Biden: “They seek a return to a world where the strong impose their will through military might, corruption or criminality — while weaker neighbors fall in line.”

How can you be in politics that long and not think military might has something to do with our global influence? I mean, the only country that has taken out the government of another by arms in the last 20 years is us. It’s one thing to think our power is a force for good, but quite another to think we don’t exercise power. We want to run the world and enjoy the dignity of the meek. That’s not a good basis for negotiation with the rest of the world. No, no. I don’t think we can do business along those lines.



Self-Determination as Imperial Policy

I am much concerned these days with self-determination as a bad thing in American foreign policy. By self-determination I mean the notion that we should support whatever groups wish to be free. The Kurds in Turkey. The Tibetans in China, and so on.

By a very fortunate coincidence, the more we promote freedom of this kind the weaker our enemies become; at an extreme the world entire consists of us plus an infinity of finely divided completely free groups. It is a commonplace that the larger the number of independent decisionmakers the harder it is for them to do anything together as a group. The collective action problem. It is for this reason that we don’t rely on victims to organize to solve environmental problems (we have the EPA instead) and for which we chose to form the United States and then killed hundreds of thousands of people in order to preserve them.

We tend to treat the promotion of self-determination as a selfless act of foreign policy, but it is not. Another name for it is the sowing of division, a very old tool of empire. A really selfless bit of policy would be for us not only not to encourage self-determination but instead affirmatively to promote the empires of others.  But that would be folly, for we would simply be creating the wolves that one day would turn upon us!

But wait, the definition of a selfless act is one that is against interest. If we don’t feel threatened by the promotion of self-determination abroad, that means it cannot be self-less. In our bones we know the promotion of self-determination to be a power play, a mode of domination all the sweeter in that it allows us both to dominate and to carry the mantle of selflessness.

Meta Miscellany World


Nine are enough.

Civilization Meta Monopolization Quantity World

Optimal Prediction

When optimization arrives, either others will optimize against you or you will optimize against others. Business against you or you against business. There will be either corporate planning or central planning.

Meta World

The Danger of Neutral Principles

Unless you happen to fervently believe in a principle itself, and no one ought to, because principles aren’t real, you should never use one to win an argument, because one day something you love will run counter to the principle, and then you will be forced to watch it die. The argument against the Iraq war was that it was a bad war; it should never have been that military intervention is always wrong as a matter of principle. Now we have a relatively non-interventionist President, and the price is the murder of an entire country.

Civilization Meta World


When other stars were reached, their civilizations were found to be in various stages of partial industrialization, at levels roughly comparable to those enjoyed on earth in the 18th century.  Further examination revealed that this had been brought about in all cases by government fiat. It was for this reason that the stars had failed to respond for so long to our calls.

It is a great provincialism of life in the developed world that we  assume that technological progress is unstoppable. Indeed, it is almost a nightmare, in that we see ourselves soon as either becoming something else, infinite-lived, technologically enhanced, engineered creatures, or dead by environmental disaster. In point of fact, one of the great successes of government in the 20th century was its perfection, proved in the blood of millions, of totalitarian governments capable of eliminating all technological progress, all dissent in favor of technology and growth. However horrible the methods of these governments, one must marvel at their ability to stamp out what in freer places seems a tectonic  motion toward continual development.

These totalitarian governments failed, and continue to fail, only by the intervention of outside elements. If a totalitarian form were ever to seize control of the earth entire, progress might be stamped out forever, and humanity frozen in its present form.

Our goal should be a mindful technological progress, one that we understand to be under our own control, leading us to a place that we actually desire, or nowhere, if we wish nowhere to go.


Group Games

Leaders are rarely purely interested in the good of the group.  So leaders do not respond predictably to incentives aimed at groups.  It seems odd, therefore, that Schelling thought that hurting civilians might change the minds of leaders. Worry instead about the incentives of leaders.

Meta World

A Philosophy of War

Ask yourself: if all the military power in the world were controlled by a just ruler, how would it be deployed?

Support deployments of force whenever they coincide with the virtuous plan and oppose deployments of force whenever they fail to coincide with the virtuous plan.

So, for example, if a just ruler in charge of the world’s military power, including the U.S. army, would send in the U.S. army to save Syria, then you must advocate the sending in of the U.S. army to save Syria.

Objection: but you can’t trust the Americans to do the right thing once they’re involved!  Reply: according to my rule, you should advocate the sending in of the Americans to do the right thing.  If you don’t think they’ll do the right thing (in the sense that they’ll do what a virtuous ruler would do), then you shouldn’t advocate sending them in.  My rule is fine with that.

The rule is intended as a refutation of blanket rejectionists of all American military involvement in anything under all circumstances.  Suppose that you think that the U.S. government never ever means well toward anyone.  But suppose that it looks like, due to incompetence or luck, the U.S. government is about to engage in a military intervention that is precisely what justice calls for.  The fact that the U.S. government is behind it shouldn’t matter a lick.  You should support the intervention.  But only, of course, so long as it fully complies with the virtuous plan.

This might be an argument for the American intervention in Libya in 2011.

You might, of course, conclude that a just ruler would never use military force.  But once you pause to consider how the angels of justice would bear arms, it starts to become a lot easier to imagine just conflicts.  It seems more likely to me that you might conclude that there are plenty of just deployments of force, but no real military can ever be trusted to execute any of them, inadvertently or not.

Now, the rise of the war machines might make a difference to you, however, because with time one assumes that it will be possible to exert the finest control over their behavior.

Still, whoever is running them will have to want the right behaviors.