Archive for September, 2017

Maximum Uncertainty Principle

Vasya Lozhkin

We live in uncertain times. In the US, large chunks of Texas and Florida are uninhabitable due to hurricane damage. All of Puerto Rico is without electricity. In the Caribbean, entire islands of Barbuda, Domenica and St. Martin have been destroyed. Elsewhere in the world, on the island of Bali, 75,000 people are being evacuated from around the Mount Agung volcano, which is said to be ready to erupt. In Washington, the new director of FEMA is urging everyone to develop a “culture of preparedness.” But the problem is that we don’t ever really know what to prepare for; if we did, then we would surely prepare for it, as we do for most foreseeable eventualities. Yes, having a bug-out bag with a change of clothing, a few essentials, your documents and some cash is always a good idea. But what can we do beyond that? What’s the use of a food stockpile if your home is uninhabitable? What’s the use of a fuel reserve if the roads are impassable? And what’s the use of money if power is out and cash registers aren’t working?

This may sound defeatist, and since we don’t want to sound defeatist (because that would be embarrassing) we go on expecting, and relying on, various certainties of daily life that are in fact quite uncertain. For most people, doing anything other than daily navigating a triangular course between home, work (or school) and shopping would not look like success, and that, again, would be embarrassing. But what a “culture of preparedness” entails is the ability to survive many small embarrassments instead of dying of one big embarrassment once our triangular course becomes unnavigable due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

But what else is there to do? There is only one good and simple answer: you have to think for yourself. (I hope that you don’t expect somebody else to do your thinking for you, because that’s not going to happen.) But thinking is hard! It is especially hard because we are accustomed to certainty, and uncertainty breaks our existing thought patterns with nothing to replace them. But here is the thing: uncertain times call for uncertain thoughts. Since thinking uncertain thoughts takes quite a knack, which you may not currently have, and since I am here to help, let’s get started.

Public Loathing as Deification


Before going on with discussing the many ways in which linguistic limitations, deficits and defects imperil our ability to think and to communicate our thoughts and cause us to obscure what is tangibly, experientially real behind a veil of artifice and nonsense, I want to focus on a certain phenomenon that has become particularly widespread lately and has been causing many of us to inadvertently become members of political hate cults.

Cults are often nasty things that subordinate the free will of their neighbors to all sorts of preposterous and outrageous notions. They are the breeding grounds of political and religious extremism and intolerance. They splinter societies and turn relatives, friends and neighbors against each other. Governments periodically find it necessary to suppress them, even resorting to violence—all the way to actually destroying them with fire, as happened with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas on 19 of April 1993. Cults that combine politics with religion, such as the Wahhabi state cult of Saudi Arabia that has been breeding extremism all over the world, are particularly nasty.

But the type of cult I want to discuss is quite different from these.

In fact, it is not even commonly perceived as a type of cult. Its main focus is the construction of Cathedrals of Hate centered on political figureheads. By means of public hate, these figureheads are transformed into deities—demons, to be exact.

Hate is one specific type of emotion; love is another. But all strong emotions are of a kind. Essentially, they are chemical imbalances within the brain that cause us to lose self-control and to act irrationally. Because they are chemically rather than electrically based, they are never fleeting, like thoughts can be, but arise over time and take time to dissipate. And they are all of a kind: we could be variously infatuated or enraged, and love can turn to hate rather suddenly, laying bare the chemical similarity between these two opposite emotions. Individually, privately experienced emotions are inevitable, spontaneous expressions of our animal natures, and the best we can do is sublimate them through art or, failing that, try to repress them. But public emotions, such as rage expressed by large groups, are far from inevitable. They are also far from spontaneous.

If we look around, we can see Cathedrals of Hate being erected all around us by those who feel that they have something to gain politically from doing so. Construction at the building sites of the Putin Hate Cult (PHC) and the Trump Hate Cult (THC) has been particularly active of late, resulting in structures so out of proportion that they seem poised to topple under their own weight and crush their followers. Historical Hate Cults, such as the Hitler Hate Cult (HHC) and the Stalin Hate Cult (SHC) are carefully maintaining their respective Cathedrals of Hate and offering their services to the others by, for instance, allowing PHC’s or THC’s Hate Idol to temporarily don the mantle and wield the scepter of HHC’s or SHC’s Hate Idol. Smaller Hate Cults are also getting quite a lot of attention, such as those of Barak Obama (OHC), Hillary Clinton (CHC), Bashar Assad of Syria (AHC), Kim Jong Un of North Korea (UHC) and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela (MHC).

