synthetic zero


As I've often said, I find myself spiritually, so to speak, on the side of the left, but I have never agreed with them entirely. I think part of this is the fact that I am basically a ruthless person at heart --- I am not really motivated by sentimentality. I don't cry when there is a tragedy in the movies, etc. When someone feels upset I have an instinctive desire to try to help them, but I don't feel moved by sentiment so much as clarity.

I have always been suspicious of ideology, therefore: conceptual ideals are abstractions, and extreme idealists are therefore reifying abstractions --- a terrible epistemological error. However, this is the same reason why I have never and will never have much sympathy for the right: under the guise of rationality they are actually covering over baser motivations: fear, primarily (which is a reification of the self or ego -- both of which are also abstractions). The left is motivated by sentiment, the right by fear, and really, both are irrelevant to me, personally, for the most part. There is truth to be found in both left and right, but the correct course is a combination of the two, as well as a transcendence of both.

Again I guess it comes back to samurai culture --- neither sentimentality nor fear are of use on the battlefield --- what is of use is a keen, unsentimental, clear vision. One simply looks at the situation and tries to be as brutally realistic with it as one can. And this brutal realism leads me inevitably back to the left: that is, most of the ideals espoused by the left actually have their roots in an uncompromising reality. There is no need to reify them. Reality, so to speak, speaks for itself.

For example, compassion. Why be compassionate? It is a matter of survival of the fittest. We are not individuals living separated from each other --- as individuals, we don't really exist. We exist as both independent and interdependent beings in the world. A species without compassion would easily be outcompeted by a species with it. Thus, compassion is a natural evolutionary result. Those who lack compassion, the sociopaths, typically end up in prison in our society. We have evolved mechanisms to take these evolutionary anomalies and marginalize them --- which is quite proper. So the correct answer is a combination of both the left and the right: compassion as a ruthless response to natural selection, and police and a legal system as well. One ought to simply look at what proportions of each lead to the optimal society. There's no need to become attached to either.

Similar comments apply to economics. Reifying compassion to an ideological principle leads to aberrations such as communism. Communism is a centralized control system: it is obviously going to lead to severe inefficiency. On the other hand, the notion of an unregulated free market being optimal depends on several oversimplifications --- for one thing, it assumes that information travels instantaneously (efficient market theory assumes perfect information). However, theory of computation results prove that one cannot have perfect information (particularly since perfect information also must include perfect predictive capability --- which is not possible even in principle, and it certainly doesn't even remotely occur in practice). In reality markets are local in both space and time: i.e., an unregulated market would reward the company that ravaged the environment against the company trying to conserve our resources, because to see the effect of the ravaging would require a long-term outlook. Markets simply don't encode that sort of long-term information; it is wiped out by design (all you see is price), and thus one must have government regulation to ameliorate this distortion (government regulation can correctly distort the "natural" price to account for longer-term predictions). Free market theory also ignores the effect of capital consolidation. What makes markets work is decentralization, but capital accumulation eventually leads, ironically, to exactly the same situation as occurred in communism, that is, centralized control and lack of competition. This is why we need antitrust laws. Similar comments about the need for health and safety standards, etc.

The correct answer is typically neither just the answer supplied by the bleeding heart left nor the answer supplied by the cowering/angry right; it is both, and neither.

Which leads me to my comments about Iraq. When analyzing any military situation one should start without fear. Right-wing views are always biased by fear, and so I find their analysis the least convincing when it comes to such things. It's easy to rationalize fear, but when you take the fear away, the argument falls apart. Fear has no place in a hard-nosed evaluation of military options.

The greatest military powers on Earth are also the ones who are the least motivated by fear (and its close correlate, anger). Restraint, in fact, characterizes them. The more one allows fear to drive you, the more military and political mistakes you make, and this is a form of weakness (though it is always portrayed at the time as strength). The posturing of people like Saddam Hussein demonstrates tremendous weakness. To counter someone like that, we need to demonstrate strength.

Strength means moving deliberately and slowly, taking our enemies seriously, and evaluating carefully all of the risks and benefits of every strategy. That isn't even remotely what we are doing. Of course, if a situation warrants it, we must act unilaterally. But there's no reason whatsoever to do so as a matter of policy, and even less reason to be eager to do so. There are grave consequences for us doing this --- it will simply cement in the minds of millions that we are, in fact, exactly what they think we are: a rogue superpower. Creating millions of enemies unnecessarily is the height of irresponsibility (as well as moronic and suicidal).

What's worse, Saddam really is peripheral to the war on terror. He was never going to use a weapon of mass destruction against us --- we would wipe him out instantly if he did so. And he's not depending on virgins in the afterlife, unlike Al Qaeda. He has little in common with Islamic fundamentalists --- he's a secular leader, practically an infidel. While he might give a WMD to a terrorist, I don't see any motivation or gain for him to do so. If we traced it back to him, again, he'd be toast. The only possible use of a WMD would be to threaten us with it after he's reoccupied Kuwait or something like that. It is certainly not the case that the threat from Iraq warrants the sort of cowboy approach we are employing.

Iraq is a long-term indirect threat that needs to be dealt with strongly, but certainly not in the way we are doing. We ought to proceed with deliberation and restraint, not only because this is what we ought to do for military reasons, but because it would blunt the rhetorical weapons that our enemies can use against us. Right or wrong there will always be those who hate us because we're the most powerful --- but there's no reason to prove them right by acting precipitously. To prove them right in a way that gives us absolutely no significant military advantage is both lunatic and the height of irresponsibility.