Friday, February 9, 2018


There's something odd to me about the nostalgia some older people feel for the NASA space program of the 60s and 70s. It feels kind of like talking to a fan of a sports team you don't follow. Everybody knows sports are just for fun, yet some of us, myself included, seem to take it very seriously even so. Ted Cruz is one of the most conservative politicians in existence. Got a problem? The government need not apply. Yet NASA appears to have a special hold on his heart. Then there's David French, a man who viciously opposed Donald Trump and seriously explored an independent run for President after Trump won the primary, yet here he is parroting, if not Trump's slogan (titles for articles like this are often written by editors not authors), then at least Trump's grandiose nationalistic sentiments over the rocket launch the other day. Though Falcon Heavy is a SpaceX rocket, it's heavily subsidized as French notes. I wonder if he would feel the same way or wax so philosophical if it was another country.

One of my very favorite C.S. Lewis quotes happens to be about the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Lewis was a British patriot and had no irrational sentiments to color his opinion on the matter, though he most certainly would have understood and heartily approved of such sentiments insofar as they applied to Britain. But without a dog in the fight, Lewis I think pinpointed the real reason why space travel has not worked out the way all the old classic science fiction authors intended. Lewis himself wrote a science fiction trilogy, creating luscious alien biomes on both Mars and Venus complete with several sentient species, an idea becoming increasingly absurd today. Lewis died in 1963, in fact on the same day as did JFK who started the space program, and six years before the first moon landing. An actual landing on Mars, manned or not, was still a fantastic proposition. Yet somehow Lewis manages, as he somehow always did, to be quite prescient on the matter.

In a little known essay called "The Seeing Eye", Lewis deals with the question of space travel, particularly the prospect of finding life, or perhaps as he was told the Soviets said, not finding God. The prospect of intelligent life on other planets vexes a particular sort of Christian, the kind Lewis wasn't. His main concern about finding intelligent life on other planets was the possibility that the fallen human race would corrupt it. The book Perelandra, the second in his space trilogy, imagines the creation of life on Venus by God. After creation, the whole Garden of Eden scenario plays out, but this time God sends a Christian from Earth to counter the influence of Venus' equivalent of the snake in order to prevent the Fall from taking place there as it did on Earth. In Out of the Silent Planet, Earth is the Silent Planet and Mars had watched as Earth had fallen dark and under the influence of the devil. Lewis thought the best sci-fi used a potential future to cast light and lessons on the present. He did not think much of epic colonization stories portraying humanity conquering the stars. He spent several hours a day answering letters from regular people, usually fans of his fiction, and he worried more than anything else that people's faith would be shaken by space exploration, being quite familiar with all the atheist attempts to do so. "The Seeing Eye" was his response to all of that. My favorite quote is perhaps not the most important part, nor is it even in the main argument, but I love it both for its British humor and its prescience:

 "Nor am I much concerned about the 'space race' between America and Russia. The more money, time, skill and zeal they both spend on that rivalry, the less, we may hope they will have to spend on armaments. Great powers might be more usefully, but are seldom less dangerously, employed than in fabricating costly objects and flinging them, as you might say, overboard. Good luck to it! It is an excellent way of letting off steam."

The author of a fantastical tale of alien life and exra-terrestrial adventures understood real space exploration as no more than an international pissing contest. I have always wondered if he would have taken the same line had Britain been a competitor in the space race. Perhaps the naval metaphor is his way of pointing to the period of British dominance in exploration that actually mattered.

French doesn't even argue that space exploration has practical benefits. The whole column is existential nostalgia for a time when, don't you know, Americans were united by a seemingly impossible project. Perhaps we would be more united today if our communal projects had more practical value and were not more examples of redistributing resources in ways that sound really great in speeches by blowhards but don't generate much in the way of wealth and the higher standards of living most people actually care about. French argues in his essay that we lost interest in space because we lost interest in doing things as a nation, but that seems to be missing a rather large point. Could it be that space isn't as hospitable or interesting as all the classic science fiction authors imagined? We came, we saw, we conquered...nothing. And now nobody cares anymore.

Even science fiction is beginning to recognize this. Science fiction has changed from the Star Trek version where "M-class", that is earth-like, planets are myriad, and every one of them seems to have an intelligent species or two. The new Battlestar Galactica would be a case in point. The humans are chased off their home planets by enemy robots and spend the rest of the first season, and much of the rest of the series, desperately trying to find food and water to stay alive and a survivable planet where they can start over. I recently finished the first season of the new hit show "The Expanse" which presents space even more starkly and, it must be said, realistically. Mars is colonized by ordinary humans who went there primarily because they believe Earth had become a lost cause. Now the Martians are engaged in a tedious centuries long project of terraforming the planet to make it livable. A far cry from Lewis' lush vision of Mars. Even more starkly presented are the denizens of the asteroid belt, or "belters". Thanks to our actual experience in space, we now know that even living in zero gravity for months or years has serious deleterious health effects on the human body. "The Expanse" portrays belters as born in low or zero-G and living most of their lives there. They have serious health problems including severe muscular atrophy and skeletal deformations. In one scene, a belter suspected of being a terrorist is tortured by simply suspending him by the armpits on a set of hooks on Earth, the mere exposure to Earth's gravity causing him extensive pain. He later commits suicide by intentionally removing his protection from g-forces during a rocket launch. But hey, let's go to space on purpose's a great way to get Americans to unite around a ridiculous mission?

