an autodidact meets a dilettante…

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Archive for the ‘warfare’ Category

democracy, women and bonobos

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Jacinta Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

Some people out there might not think that democracy is the best system, but I’d say that, given the crooked timber of humanity and all that, it’s probably the best we can come up with. One of its major problems, as I see it, is its adversarial, or partisan nature. Modern democracies are generally about two major parties, left and right, with power swinging on a more or less regular basis from one side to another. On the other hand, many European nations have evolved multi-party systems, with fragile coalitions always threatening to break apart, and negotiations often bogging down and ending with decisions nobody is particularly happy about, or so it seems. While this can be a problem, so can the opposite, when one party’s decisions and initiatives are swept aside holus bolus by a new government with a polar opposite ideology.

When I occasionally check out social media, I’m disheartened by the number of commentators for whom party x can do no right, and party y can do no wrong. It almost seems as if everybody wants to live in a one-party state – their party. This is a problem for a state which is diverse and necessarily interconnected. That’s to say, for any modern state. And of course there are other problems with representative democracies – generally related to wealth and power. Parliamentarians are rarely truly representative of their constituents, each vote rarely represents one value, and cronyism has always been rife.

And then there’s the maleness of it all. It’s not just that the percentage of women in parliament is always less than the percentage in the general population, but the movers and shakers in the business community, notorious for their pushy lobbying, are invariably male. And then there’s the military, an ultra-male bastion which must have its place…

So here’s a ridiculous thought experiment. Imagine a cast-iron law comes in, dropped from the heavens, that for the next 200 years, no male is allowed to be part of any government of any stripe. Women must, and will, make up every political decision-making body on the planet. Sure they can have the odd male advisor and helpmeet, but they seem to find female advice more congenial and useful. And let’s imagine that in this thought experiment, the males don’t mind their secondary roles at all. They just see it as the natural order of things. After two hundred years, from the point of our current ever-expanding technological and scientific knowledge (which women and men will continue to fully participate in), where will be in terms of war and peace, and our custodianship of the biosphere?

I told you this was ridiculous, but you don’t have to be a professional historian to realise that a more or less unspoken ban on female participation in government has existed historically in many countries for a lot more than a couple of centuries. And we’ve survived – that’s to say, those of us that have survived. Sorry about the tens of millions of Chinese that Mao starved to death in his Great Leap Forward. Sorry about the genocides of Stalin, Hitler, Leo Victor, Talaat Pasha, Pol Pot and Suharto, not to mention Genghis Khan and countless other known or unknown historical figures, again invariably male.

So returning to that thought experiment, we could take the easy option and say we don’t know how things would turn out – certainly not in any detail. But that’s surely bullshit. We know, don’t we? We know that the world, and not just the human world, would be a far far better place in the event of female leadership than it is today.

The evidence is already coming in, as creepingly as female leadership. I recently learned of the Democracy Index, a sophisticated worldwide survey of nations conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the people who publish the Economist magazine, among other things. The survey annually measures and ranks 168 nations according to their democratic bona fides, or lack thereof. I haven’t looked into the details about how they make their decisions, but the criteria appear to be reasonable. The nations are divided broadly into four categories. The top 21 are described as ‘full democracies’, the second category are the ‘flawed democracies’, the third are ‘hybrid regimes’ and the last and largest grouping are the ‘authoritarian regimes’. But when I looked at the very top ranking countries I found something very interesting, which prompted me to do a little more research.

In 2017, just under 10% of the world’s leaders were female. The percentage may have grown since then, but clearly not by much. We could be generous and say 13-14% at present. There are some difficulties in defining ‘nation’ as well as ‘leadership’, but let’s go with that number. So I had a look at the rankings on the Democracy Index, and the leadership of various countries on the index and what I found was very enlightening. Of the 21 countries rated as full democracies on the Democracy Index, seven of them were led by women. That’s 33%, quite out of proportion to the percentage of female leaders in general. But it gets better, or worse, depending in how you look at it. Of the top ten democracies on the list, six were led by women. Sixty percent of the top ten. Narrow it down still further, and we find that four of the top five democratic nations – which, in order, are Norway, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and Iceland, are led by women – 80 per cent. It’s almost ridiculous how successful women are at making things work.

