A short note on the alt-right and nonviolence

“There’s a contrast between the alt-right and the well-minded people that find themselves somewhere else on this one-dimensional axis: whether you’re liberal, conservative, not sure or don’t know: condemning the alt-right nonviolently is only sane.”

In Jesse Singal’s careful, pragmatic case against punching Nazis, Singal makes a convincing case for nonviolence, a method of protesting that has existed for thousands of years and has caused the successful disruption of government time and time again. Strikes are an excellent example. Albeit more prevailing in the past century, when most workers were still unionized, they have had considerable effects for strikers and their families. As for an older example, take the period of the Conflict of Orders in Rome (494 B.C. to 287 B.C), when the common Plebeians sought to achieve political equality with the aristocratic Patricians. In 494 B.C. this consequential period started with the first ‘secession of the plebeians’, who nonviolently seceded to the sacred mountain, just outside Rome. Eventually, a series of protests and conflicts led to further democratization of the Roman Republic. For more timely examples, note the relatively nonviolent Bolshevik revolution, India’s struggle against British rule or King’s civil rights movement.

counterprotest
Counter-protest

As Trump fails to fully condemn the far-right fringes of the political spectrum and hence further isolates himself in indefensible immorality, nonviolence is the only acceptable reaction. Singal argues the same, on the grounds that for liberals and progressives, violence is always a last resort, ‘the last refuge of the incompetent’ to quote Asimov. Who would not agree with Singal? The relatively small alt-right feeds on violence by its counter-protesters: it’s ‘proof’ that the ‘alt-left’ somehow suppresses the white American who is peacefully exercising his right to free speech.

For this message, I strongly urge you to read Singal’s article, however, I disagree with his categorization. At the end, Singal concludes that progressives and liberals should refrain from “punching Nazis” and that “in most other situations, progressives understand — or claim to understand — the moral gravity of calling for violence. They shouldn’t let a scary but small group of deeply loathed bigots steer them off course.”. The assertion that only liberals and progressives agree that violence is a method of protest so childish and primitive that it should be avoided at all cost, undermines his point.

Singal seemingly understands that neo-Nazism and white supremacy attempt to argue for a society so unsupported and feared that they are vastly outnumbered by their saner countrymen, however different it may appear on Twitter. None of this means, however, that we should group people according to their political beliefs again. There’s a contrast between the alt-right and the well-minded people that find themselves somewhere else on this one-dimensional axis, whether you’re liberal, conservative, not sure or don’t know: condemning the alt-right nonviolently is the only sane thing to do.

As a short addendum, a Martin Luther King quote:

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.

A brief introduction: on my views concerning politics and religion

In contact with readers, I find that I have to explain myself rather often. So, for future reference: a short summary. It may not be my most elegant prose but it serves its purpose.

As I become more serious with writing and hope to further build my ‘brand’, it pays to concisely lay out my views for future reference.

For one, I am an atheist, which does not mean that I condemn or consider myself superior to religious people. I simply find that religion is a necessity of the past, when explanations of the world were not as abundant as they are now, furthermore, religion used to be an extremely powerful tool in the centralization of government as well as the subsequent suppression of its people. Although it’s wonderful that some manage to see only the good things in religion, I fail to see why anyone would be a good person solely with the help of a supernatural being or a set of unreferenced ancient scripture.

I thus reject religion on the premises that it has no scientific base and that, in the twenty-first century, it brings on balance more bad than it does good. With bad I mean totalitarian Islamic states in the Middle-East (theocracies), terrorism, the Israel-Palestine conflict, I could go on. Besides these conflicts, what most bothers me is that a lack of progressiveness when it comes to equal rights for people of different gender, sexuality and race can be largely blamed on religious dogmas.

As for a further evaluation of my political views: I already noted that I am a social liberal or a centrist in that I stand on the center-right fiscally and the left socially. Economically, I believe that a free market is essential to the prosperity of any country. This does not mean that I support the type of control that financial institutions such as Wall Street have. These large financial institutions simply buy their way into the White House, furthermore, they seem to have forgotten Adam Smith’s idea that capitalism only works if the chiefs in some noticeable way give back to the masses that they employ. Socially, I don’t support religious values and the ancient dogmas they find their roots in, therefore, I see absolutely no reason to preemptively condemn someone because of their qualities or appearance. This does not mean that everyone should be tarred with the same brush – that would make diversity simply more of the same. I simply belief that everyone deserves equal rights from the get-go and has every right to embrace their own ethnicity and accompanying culture.

Due to its Manichean nature, I spare myself a partisan preference in US politics, as with the one-axis left-right spectrum, the two-party system as currently prevails in the States simply makes for a polarized and hyper-partisan political landscape where people’s opinions aren’t valued for their content but merely their fit within the party manifesto.

