“America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests” — Kissinger.
This post is a response to an article written by an EU bureaucrat. The author of that article is an ambitious young man. His words were meant to strike a target I cannot see; perhaps he wrote to impress those who would pull him to the next level. His was an insiderish article, back-scratchingly … synchophantingly so. Thus, I am not going to cite it. Though I don’t know this young man, I don’t want to hurt him … even though he’s DEAD WRONG.
When I was a little kid, about six or seven years of age, I enjoyed jumping rope. When two of us jumped-rope at the same time, we often sang a little ditty which went something like this: “Jump between the ropes … jump three times … push the enemy out … jump three times … push her out again … jump three times … there’s only room for one … jump three times …”
As an American, pursuing my own “self-interest” seems like an obvious and rational thing to do. After all, why would I pursue someone else’s interest — isn’t that suicidal or at least self-harming? One reason why the pursuit of self-interest seems like such an obvious good is that most Americans, including myself, are thoroughly atomized as well as aggressive — in spite of all the pressure to think otherwise, to conceive of myself as a member of an identity group, my default mode is to think of myself as an individual. That’s the American way. It’s who I am.
The phrase “group interest” gives me creepy feelings. It’s not only that I believe society works best if everyone pursues their own self-interest, but I fear being channeled by the interests of others. I’m never certain what their interests are. The idea of group interest seems irrational, much like a guessing game, more intuitive than secure. I’m forced to observe, to watch people’s faces for signs of dissimulation. Too, I’m not ever sure I fit in the group. What about non-conformists … are their voices heard? To what interests am I submitting if there’s a group interest? Does anyone know? Must I submit to a compromise position the group holds like little satellites around a big star? What happens if I don’t?
What does it mean to be an individual in a group, anyway?
Lets think about this. I’ve got some presuppositions that will make you feel uncomfortable because such thoughts are not polite. They’re supposed to remain buried and unspoken, but one of the things I do in this blog is speak the unspeakable. So, here goes:
Presupposition one. Life’s a battle. It’s totally Hobbesian — solitary, short, nasty, brutish, and poor. Furthermore, since the state of nature is binary, I can either prevail or lose. This means the state of nature IS a state of war. And, as in a war, for every loser there’s a winner. It’s a zero-sum game, folks, no matter what little, sweet lies they whispered in your youthful, soft ears.
Go back to the playground. Sing and jump, “there’s only room for one ...”
Presupposition two. It’s not the case that there are three possible outcomes in “conflict resolution” — capitulation, negotiation or domination — for, in reality, there are two. As I look back at the times I tried to “split the difference” or find “common ground,” I either lost or won in the end. Negotiation may have felt like an viable option, but was not — when I sought common ground and compromised, I only delayed via negotiation my own capitulation or domination. I have learned the hard way that there is no mid-point between winning and losing. For years, I fooled myself into thinking otherwise.
The truly bizarre idea promulgated by Leftists that we can all be winners if we “give a little to get a little” … oh-la-de-dah-de-dah-kumbaya … is a damnable lie. I wonder if Leftists jumped rope on the playground when they were kids. Didn’t they play “King of the Hill” on a pile of wet snow?
Look, there are winners and losers in every conflict. If you don’t believe this, you’re a loser. There are no outcomes in which everyone wins. Or loses.
Presupposition three. Thomas Hobbes — he’s a Christian moral philosopher, by the way — believed people naturally behave dreadfully toward each other. It would be Lord of the Flies every day if people unloosed their inner selves. All humanity, Hobbes says, is tainted by evil. We inherited a sinful nature which means that the need and desire to dominate others is deeply buried within us.
Presupposition four. Though Christians spend their lives fighting their own human nature — after the instigation of the Holy Spirit instills a willingness to change — this battle is never won. Selfishness, which is what the pursuit of self-interest is, can be tamped down but will never disappear. Thus, there’s no reason to pretend that another person, particularly a non-Christian, altruistically has your best interest in mind and is willing to sacrifice his/her own self-interests to yours.
Yes, people can be good and noble. Even selfless. But there’s a limited circle for whom true selflessness is a given — I’m thinking of the sort of selflessness required in marriage, old friendships and child-rearing. It’s chimerical, then, to look at people, even Christians, through rosy, altruistic lenses. To be rational means you must look at groups, neighborhoods, churches, states, nations or supranational collectivities in the same way — as if they’re out for themselves.
Presupposition five. Now, self-interest is absolutely NOT a Christian way to behave — no no no — even though it remains the most rational and realistic way to look at the interaction between people(s) and even collectivities. Christians should assume that self-interest reigns, even among believers. As a Christian woman, when I choose to be NOT self-interested, to sublimate my own desires and needs, that choice triggers a difficult struggle which I win only after the gentleness of spiritual maturity has taken deep root. Controlling my self-interestedness is a goal I’ll never fully reach. This is sad, but true. In Christian rhetoric, I’m in a life-long battle to “die to self.”
