Thursday, 28 August 2008

Obama's Acceptance Speech

I just finished watching the live stream of Senator Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention. Certainly it was eloquent, and its ideals were high-minded, but like all of the Senator's speeches, it failed to outline any real solutions. He talks about making college more affordable, but never about eliminating tuition the way they have in Germany and Scandinavia. He talks about providing truly universal health care, but his plan amounts to little more than the government subsidization of a bloated and ineffective private system, rather than the institution of a functioning single-payer system like the Canadians have achieved. Senator Obama talks about ending partisan divisions and representing ordinary Americans, but I have yet to hear him lend his support to any form of proportional representation or instant run-off voting. He makes grand soliloquies about ending the outsourcing of American jobs, but not one word about leaving the WTO, which decries our "unfair market practices" when we attempt to levy tarriffs on goods made by sweat-shop child labour. (For more on the WTO's effects on American policy and economy, read up on Thea Lee.) When all is said and done, I can do no better than to paraphrase the great Malcolm X's remarks about the speech which the Sentaor commemorated. While Senator Obama is having a dream, the rest of us Americans are having a nightmare.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Toward a True Communist History of Nations

My fiancee's uncle, being a man both kind and learned, recently loaned me Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford, which I, in these past days of my infirmary, have set myself to read. He opens it by discussing the unforgivable crimes of the Stalinist regime against the culture of the people of Mongolia during the 1930s, during which time monasteries were destroyed and over 30 000 Mongols were executed by one means or another. (p. i) This campaign was undertaken for fear of an upwelling of Mongolian nationalism which, in Stalin's eyes, would have been a challenge to the maintenance of Communist rule there, and a threat to the relationship between Mongolia and the Soviet Union which he had so carefully crafted. As a further precaution, the area legendarily associated with the Great Khan's birth and death, known in Mongolian as the Ikh Khorig (the Great Taboo) was cordoned off as a "Highly Restricted Area"of approxiamtely a million hectares, administratively separated form the local province and placed under Moscow's direct authority. This, in turn, was fenced in by a "Restricted Area" of roughly equal size. The entrance gate was sealed by a tank base and artillery ground, and the space between this and the capital in Ulaanbaatar was filled with a MiG base and, in all probability, nuclear weapons. (pp. xxi-xxii)

If all of this seems excessive, it's because it was. The Stalinist regime in particular tended to see any interest in national identity and history as a challenge to the internationalism of Communism, and to violently repress it. To this end, any serious scholarly research into the life of Ghengis Khan represented a danger to the state, and therefore to the researcher, and many an inquiring mind was sent into prison or exile. A quick reading of Weatherford's book, however, demonstrates how grossly someone in the Party's PR department missed their opportunity.

As Weatherford amply demonstrates, the career of Ghengis Khan is one of emancipation. He tore down the semi-feudal aristocracy which had ruled the steppe, and refused to acknowledge their old titles. (pp. 112-113) He paved the way for true meritocracy, attending scrupulously to the searching out of talent, and even prohibiting his own relatives from taking up the succession without the approval of a khuriltai, or general convocation of the Mongol tribes. (pp. 67, 70) He established the rule of law as binding even upon the sovereign. (p. 70) He raised the position of women, by forbidding their kidnapping or sale as brides (p. 68), as well as by openly acknowledging their services to the state (p. 121). He abandoned the traditional system of looting, whereby each commander seized as much as he could get, and kept as much of it to himself as possible, with a system of just redistribution, in which all of the captured goods were divided equally by rank, with a share set aside for the maintenance of widows and orphans. (p. 50) He then went about reorganizing the tribal army into squads of ten, in which each man, without regard to his race, religion, or tribal origin, would be as a brother to each other, arguably culminating in the Baljuna Covenant (p. 58)--a grand expression of the fraternal cosmopolitanism of the emerging Mongol empire, and its nascent supranational conception of citizenship.