So what about the bottom of the barrel – the Afghanistans, the Burmas, etc. Of the 59 nations characterised as authoritarian by the Democracy Index, (though I prefer to call them thugocracies), zero are led by women. That’s nothing to crow about.

So, bonobos. The females, who are as small compared to their male counterparts as female humans are, dominate through solidarity. The result is less stress, less fighting, less infanticide, less killing and rape, less territoriality, and more sharing, more togetherness, more bonding, more love, if you care to call it that.

We don’t know anything much about the last common ancestor we share equally with chimps and bonobos. We don’t know about how violent Homo erectus or Homo habilis or the Australopithecines were, within their own species. We may never know. We do know that chimp troupes have gone to war with each other, with unbridled savagery, and we have evidence, from sites such as the Pit of Bones in northern Spain, of human-on-human killing from near half a million years ago. Our supposedly great book of moral teaching, the Hebrew Bible, describes many scenes of slaughter, sometimes perpetrated by the god himself. So it seems obvious that we’ve gone the way of the chimpanzee. Our worst leaders seem determined to continue the tradition. Our best, however, are making a difference. We need to make their numbers grow. Let’s make those female leaders multiply and see what happens. It may just save our species, and many others.

References

A bonobo world and other impossibilities 25: women and warfare (2)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index

Written by stewart henderson

May 13, 2022 at 10:48 am

17th century perspectives, 21st century slaughter

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Vlady the Thug – returning us all to the glories of centuries-old slaughter

Canto: So much is happening, so much is being learned, so much of my ignorance is being brought home to me, and so much of my good luck is also being brought home, in that I’ve never had to live in or be brought down by a thugocracy. Then again, if you’ve come to this ‘lucky country’ be means of a leaky boat, trying to escape a foreign thugocracy by any means possible, you’ll likely have a very different perspective.

Jacinta: Haha yes it’s Writer’s Week here in Adelaide, and we’ve been sampling, generally by sometimes dodgy internet links, the thoughts of former refugees writers, investigative journalists on even more dodgy pharmaceutical companies, and words of wisdom from our intellectual elders. And of course many of these conversations have been clouded by the invasion of Ukraine by Vlady the Thug, and the consequent carnage.

Canto: Yes, it seems he’s trying to channel Peter the Great, but he’s 300 years behind the times, and hasn’t been told that warlordism just doesn’t fit with 21st century fashion. But Vlady the Thug, that’s good, it would definitely be helpful if all world leaders, including and especially Zelensky, started  addressing him as such. Vlady is extremely small-minded, with a narrow understanding of nationalism and glory, and with a huge sense of his own grandeur. The WEIRD world may not be able to unite to destroy him, given the protection racket around him and the vast nuclear arsenal he and his predecessors have been allowed to assemble, but I think that worldwide mockery, difficult though it might seem at this awful time, might unhinge him just enough for a rethink, or alternatively, might be enough to turn his thug underlings against him.

Jacinta: True, but I don’t think Vlady the Thug is punchy enough…

Canto: It’s a good start, certainly a far cry from Peter the Great (who was a bit of a thug himself of course). And don’t forget, world leaders have never been too good at comedy, they’re generally too full of their Serious Destiny. I doubt if they would come at Vlady the Thug, never mind Vlad the Tame Impala or Mr Pudding.

Jacinta: True, but Zelensky is apparently a former comedian, and he’s absolutely Mister Popularity on the world stage at the moment. If he went with this mockery, and encouraged his new-found fans to follow his example, it might be the best, and certainly the cheapest form of attack available at present. Though it’s true that I can’t imagine Sco-Mo or Scummo, our PM, managing to deliver any comedy line with the requisite aplomb.