Nevertheless, I don’t support Donald Trump; both for his political ideology as well as his haughty, thin-skinned and unpredictable nature that I find especially terrifying on a global scale. Despite the alt-right’s embrace of atheism, I absolutely despise its values.

There you have it, feel free to comment and rebut.

Bannon possibly ousted as chief strategist

According to the New York Times, who cite two administration officials, Trump has decided to remove Bannon from his powerful position. Considering Trump’s loyalty seems to last only a short time, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Considering that Bannon is, despite my mild praise yesterday, the chief engineer of his alt-right base and therefore a valuable asset in maintaining his most consistent following, it is.

Whether this is a noticable change remains to be seen, Bannon’s influence in the White House seemed close to none in recent weeks. The chief strategist even refuted Trump’s statements concerning North Korea in an interview last Wednesday.

Nonetheless, quite interesting.

Bannon, ever controversial

A short comment on Steve Bannon’s interview with Robert Kuttner from The American Prospect.

steve_bannon

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, called Robert Kuttner from the American Prospect on Wednesday. Contrary to Scaramucci’s call with Ryan Lizza from the New Yorker, Bannon refrained from hateful incentives and vile insults. More so, the chief strategist bared his views on North Korea, China and Charlottesville in what appeared to be a more or less reasonable and substantive call, regardless of his seemingly weak position within the White House.

Contrary to his boss, Bannon seems well-informed and contradicted Trump’s ‘fire and fury’, noting that “there’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats]” and that his focus was fully on “the economic war with China”. Again, he goes against his boss, whose priorities are less with his campaign promises but concern more with the century-old mantra’s of the big-business Republican branch, which is, ironically, the swampy center of the Republican party.

Kuttner has long criticized trade with China and he explained the call by noting that Bannon wants to build a sort of coalition of “trade hawks” with people from both the left and the right. Again, whether you agree or don’t, respect Bannon or don’t, it’s refreshing to see that Bannon seems more free from dogmatic and partisan shackles, venturing to bring people from both the left and the right together in their mutual adversity towards globalism.

Charlottesville, “a bunch of losers”

Bannon was already a kind of chief strategist during the campaign. His Breitbart brought white nationalism, anti-immigration and at times neo-nazism to the mainstream and rallied them for Trump. Speculating whether Trump would have been in the White House if Breitbart and Steve Bannon weren’t there to help him is frivolous. Nonetheless, the alt-right is most consistent in its defense of Trump and Breitbart seems to play a helping hand in that. The aforementioned aside, Bannon did rightly condemn the protests in Charlottesville:

“Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

The former seems like an effort to please both sides, especially considering that in the same interview he wished that Democrats would keep talking about racism, Bannon would then have clear water before him to propose his program of economic nationalism. All in all, it’s quite promising to see that Trump’s chief strategist has a more nuanced and less reactionary view with regard to North Korea. What’s even more promising is that Bannon is willing to invite to the White House a writer for the American Prospect, an unmistakably leftist magazines that is consistent in its disdain for the Trump administration.

Fine reasoning overshadowed by ill-informed foolishness

Damore’s Google memo could have been much more.

The combined quarterly revenues of the five largest technology firms clocked in at 142 billion dollars. Of these five companies – Alphabet (Google’s mother-firm), Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft – three have their headquarter in Silicon Valley, Microsoft and Amazon find their head-bureaus elsewhere, nonetheless, both employ swaths of employees in the vibrant area. Furthermore, we find Twitter, LinkedIn, Netflix, Tesla Motors, eBay, Intel, Hewlett Packard, the list goes on. Besides geographically referring to the southern part of the Bay Area, Silicon Valley has become a metonymy for the tech industry as a whole. James Damore’s controversial memo, although first circulated via Google’s internal mailing lists only, has to do with the metonymical tenor of Silicon Valley, it has to do with the ever-growing technology sector by and large.

The technology industry is one of exceptional entrepreneurship, innovation and, evidently, growth. Despite its admirable results and profits, or ethical questions about its implications on privacy and freedom, talk of sexism is its most timely problem. And rightly so, women are often paid less, find themselves in top positions less often and, according to surveys, have to put up with unwanted sexual advances. With Silicon Valley seemingly synonymous with ‘cosmopolitan liberal’, sexism is oddly out of place. CEO’s wholeheartedly condemn sexism with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, as well as his boss, Alphabet CEO Larry Page, for example, openly – albeit rather frivolously up until now – speaking against it.

“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”

James Damore was a Google employee who felt that his more offbeat and unorthodox opinions were suppressed by unwritten and written rules. I can only sympathize with Damore at this point; as an engineering student I agree with him that a hyper-biased and charged atmosphere at universities and larger technology firms might discourage some from being able to fully express their opinion. That would certainly explain why his pamphlet has caused such a stir.