In these and many other respects, Geghis Khan could rightly be viewed as a prototypical Communist leader. His emphasis on egalitarianism, equal distribution of the newly-acquired wealth of his conquests, and the transcendence of ethnic divisions speak to the most cherished principles of Marxism-Leninism. And yet Stalin, rather than using this example to bolster those values, and so convince the Mongols that their own history had led them inexorably to Communism, as the modern embodiment of the principles by which their ancestor had first raised them to greatness, instead trampled upon this history, and engaged in an unjustifiable repression of learning and culture of which no civilized person can approve. In their urge to be international, so much of the Party sadly chose to extinguish the nations of the Soviet Union, rather than transcend them. Communist internationalism is not, and cannot be, the mere rejection of nationalism, it must be the recognition that the heritage of all nations is now the common wealth of all mankind. After all, does Marx' historical dialectic not tell us that in each of these histories we will find the inexorable movement of the whole world toward Communism?

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Finnish Education

As my fiance is preparing herself for an internship in a Finnish school, I have had the opportunity to learn a great deal about their widely-regarded educational system from her research. My most recent revelation has been that, besides providing free university tuition for their qualifying students, they also give out a 440 Euro stipend (as of 2006)--roughly $655-- for those students' expenses. To Americans, this may seem extravagent, but it is the obvious means for the Finns to get the most out of their investment. They recognize that they want their children to pursue higher education, because that will put them in higher positions in the global economy. In those higher positions, they will earn more money (often from outside the country), and in turn they will pay more taxes back to the Finnish state. When all is said and done, they will more than repay their tuition and their stipend, and the country turns a profit.

If you don't trust my economics, consider that we recognize the same priciple in the United States. We sell student loans on the grounds that better educated students make more money in the end, enabling them to repay their student loans plus interest. All we have done in the United States is allowed unscrupulous financiers to reap the profit while saddling our children with debt, instead of keeping the profits for the country and providing a clear, unencumbered path for our students.

On a related note, Finland (like most European countries) provides an opt-out from high school to a trade school at 16 years of age. Forty-five percent of students take this option. Besides simply being nice to provide extra choice for students, this has a more important social consequence. In Europe, plumbers and electricians are respectable people. They made a choice which carries no stigma. In the United States, however, these individuals are regarded as failures; they are the dropouts who couldn't make it through the system. The dignity of labour is lost when we regard getting off the educational bandwagon at any point short of six-digit salary professional as simply being unable to 'go the distance'.

Some will say I'm unamerican. I say that Americans deserve better than they're getting.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Troubles of Western China

A Response to an article posted at

Just about everyone in the West is by now familiar with the dire consequences which have accrued to us for turning a blind eye to the Maoist invasion of Tibet in 1950. For the past five decades, the CCP has ruthlessly ground out any and all resistance to their gross violation of the sovereignty of a traditionally free people. The language, culture, and religion of the country have been systematically discriminated against, culminating in China's latest effort at what might be called 'ethnic cleansing by numbers'. The central governement built a grossly uneconomical rail line into Lhasa, for the sole purpose of flowing Han Chinese into Tibet and demographically overwhelming the existing population. Although we in the West certainly have earned ourselves no credit in the eyes of posterity for actually doing anything, at least we can't be accused of totally ignoring events there, as our constant meetings with the Dalai Lama demonstrate. Of course, if we really cared about the people of Tibet, we would give him a pass entirely. Don't get me wrong, I have a great deal of respect for the man as a spiritual leader, but that's not what Tibet needs right now. Only political action will bring an end to the suffering. When Catholic Poland was overrun by the Nazis, we didn't protest it by meeting with the Pope.

Right next door to Tibet, however, is a similar travesty--one which we can be accused of ignoring. How many Westerners have ever heard of the Uighurs? How many could find their lost country on the map, subsumed under the deluge of Maoist Chinese? They too wage a war for their independence. They too put their lives on the line to drive out a monstrous oppressor, but we do not meet with their leaders. No Uighurs appear in photographs with the German Chancellor, or shaking hands with the Presidents of France and the United States. Why not? I understand that resources are limited; there is too much evil in the world to truly fight all of it at once. However, this is no excuse to shirk our duty of decrying the evil when we see it.

