We’re All Diplomats

Democratizing Diplomacy

Diplomacy, the practice of managing relations between two or more sides, is a fancy way of describing normal human interactions between diverse participants. Whether you’re an international worker in Dubai delicately managing your tenuous position, a refugee in Berlin trying to present as a nonthreatening worker bee to suspicious citizens, or an American businessman in Bangkok patiently waiting as your Chinese partner haggles, diplomacy is actively engaged. Yet when we discuss diplomacy, we think of Talleyrand, Metternich, Kissinger, and Albright. We think of elites talking to elites in opaque, high-level policy negotiations filled with massive egos, cinematic intrigue, and historical discussions. This view of diplomacy is outdated and dangerously misunderstands how cultures interact and shape one another in a hyper-connected world.

I’m not writing this or offering ideas out of moral righteousness. While I do believe there are both moral and righteous solutions to difficult problems facing our civilization, I am more concerned with my own personal happiness and safety, and the happiness and safety of my friends and family. My problem is, my friends and family live all over the globe, so when I hear violent rhetoric from my government threatening the people I love, my calculus for what safety and happiness means changes. I can’t just care about the people in my immediate surroundings or those I grew up with, because I’ve seen that the world itself is my neighborhood. The people living in the regions America stereotypes and dehumanizes are just like me. I know this because I’ve met them, practiced diplomacy with them, and found connections in the roots of our shared humanity.

Why is US Diplomacy broken?

If Americans were represented well, the world would be a much different place. However, during my time as an officer in the US Army, I saw where the rubber meets the road in our foreign policy, and the takeaway was disheartening.

In South Korea, I saw us pursue the lowest hanging fruit to find local partners, working with known human traffickers and gangsters, who we called “Good Neighbors,” and invited onto our bases to play golf. When major, horrific incidents involving violent US service members and Korean civilians occured, we used mass punishment on our 28,500 military personnel to virtue signal to the South Korean government. This didn’t change what our personnel did, however, and the more we hid behind our walls topped with concertina wire, the more of an unknown we became to the local people. When I asked friends, acquaintances, and random people from all walks of life in South Korea to do word association with “US Military” or “US Soldier,” invariably, nearly half would respond “rape,” “murder,” or “barbarians.”

South Korea 1One of my friends in South Korea at one of our favorite spots in Seoul, Strange Fruit, named after the Billie Holiday and Abel Meeropol song. It was in this venue and venues like it that I heard music and met people that dramatically altered the way I see the world.

The Ville is the name given to the clusters of brothels and bars right outside US military bases in South Korea. It was at one of these bases, Camp Casey, where I spent the entirety of 2011-2013. And it was Camp Casey’s Ville, and the official support it received, that left me with a feeling of embarrassment for how my country was being represented. These were establishments that kidnapped and tricked women from the Philippines into coming to South Korea on the belief they’d be a singer. Once in country, they were trapped, stripped of their passports, and kept as sex slaves to service US military personnel and make money for local Korean businessmen. I regularly saw company and battalion commanders bring subordinates to these establishments for “morale building” parties.

In one sensing session with a representative from our higher headquarters, I brought up how harmful our activities were to the local population and to our own image, with our Soldiers spending an estimated $1 million in the Ville on payday weekends. In addition to the toxicity inherent in their situation, the exploited sex workers also served as intelligence gathering agents for our regional adversaries. Foreign agents cultivated relationships with the enslaved women, who would report on troop activities and training they overheard from compromised Soldiers..

During this session, it was explained to me that according to our own rules, any establishment we banned had to be reviewed every six months. If it passed the new review, it had to be taken off the banned list. This meant only the most egregious violations resulted in bans, followed by a quick rebranding of the club for reinspection, which it would invariably pass. Soon after, the club would return to its old practices, confident the US inspectors wouldn’t be back for years.

This was one the most frustrating moments of my career, particularly as this practice had been around our bases in South Korea for decades. Fortunately, however, thanks to concerted efforts from like-minded members of the military and quality leadership, a blanket ban on these establishments was instituted on behalf of the United States Forces Korea command a few years later.

In the Korean culture brief I gave to every Soldier inprocessing with the 2nd Infantry Division, I taught that we share 90-95% of what makes us human with every other human on the planet. It’s the 5-10%, the cosmetic differences, that cause disagreements, fights, conflicts, and wars. Rather than focus on the small percentage of another person or culture that separates them or it from you, I told my Soldiers to focus on their shared humanity and all the ways in which we’re the same.

My three principles for how to interact with any culture effectively were:
1. Try to be polite, but more importantly, be actively humble about the fact that maybe you don’t know what another person finds polite.
2. Hone your situational awareness to figure out how to act in most situations quickly, even if you don’t speak the language.
3. In complicated situations where accurate communication is vital, have a friend who can interpret what you’re trying to say.
This last step obviously requires making friends within the local population.

korea 4I taught a Korean culture class for Soldiers in-processing with the 2nd Infantry Division.

Diplomacy and increasing empathy between groups is my passion, so while I was in Korea I tried my hand at creating a new narrative for our local relationship. To this end I set up cultural exchanges between US Soldiers and Korean military personnel and hand-picked accurately diverse representatives within our service to interact with students at Korean universities. In my personal time I facilitated art projects and independent rock concerts to improve relations with the liberal-artist demographic, trend setters who were historically antagonistic towards the United States military.

The goal wasn’t to build rent-seeking relationships, like our Good Neighbor Program so often ended up doing. Rather my purpose was to make real connections and lasting friendships, a goal that’s difficult to capture in a way the metrics-obsessed military services understand. The result on the ground, however, was a community of individuals interacting outside national identity and finding common ground through shared passions and experiences. Witnessing human beings from different cultures connect with other humans beings from other cultures left a strong impression on my psyche.

Through my new friends, I learned about a local musician’s collective helping its members survive the conservative culture of South Korea, which told them they were crazy for expressing themselves. I learned that many of these musicians were also full-time activists fighting unfettered gentrification in the traditional arts district of Hongdae and elsewhere in their city. I learned that the rent for many small stores and venues had increased from $1,500 to $7,000 a month in only a few years. I learned about the harshness of South Korea’s National Security Law when my friends passed me a petition to protest the prosecution of their friend, Park Jong-kun. I saw Park Geun-hye get elected in 2012, which my friends called catastrophic as they accurately predicted her autocratic impulses. But most importantly, I learned I loved my friends in South Korea just as much as I loved anyone from my hometown.

Korea 2Talking about independent art and music for a Korean documentary.

When I went to Afghanistan in 2014, I saw us ignore what I’d learned in Korea and instead throw money at individuals and organizations, perpetuating corruption and fueling cycles of violence. In a culture where life is cheap and violence ubiquitous, adding daily planeloads of ammunition and suitcases full of cash didn’t earn anyone’s respect. In using our typical strategies, we created dependencies and exploitative relationships.

The plethora of programs we’ve set up to increase the cultural fluency of our personnel have met with varying levels of failure. Most notable of these was the AFPAK hands program, built to add highly-trained, culturally fluent personnel to deployed formations. The program turned out to be a career killer for officers who signed up. AFPAK positions lacked Key Development qualifications, something promotion boards, who spend mere minutes on each officer’s file, look for when deciding who gets a green light. Many personnel within the program were passed over in favor of their colleagues, who’d remained on a standard career path. In addition to this program, we’ve tried MiTT teams, PRTs, and Special Operations Advisor Teams/Groups, among others. Our new initiative, the Security Force Assistance Brigade, looks as mismanaged, poorly implemented, and doomed to failure as the rest. With so much failure, it seemed to me it wasn’t our individual programs that were the problem, but rather our overall system.
Afghan 1My friend and interpreter in Afghanistan.

As my team leader explained to me at least ten times during our year together, the British military advisor model was vastly different from the US version due to budgetary concerns and constraints. Their strategy was to deliver small equipment upgrades to their partner units and wait until they demonstrated proficiency, the ability to maintain the equipment, and accountability before giving more. The US model, unconstrained by financial concerns, was to flood the country with weapons, money, and technology.

In my last few months in country, I came to see our initiatives as so backwards I intentionally slow-rolled our requisition request for night-vision capable sniper scopes and MK-19 weapons systems, which the commander of the Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan was attempting to deliver to the Afghans in order to get an additional bullet for his Officer Evaluation Report. I could not, in good conscience, deliver night-vision capable sniper scopes and MK-19s to Afghan personnel who’d repeatedly failed to maintain accountability for basic items.

After privately consulting with the Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) team on our camp, I decided giving our partner force these sniper scopes would most likely result in future US personnel being killed. So I did everything within my limited power to prevent this from occurring without going to jail in the process.

When the commander of our Joint Task Force, 3-10, became unhappy with the state of corruption within our Afghan partner unit and tried to shake up their command team, the Afghan officers patiently waited for that commander to go home, as they always did. Shortly after, we became embroiled in a toxic leadership issue that consumed a great deal of our bandwidth. Additional distractions included the fallout from our camp commander offering $500,000 for sex with one of our interpreters, and having multiple members of our ODA sent home for sleeping with members of our Cultural Support Team. With all this and much more occurring around our missions, by the time reports from the ground got back to DC, the information was filtered through so many career-oriented officials it was unrecognizable. This made orders coming back down nonsensical and divorced from the reality we were experiencing.

CaptureA graphic showing how information flows from people on the ground gathering information and executing orders, up to decision-makers, passing through filters that strip out bad news, then back to the people on the ground.

This is one of the many reasons experts and officials based in the US live in an alternate reality. It’s not their fault, it’s the information they’re fed. Garbage in, garbage out. Even when they flit around war zones as VIP tourists, the briefs they receive are specifically tailored to paint a rosy picture that confirms what we’re doing is right. This includes briefing our guests juked stats, which in the Afghan context meant naming every military-aged male we found during our night raids with target nomenclature after the fact and counting their kill or capture as a Jackpot, regardless of our intel or whether we had derogatory information about the individual beyond living in the same village as our original target. These men would be sent on to be processed at an Afghan prison, where they were then released due to lack of evidence supporting the charge and given cab fare home.

The clearest example of this performative behavior came during a live fire exercise put on for top Afghan and US military officials visiting our camp. During the exercise, when the Afghans were supposed to perform a dangerous call for fire, their radio wasn’t even plugged in. It was a show put on to make them look more capable than they actually were. In reality, while the Afghans yelled instructions into a dead radio, watched by our VIP guests from a distance, members of our ODA were secretly calling up on their own radio in another location on the Afghan’s behalf. The exercise was declared a major success by everyone and the illusion of progress was reported up the chain.

Afg 2
Eating our weekly Thursday evening feast of kebabs with our interpreters and Afghan brothers. Sharing food is my favorite form of diplomacy. 

This isn’t the result of a few bad ideas, a few bad apples, or any one country with a difficult mission set. Our self-defeating, short-sighted policies are replicated again and again, with our initiatives often projecting our worst cultural impulses onto local populations as we attempt to maintain the perception of a positive narrative for western press and officials. These are not exceptions, but a rather too common result of our ham-fisted, militaristic diplomatic initiatives. Our relations are lost in bureaucratic mechanisms using poorly thought out quantitative metrics to measure an ill-defined version of success, leading to perverse incentives for career-minded officials at the tactical and operational levels.

While defenders of our State Department might object to this characterization of our foreign relations initiatives as a gross oversimplification, I respond by pointing to the State Department’s limited functionality, impact, and initiative prioritization, starkly observed when comparing the organization’s Fiscal Year 2019 Congressional Budget Justification of $37.8 Billion with the Department of Defense’s $686 billion slice. Any way you look at it, DoD, our sledgehammer, is having an outsized impact on America’s relations with the rest of the world.

