Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | Ideology

Feb/19

11

A “new post-ideological strategic world order”?

Pepe Escobar sees Eurasian integration and associated trade developments as possibly marking the emergence of a new, post-ideological strategic world order. China, with its infrastructure-focused Belt and Road Initiative, is driving this process. By contrast, the US appears to be locked into a Cold War-like mentality.

There is some truth in this view. Certainly the latest annual Worldwide Threat Assessment released by the US Director of National Intelligence has explicitly categorized US–China relations in ideological terms. China is interpreted as seeking to propagate “authoritarian capitalism” and this is perceived as a direct challenge to Western liberal democracy.

And so it may be. But only if it delivers the promised benefits at a time when Western democracy seems to be losing its way. Our problems are of our own making and can’t plausibly be blamed on Russia or China.

Escobar rightly criticizes the tendency to conflate very different kinds of system; to equate, as he puts it, “Russian democracy with China’s one party rule, Iran’s demo-theocracy and Turkey’s neo-Ottoman revival.” Moreover, American criticisms of the illiberalism and authoritarianism of states which are perceived to be strategic rivals ring rather hollow while other equally illiberal regimes are given a pass.

It must be admitted that a pro-Russia bias is evident in Escobar’s article. The reference (quoted above) to “Russian democracy” is a case in point. And then there is this:

Last month in Moscow, I discussed Greater Eurasia – by now established as the overarching concept of Russian foreign policy – with top Russian analysts. They told me Putin is on board. He referred to Eurasia recently as “not a chessboard or a geopolitical playground, but our peaceful and prosperous home.”

All sweetness and light…

Some of Escobar’s substantive claims have merit, however. Claims about Russia’s strategic significance, for example, despite its relatively small economy (one tenth the size of China’s).

From boosting trade that bypasses the U.S. dollar, to increasing joint military exercises, the Russia-China symbiosis is poised to advance beyond political and ideological affinities.

China badly needs Russian know-how in its military industry. Beijing will turn this knowledge into plenty of dual use, civilian-military innovations.

Technology and trade are driving an historically and strategically significant process of economic and social change, no doubt about it. Escobar points out that Henry Kissinger saw this coming.

The Kissinger doctrine rules that, geopolitically, the U.S. is just “an island off the shores of the large landmass of Eurasia.” Domination “by a single power of either of Eurasia’s two principal spheres – Europe or Asia – remains a good definition of strategic danger for America, Cold War or no Cold War,” as Kissinger said. “For such a grouping would have the capacity to outstrip America economically and, in the end, militarily.”

Are we headed for a post-ideological world? It is a question of scope and degree. The fact that the West’s major antagonists have abandoned the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and adopted more pragmatic approaches makes it difficult if not impossible for the US and its allies to sustain with any degree of plausibility the simple dichotomies of a Cold War-style approach.

Our perceived strategic rivals have (as Escobar pointed out) adopted various ideologies and forms of government while, in the West, tottering liberal democracies are facing challenges from within. We see a swirling mix of views and outlooks. Various forms of nationalism, regionalism, separatism and internationalism compete with one another. Some groups focus on identity politics, others on radical environmentalism. Attempts are being made to revive various forms of socialism. Crackpot ideas like Modern Monetary Theory are being seriously entertained in some quarters.

In such a fluid situation it is hardly surprising that American attempts to utilize ideology as a means of cementing Western solidarity are failing. In recent years we have seen major US allies resisting America’s hardline approach to China and Russia. The current battles over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline are just the latest example. Generally, pragmatic considerations seem to be winning out as US allies are increasingly seeing the need to take a more independent line on foreign policy and trade.

This, I think, is a good thing. Social and political myths and the ideologies with which they are associated will always be with us. But, given the role that ideology has often played in exacerbating international tensions and fanning the flames of war, it is well to be wary of any attempt to deploy ideological considerations in the context of foreign policy and international relations.

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I remember when atheism was clearly aligned with the left. It was a mere decade ago or so that stem cell research and sundry other hot-button issues characterized the distinction between the atheist liberal community and the Bush-loving, religious conservative community.

Remember Leon Kass and the Council on Bioethics?