Some will accuse me of bleeding-heart rhetoric. They will say I worry too much about humanitarian affairs and that I ought to pay more attention to realpolitik. But in fact, it is precisely the realpolitik which I wish to add to US and EU policy towards the situation in western China.

China is not our friend. On the economic front it has artificially manipulated its currency to maintain a positive balance of trade against us, it has flooded our markets with cheap goods--goods which are cheap because they are produced without the slightest semblance of regulations for environmental protection or worker safety--and so dragged our working conditions slowly down toward their level. We wage a war against runaway pollution (which is important all issues of global warming aside) and they pump out clouds of toxic dust which shut down towns in Korea and Japan. (here and here) All of this could be written off as poor China's chronic underdevelopment. I am not entirely insensitive to the arguments of developing countries relating to their industrial pollution, for instance. But just when we are inclined to feel a little sympathy, we are reminded that they are planning to kill us. It is no secret on either side of the Pacific that in the event of a conflict between China and the US, which many senior Chinese officials consider nearly inevitable, the Chinese navy plans to quickly strike and destroy US bases in Japan, Korea, and the Phillipines, and then use these areas as a buffer zone, so that US troops can be killed while destroying the land of America's allies, rather than China itself. (see this article - or, if you want the knock-down drag-out version, this) I hardly think I need to mention the human rights abuses. Suffice it to say, they serve to put Reagan's infamous "evil empire" quip about the Soviet Union into its proper ludicrous perspective.

And while this goes on, while we know about all of it in declassified documents, we grant them Most Favored Nation status for trade. We urge Boeing into contracts that require them to teach the Chinese how to manufacture all of the advanced aerospace components Boeing builds in Chinese factories. We open ourselves more and more, hoping to see positive movement for the Chinese people, only to be rewarded with increased repression, increased militarization, increased jingoism, and increased belligerence. China is no less our enemy now that fifty years ago in Korea, the only difference is that we have made them wealthy and powerful, "the better to attack you with, my dear (right after we get through with these Falun Gong practitioners)."

And this brings us back to western China. Here we have two captive nations, two peoples struggling for freedom. One we pass over with platitudes, the other we ignore completely. The fact is, we should be arming them. We should be funding them. We were willing to arm violent Muslim heretics in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, and we were ready to pour weapons into the hands of tinpot dictators all over Africa and Latin America to fight Marxist rebels, but we will not equip honest men and women who ask only for the right to live in peace in their own country? Thomas Jefferson once said that "he who would be free must himself strike the first blow." Yet we 'liberate' Iraqis who never asked for our help, and leave those who are willing to risk their lives for freedom to fend for themselves. Jefferson is rolling in his grave, and we are standing by while the Chinese send the heroes of Tibet and Xinjiang to theirs, and ready themselves to put us in ours.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

The Situation in South Ossetia

God bless President Medvedev.

As many of you have doubtlessly seen, Georgian forces invaded South Ossetia Thursday night in a surprise attack aimed at restoring central control over the region, which has been de facto autonomous for fifteen years. Russia, which has maintained a peacekeeping force in the area since disputes between newly-independent Georgia and the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia last erupted in violence, moved to counter the Georgian strike. Lest anyone think, however, that the Russian manoeuvre was purely humanitarian, it should be borne in mind that there is some self-interest involved; a large portion of the residents of both regions are Russian citizens.

Let us not get lost in the squabbling over how many civilian deaths there are and who caused them, the bottom line is this: the diplomats of the post-war world created a monster. In the aftermath of the Second World War and the painful process of decolonization in Africa and the Middle East, the world's great powers instituted the doctrine of inviolable 'territorial integrity'. No line they had drawn could be moved, removed, or shifted without such an act being regarded as a crime against the international order. Such was the power of this ideal, that the so-called champions of democracy, like the US and Great Britain, routinely allowed 'territorial integrity' to supercede even the right of a people to self-determination, no matter how much lip-service they paid the latter.