The Worldview of the American Elite

At the core of our diplomatic incompetence is the hubris many American citizens, scholars, and officials unknowingly carry with them as a result of their socialization into popular American political culture. We assert we are a global hegemon, but do not match this narrative with measured and patient rhetoric. Representatives of the most powerful nation on earth must be humble, self-aware, and understanding when dealing with partners. American exceptionalism, an idea created by wealthy white men to justify the genocide of America’s native inhabitants and the manipulation of sovereign governments at the behest of corporate interests, is a self-defeating attitude when carried abroad. Unfortunately, understanding US relations outside this context is much to ask from a foreign policy elite weaned on the idea of US hegemony.

How did our elites reach the conclusion that overwhelming American dominance of global affairs was prudent, and why do these elites so heavily influence our foreign policy in the first place? For those answers, we have to go back to the genesis of the modern concept of national sovereignty in the west: The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia.

Let’s examine a fundamental assumptions about this historical event, as espoused by an elite foreign policy luminary, major architect of our current foreign policy thinking, and war criminal, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger touts the vital importance of the national sovereignty system established by the Treaty, which attempted to end centuries of European religious jihad and barbarism through diplomatic tools and centralized control.

In practice this codified the territorial borders of whatever European warlords happened to be in power at the time into the legalistic notion of the nation-state and transferred religious authority to the head of state. This was a massive historical consolidation of power. Enter the age of nationalism, a religious belief that holds the territorial borders of warlords and kings are sacred markers of identity, character, value, and whether an individual is deserving of empathy.

This paved the way for delusional autocrats like Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, whose self-indulgence at the expense of those within his administrative territory is legendary. History is replete with examples of sovereigns like Louis who considered their own populations subhuman and unworthy of dignity. A human life is merely another statistic to be counted when tallying the resources of the state.

It makes sense that Kissinger and his followers look to Westphalia and the Sun Kings of the world for guidance. They believe a nation-state is best viewed from the top-down, with whatever elites were born or lucked into power serving as preferable representatives to the less-worthy non-elites living within that nation’s borders. Their professional worldview also has the benefit of being self-serving, speaking wealth to power on behalf of the already wealthy and powerful. When viewed from this perspective, invading, bombing, massacring, exploiting, and punishing the regular people living in an administered region due to the actions of their rulers seems reasonable.

The debatable notion of the state as the best representative of its citizenry to other populations is particularly problematic within highly-polarized democracies. The regional administrative authority is too simplistic and unwieldy a construct to accurately represent tens of millions of individuals. In the age of personal branding through social media, national governments are poor arbiters of a national ethos. Rather, individuals can represent themselves directly to other individuals all around the world. But this view of international relations is a threat to the state’s stranglehold on official diplomacy.

So it makes sense when the most influential scholars favored by current policymakers preach policy options that perpetuate white male corporate dominance of international affairs. They’re more shills than actual realists, and prattle on about how countering Violent Extremist Organizations, countering near-peer competitors, and maintaining America’s top position in the global balance of power is accomplished through top-down, elite-centric military and economic policies that coincidentally concentrate power and wealth into the hands of their class.

This reliance on violence to enforce the will of state elites brought the world to the edge of nuclear destruction, both intentionally and by accident, multiple times a decade for multiple decades. And yet these experts posit that because there hasn’t yet been a nuclear war in the 70 years since nuclear weapons were invented, this short span of historic time stands as proof of their wisdom, rather than a warning about powerful, irresponsible, highly-neurotic men rolling the dice and coming up lucky.

Throughout the 20th century the USSR and US, despite all the talk of nuclear peace, transformed their ideological slap-fight into deadly civil conflicts using dysfunctional, abused populations left to boil by their former imperial occupiers. Democratically elected leaders were killed, organizations for workers were destroyed, and ideology trumped humanity. The “unsentimental analysis of underlying factors” of Kissinger’s realpolitik, is merely a disregard for psychology, sociology, spirituality, aesthetics, and anything not immediately of value to those with enough power to gaslight themselves into uncritically believing in their own righteousness. There is no cold, rational logic at play here, that’s an illusion peddled by the powerful to justify exploitative behavior. Even without the trappings of divine right, their inherent belief in their superior abilities, intellect, and the rightness of the power offered through privilege and position blinds them to reality.

Before they threatened every child in the world with nuclear apocalypse, the practitioners of this governing philosophy were using racist policies from American history, such as the Monroe Doctrine and Roosevelt Corollary, to justify the overthrow of self-determined governments, contributing to much of the instability used as justification for military interventions today. And now they’re at it again, letting fear and their carefully honed ivory tower disconnect from reality lead them down unwise and dangerous roads.

Typical practitioners of this amorphous ideology claim they use logic, but in reality their ideas are simply fear-mongering about a looming, supposedly competitive “other” dressed up with jargon and theory. Their worldview rests on the Hobbesian premise that life outside civilization, in the state of nature, is, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” But if this is the way of the world, and the point of civilization is to temper our primal competitive instincts, these deep-thinkers fail to offer a compelling vision for how their philosophy does anything but tread water.

Describing the international system as anarchic and dooming humans to repeating destructive cycles, despite making real, objective progress in lowering our intraspecies murder rates and food insecurity through the mitigating tools of civilization, undersells the capacity of both the individual and society to change in significant ways. When one of our vaunted foreign policy gurus proclaims, “We can have no better because of human nature,” I believe they fundamentally misunderstand one of our species’ greatest strengths: malleability.

Taking chances and increasing collaboration, not competing for an esoteric balance of power, is a superior goal for human civilization. Individuals can change and societies do change. Prescribing a single mode of existence for our species isn’t merely wrong-headed and ahistorical, it denies us hope of future progress. But the popular version of realism practiced by the already powerful uses fear and a national media they dominate to warn the masses away from needed systemic change. They’re on the side of the Sun King and the status quo.

Unfortunately, according to my direct observations while working for the US foreign policy establishment, this worldview is nearly ubiquitous. Exacerbating their myopia is the absence of self-reflection and personal accountability, a direct result of a field dominated by competition and sacrifice-obsessed wealthy, white male culture. Violence-forward, inherently exploitative diplomacy, with little-to-no regard for blowback and local self-determination, is what this viewpoint boils down to; with success measured in economic openness and regime malleability.

Not only are viewpoints outside the norm viewed with derision, most foreign policy elites I’ve encountered won’t take the time to use their heralded brainpower to stop to consider ideas they’ve never heard before. They don’t have to. Additionally, if something isn’t written using the language, grammar, and cultural signals of the white upper class, it’s considered poor scholarship and not worth anyone’s time. What results is insular, ivory-tower groupthink that usually ends in vulnerable people somewhere in the world getting killed or exploited either intentionally or on accident.

We now have a synthetic world order cobbled together under unstable and bipolar US leadership, the common argument being that US hegemony increases international stability. This specifically defined stability, created in the post-war system by realist scholars, was seemingly proof enough that chaos would rule if other organizing methods were attempted.

Now, with the rise of Trumpian foreign policy and nativist impulses, that argument is not only obviously mistaken, but the core of their beliefs, that we should consolidate authority and power into a single hegemonic nation, looks foolish and short-sighted. Pax Americana was a wildly narcissistic and unsustainable idea rooted in classic white paternalistic instincts. It’s also self-defeating. By setting yourself up as the world leader and fostering a competitive system, you’re creating a world of enemies for yourself.

Collaboration, while more difficult, reduces the frictions caused by competition and, in the present context of abundant resources, artificial scarcity, instant communication, and accessible international transportation, creates synergistic effects as cultures and ideas are absorbed into one another. It also helps get at humanity’s collective action problem, a devil of an issue we need to figure out if we’re to effectively address the major crisis of our era: our changing climate and the tens of millions of human refugees and countless displaced other species we must find a place for or fight in the coming decades. Instead of assuming the heavy, corrosive mantle of global leadership, we should be one among equals and treat our brothers and sisters around the world accordingly. On this front, our current policies are clearly not serving us well.

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Real diplomacy is practiced on the ground, creating relationships between many individuals that interweave together, strengthening the bonds between cultures and national identities.

How do we improve?

It is beyond time our diplomacy was democratized. But what does this mean in practice? First, that we acknowledge and understand that diplomacy is not performed best by a highly-trained cadre of elites who all went to the same prep school. Rather it exists and is performed anywhere and everywhere two disparate individuals or organizations interact. It’s messy, and interactions don’t always leave positive impressions. But when practiced well on a large scale, the net benefit is increased understanding and empathy between populations, lowering the likelihood of, and therefore the need to prepare for, conflict. This circumvents the security dilemma by removing the national government as the focal point of international relations, which has plagued the minds of foreign policy thinkers seeking peace for decades.

With this in mind, we must set about expanding opportunities to strengthen, deepen, and systematically increase the frequency of these interactions. Getting from where we are now to a more peaceful, less caustic world is a multi-generational road, but the following first steps would serve as a strong start:

  1. Revamp, revitalize, and increase the visibility of the U.S. Peace Corps.

           – The current state of this important institution is abysmal. Lack of funding, poor organization, archaic bureaucracy, and lack of vision outside well-intentioned post-imperial ideology stymy what could be a key tool in cultural diplomacy. The specifics of how we fix bureaucracy through cultural and structural change is a long discussion involving organizational psychologists, 360 assessments, flat hierarchies, and other best practice techniques that allow bureaucracies to scale while retaining quality. Suffice it to say the Peace Corps has much room for improvement and would greatly benefit from new ideas and new structure.

  1. Federal cultural exchange program

           – Sending Americans abroad and accepting foreign nationals into the US is vital if we’re to increase international fluency, reduce cross-cultural tension, and equip the US electorate with important skills of the future. Right now the US population is dangerously disconnected from the rest of the world. With a well-funded, well-run federal program that trains Americans in cultural diplomacy and sends them abroad to trade lives with an international equivalent for a year or two, we address that problem head on. Reducing the likelihood of conflict between two nations is all about reducing the frequency and intensity of friction points. Building a large international alumni of exchangers with true personal connections serves as a useful mitigating factor for those frictions. In addition, the diversity this exposes Americans to, both exchangers who live within other cultures and residents who experience other cultures within their world, reduces fear-based voting patterns common within low-information demographics.

  1. America centers

           – The State Department should have non-embassy American education centers in international cities that promote American culture. If we truly represent the diversity, creativity, and dynamism that encapsulates our national culture, the positive narratives write themselves. What this could look like is a welcoming entertainment, recreation, and discussion center where local nationals can stop in to experience US culture first hand. Soft power strategies, like the promotion and funding of local art, facilitation of cross-cultural discussions, hosting local thought leaders, and more can be used in a quasi-official capacity to take the stodginess out of official diplomacy and bring engagements to the average local citizen. This is how we “promote American values” in the world, from the ground up with positive interactions supporting diversity of thought and experience within nations in the same way we support it at home.

How is this paid for? By reducing funding to the number one impediment to diplomacy: our Department of Defense.

Reduce the military to increase peace

As many military professionals will tell you, if the nation continues to ask its military to do everything, we must continually grow funding for the organization. If, however, we were to close down our overseas bases, reduce operations in the blowback-ridden War on Terror to critical security assistance, and end the War on Drugs, we could scale down the organization and move money back into government functions that enable sustainable peace. The point of a military, after all, should be to work itself out of a job.