It certainly seems to be true that Americans are less united now than we were during the space race. I suspect having a common enemy which posed a genuine threat may have had a bit more to do with the national psychology of that time than a communal science project. Nor do I think today's disunity is caused by or can be repaired by something like that. We've been there, done that, got the T-shirt and saw there was nothing to see.

Now that's whack.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Trump and the /b/tards

Towards the end of 2006 I began playing a simple text based MMO that I ended up playing for about nine years. A few months after I started on Alpha server they opened up a new server, Beta. Myself and a bunch of my Alpha guildmates started another branch of our Alpha guild on the new server. After a while I ended up the leader of my guild which meant I was often involved in behind-the-scenes diplomacy and planning with our allies. It was in the context of this experience that I first met the group of internet trolls originating from the infamous 4chan website. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine this strange group of people would become politically relevant.

Sometimes calling themselves /b/tards after one of the 4chan forums they used and now more widely known as the alt-right, these people are rather difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't directly experienced their peculiar form of social interaction. For a long time I assumed they were radical leftists just because of their irreverent behavior. I had to revise my assessment after spending a few days as a guest in one of their guilds. Sandwiched between all the porn and uncensored pictures of people who had lost half of their face from a motorcycle accident and the like, I saw what they all called "gunporn", basically glamour shots of guns. It was one of the very few things they appeared to be serious about. No modern leftist would be caught dead entertaining "gunporn". I simply thought, "Huh?" and got the hell out of there which is, as I will show, exactly the sort of reaction they are attempting to provoke.

Early on Beta server was dominated by daughter guilds of Alpha server guilds who wanted the same basic rules of engagement standard on Alpha server. These rules were very simple and made sense: don't attack a member of our guild or we will contact your guild leadership. If your guild leadership is defiant and/or refuses to restrain its members, there will be war. War is declared openly and formally on the game forum and concluded in the same manner. The first set of ten galaxies, B00-B09 were populated mostly by this type of guild. When the second set opened however we observed a massive influx of new players. They formed a series of guilds with clever names centering around a guild with the tag "GOON", ostensibly an acronym for something but probably not, and they all together became known as GOONs.

For a very long time the GOONs kept mostly to themselves in the B10-B13 area. Frankly they sucked and didn't know what they were doing in-game. This was not the case however with the game forums. The GOONs invaded the forms and were constantly posting porn and other crap which had to be blocked and taken down by the forum admins. The effort was complete with multiple fake accounts to get around account blocking and all the other sorts of scurrilous behavior used by online trolls. Everything they did was designed to make a mockery of the rules regardless of what they were. They posted fake war declarations all the time and invaded legitimate war threads with all manner of nonsense, often starting fake flamewars with each other by taking sides in conflicts in which they were not involved. In the early days the GOONs spent far more time on the forums then they did playing the actual game. Mostly people tried to ignore them, conduct their business and get back to playing the game. Others joined in the fun. But some of the older players such as my own guild leader at the time could not let it go.

Their actual playing of the game, while limited and relatively inconsequential, was designed just as their forum antics were. They attacked indiscriminately and when challenged they loudly proclaimed they did it for the "lulz" or "profit" or whatever silly nonsensical thing they could think of. When asked to discipline or restrain their members they laughed in our faces and told us to go fuck ourselves. When faced with reprisals they laughed in our faces and told us to go fuck ourselves. As often as not they made fun of their own members who got attacked in such reprisals.

Our guild in particular encouraged newer members from the second set of galaxies, B10-B19 to join us and taught them to play. As a result we were often dealing with random acts of GOONness visited upon our newer members. Our guild leader got so fed up with them he decided to wipe them out and started planning a full-scale invasion of their home galaxies. At the time we were orders of magnitude stronger than the GOONs and certainly would have succeeded, but server politics got in the way and we ended up involved in a much larger server war. Our invasion plans were scrapped and never taken up again. With bigger problems on our plate, we and everybody else realized the GOONs were not a serious in-game power and could just be ignored. In fact, it was usually better to just ignore them as they fed on attention, especially negative attention.

Fast forward a few years and my guild's coalition was in the process of being wiped out in what became the norm for Beta server: a server-wide war of annihilation quite unlike the more civilized Alpha server wars. Our opponents were led by an oligarchy of Alpha server rejects who took out their frustrations against Alpha style politics on Beta server. They were rumored to be led by a notorious figure known as "Alcibiades" on Alpha who had been blacklisted by every major Alpha guild for role-playing his namesake and betraying every guild he ever joined, switching sides whenever he could gain an advantage. He responded by collecting other malcontents and formed the RAGE coalition on Beta which again lived up to its name and was driven primarily by Alci's hatred of the various Alpha leaders who operated on Beta server. The hatred inspired by Alci was intentional, explicit and infinitely malleable as most of the other RAGE leaders were easily manipulated kids. In time RAGE adopted much of GOON's modus operandi both in-game and on the Forum with the notable exception of exceptional in-game competence and purpose, mostly, we assumed, provided by Alci himself. The RAGE coalition acted like GOONs but weren't because Alci was something of a strategic genius and knew how to manipulate people to act together towards his aims, whereas the GOONs were disorganized at best. However the GOONs largely escaped RAGE's tender mercies since they were not the object of Alci's hate, that being reserved for the alliance of guilds I belonged to.

