why Russia and China support the Assad regime, the conclusions resulting from those efforts are not available for public discussion. The USA pleads with China to change its vote in the UN Security Council, and says next to nothing about why the Chinese are so bafflingly stubborn. The standard explanation — that Syria will cooperate with China, but not with the Western powers — is hardly demystifying, and rings hollow. Citizens who depend on the TV and newspapers for information can be excused if they understand only that Russia, China and Iran just want to cause headaches for Uncle Sam. Surely there is more to it than that; what long-term strategy prompts this attempt to prop up a regime that is standing athwart the tide of history? If Russian-Chinese support of Assad is understood, why not clearly and loudly explain it to the public?
Well, begin with this essential iteration: most Western diplomats and strategic thinkers do not understand what is going on. The mistaken majority simply assumes tacitly that Assad is “standing athwart the tide of history”, and then the bureaucrats and politicians pretty much let the rest of the matter go. This in spite of the fact that the “tide of history” is a bad metaphor that conveys no wisdom and has no referent. It’s pure hot air.
Yes, that means that there is no divinely-mandated retribution awaiting Assad. Karma is not working itself out; Fate is not establishing balance in the world, and the mills of the gods are not grinding fine. The words of Spain’s Francisco Franco have been forgotten: commenting on the downfall (and assassination, if memory serves) of some greedy and lustful autocrat in some benighted nation, the generalissimo remarked that dictators of that sort all come to bad ends. He was right: dictators who are good at their jobs can and do succeed. Franco, you will recall, died peacefully, his absolute dictatorship secure to the last. (A search for the Franco quote was fruitless, but the wily tyrant’s words are almost certainly correctly reported here.)
The West in general, and the US State Department in particular, are deluding themselves. During Obama’s amateurish leadership, a misinterpretation of events in the Islamic world has become a dominant paradigm: The Arab Spring. This fiction is based on the assumption that all but disparate Arab regimes from North Africa to Asia are undergoing an epiphany in which the principles of democracy and Liberty drive reform and political evolution. Hillary and many other Western diplomats believe that finally things are working out as people rise up and advance their circumstances by adopting Western values, even if incompletely at first.
According to this fantasy, Gaddafi (however you want to spell his name) was run over by nascent democracy; Egypt took a huge step away from dictatorship and irrational governance when it pushed Mubarak aside, and now it’s Syria’s turn.
Such harebrained misconceptions are irrational projections that cripple governments’ ability to understand, to conduct relations with other regimes, and to serve the best interests of their citizens.
How pathetically naive of the West, and especially of the USA, to assume that the natural consequences of dictatorship are somehow more inspiring and ennobling than the deplorable bloodshed they are. The violence in Syria is a specimen of the process by which authoritarian regimes assume, maintain, and lose control in nations that know next to nothing of Western values. Instead of making political adjustments by having elections, dictatorships go through crises. The results of this endemic, defining and continual struggle for power vary from insignificant (which is rare, but Spain is an instance) to catastrophic. This is the way it is. There is no inescapable political evolution that leads to democracy; the notion that everybody will eventually wind up living in a state that honors Liberty is a myth.
What is going on in Syria is not the inevitable advance of democracy, but a struggle that is typical of totalitarian states. There is no predicting the outcome; one cannot know whether the violence will eventually prove cleansing and unifying (consider the USA’s Civil War), or merely tragic. Sometimes things work out for the best, as the Westerner sees it, and sometimes….
So while Obama and the other superficial thinkers in the West look at the civil war in Syria as an enlightened populace proclaiming its belief in democracy and the rule of law, the essential question is being ignored. The West should be trying to figure out exactly why Russia and China support Assad, and what that says about Russia and China. (What Assad means to Iran is clear.)
The myth of “the tide of history” driving inevitable evolution to genuine democracy is the twin brother of the Marxist myth of inevitable evolution to communism. It’s time the West grew up.
Some people almost understand this.
