Is the News Bad for You?

Whilst traveling through the darkest depths of the unexplored heartland of America, I encountered a mysterious beast I had only glimpsed in the many years since I left home at 18: 

The News. 

What was this flag-waving, headshot-zooming, sound effects-ridden creature, and why did it care that someone in Ohio doesn’t like “Baby its Cold Outside?” 

I really can’t stay (but baby there’s meth outside) 

Extended viewing (or listening) to what now passes for “news” on the 24-hour cable channels strikes me as bad for one’s mental health (possibly physical, as well.)

What is so bad about the news? 

First, it is a never-ending stream of disasters, and disasters naturally tend to make people anxious and worried. But the disasters featured on the news are rarely relevant to your own life–most of them take place on the other side of the country, if not the planet. 

In the past couple of months, you probably heard about wildfires in California, the War in Yemen, ISIS, someone shooting up a Christmas Market in Europe, Ebola in Africa, protests in France, children being gassed at the border, and of course the dire threat of secular Christmas Carols being taken off the radio in Ohio and rap music in Russia. 

Chances are good that none of these things directly affects you. 

How many news stories can you think of that actually occurred in your local community and have some relevance to your actual life?

The Guardian presents it better than I can:

News is irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you.

Strong words from a newspaper

At the very best, you are spending time and energy worrying about stuff that doesn’t actually affect you, while not learning about stuff–such as your neighbors’ thoughts on pest control–that actually does affect you. 

And at worst, you are making yourself ill by feeding your mind constant disaster footage: 

Witnessing images of extreme violence: a psychological study of journalists in the newsroom

User Generated Content – photos and videos submitted to newsrooms by the public – has become a prominent source of information for news organisations. Journalists working with uncensored material can frequently witness disturbing images for prolonged periods. How this might affect their psychological health is not known and it is the focus of this study. …

Regression analyses revealed that frequent (i.e. daily) exposure to violent images independently predicted higher scores on all indices of the Impact of Event Scale-revised, the BDI-II and the somatic and anxiety subscales of the GHQ-28.  …

The present study, the first of its kind, suggests that frequency rather than duration of exposure to images of graphic violence is more emotionally distressing to journalists working with User Generated Content material. 

If being exposed to the news is bad for journalists, it’s probably bad for you, too: 

The Relationship between Self-Report of Depression and Media Usage:

In this study, we tested if self-report of depression (SRD), which is not a clinically based diagnosis, was associated with increased internet, television, and social media usage by using data collected in the Media Behavior and Influence Study (MBIS) database (N = 19,776 subjects). … These analyses found that SRD rates were in the range of published rates of clinically diagnosed major depression. It found that those who tended to use more media also tended to be more depressed, and that segmentation of SRD subjects was weighted toward internet and television usage, which was not the case with non-SRD subjects, who were segmented along social media use. This study found that those who have suffered either economic or physical life setbacks are orders of magnitude more likely to be depressed, even without disproportionately high levels of media use. However, among those that have suffered major life setbacks, high media users—particularly television watchers—were even more likely to report experiencing depression, which suggests that these effects were not just due to individuals having more time for media consumption.

One woman I know got so worked up reading/watching articles and news reports about the Catholic Priest Scandals that she spent a week weeping and is now undergoing therapy for PTSD. 

Stupid? Yes. Nevertheless, people are doing this to themselves. 

Another woman I know recently announced that she thought “God was weeping” because things have gotten so bad in the world. After some questioning, she claimed that wars and third-world poverty are “worse than ever”–despite the fact that poverty is actually at the lowest it’s ever been and she lived through WWII

Does watching the news make you any better informed? 

No. 

From Pew, Public Knowledge of Current Affairs Little Changed by News and Information Revolutions

Since the invention of 24 hour Cable News Networks, general knowledge of political matters has gone down slightly. 

If you must follow the news, do so in print or listen to PBS/NPR--these are the sources with a track record for not actively making you dumber

Looking at those who get their news primarily through radio and television, for most, following the news more or less closely had no reliable relation to whether respondents believed clear evidence had been found that al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were working closely together. Fox News was the exception. Those who followed the news closely were far more likely to have this misperception. Among those who did not follow the news at all 42% had the misperception, rising progressively at higher levels of attention to 80% among those who followed the news very closely. On the other hand, those respondents who get their news primarily from print sources were less likely to have this misperception if they were following the Iraq situation more closely. Of those not following the news closely, 49% had the misperception–declining to 32% among those who followed the news very closely.

More on this phenomenon.

This analysis is harsh on Fox, but keep in mind that it is specifically looking at misperceptions related to a war championed by Republicans–we might find a similar effect for different networks if we were looking for misperceptions related to something championed by a Democratic president. 