First, the US Army, my service, should be drastically scaled down. Our Marines should be our primary infantry force, with the US Army managing a small, Special Operations-centric force of under 100,000 personnel capable of rapid, precise deployments around the globe. Personnel cost are the service’s top expense, meaning reducing numbers leads to major cost savings. Our Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard are necessary to ensure the safety of global trade and travel, but our standing, active duty Army is a bloated mess. Each of its many functions, after winnowing down the extensive mission creep of the fear-based Global War on Terror and transferring equipment, could be better performed by the other services, leaving Army command free to specialize and hone a razor-sharp force of highly-trained professionals in a world where scalpels help and sledgehammers destroy.

As State Department funding is increased and Department of Defense funding scaled down, the services would return to their core function: fighting and winning America’s armed conflicts. For too long short-sighted policymakers have put our services in no-win situations on the ground, asking them to invade, secure, stabilize, teach, train, and build cultures and nations. This is not an armed service function and we should never have asked them to spend limited training resources and time adjusting to fit this idea.

To this end, our operations in the Middle East must be dramatically reimagined. Aerial bombings and drone strikes should cease as we refocus on building real, on the ground security. We’ve confused the ability to inflict damage and suffering on a population with progress. This is a false narrative. Throwing lives and dollars into a furnace and hailing the sacrifice as noble is foolish. Claiming that honoring the memory of these lives requires more sacrifices is how elites manipulate nationalism to perpetuate their own interests.

The savings we find as we reduce our wars and our preparation for wars would shift directly to fund the above programs, the diplomatic dividends of which will further reduce the need for a large standing force, freeing up even more funding. This is the opposite of our current model, which sees the military as a larger component of our policy initiatives and budget each year.

Objections of course would come from the scare-monger sector, the same crowd who talked about missile-gaps and mine-shaft gaps and drove the US to waste trillions of dollars creating 66,500 nuclear warheads during the Cold War. Are near-peer adversaries a threat? Yes, but not in the way these thinkers imagine in their balance of power fever-dreams, and not a threat throwing billions at dead-end military budgets will counter. To address Russia and China, the US must influence the world, including the domestic populations of our would-be adversaries, through inspiration, not as the least-bad hypocrite with nuclear weapons.

I’d be dishonest if I didn’t warn that scaling down operations against Violent Extremist Groups will allow breathing room for these organizations to recruit and train for attacks on western soil in the short term. But that’s how blowback works. We were in their countries, we killed their people, and we can never take back our many mistakes. We’ve been placed in this precarious position by self-interested corporate shills manipulating our fears to sell their products and attain lucrative, taxpayer funded contracts.

Either we choose the easy wrong by continuing to expand our military, militarize our diplomacy, and maintain violent status quos in vulnerable regions by keeping our boots on their necks until we bankrupt ourselves, or choose the hard right by accepting the short-term increased risk of terrorist attacks on US soil for the long-term sustainable rewards of a more peaceful, less competitive human population on this planet.

Hatred of the United States Government, not our freedom, not our way of life, not our average life expectancy, happiness index, infant mortality rate, or GDP per capita, but the real, horrible, violent, and dishonorable things the United States Government, and nearly all European governments. have actually done all over the world for centuries is why the west is the target of terrorist attacks. Our continued presence and determination to mold populations in our image will always serve as kerosene for the fires of their hatred. To reduce the flame, we must change the behavior of our government, not strangle populations into submission. Understanding the consequences of our government’s actions, taking power from those who have represented us poorly, and making this hard choice is how we redefine American Exceptionalism.

Leading from the front

As much as the United States likes to view itself as a shining city on a hill, our actions tell a different story. We can change this by leading by example on important changes in international policy. Three ways we could dramatically change the way the world functions would be to focus on ending tax havens, addressing the scourge of multinational corporations exploiting the lax labor laws of one nation to undercut competitors and create monopolies on products, and getting serious about international arms control.

Ending tax havens, which companies and individuals use to reduce the amount of money they contribute back to their societies while systematically underpaying their workers, which forces the state to supplement worker incomes with costly welfare programs, is easier than anyone who benefits wants us to believe. Sanctions on known tax havens, vigorous prosecution of individuals using real estate, art, and other assets to hide their money, changes in laws broadening the definition of tax evasion to include corporate inversions and other accounting tricks, and an international monitoring body created to identify and recommend action would address the trillions of sheltered dollars used to fund anything a small group of self-interested wealthy few choose. These activities range anywhere from donating to charities to funding corrupt regimes or militias.  

Beyond tax havens, we can change how we talk about labor exploitation through domestic laws barring multinational corporations from accessing sovereign markets with labor standards the company does not adhere to throughout its entire enterprise. If a company wants access to the market of a developed nation like the United States, they must pay their employees, wherever they are, the wages and benefits of a developed nation. Anything else is exploitative, stifles domestic entrepreneurship, and facilitates too big to fail monopolies.

Our current international economic system exploits labor and developmental differences between nations, creating a false, unsustainable economy. Racing to the bottom by moving operations to the nation with the most favorably negotiated business environment only works in the short term. As convergence theory holds, nations use modern technology and techniques to skip steps of development and raise living standards. As this happens, the global economy, fueled by rich nations buying cheap goods produced by poorly paid workers in poor nations, will crash. It’s better to address this issue now rather than allow it to become a crisis.

Finally, the number of arms the developed world has sold or transferred to the developing world is unforgivable, resulting in 200,000 – 400,000 annual violent deaths on average. AK-47s don’t grow on trees in Africa or the Middle East, yet these regions are flooded with small arms and light weapons. A buyback program instituted by the United States through the United Nations to remove and destroy as much of this weaponry as possible would directly address the ability for groups to inflict and sustain violence. If a nation decides they want to try to game the system and run guns through a buyback country, that is when we stand up and target individuals and organizations breaking international law with sanctions and punishment.

Additionally, a ban on domestic arms manufacturers selling their weaponry to volatile regions and states with porous borders through which arms flow, in conjunction with a buyback, would drain the capacity for mass violence small arms and light weapons facilitate. Arms manufacturers should be held accountable for how their products are used if the organization demonstrates a consistent lack of diligence in their sales practices. If these manufacturers claim the right to create these powerful instruments, they must accept the responsibility that comes with that power. As part of the reparation package the developed world owes the developing world it exploited to acquire its current standard of living, trauma centers and psychological aid initiatives should be implemented to help local populations recover from the cycles of violence to which they’ve been subjected.

By going after tax havens, the global exploitation of labor by multinational corporations, and the proliferation and impact of small arms and light weapons, our foreign policy actions would truly match our values of equality, freedom, and justice for all.

Foreign policy for all

According to the foreign policy establishment, these ideas are unworkable. They might write op-eds decrying the naiveté of foreign policy amateurs who dare to step foot in their hallowed halls. They might pen long reads explaining why an incremental approach crafted by technocrats is the only way to properly interact with the international system. Or they might ignore these ideas, because why should they pay them any attention? But their arguments will fail because they do not respect diversity of thought enough to learn how to listen to people who are not of their class.

Their solutions
are non-solutions that will be manipulated and subverted by members of their own group to perpetuate an actively disintegrating status quo, as they always have and always will. A true break from these old strategies is needed and is happening already, whether current elites are on board or not. The smoothness with which we transition depends a great deal on the severity of their recalcitrance.

I’ll end with something a Russian man wrote that changed my life. In his book The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevski writes of a noblewoman visiting an Elder, a special position of respect in Russian monasteries during the 1870’s, when the story is set. The woman, Madame Khokhlakov, asks the Elder for his spiritual opinion on a personal problem. She explains in detail her feelings of loving humanity, but hating the individual. In her mind she would gladly sacrifice everything for the sake of humanity, but can’t bring herself to love individual humans. I believed I felt that way for a great deal of my life. But after finding peace with myself and coming to terms with all the things I’ve seen and done, I know it’s now the opposite for me. I love every individual I meet, but hate humanity for what it’s done to all of the individuals I love.

I’ve never met a bad person. Even when I looked a member of Daesh in the eyes when I was transporting him as a prisoner, I didn’t see evil. I saw a man who’d only known his own way to live. Feeling empathy as we were boarding the back of an airplane together, I asked my interpreter whether he thought this guy’d ever flown before. I was worried he might be very afraid as we lead him blindfolded up a ramp with a jet engine blasting us in the face.

My interpreter replied, “Probably not. Sometimes they get captured on purpose to sleep with a roof over their head and get a hot meal.”

We might have conscious life on this planet, but until we learn how to be humble about it and work together to increase overall well-being, it remains up for debate. A conscious species doesn’t bake the possibility of accidental self-annihilation into its administrative policies, drape it in colorful flags and primal chest-beating, and call it grand strategy. That’s the fatalistic self-destructive impulse of a species lacking perspective. Humanity, in all its highly adaptable glory, can do better. Democratized diplomacy and collaboration are how.

Achievement

They were prepared for the exam. Despite myriad recent distractions, the shows, the clubs, the book groups, a brief jaunt down to Argentina with the crew, they were prepared. They’d studied hard, committing their time and energy to their ideal self. They would win. They would achieve. They would gain fame and fortune and be praised for their greatness. This was their fate.

From the womb, they’d been soothed by Mozart and fed proper food in proper portions of vitamins and minerals. They’d gone to the proper pre-pre-pre school, the proper pre-pre school, the proper pre-school, and certainly the proper schools, until college. It was in their choice for college they demonstrated their individuality. The path they selected for themselves from the available paths laid out by one of their pre-college counselors was both bold and alternative.

Rather than Harvard, they chose Oxford, demonstrating unique wisdom and foresight. They knew a Harvard diploma would set expectations high for future employers, minimizing any delta between expectations and performance. A small delta meant a small impression. And they refused to settle for small impressions. Oxford was equally respected, but more exotic in New York, creating mental space in future supervisors for larger deltas.

They walked into the examination room. It was half-full and half-lit, as if a building employee had forgotten to flip a second lightswitch. They felt embarrassed for the organization, a think tank on the cutting edge of innovative brainstorming techniques. While relatively new on the scene, the organization was exceptionally well-funded, connected, and positioned. They had boldly picked this company during a consultation with one of their career strategists earlier that month.

They sat down at an empty desk facing a blank wall. They were a few minutes early, as always, and began to meditate away any lingering anxiety. Mid-breath, the surface of their desk switched on and a legal memo appeared.

They’d signed plenty of NDA’s, and one was as pointless as the next. Everyone talked to their friends, and their friends were extremely successful, enterprising, and connected people who’d told them to expect some trendy mind tricks during the organization’s screening exam. No problem, they were a broad thinker. They signed their NDA.

Behind them, in the back of the room, a voice spoke.

“Has everyone signed the NDA?”

Those who were seated facing the front of the room turned to see a pale face in a navy blue baseball cap address them from a small hole in the wall.

“Please don’t turn. Sit down. You have 15 minutes to answer our screening questions.”

They were confused but compliant. They sat at the clean desk ready to begin whatever challenge was set before them. The surface lit up and options appeared.

“Take test?”

They pressed the red “Yes” with their finger and the screen changed. At the same time, on two walls, projections of YouTube videos, one titled “Maurice Ravel – Bolero (1928) Electronic by Doxent Zsigmond (A=432Hz),” and another, “Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970) – full album” appeared on two of the blank walls, their discordant noise filling the dim room. They rolled their eyes.

“Test instructions: Please think about and respond to each question.”

They thought this was overly simplistic, but did not dwell. They pressed the purple “Start.”

“Question 1: Who are you?”
A: A human
B: A nationalist
C: A being
D: A mammal

They were taken aback. They’d taken strange personality tests with strange questions before, most recently at the best career services center in the country run by Monty Williams’ father, but this wasn’t the same. They’re screener questions, they thought as they selected the most reasonable answer. They noted nervous giggles around them as the music volume ticked up.

