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Break it Down Show with Zen Co-Hosting: Mazarr on Leap of Faith

Saturday, October 12th, 2019

[mark safranski / zen]

Friend of ZP, Pete Turner invited me to join him at his place The Break it Down Show to interview RAND scholar Michael J. Mazarr about his new book Leap of Faith Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy :

Mike Mazarr – Leap of Faith Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy

Mark Safranski joins Pete A Turner with author, think-tanker Dr Mike Mazarr.
Mike’s book is called, Leap of Faith Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy
Why is the invasion of Iraq viewed as a tragedy? Mike explains to us and draws conclusions to help us better understand by comparing and contrasting past conflicts to Iraq. Mark, brings his experience understanding presidential security council dynamics to push the show to even great depth and uniqueness.

Listen to the episode here.

Without giving way any spoilers, Mazarr has penned our time’s version of The Best and the Brightest. It’s a step by step reconstruction using the best evidence available and extensive interviews of principal figures or their aides and colleagues to explain how the Bush administration decided to go down the road to war in Iraq.  Like David Halberstam explaining the origins of Vietnam, Mazarr’s task was to explain how so experienced a national security team as the one that served George W. Bush could make so catastrophic a strategic error, the effects of which continue to unfold to this day.

See the source image

 

Tehom and Ruach Elohim in the Pool at Bethesda?

Friday, September 20th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — for Catherine Keller, whose book Face of the Deep is a wonder ]
.

Meditating on the first quote below these days, as I gradually make my way into Catherine Keller‘s work of poetic theology, I am reminded of the second —

— as if the first were a general principle, and the second a scaled-down and localized version of that principle.

**

Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep

I’ll return for a full review of this book once I’ve finished reading it — a slower process than I’d have liked, given my current state of health!

Atwood DoubleQuoted

Friday, September 6th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — just alerting you to the sequel ]
.

Since my life these days is largely spent in bed or in my wheelchair, and since I don’t have access to my books,I’ve been working on a slew of book reviews. This is just to forewarn you that Margaret Atwood has a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale coming out very soon:

Amazon:

  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Margaret Atwood, The Testaments
  • **

    While we’re at it, compare and contrast:

    The theoretical Calvinist theological underpinning of Atwood‘s tale would be:

  • RJ Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law
  • **

    And thanks, Gregory:

    !! Yes !!

    Pebbles dropped in the Zenpundit pond

    Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — a bumpy ride from the void, geographically and legally envisioned, via strategy to complexity and fiction, winding up in Rushdie territory with his Quichotte ]
    .

    Just a few odds and ends that spark, I suppose, evens and beginnings.

    **

    The Mandarin, The rocky road to reconciliation in Australia

    the British declare Australia terra nullius, a place belonging to no one. The land is most definitely not a ‘null’, but the doctrine of terra nullius is a convenient legal cover for theft on a colossal scale.

    Terra nullius — is that the legal equivalent of a cartographer’s here there be dragons?

    **

    Also a nullius matter?

    Moot for real or mootness as gamesmanship?” the legendary Supreme Court correspondent Linda Greenhouse asked in The New York Times.

    That’s from Garrett Epps, ‘The Supreme Court Is Not Well. And the People Know It.’ in the Atlantic.

    A moot law is a null law, surely. But though both are fascinating, neither one addresses the viod plenum which so interests me. Still..

    **

    Continuing my meander through one level of abstraction above regular reality..

    WOTR, THE GREAT DUALITY AND THE FUTURE OF THE ARMY: DOES TECHNOLOGY FAVOR THE OFFENSIVE OR DEFENSIVE?

    In war, firepower favors the defensive and maneuver favors the offensive.

    Hm. Assuming this is common knowledge, having two doctrines is one thing — but how many generals have two mindsets, and can switch between them as appropriate. I’m hoping Zen and or other strategy buffs will weigh in here. This is abstract enough to catch my eye, but war is gritty enough that even strategic thinking comes with trench mud and blood attached.

    **

    A Brexit madman or master bluffer? What’s behind Boris Johnson’s suspension of UK Parliament

    Game theory – the study of strategy and decision making – offers some clues. In the language of game theory, Johnson faces a serious “credibility” problem. He needs to convince the various players in the Brexit game – including the EU as a whole, Ireland, MPs in the House of Commons, the public and businesses – that he will indeed have the UK leave the EU, if need be, without a deal in place, on the October deadline.