The news makes money by convincing you to watch it–that is, it has a self-interest in being addictive, not in making your life better. The constant parade of anxiety-inducing disasters is one way they capture your attention; the nausea-inducing zooming camera pans and waving flags are another. Some news personalities are actually good at their jobs despite the distractions, but on average, the more boring stations and media do a better job of conveying actual facts, probably because they are less distracting.

The news is one-way communication: it is a voice constantly talking to you, not you talking back (well, you can talk back, but it can’t hear you.) Would you spend so much time listening, in real life, to someone who never listened to you? 

There is something insidious about a voice that talks constantly to you, that decides what is an isn’t concerning, that uses psychological manipulation to keep you listening, and doesn’t listen to you. 

None of which is to say that the news media is intentionally evil or trying to cause harm–these things are just natural side effects of the way media works–the network that convinces more people to watch makes more money than the one that doesn’t. You have a natural desire to hear about disasters, because before the invention of mass media, almost all of them were actually relevant to your life. This also need not condemn any particular news channel–these factors apply to them all.

You can always tell someone who pays too much attention to the news, because their attention shifts radically from week to week. One day, Russia–a nation with a GDP smaller than South Korea’s and a per capita GDP almost as low as Mexico’s–is a critical threat to democracy; the next week Saudi Arabia, a dictatorship well known for things like “funding 9-11,” “women must wear burkas and can’t drive,” and “starving Yemeni children,” is suddenly catapulted from “not a problem” to “defcon 12.”

A week later, all of these things are forgotten because Trump paid off a prostitute, which is clearly a pressing national problem, right up there with Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress. 

Remember, the European witch-hunt hysteria was spread via the newly-adopted printing press, which made it easy for reports of broom-riding, devil worshiping, and livestock metamorphosis to spread from town to town. The equally absurd Satanic Daycare Scare of the 1980s was also spread by the News, this time on TV and radio.

There are probably some good sides to the news–it’s probably worthwhile to be informed about the world on some level, and it’s certainly useful to know what’s going on in your local area or economic trends that affect your business. 

But be careful about letting strangers determine what you know and what you care about.

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Political Inconsistency?

Does anyone else feel like politics are disconcertingly inconsistent?
Perhaps that the whole thing has come unmoored?
I was anti-war back in the early 00s, when the Left was anti-war. I marched in protest against the Iraq War. “Hey hey, ho ho, this racist war has got to go,” we chanted.
There was a lot of talk back then about how the US spends too much on the military and is over-involved in military expeditions abroad.
Of course, I was not an expert in international affairs, nor America’s military needs abroad. I might have been wrong. So might most of the other leftists who held similar opinions in those days. But “America is spending too much on the military, which is harming both brown people abroad and also Americans, who die in wars and have to pay for them. We would be better off spending that money on things that actually benefit Americans, like highspeed rail lines, education, health care, or just leaving it in people’s pockets and letting them use it however they want,” was absolutely a mainstream leftist position.
Today, Trump says something like he wouldn’t want to die in a war for Montenegro, and the Left responds that it is very important that Americans be willing to die for Montenegro.
Let’s step back and be rational for a second: No one wants to die for a foreign country. I don’t want to die for Australia, for Russia, for India, Japan, Montenegro, or Chad, and no one from those countries wants to die for America. Certainly there is a logic of “strength in numbers,” in which we are all safer because we create a credible, united front, but there is also logic in avoiding”entangling alliances,” which were blamed for creating the death machine known as WWI.
The question of whether Americans should die in defense of Montenegro (something we have been committed to without ever being asked,) ultimately depends on whether alliance with Montenegro makes us more or less secure here at home–a matter I haven’t seen any discussion about on Left or Right.
The only relevant argument I’ve seen is that various alliance-members have died “for us” in “our” wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, therefore we should be equally willing to die for them in their wars. The logic seems to be, “The government sent you to die in a stupid, racist war that destroyed the American economy and was a terrible idea all around, therefore you’re morally obligated to go die in Montenegro, too.”
Perhaps we should be asking whether dying in Iraq and Afghanistan was a good idea for anyone, not just taking it as some kind of obscene sunk cost that obligates everyone else to go die in random conflicts from here on out.
It seems like all of the talk about how “the military is too big” and “bombing countries like Iraq and Afghanistan is racist” was dropped as soon as people realized that massively cutting the military budget would mean… scaling back military obligations abroad.
I find a Left that suddenly pro-military spending and antagonistic toward Russia awfully disconcerting.
There are a variety of issues on the Right that I find it difficult to believe people *truly* care that much about–for example, I don’t think anyone actually believed that national policy should be determined by whether or not Bill Clinton had sex with an intern. “Bill had sex” is really just an excuse to try to force him out on technical grounds because they already didn’t like him. Similarly on the Left, I don’t believe any of the outraged commentators actually care whether the US flag touched the North Korean flag at the US/NK summit–the Left has never cared about proper flag etiquette.
These issues are transparently not things politicians, commentators, or other elites actually care about.
Was “America spends too much on the military/fights too many wars abroad” similarly nothing but a dumb rallying cry for the Left, something the upper muckety-mucks never actually believed? And what happened to all of the people who were once quite opposed to US “imperialism”?