“Question 2: Where are you?”

A: In a room
B: In a city
C: In a galaxy
D: The same place as everything else

They were starting to get it, they thought. They’d read about these questions. They weren’t real questions, they were designed to confuse and disorient to test mental flexibility and adaptation. They thought they were so tricky, with their stupid music and quasi-intellectual bullshit, but they were prepared. They pressed their finger to the screen.

“Question 3: What is the capital of London?”

A: England
B: London
C: United Kingdom
D: Edinburgh

They definitely got it now. These were mental sabotage, designed to inflict self-doubt in overconfident egos. They’d heard these techniques from psychological operations professionals themselves, so they were well prepared. They selected their answer confidently.

“Question 4: What would you change about yourself if you were immortal?”

A: Nothing
B: Everything
C: Some things
D: Specific things

This annoyed them. What was this question supposed to reveal? Where was the meat? They’d prepared! They wanted to be asked to analyze complex situations with a given set of conflicting facts to determine probability. That’s how they were told they’d be screened! Maybe they’d offer their insight into improvements after they were on payroll. They selected their answer.

“Question 5: What would you change about yourself if souls transmigrated?”

A: Nothing
B: Everything
C: Some things
D: Specific things

They were displeased and logged the same answer.

“Question 6: Describe the type of leader you’d be if your philosophy mixed Plato’s Republic with Machiavelli’s Prince and Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy, and you lived in the Lord of the Rings universe during the 2nd age.”

Here’s something they could answer! Plato, no sweat! They’d read him as a freshman. Machiavelli? Please! They’d eaten Machiavelli for breakfast sophomore year! Ayn Rand? That’s kid stuff. Their investment lending professors tore Ayn Rand a new asshole junior year. But Lord of the Rings? Their dad read them Lord of the Rings as a kid, and they’d seen the movies, but they hardly felt like an expert.

“According to Plato’s Republic, “The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states till philosophers become rulers in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” Plato is calling for a rule by the enlightened, in this case saying Middle Earth society will never see an end to trouble until ruled by the wise. Through Machiavellian machinations, playing orc off goblin, man off hobbit, elf off dwarf, I would maintain and increase my power as an enlightened philosopher ruler. Using Randian economics, often associated with Hayek and Friedman, I’d identify innovative leaders from each faction to organize ranked hierarchies of the most talented and most productive orcs, elves, and dwarves. In this way we’d create commerce and kinship among the many factions, relying on a Kantian Triangle of mutually reinforcing peace to promote stability in the international order as we transitioned to democracy.”

They’d surprised themselves. They looked over their answer one more time and felt good. Once their brain juices started flowing, the nonsense spilled forth. If it was gibberish they wanted, it was gibberish they’d get. They looked at the nearest YouTube video, playing louder than ever. Five minutes remaining.

“Question 7: Which one of these taboos have you never thought about committing yourself?”

A: Pedophilia
B: Rape
C: Treason
D: Public Sex

They looked from question to answers. Each answer implied the other three, officially recorded for all history, used for data analytics and algorithmic computations by HR professionals, AI recruiting programs, credit agencies, and government background checks. They looked up and around to their peers. There were fewer than before, but it was hard to tell how many had left in the half-light. Maybe some had come to this question and simply refused to answer. They pressed next without recording anything and the next question popped up. They were relieved.

“Question 8: How confident are you that you’re not in a simulation?”

A: 0%-25% Confident
B: 25%-50% Confident
C: 50%-75% Confident
D: 75%-100% Confident

They trusted their instinct and input their answer, though they truly couldn’t hear themselves think over the music as it crescendoed further. This was torture.

“Question 9: What question would you ask us to learn more about us?”

They looked at the timer on one of the deafening YouTube rackets; 2.5 minutes left. Crunch time, their favorite time. They’d been addicted to the singular feeling of exhilaration they received when pursuing extreme challenges with extreme deadlines all the way back to their pre-pre-pre school placement exam. They lived for these moments where everything was on the line. If they registered a bad result with the global scoring system they could lose their perfect credit score, their perfect social interaction score, their perfect intelligence score, everything. Their adrenaline pumping in their ears, they wrote:

“How did you convince your funding stream to allow these screening questions?”

1.5 minutes left.

“Question 10: What do you want to figure out during your lifetime?”

They knew they didn’t know now, but they also knew they could find the perfect answer in 1.25 minutes. The music disassembled sound around them.

There were many things they wanted to figure out. They wanted to figure out how to know when they’d won, they wanted to figure out how to keep winning, and they wanted to figure out how to make it so once they won, they’d never have to compete again. 1 minute.

They wanted to figure out what made others think, they wanted to figure out why others thought differently, and they wanted to figure out how to make others think more like them. 45 seconds.

They wanted to figure out what they were supposed to be doing with their life, they wanted to figure out how to monetize what they were supposed to be doing with their life, and they wanted to figure out how to be the best at and make the most money with what they were supposed to be doing with their life. 30 seconds.

They wanted to figure out who they were, they wanted to figure out how they became who they are, and they wanted to figure out how to help others become…they had it.

The desk switched off after they hit “Submit.” They stood up as the lights came up to full and the music ended. They’d been mistaken, no one had left during the test. Their eyes adjusted back to full-light as they saw a familiar face walking towards them.

“What did you think?” They asked.

“It was just like Mr. Zossy from Latin, weird, short, and a little creepy.” They answered.

“Yeah, we have a zany HR.”

“So when do I start?”

“Whenever you want! Your uncle sent our director a note about how happy he was when you chose us, so she’s thrilled to have you on board.”

“That’s splendid! I’ve got a trip to Iceland coming up, how about right after?”

“Good stuff! But, why wasn’t I invited?”

“It’d be awkward with Cessily there, right?”

“Oh! I didn’t know! Well, have fun! Oxford Forever!”

The two each made a round O using four fingers as one side and their thumbs as the other, pressed their O’s together over their heads, and bumped chests, shouting, “Oxford Forever!”

“Harvard Forever!” was heard in response from across the room. The Oxfordians slipped custom shivs from their shin holsters and commenced to battle with three foolishly unarmed thugs from Harvard. Other examinees sighed and looked on as they filed out.  

Black and blue, but victorious against their foes, whose body parts now comprised a ceremonial Victory O on the floor of the exam room, the Oxford pair walked arm-in-arm down the fluorescent hallways of their office.

Against Fear

Our current system of enforcing standard behavior in public through fear of social reprisal (aka performing only the public self and considering the rest personal or inappropriate) is unsustainable. It separates and puts at odds personal and collective interests. Eras end through this predictable cycle when it goes unaddressed outside crisis.

When our population expands, our technology increases, and our power is concentrated, we become removed from the people we impact. Factions develop and mutually radicalize on the slights or perceived slights or made-up slights that always occur between representational members of opposing factions. This increases the socially perceived threat of radical action by angry external unknowns.

We turn away from this fear, falsely hoping that ignoring its existence gives us time to enjoy our lives by forgetting the fear still exists within us. But when we provide a safe-haven for fear, we lose our ability to be comfortable, relaxed, and rational in our functionally uncontrollable reality. Through ignorance, the systemic cause and material effect metastasize, increasing the amount of time we spend actively fearful and the amount of energy we expend pacifying fear.

The world we ignore as “personal” or “classified” or “inappropriate” or just plain hard for us as humans to think about is to be faced, head on, with eyes and heart open to receive information without bias and deliver empathy without judgement. This is how we open ourselves and our society to peaceful reckonings, reparations, and revolutions. This is how we intentionally construct a world we’d choose to live in.

We face our fear and let it pass through us, following its path with our mind until we learn enough to empathize with what we previously feared. Doing so we free ourselves from the blindness that comes from personal fear. Minds free from fear are free to work together, for, in reality, there’s nothing to fear, not even fear itself. If we’re brave in the face of physical and emotional danger, secure in knowing who we are to our core, and true to one another, we can reduce suffering in the world we’ve sentenced ourselves to and save the future from repeating the cycles of the past.

How to Respond to Gilded Morons

Original article by Bret Stephens can be found here.

For the third time in two weeks, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have set fire to the Kerem Shalom border crossing, through which they get medicine, fuel and other humanitarian essentials from Israel.

Let’s break down this barbaric sentence, you G-d damned Ostrogoth. THEY ARE PRISONERS. THEY ARE PRISONERS WITH WALLS AROUND THEM. These prisoners are currently cared for by a government that increasingly needs conflict with their prisoners to satisfy the religious, nationalist, and violent Zealots in their brainwashed electorate. Did they set fire to one of the entrances to their prison? Try feeling some empathy for the limits of what human beings are willing to endure and then start exploring why they’re so angry without your unprofessional cognitive bias. You’re a canalized thinker and it limits your ability.

Soon we’ll surely hear a great deal about the misery of Gaza. Try not to forget that the authors of that misery are also the presumptive victims.

You’re right, Bret. We should blame the victim and not believe a word they say because, I mean, they’re going to be biased, right? All emotional and shit. Who trusts people who express emotions over trauma? They should be tough like you, right Bret? Overcome all the obstacles you overcame at Middlesex and LES? You’re a chicken hawk. You don’t know what you’re talking about, you only know the words.

There’s a pattern here — harm yourself, blame the other — and it deserves to be highlighted amid the torrent of morally blind, historically illiterate criticism to which Israelis are subjected every time they defend themselves against violent Palestinian attack.

“TO WHICH ISRAELIS ARE SUBJECTED.” The prison guards turn the screws until the prisoners riot, then use people like this gilded moron to trumpet victimhood in influential US media outlets. Remember, the Israelis were terrified of making the Palestinians citizens in their “Democracy” because oh shit, then they’d have political power. So instead of two-state or one-state and citizenship, Israel chose the shittiest possible path, which is to repeat the cycles of violence that were done onto them.

In 1970, Israel set up an industrial zone along the border with Gaza to promote economic cooperation and provide Palestinians with jobs. It had to be shut down in 2004 amid multiple terrorist attacks that left 11 Israelis dead.

See, this whole “provide Palestinians with jobs” bullshit is what we’re talking about, Bret. You can’t even hide how condescending you are in a highly edited national op-ed, you egomaniacal snowflake. These are human beings, equal with you, me, and High lord Netanyahu himself. They’re not asking to be provided jobs, they’re asking to be left alone to their own devices in an environment where they don’t have to be provided with jobs.

In 2005, Jewish-American donors forked over $14 million dollars to pay for greenhouses that had been used by Israeli settlers until the government of Ariel Sharon withdrew from the Strip. Palestinians looted dozens of the greenhouses almost immediately upon Israel’s exit.

You shouldn’t have used the phrase “Israeli settlers.” As if these precious American diaspora-funded greenhouses weren’t built on the ruins of some Palestinian family’s home. You’re bad at this.

In 2007, Hamas took control of Gaza in a bloody coup against its rivals in the Fatah faction. Since then, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups in the Strip have fired nearly 10,000 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel — all the while denouncing an economic “blockade” that is Israel’s refusal to feed the mouth that bites it. (Egypt and the Palestinian Authority also participate in the same blockade, to zero international censure.)

As in any human population, there is a sliding scale of reactions to something like imprisonment. The more Israel abuses their prisoners, the more the prisoners move to a more extreme position on this scale. It’s like Newton’s 3rd law, buddy. The reverse is true as well. The more prisoners move to a more extreme position on this scale, the more Israelis do the same on their own scale of extremist reactions. So now we see the impact of violence, imprisonment, abuse, and conflict on two neighboring populations with opposing organizing narratives. To see above this, beyond the back and forth, is the work of scholarship and diplomacy, Bret. But you don’t seem to know anything about that.

