Summer Rerun: The Calendar is Not Omnipotent

Here’s a video of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser reacting to a Muslim Brotherhood demand that women be required to wear head coverings.  Nasser and his listeners are quite amused that anyone would propose such an idea in the modern year of 1958.  The video reminded me of this post from March 2014…

Barack Obama and John Kerry have been ceaselessly lecturing Vlad Putin to the effect that: grabbing territory from other countries just isn’t the sort of thing one does in this twenty-first century, old boy.

For example, here’s Obama: “…because you’re bigger and stronger taking a piece of the country – that is not how international law and international norms are observed in the 21st century.”

And John Kerry:  “It’s really 19th century behavior in the twenty-first century. You just don’t invade another country on phony pretexts in order to assert your interests.”

The idea that the mere passage of time has some automatic magical effect on national behavior…on human behavior…is simplistic, and more than a little odd.  I don’t know how much history Obama and Kerry actually studied during their college years, but 100 years early 1914…there were many, many people convinced that a major war could not happen…because we were now in the twentieth century, with international trade and with railroads and steamships and telegraph networks and electric lights and all. And just 25 years after that, quite a few people refused to believe that concentration camps devoted to systematic murder could exist in the advanced mid-20th century, in the heart of Europe.

Especially simplistic is the idea that, because there had been no military territory-grabs by first-rank powers for a long time, that the era of such territory-grabs was over. George Eliot neatly disposed of this idea many years ago, in a passage in her novel Silas Marner:

The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

Or, as Mark Steyn put it much more recently:

‘Stability’ is a surface illusion, like a frozen river: underneath, the currents are moving, and to the casual observer the ice looks equally ‘stable’ whether there’s a foot of it or just two inches. There is no status quo in world affairs: ‘stability’ is a fancy term to dignify laziness and complacency as sophistication.

Obama also frequently refers to the Cold War, and argues that it is in the past. But the pursuit of force-based territorial gain by nations long predates the Cold War, and it has not always had much to do with economic rationality. The medieval baron with designs on his neighbor’s land didn’t necessarily care about improving his own standard of living, let alone that of his peasants–what he was after, in many cases, was mainly the ego charge of being top dog.

Human nature was not repealed by the existence of steam engines and electricity in 1914…nor even by the broad Western acceptance of Christianity in that year…nor is it repealed in 2014 by computers and the Internet or by sermons about “multiculturalism” and bumper stickers calling for “coexistence.”

American Digest just linked a very interesting analysis of the famous “long telegram” sent by George Kennan in 1947: George Kennan, Vladimir Putin, and the Appetites of Men. In this document, Kennan argued that Soviet behavior must be understood not only through the prism of Communist ideology, but also in terms of the desire of leaders to establish and maintain personal power.

Regarding the current Russian/Crimean situation, the author of the linked article (Tod Worner) says:

In the current crisis, many will quibble about the historical, geopolitical complexities surrounding the relationship between Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. They will debate whether Crimea’s former inclusion in the Russian Empire or Crimea’s restive Russian population justifies secession especially with a strong Russian hand involved. Papers will be written. Conferences will be convened. Experts will be consulted. Perhaps these are all prudent and thoughtful notions to consider and actions to undertake. Perhaps.

But perhaps we should, like George Kennan, return to the same questions we have been asking about human nature since the beginning of time. Maybe we are, at times, overthinking things. Perhaps we would do well to step back and consider something more fundamental, something more base, something more reliable than the calculus of geopolitics and ideology…Perhaps we ignore the simple math that is often before our very eyes. May we open our eyes to the appetites of men.

11 thoughts on “Summer Rerun: The Calendar is Not Omnipotent”

  1. The left does not understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    Civilization is not the default state of human existence.

    Plus, of course, Kerry and Obama know no history. “International Law” is as effective as the Kellog Briand Pact. They probably don’t even know what it was.

  2. The problem with banning war is that it requires war to force it to happen, so then war wouldn’t really be banned. This is typical of modern international laws. They’re based on unrealistic, unnatural contradictions.

  3. One thing about software, as opposed to hardware: you can in most cases add features *without* increasing the variable production cost…so the temptation for excessive featuring is much stronger than with hardware, where there is an incremental per-unit cost for most feature additions.

  4. Concurring with Mike’s apt observation, I would add that the Left denies the First Law of Thermodynamics.

    People seem to default to the idea that there exists some way to obtain a free lunch. Thermo’s First Law says TANSTAAFL, “They ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Somebody somewhere somehow picks up the tab. Absolutely. Unavoidably. Only God can create from nothing; only God can create by fiat. Not so governments, pass what laws that they may.

    Millenia of repeated failures of attempts to bypass/deny that limitation seem never to persuade at least some people to cease believing that some attempt may succeed. And thereby becoming the prey of those who promise that their plan can do so.

    David’s remark about “human nature” (which recognizes that violence may require restraint by violence), Mike’s about the 2nd Law (which recognizes apart from working against it happening, chaos results), and mine about the 2nd Law (which posits inescapable limitations on government) form the foundational principles by which I suggest one analyze politics.