Re Nichols: Times the Experts were Wrong, pt 3/3

Welcome to our final post of “Times the Experts were Wrong,” written in preparation for our review of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. Professor Nichols, if you ever happen to read this, I hope it give you some insight into where we, the common people, are coming from. If you don’t happen to read it, it still gives me a baseline before reading your book. (Please see part 1 for a discussion of relevant definitions.)

Part 3 Wars:

WWI, Iraq, Vietnam etc.

How many “experts” have lied to convince us to go to war? We were told we had to attack Iraq because they had weapons of mass destruction, but the promised weapons never materialized. Mother Jones (that source of all things pro-Trump) has a timeline:

November 1999: Chalabi-connected Iraqi defector “Curveball”—a convicted sex offender and low-level engineer who became the sole source for much of the case that Saddam had WMD, particularly mobile weapons labs—enters Munich seeking a German visa. German intel officers describe his information as highly suspect. US agents never debrief Curveball or perform background check. Nonetheless, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and CIA will pass raw intel on to senior policymakers. …

11/6/00: Congress doubles funding for Iraqi opposition groups to more than $25 million; $18 million is earmarked for Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, which then pays defectors for anti-Iraq tales. …

Jan 2002: The FBI, which favors standard law enforcement interrogation practices, loses debate with CIA Director George Tenet, and Libi is transferred to CIA custody. Libi is then rendered to Egypt. “They duct-taped his mouth, cinched him up and sent him to Cairo,” an FBI agent told reporters. Under torture, Libi invents tale of Al Qaeda operatives receiving chemical weapons training from Iraq. “This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear,” a CIA source later tells ABC. …

Feb 2002: DIA intelligence summary notes that Libi’s “confession” lacks details and suggests that he is most likely telling interrogators what he thinks will “retain their interest.” …

9/7/02: Bush claims a new UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report states Iraq is six months from developing a nuclear weapon. There is no such report. …

9/8/02: Page 1 Times story by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon cites anonymous administration officials saying Saddam has repeatedly tried to acquire aluminum tubes “specially designed” to enrich uranium. …

Tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs…we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”—Rice on CNN …

“We do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.”—Cheney on Meet the Press

Oct 2002: National Intelligence Estimate produced. It warns that Iraq “is reconstituting its nuclear program” and “has now established large-scale, redundant and concealed BW agent production capabilities”—an assessment based largely on Curveball’s statements. But NIE also notes that the State Department has assigned “low confidence” to the notion of “whether in desperation Saddam would share chemical or biological weapons with Al Qaeda.” Cites State Department experts who concluded that “the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.” Also says “claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa” are “highly dubious.” Only six senators bother to read all 92 pages. …

10/4/02: Asked by Sen. Graham to make gist of NIE public, Tenet produces 25-page document titled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs.” It says Saddam has them and omits dissenting views contained in the classified NIE. …

2/5/03: In UN speech, Powell says, “Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” Cites Libi’s claims and Curveball’s “eyewitness” accounts of mobile weapons labs. (German officer who supervised Curveball’s handler will later recall thinking, “Mein Gott!”) Powell also claims that Saddam’s son Qusay has ordered WMD removed from palace complexes; that key WMD files are being driven around Iraq by intelligence agents; that bioweapons warheads have been hidden in palm groves; that a water truck at an Iraqi military installation is a “decontamination vehicle” for chemical weapons; that Iraq has drones it can use for bioweapons attacks; and that WMD experts have been corralled into one of Saddam’s guest houses. All but the last of those claims had been flagged by the State Department’s own intelligence unit as “WEAK.”

I’m not going to quote the whole article, so if you’re fuzzy on the details, go read the whole darn thing.

If you had access to the actual documents from the CIA, DIA, British intelligence, interrogators, etc., you could have figured out that the “experts” were not unanimously behind the idea that Iraq was developing WMDs, but we mere plebes were dependent on what the government, Fox, and CNN told us the “experts” believed.

For the record, I was against the Iraq War from the beginning. I’m not sure what Nichols’s original position was, but in Just War, Not Prevention (2003) Nichols argued:

More to the point, Iraq itself long ago provided ample justifications for the United States and its allies to go to war that have nothing to do with prevention and everything to do with justice. To say that Saddam’s grasping for weapons of mass destruction is the final straw, and that it is utterly intolerable to allow Saddam or anyone like to gain a nuclear weapon, is true but does not then invalidate every other reason for war by subsuming them under some sort of putative ban on prevention.