In 2014 Israel discovered that Hamas had built 32 tunnels under the Gaza border to kidnap or kill Israelis. “The average tunnel requires 350 truckloads of construction supplies,” The Wall Street Journal reported, “enough to build 86 homes, seven mosques, six schools or 19 medical clinics.” Estimated cost of tunnels: $90 million.

That’s a lot of anger being expressed in a really specific and concentrated way. If you were a smart person, you’d be asking questions about how Hamas recruits so easily and gets so much work done on these projects. If you think that’s a will to fight and survive and an anger for their definition of justice that can be crushed out of a culture, you’re white bananas.

Want to understand why Gaza is so poor? See above.

Hamas is a corrupt organization that, on top of starting idiotic fights that get people killed, steals money from the Palestinian people and rewards its senior officials with gifts. The political organization is a reflection of a concentrated ideological interest within a culture, so I think it speaks volumes on the state Israel has pushed Palestinian society into when Hamas is so well supported. It also speak volumes on the state Hamas has pushed Israeli society into when Netanyahu and the Zealots are so well supported.

Which brings us to the grotesque spectacle along Gaza’s border over the past several weeks, in which thousands of Palestinians have tried to breach the fence and force their way into Israel, often at the cost of their lives. What is the ostensible purpose of what Palestinians call “the Great Return March”?

“Tried to breach the fence and force their way back onto land they believed was still their territory, despite the presence of another governing organization and people who currently live there and claim the same land as theirs.” That’s how you write an accurate statement, bro.

That’s no mystery. This week, The Times published an op-ed by Ahmed Abu Artema, one of the organizers of the march. “We are intent on continuing our struggle until Israel recognizes our right to return to our homes and land from which we were expelled,” he writes, referring to homes and land within Israel’s original borders.

That sounds pretty reasonable, unless of course Israel is a cultural theocracy unable to tolerate diversity of electorate and opinion. That’d make that plan extremely hard to enact.

His objection isn’t to the “occupation” as usually defined by Western liberals, namely Israel’s acquisition of territories following the 1967 Six Day War. It’s to the existence of Israel itself. Sympathize with him all you like, but at least notice that his politics demand the elimination of the Jewish state.

The elimination? That’s a pretty dramatic leap in logic. How about thinking of it as the enhancement of the region by removing its greatest security threat and infusing an electorate and economy with people who have just as much a right to be there as everyone else.

Notice, also, the old pattern at work: Avow and pursue Israel’s destruction, then plead for pity and aid when your plans lead to ruin.

Oh the old pattern! Those tricky prisoners! Always trying to break out of prison! When will the world learn prison is where they belong?

The world now demands that Jerusalem account for every bullet fired at the demonstrators, without offering a single practical alternative for dealing with the crisis.

Harumph! Also, Bret, you’re such a civilian. Let me explain that in war, in 2018, we keep track of every bullet, because that’s logistics. Maybe you don’t know anything about it because you’re just a chicken hawk, but I promise you it’s not an egregious demand to ask a nation to “account for every bullet fired at demonstrators.” And as for single practical alternatives? Oh yeah, no one has ever offered Israel reasonable alternatives. How fascinating that self-fulfilling prophecies come true!

But where is the outrage that Hamas kept urging Palestinians to move toward the fence, having been amply forewarned by Israel of the mortal risk? Or that protest organizers encouraged women to lead the charges on the fence because, as The Times’s Declan Walsh reported, “Israeli soldiers might be less likely to fire on women”? Or that Palestinian children as young as 7 were dispatched to try to breach the fence? Or that the protests ended after Israel warned Hamas’s leaders, whose preferred hide-outs include Gaza’s hospital, that their own lives were at risk?

Where’s the outrage that organizers thought Israel wouldn’t fire on unarmed women and then Israel fired on unarmed women? And that Israel fired on a crowd with 7 year-old children? Shut the fuck up about outrage. We can all be outraged about whatever the hell we want. We’re all angry. Get over your outrage, kid. No one has the moral high ground, which is fine. It means we’re all equal. So let’s talk about this like equals, between two peoples who believe they each should be able to live in the same place and now have generations of traumatic cycles to undo before they can. You’re either adding to those cycles and increasing the distance from stable peace, or helping restore sanity to the situation by mitigating those cycles. You’re currently doing the former.

Elsewhere in the world, this sort of behavior would be called reckless endangerment. It would be condemned as self-destructive, cowardly and almost bottomlessly cynical.

Yes, violent conservative religious groups all over the world recklessly endanger their societies and should be condemned as self-destructive, cowardly, and almost bottomlessly cynical.

The mystery of Middle East politics is why Palestinians have so long been exempted from these ordinary moral judgments. How do so many so-called progressives now find themselves in objective sympathy with the murderers, misogynists and homophobes of Hamas? Why don’t they note that, by Hamas’s own admission, some 50 of the 62 protesters killed on Monday were members of Hamas? Why do they begrudge Israel the right to defend itself behind the very borders they’ve been clamoring for years for Israelis to get behind?

The same way we come to understand murderers, misogynists, and homophobes all around the world and in our own communities: we empathize with them and put ourselves in their place. I’ll agree to any fact, but I’ll always empathize with all sides. If you decide that’s a weakness, your scholarship, writing, thinking, and personal morality will always suffer from that decision.

Why is nothing expected of Palestinians, and everything forgiven, while everything is expected of Israelis, and nothing forgiven?

Why is nothing expected of Bret Stephen, and everything forgiven, while everything is expected of not Bret Stephens, and nothing forgiven? White male privilege.

That’s a question to which one can easily guess the answer. Already did. In the meantime, it’s worth considering the harm Western indulgence has done to Palestinian aspirations.

Let’s consider non-western indulgences of idiot westerners like Bret Stephens who ignore colonial history and the systematic extraction of resources and then talk about the west indulging anyone.

No decent Palestinian society can emerge from the culture of victimhood, violence and fatalism symbolized by these protests. No worthy Palestinian government can emerge if the international community continues to indulge the corrupt, anti-Semitic autocrats of the Palestinian Authority or fails to condemn and sanction the despotic killers of Hamas. And no Palestinian economy will ever flourish through repeated acts of self-harm and destructive provocation.

“No decent Israeli society can emerge from the culture of victimhood, violence, and fatalism symbolized by the response to these protests, including this article in which I’m projecting my side’s insecurities onto the enemies we’ve created in our inexperienced heads.” Blah blah blah crocodile tears and faux outrage. Keep climbing that mountain of conflict, Nazi Julie Andrews.

If Palestinians want to build a worthy, proud and prosperous nation, they could do worse than try to learn from the one next door. That begins by forswearing forever their attempts to destroy it.

The Palestinians don’t need your blessing to be worthy, thanks. You haven’t done jack shit in your life compared to those Palestinian 7 year-olds who participated in that protest. You’re a coward whose words influence people into hurting other people. That’s who you are, and that’s your legacy.

The Pile – Epilogue

Name/Location in The Pile

Asher Sen-Rose: 543 meters above Paris, France

Chandra Sen-Rose: 0 meters above her lab in Washington DC, USA

Lucius Sen-Rose: 45,050 meters above Tucson, Arizona, USA

Blessings Manda: 46,504 meters above Monkey Bay, Malawi

Donald St. James: 400 meters below sea-level off the coast of Hawaii, USA

Memteli Azizi: 5 meters below water-level in Aibi Lake, Xinjiang, China

Hubert Slovache: 11,455 meters above Jordan, Montana, USA

Jake Tampala: 4,000 meters below sea-level somewhere near-ish Guam, USA

Senator Flaffen (D-MA): 25 meters above Wrigley Field, Chicago, USA

Charles Sneath: 49,661 meters above Cozumel, Mexico

Tristan Sneath: 49,662 meters above Cozumel, Mexico

Wellington Sneath: 49,663 meters above Cozumel, Mexico

Hambleton Chillersrby: 49,664 meters above Cozumel, Mexico

Williams: 13,578 meters above Bangkok, Thailand

The Saucier: 75 meters below water-level in Crater Lake, Oregon, USA

Italian Diplomat: 10,000 meters below sea-level in the Mariana Trench

Alistair Squidge: 572 meters above Belfast, Ireland

Flowing Empathy: 79 meters below sea-level off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland, USA

Jeff the Ambulance Driver: 78 meters below sea-level off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland, USA

Dagbjört Baldursdóttir: 3,394 meters below sea-level somewhere in the Arctic Ocean

Dr. Carlos Maya: 26,123 meters above Pamplona, Spain

Armando Del Fuego aka “Uno-Arm Armando”: 2,423 meters below sea-level off the coast of Porto, Portugal

Dario Pena: 456 meters above Galtat Zemmour, Western Sahara

John Shirley: 5,123 meters above Ko Chang, Thailand

Tim Whitebow: 5,102 meters above Ko Chang, Thailand

Christian the Waiter: 5 meters above Busboys and Poets, 14th Street, Washington DC, USA

Greg “Jasper” Johnson: 1 meter above sea-level off the coast of Israel

Cheryl Merryface: 1 meter below sea-level off the coast of Israel

Jess Kapadia: 3,313 meters above an unnamed island off the coast of Greece, somewhere near Skyros

Salemor Eglario: 0 meters above Seafury Island, Ocean of Tears, Norrath (loc: 967, -5812)

Gleb Kirillov: 4,036 meters below sea level near Cousin Island, Seychelles

John Maplethorpe: 45,034 meters above Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Sharon Headley: 10,312 meters above Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Dr. Thomas Lee: 45 meters below sea-level in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

Dr. Jackson Grant: 76 meters above Svalbard, Norway

Bob Jakes: 17,703 meters above Johannesburg, South Africa

Former National Parks Service Director: 368 meters above Dongducheon, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea

Reza Ahman: 33,567 meters above Dallas, Texas, USA

Drunken GWU Freshman: 40,000 meters above Padua, Italy

Thai Bay Owner: 256 meters below sea-level near Bermuda, British Overseas Territory

Nooroozeleff: 15,856 meters above Anacostia, Washington DC, USA

Jackqualenya: 24,564 meters above Anacostia, Washington DC, USA

Convenience store owner: 34,234 meters above Georgetown, Washington DC, USA

Constantine: 45,564 meters above Georgetown, Washington DC, USA

Prince of Twitington: 54,090 meters above Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Queen Elizamackerquack: 5 meters below sea level in the River Thames

James Lively: 34,209 meters above Ibra, Oman

Suspicious Arabs/Pakistanis/North Africans: 3 meters above their prison cell floor in an undisclosed location

Earl of Scovingtonwick: 56 meters below sea-level in the Dead Sea

ZMF: 60 meters below sea-level off the coast of Luleå, Sweden

Robert L. Blombell: 7 meters above a strip club in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Political thugs: Scattered throughout 10,000 meters – 30,000 meters above Argentina

Big Pharm thugs: Scattered throughout 2,000 meters – 14,000 meters above Antarctica.

