Oh Russia! As I’ve made clear, I don’t think much of the continued furor around that country’s role in the US election. But that barely scratches the surface of the silliness surrounding discussions of Russia’s geopolitical position. The US foreign policy establishment has been jawing for years about Putin’s “impending” invasion of the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This has always been ridiculous. A year and a half ago I made a video pointing out 3 reasons why it would never happen. It has reached a pretty large audience.
Donald Trump’s election has prompted a new wave of Baltic paranoia, however. On the campaign trail, Trump spent a fair amount of time insulting our NATO allies. Some are afraid he won’t honor our commitments to the Baltics in the event of a Russian invasion. I think these fears are exaggerated. But what if they were true? If Russia had the all powerful military machine it is credited with then maybe the Baltics would be in trouble. It doesn’t. In fact, the 2017 Russian budget imposes a 25% cut on Defense spending. Even without NATO, I’m quite confident Russia wouldn’t invade Estonia. It’s just too dangerous for Putin. Washington, DC will continue pretending Russia is a real threat, rather than a skilled exploiter of situations in countries the US has already destroyed. For those of us outside the beltway however, I’ve put together another video laying out the dismal geopolitical situation facing Russia. I hope you enjoy it..
AHCA has failed! But what does this mean for Donald Trump? My suspicion is that this is what Trump and Bannon wanted all along. My roommate Ray disagrees with me strongly. We’ve decided to bet on the outcome. I think some kind of broader coverage Trumpcare plan will come out within the next six months. Ray disagrees. The loser will be forced to endure some form of social media shaming. What do you think that should be?
Indonesia is an extraordinary country, and it’s doing very, very well. But the only time we seem to hear about it in the United States is when somebody is whining about Sharia law. This video clears up the record on both counts. It documents the country’s incredible success, and points out how Aceh’s adoption of Sharia law isn’t anything to freak out about, and may even be a useful model.
Sharia law is a fascinating topic. If you watch Fox News you may have the sense that it is some lock-step box of evil that you can plug into a country to turn it into Afghanistan. In fact it means something different in every place it has been implemented. The Saudi Arabian version we are most familiar with is quite rare. Some countries treat it as an additional source of law. Some use aspects of it for family law issues. Some try to keep it in mind when drafting some aspects of their law. Having a special fear of “Sharia” makes about as much sense as having a special fear of the Code Napoleon. And No, it’s not coming to the United States any time soon. 99.9% of the public discussion of this issue is just idiotic. My hope is that this video is part of the .01%
One quick programming note. In the video, when I correct the Breitbart headline I’m actually wrong. A version of Sharia has been applied to all of Aceh province, which amounts to 2% of the population of Indonesia. In the video I corrected the headline to reflect that. But the article appears to actually talking about the North Aceh Regency, which has a population of 500,000 not 5 million. So
Steven Pinker talks about the “expanding circle of empathy”. Today’s video is an exercise in that. The concept, as I understand it, goes something like this. When we were all living in caves, we looked out for our family and that was about it. As societies develop, the circle of empathy expands. We look out for our tribe, our city, and over the past couple hundred years or so we’ve begun to see entire nation states as “our people”. Many of the challenges and victories of the past couple decades can be explained through this concept. Fights over everything from civil rights for other races and orientations, to environmentalism and animal rights are generated by differing ideas of the circle of empathy.
I’m generally a fan of expanding the circle. As I get older and crustier, I’m sure to object to stuff new generations come up with, but as of 2017, I’m pretty down with most expansion efforts. There’s one in particular that I try to get out ahead of. I spend a lot of time thinking about geopolitics. So much of what is written on the topic in the US fails to see things from the other side. It’s not that I’m not patriotic, it’s just that I think US interests are better served when we understand how other people are feeling. An expanding circle of empathy is a good in and of itself, but there’s also a utility there.
This video started off within one circle of empathy, and ends up in a broader one. Empathy is hard. The makers of Kong: Skull Island may have worried about the first circle, but as their actions and this video show, they put zero thought into the second.
Everybody loves Silicon Valley. I do too! They are building the future etc. etc. But when we set out to build a constituency for Globalism they present a real challenge. Disrupting things is nice, but if this past election taught us anything it’s that people are feeling just a bit too disrupted. A populace that is losing economic ground to a changing economy isn’t going to get excited about Amazon or Facebook’s commandeering of larger and larger slices of the economy.
We talk a lot about bubbles when it comes to politics. But they apply to economics too. If you’ve got a college education and a great job, it’s likely that you and your friends delight in the ease and convenience of every new service and app. Many outside of privileged circles do as well. But they’re just as likely to feel left out as their prospects steadily fade in the new economy.
People should be working to build the future. And not just to make money off of it. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took a crack at it recently. His manifesto has some interesting ideas, but it was disconcerting how closely it aligns what is good for the world with what is good for Facebook. We need to build a better, safer, more free world. Silicon valley is vital, but the Globalist effort can’t be left to Tech Utopians looking to make a buck. All we’ll find in that direction is dystopia and more electoral disaster…
I’m honestly not sure how serious I am about this one. But I am sure that our current party system is broken. The Republicans and Democrats simply don’t represent the true tensions of 21st century living. I’d like to use the discussion of Globalism to pick apart what parties that actually represented opposite sides of a discussion might look like.
“Globalist” as it stands now is mostly a term of abuse. It’s a catch all term used to describe the “transnational elites”, and depending on the flavor of conspiracy you prefer it can refer to the UN, the Elders of Zion, or telekinetic space lizards. The only people who take the term seriously are nuts. I think that’s a missed opportunity. In fact, “Globalist” is a neat way to describe one of the positions on the most important question posed by globalization: How do we strike the right balance between sovereignty and connection?
To what extent should each country cooperate with other countries? Where should the lines be drawn? What is international law? Where does each country draw the line? These questions are fascinating. On many issues I think Sovereignty should be respected more. But I also know that a country has to make allowances to international consensus if it wants to compete in the 21st century.
I can’t claim to have the answers here. I’ve got some thoughts. But we don’t discuss this stuff enough. The decisions just seem to get made, while the two major parties run around arguing about guns, abortion, and the methods we should use to bomb other countries into the stone age. The important conversations on globalization and sovereignty get left to cranks like Alex Jones. That’s too bad. The current plight of the EU should be a cautionary tale. For too long the folks in charge assumed that they could just get on with European integration, without really making the case for it. Well there are new folks in charge in the UK now… We can’t afford to leave this discussion to the nationalists and the cranks. With this series I hope to elevate the discussion a bit.