Canto: Well, it’s an interesting idea, if only we could get Zelensky’s minders to take it up. Unfortunately he seems to have caught the Man with a Serious Destiny disease recently – for which I don’t blame him at all. And anyway, I have to check the internet on a regular basis currently to see if he’s still alive.

Jacinta: Yes, I thought the imitation of Churchill in his address to the British Parliament was a bit cringeworthy, but I agree that it’s hardly a time to criticise Zelensky when Vlady the Thug is on the loose. Anyway, the WEIRD world is stuck in dealing with little Vlady. I listened to a long-form interview with Julia Ioffe on PBS today – she’s a Russian-born US journalist who has reported from that country for some years, and her depiction of Vlady was spot-on – that’s to say, it chimed exactly with mine. She feels that he will never withdraw or change his mind about Ukraine. He has stated often in communication with other leaders that Ukraine is not a ‘real country’.

Canto: Yes, unlike Afghanistan, Israel, Pakistan and all those African countries. Russia on the other hand is a real country thanks to the wars of Ivan , Peter, Catherine and the rest. Thanks to all the slaughter, rape and suppression of alternative languages and cultures. Just like Australia and the USA are real countries thanks to the removal of previous cultures from their land – with associated slaughter, rape, and ‘white man’s disease’.

Jacinta: Yes, few countries – or maybe there are no countries whose national ‘development’ hasn’t involved a fair amount of bloody repression. Ukrainians, as Ioffe pointed out, have made it abundantly clear in recent times that they reject Vlady’s thugocracy, and their resolve has hardened as a result of the 2014 events. But Ioffe’s view is also quite bleak – due to Vlady’s complete inability to back down, in her view. And I’m pretty sure she’s right about that. And, according to her, his ‘inner circle’ has contracted considerably in recent times, and they’re all as crazy as himself, maybe even crazier. So this may mean the invasion will continue, until he becomes master of an almost uninhabited wasteland. Nobody wants to provoke him to take the nuclear option, which he’s quite capable of.

Canto: So the only real option would be to kill him. And he’s no doubt been guarding himself against that option for years.

Jacinta: It would most likely have to be an inside job. I’m sure there are negotiations under way, but Putin is very much a survivor. At the moment he’s cracking down on dissent like never before. But the world is seeing it, and this will ultimately be a victory for democracy. In the short term though, it’s a terrible tragedy.

Canto: If there is a silver lining, it’s the winning of the propaganda war, the worldwide condemnation will give the CCP thugocracy something to think about vis-a-vis Taiwan. At the moment they’re trying to blame NATO for the invasion, and of course they have blanket control over the media there, but people have ways of getting reliable information, for example from the massive Chinese diaspora.

Jacinta: So I’ve been listening to Julia Ioffe, Masha Gessen, Fiona Hill and others, but of course no amount of analysis is going to improve the situation, and even our concern seems more debilitating than anything. I imagine holding Vlady prisoner and then pointing out some home truths…

Canto: Very useful. But here’s a few arguments. As you say, he’s been fond of claimng over the years that Ukraine isn’t a real country. But what makes Russia a real country? What make Australia a real country? What make the USA a real country?  Presumably Vlady thinks that Russia’s a real country because the slaughter, rape and suppression of ‘minority’ languages and cultures occurred earlier.

Jacinta: Well, we don’t know what he would say. What if we didn’t tell him why he’s wrong, but allowed him to explain why he’s right? What would he say?

Canto: Well, we know that he’s a very ardent nationalist, so to suggest to him that all nations are artificial in an important sense would just incense him. But once he calms down (and we’ve got him all tied up and hanging upside-down so he can’t escape, and we’ve promised him that if he provides really cogent arguments according to a panel of independent experts, he’ll be given his freedom, with his thugocracy completely returned to him), what will be his arguments?

