Sunday, December 11, 2016

'The Walking Dead' and Machiavelli

For a while I've been meaning to post about the political economy of one of my favorite shows, The Walking Dead.

Anybody who has been paying attention should understand the zombie apocalypse was just the catalyst for the breakdown of society. It could have been a plague, a nuclear war.... Over these 7 seasons, zombies have increasingly become background; the real drama is human. It is the drama of the survivors after civilized society has shattered.  (And I hope everybody realizes that the "walking dead" refers not only to the zombies, but also the survivors who are still walking. As Louis C.K. put it, we'll all spend way, way more time dead than alive.)

I'm a political science major.  So the last few seasons of The Walking Dead for me have been the best. I know a lot of fans miss the first few seasons, when survivors were frantically scavenging and trying to survive the hordes of zombies.  Then they figured out how to do that, and pretty well I might add. What they still haven't figured out how to do is survive other survivors.

My thesis is that The Walking Dead is a meditation on the nature of human civilization.  What the survivors are trying to do is basically run through the last few millennia of human civilization in just a few years in order to survive, an erstwhile civilization that developed on outwardly growing circles of human association, like tree rings: first family, then clan, tribe, groups of tribes, nation, nation-state, country, and global citizenship.

In the real world, our human civilization is located somewhere between country and global citizenship. I've posted before about Jeremy Rifkin's empathy thesis and what it will take for us to become a global citizenry....

In TWD, all of that development has been deleted.  We're back to the start. But even worse this time, most families have been destroyed, so the first and most basic human connection has been severed. The protagonists in TWD make do by making their closest fellow survivors a kind of surrogate family.  Rick's family has started over the first few seasons to extend into a clan or tribe... And that's about as far as civilization has progressed from the ashes.

So enter Negan.  What would Machiavelli say about Negan?  What would he advise Negan to do? Probably, "Be yourself."  There is really no viable alternative in the TWD world.

Where I predict the story arc goes -- and I haven't read the TWD comics, so I may be way off -- is that the threat of Negan is the catalyst to unite the disunited tribes in the vicinity, who will ultimately rise up against him in victory.  But without Negan, those tribes would have warred, traded suspiciously, or avoided one another for a very long time.  In a way, Negan is both an inevitability and a blessing to accelerate the rebirth of human civilization. If there were no Negan, another Negan would have arisen in his place.

But imagine Negan will be victorious in his parochial neck of the American woods.  We still have Fear the Walking Dead on the west coast. Surely we have other Negans or Ricks in the U.S. south, midwest, northeast, etc.  Eventually these groups -- call them tribes or more likely nations -- would develop, expand and encounter one another and be forced to adopt a policy of fight, trade and cooperate, or live and let live.  This takes us back to a period of human history before Christ.

Violence, conquest, slavery and exploitation were integral parts of human pre-history described vividly in the Old Testament.  TWD is about reliving all of those stages of human history in fast-forward speed.  I find it fascinating and can't wait to see how it all turns out.  In TWD, humans are the stars of civilization in rebirth, even as the survivors are surrounded by the (much less deadly) walking dead in the background.

So, for fans who miss the first few seasons, please understand that it couldn't have turned out any other way.  Negan had to happen.  And -- without moral judgment -- Negan is not necessarily a bad guy, considering all of the Negans in human history who united disunited, warring peoples and gave them some kind of security, and allowed some measure of human society to flourish -- including science, the arts, literature, and so on.

We aren't the heirs of just Socrates, Plato, Locke and the Founding Fathers, we're also the heirs of Alexander the Great, Julius Ceaser, Genghis Khan and Napoleon.  Don't knock Negan: the post-apocalyptic world needs him for now.

One may point out that the development of human civilization today isn't congruent. In some parts of the world, like the Amazon or even Afghanistan, clan or tribe is still the dominant phase of human development. Thanks to globalization and the developed world's competition for resource dominance, those societies have come into increasing contact with the globalized, neoliberal, Western world. This incongruence inevitably leads to conflict. Yet this isn't a clash of civilizations; it is a clash of different levels of development.

Let's not confuse this clash with the clash created by refugee migrations caused by civil war, conventional war, or drug wars, as in Central and South America.  Iraq and Syria were, until recently, fairly developed countries economically with stable political systems, albeit undemocratic.  There war and the collapse of civil order pushed civilization back to association by tribe (based on religious sect); but sectarian or tribal conflict was a result, not a cause, of those conflicts and refugee crises. Just look at Aleppo today, where thousands of Syrians want to stay in their homes rather than become refugees despite merciless war crimes comritted against them.  They are being forced of their homes at the point of a gun.