Our alliance tried for a very long time to convince the GOONs to join forces with us. Their neutrality allowed them time to build up, learn the game and become a legitimate power. As our plight became desperate we needed GOON more and more and spent hours of chatroom time attempting to gain their help, bringing me to the point of this post. For months, maybe even years, we warned the GOONs that if we were defeated RAGE would eventually come for them.  But the GOONs simply did not care. Most of the time they responded to us with the chat room equivalent of a blank stare and steered the conversation toward small talk or their typical trolling which our leadership endured in the vain hope of gaining their friendship and trust. Whenever our alliance leader wanted to move beyond the small talk he would almost invariably be reduced to asking over and over who the GOON leader was or at least who could speak for them on serious in-game matters.  He was always met with the chat room equivalent of a blank stare.

The GOONs of course knew what we wanted. They may even have known our warnings about RAGE were sincere. But their peculiar ethic precluded them from taking a position or making a serious move in any direction. If any of them did, they would be instantly subjected to mockery from their peers. Over and over when our side broached the subject, they would clam up. I could almost see their sideways glances at each other, each one thinking, "If I say anything, all my friends will make fun of me. Better just to post a clever meme." And so the GOONs never lifted a finger to help until it was too late.

Over time, our side was beaten and reduced to combat ineffectiveness. Those who remained survived by running away whenever RAGE came around. Some of RAGE's leaders, including one named Kham and someone we suspected of being Alci though he never took that name on Beta, grew to respect me and my merry band of outlaws. My guild had staged the last successful raid on the lower galaxies, after which RAGE effectively locked them down. I used to talk with some of the RAGE leaders now and then. As the winners I could at least respect their skill at the game, something I could not respect in GOON. RAGE did not know the GOONs as well as I did and feared them, since by this time GOON had built up comparable numbers. But I didn't fear GOON because I knew them, and in one conversation with Kham I told them why. I told him they had no leadership, and all he had to do to beat them was force them into a difficult decision and they would freeze, unable to make a unified decision.

A few months later, that's exactly what happened. RAGE invaded B10 in full force, nearly equal in numbers to what GOON had in B12. GOON was faced with a simple decision quite common in this situation: move to defend the beachhead, or stay in a more prepared defensive position. Each strategy had its positives and negatives. But GOON could not decide what to do because they had no leadership structure. Eventually half of them moved to the RAGE beachhead and were crushed. The other half stayed put or ran away, and were crushed later. And that was that. RAGE had its way with the server for some years after that.

What I have described here bears a striking resemblance to what is currently happening politically in the United States. RAGE are the leftists. My alliance are the conservatives and GOON are Trump and the so-called alt-right. In fact, the alt-right literally came from internet groups like 4chan and the /b/tards. Who are these people? What do they want? Are they a legitimate or powerful political movement? The /b/tards, now known as the alt-right, are made up of young men bound together only by a hatred of boundaries. They arose in an age where over 50% of children are now born into single-parent homes, usually lacking a father figure. The lack of fatherhood has created a subculture which despises boundaries and laughs at consequences for their behavior. As a result they are directionless, purposeless and meaningless. Their lives have devolved into a constant desperate search for boundaries to destroy, driven by their fear of mockery from their fellows. What happened in the inner city black community a few decades ago is now happening in online white communities with similar explosive results.

The /b/tards purpose and reason for being has nothing to do with policy, politics, elections or even opposing political correctness. It is a confused and lost population flailing around in the dark searching for an identity. They are confused relativists who find solace in confusing everybody else. They themselves do not believe in anything, and they reflexively tear down anything believed by anybody else. They quite literally did not and would not exist without the internet and a particular style of conversation that evolved with it based on quickly grabbing the audience's attention by being as offensive as possible. It's no surprise they've become associated with Nazis, since Nazis are about the most offensive group anybody could be associated with. Well, that and pictures of naked porn stars eating shit right out of somebody's anus.

But they aren't Nazis. They aren't nationalists. They are not racists or white supremacists. They aren't communists or socialists. They aren't conservative, liberal or progressive. They are the inventors and players of a game they have become adept at tricking people into playing. In this game the only losing position is to believe in something real, and the first to get offended or stand for any sort of morals or boundaries at all loses by definition. Even the positive things they want to do are only attractive to them because of how it will tick somebody off. Talk to them about anything serious, or really anything at all, and they will respond with vitriol, not because they disagree with you, but because they are trying to offend you and win the game. They will find your buttons and push them because it makes them feel like they have power over you. They follow only one rule: Never rise from the seat of the mocker. They invented a game that exists only in their own heads where the only winning move is not to play.

Now that's whack. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Nazi Explains How to Beat Them

Paul Johnson is a historian without compare. He relates the following quotation at the beginning of chapter ten of his most well-known book, "Modern Times", and I had to break the long silence here after reading it:

Up to now we have succeeded in leaving the enemy in the dark concerning Germany's real goals, just as before 1932 our domestic foes never saw where we were going or that our oath of legality was just a trick. We wanted to come to power legally, but we did not want to use power legally...They could have suppressed us. They could have arrested a couple of us in 1925 and that would have been that, the end. No, they let us through the danger zone. That's exactly how it was in foreign policy too...In 1933 a French premier ought to have said (and if I had been the French premier I would have said it): "The new Reich Chancellor is the man who wrote Mein Kampf, which says this and that. This man cannot be tolerated in our vicinity. Either he disappears or we march!" But they didn't do it. They left us alone and let us slip through the risky zone, and we were able to sail around all dangerous reefs. And when we were done, and well-armed, better than they, then they started the war!