Please forgive me for pointing out something glaringly obvious. None of the individuals mentioned in the preceding paragraph, whether dead or alive, is, has ever been or will ever be your girlfriend or your boyfriend. No matter what you do or don’t do, you are not going to either bed or get raped by any of them. The most you’ll ever manage, with one or two of them, is to shake his hand under the watchful eye of his bodyguards, or maybe ask him a polite question at a press conference, and even that would only be possible if you are one of the carefully screened few who are allowed near him. And whatever it is that happens to you, none of them will ever be held personally responsible because of a certain legal principle called raîson d’État that grants them dispensation from human moral norms.

But what you can do is jump up and down and shout obscenities about them with likeminded others, or stand around with signs declaring them to be criminals (or whatever else), or accessorize yourself with hate paraphernalia. Walking around St. Petersburg recently, I saw a fat slob digging around in garbage bins near Sennaya Square while sporting a t-shirt emblazoned with “ПУТИН Х**ЛО”; let a Russian friend translate that for you if you are curious. If you don’t wish to be a socially active worshiper at a Cathedral of Hate, you can stay home and seethe with hatred there, annoying your friends and relatives while marinating your brain in the vitriol of strong political sentiment. You’d think that I’ve seen just about everything by now, but even I have been amazed recently by some perfectly intelligent and otherwise clear-thinking people expressing strong emotions about political figureheads that are, by their very nature, unworthy of any emotions whatsoever—good or bad.

Let me explain why it is that political figureheads are by their nature unworthy of any emotions whatsoever.

We live in a world dominated by machines. Agricultural machines produce our food; industrial machines produce out shelter, clothing and tools; various other types of plant and equipment keep us warm or cool, watered and safe and allow us to move about the landscape (generally in triangular patterns between home, work and shopping). And keeping all of this machinery functioning are social machines. These are unlike all the other machines, which consist mostly of hardware or software, because the moving parts of social machines are composed of meatware—human meatware, to be exact. Human meatware is composed of humans that act like robots.

What is a social machine? Here is how I defined it in my book Shrinking the Technosphere:

“A social machine is a form of organization that subordinates the will of the participants to an explicit, written set of rules, that is controlled based on objective, measurable criteria, and that excludes, to the largest extent possible, individual judgment, intuition and independent, spontaneous action. In the process, it becomes blind to all the things that cannot be measured, such as meaning, beauty, happiness, justice and compassion.” [p. 189]

Lest you think that social machines are some sort of pathological aberration, perish the thought! They are perfectly normal for all human societies beyond a certain scale:

“The progression from a humanistic organization that functions on the basis of common understanding, spontaneous cooperation, shared values and individual judgment and initiative to a social machine in which people behave like robots, is automatic: it is simply a question of scale.” [p. 190]

Essentially, humanistic organizations don’t scale. Thus, it is pointless to either like or dislike social machines; their existence is simply a fact that you have to accept and learn to cope with as best you can. You can perhaps opt out of them, based on your own individual likes and dislikes.

For instance, if you dislike industrial agriculture with its chemically poisoned fields, rows upon rows of plastic greenhouses, inhumane factory farms and all the rest, then you can take up homesteading. Then, instead of spending your days sitting in an air-conditioned office looking at a screen you would spend them walking slowly while looking at the rear end of a draft horse, or working a pitchfork while your children grope around in the dirt looking for potatoes to throw in a bucket (as we were doing a couple of weeks ago). But no matter what you do, there will still be social machines, and you will still have to deal with them.

Next, we have to accept that social machines are to a large extent staffed and almost exclusively run by psychopaths:

“…What to a healthy society looks like a terrible character flaw appears perfectly normal, even laudable, in the context of a social machine. Lack of empathy is seen as cool, professional detachment; a psychopath would never let emotion cloud her judgment. Sadistic tendencies (psychopaths hurt people in order to make themselves feel something) are perceived as signs of an incorruptible nature: the rules are the rules! … Because of this, social machines act as psychopath incubators. Psychopaths are not the healthiest of specimens, but because of their greater inclusive fitness within social machines, psychopaths tend to persist and thrive within them while non-psychopaths do not.” [p. 194]

The fact that within social machines psychopaths rise to the top is easy to grasp:

