Monday, January 30, 2017

How We Got Here: A Cultural History of the 21st Century - Episode 2 (2/3rds rough draft...)

Let's begin this with not just a quote, but a self-quote. At the beginning of our second episode, rather than quote a great intellectual, I'm going to quote me from the very end of the first episode. 

"What Russia hates is American liberalism: pure, boring, unreformed, mid-20th century, rock-ribbed, Rooseveltian, American liberalism. An ideology viewed as totalitarian because it's no ideology at all, and therefore invalidates other ideologies. The same liberalism accused of being a perversion of classic liberalism to which Republican antiliberals want to revert, the same liberalism which Socialists and Marxists call neoliberal and think outmoded, the same liberalism which anti-imperialists accuse of being conservatism with the added hypocrisy of a human face, the same liberalism which imperialists accuse of advocating policies no different anti-imperial terrorists. The liberal whose best motto is to live and let live, and in the course of human events, this liberalism corrects itself to better let us live and let live. It corrected itself after World War I to mean internationalism, corrected itself after the Great Depression to mean economic progressivism, it corrected itself during World War II to mean anti-pacifism, it corrected itself during the Kennedy era to make human rights for all, then corrected itself during the Johnson era to mean that human rights should be a particular priority at home where unintended consequences can be minimized - and had to correct itself on this matter yet again during the Bush era. A liberalism that went from Wilson to Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy and Johnson to King, before its progress was halted, and then made manifest again by Obama. A liberalism that adjusted itself by untold numbers of thinkers, statistics, and debates, and constantly evolving itself to give humanity a greater and greater chance at something better for all and not merely the elite. But the greater liberalism's triumphs become, the greater its defeats are when defeated."

Let's also go back to a quote from Aleksandr Dugin, Putin's favorite intellectual, about Hillary Clinton: Clinton is the old world order, the one which was formed in the early 1990’s. This order is coming to an end, but it does not want to be ended. And this means agony. The agony of a small state or nation is one thing. It is scary and dangerous, even toxic. But the agony of a global hyper-power is a monstrous challenge for the whole world, for all of mankind. It is like a titan falling into the abyss... Clinton means War 

Assuming Dugin is even close to being an accurate window into the perceptions of Vladimir Putin, why did an election of President Hillary Clinton mean war to Russia? The answer to that is both deceptively simple and too complex for the purposes of this series. According to Dugin, the destruction of America was inevitable. But if proof of America's inevitable destruction is required, then Russia has to provide the proof. If America has an incompetent, venal President, who wants to destroy American institutions to strengthen his own position, the question as to why American destruction is inevitable is self-answering. But if the world's most powerful country has good leadership that strengthens its position and makes it a more virtuous example to the world of sound governance that helps advance the interests of its citizens, then similar things will be demanded increasingly often in every other country of the world. Add to this Hillary Clinton's slightly greater hawkishness in foreign policy, and the differences were not nearly so great between Obama and Hillary as supposed but just great enough that Russia's position in the world would clearly be weakened still further, and Russia's twilight upon the world stage would become very nearly inevitable. There is no such thing as historical inevitability - history has yet to be written and has no definite direction. However, those who believe that the direction of history is inevitable have a vested interest in proving themselves correct. When you believe that history's ultimate end is Liberal Democracy, then you have a vested interest in advancing its spread through military might in Iraq and Afghanistan. When you believe that history's ultimate end is the Worker's Paradise without borders, then you have a vested interest in stretching your sphere of influence all across the Eastern half of Europe and every other part of the world to force every country to adapt your way of life, whatever the cost, in the hope that by the end, the Workers can achieve their paradise. One of my favorite thinkers is the Russian/English political philosopher and intellectual historian, Sir Isaiah Berlin, who for all his occasional ideological wooliness, was absolutely adament about this core point which he stated more eloquently than any thinker I've ever heard:

“If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter.” 

Just think of that 1957 statement from Mao Tse-Tun when he said that it would absolutely be worthwhile to kill half of the world's population so that the other half could achieve a Worker's Paradise in perpetuity, and now think of that when it comes to the potential for an ideological orientation from Vladimir Putin.