~Joseph Goebbels, April 5, 1940

Now that's whack.

Friday, September 16, 2016

How the Next U.S. President Will Fall Into a War with Russia

Regardless of who wins the election in November, the United States will once again be afflicted with a president who has no coherent foreign policy. I would argue both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have an even less coherent foreign policy than Barack Obama, whose foreign policy aligned with the radical "new" left of the 60s and believed that the United States is EVIL incarnate and our highest goal should be to change ourselves rather than anyone else. Changing someone else being, of course, the goal of anything resembling an actual foreign policy.

Hillary Clinton perhaps used to have a somewhat more traditional foreign policy, but she is now so firmly tied to the Obama administration that she simply can't move a muscle on the issue. She went so far as to accept the Secretary of State position in Obama's administration and got majorly burned by going behind his back to implement something she believed in. At the very core of her soul, she is a political animal, and there's no possible way she can implement the type of foreign policy she actually believes in now that she has so closely aligned herself with Obama, not to mention the Democratic Party which has been overrun by radical leftists. If she did do what she really wants, her foreign policy would look much more like George W. Bush's than Barack Obama's, but unfortunately no foreign leader, least of all Vladimir Putin, is going to take her seriously on that.

 Donald Trump is even more of an enigma on foreign policy. Pretty much the only notable thing he's said on foreign policy is lionizing Vladimir Putin and hinting that the United States would renege on Article V of NATO which would allow Putin to essentially rebuild the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. The only other things he's known for even relating to foreign policy are his opposition to the Iraq War, which is now over, and building the wall on the southern border, if that qualifies. I suppose you could include his China "policy" that they are evil, cheating bastards and he will make them pay for screwing us over, presumably by starting a trade war that would damage both our economies. As on many other issues, the only available clues as to what Donald Trump actually believes point to him being a Democrat running as Republican. Even Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have made it clear they support Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton, impossible to imagine for just about any actual Republican. Much like Hillary Clinton, Trump will take positions on foreign policy not by any consistent philosophy or principles but rather by testing the political winds and going whichever way they happen to blow.  I have written before that this tendency in American government is the root cause of virtually all our foreign policy blunders since World War II. If I am correct, then under the next U.S. president it will again be the root cause of yet another major foreign policy blunder.

Wars are always the result of miscommunications of power or of the intent to use power. It may sound like a trivial reason to start a war and requires explanation. We can at least say without argument that wars are conflicts between two opposing factions who want something that is mutually exclusive. In order for involved factions to choose war as a means to get what they want, the factions must believe that they will win. Seems obvious on the surface, but we should explore it more critically.

What kind of war might begin if at least one faction believed they would lose the war? Well, suppose one nation attacks another nation that doesn't want war and was just minding its own business. We could suppose that the defending nation "has no choice" and must defend itself or be taken over by the aggressor. However, that is actually a choice between a war which results in the destruction of their nation and a capitulation which results in the destruction of their nation. The result of losing the war would be the same as the result of the capitulation, except a lot more people would be dead. In other words, the rational choice if the defending nation believed it would lose the war would be to capitulate, since the result of losing the war would be the same as the result of the negotiations except they would take no casualties. Let's suppose though that the aggressor nation made it clear that their goal is to annihilate the defender by killing them all. If the defending nation actually believed they would lose the war and all their people would be killed, then the result is still the same regardless of whether they choose war or not. Real people might choose war in this extreme circumstance for emotional reasons, but rationally there would be no purpose to fighting. The best option for the defender in this case is to advise all their people to attempt to run away before the enemy attacks. In this case, it's possible to choose war in order to give their people time to get away, sacrificing their over-matched military in order to give them time to escape. We might then say that here is an example of a defender knowing it would lose the war but choosing to fight it anyway. But that is wrong. Remember the aggressor's stated intention is to kill everyone. If the defender succeeds in escaping, using war to give them time to do so, then they have successfully prevented the attacker from carrying out their intention. It might not look like a win, but it is. In this case the defender doesn't really believe it would lose the war. The defender believes they will win the war by preventing the aggressor from carrying out their intent.

So the only thing we can really say is that in a real life situation, a nation or group of people which believes it would lose the war would only engage in war to satisfy emotional or perhaps spiritual needs, and even this is only likely in extreme circumstances. It is not the rational choice,* and I believe in the end all nations are rational actors. I have also defined war as the attempt to accomplish an intention, which is important. Some might disagree and try to define absolutely what winning looks like without regard to either side's intent, but I believe war is primarily an argument between two viewpoints. Each side engages in war because they believe war gives them the tools to win the argument by forcibly preventing the other side from carrying out their intent. In summary, all wars begin because each side believes they will win by preventing the other side from carrying out their intent.

Recall that wars are the result of miscommunication of power or the intent to use it. If wars only begin when each side believes it will win, then at least one side must be mistaken. And if at least one side is mistaken, that must be the result of a miscalculation of their relationship with their opponent. Accurate calculations of this nature are fundamentally about communication between the two groups, since an accurate calculation can only be made by correctly assessing the capabilities and intent of both sides. In order to prevent war, both sides must make accurate calculations of this nature whenever they have a disagreement. The goal of any foreign policy should be to resolve conflict without resorting to war, and therefore accurate communication of power relationships is fundamental.