  5. Strangely, I remember thinking in early ’92 after the USSR breakup, and seeing how it was being divided, looking at the Crimea being attached to Ukraine rather than Russia, that there was going to be blood over that. Russia gives up the Crimea?

  6. I would like to mention two things here.

    In 1958 Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser a Nationalist and other Arab /Muslim Nationalist leaders who follows him all of them they have very close or similar believe and leadership. Most of them they oppose (Hizb al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) Muslim Brotherhood Parties.
    Let listen to Anwar Al-Sadat and his speeches about (Hizb al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) here (long speech about MBP and their terrorists actions & here
    May I pick your attentions David to this:
    All leaders and regimes fought them as MBP ideology so dark and backward, we can say as same as today ISIS, The Muslim Brotherhood’s Conquest of Europe

    I appreciate David if elaborate about support/ fund that group of Muslim Brotherhood Parties (MBP) got help all along time from 1958 until now?
    Why till now (Hizb al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) not listed on US terrorist List?
    Why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Visited Egypt, week after Mohamed Morsi jumped to be president Clinton Backed Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Regime and another one here

    Not forgetting some Arab wealthy regimes like Saudi and other gave them save haven during Egyptian leader, but that not only support them got? Is not David?
    Toda you have so sort of MBP calling Today Jihad @ Homelisten to her and just see what’s she talking about?

    The other point I would say the problem US having now not Just peace with Russia only but also you having Iran, China, N. Korai.

  7. “Human nature” appears (implicitly but also explicitly) in the Adams’ letters, the Federalist papers, in Franklin’s “Way to Wealth” and Autobiography – everywhere in the late 1700’s.They used it to mean our ability to sometimes transcend our baser, common failings – the common failings, of course, were also a part of that nature.

    Now, people tend to see it as only meaning that we are fallen and not even that all that often. It is human nature to think your spouse is virtuous – while Bernie Sanders may well consider his wife about the most honest person he knows, we see that loyalty as human nature as well as that apparent blindness to her failings. I’ve been struck by how many don’t consider the givens of my parents’ world: nepotism will not lead to just assignments or wages, sexual longings were likely to cloud judgment, etc. We are at base tribal (Adams describes it in a series of concentric rings – we care about someone hurt on the other side of the planet, but in the end we care most about those in our household. My own tendency is to only grudgingly admit that Nebraskans are not perfect.) My parents considered honesty a difficult but important goal – and we can only be honest if we accept the nature of human nature.

    I would say that we all know such things but I am not sure we all do – or at least in practice – assuming the generalization doesn’t apply to our own practice.

    The policies that ask us to say that 2 + 2 = 5 (ones such as considering it victim blaming to tell young women not to get drunk with strange young men or that don’t think fraternization rules should be extensive and enforced or that assume no one will illegally vote or that no one will cross our borders with the intent to subvert the country’s political system or that few will file for benefits they don’t deserve or . . . ) are reinforced by the argument we are not the inheritors of much that is great and tendencies that aren’t – that there is no human nature. Experiences are varied and they alone affect our decisions – there is no core to us. It may diminish our flaws but it also diminishes our heroism. In a perfect society perfect man would be perfect. But it seldom gives man his due for doing the difficult right thing.

    And what could more ignore what centuries have taught us about human nature and civilization than Jeremy Corbyn’s solution to those homeless in London – that they should start occupying unoccupied apartments – those whose owners were gone for some reason or another. And then, perhaps they could draw up laws about squatters’ rights.

  8. I am listening to an Audible version of Caro’s biography of Johnson.

    His father was known for honesty and refusal to accept bribes in Austen. His father also died poor.

    I think I am getting the idea as we go to Part two of volume one.

  9. The appetites of men drive the human race, not surprising really. So as America has become more able to use power and influence in the world, it has taken to this like the proverbial duck.

    Leaving out the main perp is always a good way to deflect attention. ;)

  10. America is doing it’s best to maintain it’s preeminence. You can work out the rest yourself, but I’ll help.

    Germany and Russia playing nice is the most powerful economic force on the planet, toss in Europe, doing the same, and it’s like game over. With China in the wings, for next largest economy, the challenge is very serious.

    The point of the Ukraine was to force Russia to react to the CIA putsch and become the bad guy, America could then demonize. Crimea was important enough for Putin to take the bait. Russia has done very well dealing with the west’s sanctions and has responded thoughtfully, to what is really a cold war, since then.

    Now Trump has shaken the Europeans, and it’s gonna be much harder to keep them in line. The ‘Russia hacked the election’ is part of this narrative to excuse Hillary’s loss and to scare the Europeans into toeing the line. The entire MSM is completely onside with this and I get a huge kick out of people like Rachel Maddow bloviating endlessly. Keeping outrage at that level can not be healthy.

    It’s great fun watching this madness, but not good for humanity in general.

Comments are closed.