Grasping the facts that the present is not understood and the future is wildly uncertain suggests to the wise that one should not live by a myth. Historical inevitability is a delusion. For example, the emergence of the political system of the USA was literally unique; it was not possible in any other place when it occurred — certainly not in Britain — and it might well have been aborted, had the War Office in London not been in dissaray. An unlikely confluence of events in North America in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries determined the undeniably exceptional nature of the USA.
Other nations may or may not undergo transformations that result in varying degrees of democratic reform; one cannot predict. But one can and should try to understand what rascals like Russia and China are really up to. After all, it would be insane to ignore the plans the villains are making.
Addendum: Years ago, this newsletter expressed the opinion that Iraq’s Saddam may have shipped many of his nastiest weapons to Syria before the USA invaded (there was a long pause after the intent to invade was obvious, and before US forces entered Iraq). Reports of convoys of trucks leaving Iraq and entering Syria just might have been accurate. Of course nobody will talk about that now, but…there’s current speculation about Assad’s weaponry.
It’s a puzzle: a few months ago, the political/economic situation in Burma seemed to be stable, yet today it is changing dramatically; why ever?
This newsletter has never devoted much space to Burma, except to note that the nation was profoundly misunderstood by most foreign observers. Though it was portrayed simply as a military dictatorship, Burma was enslaved by two evil masters, not just one. Additionally, China took a very strong interest in Burma for excellent strategic reasons.
Now every detail of this sophisticated understanding must be called into question.
Why would the military release Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and many other political prisoners? Where is the rebel army that threatens to overthrow the nation’s lethal military? (There is none.) Why would the economic sector of the nation agree to risky, uncertain and wildly unpredictable political change — change that could wreck monopolies and oligopolies, lower profit margins, and increase consumer choices? (That would be out of centuries-old character.) How can China permit this dangerous process, given the fact that it could in all probability make it more difficult for China to gain greater influence in Southeast Asia? (Remember Tibet, Falun Dafa, Tienanmen Square, and wonder.)
For years, the Burmese military — as vile and goofy a cabal as one is likely to find outside North Korea and Iran — conspired with the ethnic Chinese shopkeepers to impose order and poverty on the citizenry. Without the economic elite, the military elite would have been only partially successful; without the army, the merchants would have had to cope with competition and relatively free markets. The unholy pact seemed unbreakable. Not even the monks could stand against the brutality of a dictatorship that was more than willing to murder innocents.
So the question must be, “Why would any single member of this evil triumvirate mandate or tolerate reform?”
No, it’s not theater staged by the Wizard of Oz. Burma really is opening up. Of course this is a welcome development, but…it is incomprehensible, and that means one cannot know whether it will be suppressed with heartbreaking violence.
Some observers outside Burma will say that the army has sickened in its roles as murderer and dictator. That seems extraordinarily unlikely, even impossible. Others may argue that the merchants, acting out of the goodness of their hearts, have decreed an end to their assured good fortune. (An opium dream.) Perhaps others will point to the international sanctions, and say that Burma’s rulers realized that their nation was in danger of permanently disabling itself. (A lunatic NGO fantasy.) Or could it be that China…no, that’s transparently absurd.
Whatever has happened, it has to be a widespread change in the mindset of pivotal cadres and supremely influential individuals, for a successful and richly rewarding apparatus is now being dismantled.
Comments are welcome, Pilgrims. Tell the bemused Eagle Wing Palace why this is happening. What a long, strange trip….
The quote of the day: “Women, you’re being played. Again”.
This bid for a Pulitzer has two chances: fat and slim.
Not too many moons ago, this newsletter regularly stuck its knife into Canada, and with great force. Aha! The Canadians are recovering from their fit of political correctness and beginning to restore Liberty to the populace. It was a bitter struggle, and it should have been more embarrassing to the Canadians than it was, but it appears headed toward resolution, eh?
Meanwhile, British political correctness will have to be dealt with by the internet, it seems. For your edification: a very unsavory example.
“Emotional myths routinely trump rational science”. Yes.
If you have been intrigued by items in this newsletter about human genetics and evolution, you will find this video engrossing. It features the world’s premier scholar in the field, Svante Pääbo. Highest recommendation.