Jacinta: Well, we don’t have his views on the legitimacy of Russia as a nation, and I suspect he would scoff at the very idea of having to justify Russian nationhood, because I’m sure he believes that if Russia didn’t exist his life would have no meaning – which is about as far from our understanding of our humanity as one could possibly get – but we do have his essay from last year about why Ukraine isn’t and can never be a legitimate nation.

Canto: Yes, he harps on about Ukrainians and Russians being ‘a single people’, who shouldn’t have a border between them, but the very idea of any nations being a ‘single people’ is a fantasy. It’s of course where the terms ‘unAustralian’ and ‘unAmerican’ get their supposed bite from – the fantasy of individuals being united by their ‘nationhood’.

Jacinta: More importantly, he seems completely unaware, or prefers to be unaware, of the extremely repressive state he’s created, and that few people in their right minds, whether Ukrainian, Russian or Icelandic, would want to live under a jackboot when they have the opportunity to choose and criticise their own government.

Canto: Yes, he talks in the vaguest, most soporific terms of Ukrainians and Russians occupying ‘the same historical and spiritual space’, and  being ‘a single people’, and with ‘affinities’ created by Vladimir the Great, the ruler of Kievan Rus over a thousand years ago. As if.

Jacinta: Yes, the fact is that Ukrainian pro-European and anti-Russian sentiment has obviously grown since Vlady’s bloody adventurism in 2014. Ukrainians are wanting to survive and thrive in the here and now. I mean, it’s good, sort of, that Vlady takes an interest in history, as we do, but from a vastly different perspective. His potted history, like many, is about rulers – earthly or spiritual, and territories won and lost between the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Russians and so on. But these battles for territories from centuries ago bear little relation to the lives and thoughts of individual people today, people whom Vlady is completely disconnected from, just as Xi Jinping  and his fellow thugs are completely disconnected from the everyday freedoms of Hong Kongers.

Canto: The point to make here is that no amount of tendentious historical description will conceal the fact that Ukrainians, like Hong-Kongers, see that their best future lies in the arms of the WEIRD world, with all its messiness. Here’s a banner epigram – fuck our history, what abut our future?

Jacinta: Good one. Yes, Vlady doesn’t like that not-so top-down messiness. He prefers stasis and control, especially by himself. And if it means wholesale slaughter to obtain it, so be it. Mind you, I strongly suspect he was misguided in his perception of Ukrainian sentiment, for whatever reason. And the people who are paying for this misguidedness, by and large, (and horrifically) are the Ukrainians.

References

Putin’s new Ukraine essay reveals imperial ambitions

 

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181

 

Written by stewart henderson

March 12, 2022 at 7:59 pm

not Russia, Putin

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The world’s fledgling democracies, or non-democracies, are prone to instability, just as monarchies were in the past, because they were so subject to the vagaries of fate, and of particular individuals and their circumstances. When England’s Henry V died of dysentery near Paris just shy of his 36th birthday he had, in less than a decade, stabilised his English estate and inflicted mortal blows on the old enemy across the channel. Had Henry survived his illness, he would almost certainly have been crowned King of France, and the ‘Hundred Years’ War’ between the two kingdoms would have been reduced to just under seventy. As it was, England was in its most powerful position, arguably, since William of Normandy dispossessed or killed off the Saxon nobility and established his vast fiefdom.

But with Henry’s death it all fell apart. His successor was a nine-month old child, who grew up to be extremely timid and completely ineffectual as a ruler. Though he was briefly crowned King of France (at age 10), England was plunged into the chaos of the Wars of the Roses, and soon lost all its French territories apart from Calais.

Democracy, for all its flaws – due largely to the crooked timber of humanity – is the only form of government that allows for, indeed guarantees, at least in theory, the peaceful transfer of power between successive ‘regimes’. Post-Soviet Russia has of course, no succession system in place. North Korea is essentially a monarchy. As to China, the succession will be up for grabs, fought out within a tiny, absurdly corrupt clique. Other tyrannies face their own unique uncertainties. And the people will be forced to suffer the outcome in virtual silence.

