Friday, March 02, 2007

Deranged Bedfellows

The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
—George W. Bush, Inaugural Address, 2005

…we will not stop at this point, but will pursue the evil force into its own lands, invade its western heartland, and struggle to overcome it until all the world shouts the name of the Prophet and the teachings of Islam spread throughout the world. Only then will Muslims achieve their fundamental goal, and there will be no more “persecution” and all religion will be exclusively for Allah.
—Hasan al-Banna, quoted in To Be a Muslim (Fathi Yakan)

A world-wide socialist army of the revolutionary proletariat is alone capable of putting an end to this oppression and enslavement of the masses.

We want to glorify war, the only cure for the world.
—F.T. Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Every revolutionary is a frustrated tyrant.

It is the light in the world's darkness. Its absence is the very definition of tyranny and oppression. It is the sacred duty of those who possess it that they bring it to those who do not, by warfare if necessary. It cannot be fully realized until it exists everywhere; its existence everywhere is inevitable. The world is divided between those who thrive in the light of its revelation and those who wallow in the darkness of their ignorance. It is man’s only assurance of freedom from oppression, ignorance, and want; it is to be his final liberation from bondage. Every society preceding it is inferior; there is no progression beyond it. It is the end destination of humanity.
It is the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam; it is George W. Bush’s interpretation of democracy.

The similarities in rhetoric between America's neoconservatives and Islam's global jihadists reveal them as two recent manifestations of a constant human impulse toward such dangerously expansive and messianic movements. These movements derive from and manipulate the individual's ineradicable need to be part of a vital and ascendant group, and his attendant fear of other such groups displacing his own, so ingrained by centuries of evolutionary pressures that we do not recognize it. Human nature has for eons expressed this aspect through kin and tribe in the struggle for survival in a hostile world. The marriage of ideology to this powerful and primordial impulse is a relatively recent and deadly development in human history.

Such movements take on the rhetoric of revolution when pursuing power and the methods of totalitarianism once they attain it. The revolution seeks out predominance; the totalitarian system defends it. They are the same phenomenon in different developmental stages. But neither can long survive stasis. For a movement to stand still is to die, and always to the benefit of mankind.
If enemies and threats do not exist abroad they must be created at home; the ideal enemy for instilling the fear and fervor necessary to fill the ranks and maintain order is a competing movement of comparable size and vitality, with a complementary opposing ideology. Moderation, legality, temperance, the rights of nations; these are the true threats to an ideological movement, the very antitheses of revolution and totalitarianism. This is why the radical Left assails liberalism and liberal institutions; this is why radical neoconservatism despises conservative "isolationism" and international law alike. The revolutionary and the totalitarian are the yin and yang of humanity's restless, destructive, and fearful nature, of man's innate aggression and paranoia. The impulse toward aggressive revolutionary/totalitarian movements is the dark underside of man's creative sociability.

For any revolutionary movement ideological content is really secondary to its irrational, emotional appeal to the individual's inborn yearning for plenty and security; its particular language is malleable over time, often fantastic and delusional. The formal similarities of the great ideological movements reveal them as merely separate instances and vehicles channeling this same primordial need. These appeal to the individual through the promise of group vitality, to be realized by expansion through conquest and conversion; to security from the domination of or absorption by foreign groups with the same needs; in the claim to moral supremacy and the primacy of individual rights as defined and ordered by the movement, in opposition to the group rights of other nations, hence the disdain for international law and concepts such as just war; in the celebration of war and the elevation of heroism to a place of god-like transcendance; finally in the promised messianic end goal of a heaven on earth, an end to history and strife, achieved and enjoyed by the true believers and their progeny.

These movements start out as revolutionary and, if successful in gaining power, invariably end in domestic repression and expansionist aggression. Having defined itself as singularly just any opposition anywhere is percieved as inherently evil; the movement becomes antinomian, authoritarian, and global. The mere existence of alternatives is deemed a threat to its existence. This finds its expression most elegantly and ironically in the disastrous formula, uttered by a fittingly anonymous provocateur: no one is free when others are oppressed. Let this be revolutionary totalitarianism's sardonic epitaph, and soon.