In no way am I endorsing or even justifying the xenophobia of the Geert Wilders or Donald Trumps of the world.  Indeed, those populist demagogues are not only attacking "the other" in places like Syria but also peaceful citizens and residents of their own respective countries, most of whom have been living peacefully and productively in those countries for decades.  They are being scapegoated.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Bayer: Trump, treason and Confederate rebels

These days I don't post much to TILIS because I've just about blown my wad; I've said everything that I can possibly say about America's political economy that is not just blow-for-blow, he said/she said bullshit, or simple repetition with further supporting facts.

But Alexei Bayer's on-point op-ed in the Kyiv Post hit on so many ugly, uncomfortable truths about America that I just had to. [Bold mine].

Apropos, I encourage readers to check out one of my most popular posts on the strange schizophrenia, the cognitive dissonance, of Americans who fly the rebel battle flag yet claim they are the most patriotic, "real Americans:" The Confederate flag: Celebrating treason.

Trump's treasonous candidacy
By Alexei Bayer
Kyiv Post | July 30, 2016

Five months ago, I wrote a column titled “Why does America want a Putin in the White House?” (Kyiv Post, Feb. 20). It was, of course, about the affinity between Donald Trump, then a leading contender for the Republican nomination, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Since then, Trump became a Republican nominee and the affinity between him and Putin has been shown to be a direct connection, not just a mere similarity. His people purged the Republican platform of its rather important and widely supported plank, calling for supplying Ukraine with weapons to combat separatists and defend itself against Russian aggression. It was, incidentally, the only point of the platform they cared about and had any interest in changing.

Trump then talked about reneging on America’s treaty obligation to come to the defense of its NATO allies - meaning Eastern European and ex-Soviet member-states - if Russia attacked or tried to destabilize them. More recently, it has been revealed that Russian hackers were almost certainly behind the theft of the Democratic National Committee’s emails, which were made public via Wikileaks on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

And now Trump has announced that as president he would consider recognizing Crimea as part of Russia and removing economic sanctions. He has publicly invited Russians to commit an illegal and hostile act: to hack US servers in order to help him win in November. Even if Trump was making a sarcastic remark as he now claims - a big if - it was, at the very least, dangerous. Henry II could also claim that inquiring “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” was nothing but a joke - but Thomas Beckett ending up dead was no laughing matter.

As a result of these events, lots of people started to dig into Trump’s business connections with Russian oligarchs and his advisors’ dealings with various unsavory post-Soviet characters. Conservative pundit George Will - a staunch opponent of Trump - has indicated in this regard that having Trump release his tax returns (which Trump says are being audited and therefore can’t be shown publicly) is now imperative: the nation needs to see how much the self-proclaimed billionaire is in hock to various Russian interests.

Indeed, I believe that Hillary Clinton should refuse to debate Trump until he shows his tax returns - on the very likely assumption that the Republican candidate may be liable to be persecuted for high treason. Also, it's the least the American public should do, considering that Trump himself spent years demanding that Barack Obama show him his birth certificate.

Plus, in view of Trump’s invitation to Russian hackers, a possibility has opened up that someone might hack into the IRS to ferret out Trump’s taxes.

The interesting question is this: will Trump’s flag-waving, America-first supporters turn away from him because he has been shown to be chummy with the Russians?

Not in the least. I have recently been travelling the back roads of rural Pennsylvania. It’s Trump territory and even though Philadelphia, parts of Pittsburgh and college towns across the state are heavily pro-Hillary, the Keystone State as a whole is very much in play. In some polls, Trump has been shown to be in the lead.

What strikes you is the abundance of Confederate flags bedecking people’s houses. I have also seen this in upstate New York, a state that Trump says he will win thanks to his support in rural areas, on Long Island and some New York City boroughs - including, amazingly enough, among Russian-speaking Jews on Brighton Beach.

New York and Pennsylvania were the core part of the Union and major routes of the Underground Railroad. The two states suffered the largest number of battle deaths in the Civil War among Northern states.

The Confederate flag is flown typically by Trump supporters side by side with the Stars and Stripes. Even though the Southern secession was a treasonous and subversive act, these people consider themselves true patriots - much truer, apparently, than the official Washington for which they harbor nothing but profound disdain.

Those Confederate flags proliferated after last year’s shooting of nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina. Horrified by the racist attack, state officials decided to remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol. Since then, flying it has become an act of defiance, a way to stick a finger in the eye of the authorities at all levels and a show of contempt for political correctness and the liberal dogma.

This is the milieu from which Trump draws his support. His core constituency is not in opposition to the existing government as much as it is hostile. Trump’s voters, while wrapping themselves in the flag, are declaring themselves to be against the United States of America, its political system, its institutions and its Constitution. They are nihilists rejecting the very principles on which the country was built.

They are, to put it bluntly, America’s enemies. This is why their flag-bearer, Trump, has no program how he’s going to govern and why almost everything he promises to do contravenes the Constitution. Some statements he makes suggest that he has never even read the document.