But in 2015, with identity politics not only ascendant but nearly firmly in place, atheism is switching sides. Or that’s the impression one gets from this summary of a Dawkins/Dennett talk in Boston by Geoffrey Lee Hodge of the secular progressive TheHumanist.com in a piece called “Advancing the Atheist Movement: Dawkins, Dennett, and the Second Wave.” Hodge takes issue with DD’s reluctance to break bread with liberal Christians:

It should come as no surprise that insulting someone’s beliefs is not an effective way to change their viewpoint. What is surprising is that even facts are often ineffective and sometimes even detrimental to changing someone’s mind. To succeed, the atheist movement needs to win not just the minds of moderate believers, but their hearts as well. The overwhelming success of the gay marriage campaign in the US has not been due to a sudden increase in the number of people identifying as gay; the movement has succeeded because more and more moderate heterosexuals are convinced that it’s unfair to limit access to marriage based on ancient discriminatory beliefs held by some religions. Nor has other social change occurred due to a sudden increase in the numbers of women or African Americans

Liberal churches address a need for spirituality and community without the harmful fundamentalist insistence that the rest of the world must conform to their ideas.

Hodge is correct that the political landscape isn’t changing due to sudden bursts in the gay or black population. It’s changing because a largely white and progressive media/professional class has changing interests. And you see it on display here. Instead of encouraging DD and their fans to reach out, say, to more black and brown atheists, Hodge encourages atheists to be less fond of atheism, to, one supposes, encourage more black and brown (and female) interest.

(Of course, appealing to the interests of a minority within a minority might seem an uber-progressive endeavor. But we all know that if you go too far down that road, you may very well end up in Ayn Rand “the ultimate minority is the individual” territory, where NO progressive wants to be.)

Hodge is right to point out that people are hardwired to be religious, and any overly zealous atheist movement is likely to find itself irrelevant, politically. In a democracy, anyway. But it’s remarkable to see that even among the atheist left, the atheism comes second. Maybe even a distant second. There’s been a distinct shift away from touting the benefits of a zero-tolerance policy with regard to anti-scientific thinking, and toward an obsession with the sex and race of the people doing the touting. What’s being talked about is less important than who’s doing the talking.

Less substance, more style.

No wonder godlessness is becoming associated with the right, who are increasingly difficult to distinguish from “problematic” liberals. Like Dawkins.

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May/15

17

California Injects Some Sense on Vaccination


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Or at least it’s getting closer to doing that. This from Reuters/Religion News Service:

California parents who do not vaccinate their children would have to home-school them under a bill passed Thursday by the state Senate, the latest move in a battle between public health officials and “anti-vaxxers” who fear vaccines are dangerous.

The bill, which eliminates the so-called personal beliefs exemption allowing parents to forego vaccinations if opposed to them for any reason, was introduced after a measles outbreak at Disneyland last year that sickened more than 100 people.

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Under the bill, which still must be approved by the Assembly, unvaccinated children who do not have a medical exemption would have to study at home or in organized, private home-schooling groups.

Home-schooling has nothing to do with being educated about vaccines of course, but demanding it represents a sufficient enough burden for most parents such that it should definitely help get vaccination numbers up.

Relatedly, the Lifetime Network is doing its part on the vaccine front by showing the stars of “Terra’s Little Family” getting their infant, “Penny,” vaccinated. (Yes, I watch this program. Judge me not!* ) Mom Terra struggles with the decision because she’s “heard” about the literally ill effects of vaccine. But in the end she does the right thing.

It’s good to see the MBA-holding female decision-makers at Lifetime – or Television for Women ™ – doing right by their downscale viewers. Especially because the thrust of the anti-vaccination zeitgeist is coming from the relatively upscale. David Hume has more on that here.

* I’m also a fan of other reality TV, like “Return to Amish.” This while media attention is far more focused on e.g. Mad Men. Here’s why I prefer the former.

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Reading around the web I stumbled upon National Journal‘s ubiquitous ratings of how liberal or conservative various politicians are in the domains of social, economic and foreign policy. Using the 2008 data for the House of Representatives, here are the correlations:

Social Liberal & Economic Liberal = 0.78
Social Liberal & Foreign Liberal = 0.70
Economic Liberal & Foreign Liberal = 0.66

The correlations are rather good, but not perfect. For example, assuming a linear model only 60% of the variation in economic liberalism can be predicted by social liberalism (just square the correlations). Some of this is surely the coarseness of measures Natural Journal is using; but I’m not an idealist in any case about politics insofar as there is a most liberal liberal and most conservative conservative archetype. These ideologies are embedded in the real world.

But I was curious about the residuals, that is, deviation from the trends (which are substantial). Specifically, there are the orthogonal tendencies of libertarianism and statism, which though secondary to the standard Left-Right dynamic, do exist.

I will focus on social & economic liberalism in this analysis and discard foreign policy because I don’t want to deal with other combinations right now. Additionally I am not focusing conservatism simply because it looks like it’s just the perfect inverse, so all you need to do is “change the signs.” No need to repeat. First, a scatterplot of Democrats and Republicans, colored blue and red as usual, in 2008. (more…)

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