Let me bring all this abstraction back into the realm of current events, specifically relating to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Looking at the foreign policy gestures of both major party candidates, what do we see them communicating about their intent to use power against Russia?  We see both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump communicating quite clearly and intentionally that they will not use U.S. military power to inhibit Russia's ambitions in Eastern Europe. The minimum result of this type of communication is Russia will continue its territorial conquests in Eastern Europe, which is currently ongoing. The only question is whether or not our esteemed presidential candidates have accurately assessed their own position. If they have, then Russia has a free hand and may do whatever it wants. The U.S. will allow it without engaging in war to prevent it. If they haven't, then they have failed to correctly communicate our intent to the Russians. In the current situation, this miscommunication of our intent will inevitably lead to war. If the U.S. did correctly communicate our intent, then Russia would have no choice but to back down as the hard power relationship quite clearly favors the U.S.

Russia has been given every reason to believe the U.S. does not care about their ambitions in Eastern Europe. In the case of Donald Trump, this is quite explicit, right down to specifically renouncing our responsibilities to defend NATO members in Article V of the treaty. This is important because both times Russia recently conquered territory, they did so in Georgia and Ukraine, both states which are not members of NATO. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are much weaker nation states than Ukraine, yet Putin has attacked Ukraine and not these weaker NATO members. This suggests that the only inhibition of Russia's territorial aggression in Eastern Europe is in fact the NATO treaty buttressed by U.S. military power. In effectively renouncing NATO, Trump has given Russia a blank check. Clinton's communications have been less clear, but equally suggestive of a willingness to allow Russia leeway. In any case, Putin clearly knows that U.S. politics is heavily driven by public opinion. The fact that both major party candidates have taken very passive positions in respect to Russia might suggest to him that public opinion is against war with Russia regardless of what Russia does. He has already completed a successful test of the strength of our intentions in Syria.

When civil war originally broke out in Syria, U.S. politically leaders immediately moved to intervene against Assad and the Allawite faction aligned with Iran. This provoked a massive public backlash. U.S. congressmen reported unusually large numbers of phone calls to their offices advocating against intervention in Syria. Then came ISIS, and all of the sudden public opinion shifted towards intervention as ISIS began to reveal their intentions in spectacular fashion. However, even hawks in the Republican party balked at intervention at this point, reasoning that it was far too late to do anything. As for our president, Obama handed the original decision to Congress, not because he cared about what they thought or the constitution, but because he agreed with the people and Congress was calling for an intervention. After the rise of ISIS, however, Obama steadily increased U.S. involvement in Syria, but stopped well short of war. Hillary Clinton meanwhile attempted to use her power as Secretary of State and her alliances in the foreign policy establishment to smuggle weapons to the Syrian rebels. To the extent she succeeded, she burned herself politically because many of these rebels turned out to be jihadists who later joined ISIS. The actions of the U.S. both politically and on the ground in Syria have shown to any outside observer that the U.S. is fundamentally fickle, unstable and not serious. We are clearly not acting according to any principle or even any interest, and can simply be manipulated by anyone willing to take aggressive, consistent action, as Russia has done.

Russia consistently supported Assad and Iran in the region, and now has a sizable military force based in Syria in support of Assad. They proved their commitment to Iran, which inexplicably the U.S. has now attempted to emulate. But Russia has no serious ambitions in the Middle East. Their primary concern is Eastern Europe. As any foreign policy aficionado knows, the primary driver of Russian foreign policy is control over Eastern Europe. Centuries of Russian history show that threats to Russia from foreign nations always come from Europe and must go through Eastern Europe to get to Russia. Russia has been historically saved by controlling vast swaths of Eastern Europe which act as a buffer against European threats. The obvious examples here are Napoleon's invasion and the German invasion during WWII, both ultimately unsuccessful because of the massive logistical problems of invading such a large territory, a territory which can be quite unforgiving during the famous Russian winters. Even in World War I, when Russia was defeated, they were able to gain peace by giving up large amounts of territory in Eastern Europe and were not successfully invaded.

So what was Russia really doing in Syria? They were testing the U.S. The U.S. failed the test, and Putin now believes that as long as he doesn't burn people alive and broadcast the video to the world, the U.S. will not care what he does. As a result, he will at a minimum massively escalate the current conflict in Ukraine. He will likely attempt further territorial conquest, first in Belarus, which is not a NATO member, then perhaps even against NATO countries like the Balkan states.  At some point in the process, the United States will find its resolve, as it historically has always done, and intervene with force. She has failed to communicate this inherent resolve to Putin's Russia which does not understand this aspect of American history or its people having had no direct conflict with them of any significance. As a result, the U.S. and Russia will engage in a conventional war during the term of the next U.S. president.

Now that's whack.

*I may have to discuss spiritual needs further, since Islam in particular offers spiritual rewards for engaging in war, especially for dying in war, and if dying is their only goal then losing the war might be the best rational choice.  If their intent is to die in war, then "winning" for their enemy would involve preventing them from carrying out their intent, i.e. by preventing them from dying in war, or at least preventing them from believing they will receive spiritual rewards from dying in war. At this point I can say with confidence that in practice Islamist nations do not attempt wars they think they will lose, and I can provide many examples. Islamist nations, unlike some individuals and terrorist groups, always have some additional goal besides dying. I also define war as a conflict between states

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Prime Directive Fallacy

In honor of the release of the Star Trek Beyond movie, I thought I'd comment on the central pseudo-moral dilemma of the Star Trek universe: The Prime Directive. I say "pseudo" because the posed moral dilemma is based on evolutionary theory, which cannot support a rational, objective moral system at all.

