Tribalism

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This post is the fifth in a series of seven posts describing existential threats to our way of life and our civilization. It describes the increasing tendency towards tribalism seen across the globe. As our commerce and culture have become intertwined more tightly with other nations, a backlash has developed. That backlash has taken the form of nationalistic, xenophobic, populist political movements burgeoning within many nations. It evokes memories of the 1930’s, and the mass Nuremburg rallies that provided the German peoples with a sense of solidarity that really did generate the belief that it could be Germany Űber Alles, Germany Over All. The tendency within those countries that have surrendered their government to these populists is to denounce dissent, generate fear within the populace, and decry any attempt to hold them accountable, especially attempts coming from a free press.

So the expression of this populist anger is to return each country to a golden age, when the virginal nation was unsullied by the globalist villains who only wish to plunder the wealth of our nation. And a virginal nation needs to return to the state of racial purity that it held in its golden age. This may be the defining struggle of our age, where the old ideals of racial purity confront the reality of the world today. Borders cannot be seen from space (except for the South Korea / North Korea border in a picture taken at night). The world has been brought closer together by the technologies of the modern age. Whether it is transportation systems allowing mass movement of people and goods, or whether it is the internet which erases most borders for global communication, or whether it is multi-national corporations that search for the optimum global supply chain solutions, our prosperity and continued survival is now dependent upon not just those who live in this nation, but also those in other nations. The nationalist movement wishes to reverse this trend and allow each nation to float along independent of all other nations.

It remains to be seen whether the strategy of the populists can be successful. On the economic front, success has come when there are multi-national organizations that set the rules and provide a framework for transactions. But it is the desire of the populists to revert to a time when it was “us against the world”, leading to a plethora of bilateral agreements. Nations view each other using the lens of win/lose when it comes to trade relations. But once you get accustomed to looking at things through a lens of win/lose for economics, it colors your perception in all other forms of relations. Soon diplomatic relations are reduced to transactional relationships, in which one party is expecting to “win” against the other. We saw where this led in the 1930’s. One party in Europe insisted upon winning against its neighbors time and time again, eventually causing Germany to become emboldened to take direct military action against its neighbors. We have the same framework today, only the weaponry is orders of magnitude more powerful. Consider what would happen if India and Pakistan allowed their decades-long struggle over Kashmir to escalate to the point of using nuclear weaponry. Will China, lying downwind of the fallout pattern, be able to resist taking sides in this one-upmanship battle? And that’s only one of dozens of potential conflicts that can either result directly in nuclear exchanges, or cause another party to be drawn in to use them.

The structure of the post-war world has prevented further use of nuclear weaponry for over 70 years. That structure is fraying at the edges, and needs to be revised to reflect the issues of the modern world. But the desire of the populists is to tear up all arrangements and rely solely upon the internal resources of each country. Were all international organizations and alliances to be struck down, the vacuum that results will not be filled with peace and harmony. Instead, particles of strontium 90 and cesium 137 from nuclear bomb detonations will likely fill the void in the atmosphere as the children leading countries lose their tempers and cause the loss of the lives of millions of people.

This is not one of the problems that is solvable using science and technology. It is very unlikely that we will be saved by an alien civilization that uses its advanced technology to deactivate any nuclear explosion. That is what it would take to tackle this risk from a scientific perspective. Instead, this is a case where if the other problems can be addressed using science and mathematics, the economic conditions will improve to the point that the populists are rejected by the citizens of their nation. Otherwise the nuclear genie will show up and let us know that it has not gone back into its bottle, even though it has stayed silent for a long while.

 

Termite In Chief

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Why does Donald Trump stir such polarized feelings in this nation? I cannot speak for those who are still favorable towards the man, but I will share my own feelings and thoughts as to why I view him as an extremely poor president and an even worse human being. I am deliberately not commenting on issues of policy, though I do violently disagree with his political perspective and policies.

One of the key traits I value in a leader is intellectual curiosity. With it, you are always aware of how much you don’t know, and you seek out those who have greater knowledge. That may be in a book, or through links with people who have expertise. Without it, you are prone to believe that you know everything, that you have all of the answers, that what you feel in your gut is exactly correct because you are feeling it. It breeds hubris. In Donald Trump, I see someone who is proud of his lack of intellectual curiosity. He is convinced that he alone can solve things. And he sees zero need for consulting others, either through reading, or through taking advice from experts. This is perhaps his greatest fault, since it has led to many of his most problematic decisions and policy paths. It is the fault that can trigger an existential crisis, since he is so prone to taking abrupt action based upon an impulse.

In order to serve as a leader of people, you must be capable of empathy. You must have the ability to envision the feelings of someone else, in order to evaluate a need for a policy or to envision the effects of your policies on others. Time and again, Donald Trump has shown his incapability to feel empathy for others. What’s more, he has insulated himself by surrounding himself with others who also do not connect with their subjects. No clearer example of this was apparent than during the recent partial government shutdown, when Trump’s henchmen spokesmen could not realize why the loss of a paycheck could cause such immediate financial concern among Federal government employees.

Through the decades, we have seen a tremendous change in how marital fidelity is viewed. There was a time when Ronald Reagan was seen as being damaged goods since he had been “DIVORCED”.      Obviously, that attitude did not exist during the 2016 election. But to learn that the successful candidate had multiple affairs, or one-night stands, even during the time when his third wife had just given birth, and the man boasted to a media acquaintance about the privileges and sexual liberties that celebrity status gave men like him, this revealed Donald Trump to be a person of low moral character. To me, that was yet another strike against him. It is true that we have had other Presidents who had problems with marital fidelity. The difference was, in this case, we were learning about the issue before he had even been elected.

Honesty is another trait that is valued in leaders. Yes, I am certainly aware that our leaders over the years have had significant difficulties in telling the truth, and in hiding damaging information through dissembling. But never have I seen anyone who would cause damage to suppliers by denying that services were provided, forcing them to seek redress in court hundreds and thousands of times. I have never seen anyone who flatly denies he said words that were broadcast the day before. I have never seen anyone try to say that what he meant to say was the opposite of what he said, and it was our fault for listening to the lying media when it broadcast his words. I have never seen anyone cling to his own interpretation of facts, even going so far as to create a class of alternative facts, when our own eyes and ears reveal the lies. It is now beyond credulity to see each new falsehood being bandied about as if we, the public, are incapable of distinguishing truth from lie. Yet still he persists, time and again. And it’s wrong, and it’s dangerous.

When you combine these traits, and others I find equally disgusting, into a single individual and then promote this individual to the single job with the most responsibility and power in the world, you have a combustible mixture. You have the ingredients for causing significant damage to structures and organizations that are responsible for maintaining order. Remember, it is the states of the US that has been free from foreign military conflict for so long. Only the military conflict on the territories of Alaska and Hawaii touched our territorial integrity. But with the advent of the Trump administration, all previous multi-lateral agreements are viewed as a surrender to the international world order, and thus are to be abandoned as not being in our favor. Well, it no longer takes the marching of foreign boots to constitute war between states. With the likelihood that the next war between nations will be a cyber war, what Donald Trump is doing by renouncing existing agreements is inviting other nations to attack our infrastructure from within, through its computer code.

To think that he is taking these steps to satisfy his own vanity and sense of worth is beyond belief. It is even worse to think that many in his base of supporters can see no wrong being done by this overgrown termite, who has been busy his entire term at undermining the support beams of the nation.