The record provides ample evidence of the justice of a war against Saddam Hussein’s regime. Iraq has shown itself to be a serial aggressor… a supreme enemy of human rights that has already used weapons of mass destruction against civilians, a consistent violator of both UN resolutions and the therms of the 1991 cease-fire treaty … a terrorist entity that has attempted to reach beyond its own borders to support and engage in illegal activities that have included the attempted assassination of a former U.S. president; and most important, a state that has relentlessly sought nuclear arms against all international demands that it cease such efforts.

Any one of these would be sufficient cause to remove Saddam and his regime … but taken together they are a brief for what can only be considered a just war. ..

Those concerned that the United States is about to revise the international status quo might conside that Western inaction will allow the status quo to be revised in any case, only under the gun of a dictator commanding an arsenal of the most deadly materials on earthy. These are the two alternatives, and sadly, thee is no third choice.

Professor Nichols, I would like to pause here.

First: you think Trump is bad, you support the President under whom POWs were literally tortured, and you call yourself a military ethicist?

Second: you, an expert, bought into this “WMD” story (invented primarily by “Curveball,” an unreliable source,) while I, a mere plebe, knew it was a load of garbage.

Third: while I agree Saddam Hussein killed a hell of a lot of people–according to Wikipedia, Human Rights Watch estimates a quarter of a million Iraqis were killed or “disappeared” in the last 25 years of Ba’th party rule, the nine years of the Iraq war killed 150,000 to 460,000 people (depending on which survey you trust,) and based on estimates from the Iraq Body Count, a further 100,000 have died since then. Meanwhile, instability in Iraq allowed the horrifically violent ISIS to to sprout into existence. I Am Syria (I don’t know if they are reliable) estimates that over half a million Syrians have died so far because of the ISIS-fueled civil war rampaging there.

In other words, we unleashed a force that is twice as bad as Saddam in less than half the time–and paid a lovely 2.4 TRILLION dollars to accomplish this humanitarian feat! For that much money you could have just evacuated all of the Kurds and built them their own private islands to live on. You could have handed out $90,000 to every man, woman, and child in Iraq in exchange for “being friends with the US” and still had $150 BILLION left over to invest in things like “cancer treatments for children” and “highspeed rail infrastructure.”

Seriously, you could have spent the entire 2.4 trillion on hookers and blow and we would have still come out ahead.

Back in 2015, you tried to advise the Republican frontrunners on how to answer questions about the Iraq War:
First, let’s just stipulate that the question is unfair.

It’s asking a group of candidates to re-enact a presidential order given 12 years ago, while Hillary Clinton isn’t even being asked about decisions in which she took part, much less about her husband’s many military actions. …

Instead, Republican candidates should change the debate. Leadership is not about what people would do with perfect information; it’s about what people do when faced with danger and uncertainty. So here’s an answer that every Republican, from Paul to Bush, could give:

“Knowing exactly what we know now, I would not have invaded when we did or in the way we did. But I do not regret that we deposed a dangerous maniac like Saddam Hussein, and I know the world is better for it. What I or George Bush or anyone else would have done with better information is irrelevant now, because the next president has to face the world as it is, not as we would like to imagine it. And that’s all I intend to say about second-guessing a tough foreign-policy decision from 12 years ago, especially since we should have more pressing questions about foreign policy for Hillary Clinton that are a lot more recent than that.”

While I agree that Hillary should have been questioned about her own military decisions, Iraq was a formally declared war that the entire Republican establishment, think tanks, newspapers, and experts like you supported. They did such a convincing job of selling the war that even most of the Democratic establishment got on board, though never quite as enthusiastically.

By contrast, there was never any real Democratic consensus on whether Obama should remove troops or increase troops, on whether Hillary should do this or that in Libya. Obama and Hillary might have hideously bungled things, but there was never enthusiastic, party-wide support for their policies.

This makes it very easy for any Dem to distance themselves from previous Dem policies: “Yeah, looks like that was a big whoopsie. Luckily half our party knew that at the time.”

But for better or worse, the Republicans–especially the Bushes–own the Iraq War.

The big problem here is not that the Republican candidates (aside from Trump and Rand Paul) were too dumb to come up with a good response to the question (though that certainly is a problem.) The real problem is that none of them had actually stopped to take a long, serious look at the Iraq War, ask whether it was a good idea, and then apologize.

The Iraq War deeply discredited the Republican party.

Ask yourself: What did Bush conserve? What have I conserved? Surely being a “conservative” means you want to conserve something, so what was it? Iraqi freedom? Certainly not. Mid East stability? Nope. American lives? No. American tax dollars? Definitely not.

The complete failure of the Republicans to do anything good while squandering 2.4 trillion dollars and thousands of American lives is what triggered the creation of the “alt” right and set the stage for someone like Trump–someone willing to make a formal break with past Republican policies on Iraq–to rise to power.