Every Trekkie knows what the Prime Directive means, but I'll just rip off the short statement from the original episode from 1968 it appeared in, via Wikipedia:

No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space or the fact that there are other worlds or civilizations.

Later in the article there's a statement from Star Trek: Next Generation character Captain Jean-Luc Picard:

"The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous."

The purpose of the Prime Directive then, is to prevent the United Federation of Planets, to which all the main characters in the Star Trek universe belong, from interfering in the development of less advanced alien cultures. Since the mission of Star Trek characters usually involves the discovery, study and establishment of diplomatic relations with alien cultures, the Prime Directive plays a central role in creating dramatic tension and often moral dilemmas.

The Prime Directive made it's most recent appearance at the beginning of the last movie, Star Trek Into Darkness.  At the beginning of the movie, the Enterprise crew is studying a very primitive but sentient and intelligent alien race on an alien planet and finds that a nearby volcano is about to erupt. The eruption will likely wipe out the entire race, so they cook up a plan to prevent the eruption. Spock beams inside the volcano to plant a special explosive that will seal up the volcano and prevent the eruption. Unfortunately, they are not able to beam him out again without taking the Enterprise out of its hiding place in the ocean, revealing themselves to the indigenous population and violating the Prime Directive. Spock prepares to die, sacrificing his life in obedience to the Directive, but Kirk decides to violate it in order to save Spock's life. As the Enterprise crew leaves, we see a scene of the indigenous alien race drawing a picture of the Enterprise in the dirt and bowing down in worship, forever changing their religion and presumably justifying the wisdom of the Prime Directive by showing what happens when it is broken. Kirk neglects to mention the violation in his report on the mission, but Spock, of course, does, resulting in Kirk's demotion from captain.

As a fan of the Star Trek franchise, I have become quite used to the various sorts of moral dilemmas offered by the Prime Directive. I've also had the experience of growing up in a household which strictly regulated entertainment options based on Christian moral directives, which was often in tension with virtually every entertainment option available. But the science fiction franchises of Star Wars and Star Trek often escaped the usual rules, probably because my mom liked them. We used to watch reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) in the 80s when I was growing up, and when The Next Generation came out it became a weekly family event for years. We were equally excited when Voyager came out, but my dad nixed that one permanently after one very early episode in which a Native American character showed the captain how to have a spirit vision and meet her animal spirit guide, which she did. I have since watched the entire series on Netflix, and the spirit guide never made another appearance after depriving me for years of probably the best writing and story-telling in the Star Trek universe outside of the story progression of the movies Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan through Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. To date, I have seen every episode of TOS, The Next Generation and Voyager, as well as all the movies. There are two other TV series, Deep Space Nine, of which I have only ever seen a few episodes, and Enterprise, which I am currently making my third attempt to get through the first season. Enterprise tells the story of the very first Enterprise ship and its crew, which occurs during a very early stage of the Star Trek universe as mankind begins to first explore deep space and before the formation of the United Federation of Planets. Because of my upbringing, I often reflect on moral dilemmas and values in the shows and movies I watch, and I just watched a humdinger of an episode of Enterprise involving the Prime Directive called "Dear Doctor".

The "Dear Doctor" episode is narrated by the ship's doctor, Dr. Phlox, who is one of only two alien crew members aboard. His narration takes the form of a correspondence with a human doctor practicing on Dr. Phlox's homeworld of Denobula, as they share with each other their experiences practicing medicine in each other's alien cultures. Throughout the episode, Dr. Phlox often comments favorably on the extraordinary compassion shown by human beings, especially towards strangers and other species, including the captain's pet dog Porthos and the sick alien crew of a ship they come across. This ship happens to be from a planet containing two sentient humanoid species, one of which, the Valakian, is suffering from a mysterious and catastrophic disease threatening their extinction. The Menk on the other hand are not affected by the disease, and are primitive compared to the Valakians. Both species are considered technologically inferior to the humans though, and the Vulcan character spends most of the episode warning the Enterprise's human crew about interfering in an inferior culture. This takes place before the Prime Directive is written, but the Vulcans apparently have their own version of it, and that is not to engage with alien races before they have developed warp drive, which neither of these alien species have. However it is decided to help them anyway due to the fact that they are already aware that warp drive exists and have already met other alien races.

At the episode's climax, Dr. Phlox figures out that the disease affecting the Valakians is a genetic condition. He also comes to the conclusion that the Menk are on the verge of something he calls an "evolutionary awakening", apparently meaning some kind of major evolutionary advancement. He concludes that if things continue as they are, the Valakians will become extinct in 50-100 generations, and the Menk, though currently technologically and evolutionarily inferior, will supersede them and become the sole intelligent humanoid race on the planet:

"Captain Archer: A cure, doctor. Have you found a cure?

Dr. Phlox (visibly uncomfortable): Even if I could find one, I'm not sure it would be ethical.

Captain Archer: Ethical?

Dr. Phlox: We'd be interfering with an evolutionary process that has been going on for thousands of years. 

Captain Archer: Every time you treat an illness you're interfering. That's what doctors do.