See the tension? As a Christian, I must put the needs and desires of other people over my own needs and desires, but as a realist I know it’s perfectly rational to scratch the eyes out of anyone who dares to get in my way.
So, watch out. You’ll never know which side of me will prevail — the “old man” realist, or the gentle, sanctified believer.
That was supposed to be humorous.
I’ve overstated the case, of course, just to unnerve you. I am certain, however, that Hobbes’s “negative anthropology” is closer to social reality than, say, the anti-war, anti-electricity Mennonites in Pennsylvania, or the silly Greenies who are nothing more than a colourful reincarnation of yesterday’s dispossessed Luddites.
Hobbes is more true than any EU weenie who prattles on about “strategic autonomy.” The EU weenies are the same kids I used to push out of the jump rope game, the ones with skinned knees and bruised egos. Some of them, apparently, grew up to become bureaucrats. As bureaucrats, they seek to either avoid the necessity to win the jumping game, or avoid the game altogether. They are not “strategically autonomous.” They’re pretenders.
Strategic autonomy, according to Wikipedia, is “the ability of a state to pursue it’s national interests and adopt it’s preferred foreign policy without depending heavily on other foreign states.” Nice definition. Sounds a lot like self-interest, no? It reminds me of Adam Smith’s idea of rational self-interest being the primary motivation and organizing principle of free markets. Social interactions can be seen as economic decisions. You don’t choose to buy apples because it’s good for someone else, or even because it’s good for the environment, but because you WANT them. Buying apples is in your self-interest. It makes you happy and fills your belly. But I digress.
One way to look at strategic autonomy is to see it as the amazing little kid who figures out how to push a bigger kid out of the jump rope game. Today, this would be the little EU pushing the big USA out of the moving rope and onto the tarmac. This becomes possible only when the USA neglects it’s own self-interest, or when American elitists want to weaken their own country for whatever nefarious motives hide in their dark souls. It takes a lot of muscle-power to push out the big kid. Stupidly, the little EU doesn’t seem to get this. The EU can’t push opponents out of the rope when it’s enemies have weapons, wear body armor and are toned and buff … and they’re just a gaggle of pasty, pretentious EU weenies.
I’m a big fan of multipolarity. It’s the best way to figure out who pushes the hardest. I want multipolarity for everyone, here and now — all the way up and down. Systematic multipolarity. Nothing and no one excluded. Multipolarity is competition, raw and unrefined. It’s war, in other words.
PROBLEM: The people who talk about sharing power hoard it — the people who talk about the goodness of multipolarity are desperate to be unipolar.
At its biggest and baddest, multipolarity is West against East, the EU/USA/England/NATO v. Russia/China/BRICS, etc. At it’s wimpiest, it’s one sniveling negotiator trying to push another conniving negotiator out of the rope — it’s individualized, that is. Multipolarity lies on every level of human relations, in supranational contests as well as between two individuals, nations, corporations, universities … even churches.
Multipolarity is Hobbesian competitiveness writ both large and small, the consequence of the fall in Eden and the subsequent persistence of sin-nature. Unipolarity is Darwinism at it’s logical extreme. It, too, is Hobbesian.
So, how does you win at the game of multipolarity? It’s rather easy, really. First, you MUST define the terms for everyone.
Toward those more powerful or influential than you, that is, those you don’t control or dominate, you must promote multipolarity. This allows you to bide time as it ties your opponent up with meaningless jargon about human rights, environmental degradation, blah blah blah. As you do this, you scuttle around behind their backs, trying to figure out how to game them. The goal is unipolarity, even if this makes you squirm to admit it. You know this in your little heart. You want to push the other kids out of the jump rope game, don’t you? You want to stand on the pile of snow and snap your scarf at any one who dares to try to push you off. That’s human nature. Yours.
Multipolarity is never a stable condition. It’s whatever you’re passing through on your way to defeat or victory. It’s a gaming term, not reality. Ephemeral. Calculating.
Toward those you can overpower, you declare unipolarity. You may as well be honest when you can, right? Oh, throw them a few bones, here and there, but never get pushed out of the rope. Don’t let them jump with you. Push them out quickly. When they’re out, you win.
Unipolarity, like multipolarity is never a stable condition. It’s your goal, but one tenuously held. It’s the sweet taste of victory awaiting it’s inevitable demise. Nothing lasts. Victories turn to dust. Unipolarity is as ephemeral as multipolarity. It just feels better.