“If having some psychopathic tendencies is helpful for fitting in within a social machine, having more psychopathic tendencies is even more helpful. Consequently, within social machines, pure psychopaths rise through the ranks and concentrate at the top. It should be entirely unsurprising, then, that when we look at the upper echelons of business and government—the C-suite, the boards of directors, the executive branches, the legislatures and the courts—we find that they are pretty much stocked with total psychopaths.” [p. 195]

Finally, let’s draw some conclusions, which should by now be perfectly obvious. All of the Hate Cults mentioned above are focused on national leaders. Nation-states are social machines par excellence. Social machines are run by psychopaths. Whatever it is they do, you can be absolutely sure that it\’s nothing personal, entirely beyond your control, and nothing to get worked up about. My sincere and earnest hope is that once you digest and accept these facts, becoming emotional about some psychopathic figurehead or other will start to look silly to you, the spell will be broken, the political vitriol in your brain will eventually get metabolized to something less toxic (urine, probably) and you will stop wasting your energies and feel better. As far as all of the Cathedrals of Hate—please don’t go near any of them. Cults are bad; political hate cults doubly so.

Arise, You Prisoners of Semantics! (Part 3)


Language is the tool that we think and communicate with. This makes it pretty important. There are some ideas floating about that make our choice of linguistic tools irrelevant. Such as: people are people, whatever language they speak is whatever language they speak, they all have the right to free self-expression, and they have the right to express their opinions, based on whatever it is they thought up, by voting. But there are differences between languages, just as there are differences between a penny whistle and a kazoo at one end of the spectrum and a concert piano at the other. Consequently, the classical repertoire is replete with piano concertos but there is a dearth of them for penny whistle and kazoo. But language has far more important uses than making beautiful music: it is the medium used for thought, deliberation and decision-making.

Just as a concert pianist doesn’t spend a great deal of time thinking about which finger to run over which key, letting the music take his hands where it wants to, so too we let our language carry our thought forward in a way that is largely automatic. The specific features of the language we speak influences the thoughts we think. It is possible but difficult to go beyond what our language can readily express through the use of special terminology and awkward, labored phrasing. On the other hand, it takes no effort at all to run roughshod over distinctions which our language does not enforce. When people start to ignore some nicety of grammar, they may at first sound uncouth and uneducated, but once the trend runs its course everyone forgets what any of it was about. But what in fact happens is that the voices of countless generators of our ancestors are suddenly and permanently silenced. They had evolved this or that grammatical category or feature through trial and error, and preserved it over thousands of years because it conferred advantages on them—and us—by enabling us to think higher-quality thoughts more or less effortlessly and automatically.

This is a horror story in which the loss of one small but vital grammatical distinction leads a certain part of humanity to be conquered and dominated by machines to such an extent that they forget what it means to be human, or an animal, or alive.

Continue reading… [3348 words]

Organizational Announcement


By popular demand, ClubOrlov is shifting to a semiweekly publishing schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays.

• Tuesdays will once again be free blogging days, with the full article (usually an editorial on current events) published on ClubOrlov and announced on Patreon. You should feel free to quote, excerpt or re-post these articles, provided you do so with full attribution (including my name and a link to the original).

• Thursdays will be premium content days, with the full essay (usually a longer, more in-depth, analytic piece) published on Patreon, visible to subscribers only and announced on ClubOrlov. For those who object to paying $1/month for Patreon access, a paper edition of the essays will be published on Amazon on a semiannual basis. For those who object to paying Amazon… well, there is just no pleasing some people!

Military Defeat as a Financial Collapse Trigger


Back in 2007 I wrote Reinventing Collapse, in which I compared the collapse of the USSR to the forthcoming collapse of the USA. I wrote the following:

“Let us imagine that collapsing a modern military-industrial superpower is like making soup: chop up some ingredients, apply heat and stir. The ingredients I like to put in my superpower collapse soup are: a severe and chronic shortfall in the production of crude oil (that magic addictive elixir of industrial economies), a severe and worsening foreign trade deficit, a runaway military budget and ballooning foreign debt. The heat and agitation can be provided most efficaciously by a humiliating military defeat and widespread fear of looming catastrophe.” (p. 2)

A decade later these ingredients are all in place, with a few minor quibbles. The shortfall of oil is in the case of the US not the shortfall of physical oil but of money: against the backdrop of terminal decline of conventional oil in the US, the only meaningful supply increase has come from fracking, but it has been financially ruinous. Nobody has made any money from selling fracked oil: it is too expensive.