Iraq I, the prequel:

But Iraq wasn’t the first war we were deceived into fighting–remember the previous war in Iraq, the one with the other President Bush? The one where we were motivated to intervene over stories of poor Kuwaiti babies ripped from their incubators by cruel Iraqis?

The Nayirah testimony was a false testimony given before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990 by a 15-year-old girl who provided only her first name, Nayirah. The testimony was widely publicized, and was cited numerous times by United States senators and President George H. W. Bush in their rationale to back Kuwait in the Gulf War. In 1992, it was revealed that Nayirah’s last name was al-Ṣabaḥ (Arabic: نيره الصباح‎) and that she was the daughter of Saud Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. Furthermore, it was revealed that her testimony was organized as part of the Citizens for a Free Kuwait public relations campaign which was run by an American public relations firm Hill & Knowlton for the Kuwaiti government. Following this, al-Sabah’s testimony has come to be regarded as a classic example of modern atrocity propaganda.[1][2]

In her emotional testimony, Nayirah stated that after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, take the incubators, and leave the babies to die.

Her story was initially corroborated by Amnesty International[3] and testimony from evacuees. Following the liberation of Kuwait, reporters were given access to the country. An ABC report found that “patients, including premature babies, did die, when many of Kuwait’s nurses and doctors… fled” but Iraqi troops “almost certainly had not stolen hospital incubators and left hundreds of Kuwaiti babies to die.”[4][5]

Kuwaiti babies died because Kuwaiti doctors and nurses abandoned them. Maybe the “experts” at the UN and in the US government should vet their sources a little better (like actually find out their last names) before starting wars based on the testimony of children?

Vietnam:

And then there was Vietnam. Cold War “experts” were certain it was very important for us to spend billions of dollars in the 1950s to prop of the French colony in Indochina. When the French gave up, fighting the war somehow became America’s problem. The Cold War doctrine of the “Domino Theory” held that the loss of even one obscure, third-world country to Communism would unleash an unstoppable chain-reaction of global Soviet conquest, and thus the only way to preserve democracy anywhere in the world was to oppose communism wherever it emerged.

Of course, one could not be a Cold War “expert” in 1955, as we had never fought a Cold War before. This bi-polar world lead by a nuclear-armed communist faction on one side and a nuclear-armed democratic faction on the other was entirely new.

Atop the difficulties of functioning within an entirely novel balance of powers (and weapons), almost no one in America spoke Vietnamese (and no one in Vietnam spoke English) in 1955. We couldn’t even ask the Vietnamese what they thought. At best, we could play a game of telephone with Vietnamese who spoke French and translators who spoke French and English, but the Vietnamese who had learned the language of their colonizers were not a representative sample of average citizens.

In other words, we had no idea what we were getting into.

I lost family in Vietnam, so maybe I take this a little personally, but I don’t think American soldiers exist just to enrich Halliburton or protect French colonial interests. And you must excuse me, but I think you “experts” grunting for war have an extremely bad track record that involves people in my family getting killed.

While we are at it, what is the expert consensus on Russiagate?

Well, Tablet Mag thinks it’s hogwash:

At the same time, there is a growing consensus among reporters and thinkers on the left and right—especially those who know anything about Russia, the surveillance apparatus, and intelligence bureaucracy—that the Russiagate-collusion theory that was supposed to end Trump’s presidency within six months has sprung more than a few holes. Worse, it has proved to be a cover for U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement bureaucracies to break the law, with what’s left of the press gleefully going along for the ride. Where Watergate was a story about a crime that came to define an entire generation’s oppositional attitude toward politicians and the country’s elite, Russiagate, they argue, has proved itself to be the reverse: It is a device that the American elite is using to define itself against its enemies—the rest of the country.

Yet for its advocates, the questionable veracity of the Russiagate story seems much less important than what has become its real purpose—elite virtue-signaling. Buy into a storyline that turns FBI and CIA bureaucrats and their hand-puppets in the press into heroes while legitimizing the use of a vast surveillance apparatus for partisan purposes, and you’re in. Dissent, and you’re out, or worse—you’re defending Trump.

“Russia done it, all the experts say so” sounds suspiciously like a great many other times “expert opinion” has been manipulated by the government, industry, or media to make it sound like expert consensus exists where it does not.

Let’s look at a couple of worst case scenarios:

  1. Nichols and his ilk are right, but we ignore his warnings, overlook a few dastardly Russian deeds, and don’t go to war with Russia.
  2. Nichols is wrong, but we trust him, blame Russia for things it didn’t do, and go to war with a nuclear superpower.

But let’s look at our final fail:

Failure to predict the fall of the Soviet Union

This is kind of an ironic, given that Nichols is a Sovietologist, but one of the continuing questions in Political Science is “Why didn’t political scientists predict the fall of the Soviet Union?”