If your belief is akin to many Slavophiles over the years, which is that Russia has a special destiny to bring the proper Word of God to the world, then you have to advance your cause with action, lest this special destiny never materialize. In this sense, and because Hillary's policies may have been effective to a point that dwarfed even Obama's, the greatness that might have been a Hillary Clinton Presidency was perhaps the greatest possible invitation to a worldwide disaster. Perhaps America would have survived such disasters, or perhaps we wouldn't. We have no idea. Abraham Lincoln's election facilitated the Civil War, and it was because the South knew in its bones that America had elected the most effective fighter against slavery the world had ever known that the war which ended slavery became inevitable. One can't argue with the final outcome of the Civil War, but roughly 620,000 people died, another 475,000 were wounded, another 400,000 were either captured as prisoners of war or went missing altogether. Other potentially great leaders in American History, from Alexander Hamilton to Martin Luther King, were slaughtered precisely because of the effectiveness with which they were agents for change. 
Their deaths were a kind of pre-emptive prevention from achieving their greatest accomplishments. I have no idea if Hillary Clinton would have been so great an American leader as Lincoln or King, but it seems relatively clear to me at least that Vladimir Putin thought so, and was willing to incur casualties well beyond those of the Civil War to make sure that her advocacy of freedom and sound government and the rights of all peoples would never come to fruition. And when war breaks out at this later date of History, you can be sure that the casualties will be well beyond a million and a half of the Civil War, because excepting maybe Mao, no leader in modern world history has ever seemed so blithe about undermining the established order of things as Vladimir Putin. But Putin does not undermine the established order as Mao did, to wholesale create a new one. Putin undermines the established order so that he can fortify it, make it stronger, make it invincible. 

Putin joined the KGB in 1975, seven years after the Soviet crackdown of the Prague Spring and during that heroic period when Soviet dissidents like Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Sharansky, and so many others, risked their lives and the lives of those they loved to speak truths about the USSR during a period when socialists in the West still did their best to cover their eyes. It's well known to Russians that Putin views Stalin as an unequivocally great man and the 1990's as the greatest calamity to ever befall modern Russia. Think about that for a moment: between World War I, the Russian Civil War, Stalin, and World War II, somewhere upward of 50 million Russians were murdered senselessly, and yet the 90's, the post Cold War era when Russia's prestige was at its lowest ebb, was the period Putin found to be a disaster above all others. What Vladimir Putin wants more than anything else is order, unbreakable, invincible order, and he is a Michelangelo of destroying order in order to create a stronger one. 

From the very beginning of his Presidency, destroying the order to build it back up has been his greatest commitment and most devoted creed. For twelve nights of 1999, there were five separate terrorist bombings in various Russian cities, a number of which took place within apartment buildings. Russians of every city had to lie in bed every night wondering if that night would be their last. 293 innocent people died, many in their beds, and more than a thousand were injured. At the time, it was blamed on Chechnya, and public support for a Russian war against Chechnya went through the roof - but forsenic evidence pointed to the bombs being detonated by the FSB, the KGB's successor as the central office for Russian Intelligence, and staffed mostly by the same people. A few members of the Duma, the Russian parliament, created a commission for an independent investigation. Two members of the commission were assassinated, and the commission's lawyer was convicted in closed military court and thrown into prison for four years. 

The result was the Chechen War. The capital of Chechnya, Grozny, has long since been reduced to waste. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, violent Chechen casualties have numbered at least 100,000 and by some estimates as many as 300,000 - surely enough to qualify as a second or third-degree genocide. To put this in proper perspective with another war of attrition, the very highest estimate of Palestinian casualties since 1948 is roughly 76,000, and this does not just number the maximum amount of Palestinians killed by Israelis, but the roughly equal number killed by neighboring countries where the majority of Palestinians live like Jordan and Lebanon, and killed by other Palestinians in intra-national political battles. In nearly 1/3rd the time, Russia has probably killed 3 times as many Chechens as anyone at all has killed Palestinians. 

In just two years in the violent Eastern Ukrainian conflict which began around the time which Putin-proxy Viktor Yanukovich was deposed, 10,000 people have died - a chilling reminder of what may come to America if we do something similar to Donald Trump. 

Let's leave aside the potential that Putin's Russia was behind a whole slew of planes shot down like Malaysia Flight 17, and even the Polish Air-Force Tu-154 Crash which carried half the Polish government to a joint commemoration of an event during World War II when the anti-Nazi half of Poland's 1940's most important people were gathered into one place and slaughtered en masse. 