    Currently, many of these players do not truly believe that he would – perhaps informed by the inaction of the government of Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, or the high stakes involved of leaving without a deal.

    Hm, a governmental void as strategy.

    That excerpt offers a neat illustration of why human decision-making is so complex and, by extension, fallible

    It also illustrates the utility of a HipBone-variant game board for carrying the voices of multiple stakeholders in mind at once — a polyphony (multiple voices) in counterpoint (point counter point) —

    Time, clipping the wings of possibility, increases tension at a decision fork where, as another Channel News Asia article also notes, Britain is in its “deepest crisis in living memory”.

    Okay:

    Complexity? the national and international interests, personal interests, thoughts, and feelings of all participants, as above. How good is Boris Johnson at evaluating all those influences?

    After a long period of digestion, I’m willing to believe a novelist or TV showrunner might be able to capture the web of influences involved. But that’s after the fact, after the fork — after fatal decisions have been made. And we call them fatal both because they produce fatalities, and because the Fates, and because the Fates, the Moirae spin them.

    **

    For instance:

    To face a people and catch its characteristics as if being confronted by just one person is practically impossible especially when the intention is to give an admonition… or suggest a way to govern it. It is much safer to rely on literature, on the way writers have represented her life, her way of being, the constant mobility of her reality and the variety present in the characters described.

    That’s from an account of Sicily and its Mafia connections, but the novel offering access to the understanding of a people by means of the interplay of characters..?

    **

    Meanwhile at Brownpundits, my other home..

    Dr Hamid Hussain, An Extension for General Bajwa

    :Bless the British who instilled a sense of professionalism in officer corps that has taken a big hit in successor Indian and Pakistani armies. The most scathing criticism came from Lieutenant General Nathu Singh of Indian army who said, “I have not known a British officer who placed his own interests before his country’s, and I have hardly known any Indian officer who did not”

    That’s quite a tribute —

    the master gamekeeper at the national park

    Just for the phrasing..

    **

    & finally:

    somewhere between a pinball machine and a three-dimensional game of snakes and ladders

    That’s not a description of goepolitical life in the Presidency of Trump, it’s praise for Salman Rushdie‘s upcoming novel, upcoming my way at least, I hope, Quichotte

    Enough!

    Reactions to the Reactionary – The New Scholarship on Fascism, 1

    Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

    Emlyn Cameron returns to the pages of Zenpundit with the first in a series of reviews of books on Fascism, the entire series forming an essay on the topic — Charles Cameron
    _________________________________________________________________________

    How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them
    by Jason Stanley
    Random House, 240 pp (2018)
    ISBN 978-0-525-51183-0
    $26.00

    Inheritors of a world we did not build, we are now
    witnesses to a decline we did not foresee.

    • Timothy Snyder, Road to Unfreedom

    We had conceded the entire political landscape, my millennial friends and I, as terrain too treacherous to travel. But the truth was that the territory it covered was simply so staggeringly vast that we felt powerless to navigate it, let alone work it for a future yield. It intimidated us into cynicism: Politicians were serial liars, news sources couldn’t be verified without recourse to other news sources we had to verify, and even if we believed what we were told, we were simply told too much to know what deserved our attention. We needed some initial map that would help us find our way.

    Like the narrator of A. E. Housman’s poem, The laws of God, the laws of man, we knew we wanted to reject the authority of leaders who “will be master, right or wrong”, or laws imposed by the foolish based on strength, but we were “stranger[s] and afraid, in a world [we] never made”. Further, in addition to being paralyzed by the scope of politics, we saw no way to escape the results of a system in which we felt incapable of participating. As we were – as with Housman’s narrator – that left only one practicable response: submission.

    Luckily, just as Donald Trump raised the stakes of political participation, he inspired a body of popular scholarship on our worst apprehensions for the future.

    Jason Stanley, a Yale philosophy professor, has provided a book that helps to complete this project: How Fascism Works lays bare the purpose and mechanism of much of the fascist’s intellectual shell-game.
    Hanna Arendt (to whom Stanley pays tribute), Leon Trotsky, and Umberto Eco amongst others have likewise attempted to write an anatomy of fascist thought, but Stanley’s effort, in addition to being explicitly contemporary, achieves a balance of brevity, justification, and application to real world events that makes it a worthy addition to the others.