Dr. Phlox: You're forgetting about the Menk. 

Captain Archer: What about the Menk?

Dr. Phlox: I've been studying their genome as well, and I've seen evidence of increasing intelligence, motor skills, linguistic abilities. Unlike the Valakians they appear to be in the process of an evolutionary awakening. It may take millenia, but the Menk have the potential to become the dominant species on this planet.

Captain Archer: And that won't happen as long as the Valakians are around.

Dr. Phlox: If the Menk are to flourish, they need an opportunity to survive on their own.

Captain Archer: What are you suggesting? We choose one species over the other?

Dr. Phlox: All I'm saying is that we let Nature make the choice."

Dr. Phlox then reveals to the captain that he has found a cure for the disease, but believes he should not give them the cure due to the fact that it would interfere with the evolutionary trajectory of the planet. The captain at first disagrees, but comes back the next day after sleeping on it and has changed his mind:

"What I've decided goes against all my principles. Someday, my people are going to come up with some sort of a doctrine. Something that tells us what we can and can't do out here, should and shouldn't do. But until somebody tells me that they've drafted that "directive", I'm going to have to remind myself every day that we didn't come out here to play god."

In the end, even though they have a cure for the disease, they refuse to give it to the Valakians. In fact, they don't even tell the Valakians there is a cure, thus possibly condemning an entire race to extinction. In the process, the show lays the foundation for the Prime Directive explicitly on evolutionary reasoning and in opposition to human compassion.

There are many things that could be said at this point. We should note here the juxtaposition of Nature and humans as competing gods. Humans aren't allowed to make the choice of whether or not to save a race from extinction because then we would be "playing god", but Nature is allowed to make the choice. Nature is god in this formulation. Evolution is the principle from which morality is derived, and that is the function of God in any religion. We should also note the tension it creates between leftism and evolutionary theory. I have commented before on the leftist moral system based on human compassion or empathy for others who are suffering. In leftism, human beings are god, and our morals come from our own feelings. If evolutionary theory is god instead, then it will at times differ from leftism in its moral doctrines. The moral dilemmas posed here clearly demonstrate that Judeo-Christian morality has been driven out of pop culture, as it makes no appearance at all.

We should also note the similarity between Dr. Phlox's argument and that of Adolf Hitler, who reasons in Mein Kampf that the French practice of contraception and abortion goes against evolution because preventing births removes the ability of Nature to evaluate the fit versus the unfit:

"It was possible to adopt the French example and artificially restrict the number of births, thus avoiding an excess of population.

Under certain circumstances, in periods of distress or under bad climatic condition, or if the soil yields too poor a return, Nature herself tends to check the increase of population in some countries and among some races, but by a method which is quite as ruthless as it is wise. It does not impede the procreative faculty as such; but it does impede the further existence of the offspring by submitting it to such tests and privations that everything which is less strong or less healthy is forced to retreat into the bosom of tile unknown. Whatever survives these hardships of existence has been tested and tried a thousandfold, hardened and renders fit to continue the process of procreation; so that the same thorough selection will begin all over again. By thus dealing brutally with the individual and recalling him the very moment he shows that he is not fitted for the trials of life, Nature preserves the strength of the race and the species and raises it to the highest degree of efficiency. The decrease in numbers therefore implies an increase of strength, as far as the individual is concerned, and this finally means the invigoration of the species.

But the case is different when man himself starts the process of numerical restriction. Man is not carved from Nature’s wood. He is made of ‘human’ material. He knows more than the ruthless Queen of Wisdom. He does not impede the preservation of the individual but prevents procreation itself. To the individual, who always sees only himself and not the race, this line of action seems more humane and just than the opposite way. But, unfortunately, the consequences are also the opposite.

By leaving the process of procreation unchecked and by submitting the individual to the hardest preparatory tests in life, Nature selects the best from an abundance of single elements and stamps them as fit to live and carry on the conservation of the species. But man restricts the procreative faculty and strives obstinately to keep alive at any cost whatever has once been born. This correction of the Divine Will seems to him to be wise and humane, and he rejoices at having trumped Nature’s card in one game at least and thus proved that she is not entirely reliable. The dear little ape of an all-mighty father is delighted to see and hear that he has succeeded in effecting a numerical restriction; but he would be very displeased if told that this, his system, brings about a degeneration in personal quality.

For as soon as the procreative faculty is thwarted and the number of births diminished, the natural struggle for existence which allows only healthy and strong individuals to survive is replaced by a sheer craze to ‘save’ feeble and even diseased creatures at any cost. And thus the seeds are sown for a human progeny which will become more and more miserable from one generation to another, as long as Nature’s will is scorned.

But if that policy be carried out the final results must be that such a nation will eventually terminate its own existence on this earth; for though man may defy the eternal laws of procreation during a certain period, vengeance will follow sooner or later. A stronger race will oust that which has grown weak; for the vital urge, in its ultimate form, will burst asunder all the absurd chains of this so-called humane consideration for the individual and will replace it with the humanity of Nature, which wipes out what is weak in order to give place to the strong.

Any policy which aims at securing the existence of a nation by restricting the birth-rate robs that nation of its future."