What makes these movements dangerous is this need for momentum, satisfied by continual expansion; these movements are largely expansion and momentum, fundamental individual behavior aggregated to form naturally hostile groups that instinctively assault one another in a world they see as a chaotic, continual threat. They must conquer, render subservient, or assimilate all other groups until no competitors remain.
Of course, this can never be achieved, as apostate sects will always form, and as the realities of race, kin, and geography intrude and trump the false and temporary bonds of ideology. Movements are thwarted, they dissipate, they are absorbed into others. But the impulse goes on, endlessly recombining, reforming, metamorphosing. New cells form within host movements and split off; boundaries can be fuzzy; language is sometimes freely traded. The jihadist movement as currently constituted began in the thirties and flowered in the revolutionary fervor of the sixties, borrowing freely the rhetoric of the Western Left; many of the jihadist authors of that period sound positively Marxist.

Still it's important to see the content of ideology and messianic religio-political movements as mass, self-applied delusion; as essentially group self-deceit. Witness the average neocon: he can't see the true nature of his movement for the visceral appeal of his half-formed ideas.

But interests, largely defined by the availability of resources, are still the true determinant of war and peace.

Nations and ethnicities remain engaged in the same age-old struggle over resources and room. Take for instance the progress of Russia through the years; from the czars through Stalin and now in its post-Soviet phase, its core geostrategic interests have not changed, and its actions are determined more by its relative strength than by any ideological gloss. Likewise us. Only the slogans change.

The delusion requires the specter of a hostile and uncivilized world as a constant and imminent threat. For the Islamist the world is divided into the infidel dar-al-Harb (house of war), and the Muslim dar-al-Islam (house of submission); for the celebrants of a new American global order there is the "free", i.e. Westernized, world, and the unwashed, benighted remainder. These world-views are now squared off against one another over the last great source of the world economy's lifeblood, oil.

Those proposing the forcible democratization of the Middle East as the central strategy of the "global war on terror" have been allowed to advance an absurd argument: on one hand they warn of an “existential challenge” to the West, citing Islam's well-documented doctrinal intolerance and violence, as well as its inherent hostility to modernity, and the intolerance of Muslim populations; on the other, they propose the answer to this is the forcible introduction of democratic elections. The same Muslim backwardness they chronicle reveals both the deceptiveness of their stated goals and the irrationality of their designs. But democracy is the only sanctioned evangel left to modern America, so it is in its name that our modern crusaders seek to conquer the world. The predictable result of such madness is what we are now witnessing. But notice that the delusional fervor of the hardcore isn't lessened by these horrific results, but redoubled. For the true believing ideologue, there can be no retreat.

The ruse of democracy promotion complements global jihadism perfectly. There is no better way to lend credence to the Islamist's talk of a "war on Islam", than to pursue neoconservative designs of conquest and democratic reform in the Middle East, which in fact is a de facto war on Islam; many neoconservatives have chronicled the Muslim world's inherent rigidity, intolerance and hostility to liberal democratic institutions at length, only to turn about and embrace (at least ostensibly) the forcible introduction of democracy there. The jihadists couldn't have conjured up a more effective specter for their purposes of rallying Muslims to global jihad.

The new American imperialists are hopelessly ignorant not only of human nature but of the broader world beyond the West, and many of them likely are influenced by hostility toward Arabs, Muslims, and sympathy toward Israel, but the war in Iraq is still about the oil. All of the attendant forces that swept us up into war, understandable fear and anger following 9/11, American Likudniks looking to improve Israel's position, anti-Saddam liberal interventionists; without the tremendous untapped oil wealth (and most of the public still doesn't realize the size and significance of still undocumented Iraqi oil reserves, which may in the end rival Saudi Arabia's) there, you can rest assured that Dick Cheney and his minions wouldn't have pulled out all the stops (and pulled resources away from the pursuit of al Qaeda) to whip up the hysteria that was the buildup to the Iraq war. The cause, securing a vital resource, was older than war itself, but the call would use the heady language of the "existential threat", the glorious crusade, and martial glory.