No unipolar power will give up it’s perch to support a multipolar political environment. Look at England … Rome … France … Greece. Soon, America. These were unipolar collectivities for as long as they could be the biggest kid on the playground. When on top, they promoted their own unipolarity as the only way to “secure world peace.” Without themselves, they crowed, Europe would descend into bitter bickering. The world, then, needs the EU. Stopping war depends on it.
This is BS, of course. An unipolar organization like the EU, when forced to share power or relegated to a lesser position, amazingly rediscovers the moral uprightness and desirability of multipolarity … as they wait in the shadows to ascend again.
So, multipolarity is a transitory hiding place for the weak and weakening. Again, it’s not a stable position but a pass-through. It’s a place of thrashing. Of desperate pushing. Of conniving and trying to stave off the inevitable.
In the end, every country loses. There are NO perennial winners. Nothing stays the same. It’s rise and fall. Rinse and repeat.
Unipolarity, in it’s distilled essence, can provide a temporary stability at a huge cost: one kid jumps not two; one nation rules, not many. Though unipolar stability never lasts — any armchair historian knows about the cyclical “rise and fall” of nations — it can pause the chaos, often for many years, inherent in multipolar environments. Unipolarity is self-interest deemed victorious. It’s the end, not the means.
I have no explanation for cultural/social devolution. It just happens as if God wills it. Devolution is the Second Law of Thermodynamics (?) applied to people and collectivities: everything tends toward disintegration and disorder without an exterior power forcing order. It’s a bit like heat death. Eventually, hell breaks loose. We’re soon to experience this in the West. We’re going to experience both the horror and glory of multipolarity as EU/USA unipolarity fades from the scene.
There are other self-interested reasons for multipolarity. If country X and country Y decide to make a pact to defend themselves against country Z, this pact for limited and temporary “power sharing” makes sense. But there will always be a nagging fear among the elitists of country X that country Y could be taking advantage of them, that the once-beneficial arrangement are really net-negative. Loyalty to the agreement as well as the spirit of the agreements will always be called into question. And what is loyalty other than self-interest masquerading as an interest in others?
The idea of “team,” in itself, is tenuous. Groups work together as a team as long as it’s in their self-interest. Supranational organizations like the EU are made of “team members” who are there only because they believe it to be their best choice at that time. When circumstances change and it stops benefitting them, they’ll slither out. There’s no loyalty. No family-connection. No marriage.
To keep the “lessers” from slithering away, leaders of supranational organizations massage the egos and desires of their more marginal members. Though EU elitists deny it, the EU is composed of concentric circles of power with Germany and France in the centre. The farthest, outer orbits are comprised of satellite countries like Hungary. The inner tells the outer what to do — they punch down. The inner countries even pay off the outer ones to keep them in the fold. As long as money flows, the EU hangs together even though it benefits some more than others. But when it becomes too costly to be a part of the EU — when benefits don’t outweigh costs — the entirety inevitably will collapse.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the supposedly unipolar organizations like the EU are made of countries which struggle against multipolar forces in the EU. Thus, egalitarian multipolarity works only on a mythical level — in reality, some are pushed out of the jump-rope game faster and farther than others. And, it works only at a level below oneself. Multipolarity isn’t desirable if two groups are at par, or close to par. This is why, at the supranational level, the EU hates multipolarity EVEN AS IT ACTUALIZES IT in itself.
Why? Well, self-interest, of course. It’s not in the EU’s self-interest to compete with other multinational organizations even though it is in the EU’s self-interest to allow organizations to compete within it. No other organizations similar in power can be allowed to muscle into the EU’s unipolar facade.
That’s what the Ukraine war is about. The war in the Ukraine has nothing to do with that country. That’s pretext. In reality, the war has two simultaneous “theaters:” first, it’s a civil war in Russia consequent to the meddling of outsiders; second, it’s an alibi for a proxy war between US/EU/NATO/England and BRICS/others.
The Ukrainian conflict marks the beginning of the end of EU/USA unipolarity. No one needs the EU. Or, the USA. France is a country in itself and should reestablish itself as such. The longer it hangs onto the chimera of EU unipolarity to mask it’s own declining power on a world stage, the weaker it gets. It should, and probably is, making self-interested treaties with countries that benefit it — Russian gas, anyone?
The idea of a pan-Europe if disappeared from world politics would make the world a better place. All the diplo-chatter about “vertical integration” is silliness — every country in Europe, in the end, will fend for itself. There will never be a single core and there never was. As Kissinger wrote, each country has INTERESTS, not friends. The myth of supra-nationalism is crashing, right now, on the rocks of the problem of self-interest. No country in the EU will be willing to sublimate self-interest to the greater good of the whole if over time, that country’s culture, identity and ambitions are squelched.
Add to this, heat and food …