Meanwhile, the trade deficit has been setting new records, defense spending has continued its upward creep and the levels of debt are at this point nothing short of stratospheric but continuing to rise. Fear of catastrophe is supplied by hurricanes that have just put significant parts of Texas and Florida under water, unprecedented forest fires in the West, ominous rumblings from the Yellowstone supervolcano and the understanding that an entire foamy mess of financial bubbles could pop at any time. The one ingredient we are missing is a humiliating military defeat.

Military defeats come in many shapes and sizes, and having the enemy slaughter all of your troops is just one of them. Equally palpable is the defeat of being unable to prevail against a weaker and smaller opponent. Accidentally inflicting damage on one’s own forces can also be quite humiliating. And the ultimate coup de grâce for a military empire is to be unable to join the opponent in battle at all.

We now have samples of all of these. We have fast US navy ships, equipped with all of the most modern radar and navigation equipment, inexplicably colliding with large, slow-moving cargo ships, resulting in the death of sailors. We have the example of Syria, where several years of concerted effort to dismember the country and dislodge its president have resulted in one disaster after another. And now we have the example of North Korea, which tests ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons to everyone’s great consternation while the US holds meaningless military exercises—meaningless because it has absolutely no military cards to play that wouldn’t result in the complete annihilation of the very same ally the US has sworn to protect.

The North Korean impasse is likely to drag on for some time, but the Syrian defeat is already very close to complete, so let us look at it in detail, because it provides a very interesting view into what makes the US, at this point, so much less than a military superpower. (Research credit for this goes to Yevgeny Krutikov in particular, and to others too numerous to mention here.) The Syrian defeat is not the result of a single operation, but an entire sequence of them, each resulting in what can only described as an epic fail. The entire US Syrian campaign can be described as a relentless pursuit of failure. It illustrates many of the features that make the US military machine worse than useless. Once upon a time the purpose of American military spending was to justify American military spending; now it can’t even do that. Key elements of this failure are:

• The complete inability to hold accountable those who are responsible for failure, be they politicians or military officers.
• The complete inability to learn from mistakes and adjust strategies, doing things that have been proven not to work over and over again.
• The complete inability to accept the truth of the situation, instead preferring to inhabit a fictional realm full of moderate terrorists, friendly tribal leaders, rainbows and unicorns.
• The complete inability to resist corruption of every sort, including fraudulent schemes that include outright theft of government property.

The entire US military involvement started back in the summer of 2014. At the time, there was some sort of armed compound near Raqqa, swarming with bearded jihadists that may or may not have been associated with ISIS. They held quite a lot of hostages that included Syrian soldiers as well as American and British citizens who had somehow ended up in Syria. After a lengthy analysis, the CIA decided that the compound should be attacked and occupied and the hostages released.

In early June, a few dozen special forces troops were dropped off in the vicinity of the encampment. After a three-hour battle (this already signals a failure; operations to free hostages should last minutes, not hours) the American troops killed five of the terrorists and took control of a perfectly empty building standing alone in the middle of the desert. There were no hostages, no high-ranking enemy types—nothing useful there. Later it turned out that the hostages were transported out a day before the start of the operation, giving rise to all sorts of questions within the CIA concerning possible leaks.

A few days later “Jihadi John” and his group of three British Arabs calling themselves “the Beatles” and acting under the pseudonyms John, Paul and Ringo beheaded a bunch of people on camera. Among them were the photographer James Foley, the journalist Steven Sotloff, humanitarian mission worker David Heins, British taxi driver Alan Henning (who worked for the same humanitarian mission as Heins) and, last but not least, Peter Kassig, a former member of the US military but at the time also working for some humanitarian mission with bases in Beirut and in Turkey, but regularly finding himself inside Syria—illegally and for unknown purposes.

Specifically, it was Kassig’s death that elicited a curiously strong reaction from Barak Obama, who declared that Kassig “was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity.” This outburst was widely taken to mean that Kassig worked for either the CIA or US military intelligence. Notably, he was the only one who, while in captivity, converted to Islam and took an Islamic name.

Later, other strange facts began to surface. In particular, it became known that “Jihadi John” had negotiated with the US government and with the family of James Foley, demanding either a 100 or, for whatever strange reason, specifically 132 million dollars as ransom. The last communication from him was a week before the unsuccessful operation by US special forces, but the Americans refused to pay. Pentagon’s official representative Rear Admiral James Kirby blamed it all on the CIA. Most notably, those responsible for this amazing cock-up didn’t shoot themselves in the head like they should have as a question of honor but blissfully carried on with their illustrious careers.