Oil will be the fuel of civilization for as far as we can see into the future, and it will increasingly come from lands with a defecit of creativity and liberty, and a surfeit of religious, nationalist, and ideological fervor. This is why the Iraq war was really Dick Cheney's disastrous gambit to secure our energy future, disguised as World War III. It would have been far more wise, and cost-effective, to merely accept and adapt to the new realities of the global energy situation, and let the oil market work (yet another hypocrisy, our current leaders' false faith in "markets"). But then, no one in the current administration has ever successfully run any commercial enterprise, Cheney and Rumsfeld's stints selling their government contacts to the private sector notwithstanding. It should not surprise us that they haven't learned the realities of cost, risk, and benefit while on the job in the White House.

But many still believe the rhetoric and buy into the delusion. The Soviets maintained the ruse of worldwide communist revolution until it became farce, while bankrupting themselves financing an untenable global empire (pursuing the same geostrategic goals that concerned them both before and after the rise and fall of the Soviet Union) with a more untenable economic system, and while we chase the apparition of Islamic global hegemony, we are far more likely to be surpassed by good old fashioned Asian ingenuity and industry. The future still belongs to the productive and creative, as it once belonged to us, an "isolationist" nation not yet intoxicated on the elixir of ideology and vainglory; one that another totalitarian revolutionary once derided as a "nation of merchants", not very long before the repurcussions of his delusions came down upon his own nation's head. Time for us to stop chasing dragons, and realize we are being overtaken by one.


grumpy said...

Mr. Dale,
I was directed to your site by a friend [Black Sea] whose judgement in such matters I trust implicitly. Even so, on reading your disclaimer, " scholastic credentials...", I anticipated that I was about to be subjected to the rantings of some half-educated, rednecked bigot.

My unreserved apologies.

I am an Englishman, teaching at university in Turkey; I have very many academic credentials - as has the American friend who notified me of your site's existence.
I intend no condescension when I say that I found this post to be both extremely lucid and extremely informative;would that some of my colleagues were able to express their views so well, or to understand - as you so clearly do -the need to bolster one's own opinions with appropriate and adequate support from relevant sources.
That I agree with the views you have expressed is, for me, a bonus. Thankyou.

With your permission, I should like to post a link to this site on my web page []

I would, of course, be delighted if you felt able to reciprocate.

Dennis Dale said...

Links are chosen after a lengthy review process by which Untethered's editorial staff judges each candidate for quality of writing, suitability of subject matter and content, philosophical and political persuasion, site design, and a number of other factors.
Once over this initial hurdle, prospective links are then monitored over a period of no less than six months but not more than two years, to ascertain the viability of the site's position and to detect trends, positive or negative, that indicate the site's future prospects.

Once this data has been compiled and transposed into numerical values using a mathematical formula too involved to go into here (and proprietary information nonetheless), it is then fed into our computer's logarithmic software program. If the "prospect" receives a passing score, he is congratulated on passing the first phase of the application process, whereupon--

Or one could just flatter the hell out of me and ask. Okay. Everybody, meet Grumpy Old Expat.

Anonymous said...


I have been reading your site for quite some time. You are on my regular list of "work avoidance blogs"

I always look forward to your insight, nostalgia, and imagery.

You have outdone yourself.

This is a masterpiece of brevity, substance, coherance.

I will be directing my thinking friends to your site, as you have summed up so well what many of us are thinking, but lack the skill to express so well.

You are a treasure. Thank You.


Black Sea said...


This point has already been made above by my friend and colleague Grumpy, as well as Paul, but this is a remarkable piece of work, well worth the time necessary to read - and to re-read - it.

Writing of this quality doesn't come without serious time and serious thought, but the result would indicate that it was worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

Missionaries are all alike. Pro-war missionaries, anti-war missionaries, dictators, freedom promoters. Religious tyrants, anti-religious poppinjays, no difference.

Fascinating. I never before knew that freedom was the equivalent of religious and authoritarian indoctrination. Now I know that surrounding oneself with free nations is the equivalent of being surrounded by islamist tyrants or communist/fascist equivalent authoritarians.

Or maybe we just cluster around people when we like the sound of what they say? Regardless of underlying wisdom or logic?

Blog on, bro.

Dennis Dale said...