Too bad that’s where the good points come to and end. As with anything that I deem remotely interesting for its daring boldness there is a substantial ‘but’. The pamphlet is reasonable and supremely sharp in its call for debate and “honest discussion”. The second part, however, falls flat on its phase in its fallacies and, sadly, negates the apropos first half. Damore starts to argue that underrepresentation of women is not a result of discrimination. On the contrary. Damore argues that innate differences make women fare worse in the industry. The alt-right – ever embracing of ill-informed foolishness – swiftly embraced his argument that congenital personality traits make women less suitable for a job in Silicon Valley.

Before I fall prey to expected criticism: however insignificant, personality differences between the sexes might indeed be present (nature v. nurture is an entirely different debate), it would be frivolous to argue that the two sexes are indistinguishable. However, to argue, as Damore does, that women are “more interested in people than things” or “look for more work-life balance” rather than “status” is utterly backward.

I am well aware of figures (such as Rebel media’s Gavin McInnes) who have consistently made the point that, by innate difference, women prefer spending time with their kids but have strayed away from ‘nature’s ideal’ because of feminism. McInnes backs these claims up by noting that women are, on average, less happy than they were a hundred years prior. His statistics are correct, his induction is short-sighted. Contrary to McInnes and hard-right publications, I don’t consider myself a credible expert without truly diving into the subject, therefore, I will leave comment to this article, which explains the differences in a most factual and well-referenced manner. Nonetheless, as per scholarly ideals, research is and should be available on the internet, some links can be found below for the interested reader.

Damore’s pamphlet could have been one for the history books. It wasn’t, to my dismay. Sharp arguments in favor of debate and openness are overshadowed by the poorly substantiated second half. My hope is that the media manages to pick up on this first section and shines a light on the fact that Damore also wrote that “honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots”. Honest discussion is, as I hope we can all agree upon, a fundamental necessity in any workplace.

Some interesting links concerning Damore:

Some interesting links concerning congenital differences between the two sexes:

For a typical example of sensational media coverage: CNBC did not even mention Silicon Valley’s ‘ideological echo chamber’, it went for a more ominous ’10 shocking quotes from the viral Google manifesto’.

The US and North Korea, business as usual?

However daunting it may seem, the most recent feud with the North seems – lest some notable exceptions – business as usual.

Opinion writers take pride in linking Trump’s win to certain phenomena – a shifting Democratic base, contemptuous liberals, changing media landscapes, Trump’s radically different campaign and his calls for hard power, the Russians, the list goes on. As with foreign policy, electoral victory is dependent on innumerable factors, all aforementioned ingredients add in some way to the serving but it is no secret that Trump seeks to grow the military, increase the US’ hard powers and decimate the state department. The results start to show in the most serious crisis encountered by the Trump administration yet. Trump’s disconnect from the state department and the accompanying absence of thought and thoroughness is sadly unsurprising and, as he called for ‘fire and fury’ or even tougher action, the state department was predictably sidelined.

Exporting threats

Ironic as it may seem shortly after the strictest batch of sanctions was passed, the regime’s prime export product remains free to cross the border: threats. Japan and the US, as well as the North’s southern neighbors, have been subject to its intimidation so frequently that, at first sight, it seems miraculous that none sparked an armed conflict. Over the years, there have been similar diplomatic moments of razzle-dazzle or, for a less British euphemism: a verbal tug of war. However you’d like to call it, commentators and analysts alike have not feared comparisons with the Cuban missile crisis or the invasion in Iran.

Although these crises often passed silently, this feud is quite different. For one, Mr. Kim’s statements are almost indistinguishable from the president’s and in a verbal battle between an autocratic all-controlling leader and a president whose praise for such absolute rulers has remained throughout his time in office, tensions rise high. Quite the contrary to previous years, when it was easy to sideline and ignore the DPRK’s supreme leader as a ‘rambling lunatic’. Most importantly, however, according to the Washington Post, the country is able to miniaturize its nuclear capabilities and aim its functioning inter-continental missiles at the US, meaning that the regime’s long awaited insurance policy is no longer merely the subject of speculation.

nk_propaganda

Despite my lack of expertise in the area, it’s easy to conclude that North Korea’s perspective is very simple; keep the regime in power. State media portray the US as a force of capitalism and evil, a force that simply aims to topple its praised government. The DPRK argues it can only persists if its nuclear arsenal is up to spec. With nuclear miniaturization a possibility and ICBM’s ready, it seems that such an arsenal is no longer a fantasy. The DPRK knows very well that Trump won’t attack since the regime has the capabilities to not only destroy Seoul but to obliterate US cities. On the other hand, the regime won’t attack the United States first since Washington will most certainly claim victory in the war that follows. This, then, is the impasse the world has reached.

Deterrence?