To be sure, there were soon other, even more epic failures to behold. The US started up surveillance flights over Syrian territory, carefully mapping out the desert using first drones, then regular aviation, still not having the foggiest notion of what they were looking at. But apparently they saw pictures of things that looked like they would make nice targets, because in the fall of the same year Obama announced his intention to start bombing ISIS in Syria.

He also announced the start of a program to “train and equip” Free Syrian Army with the goal of overthrowing Bashar Assad. The CIA picked out promising groups, gave them weapons, and then watched as they joined either ISIS or Jabhat an-Nusra en masse. As this went on, US officials continued to refer to these eager new terrorists as “moderate opposition.” Eventually, the US-cultivated myth called the Free Syrian Army fell apart altogether, to everyone’s great embarrassment. But once again the embarrassment was insufficient to cause those responsible to do the honorable thing and shoot themselves in the head.

Done with fiasco number two—onward to fiasco number three. Once the fictional Free Syrian Army evaporated like the morning mist, the CIA decided to stake it all on the Kurds and Operation Timber Sycamore was born. It was declared top secret and authorized directly by Obama with most of the documents bearing Hillary Clinton’s signature. In many ways it replicated unlearned lessons from a previous American fiasco known as Iran-Contras or the Oliver North Affair.

Saudi money was used to buy up obsolete Soviet-era weapons, primarily in the Balkans, and then ship them to Turkey and Jordan, all using forged paperwork to avoid appearance of illegality. From there they were supposed to filter into Syria and end up in the hands of the Kurds, who were at the time defending the town of Kobani from ISIS. Quite unsurprisingly, none of this went according to plan. The arms black market in the Middle East started overflowing with weapons, including heavy weaponry. US intelligence officers started buying up Ferraris, refusing to accept bribes in paper money—only in gold bars. Small-time arms dealers suddenly became very rich and started battling each other over market share. Just one shoot-out at a Jordanian army base claimed the lives of two Jordanian officers, two American contractors and one South African. (What illegal arms deal can ever go down without a South African being involved?) When the scale of the fiasco became obvious, the Jordanians involved in it were fired, but nothing was confiscated. Hillary Clinton was particularly livid; she was made to look really bad when some smart person posted on an official US government web site a contract for the delivery of tonnes of weapons from Bulgaria to the ports of Tasucu (Turkey) and Aqaba (Jordan) and Wikileaks got busy digging up more details.

It turns out that altogether the Obama administration squandered half a billion dollars on just the Free Syrian Army and Timber Sycamore. Instead of blaming themselves, those involved (most of them still on the job, with nary a much-deserved bullet to the head among any of them) got busy blaming Russia for not letting them “finish the job.” Here is a very nice graphic, courtesy of Wikileaks, that details the staggering amount of funds squandered by the US on its mischief in Syria.

Done with fiasco number three—onward with fiasco number four. Instead of just tossing in the general direction of Syria tonnes of obsolete Soviet-era weapons bought up in Eastern Europe using laundered money and forged paperwork, the US decided to actually play an active role “on the ground.” In October of 2015 the first 15 American instructors were helicoptered into Syrian Kurdistan. From that moment on the Americans wholeheartedly dedicated themselves to cultivating Syrian Democratic Forces (the two largest Kurdish armed groups) plus, for the sake of ethnic diversity, a couple of local Arab tribes.

In May of 2015 General Joseph L. Votel, commander of US forces in the Middle East, was flown into Syria in (relative) secrecy and met with Kurdish commanders. He attempted to force through the idea of having American advisors in Kurdistan and of having them prepare the locals for action. The Kurdish commanders and the tribal leaders were unreceptive to these ideas, and demanded that the Americans supply them with heavy weapons. Luckily, Votel had no authority to do so, and so when the Kurds started besieging the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa it was the Americans who fired the mortars and the artillery, with American Marines providing security for them. The effectiveness of these actions remains questionable.

The Kurds have shown themselves to be willful and uncooperative as allies. Their main goal is to bite off as much territory as they can and to later use it in negotiation with the government in Damascus in order to establish the largest possible Syrian Kurdish autonomy. They are generally unwilling to venture outside of their established range. They weren’t particularly willing to fight even for Manjib, which is mostly ethnically Kurdish, and their interest in capturing Raqqa has been largely nonexistent.