I think I can extract a good, cogent point from this pile of, er, sarcasm you’ve presented us with: that I’m engaging in moral equivalence, equating democracy with communist or Islamic totalitarianism. But the point (and I thought this obvious) is that one's conviction in the supremacy of his culture doesn't grant him the right to make war on others; and it is the natural tendency toward this conviction, independent of whatever creed it imbues that must be recognized, understood, and mitigated against.

Religion imbued with ideology or ideology imbued with religiosity invariably become aggressive, expansionist and warlike. The only cure is to reject the messianic ideal, in all of its guises, and uphold the rights of nations and peoples to remain free of aggression. Enough of this "hold still while I liberate you" nonsense.

I further contend that the belief even in democracy’s transcendence is fundamentally, ironically, tyrannical. It is not the idea but the fervor itself. Even democracy is not so great a thing as to negate the rights of nations, to say nothing about the impossibility of converting to democracy nations without the requisite liberal institutions on which to base it. It is a very childlike idea of democracy that sees it as so portable and durable, hence the vague and imprecise language, confusing “freedom” with democracy and elections.

And while I certainly agree that democracy is better for us, I don't believe that democracy is the only way, or even the best way, for any nation at any point in its progress. Some nations or cultures may never be amenable to democracy, or well served by it. It in fact could be disastrous in the wrong nation at the wrong time. Here’s one more thing for you: representative democracy may still fail here, and is threatened by the very same messianic definition of democracy that I think I see in this steaming mound of mockery. The current administration talks of bringing liberty to the Middle East while dismantling it at home. More proof of mendacity. They are oh so impatient with liberty at home.

A considerably inferior point you hint at here is the thoroughly discredited assertion that spreading “freedom” as we define it makes us safer; Iraq has given the lie to that. But this is all beside the point. We have no right to invade nations at will on the demonstrably false premise that it makes us safer.

This is why I don’t believe it; strip away the BS and you’ll find that we’re still engaged in the Middle East because of oil, and that our involvement is still complicated by our support for Israel. Same as it ever was…

Notice that Bush’s wars conveniently happen to serve the same long-standing interests (interests that we were only too willing to deal with the same tyrants before to serve--as long as they were behaving themselves; furthermore, interests that we are currently dealing with tyrants—and get this, terrorists—to serve right now).

Even 9/11 did not give us license to wage war indiscriminately. Furthermore, it's incredibly stupid strategy. After 9/11, the time was never more appropriate for focus and calm; but our leaders decided to whip the fear into hysteria to unleash a war for which they had already been planning. Come on, don't be a schmuck. Someday you’ll see. You heard it here first.

And notice how your leaders vaguely define and casually abuse the term "freedom." Iran elected Ahmadinejad, and they haven't invaded any neighboring countries, nor shown much capability or willingness to do so. Still, we threaten to bomb them into GWB's version of freedom. Why, because Ahmadinejad has made some threatening grunts? Are you even aware that he has no authority over Iran's foreign policy, and that his intemperate statements are for domestic consumption ("freedom" in action!), to satisfy his populist base? Our saber rattling strengthens him, and undercuts any moderates or reformers in Iran. The war that some seek to wage on Iran will set back whatever progress has been made toward establishing liberal institutions. Freedom is not foremost in the minds (very generously using the term here) of your neocon knights errant.

"Surrounding ourselves with free nations", halfway around the world, against their will? Have another glass of kool-aid.

Of course, if you've made it to the end of this ridiculously long comment, then I should add that if the previous comment did not actually infer all that I've read into it:
Never mind.

half-educated, rednecked bigot said...

Bravo, Dennis Dale!

I've read several of your previous essays, but this was truly superlative. Your ability to combine deeply insightful analysis of serious issues, in the context of discussing abstract ideologies with great eloquence, and to do so without taking yourself seriously enough to fail to see the almost comical absurdity of it all, is a most unusual skill set among commentators of any kind these days.

But to tell you the truth, what most impresses me about this last essay is that you're the only paleo-conservative commentator I've heard who believes in Peak Oil. Most people to the right of Ralph Nader either seem to think Peak Oil is nothing more than the half-baked fantasy of internal combustion engine-hating eco-lefties...or have never even heard of it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this was a spectacular post. Although since I've been reading you for a long time I'm not surprised by how good it is. Basically, I've come to expect it from you.