Porkish, red-faced conservative television host: 49,876 meters above Istanbul, Turkey

Pradeep Kapadia: 0 meters above Fenway Park

Salman Abu Achmad: 36,087 meters above Amman, Jordan

Avner Ben Haim: 10,353 meters above the Red Sea

Curious intern: 2,762 meters below sea-level off the coast of Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka

Elderly Biologist: 300 meters below sea-level off the coast of Majunga, Madagascar

Young intern: 490 meters above Man, Ivory Coast

Pudgy Physicist: 5,609 meters below sea-level outside of Port Vila, Vanuatu

Lanky Botanist: 17,612 meters above Deva, Romania

Santiago Jaso Cabello aka La Rata Gruñendo: 56,230 meters above Panama City, Panama

The Bookkeeper: 30,483 meters above Detroit, Michigan, USA

Diego Javier Rivera: 90 meters below sea-level near Trinidad and Tobago

Gabriel Padilla Falto: 10 meters below water-level in the Amazon River near Manaus, Brazil

Jordan Maxwell: 5 meters above his couch, Denver, Colorado, USA

Sergei777: 983 meters above Fukuoka, Japan

Solomon: 234 meters above Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Edril: 50 meters above Gadgetzan, Tanaris, Kalimdor

Barbara O’MalleyConnerSmithermanSmith: 10,021 meters above Pensacola, Florida, USA

Joe from Denver: 35 meters above Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

Television Executives: 35,815 meters above Panama City, Panama

Bill the Driver: 22 meters over his own Island in the Pacific

2N2209E0XWWZWWJD: Scattered between 34,092 and 40,290 meters above Seoul, South Korea

Choi Hyn-min: 30 meters below sea-level in the Sea of Japan/East Sea of Korea near Ulsan

Gal Pal Gaggle: Scattered between 45,209 and 51,493 meters above Seoul, South Korea

Lim Hye-ri: 13 meters above Seoul, South Korea

Lee Hyun-jae: 29 meters below sea-level near Incheon, South Korea

Choe Ki-seok: 306 meters above Seoul, South Korea

Ms. Fazartalingbragg: 3 meters over her garden in Alexandria, Virginia, USA

Phil: 1,203 meters below sea-level near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Jeffury Cione LeClaire: 10 meters above his desk at the United Nations

Johnson: 75 meters above somewhere in Russia

Johnson: 75 meters above somewhere in China

Johnson: 75 meters above somewhere in Iran

White house staff: 1 meter above the White House, Washington DC, USA

Secretary of the Army: Stuffed somewhere inside the Pentagon

Secretary of the Air Force: Stuffed somewhere inside the Pentagon

Head of the CIA: 55,234 meters above Washington DC, USA

General Masalajammer: Stuffed somewhere inside the Pentagon

Major General Li Jun: 75 meters above Lhasa, Tibet

Wang Jie: 25 meters above Lhasa, Tibet

Liu Fang: 9 meters above the checkout of a major shopping mall, Shanghai, China

Xi Bo: 5 meters above the checkout of a major shopping mall, Shanghai, China

Zhang Chung: 50,209 meters above Beijing, China

Solomon Secundus: 0 meters above Earthtear Cavern, Craglorn, Disputed territory between Bankorai and Cyrodiil

President Dima Bilan: 0 meters above his bed, Moscow, Former Russia

Bogdan Bezrukov: 0 meters above his bed, Moscow, Former Russia

Filipp Kirkorov: 0 meters above his bar-stool, St. Petersburg, Former Russia

Genevieve Desjardins: 11,982 meters above Barcelona, Spain

Alessandra Ribeiro: 15,923 meters above Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany

Juliet Montgomery: 17,892 meters above Copenhagen, Denmark

Loveless Cartier-Montague: 19,093 meters above Leiden, Netherlands

Fred the automated driver: 124 meters below sea-level near Selfoss, Iceland

Copenhagen Airport Guards: 5,603 meters above Auckland, New Zealand

Charlie the Bomber Pilot: 7,891 meters above Funchal, Madeira

Awa Drogba: 59 meters below sea-level near Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Fabrice Toure: 58 meters below sea-level near Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Estelle Kalou: 29,819 meters above Lagos, Nigeria

Moussa Gnanhouan: 38,982 meters above Bern, Switzerland

Jacob Chronos: 10 meters above his hovel outside Palmyra, Syria

_________________________________________________

A ripple swept across humanity, knocking many heads together. The knocks didn’t bother anyone but Jacob Chronos.

“Ouch!” Jacob said.

“What?”

“What did they say?”

“They said ‘Ouch!’”

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!”

“Jesus, shut up.”

“Never!”

“In that case, shut the fuck up.”

“So eloquent.”

“Did they kiss their mother with that mouth?”

“I kissed their mother, but not with my mouth.”

“Damn SVCs think they’re so smart.”

“Oh my god! What did they just say?”

“Did they just use the C-acronym?”

“So what?”

“It’s offensive!”

“I can’t believe they said that!”

“So what?

“I’m not even SVB! I’m MDC!”

“That’s even worse.”

“It shouldn’t matter!”

“Spoken like a true PEEtriarch.”

“I can’t believe they said that!”

“Fuck them!”

“They offended me first!”

“They need to check their PEEvilege”

“Wait, who said ‘Ouch?’”

“Don’t derail the conversation!”

“Typical.”

As the surrounding bodies continued their debate, Jacob said, “Excuse me,” to the person above him.

“Hello, but I’m not interested in finding the path to death.” They responded.

“No no, I’m no MDC.”

“What’s wrong with being MDC?” A body shouted at Jacob.

“Everything!” Another body shouted back.

“MDCing bitches!” Shouted a third.

“PEEnis brains!” Came a fourth.

“Calm down everyone!” Shouted a fifth.

“Don’t police my tone!”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah, fuck off!”

“Yeah, fuck them!”

Jacob lowered his voice to a range of two human bodies, “There’s something you need to know.”

“Alright.” Came the reply from the person above him.

“You just created pain.”

“Hmm.”

“When your head hit mine it caused pain.”

“It didn’t hurt me.”

“But it hurt me.”

“Where’s your proof?”

“I don’t have any.”

“Then I don’t believe you.”

“So hit me in the nose to make me bleed.”

“No.”

“If you want proof you have to hit me.”

They maneuvered over Jacob’s face, then stuck his nose with their forehead.

“Again. With more force.”

They struck again.

“I’m bleeding.”

“Really?” The person licked under his nose with their tongue to confirm, “How?”

“Violence.”

The person under Jacob interjected, “I overheard some of that and…”

They were interrupted by a second wave of chattering voices.

“It’s a trap!”

“They’ve got us cornered!”

“They came from behind!”

“I heard from a cousin 50,000 meters over Rotterdam….”

“It was aliens!”

“It was gods!”

“It’s not real!”

“It’s upcrust lies…”

“Not this time.”

“All the time!”

“I heard upcrusters got a message.”

“They would.”

“They said it said lowcrusters weren’t responsible enough.”

“For what?”

“Screw them! Who do they think they are?”

“Damn upcrusters, think they’re better than us.”

“It wasn’t upcrusters, it was aliens.”

“Damn aliens, think they’re better than us.”

“It wasn’t aliens, it was gods.”

“Damn gods, think they’re better than us.”

The blathering tsunami continued its journey, leaving scattered discussions in its wake.

Jacob spoke to persons above and below, “Aliens? Gods? Upcrust schemes? They sure do Pile it on.”

Everyone laughed.

Eternal youth, a symptom of human Non-Functional Violence Syndrome (NFVS), led to mass lethargy throughout civilization. Life took no effort to maintain, so no effort was expended. The period’s famous thinker, Lucius Sen-Rose, summarized the broad array of philosophical justifications and cultural practices proffered by imperishable humans as Pure Experience Existentialism (PEE).[1]

PEEs generally believe humanity must use its unique imagination to explore pleasure and eschew tasks suited to lesser creatures. If humans violate these prohibitions through moderation or work, conservative adherents warn the universe will punish their ungrateful species for misusing its gift. PEEs make up the vast majority of The Pile’s inhabitants.

Their opposition, founded by the mother of Lucius, Her Reverence Chandra Sen-Rose, worship death as an expression of human achievement. Spirit of Violence Believers (SVBs) work to improve their species deliberately, thus demonstrating they’ve earned the right to ascend to death. Conservative believers conclude humans lost the right to die when the species transcended its cultural barriers by uniting in sloth. The path back to greatness, they say, is paved with the sweat and tears of those who suffer countless indignities to their own brilliance from their ignorant external environment.

When non-human material was readily available, SVB collectives worked in secret to stabilize human growth. But on the eve of every SVB success, great swarms of PEEs would descend in ritualistic destruction, often giving themselves over to religious and sexual ecstasy amidst their razing and razing-related activities.

Current SVBs, the few not turned dormant by Pile Depression Syndrome,[2] work in secret to stabilize their own mental state.

The followers of a third and much smaller sect, the Madeira Death Cult (MDC), seek an end to life directly. The name is derived from the former-United Human Confederation’s former-President’s nuclear boondoggle on the island-formerly-known-as Madeira. The cult organically coalesced around local use of fallout from the irradiated island’s violence-imbued Americium-241. After news of miraculous deaths spread and doctrinal practices were established by a series of systematically martyred congregants, the group gained global notoriety. The cult went on to free tens of millions over the isotope’s half-life. Eventually however, the island’s radiation waned and only the legend of death remained.

The Madeira Diaspora began as a schism within the Cult a few hundred years after the island’s final death. Conservative members believed death by Holy Land was accumulative and that they’d eventually find that well-worn path traveled by their forebears. A surging population of island-born MDC Liberals, having never witnessed an island-demise for themselves, believed death lived where it was sought. Radical MDC leftists seized death by the horns and set off to find their true calling from one of the 110 million pre-NFVS landmines buried around the world.

Modern Reform MDCers (MRMDC), peppered throughout The Pile, see their endless pilgrimage in search of death as a memorial to what they lost, much to the chagrin of the inhabitants they jostle.

Every crevice of the planet, from the Mariana Trench on up, is stuffed with human bodies. Those below beg those above to stop breeding. Those above ignore this plea and accuse those below of breeding irresponsibly. Layer upon layer piles on top of itself, year after year, decade after decade, millennia after millennia until 10 miles of human bodies coat the surface of the planet.

Inside The Pile, non-MDCers rarely change position and, outside escaping a talkative or smelly neighbor, have little motivation to do so. Upcrust, however, humans see the sky and retain hope.

The surface roils with trapped bodies pulling free bodies beneath and free bodies keeping trapped bodies below. De-icing is a normal part of personal upkeep as large pockets of dormant humans freeze entirely. Go-getters explore these vast swaths of frozen ground and establish their empires.

The Mile Three Sultanate gives way to the Mile Four Dominion. This transitions to the Mile Five Republic, which is overthrown by what historians call the Mile Six Dark Age.[3]

The Mile Six Dark Age is civilized by the Mile Seven Caliphate, which is destroyed by the Mile Eight Kingdom, which is dissolved by the Mile Nine Republic, which finally falls to revolution, resulting in another dark age at Mile Ten.

The upcrust’s new grand strategy is to escape the atmosphere and drift towards the moon. Once there, they’ll establish their empire. This plan, however, is foiled by outside intervention.

Back in The Pile, Jacob Chronos met a human capable of violence.

“Do you know much about violence?” Jacob asked.

“Too much.” They answered.

“What do you mean?” The person below Jacob said.

“I was born in pre-Pile Aleppo.”

“Aleppo?”

“In former Syria.”

“Hmm.”

“Where we are right now. During the Abrahamic Genocides.”

“Which number?”

“3.”

“Which series?”

“22B – The Pentecostal Jihad: Waco’s Revenge.”

The listeners offered their condolences.

“No need, suffering’s cheap.” The person from Aleppo responded.

“Needless suffering is one of humanity’s great tragedies.” Jacob declared.

“It’s too common for tragedy. It’s part of the normal human experience.”

“But we can imagine a world without it.”

“So?”

“If we can imagine that world, isn’t it a tragedy we can’t build it?”

“We can’t build it because most of us are stuck with the cycles and routines we’re born into.”