And yet the Americans consider it reasonable to think that once ISIS is completely routed (a matter of a couple of months at this rate) these same Kurds will help them establish and maintain control over the entire eastern shore of Euphrates all the way to the Iraqi border. Not only are the Kurds quite unmotivated to do so, but the Syrians are currently busy fortifying a beachhead and erecting a pontoon bridge in Ayash north of recently recaptured Deir ez-Zor. In the past couple of days they have moved heavy weaponry across the Euphrates to its eastern shore, knocked ISIS remnants out of the surrounding villages and are getting ready to advance toward the Iraqi border. They have made no secret of their plan to reestablish control over all of Syrian territory.

Looks like fiasco number four is already very much baked into the cake. But as usual, this is not stopping the Americans from pumping in more advisors and weapons, who will advise people who will refuse to heed their advice and arm people who will just as easily fight for them as against them. They are also pumping in other resources into constructing military bases on Syrian territory, which they will not control for any length of time. There is the airfield in Rmeilan, a larger base in Kobani and yet another airfield in Tal Beidir. Syrian Kurdistan is now playing host to a few hundred Americans armed with light weapons, Hummers and Strykers who never cease complaining about the substandard living conditions and the lack of good intelligence about what’s going on around them.

Not content to wait for fiasco number four to run its course, the Americans have launched preemptively into fiasco number five: constructing a military base in the south of Syria. Amazingly, even after all that has happened, they saw it fit to try to breathe some new life into the Free Syrian Army, and also to find some use for their bases in Jordan which had been thoroughly discredited by their performance in Timber Sycamore. To this end, they cozied up to some obscure armed groups that had crossed into Syria from Jordan and with their help established a base at Al Tanf, sufficiently heavily armed to hold that territory for a long time, and possibly to serve as forward position for an invasion from the south.

What happened instead is that the Syrians and the Iranians quickly circumvented Al Tanf and took control of the Iraqi border (with full Iraqi cooperation), rendering the Al Tanf base completely irrelevant. In recognition of this fact the Americans started dismantling and evacuating the base while the obscure armed groups they had cozied up to gave up and either surrendered to the Syrians or ran off and joined ISIS. Fiasco number five is now complete.

Fiasco number four is still ongoing, but the end result is already clear. Pretty soon there will no longer be any ISIS left in Syria for the Americans to pretend to be fighting. Their position, both in the Middle East and all around the world, is increasingly weak. Other than Syria, the country that has the most to gain from this situation is Russia. Consider the following:

• Saudi Arabia has been the major financier of the Syrian conflict, but even the Saudis have grown weary of American fecklessness and are trying to work out deals with the Russians.

• When the Israelis recognized that Syria has been conclusively “lost” to them, Netanyahu immediately jumped on a plane to… Moscow, of course, to beg for a few crumbs off the master’s table.

• Turkey has decided that cooperating with NATO is no longer on strategy and has put a down payment on Russian S-400 air defense systems which, unlike NATO-approved, US-supplied weapons, are not hindered by an inflexible friend-or-foe identification system and are perfectly happy to shoot down NATO targets.

• Even Germany—America’s most obedient lapdog since the end of World War II—has just launched an investigation into arms shipments to internationally recognized terrorist groups in Syria that went through the Rammstein military base and are illegal under German law.

As ISIS is being destroyed by the Syrians, with Russian air support, the Americans, in keeping with tradition, are blaming Russia for their loss of face, if not outright strategic defeat. If that silly blame game isn’t a sure sign of extreme weakness, I don’t know what is. The end game may not be entirely clear yet, but what is already clear is this: in order for a superpower to cease being a superpower a relatively small military defeat is sufficient, provided it is sufficiently meaningful. American performance in Syria is such that the US will no longer be party to international negotiations over Syria’s future—because its position is now so weak that it can simply be disregarded. And when it comes to meaningful military defeats, a self-inflicted one is by far the most efficacious.

Syria is not the only place where US military power is turning out to be not the least bit powerful. There is also Afghanistan, where the Taliban is busy reconquering the north of the country—the part of it that was most easily “liberated” when the Americans first invaded back in 2001. And there is also North Korea, whose leadership has successfully checkmated the US, leaving it with exactly zero viable military options—a situation the Americans are constitutionally incapable of accepting. And so they trash-talk the North Koreans, who trash-talk right back at them, making the rest of the world laugh nervously.

