Keeping up with the FITs, 3/28
Richard Hanania on Political Heuristics; Robert Wright on lessons learned from Ukraine; George Leef writes a novel; Joel Kotkin on ESG investing;
An essay that I recommend reading in its entirety is by Richard Hanania. He concludes,
Of course, I advise you to think for yourself, seek out objective evidence, and proceed with intellectual humility. But if you’re going to be involved in politics at any level – from voting to campaigning or running for office – we all have to choose what movements, political parties, and programs to support. We also have to decide which priors we should start with when consuming new information and incorporating it into our worldview. As far as heuristics go, “oppose the current thing” is probably pretty good as long as it’s not the only one you’re using. It is more certainly better than the alternative.
If you use the simple heuristic of aligning yourself with one political tribe or the other, you will focus only on “the current thing” and take positions that are stupid. But if you try to take intelligent, nuanced positions, you won’t be politically effective. Moreover, most issues are too complex to evaluate for yourself.
I would say that the quality of our society will be inversely proportion to the level of political energy. One of the toxic effects of social media is to elevate the level of political energy. We would be much better off with people putting energy into their relationships and their work.
If you look at a deal that I think might have prevented the invasion—agreeing not to expand NATO any further, and guaranteeing a kind of neutrality for Ukraine, and also granting autonomy to those two provinces in the Donbass (not independence, which is what Putin will now demand, unless he demands that they be annexed by Russia, but just autonomy within Ukraine)—we didn't come anywhere near offering that, as I understand it.
So one lesson, call it the Bob Wright lesson, is that we should try harder at negotiation. Of course, if the Hitler parallel is correct, Putin would have taken Bob’s deal and then six months later invaded the rest of the country. But I don’t believe that the Hitler parallel is that correct.
As Bob points out, given that we did not try to negotiate a solution, our leaders pretty much have to go with the narrative that Putin is just a crazy no-goodnik. That would seem to imply that the lesson we should learn is that there are crazy no-goodniks in the world, and you can’t negotiate with such. Call that the Neocon lesson. We are not following that lesson, because Neocons would be tougher on Iran, not be trying to make up with Venezuela, etc.
A lesson we seem to be learning is that sanctions are great. Look at how bad Russia is doing, both militarily and economically! Call this the Twitter-mob lesson.
Another lesson we could be learning is that American foreign policy is inconsistent and even incoherent. Call this the Hanania lesson.
A lesson we could be learning is that the consequences of any foreign policy, including non-interventionism, are difficult to evaluate at the time they are undertaken and difficult to predict relative to the long term. I think of that as the libertarian humility lesson. It is the one I would push the most.
You would believe me if I told you that Bob Wright said:
If some other state acted as Washington and its allies did under the hawks’ leadership—violating sovereignty willy-nilly, sowing chaos and civil war—the hawks would label that state “rogue” and seek regime change.
But the quote is from Sohrab Amhari, who Bob Wright would almost surely never draft for a Fantasy Intellectual Team (and neither would I). Strange bedfellows.
Speaking of sound-alikes, here is a quote from a new work of fiction by George Leef.
“Democracy doesn’t guarantee that what’s done will be for ‘the public good.’ Actually, democracy serves as an excellent cover for the Takers. They propagandize the populace that voting is their most precious freedom while they use government to deprive people of things that really matter—their liberty and property.”
Note what I wrote recently:
We treat voting as a sacred ritual. Then we elect officials who scare us into handing more decisions over to government. We put unwarranted faith in our right to vote, while letting too many of our other rights get taken away.
Like Russia, China can thank the ESG movement for all this, led by the likes of financial firms like Blackrock, which insist that developments meet their “net zero” obsessions. Wall Street’s dual standards represent an effective embrace of China’s hegemony by hamstringing Western industry while expanding business with the world’s dominant polluter and autocracy par excellence. So far, more palatable options—increasing remote work, geothermal energy, production of natural gas, nuclear power, and new technologies—are not on the woke corporate agenda.
It's entirely possible that annexation would be better than autonomy. A legitimate gripe about the autonomy deal is that it would give Putin power inside Ukraines parliament. Smart commentators noted that autonomy was probably more pro-Putin then annexation.
If Donbass was just annexed this could be avoided. The autonomy thing seems more about saving face (pretending that borders are sacrosanct) than finding a good workable solution.
Zelensky tried to implement Minsk, as promising to end the Donbass war was part of his landslide victory, including going out to Donbass and telling the nazies that he wasn't some loser they could push around. However, when push came to shove it turned out they could push him around. It probably doesn't help that the oligarch behind Zelensky funds Azov and other far right military groups and uses them as a personal army.
And of course the west encouraged Zelensky to take a hard line stand, which he eventually came around to after realizing he couldn't actually command the army in Donbas anyway.
I still think the fundamental problem with Ukraine is that it isn't a natural country. People in the middle provinces could probably get along, but the far west and far east are just fundamentally at odds.
Today I saw a picture from an Azov base in Maripoul. The DPR capture it and they found a woman's corpse in the basement. It had been tortured and a bloody swastika carved into her stomach. Maybe you can say this is propaganda, but I've seen plenty of images and videos like this from all over Ukraine, most of it uploaded by Ukranians. How can somebody from Maripoul and somebody from Lviv ever get along. A divorce makes a lot more sense.
There's a lot of daylight between 'Putin is rational, self-interested, and driven by totally-legitimate security interests' and 'Putin is Hitler.' First, I think it's clear that Putin wasn't just looking for neutrality and the eastern breakaway regions recognized, he wanted to subsume the whole of Ukraine, whether by annexation or installing a puppet regime; when I see people writing as if they think he just wanted neutrality and the eastern regions, it's self-discrediting at this point.
Anyway, the rule of balance of power politics is that a nation will expand its influence and territory until its hegemony matches its military might, or contract in influence and territory as the case may be. In order for Russia to reach the point where it's willing to accept neutrality + independence for Donetsk/Luhansk or something like that, it had to be made to realize that it wasn't as militarily powerful as it thought it was, enough to take the whole country at a tolerable cost. It wasn't just a matter of the parties not 'negotiating hard enough.' Sometimes wars have to be fought so nations can learn what they are or aren't capable of.