    Though Eco’s 1995 essay Ur-Fascism is structurally similar to Stanley’s book and shares some of the same insights, Eco’s essay was primarily descriptive, while Stanley’s book presents the principles of fascist politics and goes on to dissect their utility to the fascist politician, in a way that Eco doesn’t manage. In essence, where Eco wrote a bird spotters guide to fascism, Stanley offers a concise ornithological textbook.

    Take, for instance, the notion of traditionalism: While Eco makes the same observation as Stanley, that fascist movements sanctify the status quo and the past, Stanley drills down into a specific instance – the patriarchal family structure – and outlines why this traditional structure is a handy one for the would-be dictator: it normalizes inequality and makes commonplace a command structure analogous to the one the fascist proposes for the state – a group of people all sharing a blood bond, subservient to a single figure who acts unilaterally to guide and provide for them.

    Lacking is only a greater examination of how this androcentric tendency in fascist politics does not exclude the occasional female far-right leader, such as Marine Le Pen. Stanley has said, in a New York Times opinion video, that the leader is “always a he,” which makes this outlier still more worthy of consideration. Perhaps his phrasing is meant to be taken as reflecting the truth to a first approximation, but what enables a woman to take command of a traditionally male focused cult-of-personality would add an interesting dimension to the analysis.

    In addition to this, his book articulates some common fascist tendencies that go unrecorded in Eco’s essay, and which enable the reader to more effectively detect the tremors of oncoming totalitarianism. Stanley’s proposal, for instance, that sexual anxiety is central to fascist politics, seems especially salient in modern America (where gender identity is a high-profile point of division between conservatives and liberals) and with reference to contemporary Russia (where Putin’s public addresses make use of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric).

    Stanley argues that singling out minorities who challenge traditional sexual and gender norms is efficacious for the fascist, as it both moves to eliminate archetypes for social relationships alternative to the patriarchal model favored by fascists, and enables the first of many oblique attacks on the principle of free expression without directly assailing democratic platitudes. Stanley also manages to tie this to the fascist tendency to decry cities, usually hubs of the attacked minorities, as dens of iniquity, and the rhetorical correlation of the out group with rape and the destruction of mythical purity. Having done this, Stanley is able to identify attacks on sexual minorities as “perhaps the most vivid” of the canaries to eye as leaders draw us further and further into the proverbial coal mine.

    The book also offers some interesting discussion of the fascist relationship to truth. In addition to the commonplace insight that fascists lie about the past to create a triumphant nationalist mythology, Stanley argues that the fascist, having spread lies about the laziness and treacherousness of their chosen enemy, also seeks to use policy to so brutalize their victims that the malnourished and abused minority population comes to resemble the abject figures of fascist propaganda, reducing reality to the “truth” that fascists had all along maintained; that the fascist first produces lies to debase the certainty of anything, and then manufactures their “truths”.

    It is a book at once enlightening and useful to those looking for some through-line to the news of the day. Learning, per the BBC, that Citizenship and Immigration Services’ acting head has defended an administration move to cut public aid to legal migrants by saying “No one has a right to become an American who isn’t born here as an American” unless they can “be self-sufficient […] as in the American tradition”, a reader of Stanley’s book might take pause and recall a passage that runs “In fascism, the state is an enemy; it is to be replaced by the nation, which consists of self-sufficient individuals who collectively choose to sacrifice for a common goal of ethnic or religious glorification.”

    Having seen such an article, and taken such a moment of reflection, the reader may decide they see nothing ominous in this correlation. Even so, how salutary many such reflective pauses could prove to be to the national character, and how much easier they become when so able a teacher has given us an idea of when to take them. And in providing ways of recognizing and describing fascist politics, Stanley’s book sharpens the usefulness of other books tackling similar projects.

    It might be said that the interplay of those tactics Stanley has described in his book, and the effective responses Stanley’s Yale colleague Timothy Snyder enumerated in his book, On Tyranny, are the two forces that animate the events in perhaps the most ambitious of these other recent works: Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom (to which I will to return). But, even if not taken as a mandatory supplement to either of Snyder’s works, Stanley’s book substantially enhances and reinforces the lessons of the other two, and vice versa.

    Together, they may provide the confidence necessary to uncertain voters, especially among the young, to discard what Mark Fisher called “reflexive impotence” (and the cynicism that guards it) and become educated participants in our politics. If these authors manage it, they will deserve credit and status alongside those offered to the analysts and thinkers to whom they refer in their own work, and those of us so armed may just find ourselves alive to solutions beyond simple concession.


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