In conclusion, let me go out on a limb and venture a guess as to where this is all heading. I think that now that all the evidence is in that America’s superpower status is just a bit of Cold War nostalgia what comes next is… punishment. What do mommy and daddy do with a spoiled brat who has maxed out his credit cards squandering money on bar tabs, fancy toys and hookers? Why, take the credit cards away, of course!

In the case of the US, this action goes by the name of dedollarization. Those who have attempted it before—figures such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafy—were swiftly killed and their countries destroyed. But now such countries as China and Russia are heading up the dedollarization drive—countries that the US cannot hope to oppose, especially when they act in concert—and the American response so far has amounted to empty threats, toothless sanctions and a great deal of angry but incoherent mumbling.

To describe the situation in the simplest terms possible: the function of the US military is to intimidate other countries into letting the US buy whatever it wants by printing US dollars as needed, essentially robbing the rest of the world at gunpoint. Once their ability to intimidate the world into submission is gone so will be their ability to endlessly fleece the planet. And once that ability is gone all that will remain of the “richest country in the world” is a pile of worthless paper. When precisely that moment arrives is anyone’s guess, but you shouldn’t need to time it exactly provided you can plan for it. I recommend that you do so—if you haven’t already.

Latest book is now available on Amazon


Here\’s the order link. Feel free to order it from outside the US.

Everything is Going According to Plan—The Book


Six months ago I started publishing my weekly blog posts behind a paywall. Over the intervening months I have accumulated well over a thousand subscribers, most of whom pledge the minimum $1 per month. After all the fees (PayPal, Visa/Mastercard, etc., plus 5% for Patreon\’s service), this nets me just 77 cents. This rather minimal amount has had some wonderful effects. First, I no longer have to fight off trolls and filter spam from the comments. Second, the quality of the comments, which are now hidden behind the paywall, has improved greatly and now make very interesting reading, often as interesting as the blog posts themselves. Third, even this little bit of extra income has given me some needed breathing space, allowing me to devote more time to writing longer, more detailed, better researched weekly articles. The result is that over the past six months I have written over 300 printed pages, which I am now bringing out in paper book form. I hope that this book will please all those who have balked at making a monthly pledge but won\’t balk at buying a paper book.

At present the book is only available through CreateSpace, which works well within the US and hardly at all for foreign orders. If you are outside the US, please wait a couple of days, until it becomes available worldwide on Amazon. Thank you for your support.

Arise, You Prisoners of Semantics! (Part 2)


“A bad workman blames his tools” is a common enough idiom, which people often mistake to mean that tools don’t matter—only skills do. This is obviously wrong: tools do matter a great deal, and a good workman starts out with good tools and keeps them sharp and in good working order. Good workmen follow professional standards, both in the tools they use and in the objects they produce. When it comes to thinking, our main tool is language. It is very difficult to express complicated thoughts using simple languages, or to think well using a language that is flawed.

For example, pidgins and creoles, which evolve spontaneously in isolated communities lacking a common language, tend to lack concepts of time (past, present, future). Consequently, users of these languages find it very awkward to get across ideas such as whether someone might have said or done something had no one else said or done it previously. Research on an isolated group of deaf people in Nicaragua which spontaneously evolved a simple sign language showed that once temporal concepts were added to their languages their ability to recall the past and make plans for the future improved as well: language limits cognition.

Most likely, this is not a hard limit, and even limited expressive means can be stretched through effort. But since most people tend to be somewhat lazy it is to be expected that they will shy away from pushing against the boundaries of what their language can readily express. Just as importantly, most languages have certain safeguards built into them that constrain what they can express, blocking out large areas of physical impossibility, whimsy and illogic. These function as guard rails that keep your thoughts from going off a cliff. Languages that lack these guard rails do nothing to limit one from spouting spurious nonsense.

Pidgins and creoles aside, most of the major languages have evolved steadily over time, becoming ever more elaborate and refined, and by now all of them provide a very extensive toolkit for expressing constructive and creative thoughts. Although details vary quite a bit, most Indoeuropean languages (which account for well over half of the world’s speakers and an overwhelming majority of published texts) have a set of grammatical features that are obligatory: to say something, you have to make a choice of tense, mood, number, the animate/inanimate distinction and, significantly for this discussion, that most loaded of contemporary terms, gender. [2974 words]