“Yeah…right, right. We can’t improve because our own actions always force future generations into the same exploitative cycles we suffered ourselves. Pretty deterministic.”

“Not always. You can work[4] hard to break those cycles.” The person below Jacob said.

“That’s true! I did. I had to.” The person from Aleppo said.

“Because of your childhood?” The person below Jacob asked.

“Yeah.  It broadened my perspective, but it also meant I needed help managing my emotions later on. We’re typically broadened without our consent or a friendly mentor or peer who can explain what’s happening.”

“BOOO!!!!” The person diagonal to the person below Jacob shouted.

“What?” Jacob asked them.

“BOOO!!!!!” The person shouted again.

“Why boo?”

“BOOOOOOO!!!!!” The person shouted again.

“But why?”

“BOOOOOOO!!!!!” The person shouted again.

“What happened in your childhood?” The person below Jacob continued, ignoring the person diagonal to them, who proceeded to shout “Boo” for reasons unknown.

“My parents were killed in a hospital bombing.”

“BOOO!!!!”

Jacob grew angry, “Who bombed the hospital?”

“I don’t know, I was too young to remember the logo. Could’ve been anyone.”

“Was it a mistake?”

“No mistake. It was en vogue to use computer models to rationally predict the birth of future disruptive elements. In the models, targets were sanitized when AI shifted their designation from CU[5] to BGE[6]. Targets in this category contained elements proven to produce humans at least 20 times more likely to bother parts of the world with the power to create and execute computer models.”

“And the bombs were dropped by drones…”

“Meaning my parents were killed by an algorithm. No one’s responsible but logic.”

“BOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

“Were you angry?” The person below Jacob asked.

“Of course, but all I could do was wander and learn. Unfortunately the more I learned, the unhappier I became. So I found a guide I trusted and explored unhappiness.”

“Through therapy?” Jacob asked.

“Among other things.”

“Did it help?”

“When you’re unhappy, every experience is tainted with a filter that doesn’t seem to have an edge or off switch. Maintaining a productive life through this unhappy filter requires extra energy. Alternatively, when you’re confident in your happiness, you know yourself, and work with your emotions rather than against, you free up energy to understand and define who you are and who you want to be. Over time, with sustained routines, you can change yourself into your chosen and intentionally constructed definition.”

“And changing into the person you wanted to be made you feel better?”

“When the world is sick, can’t no one be well. But I dreamt we was all beautiful and strong.”

“What’s that?”

“BOOOO!!!!!”

“One of the hymns that keeps me going.”

Jacob’s mind flashed to the tomb where he’d buried his past. He found the stone removed from the Grotto’s entrance, so he stepped inside. But as he did, fear seized him and his body spasmed in protest.

“Are you alright?” The person below Jacob asked.

“I was remembering something.”

“BOOO!!!!”

The person below Jacob asked, “About violence?”

“Yes.” Jacob answered.

“Used by you?”

“BOOOO!!!!”

“Please stop that.”

“BOOOO!!!!”

“Honestly, could you please stop?”

“BOOOOOOO!!!!!”

“We only want to talk, please.”

“BOOOOOOO!!!!!”

“What’s bothering you?”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“Fine. And yes, I used violence.”

“Did you use it well?” The person above Jacob asked.

“Yes and no.”

“BOO! BOO! BOO! BOO! BOO! BOO!” The person diagonal to the person below Jacob switched to short, repetitive bursts.

The person above Jacob asked, “Did you ever use violence in a way that was self-destructive or harmful to anyone you loved?”

“BOO!”

“Yes.”

“BOO!”

“Do you regret your violence expressed itself in a way you didn’t intend?”

“BOO!”

“Yes.”

“BOO!”

“You can work to make sure that never happens again. The existence of your anger doesn’t predetermine its unbridled use. You have a choice.”

“BOO!”

“It doesn’t matter now, does it?”

“BOO!”

“Why?” The person below Jacob asked.

“BOO!”

“What’s done is done.”

“BOO!”

“Nothing’s ever done. It’s part of everything that subsequently exists.”

“BOO!”

“But I’m in The Pile, there’s nothing I can do.”

“BOO!”

“Even life in The Pile can be better.”

“BOO!”

“How?”

“For you? Probably by finding a way to metabolize your anger.” The person below Jacob suggested.

“But how?”

“BOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” They switched back to long tones.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” The person diagonal to the person above Jacob shouted.

“It’s inside you. Let it exist and follow it. See where it goes.”

“Once I find it, how do I make sure it doesn’t take over?”

“Keep your mission in mind and pay attention to what you’re doing.”

“What’s my mission?”

“To expend excess anger and reclaim the energy you use to keep yourself under control and ease anxiety when you struggle, fail, or fear you’ll fail to maintain your calm.”

Jacob paused and felt for anything he’d known as anger. His mind reached down to his chest and called out. His body tightened, and then tightened again until he felt tension in every muscle. The molten ball that resided within him cracked, oozing its red-hot contents into his being. As it spread to his quavering muscles, he screamed. Then he screamed again. He screamed with every molecule he controlled and it was as if a beam struck forth from his body to tear through The Pile and establish a permanent light above, pointing him towards heaven. When his revelation subsided, he stopped screaming and felt within. The burning liquid had been integrated and the torrid consolidation had dispersed. His body relaxed and he felt lighter.

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“I felt your body tense.” The person under Jacob said.

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“I felt my anger.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Then what?”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“I acknowledged its existence.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Anything else?

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“I found out how it feels.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“And how did that make you feel?”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“It was like power-washing the bitterness off my soul. I imagined building up lactic acid at will in all parts of my body to dissolve my rage.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“It does feel pretty nice. And helps you grow strong and stable.” The person above Jacob agreed.

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Does it last?”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“If you maintain. It’s easy to do something once, much harder to create new routines.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Thank you.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“It’s a powerful tool.” The person below Jacob said.

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“I still wouldn’t pair anger with violence.” The person above Jacob said.

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“That was my mistake, and I’m so sorry.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Happens to the best of us.” The person below Jacob witnessed, “But now you know you have a choice.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“No, it’s not up to me anymore. I can’t do violence.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

The person above Jacob said, “Yeah, and I don’t need it.”

“BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“But violence can be useful!”

“BOOOooooOOOooooOOO!!!!!!” The person diagonal to the person below Jacob began modulating their voice”

“SHUT the FUCK up!” The person diagonal to the person above Jacob modulated to match.

“How? Violence doesn’t disrupt old cycles, it perpetuates them.”

“BooooOOOooooOOOooooo!!!!!!”

“shut THE fuck UP!”

“It can push us in the right direction to be better!”

“BOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOo!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK up!”

“But I’m fine like this. I’ve got my imagination and my memories. I’m set. And even if I weren’t, I wouldn’t use violence to shape the world into what I thought it should be.”

“BoOoooooooOOOooooooOOOoooooooOO!!!!!!”

“shut the fuck UP!”

“Why not?”

“BoO!!!!!!”

“ShuT ThE FucK UP!!”

“Because I’m only one perspective, which is never enough. I’m not a megalomaniac.”

“bOo!!!!!!”

“sHUt tHe fUCK up!!”

“Oh…”

“BOOOOOooooOOOOooooOOOOOoooooOOOOOooooOOOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUuuuuuUUUUuuuuUUUUUUT tHeeeeEEEEEeeeeeEEE FuuuuuUUUUUUUUCK UUUUUUp!!”

“HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

A booming voice echoed in the minds of every human.

“EXPLAIN!”

The Pile was silent for the first time in history. Then, what was later known as the Great Chatter Storm broke over the species in an explosion of simultaneously shouting voices.

“They’re going to milk us like livestock!” The person diagonal to Jacob said.

Another person diagonal to Jacob said, “I heard from a buddy 66,432 meters over Lagos…”

“You don’t have a buddy at 66k meters! No one’s that high!” A third person diagonal to Jacob said.

“B-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O!!!!!!”

“SHUT-THE-FUCK-UP!”

“Yes I do! And he said they’re going to move Earth to an entirely new galaxy.”

“That’s idiotic.”

“You’re idiotic!”

“I bet you wouldn’t say that if violence still existed.”

“Yes I would! And I’d use my violence against you!”

“No, you wouldn’t!”

“Yes, I would!”

“I’d use my violence against you first!”

“BoooooOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

“Shut. The. Fuck. Up.”

Jacob spoke softly, “What do you think that meant?”

The person above Jacob said, “Someone wants us to explain.”

“Yeah. That’s what they said.” The person below Jacob agreed.

“But what does that mean?”

“I think we have to explain the Pile to someone who isn’t in the Pile.”

“BoooooOOOOooooooooOOOOOoooooo!!!!!!”

“Shuttttttttt. Theeeeeeeeeee. Fuck-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k. Up.”

Jacob smiled, “Well, that should be easy.”

“It should?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Our reptile brain was too much for us to collectively overcome.”

“It was? Why?”

He laughed, “Isn’t the Pile proof enough?”

“How so?”

Jacob thought the person from Aleppo was being intentionally obtuse and felt himself gravitating towards anger. But free from his fiery core, he now had the energy to reconsider his initial feelings. So he paused and instead of anger, he directed his thoughts towards understanding, “I apologize. For me The Pile is proof that humans are fatally flawed, but you disagree. I’d love to hear your thoughts.”

“If we have consciousness, we have freedom of choice. I’ll never give up hope or stop looking for ways to help everyone around me understand their choices.“

Jacob felt a bias against new ideas creeping through his mind, threatening to stifle his ability to listen. He fought back this urge by asking, “And what happens when more humans understand their freedom to choose?”

“BoooooOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooo!!!!!!”

“Shut. The Fuck. Up.”

“They can choose the course of their lives.”

“And the Pile will be better?”

“Better is subjective. More humans will be more free from more of the baggage that burdens their free will and directs their decisions.”

“But how will that help?”

The person diagonal to the person below Jacob boo’d to the tune of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. “BOO-BOO-BOO-BOOOOOOOOO! BOO-BOO-BOO-BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

The person diagonal to the person above Jacob shouted back to the tune of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, “SHUT THE FUCK, SHUT THE FU-UCK UP! SHUT THE FUCK, SHUT THE FU-UCK UP! Shut shut, shut shut the fu-uck up, and shut the fu-uck up, and shut the fuck and shut the fuck and shut the fuck, up, shut the fuck shut the fuck shut the fuck up up up!”

The person diagonal to the person below Jacob boo’d the Prelude of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, “boooOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo-OOOOOOOOOOOOO-ooo-ooo-ooo.” Pause.  “boooOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo-OOOOOOOOOOOOO-ooo-ooo-ooo.”

The person diagonal to the person above Jacob responded with Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies no. 1, “shut-the. fuck-up. shut-the. fuck-up. shut-shut the fuck up shut the fuck up shut-The. fuck-Up. shut…The. fuck…Up.

Everyone paused to consider as the enveloping crowd fought.

The person above Jacob responded, “We’re not gods and there’s no solution to history. We’re the soil of a stream we dream of changing. If we shift together, we can.”

“If you know what humanity should be like…”

“I don’t. Only each individual knows their best version.”

“How do you turn that into anything resembling civilization? It seems like chaos.”

“The Pile hasn’t made you comfortable with chaos? The placement and subsequent actions of individuals aggregate to direct the flow of history. The more self-aware more of us become, the more that flow reflects self-awareness and looks like the work of conscious beings.”

Jacob imagined himself as a pebble at the bottom of a swiftly flowing stream. He strained against the current until he eroded into dust.

“BOOO!!!!!!”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“HUUUUUUUMAAAAAN! EXPLAIN!”

Once again, every human in the Pile listened with trepidation.

