Zen Meditation

Zendpundit posed a bunch of provocative questions over on his site, and I thought they might start some lively discussion over here if we took a stab at them. Here’s my favorite, because it touches on a couple of themes we’ve been exploring on this site over the past few weeks:

If the EU has genuinely changed the twenty century-long warlike character of Europeans to apathetic, bureaucratic, declinists why does the idea of Germany with nuclear weapons still give everyone pause ?

Or for that matter, who’s up for the Japanese Prime Minister announcing a successful test of a hydrogen bomb ? If you’re not but you are also ok on a nuclear Iran, can you give an intellectually credible explanation as to the difference?

Here’s my take: what we are looking at in Europe is a metastable state. In physics, that is a state that should have undergone a phase transition, but is being held back by inertia. One small perturbation, and the whole thing goes up, though. It is the packed snow waiting for a footstep to start an avalanche. The roulette ball perched on the wall between two numbers, waiting for a breath of air to push it over. Not a long-term tenable position, energetically.

The classic example, is, of course, superheated water. Water needs a surface imperfection or seed bubble in its container in order to boil. In a shiny new mug, a microwave can heat water to over 100 degrees (C) without boiling taking place. Drop a teabag in it, or otherwise agitate it, and the whole thing can jump from liquid phase to gaseous phase in an instant, boiling your face like a lobster. That is the genesis of all those warnings on microwaves about not looking into the vessel when you take it out of the oven.

We were discussing previously on this site how the memories of our grandfathers can shape our perceptions. People still think of war in terms of WWII, the Founders thought of turmoil in terms of the Glorious Revolution. As memories of the last world conflict fade, I think that you will see Europe slowly turn away from pacifism, especially if it is attacked as we were (and I see that as a virtual certainty in the next 100 years). After every great war there has come a period of pacifism – I was recently reading about religious reactions to the 100 Years’ War in Europe, that looked remarkably similar to today.

One of the factors holding back militarism in Europe is prosperity. Technology has pushed the economic need for warfare into the recesses of the modern brain. A determined attacker could probably make a serious dent in material progress, if not reverse it, and I think then you’d see attitudes shift even faster than the 3 – 4 generational shift I’m talking about. Certain cultures tend to fall prey to militaristic regimes. Germany, Russia and Japan are all such cultures – conformist, hierarchical, and clannish. The idea of those cultures with nuclear weapons gives me pause (Russia still worries me, Communist or not). I don’t worry about Germany or Japan if they obtain nukes in the near term. But in 100 years? Sure, I worry. But if they are to join the West in its defense of itself, I say let them take the responsibilities. All of the responsibilities. They are like the kid who’s a little off in grade school. You want to assign someone to watch him when he gets to high school to make sure he doesn’t get to be any more “off”. But you still let him get his rifle on his tenth birthday so he can go hunting with his cousins.

Iran, on the other hand, strikes me like the kid who tortures animals as a six year old. You know something’s deeply wrong at home, and it would probably be best for all concerned if you just committed the kid to the funny farm right now and threw away the key, in order to stop the crimes you know are coming. You don’t even buy that kid a penknife. The idea of Iran coming into possession of anything fissionable, weapons grade or not, brings out my inner redneck.

7 thoughts on “Zen Meditation”

  1. Thanks John!

    Ironically, when the despotic Shah tried to drag the
    Iranian ppl into modernity, they were not ready. Now that the Iranian ppl, at least the young, are ready, their depotic clerical government never will be.

  2. I was around during the Shah’s rule and believe me he was a terrible human being, a dictator. Iran changed one bad rule for another. As for nukes: Japan kn ows enough about that stuff so that their interest s in energy not war; Germany too is a democracy. Iran? they continue to announce their intention to destroy Israel, so who can trust them with nukes?

  3. Hi Joseph,

    The Shah was a physical coward and a megalomaniac but his extreme vanity and timidity acted as a brake on his cruelty, his “White Revolution” modernizations weren’t all bad either. Khomeini was a strong man and lacked the moderating influences of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s character flaws.

  4. I think it’s the tribal nature of Germany and Japan that give people pause. Germany and Japan are true nation (ethnic) states. Unlike America or even the general Anglo-sphere, there primary identities are cultural, not political. Political ideologies might shift dramatically from generation to generation but Germany remains german and Japan remains japanese.

    Tribalism limits international cooperation. In the end, people from such countries will cling to the tribe and its good. That makes the long term prospects of such countries wielding nukes or future types of WMDs, very daunting.

  5. “Ironically, when the despotic Shah tried to drag the
    Iranian ppl into modernity, they were not ready. Now that the Iranian ppl, at least the young, are ready, their depotic clerical government never will be.”

    The young urbanites are ready for modernity and democracy. Looking back at the USSR in 1988, people said that Russia was ready, too, based on the aspirations of my fellow Gen-Xers in cities like Moscow and Petersburg. Hell, even I thought so at the time.

    Unfortunately, the older generation and all ages in the less developed countryside was still, as a Russian friend of my put it, in a slave mentality. And still is. Hence you see the slow slide back into totalitarianism. I predict you will see the same phenomenon if a revolution ever ousts the mullahs in Iran.

    A very much concur with Shannon’s statements about tribalism in Japan and Germany. Russia is a multi-ethnic state, and you can be whatever ethnicity you want – as long as you speak Russian.

  6. The EU has accomplished what Julius Caesar, Hadrian, Trajan, Alaric, Atilla, Pepin, Tariq ibn Ziyad, Charlemagne, Otto, Bozo, William the Conqueror, Henry II, Brabarosa, Phillip August, various Vikings, Edward the Black Prince, various Henrys, Frederick II, Sulieman the Magnificent, Elizabeth I, Gustavus Adolphus, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Napolean, Bismark, Peter the Great, Elizabeth the Great, Catherine the Great, Cosmo the Great, Stalin, Lenin and Hitler could not do.

    If it falls apart, there will be no shortage in the next 2000 years of belicose men and women who will want the glory of putting it back together.

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