Let's just focus for one second about Syria, the closest thing the 2010's have to a Spanish Civil War. Who ultimately bears responsibility for the somewhere between 312,000 and 470,000 dead? Is it Assad, who directly benefits by staying the unquestioned leader of the country? Or is it Putin, whose vested interest in it was to stop the Arab Spring from spreading to any country where dictators stomp on liberty?

2011 seems like ages ago, but anyone for whom that year meant something, who lived through that brief period when liberty for all, yet again, seemed possible, will never forget it. Like all these moments in history, it was mostly a fool's hope, but in our various ways, we all need hope to keep going. 

What was the ultimate cause of the Arab Spring? Nobody will truly know. Factually, it started with the  really difficult  difficult to imagine that the struggles of a couple hundred minors in Tunisia can inflame the imagination of an entire region of 220 million people. But from the perspective of this Ugly American, who can't help seeing the world from his American white male perspective, I would not underestimate the importance of President Obama's election. 

I know it seems like ages ago, but as great an impact as Obama's election had here, imagine the impact it had in Muslim speaking lands. The most powerful country in the world whom most Middle Easterners believe rules their region like a Czar and uses the US to explain every evil that besets them - even the ones the US isn't responsible for, had just elected a man named Barack Hussein Obama. Barack: Arabic for "Blessing." Hussein: Arabic for "Handsome." Obama: Luo for "Bend." 

The United States, the Great Satan, is not just contrite for its actions, it allowed a man whose very name paid tribute to the Arab side of his family to ascend to the powerful position in the world. It showed that the US was capable of living up to its democratic ideals, and if such a democracy can be more powerful and just than an autocracy, then no ideal is more worth fighting for. 

No idea could be more threatening to Vladimir Putin than that. He had to stop the Arab Spring in its tracks, because if he didn't, two things would have happened. The option of the two would have been that Islamic movements would take over these countries and establish dictatorships at least as bloody as their secular counterparts, who could then potentially launch holy wars with secular autocracies that cost millions of lives. The wars would have been a thorn in Putin's side, but Putin would nevertheless be lauded by many as a hero. 

For Putin, the still worse eventuality would be that democracy takes root in all the countries who demand it, and even if Putin left power peacefully (ha!), he would be remembered forever as an ineffectual butcher who'd probably be made to answer for his crimes in International Criminal Court. Syria was where he chose to make sure this would never happen, and to counteract the tide of democracy, and the stability which many people think democracy facilitates, any number of deaths, any amount of destruction, any amount of what we liberals consider the height of villainy, had to be countenanced without mercy. 

The more stable an order is, the more labyrinthine the rules that keep it in place, the more a system allows life to thrive, the more brutally ruthless have to be the blows so as to make the walls give way. The more stable a country, the more horrific its downfall. By 1789, France, the kingdom well-known for having the most intricate of all Europe's monarchical hierarchies, was beset by a revolution. First came a financial crisis, then collapse, then the rise of the Jacobins and the guillotine, then the execution of a few hundred noblemen, then the rise of Robespierre who executed most of the other Jacobins and eventually was himself executed for having been responsible for the execution of 20,000 Frenchmen, then came the ten year French Revolutionary War which killed somewhere between 300,000 and 1.1 million French, and then came Napoleon to unite France under his dictatorship and who decided he needed to put the rest of Europe under an Empire united under his rule, and somewhere between 3.5 and 6 million people died for the cause of his ambition to conquer the world. When there is too much order, the ensuing chaos become all the worse. Too much control yields to the demand for too little, which once enacted, yields to the ultimate controller - death. The years 1789 to 1815 were an avalanche of death that claimed ever more lives for twenty-six years before the avalanche finally stopped rumbling.