Herein lies the source of most of the bitter conflicts of the last fifty years. A few examples may be asked for. The Kurds, treated as second-class citizens by Turkey, their language restricted by law, surely deserve the sympathy of every freedom-loving Westerner. However, regardless of how degreading their treatment is, no matter how the Turkish authorities attempt to extirpate their culture and forcibly assimilate them, no Western power will countenance the Kurds dividing the territory which a series of treaties have determined 'belongs' to Turkey. Bosnia, which even a decade after the war lies in the grip of paralyzing ethnic animosity, has been reduced to this sorry state by the fact that thousands of ethnic Serbs, who petitioned to have their border towns incorporated into Serbia after the war, were compelled against their will by the NATO forces to remain in Bosnia, to ensure the territorial integrity of a state whose borders' ink hadn't dried on the map yet. (This fact is a major justification used by the Serbs to mock NATO's pretensions of caring for the right of self-determination of the Kosovars, most of whom are actually Albanian refugees from WWII and their descendents, who ought to have been repatriated.) The biggest case, of course, is Iraq. Iraq is, simply put, a fake country. During most of the past five centuries, the Ottoman Empire treated what is now Iraq as three entirely seperate administrative provinces: one for the Sunnis, one for the Shiites, and one for the Kurds. The English, inheriting this territory after the Great War, amalgamated it for their convenience into a single unit, Iraq, in the 1920s. Today, of course, the American government is willing to pour the blood of thousands of our children across its sands to preserve Iraq's 'territorial integrity'. God forbid a people should have a land to themselves! Unless, of course, they're Jews.

Georgia, the US, and the EU now hurl accusations at Russia for violating the 'territorial integrity' of Georgia. Of course this is a sham. The whole concept of a country's inviolable 'territorial integrity' is an excuse for minsters and diplomats to chuck centuries of history out the window and turn a deaf ear to the cries of oppressed peoples. It is a fig leaf to cover the nakedness of their scheming ambition, and all the free world has worn it for fifty years. Though I deplore the suffering of innocents on both sides, I cannot help but rejoice at the outbreak of this conflict, hoping (let it not be in vain!) that it represents the first chink in the armour of this tyrannical international order. Let all the world take a lesson, that when 'free' America and 'progressive' Europe turned their backs on the downtrodden to further their own geopolitical interests, Mother Russia alone dared to speak for those who would not otherwise be heard, and to put first in her heart the principle of freedom which, as has been justly said, "no honest man gives up but with life itself."

Addendum 18.08.08 - If anyone doubts that today's politicians defend 'territorial integrity' with the kind of religious fervour which I have described, they need only read Sen. McCain's responses to Pastor Warren's interview at Saddleback Church:

"And now the Russians are coming in there in an act of aggression. And we have to not only bring about cease-fire, but we have to have honored one of the most fundamental rights of any nation, and that is territorial integrity. We must respect the entire territory of Russia -- excuse me -- the Russians must respect the entire territorial integrity of Georgia. And there's only 4 million people in Georgia, my friends. I've been there. It's a beautiful little country. They're wonderful people. They're suffering terribly now."

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Thoughts on the Capitol

I recently unearthed a travel log of mine from a trip to Washingotn DC and its environs which I took with some Honors students at my old university. Most of it was rather mundane, but I thought these selections worth looking at again.

23 May 2006
I did not care for the Holocaust Museum. It contained little to no coverage of the German resistance, and precious little regarding any of the Germans who perished in the camps for their support of the Jews, homosexuality, or simply political dissent. I could not help but feel that the exhibits were intended to stereotype the German people, and suggest that the Jews were unique victims of a tragedy which engulfed almost as many again of gentiles in Europe.

25 May 2006
The Jefferson Memorial is probably my least favourite site in D.C. I believe it to be symptomatic of most of the troubles of modern America that this mere man (a man who drove his family into debt with his compulsive spending habits, and who, while opposing slavery, failed to free his slaves, and quite possibly his own children, from bondage even after his death) is memorialized with a marble temple along the Potomac, as though he were some Hellenic deity of old. It is precisely this sort of blind reverence for "heroes" of past ages that Hamilton erroneously believed the American people had finally escaped from, and the very same fault is what is today driving this country into the ground, as Americans believe there is nothing to be learnt from the progress which modern democracy has made in other parts of the world, because nothing may be allowed to shatter the ethos of infallibility which has settled thick around the stone divinities lining the river.