This is also why joining forces with Putin, whose propaganda spreads lies about the United States in different languages and whose government believes that it is already in a state of hybrid war with Washington, is so natural for Trump. As he embraces America’s enemies, Trump’s supporters remain completely unfazed. On the contrary, it would be perfectly natural for them to follow their leader and start admiring Putin for being decisive, direct and s great leader.

Anthony Burgess has written about it in his 1962 novel, Clockwork Orange. In the book, violent hoodlums from lower middle class housing estates invent and use Natsat, a teen slang consisting mostly of Russian-inspired words such as kisa (girl), krovy (blood) and jeezny (life). They are siding with the enemy with the express purpose of taking the mickey out of their elders, teachers and cops.

And so Trump’s voters might now want add the Russian tricolor - or, better still, the flag of the self-proclaimed Novorossia, which incidentally is a carbon copy of the Confederate flag - to the flags they are already flying.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

White-on-white murder is an epidemic

Dear White Folks, we've got to stop killing each other!! How're blacks supposed to see us as responsible and credible on the issue of racial profiling by police if they know damn well we're killing each other everyday in our all-white neighborhoods? How're they supposed to respect us if we don't respect ourselves? And it's not because we're inherently more violent: we're Christian, just like they are; and our white brothers and sisters in Norway, Sweden, Germany, England... you name it, aren't killing each other like animals in their streets, homes and offices like we are. We've just got to LOVE our white brothers and sisters more... And for God's sake, we got to stop selling each other meth, heroin and other opioids! Those drugs are worse than anything outsiders could do to oppress us! It's an epidemic! We have to clean up our own communities before we can expect blacks to give us a sympathetic hearing. I'm just saying, we white folks can't just be complaining all the time about the burdens of reverse racism; nor can we lay all the blame at our economic station or the condition of our all-white schools and neighborhoods. First we have to take some responsibility for ourselves and end the violence. Peace!

White-on-white murder in America is out of control
By Matthew Yglesias
February 20, 2015 | Vox


OMG I agree with Krauthammer on Brexit

This might be a first: I agree almost completely with conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer. 

I'm not sure why it is -- because of Trump? -- most Republicans seem to cheer Brexit, which indisputably harms U.S. influence in Europe, besides its other bad effects.

Brexit: Sovereign Kingdom or little England?
By Charles Krauthammer
July 1, 2016 | Freedom's Back


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Acceleration of generational change

If I had the time I would write this book, or maybe the book already exists (?); nevertheless, I would write a book about the generations that have really mattered in human history.... And speculate about the generations that will matter in the future....

Today, we classify generations based on the pace of technological change. The truth is, for over 90% of human history, technological change hasn't been a factor; technology didn't changed much from one generation to the next, hence generations didn't matter so much. One generation was hardly distinguishable from the last.

Historians might take exception with my claim: with migration, exploration, conquest, and mixing of peoples, religions and cultures, one generation of people in a particular place could be dramatically different than another. But such historical changes mostly revolved around culture. Culture is important but deeper analysis is called for....

It would be interesting to trace an exact date when generations started to become markedly different. Up until about 150 or 120 years ago, there were long gaps between significant changes. Today, we name each new generation; a reason why is that we take it for granted that each new generation will look at the world differently, and, essentially, be smarter than us.  The driver of change is technological innovation that makes the world smaller; technology that changes our ideas of what it means to be human, and what it means to be members of a planetary race....

In ancient history we talk of ages, not generations, because historical records aren't so precise; and because changes spread slowly and locally because of distance and poor communications.

Granted, even today change doesn't spread uniformly.  The Internet still has poor penetration in Africa, for instance.  Yet in the not-too-distant future, we can anticipate that everyone will have access to all of the latest knowledge via the Internet.  Air travel, phones and television already facilitate cultural mixing on an unprecedented scale.

What will be the clear markers of future generations?  Space colonization?  Unlocking the secrets of human immortality? Climate change catastrophe?  Roboticization of most human work?  The common integration of tech hardware and software with human bodies, i.e. androids?  Some breakthrough discovery in physics that unites relativity and quantum physics. i.e. a Unified Field Theory?  A new economic system that supplants capitalism?  The decline of religious practice?  Massive migration from the developed to the developing world?  Widespread negative birthrates (which are already happening in Europe)?  Or a combination of all these factors and other things?

The crazy thing is, today we can almost anticipate what those changes will be. We know that most of the above-mentioned drivers of change will happen, or are happening; their advent is only a matter of time.

And perhaps our current anticipation of future change is a generational marker in an of itself. Perhaps historians in the future will look back and say, in the 21st century, humans for the first time were able to predict accurately futures that hadn't happened yet.  Perhaps that will be a great marker in human time.  We take our forward-looking for granted, but relatively it is a very, very recent phenomenon. These are the first generations looking forward and backward at the same time, but for the first time perhaps in human history, more focused on the future. Today we expect the world to be turned upside-down. We are the first generations to anticipate our own obsolescence.