Note that Hitler recognizes the same tension between Nature and Man as dueling gods, preferring Nature. Hitler here disagrees with the French policy and also that of the American Margaret Sanger, the founder of the American Birth Control League which later became Planned Parenthood, who believed that contraception could be used to eliminate poverty, disease and crime because those things were genetic and could be restricted by restricting births to the already poor, infirm and criminal. Hitler's innovation was that Nature should be allowed to make the choice, and that human beings should not interfere. Of course, Hitler and the Nazis interfered liberally after adulthood through their muscular eugenics program, making the choice themselves as to whether homosexuals, mentally retarded and physically deformed people should procreate. And of course they chose to attempt the extermination of the Jews, whom they deemed an inferior race parasitic on the German and other races. Presumably at this stage Dr. Phlox would argue that the Holocaust was an even more extreme example of a superior race making choices for an inferior race rather than allowing Nature to take its course. I imagine Hitler retorting that the Aryan race is also part of the natural order, and their striving in war and removal of parasitic races like the Jews is part of Nature's struggle to sort out the fit from the unfit, the strong from the weak, that the strong may survive and improve the species.

Dr. Phlox's contention that superior races should not interfere with inferior races assumes that superior races have moral responsibilities that inferior races do not. If the Valakians had figured out the cure for themselves, this would not violate the Prime Directive, nor would it violate evolutionary principles. It would merely justify Nature's choice to favor intelligence and technological ability over genetic stability. But if a third race, superior to both Menk and Valakian provided the cure, that would be a violation of Nature's choice because...why? Why shouldn't Nature reward the technological capability of spaceflight? Why shouldn't the Valakians, because of spaceflight, be able to find superior races and obtain a cure from a superior race? What if the Valakians were telepaths and read the minds of the humans, knew they had the cure and stole it? What if the Valakians found out the humans had the cure and used their mind control technology to convince the humans to give it to them? What if the Valakians had evolved to evoke sympathy from other races, causing humans to have pity on them and give them the cure? On the other side, why shouldn't human compassion be favored by evolution to help them befriend and preserve other races and help humans obtain knowledge they may not have otherwise obtained, or simply to avoid continual conflict that would damage them?  What if the Valakians found the cure on their own, then discovered humans had withheld it? What if they retaliated by destroying the human race? Would not human compassion have prevented this and been favored by evolution? Or what if the Valakian disease had been bacterial or viral instead of genetic? Would it then have been okay for the humans to cure it, even though that would be making the choice to preserve the Valakians even though their immune system was inferior to the Menks? Or what if the Menk had intentionally introduced the disease to wipe out the Valakians? Would that be wrong even if the evolutionary result would be the same as if they hadn't? Would it not be Nature's justification of the Menk superiority in biological warfare? Or suppose the Valakians had discovered a disease that would wipe them out and kept it contained in a lab, and a Menk had stolen it and introduced it to the population. Would that not be Nature's choice to justify the Menk superiority in subterfuge? Or would it be wrong since the inferior race made a choice to alter their evolutionary relationship with the Valakians? Is it morally acceptable, according to evolution, for a technologically inferior race to wipe out an superior one through war or subterfuge? The problem quickly becomes apparent. If our standard really is evolutionary theory, than no race is inferior or superior to another except through the simple fact of survival or extinction. Survival or extinction is the only justification. Neither survival nor extinction can be separated from human behavior. Behaviors are part of why some species survive and others don't. Behavior cannot be held responsible for altering the course of evolution unjustly because behavior, including moral behavior, is part of evolution.

Here we come to the crux of the issue, which I will call the Prime Directive Fallacy. Are human moral choices always consistent with evolution because we are part of the process, or are we above the evolutionary process somehow such that our choices can interfere with the proper operation of evolution?  The Prime Directive Fallacy, which I have alluded to before in the context of global warming, is the idea that even though humans are products of and participants in the natural order, we can somehow make choices which interfere with that natural order. The Prime Directive Fallacy was introduced in Western civilization after World War II to explain why the Holocaust was wrong without rejecting Nature as god. If I choose to get married and have ten kids because I am highly intelligent, or if I choose to get a vasectomy and never reproduce because I have back and heart defects, then each choice has a clear evolutionary consequence. But evolutionary theory cannot tell me which is the right choice. What it can tell me is that my faculty for making the choice is a product of evolution, and whatever choice I make is consistent with my decision making faculty and is therefore part of evolution. I cannot make a wrong choice, because my decision making faculty is determined by evolution itself. My choices, whatever they are, are also Nature's choices, because Nature's choices are manifested in my behavior.

We reject this, because we know that the Nazis' attempt to exterminate the Jews was wrong. If we can make no other moral claims, we can make this one. Failing an appeal to Judeo-Christian morality under which humans are not products of the natural order but are rather products of the Judeo-Christian God, we must commit the Prime Directive Fallacy, that superior races have moral responsibilities towards inferior races. It is a fallacious attempt to introduce morality into an amoral philosophy. Thus the Nazis were wrong to attempt the extermination of the Jews because that would interfere with evolution and with Nature's choice. Never mind that the Nazis are just as much a part of evolution as the Jews. Never mind that human behavior influences evolutionary outcomes just as much or more than blond hair, blue eyes, or intelligence. Never mind that evolutionary theory cannot dictate moral choices to humans because only ends, not the means, matter in evolution. Never mind that the Prime Directive Fallacy prescribes genocide by omission in exchange for precluding genocide by commission. Never mind logic. Evolutionary theory cannot be wrong, and since it cannot be wrong, it cannot be irrelevant, even to morality itself.

Now that's whack.