"Democracy" is just a practical institution for managing the authority that some human beings have over others. What connects it with freedom is that, more than other such institutions, it tends to be based on a knowledge of the need for limits to such authority. Divorced from such knowledge, it is no better than tyranny, and in fact rapidly devolves into it.


Dennis Dale said...

To my fellow H.E.R.B.,
I don't know enough about the peak oil debate to have an informed opinion. I just don't know. But entirely independent of the question of scarcity, we can be confident that the future means a higher proportion of the world's oil coming out of the Middle East in particular and from nationalized sources in general. See today's NYT business section for an article on the effects of nationalization in Mexico.

While CEO of Halliburton, Dick Cheney openly lamented the lack of access to Iraq's undeveloped resources, the last great "elephant" in the parlance of the industry for giant, multi-billion barrel fields. Standing in the way of our access was of course sanctions and Saddam.

Whether or not the anti-Peak Oil side is right, we'll still be drawing our oil more from much more expensive sources, offshore and deep-water fields; the cost of processing this oil is four times as much and more than that of the light sweet crude that comes from the nationalized oil industries of the Middle East, Venezuela, and Mexico.

There's another NYT story, from yesterday, on new technology yielding previously inaccessible oil, in addition to the previously mentioned article that chronicles the mismanagement of Pemex, Mexico's government owned oil co., leading to a crisis that may turn Mexico into a net oil importer in twenty years (their elephant in the Gulf, Cantarell, is now in decline).
This could have a tremendous impact on the U.S.; Mexico is our second largest source of imported oil, after Canada (and ahead of increasingly hostile and nationalized Venezuela).

Of course, if the Peak Oil theory proves correct, then this all gets downright scary. The U.S. and China, the world's two most energy hungry nations, are behaving as if nothing is to be counted on. A new "Great Game" is underway in our time as we scramble to ensure access to resources and the remarkably effective worldwide oil market that we've enjoyed in the past appears more vulnerable than ever, with potentially devastating consequences (for instance the chance of China and the U.S. squaring off), and the American public is debating fairy tales of freedom and horror stories of "terrorists following us home if we leave Iraq" (actual Bush wording--as if they don't have our address and are just waiting to tail us home).

China is aggressively locking in deals in places like Africa, South America, and Iran, and no doubt eagerly awaits our now pre-ordained departure from Iraq.

Of course, after we took Baghdad one of the first orders of business was shelving all existing oil contracts. It's also notable that those world powers that opposed the invasion all stood to lose out thereby, France, Germany, China, Russia; while the two major powers behind the war, us and Britain, stood to gain mightily (Britain through Shell and BP).

In addition to the oil pictue, Russia is asserting itself as an energy supplying power due to its tremendous resources of natural gas (and we are countering by making moves in former Soviet sattelite states, there also under the ruse of promoting democracy).

I may still be proven a paranoid for my insistence on oil as the ultimate reason behind the war in Iraq, but I think it exposes us as tremendously naive in this country that we rarely even mention the "elephant" in the room that is Iraq's oil prize.

grumpy said...

paranoia never looked so rational.

grumpy said...

Oh, another thought; can I claim royalties from the person signing himself 'half-educated, rednecked bigot?

half-educated, rednecked bigot said...

Excellent analysis of the emerging global petroleum situation, Dennis.

By "Peak Oil" I was referring to the output of conventional, light, sweet crude oil, not necessarily all forms of petroleum, and which as you allude to, is pretty obviously declining or will be soon.

You know things must be getting dicey on the oil front when the Bush administration is heavily promoting corn as a long-term substitute for oil, even going so far as to slap bad ol' tarriffs on imported ethanol. Ethanol uses up as much energy to produce as it yields.


half-educated, rednecked bigot said...

Sorry Grumpy, but you failed to copyright that term. Otherwise, I would have duly recognized "Half-educated, rednecked bigot" as your Intellectual Property.


al fin said...

The best information I have seen puts the cost of making 100 units of corn ethanol energy at 75 units of energy. Not a great profit margin.

Cellulosic ethanol should be better, once the process is improved. Cellulosic butanol would be even better, since butanol burns well in unmodified gasoline engines.

grumpy said...

I graciously accept your apology. I should be more than delighted if you would continue to use the term as (what I believe is called) 'your handle'.