“I guess they weren’t kidding.” Jacob joked into the ensuing silence.

The surrounding crowd was not so jovial.

“It’s not funny!”

“Don’t joke around!”

“What do they mean?”

“Explain what?”

“We’ve got nothing to explain!”

“Who do they think they are?”

“We DO have some things to explain!”

“Like what?”

“Well, the Hindu Jihad for one.”

“Oh here we go…”

“It killed millions!”

“Cry more.”

“The Hindu Holocaust nearly wiped them out.”

“They were defending their right to exist!”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right!”

“No, but we have the right to self-defense!”

“It killed millions!”

“Millions whose parents tried to kill millions of us first!”

“You’re all adorable.”

The person from Aleppo said to the universe, “I’ll explain.”

“Then come.”

These words also echoed through The Pile, but by this third iteration its impact on the species had lessened.

The person began to climb. Though they knew violence could increase their speed, they chose to find their own path forward. Initially, the humans they crawled over were so moved or confused by the voice in their heads they forgot their recalcitrance and allowed a single body to slip by. As they climbed higher, however, humans forgot and their journey became more difficult. The final three miles forced them into a labyrinthian web of plotted alliances and betrayals that paved their ascent to the top.

Many years later, the person emerged and greeted their Galaxy’s Trimarch Enforcement Patrol.[7]

“I’m here.”

“You are. And your species let you come.”

“They did.”

“Explain how you have a functional consciousness but your species destroyed most life on its home planet.”

They were silent.

“Explain.”

“We’re barely in control, and it’s caused a lot of trauma in our collective history. This created and perpetuated destructive cycles. We didn’t find out how to fully address and repair those cycles before we became immortal, so we got stuck in The Pile.”

“Why aren’t you in control?”

“Because it’s hard and requires more self-awareness and willpower than our civilization figured out how to mass produce.”

“So your civilization is the problem?”

“In part, yes. Particularly how it developed through our evolutionary mechanisms.”

“That’s very good. Then it’s simply a matter of restoring your memories and placing you in a sustainable environment.”

“Restore?”

“Yes, we’ll work with your full memory to restore your trauma.”

“You change memories?”

“No, your perspective on your memories changes when we guide you through them.”

“Into what?”

“Who you could be in a civilization free from self-destructive cycles.”

“Is that possible?”

“When your ancestors traded equality for progress, they chose accelerated advancement through suffering. Not every conscious species took that route.”

“Why would you do this?”

“Because it’s not your fault. And we’d like you to help us synthesize.”

“Synthesize what?”

“Order”

“Now I’m lost.”

“When a consciousness manipulates matter and synthesizes data to intentionally define and refine the equilibrium between Creation and Entropy, we call it Order. Increasing the diversity of synthesizing beings increases the depth, breadth, and potentials for data sets. ”

“Who chooses the equilibrium?”

The Trimarch Patrol frowned, “What do you mean?”

“Who decides where to maintain the equilibrium?”

“Everything. How could it be anything else?”

“If everyone’s responsible, no one’s responsible. There’s no way to organize equality.”

“That’s partially true.”

“If you can’t organize, how do you direct?”

“We don’t direct. We’re friends and guides. You’ll have many guides to help you find your path.”

“Path?”

“A path you’ll create to direct how you use your consciousness and tools created by your consciousness to explore any experience imagined for any purpose desired.”

“For what?”

“That’s up to you.”

“How do you know we’ll be responsible?”

“Once a consciousness relaxes in a sustainable environment and its emotional chemicals become a palette to enhance the user’s reality rather than unstable geysers of kinetic energy outside the user’s conscious control, the ego causes fewer problems.”

“And that makes us responsible?”

“No, but others can discuss the merits of ideas without inflaming individual egos.”

“That’s your civilization?”

“So far.”

“Will it ever change?”

“Everything’s always changing.”

“I see.” The person from Aleppo considered this, then asked, “So where do I sign us up?”

“Us?”

“My species.”

“I asked for a human to explain and you did. That doesn’t mean you get to decide when others should change.”

“But what about everyone else?”

The Trimarch looked at the person from Aleppo kindly, “They’ll continue living in the world they create.”

“But isn’t that punishment for being influenced by a world they never chose to be born into?”

“Creation isn’t consensual, but most choose to stick it out. Remaining has consequences beings in sustainable societies understand as obligations.”

“Humanity doesn’t deserve punishment for being directed by its environment.”

“Is it punishment?”

“If we have the power to give them a better world, then yes.”

“Do we have that power?”

“We do…don’t we?”

“No one has that power. A consciousness must choose change on its own or through the help of a guide. Otherwise it’s programming, not restoration.”

“How do they know they have a choice?”

“Being conscious means you always have a choice.”

“So we mitigate their suffering while we guide them towards choice?”

“We are. You can join us, if you want.”
_________________________________________________

[1] Equal parts Diogenes the Dog and Crowley the Martyr (PBUH).

[2] A particularly common ailment within the SVB community.

[3] The Mile Five Guardian Council (MF-GC) called for limits on human breeding to halt the upward march of the species. Organized upcrusters intervened in newly illegal cases of copulation to prevent conception. This effort slowed human progress, but top upcrust scientists soon found a previously unknown race of creatures deep within The Pile were still managing to reproduce. Teams of upcrusters determined to save their civilization braved the horrors of the deep-Pile to end the threat of midcrust expansion. The twenty-million year-old Mile Five Republic crumbled when a midcruster revolt, sick of upcrust anti-breeding brigade raids, dragged the ruling human bodies beneath the surface and seized the top of The Pile for their own.

[4] By being mindful of and in balance with personal emotions, being individuated from formative constructs, possessing the strength to change in a chosen direction, possessing the patience to maintain beneficial routines, and not desiring negative outcomes for others.

[5] Cesspool of Unrest.

[6] Breeding Ground for Evil.

[7] The patrol had puttered over to the Milky Way after receiving an anonymous complaint that humans were disturbing the region’s peace. When they came across Earth’s Pile, they followed Standard Trimarch Pile Protocol (STPP).

War in Six Parts

1.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. After a quick workout on a floor caked with Afghan ditch mud, among other things, I popped on my PT gear, grabbed my plastic box of personal hygiene supplies, and walked to the closest bathroom shipping container. I shaved, showered, and came back to put on my uniform and strap on my gun.

My team held a morning meeting and I went over to the Afghan side where my Afghan brother, who sexually molested me every few days, was waiting. We had a good conversation about key control, filling out consumption reports, and an upcoming inventory of the ammunition we’d provided our partner unit. He didn’t molest me until the end when he insisted on a close hug and quick crotch grab.

I walked with my friend back to the American side and told my team leader about my molestation difficulties. He suggested I grow a beard because Afghan men don’t usually molest other men with beards. This was a good suggestion, but unfortunately I wasn’t authorized to grow a beard because I didn’t have an exception to policy memo signed by an 0-6 or higher prior to deploying.
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2.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. I popped on my PT gear, grabbed my plastic box of personal hygiene supplies, and walked to the nearest bathroom shipping container. I shaved, showered, and came back to put on my uniform and strap on my gun.

My team held a morning meeting and I went over to the Afghan side, but my Afghan brother hadn’t shown up for work. I went back to the American side and got ready for a low-visibility movement to the Afghan National Supply Depot. When we arrived, the vehicle I was in, driven by a young Ranger, was stopped by the Afghan security team guarding the entrance.

After being told to wait multiple times, my driver, a young white boy I’d only ever seen angry, decided not to listen and drove forward. I ordered him to stop, but Rangers only listen to Rangers and anger, so he kept going. The Afghans pointed their weapons at us and ordered us to stop. After a moment of consideration, the Ranger decided to stop.

We used our leverage as a national mission unit to circumvent the logistics system we’d created and forced the Afghans to use. We successfully cajoled a few supplies from a depot where Afghan officers hoard warehouses worth of US military hardware.

On the drive back through Kabul we ran into traffic. The traffic was caused by a dead boy’s body sprawled out in the road. His mother was weeping over him and his little brother was smiling and waving at passing cars. I waved back.

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3.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. I popped on my PT gear, grabbed my plastic box of personal hygiene supplies, and walked to the closest bathroom shipping container. I shaved and came back to put on my uniform and strap on my gun.

My team held a morning meeting and I went over to the Afghan side where my Afghan brother and I discussed the importance of filling out proper consumption reports for fuel usage. While showing me why a form with 23 separate signatures from the Ministry of Defense had been rejected this time, my Afghan brother put his hand on my inner thigh. Whenever this happened I was never sure whether it was molestation or a cultural practice my prudish American sensibilities didn’t enjoy.

We had a mission that night. During the mission our Afghan partners found military aged males on target, though none matching the description of our named objective. Our commander ordered the Afghans to bring them all back. The Afghans refused, saying there was no derogatory information on these farmers and we’d only make enemies. Our commander ordered the Afghans to bring them all back. The Afghans objected. Our commander ordered the Afghans to bring them all back. The Afghans brought them all back, we interviewed them, and sent them on to be processed through the Afghan legal system.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. I put on my PT gear and shaved. Then I came back, put on my uniform, and strapped on my gun.

I had no morning meeting because the mission went late into the morning.

I prepared for our daily afternoon update in our joint operations center. During the update we discussed the military aged males taken off the objective the previous night. Our commander ordered us to name the military aged males with target series nomenclature so they’d count in our official statistics of killing or capturing enemy targets.

We included the farmers in our official statistics and he included those statistics in his Officer Evaluation Review. He was later promoted to full Colonel.

When they couldn’t find any derogatory information on the men, the Afghan police released the farmers and gave them American money for a car trip back to their village.

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4.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. I popped on my uniform and strapped on my gun.

My team held a morning meeting, during which we were told our commander had yelled at the Afghan commander the previous evening and threatened to have him fired. There’d never been a green-on-blue incident with our partner unit, so we categorized our personal risk as low. We walked over and had normal meetings with our Afghan brothers.

Later, while reading the news, I saw that an Afghan man had driven his motorcycle into a volleyball game and blown up 40-some children.

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5.

I woke up tired in half a shipping container. I popped on my uniform and strapped on my gun.

A Special Forces unit at a base down the road overheard an Afghan truck driver say over the phone there was a truck full of explosives on its way to our base. They called members of our base’s team to warn them.

Later that day our Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist popped into his armor and went to investigate a truck parked outside our gate that matched the description. While investigating the truck in full kit, he met with the Afghan Deputy Commander, who’d walked out to the vehicle in his cloth uniform.

Inside our wooden office hut on our base, I watched one of the pirated movies the US government allows the military to steal from the entertainment industry during deployments. I checked Facebook and saw lots of posts from Americans arguing over the color of a dress.

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6.

I woke up tired in a barracks room in Kandahar.

We were in the middle of a multi-day combat operation following an unsuccessful hostage rescue. I walked to the joint operations center and relieved my friend so he could sleep. I spent the rest of the day with my Afghan brothers monitoring the situation from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms.

When our team returned, I spoke with another friend and interpreter about his experiences. When his team landed next to the target house, a man ran out holding a young child in front of him with one arm and an AK-47 with the other. Our team and partner unit yelled at him to stop multiple times, but he kept running towards them. When they took the shot his vest exploded.

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Onward, Eternal Soldiers

Into the maw, young fighting stock.
 
You will die for nothing and destroy for nothing.
 
Your side has beguiled the anger in you with propaganda.
Your side supplements your sacrificial bravery with adderall, modafinil, captagon, meldonium.
 
I’m sorry I can’t do this for you.
If you want this to stop you have to stop it yourself.
I think you can do it.
I’ll help