We're back for August 2021 with some interesting reads on Afghanistan, China & East Asian institutions, industrialism, technocapitalism, and more. As usual, we'll start with some general thoughts based off the readings below and general events today.
The astonishing retreat of American empire from Afghanistan validates the argument for elite dysfunction and decline in the empire that has been made for some time now. But to see it laid out in so stark a fashion in the space of a single month is going to act as an accelerator for geopolitical events around the world, even as American society itself will largely escape the repercussions. However, what it won't escape is the longer, grinding period of turmoil American society will go through as continued elite dysfunction sees further mismanagement of governance and economy.
The retreat of American empire is concurrent to the rise of China, where morale in the Communist Party cadres and People's Liberation Army ranks has probably never been higher than it is today. America has been hobbled by economic issues since the 2008 financial crisis, but for the first time it has shown serious military incompetence – something that doesn't bode well for Taiwan or the wider East Asian region that is dependent on American protection.
Compare the performance of America in Iraq and Afghanistan to Russia in Chechnya, Ukraine, and Syria. Russia has demonstrated its ability to execute geopolitical objectives and win battlefields in several different warzones, outwitting the Americans in every instance and demonstrating that American support is not enough to resist Russian interests. 30 years ago, Russia was on the verge of collapse, and China was still seen as a largely backwards country that would either remain in 'developing' limbo or fold into the liberal order. Today, the geopolitical considerations are completely different, with a strengthened Russian state and proven military, and a China that is ready to become the economic centre of the world and test its military mettle against Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
The changing of the guard is never pretty. No matter how much we may despise a reigning empire for its exorbitance and arrogance, its retreat invites a vacuum of power in which more violence is unleashed than ever before. Today, some may rejoice over the retreat of America from two violent wars in which hundreds of thousands were killed, tens of millions became refugees, and no real gains were made except for America's private military contractors who probably scored 90% of the trillions of dollars that went into these conflicts.
I suspect that the multipolar turmoil of tomorrow's geopolitics will create even more violence, and the chaos of refugee crises, erratic climate behaviour, and worsening macroeconomic prospects for the world will make us once again dream American dreams; a heady time when a hegemon's interests at least provided some sort of stability.
The failure of America's 'expert' class in disease and war are classical tales of elite failure. The problem is that lacking an alternative, they will continue to be responsible for ruling America, and their mistakes are likely to compound owing to their sheer lack of humility. Science is an ongoing process of verification and trial and error, yet this class refuses to ever admit it was wrong on anything. They have fully verged into the realm of unreality, creating a bubble of fake narratives and misinformation to protect themselves from the fact that they have been wrong about everything.
All of this brings to mind Nassim Taleb's concept of the IYI (intellectual yet idiot), and whether or not the IYI's of our time are about to get their comeuppance.
The Latest from Post Apathy
Solving the problem of allocation is one of the key missions of most of our institutions today. But building these institutions in the first place requires founders who understand the value of labour and talent - and placing them on the proper course of life from which society as a whole can benefit.
Today, we feel the effects of the change of the structures of power over information as the old, centralised institutions that determined the meaning of words and the narrative of facts are now struggling to compete with decentralised forms of meaning and verification of language, making it feel like nothing is true and everyone is lying to us. In an increasingly technified society, relying on technological forms of information verification through digital networks may be the last form of mass information verification that can exist beyond personal, localised networks.
Western elites increasingly turn to ‘raw violence’ as they lose soft knowledge of the nations they are meant to rule. This is applicable to today's situation as our technocratic-managerial elite have used the coronavirus as an excuse to advance draconian measures of control (in many cases directly imported from China) over information and movement, threatening the constitutional and civil society structure that defines western societies in their freedoms and stability.
On the special occasion of the retreat of American empire from Afghanistan 20 years after its initial invasion, I've compiled some links that I've found particularly useful to understand why the Taliban won, why the western retreat was botched – and what it means for geopolitics and domestic issues in America over the coming decade.
Less an impartial analysis and more a winding screed humiliating everyone from the national security establishment to the military to the LGBT and feminist campaign to "transform" (read: socially engineer) Afghanistan into a "modern society". An enjoyable and humourous read.
Farewell to Bourgeois Kings by 'tinkzorg'
A Schmittian analysis of the loss of legitimacy for America's technocratic-managerial elite in the wake of America's retreat from Afghanistan.
Bruno's on the ground reporting – consisting of both live tweeting and articles – has clashed with the unreality of America's intelligence around events on the ground in Afghanistan. He's one of my favourite voices of reason on all matters related to the wider Muslim world when it comes to policy debates and journalism.
Hanania lays the blame for America's defeat on Afghanistan squarely on the 'expert' class, in similar fashion to "tinkzorg's" piece above. But false expertise is not only responsible for America's military failure; from surging crime to suicide rates, these phenomena coincide with an ever increasing amount of "experts" in these fields, calling into question the importance of specialisation and the value of the expert class.
The School That Built Asia by Ernest Leung
An interesting read into how a university experiment in Japanese Manchuria produced some of the pioneering thinkers and statesmen of East Asia's economies after WWII. What other examples are of universities acting as incubators for such a wide range of national elites?
An incisive look into the various state capitalist models of East Asia. This should be read alongside this essay on South Korea's industrial policy, and this essay written in 1993, preluding the success of the state capitalist approach over the next 30 years.
The West isn’t dying – its ideas live on in China by John Gray
China's Marxist ideology, far from being a natural expression of Chinese expression, is in many ways more western than the West itself. After WWII, the defeat of fascism and the demonisation of the USSR has caused the assumption that liberalism alone is the West's true ideology, with fascism and communism being aberrations. On the contrary, communism is a deeply western ideology whose flag bearer happens to be China.
Culture & Society
Contrary to popular claims about a culture war in America, Greer argues that the conservatives never actually waged a culture war, instead attempting to use cultural issues to gain political power. This article provides a sort of blueprint for how to wage an actual culture war, which is a long process that requires almost messianic zeal in one's ideas, and a willingness to fight for decades and across generations until victory.
Hanania identifies the roots of 'woke institutions' all the way back to the Civil Rights movements and the subsequent legislative changes that has worked for decades now to socially engineer American culture and society. In a way, the Civil Rights Act almost amounts to a second, unofficial constitution of the post-war United States.
'Brazilianization' is a term that's been catching steam as rampant inequality, inner city crime, and general apathy to the country's state of affairs is becoming a key feature across western cities and states.
A really interesting read on how fractal political sovereignty really is, and why parallel institutions aren't necessarily the way to acheive autonomy. Building states within the State is possible, as evidenced by 'substate actors' like the Taliban and the Mormon Church.
How do you build a city that works for a thousand years? Wrath of Gnon is putting the pieces together, and this article explores imperial Kyoto's canals and demonstrates the primacy of cobblestone over concrete. It's telling that in the recent floods in Turkey, an Ottoman-era stone bridge held out against the flood while a modern, concrete bridge nearby gave way.
Palladium makes the case for a grand new vision of industrial society; we either master it, or we collapse. And this will depend on whether or not people can free themselves from our exhausted paradigm and build a new one.
Science & Technology
This long read joins another favourite of mine - on Autistification - in pushing back against the idea that technology is the driving force of human history, or that even more capitalism can help us to solve the fundamental problems of civilisation.
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