In retrospect, of course, we can point to the state of the Soviet economy, or glasnost, or growing unrest and dissent among Soviet citizens, but as Foreign Policy puts it:

In the years leading up to 1991, virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it  and with it one-party dictatorship, the state-owned economy, and the Kremlin’s control over its domestic and Eastern European empires. … 

Whence such strangely universal shortsightedness? The failure of Western experts to anticipate the Soviet Union’s collapse may in part be attributed to a sort of historical revisionism — call it anti-anti-communism — that tended to exaggerate the Soviet regime’s stability and legitimacy. Yet others who could hardly be considered soft on communism were just as puzzled by its demise. One of the architects of the U.S. strategy in the Cold War, George Kennan, wrote that, in reviewing the entire “history of international affairs in the modern era,” he found it “hard to think of any event more strange and startling, and at first glance inexplicable, than the sudden and total disintegration and disappearance … of the great power known successively as the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union.”

I don’t think this is Political Science’s fault–even the Soviets don’t seem to have really seen it coming. Some things are just hard to predict.

Sometimes we overestimate our judgment. We leap before we look. We think there’s evidence where there isn’t or that the evidence is much stronger than it is.

And in the cases I’ve selected, maybe I’m the one who’s wrong. Maybe Vietnam was a worthwhile conflict, even if it was terrible for everyone involved. Maybe the Iraq War served a real purpose.

WWI was still a complete disaster. There is no logic where that war makes any sense at all.

When you advocate for war, step back a moment and ask how sure you are. If you were going to be the canon fodder down on the front lines, would you still be so sure? Or would you be the one suddenly questioning the experts about whether this was really such a good idea?

Professor Nichols, if you have read this, I hope it has given you some food for thought.

Democracy is America’s Religion

So I was thinking the other day–Why are Westerners (particularly Americans) so introverted about their religious beliefs? I have on occasion posted “Convert Me” open threads in which I invite people to give me their best arguments for following their religion, and gotten very few enthusiastic responses. Even the Jehovah’s Witness who visited my thread only made a half-effort just to humor me, not because she actually wanted to convert me.

(I can already hear you asking: Why would I post such a thread? To which I reply, Why not? I enjoy discussing religion. If the religious are correct and I am convinced to join them, then I gain something good. If I am not convinced, then I lose nothing, for I am already an atheist. I have no reason to fear discussion with a theist.)

Mormon missionaries occasionally ring my bell. I always make an effort to be polite and listen, and even they really just want to hand me a pamphlet and hurry on to the next house.

The only people who have ever really, seriously tried to convert me are Muslims (and I must note that they did so in an entirely friendly manner.) Where the Christians ask, “Why would you want us to convert you?” and the Mormons say, “Well, I think there are lots of religions because God gave each group of people their own religion best suited to themselves,” (actual quote from a Mormon missionary, I am serious) the Muslims will happily pester you with a whole slew of websites about why Islam is correct, how the Qu’ran is full of good science, how lovely the Qu’ranic poetry is, etc.

(Of course, you’re not going to get a Jew to try to convert you unless you tell him your mother was a Jew and you really wan to return to your Jewish roots.)

Frankly, I think Americans find the whole idea of being devoutly religious–much less discussing religion with the non-devout–vaguely embarrassing. Sure, maybe that elderly lady down the block who hands out Chick Tracts instead of Halloween candy would like to talk about Jesus with you, but can’t the rest of us please just talk about football?

This blog was practically kicked off with the observation that devout Christianity is low class, while a kind of vague, multi-faith “spirituality” is the religion–if you must have one–of the upper class. A quick look at some demographic data makes the picture:

From Pew Research Center, http://www.pewforum.org/2009/01/30/income-distribution-within-us-religious-groups/
From Pew Research Center

Not a whole lot of surprises, though I will note that it does matter how you break down the groups, and I think I’ve seen different numbers elsewhere for Muslim-Americans.

Of course the flipside of Muslims being really keen on spreading their religion is that sometimes things go quite badly and violently.

And if you’re an American (or French, or Swedish, or German, or whatever,) this feels awfully unfair, because after all, when have we ever blown anything up in Mecca in the name of Jesus?

But then I got to thinking: obviously we have bombed Muslim countries. We dropped quite a few on Iraq–and for what? For Freedom? For Democracy?

We didn’t want to convert Iraq to Christianity (not the vast majority of us, anyway.) We wanted to convert Iraq to democracy.

You know, we destroyed a perfectly innocent country–killed thousands of people–and we barely feel a pang of remorse. Why? Because we did it to help them? We though they’d be happier if they just lived in a democracy, just like your office mate with the Chick Tracts thinks you’ll be happier if you just accept Jesus as your savior and Muslims think you’ll be happier if you become a Muslim.

Christianity and Islam (or certain branches of Islam) are not at war. They can’t be at war because Christianity isn’t fighting. Not in the West, anyway. Maybe in the Philippines or South America or somewhere, but certainly not in the West.