Eastern Europeans care about freedom of speech because they know what it is to live without it. The USA, on the other hand…. Some quotes: “…the treaty was negotiated for almost four years in secret….” and “‘Civil liberties would not be curtailed,’ says the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which signed” the treaty in order to impose censorship in The Land of the Free. No, it’s not ironic — it’s tragic. PS: the prime minister of Poland now says he made a mistake when he supported the treaty.
Whodunnit? First it seemed Obama did, then that Hillary did (well, at least she helped, or was behind it, or something), then The One’s mouthpiece said the GOP did it (baloney), and now this. Good grief. Whoever did it, Canada and the USA both lost big, and China won.
Jew-hatred among the intelligentsia? It’s not clear whether this seeming travesty is actually just a harmless teaching device, but it is hard to imagine a lecture series on the evils of abortion being presented at Harvard…without provoking a spasm of protest and violence, that is. But since the targets are not abortionists, but Jews and Israel — well, that’s OK, then.
A “wingnut” website takes on the boss: “Barack Obama was unprepared to be president. He had very little record to run on, and his one experience at being an executive was a failure — his hushed up history running and running through a hundred million dollars as the head of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge in Chicago. He had a record of avoiding tough decisions (the “voting present” issue).” Sure. But no one seems to care now, and over three years of mistakes and some good luck will, if the voters can be read this early, translate into another four years in power. It’s too bad the GOP could not come up with a good opponent for Obama.
Mark Steyn has seen the future, and reports that “the Baby Boomers did not have enough children to maintain mid-20th century social programs. As a result, the children they did have will end their lives in a poorer, uglier, sicker, more divided and more violent society.” He’s not joking.
Pity the advertising copywriters who produced this hilarious video, only to see it banned.
Multiculturalism in action: immersed in a modern Western society, the “aliens” are alien no longer. A new phase of their lives begins, and with it come travel, the pride of mastering a variety of skills, excitement and a sense of purpose.
Are you worried about what the Israelis might do, or try to do, about Iran? Yes, so is this newsletter, which knows no more about things than does anyone else who is not in the know. But here is a good article on the subject.
A fraught relationship mellows? Well, why shouldn’t it, and what could go wrong? As long as Obama understands the situation, everything will be — whoa! Good grief, pardon the lapse!
Boy, does the current US federal department of justice ever reek. Read and marvel.
Slowly, slowly, the major media are coming around to the view currently favored by this newsletter: the GOP has already lost the presidential election to Obama. Oddly enough, this time the prediction does not proceed from bias, but from sheer observation and reason. The journalists have declared Newt out of it, which he is, because the voters hate his style. Ron Paul has said (correctly) that Santorum can’t win because his faith-based politics are out of step with too many independent voters. Next and last, one of the major themes of the media is that for some unknown reasons (which can be known if one thinks for a minute), Romney is a chronic undeachiever. It’s the independents he has to win over, and he is not doing it. Boy, this one is going to hurt…it might even translate into a hammering in the House and the failure of the Republicans to recapture the Senate. That would give The One a free hand.
Microsoft users, learn a bit more about that operating system you have, and then consider the alternatives.
Those interested in the psychological implications of “progressivism” may be amused/infuriated by this essay. No, it’s not caustic, just a bit ironic in the “we in the audience realize something the actor stage left does not” sense.
The Occupy phenomenon is secular transcendence unbound. Its visionary rectitude can sanctify activities the capitalist exploiters consider beyond their confining pale. Confused? Let The Magus of Occupy, Keith Olbermann, Doctor of Cynical Casuistry, explain. NSFW.
You probably don’t need this, but in the event that you do not understand the Tea Party Movement, here is a good analytical and explanatory video.
Can you say “underperformer”? Sure you can. And here’s why you should.
I won’t slave for beggar’s pay
Likewise gold and jewels
But I would slave to learn the way
To sink your ship of fools
The masthead includes a quote from the works of Frederic Bastiat.
The staff of The New Terrapin Gazette expresses its sincere gratitude to the many people who have gifted the world with Arch Linux, Emacs, and Firefox.
Publisher: The Eagle Wing Palace of The Queen Chinee.