As a member of ‘the people’, the canaille, the peasantry, the great unwashed, the proles, the rabble, the riffraff, the parasitic masses, I feel fortunate to live in a democracy, because there’s just no realistic alternative for people who don’t want to be unexpectedly interfered with for no apparent reason. Democratic governments don’t generally go to war, and certainly don’t start wars, if they think it’ll lose them the next election, and since it’s obvious that most people want a peaceful, unchanging life, that tends to settle the matter.

Which brings me to Russia and its suffering people. For centuries they were subject to a succession of dynastic emperors or Tzars, much like those in the rest of the vast Eurasian continent. Interestingly, the best of them was the Empress Catherine, a ring-in from Germany, who had to get rid of her nogoodnik husband (by an arranged marriage), a dissolute sadist, before she could establish her right to the throne – to which she had no ‘right’ – since rights were essentially based on primogeniture after initial warlordy slaughter.

But allow me to digress again to Western Europe et al. The principles of government began to change over time in the proto-WEIRD world, with its beginnings going back, arguably, as far as Magna Carta and the first English parliament in 1215, and boosted by the English Civil War in the mid-seventeenth century, with its indecisive victory for the parliamentarian faction. A half-century later King James II was forced into exile, and the first ever constitutional monarchy came into being. Over time, British governments gained ascendency as the power of the monarch waned, the concept of Prime Ministership evolved, and the voting franchise widened. Across the Atlantic, a new experiment in democratic government was undertaken, and of course in France a revolution went haywire, resulting in a new despotism under Napoleon, followed by a stumbling and backsliding course that eventually led to democracy by the end of the 19th century. Other European countries also experienced traumatic periods following the end of traditional monarchical or quasi-monarchical systems. Spain’s long monarchical period was often turbulent, but it looked like it had come to an abrupt end when Napoleon forced King Ferdinand VII to abdicate in 1808. After this the Bourbon monarchy-in-exile became a focus of resistance, but it soon lost support after the fall of Napoleon, due its extreme conservatism. Spain became a constitutional monarchy in the 1830s, but there were ongoing battles between political factions until the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1868 led to the ousting of Queen Isabella, the first truly reformist government in the country, and the creation of a Constitution promoting citizens’ rights. However, there was still plenty of political strife, and a coup d’état in 1874 restored the Bourbon monarchy. However, the new Constitution created an alternating system of conservative and liberal prime ministerships, which was innovative, though not exactly democratic. The relatively liberal constitutional monarchy limped on until Spain erupted in civil war, followed by the long, lost years of the Franco dictatorship. ‘Permanent’ democracy wasn’t established until the early 1980s.

I could go on with a fulsome account of the slow emergence of something like full democracy in Germany, Italy, the Baltic States and so on, but the overall point is clear – the old absolute power systems were not easily killed off and democracy struggled to get a foothold and should by no means be taken for granted as an established feature of the political landscape.

Now to return to Russia. Their absolute monarchy began, always arguably, with the murderous warlord now known, aptly enough, as Ivan the Terrible. Of course, warfare was a way of life in those days, but some took this way of life to ridiculous extremes. Ivan won some of his wars and lost others, as is the way, and the expansion and contraction of territories generally continued under his successors. So are nations arbitrarily founded (and losted) under absolute rulers. One of the features of Ivan’s rule was a 24-year Livonian War – Livonia being the territory now covered by the Baltic States, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Successful at first, Ivan failed as various surrounding forces rallied against him and the war severely depleted his military forces. Still, these and and other adventures no doubt have convinced Russia’s latest Tsar that these territories are an eternal part of Sweet Mother Russia, soon to be renamed Putinland.

