Last month I uploaded a video entitled “Why Turkey Will Never Be Saudi Arabia“. Multiple viewers commented in a similar way. “OK, but what about Iran?” The idea that Turkey could go down a similar path and experience an Islamic revolution like Iran was very appealing. Many saw Ataturk, Turkey’s modernizing founder, as somehow similar to the modernizing Shah of Iran, who was deposed in 1979. This doesn’t make any sense at all. With this video I attempt to fully explain why that is.
One of the things I noticed with this video is the way that I seemed to interchange “Westernization” and “Modernization”. This isn’t right. These two things are not the same. The experience of multiple Asian countries, and to some extent Turkey, shows that there are real differences. I clearly haven’t sorted this out in my own head, which is why I confuse the two in this video. I need to give this a lot more thought. I hope it doesn’t interfere with your viewing pleasure.
This video explains one of literacy’s most important effects. I’ve long been puzzled by the “Long Peace” we’ve been experiencing since the end of the second World War. Despite what our media tells us, the world is much more peaceful than it has ever been. There has been very little war between great powers since WWII, and the pace of civil wars has slackened greatly since the end of the Cold War as well. Even more importantly, the great powers have not been able to exploit this period of peace to beat up on everybody else they way they have in the past.
Europe experienced a great period of peace from the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 until the Crimean War in the 1850’s. Even that war was a relatively quick, if costly, break in a period of peace stretching up until World War I (1914). During that period of time however, Europe extended over the whole world, crushing indigenous peoples and empires all around the globe. It was peace for Europe, and suffering for everybody else. This time it has been different. This video lays out why Literacy has a lot more to do with this than is currently recognized.
Everybody’s got a theory on why Europe has done so well over the past couple hundred years. Why were the squabbling peoples of this small peninsula able to humble great empires like China and India’s Mughals? Well, obviously, there are a lot of reasons. And the internet (and the US congress) is awash in some really dumb ones. But I think I’ve got a good candidate that isn’t championed enough which I lay out in this video.
I’m a big fan of Western Civilization. I’m well aware of the downsides, but I’m also pretty impressed with what has been accomplished. But I find the standard story lacking. It’s too reliant on easy answers, and a direct line up from the Middle Ages. In this video I get into the details of the Protestant Reformation, and why it doesn’t match the standard story. The success of Western Civilization has been down to a few acts of genius, but mostly a muddle of unintended consequences, and some horrific mistakes, that ended up turning out pretty well. I think I’m paraphrasing a great David Hume quote there, but I can’t find it at the moment. If you know the quote I’d be grateful if you’d send it my way…
This two video series on literacy may seem to be a departure from my current production, but in many ways it’s an outgrowth of the thousands of comments I’ve answered over the past couple months. My “Everybody’s Lying About Islam” project is an attempt to point out how pointless it is to talk about 1400 year old ideas when we are dealing with the problems of the present day. This quick series deals with the importance of literacy, and why little that happened before mass literacy matters all that much. Let me know what you think!
Occasionally I will come across a “news” article that is so mind-numbingly bad that I have to address it. “Trump Allies Push White House To Consider Regime Change In Iran” Published in Politico two days ago, was bad enough that I decided to do a full conversation on the topic. I don’t want to call out the individual author. But I do want to call out the mind-set. This article, which is mostly given over to uncritically reproducing the comments of hyper-hawkish think tanks and politicians, is typical. This is the way most of our mainstream news outlets see the world. That’s a tragedy. And practically speaking, it will not serve us well a few decades from now, when we are no longer the only country with any real power.
Jon Coumes of Safe For Democracy was kind enough to come on and discuss this terrible article with me…
In the US we are pretty sure we hate the Chinese Communist Party. But we will miss it. What this video lays out is the service that that party provides to the rest of the world. The Party would like us to think it’s responsible for Chinese growth, and that might have been true once. But today it acts instead as a limiting factor on Chinese growth. The Chinese Communist Party gives the rest of the world the breathing room necessary to make sure that China’s rise isn’t too destabilizing.