26 May 2006
The National Museum of the American Indian I found to be disappointing. The majority of the building is given over to the rantings of native poets who think they are becoming progressively more profound with every natural disaster they can find to compare the white men to. After having my heritage maligned at the Holocaust Museum through the blatant omission of all redeeming facts, to now have it assaulted by a crop of Native American 'intellectuals' who wish to impugne me for deeds committed by men long dead, half of which evils could not have been foreseen even by the wisest of men (the spread of European diseases against which Natives had no natural resistance, for example), infuriates me. This cancer of reverse racism has become endemic, spawning hatred amongst minorities, and unseemly mia coppa breast-beating amongst white Americans, and it will only be a matter of time before someone of white European ancestry who is less obsequious than the majority (and less sagacious than might be wished) initiates a campaign of racial violence in return. We should be trying to nip this sort of animosity in the bud, not encourage it in museum displays.

27 May 2006
Arlington I found to be much like cemeteries elsewhere, a place of rest and reflection filled with looky-loos who approach it with all the morbid curiousity of a person slowing down in the hope of catching a glimpse of injured people being pulled from a car wreck. But then again, we must not expect a society with no respect for life to have a respect for the dead.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Philosopher's Confession

The hardest part in the development of a philosopher is the acceptance of the first-person plural pronoun. It is so sweetly tempting to establish a little distance, as to say: the Americans do such and such, the world is this way, humanity acts thusly. Eventually, however, simple intellectual honesty compels the philosopher to admit his own culpability, and then he must speak the facts plainly: we are wrong, we are wicked, we are fools.

Friday, 1 August 2008

A Linguistic Proof of Total Depravity

In virtually every religion with a dualistic soteriology (i.e. a heaven and a hell), there is a much more graphic depiction of the eternal torments than of paradise. Laymen are wont to write this fact off as evidencing the coercive nature of religion; the point is more about scaring the peasants than providing any actual edification.

I would submit, however, that this fact is merely reflective of a more general principle. We, as human beings, have much more specific ideas about evil than we do about good. When we say that a man or an action is evil, although some of us may dispute the assessment, we all have a pretty solid idea of what we're talking about. But if we say that a man or an action is good, the first question out of anyone's mouth is liable to be, What does that mean? By the time we reach notions of the ultimate good, we have created a meaningless abstraction. If you tell me you believe in God, the term itself is sufficiently vague that I still have no idea what, exactly, you believe (see the works of Rabbi Sherwin Wine). The history of philosophy is an argument over what it is to be good, but discussions of evil have generally been restricted, like Aquinas', to whether good is simply an absence of evil or a thing existent by itself. As to what that thing would be, most thinkers have never thought it necessary to say. Might we infer from this that our natural domain is, in some way, evil? It could be that we are so much clearer in our notions of evil for the simple reason that it is closer to our natures. We are not, of ourselves, terribly disposed to good, and so see it only from afar, never quite able to distinguish the outline.

Some modern philosophers might contend with my misanthropy by suggesting that 'evil' is a leftover word--an artifact of folk philosophy which has no place in a modern, scientific discussion. Indeed, some modern philosophers, like Daniel Dennet, have proposed similar means of discarding 'consciousness'. My admittedly limited linguistic background, however, inclines me to reject this notion. Languages are, by nature, terribly efficient. No word or grammatical structure that doesn't serve a real purpose in communicating someone's thought lasts very long. This is one of the primary reasons that almost all living languages exhibit a general collapse of noun declension and verb conjugation to a minimal number of forms which depend on sentence structure for their meaning rather than changes to the word itself. This may be readily seen in our own English language, as well as Afrikaans, when compared to more complex languages like German or Russian. Even these are highly simplified compared to older languages, like Old Norse or Church Slavonic. Languages lose excess vocabulary in a similar fashion.

If there were no such thing as evil, there would be no word for it. And yet there is a word--a word that we understand much better than its antonym. Could this be a vindication of Calvin? Do we have here a proof, however circumstantial, of the doctrine of total depravity?