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 This view of diplomacy is outdated and dangerously misunderstands how cultures interact and shape one another in a hyper-connected world.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.

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.

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.

afg 4

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.

Afghan 5

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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To Restore Justice

Western retributive justice is barbaric. When a human breaks the laws of its civilization, retributive justice posits that that human should be given a punishment proportional to their crime. In reality this manifests as an arbitrary punishment created ad hoc with no universal standard for what constitutes proper retribution. The arbitrary retributive constructs of one civilization may be entirely different from the arbitrary retributive constructs of another; one person’s forty lashes is another person’s $40 fine. This is not justice, this is arbitrary retribution reflecting popular local cultural constructs. Though temporally democratically popular, like slavery and war, this is an outmoded concept.

In addition to the arbitrary nature of retributive punishment, the idea that a society benefits from further traumatizing individual members who’ve transgressed is based on a faulty understanding of psychology and neurology. Individual human consciousness is heavily impacted by its environment, and definitively claiming humans have sole propriety over personal physical actions is tenuous. All actions are influenced by environmental chemicals, social inputs, and whatever neurological interpretation of reality the individual perceives at any given time. To believe justice is served by punishing a human for how their brain has been impacted genetically and socially is both barbaric and self-defeating.

Society is not better served when humans are traumatized and then stigmatized for their trauma. This practice perpetuates destructive cycles that keep large numbers of human brains in biological survival mode. Fueled by exacerbating chemicals like caffeine, opioids, sugar, dopamine, adrenaline, and alcohol (among many others), human populations absorb trauma, do not adequately address the trauma’s psychological impact, and then passively watch trauma transform and manifest itself in other ways, often as depression or a neurotic expression of unaddressed rage. This process can occur both individually and collectively, and the two are inextricably linked, creating cycles and new constructs based in trauma.

The most obvious example is our conception of safety and national security after 9/11. Our collective trauma manifested itself in bombings, invasions, and rage all over the world, and even caused us to declare a war on being afraid. This trauma is so banal that most citizens have no conception of the impact their civilization’s rage has had on the rest of the world. But personal ignorance of the full extent of inflicted trauma doesn’t mean the effect of that trauma is lessened. Trauma, defined as an expansive sliding scale of negative outcomes, is concentrated emotional energy and cannot be destroyed, only transformed.

The environment created through external actions is directly related to how an individual brain perceives its external environment. Create a trauma-saturated environment and the brain will perceive and absorb trauma, create a happiness-saturated environment and the brain will perceive and absorb happiness. The creators of trauma expose themselves to a trauma-saturated environment of their own making (as far as anything they do is independent and not simply repeating the cycles they learned), then bring absorbed trauma home to their families and friends where, unaddressed, it usually expresses itself through depression or rage. Retribution is not justice, it’s rage hijacking human rationality to construct a complex and opaque system that codifies its own goals. Don’t underestimate unpruned human anger, especially your own.

In the specific barbarism of this event, a child was traumatized through the horrifying American foster system, then she was impregnated. Then she birthed another child at 15, and finally she killed that child 19 months later. The psychologists (there is a segment of the psychology profession that specializes in judging sanity, according to US law, for money) deemed that despite the context, this human understood the basic functions of the legal bureaucracy, therefore, as experts, they consented to punishing her using that legal bureaucracy. After a lifetime of trauma, did this person’s consciousness have real control over her actions, or was her self under the sway of unaddressed neurosis? Does it particularly matter? Another traumatized person is most likely going into the US prison system, in this case because she stabbed her own baby five times.

Restorative justice sees this case in a different light. Rather than believe the best solution to trauma is more trauma, restorative justice, at least the version I believe in, seeks to find the most beneficial solution for both the community and the individual human. How? By identifying sources of trauma, creating systemic infrastructure specifically focused on addressing those sources, and deliberately intervening in order to interrupt cycles. A human being who creates trauma is not a monster, but rather a victim themselves who should be helped and understood.

In practice, a system of restorative justice would support thousands of panels of diverse individuals whose entire job is discussing the most beneficial solutions on an individual basis. Though arbitrary and dependent on any number of human variables, this system returns the humanity to justice. Rather than prisons, individuals a panel deems traumatized enough to justify temporary separation from society are sent to resocialization centers, where they are helped through their neurosis and given resources to develop skills and plenty of creative outlets to enhance their imagination and happiness. Amalgamations of this system already work in plenty of civilizations, but certainly not the United States.