One note to those watching from Latin America. Did it bug you that this video seemed to use “America” to refer to the United States? Well it didn’t, and that formulation was very conscious. I’ve got a lot more thinking and researching to do, but I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about geopolitics in a hemispheric sense. I’m becoming convinced that the American countries, north and south, have a lot more that unites them than divides them. But I suppose that’s a very obvious thing for a guy from the US to think. Like I said, there’s a lot more thinking to do on this topic, and what the United States would have to give up to build a true “American Community” and century, but I’d love to hear what you think…
Also, I wanted to mention it in the video, but didn’t get the chance. Like many of my better ideas, this came out of a work of Science Fiction. This video was inspired in part by the book “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War” by P. W. Singer. Singer lays out a somewhat fanciful picture of what a war between the US and China would look like. It’s interesting that his war requires a post-Communist China to be plausible in the slightest. It’s a fun read, blurbed by all manner of Defense Department muck-a-mucks, including HR McMaster, the current National Security Adviser, if I remember correctly. Well worth a read, if that’s your type of thing. I found it’s simple laying out of the weakness of the Chinese Communist Party to be one of its best observations.
Nobody has anything nice to say about Turkey anymore. That’s a shame. If there’s a news story it’s about Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the ways he’s taking new powers, purging and repressing. That’s all very important stuff, but I think it’s missing the forest for one particularly tall tree. I lived in Turkey for five years, and I’ve been thinking about the country for a while. There are some basics that the doomsayers are avoiding. This video presents what sort of functions as my Grand Unified Theory of Turkey Optimism. Islam is important, Erdogan is important, and the economy is important. But what is most important is Urbanization.
This theory can actually be applied to the politics of a lot of countries, not least the United States of America. The tension between rural and urban populations is a universal, whether we’re talking about China’s Hukou issues, or the 2016 US election. Thailand is another country that pops to mind. We’re all, as a planet, still going through a pretty insane process of transition. Our parents or great-grandparents were mostly farmers, and now we’re mostly urban dwellers. That’s going to keep having an impact for centuries to come. I hope this video helps you think through these issues a bit more.
It has been an incredible week at the More Freedom Foundation. I’ve spent a lot more time than I like to admit refreshing the real-time view statistics and just repeating “Wow!” As this video shows, viewership this past week was up by a factor of ten from two months ago. This is tremendously satisfying, and I’m endlessly grateful to all of you, the viewers and readers for making this possible. It’s now possible to call this weird project of mine successful. That’s amazing.
But there’s a bit of an odd contrast here, laid out in this video. As the channel reaches new heights of success, I’m crashing in some friends’ guest room and taking care of their dogs. The dogs are awesome, and it’s a lot of fun. But it’s not what I should be focused on right now. For the past year I have been floating from couch to couch, trying to make this YouTube channel a success. It’s been amazing, dropping into so many different lives and cities, and I’m tremendously grateful to the friends that have put me up, and the Patrons whose pledges have covered my travel and living expenses. It’s great, but it’s tiring. I really want an apartment of my own, after most of a year on the road. I’ve got new projects to work on, and it’s difficult to do that when I’m staying at a new place every week or so.
It’s easy to get pessimistic about the US-Saudi relationship. I’ve just spent 15 videos illustrating its many evils, and the incredible costs it has imposed on the world. The amount of money involved is staggering, and generations of US government officials are complicit in this tragedy. But I really do believe it’s about to end. That’s why I started this series with a video entitled “Saudi Arabia Is Finished“. This problem won’t end because of virtue, or justice. It won’t even end because somebody in power makes a decision. It will end because of economics and an inexorable shift in the political calculus.
This week I illustrate this process by talking about another “eternal” lobby. For decades Big Tobacco ruled Washington, DC. Long after everyone knew that cigarettes were lethal, it was business as usual for the large corporations that made them. They owned the congressmen, and they had the money, so things barely changed. They funded think tanks and studies that denied the truth, or tried to hide it. Sure their incredible privilege was slowly chipped away. TV advertising was banned. In the 1980’s it became more difficult to smoke in public buildings. These small losses were easy to ignore, because the relationships were strong, and the US government knew where its bread was buttered. Sort of like a nuclear deal with Iran actually. And then in the 1990s it all changed.
The dragon was slain. Big Tobacco still exists. But in the 1990s they had to admit the lethality and addictiveness of their product. They had to shutter their fake science institutes. They were forced to pay some of the cost of the public health disaster they had created, and they were forced to fund a massive public relations campaign designed to destroy their market. It’s been fairly effective. Only 15% of US citizens are still smoking, down five percent from just a decade ago. Sure, much of their marketing budget and nefariousness moved overseas, but that’s slipping away now too. This video lays out how Saudi Arabia is experiencing it’s own Tobacco moment as we speak. It may not be obvious, but it is happening. Not because of truth or justice, but because the political calculus is shifting.