Which brings me to Ukraine – but it would require a half-dozen books to do justice to the messy history of that country and region, even if only going back to the ancient Scythian kingdom, which covered not only modern Ukraine but much of south-western Russia. I’ll briefly mention the kingdoms, duchies, khanates, empires, republics and assorted noms de guerre associated with the region. After Scythia, there were the Slavic hordes, the Kievan Rus, the Golden Horde (mainly Mongols, at least at first), the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the kingdom of Poland, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Crimean Khanate, the Ottoman Empire, the Cossacks, the Tsardom of Muscovy, the Hetmanate, the Russian Empire, the Austrian Empire, the Free Territory of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (fighting both the Nazis and the Soviets), and, in 1991, independence from (then semi-Soviet) Russia.

So from 1991 on, Ukraine has been what might be called a proto- or wannabe-democracy (but aren’t they all?), rife with corruption – no doubt a hangover from the long Soviet years (imagine how long Putinland would last under a free press tightly protected by law). It reached its nadir under the grotesquely corrupt Pupin puppet, Viktor Yanukovych, who was chased out of the country in the heroic Maidan Revolution, aka the Revolution of Dignity, in 2014, no doubt to the nappy-wetting fury of our Vlad. It was this humiliation dealt out to Putin’s pal in Ukraine that led to the attack on the country later that year, and continued aggression leading to the current invasion.

So why has Putin gone so ‘overboard’ as to invade a country that has become increasingly uninterested in its ties with Russia and increasingly hopeful of joining the European Union and even, possibly, NATO, an organisation whose raison d’être is arguably the containment of Putin’s imperialist ambitions?

Well, to me, the NATO issue is a red herring. More important for Putin is the horror of Ukraine’s increasing democratisation, and its increasing indifference to Russia. There may be economic motives that I don’t know about (economics isn’t my strong suit, which is why I don’t own any suits), but the fact is that Putin is fanatically anti-democratic, and loves to surround himself with puppet thugocracies, as can be found in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Chechnya, North Korea and even China – obviously not a puppet regime, but just as thuggish.

And of course, Ukraine has a special importance to this wannabe Tsar, as a nation or region that has been in Russia’s sphere of influence for some centuries. But Putin has miscalculated majorly with this old-fashioned offensive. Ukrainians are a proud and fighting people, as the Maidan Revolution proved, and the vast majority have zero interest in kowtowing to the new Putinland. It’s already clear that the Ukrainians will not be cowed by this attack, and will not negotiate in any way with the aggressors. Most international observers are at a loss as to how Putin could have made such a monumental miscalculation, as he is generally a smarter thug than most. If Putin has a victory here at all, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. He will not be able to install a Yanakovich-style leader, as nobody of any credibility, inside or outside of the country, will support him. And many men, women and children will die because of this folly. Basically, Putin has already lost this one. And, due to all the sanctions, which I don’t particularly support, he will face plenty of unrest on the home front.

How this will now play out is anyone’s guess. Putin seems to me like a usually astute gambler who has suffered a brainsnap and gambled much of his political reputation away. He can’t now back out, and he can’t win. No reputable nation is backing him, sanctions will make him increasingly unpopular domestically, and he actually now looks foolish. The worry of course is that he’ll play his hand to the bitter end, and lash out with maximum force at everyone who opposes him. It would be nice to think that we’re seeing the tragi-comic end of the era of naked despotism, but of course there’s nothing comic about Putin’s antics and their horrific consequences, and let’s face it, the timber of humanity is extremely crooked in some instances, and that has its appeal to an alarming number of people. But at least with democracy, the consequences of such crookedness aren’t quite so devastating. In Putinland, that’s another story. We’re all hoping this will be Putin’s last stand, but on the domestic front, he’s far more familiar with the terrain. We, the international community, must make every effort to keep him in his box, and to support those in the former and hopefully future nation of Russia, whose hope and ambition is to deliver the fatal blow.

Written by stewart henderson

March 1, 2022 at 11:33 pm