Due to the mental state of large portions of the US population, true restorative justice would most likely not work. This is interesting to note and speaks to the high incidence of childhood trauma and lack of mental health infrastructure within the US. I define sanity as being mindful of and in balance with personal emotions, individuated from formative authority figures and constructs, confident in a personal ability to change the self in a chosen direction, and not desirous of negative outcomes for other beings. Unfortunately ideas that rely on sane humans to help other humans become saner don’t work in a society with a scarcity of sane humans.

Democrazy

Democracy!

Fun with demographics, US election contributions, and stats!

I got an email from the Democratic Socialists of America with a bold claim:
“Fewer than 16,000 donors were responsible for HALF of all federal campaign contributions in 2016. To put that in perspective, there were 3.2 million donors in 2016. Yet half of all financial support came from just 0.5% of them.”

That’s pretty shocking for a country that considers itself an example of democracy. But I’m always suspicious of how people use stats, so I put in some research time.

2016 US election contribution totals from the Center for Responsive Politics: No automatic alt text available.

.1% of the total US adult population gave over $2,700. Here’s a chart from Pew to visualize that breakdown:

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In other words, a large percentage of that .1% of donors giving over $2,700 are wealthy and have checked the education blocks our culture rewards. “Those who earn more also tend to donate more. Among those who donated, 27% of those with family incomes of $150,000 or more said they contributed more than $250, while 16% of contributors with incomes between $75,000 and $150,000 gave at least $250.”

If we view money as a component of the electorate’s overall feelings of efficacy, those with more money in the United States have more access to political efficacy. This canalizes thinking and behavioral patterns, as portions of the electorate with strong feelings of political efficacy are more likely to perpetuate a system in which they feel powerful. In part, this is why the world looks so different for those with and those without consistent feelings of personal efficacy.

From WaPo:

“Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

“In their primary statistical analysis, the collective preferences of ordinary citizens had only a negligible estimated effect on policy outcomes, while the collective preferences of “economic elites” (roughly proxied by citizens at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) were 15 times as important. “Mass-based interest groups” mattered, too, but only about half as much as business interest groups — and the preferences of those public interest groups were only weakly correlated (.12) with the preferences of the public as measured in opinion surveys.”

“A political organization contacted 191 congressional offices requesting meetings to discuss a pending bill. The organization’s members were randomly identified either as constituents or as campaign donors. Of the people identified as donors, 19 percent got meetings with the member of Congress or a top staffer, but only 5 percent of those identified as constituents (not as donors) got similar access.”

This creates a specific context for voters and their elected representatives. My hypothesis is that an inordinate use of money as efficacy leads to ineffective or unsustainable governing mechanisms due to the sociological factors involved in consolidating and wielding concentrated power in the context of inequality. This is particularly concerning when considering the methods individuals who’ve consolidated money into fortunes used to do so and the personal toll of that psychological impact. A change in personal wealth is a significant psychological experience and can impact behavioral patterns, the severity of unaddressed neurosis, and an individual’s ability to impact the world around them.

By catering to individuals with wealth-enhanced political efficacy, we narrow the diversity of effective interests, creating a feedback loop of efficacy and success within wealthy demographics. Additionally, as noted in Chart 1, there is a major disparity between male and female participation, further skewing priorities. When power is so grossly imbalanced within a society, a government that effectively represents those power imbalances will continue to widen the gap with its myopic policies created in conjunction with its most politically effective citizens.

The History of Warfare

War used to be a bunch of dudes running around hitting one another with whatever they could find.

Then.

War used to be a bunch of dudes running around hitting one another with objects they made out of whatever they could find.

Then.

War used to be a bunch of dudes running around hitting and shooting one another with objects they made out of material they refined out of objects and animals they found or farmed.

Then.

War used to be a bunch of dudes running and riding around hitting and shooting one another with objects they made out of material they refined out of objects and animals the found or farmed .

Then.

War used to be a bunch of dudes running and riding and flying around shooting and bombing and hitting one another with objects they made out of material they refined out of objects and animals they found or farmed.

Now.

War is a bunch of dudes of all genders working in a vast industry built to support small groups of dudes running and riding and flying around killing and capturing whoever their government orders anywhere in the world and other dudes of all genders sitting in rooms around the world using technology to fly bombing drones or spy drones somewhere else in the world to bomb or spy on whatever their government orders.

And.

Human progress marches on.