Now here I should stop to note that several Islamic countries are democracies, more or less, and many Muslims also believe in Democracy. So this is a conflict within Islam as well as without. But this post isn’t about Islam–I am not an Islamic expert and don’t feel comfortable writing about Islamic issues.

However, this is a post about the West, and how Democracy has become our chief religion, taking the place Christianity once occupied.

(I am sure my readers are split between “Well that is nothing new; Moldbug said that ages ago,” and “What a stupid idea. Democracy can’t be a religion.”)

Wed Open Thread

CIA Analyst Who Interrogated Saddam Hussein Just Blew the Lid Off the US ‘Official Story’:

Writing on his book, Debriefing The President: The Interrogation Of Saddam Hussein, for the Daily Mail, Nixon offered acrid criticism regarding Bush’s leadership, saying the former president heard “only what he wanted to hear” — including that Iraq had somehow been responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“Look at who was involved,” Nixon recalled the Iraqi leader telling the interrogators. “What countries did they come from? Saudi Arabia. And this [ringleader] Muhammad Atta, was he an Iraqi? No. He was Egyptian. Why do you think I was involved in the attacks?”

In fact, Nixon noted, “Saddam had actually believed 9/11 would bring Iraq and America closer because Washington would need his secular government to help fight fundamentalism. How woefully wrong he had been.”

I don’t know this website, so I can’t vouch for its veracity, and these days, everything seems a little questionable (wow that is an awfully artistically staged photo of that Russian ambassador’s assassination.)

"violent"
I think we define “violent” differently.

Of course, we know that Iraq had no WMDs to speak of and we know the country descended into chaos and anarchy and ISIS crap. We know that thousands of people died so Americans could vent their hate at *someone* who looked vaguely like their enemies.

I woke up at 9 am on 9-11 to my alarm clock radio telling me that the Twin Towers had just been hit, and honestly, my first thought was, “some poor unrelated country is going to get bombed.” I figured Iraq was highly likely.

The attack on Afghanistan I can understand, but Iraq was unjustified and I was against the war even then, including participation in anti-war protests. I did not want to see Americans or Iraqis dying.

I have no respect for the fuckers who led us into that war, and no respect for the fuckers trying to start shit with Russia now.

The grand lie of weapons of mass destruction — and Judith Miller’s utterly false reports in the New York Times suggesting stockpiles of chemical weapons — are arguably the most deadly ‘fake news’ gaffe in U.S. media history. …

Nixon emphasized it wasn’t as if Saddam Hussein were a saint, but the profound mischaracterization of the Iraqi leader had appalling consequences.

“I do not wish to imply that Saddam was innocent,” Nixon writes. “He was a ruthless dictator who plunged his region into chaos and bloodshed. But in hindsight, the thought of having an ageing and disengaged Saddam in power seems almost comforting in comparison with the wasted effort of our brave men and women in uniform and the rise of Islamic State, not to mention the £2.5 trillion spent to build a new Iraq.”

So, what do you guys think of the assassination of the Russian diplomat in Turkey? What’s going to happen? Will there be open hostilities against Turkey? Will Russia and the US team up?

spread of spoke-wheeled chariots
spread of spoke-wheeled chariots, in years ago

I also enjoyed Physical Anthropology in 1950.

Now, you guys have left so many excellent comments, it’s getting tough to look back through them all, much less pick the best. Iffen and Unknown128 have been having an interesting discussion of Russian history over on the Classics post; With The Thoughts You’d Be Thinkin left a link to a very interesting documentary/footage of first contact between whites and people living in the interior of Papua New Guinea:

Figured this might interest you, a documentary about Michael “Mick” Leahy and his brothers, gold prospectors and explorers who made first contact with the Highland tribes of Papua New Guinea in the 1930. The full documentary includes footage of the first encounters and interviews with the tribesmen and the surviving Leahy brothers decades later.

Clip:
http://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/first-contact/clip1/

Full:
https://youtu.be/Kvt9F0KqelM

So, do you guys think I should read Audre Lorde for next Cathedral Round-Up, to see if she is a fitting replacement for Shakespeare?

What the hell do the terrorists even want?

IRA: Wanted Northern Ireland to be part of Ireland.

Palestinian Terrorists: Want to take over Israel

Ted Kaczynski: Wanted people to stop chopping down his forest

OK City: Revenge for Ruby Ridge and Waco

9-11: Incoherent hate of America

Madrid Train Bombing: None

Anders Breivik: didn’t like communists

Tsarnev Brothers: Incoherent hate of America

Charlie Hebdo: disliked Hebdo’s Muhammad cartoons

Paris attack: ISIS support

San Bernardino Christmas party shooting: incoherent ISIS Support

Oregon Occupation: Opposition to the BLM

Brussels bombing: ISIS Support

Easter bombing in Pakistan: hatred of Christians

Say what you will, the IRA, ETA, and PLO had clear, coherent goals. Goals they were willing to kill babies to achieve, but still goals. You knew what they wanted and could at least hypothetically negotiate with them about it.