The United States might like the option of regime change – it has a long tradition of crudely toppling regimes it dislikes – but, as John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker, Kim’s aforementioned insurance is paying off. However desired, the installation of a friendly government is not an option. 

Robin Wright, also a staff-writer at the New Yorker, spoke to retired navy admiral and former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Winnefeld. His advice was simple: “Let them stow in their own juices … it’s a fools errand to expect China to solve this”. The Economist aligned with Winnefeld and noted that if diplomacy fails and military action has such horrific consequences, “the only remaining option is to deter and contain Mr. Kim”. As Cassidy notes, it would be an acknowledgement that US policies aimed at the North not acquiring nuclear weaponry has failed. Failing to concede to its own mistakes is typical for the US, note Iran and Iraq during Mossadegh and later Khomeini and Hussein for example. Leaving characteristic Washington megalomania aside, deterrence, together with a thoroughly reviewed personal statement by the president is the only viable and respectable option.

@ Eat Pray Vote!

A business-like White House and John Kelly

In light of maintaining the US government’s international position and the need for a strong foreign policy, John Kelly will bring a welcome change to the White House.

From the campaign trail on, Trump has been pointing to the success of his business as physical examples of his leadership talents. It seemed only logical he would take his experience as a businessman into the White House, his experience in corporate America, however, seems quite the double-edged sword.

For one, running a business is – although it may seem so at first sight – not a one-man job, it requires advisory from both the private- and public sector, furthermore, no business thrives without the necessary channels of communication, the well-being of its employees and satisfaction of its customers. It is for these reasons that Republicans have enjoyed the thought of an executive run by a CEO-like figure on many occasions; Reagan, for example, established a commission that looked to the private sector for ideas with regard to efficiency and removal of the necessary evils that accompany federal bureaucracy. Fellow Republican George W. Bush promised to run government based on a ‘market-based’ approach. Both these examples fit snugly in the Republican mantra of small government.

On the other hand, however, businesses – in their essence – exist for the sole purpose of making money and distributing that money to its respective employees and shareholders. In the private world, customer satisfaction is merely a necessity in the process of making money, not a goal. Furthermore, corporate America prefers short-term dividends over long-term investment, which results in limited innovation. Although previous attempts to modernize parts of government by peering over the shoulders of the chief executive officer have sometimes lent themselves well to efficiency in the oval, a business-esque government falls flat on its face by the above arguments. By definition, this philosophy does not result in a government ‘for the people’, nor does it secure the ‘blessings of Liberty and Posterity’ of its citizens.

Despite obvious faults and fallacies, it seems that the idea of a business-esque government is one of the current administration’s most consistent. Ramifications include an executive that is geared towards short-term wins, an executive that seems to take no interest in its example-setting role and a President that makes his decisions unexpectedly and abruptly, many based on the opinion of the last person or adviser he spoke to, none seem to involve the careful deliberation and thought that government so requires. Trump’s personality traits further add to the administration’s inability to function, for the sake of avoiding reiterations, it is sufficient to note that Trump’s satisfaction at reading his name in one of Magie Haberman’s headlines trumps his will to serve the country as promised.

The gatekeeper

Thermodynamic’s second law – namely that entropy, a quantitative measure of disarray, will always increase – still holds as the White House engages in an outlandish display of chaos; Scaramucci in, Spicer out, Priebus out, Bannon insulted, and, in a bizarre twist of events, Scaramucci out as a result of Kelly in.

Judging from media reports over, Reince Priebus has been a weak chief of staff. His nomination already seemed mostly the result of Trump realizing that ‘draining the swamp’ is more easily said than done, Priebus appeared merely a kind gesture towards the more ‘swampy’ Washington-folk. The previous chief of staff therefore never quite enjoyed the same friendliness with Trump as some of the more ominous, cartoonish figures in his administration, nor were he ever distinctly part of one of the White House factions.

Trump’s – and therefore Priebus’ – oval office has been described as a ‘Grand Central Station’, contrary to the ‘therapist’s couch’. Priebus has left the traditional gatekeeper role of which Chris Whipple speaks in his new book (The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency) at the door and seemingly tried to put Trump in the more accustomed environment of his Trump Tower office. As is plain from the above, the strategy has not worked: no campaign promises have been materialized nor has the swamp been drained, all the while Obama’s legacy still stands, international conflicts ask for dire attention and all that has manifested is either half-baked or hastily established via executive order.

This, then, is Kelly’s task: to promote thought and argument, demote sloppy advisory and first and foremost keep the gate. Whether supportive of Trump or not, whether supportive of his policies and ideology or not; the US government needs to be run and in the light of maintaining its international position, the general will most certainly bring a welcome change to the White House.

Short addendum; journalists have noted that the door to the oval office was often closed for the past few days, seeing patterns within this short while might be a tad optimistic but it seems that Kelly aims to take on the role of keeping the gate.

@ Eat Pray Vote!