War did not rage throughout the supposedly civilized part of the world for another hundred years, when it broke out again in 1914, it took thirty-one years to stop, and in the meantime, if we go by the estimates of R. J. Rummel, probably the best known scholar of state murder, who also has an easily accessible website if you can stomach such a thing, we lost somewhere between 17 and 18 million to World War One, then somewhere between 20 to 50 million in the Spanish Influenza which probably broke out because of the unsanitariness of the battlefields - it spread so far around the globe that the world will never get a true estimate of the lives lost. There were an estimated seven million who starved to death in various countries during the Great Depression, another estimated 5 to 9 million deaths due to the Russian Civil War of the early 1920s which broke out after the collapse of the Czar, only some of which are attributed the four million deaths for which Lenin is directly responsible after he consolidated power, and the 5 million killed by Imperial Japan, most of which are part of the 20 million dead in the Chinese Civil War of the 30s and 40s, for which the Communist party led by Mao in the few years before he assumed power was responsible for 4 million deaths alone, then there are the four million Chinese Deaths for which Chiang-Kai Shek's right-wing nationalist government was responsible, then there is the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by Turkish generals which killed roughly 1.8 million if one counts a few hundred thousand non-Armenians also murdered, and then the nearly million people killed by the allegedly great Ataturk who is still revered by American neoconservatives - taking their cue from Bernard Lewis - as the model of an incorruptible secularizing dictator, the well over a million killed in quote-unquote minor European right-wing dictatorships like Mussolini and Franco and Horthy and Pilsudski and Salazar and Petain, another roughly 20 million killed in various ways by Hitler's Nazis for which we needn't elaborate, and the probable upward of 50 million people killed by Stalin's various orders and policies alone. It is macabre at best to list these totals and then add all of them up, but let's just say that the wars of the early twentieth century killed so far over a hundred million people that it might be closer to two-hundred million. One then adds up the stupefying death tolls of the Cold War and the quote unquote Third World upon whom it was mostly perpetrated, the roughly twelve million Soviets for which dictators after Stalin were responsible, the 2 million dead in the killing fields of Pol-Pot's Cambodia, the roughly 1.7 million killed by North Korea, another 1.7 million killed in the Vietnam War and its aftermath, the 1.5 million dead in the Polish Civil War which killed my great-aunt after surviving the Holocaust, the 1.5 million killed by the various Pakistani military dictatorships, the 1.1 million killed in Yugoslavia, yes, the 6 million dead from United States actions in the Cold War. And worst of all, the roughly seventy-seven million killed in Mao's China, for which no truly reliable total is possible, and some estimates go up to a hundred twenty million people.

While estimates are obviously unreliable, evidence would seem to point to that five hundred years of traditional Western mercantile Imperialism with all its attendant mass murders and starvations and diseases and slaveries cannot come even remotely close to equalling the total number of deaths engendered by thirty-one years of advanced warfare, let alone an entire global century of it. In fact, for five hundred years of Western Imperialism to reach anything even resembling the equivalent death tolls of the twentieth century one would have to not only accept the very highest estimates - such as putting the total Native Americans killed at 120 million people higher than than the 15 million that is generally supposed, but also include the casualties of Islamic Imperialism. God forgive me if I'm wrong, because I know no one else will, and they might not even if I'm right. I do not want to imply or even give the semblance of implication that imperialism is anything but one of the villains of modern history - but I do believe that imperialism may be the tertiary villain that to which totalitarianism and nationalism must take precedence. All three are obviously bound up with one another, but totalitarianism in the name of anti-imperialism has been proven again and again to provoke far greater suffering and lethal consequence than imperialism in the name of anti-totalitarianism. It may even be the quaternary villain of modern history, with militarism playing a still larger role. I know that it will inevitably sound to people as though I'm making allowances for the practices of imperialism, be it in historic mercantile form or in contemporary unregulated capitalist form, to continue. I'm even slightly doubtful about the statistics and continually worry that I've misread them, every time I've read them they've surprised the hell out me. I know that any complaint I make about the Left's wail of imperialism uber alles will sound like a defense of imperialism...But I find that the blood-curdling stories of the Twentieth Century at its worst makes it difficult to work oneself into sufficient commitment to fighting for every person suffering under injustice. And if the neoimperial injustices of unregulated vulture capitalism add up and the financial system completely collapses sometime around 2040 and sends the world spinning into a Third World War, and perhaps then an even worse Fourth World War thereafter, would it be that unreasonable to assume that the next world war would claim yet another multiple of ten - more a billion lives as its eternal property? Would it be unreasonable to assume that the aftereffects of dictatorship and illness and proxy war and yes, imperial wage slavery, from the conditions it leaves could claim another two billion? Or is that underestimating the number of possible casualties?

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