Since 9-11, the attacks have been increasingly incoherent. Why would Pakistani-American citizens attack the US in support of one side or the other in a civil war going on in Syria? Why would the children of Chechen refugees attack the country that took them in? Why would a guy living in Afghanistan believe it is anti-Muslim for the US to protect the interests of Muslims in Kuwait? Why move to the EU and then violently object to the laws or foreign policy? For that matter, why the hell would anyone support ISIS?

We may infer a kind of pan-Islamic tribalism which regards the US (and other Western nations) as acting against Islamic interests, but even this is incoherent. Why would Osama bin Ladin feel the need to stand up for Saudi Arabia when the Saudis could do it perfectly well themselves?

In reality, the US prior to 9-11 was pretty agnostic on Muslims. Palestinians were unpopular, due to terrorist attacks against Israel, but countries like Egypt and Jordan attracted the average person’s interest only because of their pyramids and long history. Most US actions in the Middle East over the past 55 years had been motivated by Cold War or “peace keeping” concerns.

The US supported Egypt in the Suez Crisis, keeping the Suez Canal under Egyptian control, an obvious economic boon to Egypt. We have supported, at various times, the Shah of Iran, the King of Jordan, Iraq against Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan against Soviet invasion. We intervened militarily on behalf of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia.

The US gives a substantial amount in foreign aid to other countries every year; in 2013 (the Wikipedia only lists our foreign aid for 2013 and 2012,) we gave 42.829 billion dollars–or $134 from every American citizen–to Muslim countries from Afghanistan to Yemen. (See bottom of post for my list of aid dollars per country.)

It has only been since 9-11 that Americans really become aware of the “Muslim world” as a coherent entity (if such exists) with which “we” are supposedly in conflict.

Before then, as mentioned before, our concerns were largely leftovers from the Cold War era. The “modernizers,” like Kemal Ataturk, King Hussein of Jordan, the Shah of Iran, and Saddam Hussein were “the good guys,” capitalists intent on modernizing their countries and promoting free market economic opportunities.

I recall a conversation I had with a high-ranking US government official in the weeks before 9-11. He pointed out a picture of the King of Jordan he had hanging in his office, and referred to the king as “a good guy” and “one of our friends.”

The “bad guys” were the Communists. If you’ve read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, then you know that the Iranian Revolution was a communist revolution. The triumph of “radical Islam” in Iran was a Communist revolution against Western Capitalism.

Saddam was our guy against the Ayatollah, until he invaded Kuwait (which may be partially our fault due to our ambassador inadequately conveying the idea that we would invade if he did.)

The Palestinians are supported by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Cultural Marxists, and regular Marxists.

Anti-capitalism is anti-colonialism is anti-modernism is anti-Westernism is radical religious fundamentalism.

The Muslim world is split between two factions, modernizers who want capitalism and are happy to work with the West, and radical internationalist who oppose Western influence and want to return to religious fundamentalism through out the Islamic world.

This is why the invasion of Iraq failed and could not help but fail: we took out our own guy, the modernizer, the capitalist. Who would replace him? Another capitalist? No, we got the opposition party, the fundamentalist, the communist, ISIS.

We took out the capitalist and put the communists in power.

We fucked ourselves, to the tun of 3 trillion dollars and thousands of dead soldiers. (And Iraqis.)

 

 

Table of 2013 US Aid to Muslim countries in millions of dollars (I picked Bosnia, on behalf of whose Muslim population the US intervened following the breakup of Yugoslavia, as my “minimum Muslim %” cut-off for inclusion in this list.) My apologies if I’ve missed any.

Afghanistan 5265.95
Albania 298.38
Algeria 207.96
Azerbaijan -63.13
Bangladesh 2669.1
Bosnia 550.04
Burkina Faso 1040.11
Chad 399.33
Comoros 81.9
Djibouti 152.95
Egypt 5505
Eritrea 83.69
Gambia 110.8
Guinea 499.5
Guinea Bissau 103.6
Indonesia 53.3
Iran 131.3
Iraq 1,541.4
Jordan 1,407.9
Kazakhstan 91.3
Kyrgyzstan 536.6
Lebanon 626.4
Libya 129.4
Malaysia -119.4
Maldives 22.9
Mali 1,391.3
Mauritania 291.2
Morocco 1,966.1
Niger 773.1
Nigeria 2,529.4
Pakistan 2174.1
Senegal 982.8
Sierra Leone 443.7
Somalia 991.9
Sudan 1,163.1
Syria 3,626.7
Tajikistan 382.2
Tunisia 713.6
Turkey 2,740.5
Turkmenistan 37.3
Uzbekistan 292.5
Yemen 1,003.5