Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pinker's Violence Fantasy: the Truth About War and Violence in the Post Cold War Age

The WSJ's article by Steven Pinker Why Violence is Vanishing illustrates the desperate nature of Liberals and the Modern Western Society (which is profoundly Liberal in the modern, PC sense). Wanting desperately to believe that there is no more reason to fight, sacrifice, and empower nasty and dangerous men to protect us, and build nasty and dangerous weapons, the hope is that by clapping real hard for fairies, ala Peter Pan, we can believe and make it so.


Pinker notes, accurately enough, that the growth of agricultural states and enforcement technology (swords, spears, arrows, etc.) allowed centralizing monarchs to cut down hunter-gatherer personal violence which was horrendous and daily. Enlightenment Monarchs in Europe further cut down violence that was constant and grinding by eradicating banditry, enforcing laws, and promoting safety. This is why native European martial arts and weaponry, including staff fighting, knife fighting, bludgeon fighting, and unarmed combat disappeared save Savate in Marseilles, an ultra-violent port that kept that art alive until the Twentieth Century turned it into a sport. All of this is true.

But what Pinker does not contemplate, is how violence particularly in Europe and China was compressed. True Renaissance peoples did not slaughter each other personally as Dark Ages people did, let along hunter gatherers … most of the time. But a third of German speakers were killed in the Thirty Years War 1618-1648 and the terms Magdeburg Quarter entered the terminology of Europe. In China, the Taiping Rebellion wiped out 20 million people between 1850 and 1864.

Technology and new social orders tended to suppress day to day violence. Neighbor did not stick a spear into neighbor, because he had run off with a daughter or wife. Disputes were adjudicated by the state, even in Aztec Mexico. Bernal Diaz Del Castillo in his "Conquest of Mexico" first-hand account notes how Montezuma spent hours every day listening to people who came before him to judge disputes, this from a people who practiced ritual human sacrifice and cannibalism (as did, notes Diaz del Castillo, all their neighbors and the allies of the Spanish).

BUT … when the state loses control, or warfare becomes "total" with new weaponry that makes old orders obsolete, as in the 1600's, or again in the 1940's, horror emerges. Ordinary Japanese men, often under strict orders from high commanders NOT to engage in rape, pillage and murder, and facing an advancing enemy, spent all their time doing so. The destruction of Manila as American forces advanced in contravention of the commanding officer's orders is one example. Done by men who would not have dreamed of ever doing that in Japan. The violence exacerbated by a civilian population accustomed to obeying orders and unable to offer any real resistance anyway.

Violence, by being so rare, becomes almost viral when it does break out, infecting people with horrific results. There is a scene in the otherwise tedious and boring movie "the Debt," where the villainous Nazi doctor says he knew they would succeed when Jews handed over their children. Von Wallenstein and Tilly were hardly nice men. But they would have found it inconceivable to boast of such a thing, because for them, violence was a path to glory. The idea, of killing children as a means to become a famous and accomplished man would have seemed like … madness. One only became famous by fighting a powerful foe that could certainly destroy you. There was nothing to be found of glory in killing children, old men, women, and defenseless men. Though certainly they did that, on attacks on towns, their views of violence was that their glory came in open battle against a foe well able to defeat them.

Now we come to the heart of Pinker's argument. Like the "War Nerd" Gary Brecher, Pinker believes that somehow humans have stopped becoming violent, and that war will no longer break out because, well dammit human nature changed. He hand-waves the wars and civil wars that have broken out since the end of the Cold War and nuclear duopoly, including the Iran-Iraq War in the twilight of the Cold War, the Central African Wars of 1998-Present (about ten million dead or so), the Sri Lankan Civil War, the constant wars in Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan, the Iraq War, the Afghan War, 9/11 and the prospect for non-state violence not seen since the Treaty of Westphalia (growth of non-state militias). Pinker points to globalization and trade, ignoring that some societies are permanent losers in that unless they …

USE WAR TO CONQUER OTHER PEOPLES.

Look at Egypt. It cannot as Spengler/David P. Goldman notes, feed its people, manufacture anything worth buying, or produce literate people let alone engineers and other college graduates who are employable. All it has is War. The hope of conquering Israel, taking the Mediterranean gas fields, and then going on to conquer perhaps weak Italy, rich in resources, slaves, food, land, and without any meaningful defenses or even the will to defend itself.

Egypt, in order to survive without war, would have to deep six all of Islam, spend its time studying math and science not heaving their butts into the air five times a day, use the scientific method not something written in the Koran to figure out the world, teach their women to read and write, outlaw polygamy, give women equal rights, allow religious freedom and intellectual freedom, and promote a national concept of hard work and studying. Egypt would have to copy … China. And they cannot even be China, much less South Korea, Japan, or Finland. All that would destroy nearly everything that makes Egyptian society. The same goes for nearly all of the Muslim world, which would have to cease being Muslim if it is to eat, unless it makes war.

What Pinker does not realize, is that the AK-47, easy GPS, nuclear weapons from Pakistan, Iran, China, and so on, allow a vast equalization. Pakistan can cow the US, attacking our embassy in Kabul according to Admiral Mike Mullen in sworn Congressional Testimony, because they have nukes and we are afraid of them. The same is true for all those North African regimes. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya cannot feed their people. But they can cross the Med in boats, come ashore in Italy, France, and Spain, and simply take over. Killing any who object. That's violence, and violent enslavement. Which awaits Europeans who have a toy/pretend military and no will to use even that.

An example of Pinker's blinkered, utopian views are below:

Another pacifying force has been commerce, a game in which everybody can win. As technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead. They switch from being targets of demonization and dehumanization to potential partners in reciprocal altruism.
For example, though the relationship today between America and China is far from warm, we are unlikely to declare war on them or vice versa. Morality aside, they make too much of our stuff, and we owe them too much money.
A third peacemaker has been cosmopolitanism—the expansion of people's parochial little worlds through literacy, mobility, education, science, history, journalism and mass media. These forms of virtual reality can prompt people to take the perspective of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them.


The War Nerd has said the same thing, and much the same was said in … 1913. Britain and Germany simply traded too much with each other to go to War. This was also said in 1938, and of the US and Japan in 1940, which had considerable trade.

What neither the War Nerd nor Pinker really understand is how much of a loser globalization makes a lot of societies and people. Now Egypt, as Spengler notes, has to compete with China for food. As does, note, the US. The US can compete, because it is a richer society. Egypt cannot. So it is starve or war. Egypt will choose … war. Because the cost of War has gone down.

Most "loser societies" do not believe that they will pay any real price for War, and discount their enemies ability to match their "fighting spirit" and willingness to win. Advantages in jet planes or nukes are discounted, and perhaps not too unrealistically. Israel in 1973 had nukes, and Egypt still attacked it. Israel at one point faced annihilation by Egypt, and did not face nukes. If Israel did not use them, in its then greatest hour of need, would it ever? [Likely, not.]

Western societies are often, for the most part, unable to offer violence in any meaningful way. Save fantasy violence in movies, and the idea expressed in recent TV shows and movies that the public wants violence done on its behalf to be safe, no more 9/11's, but does not want to know how it was done or who did it. The violence is kept secret. No bodies in Afghanistan show, nor in Iraq now, though there are plenty. Still even less coverage of people killed by drone attacks in Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, tribal Pakistan, and rumored, Kenya, Tanzania, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.

Meanwhile "loser societies" remain immersed in violence. Violence in unimaginable and unreported ways permeate every inch of daily life, particularly in Muslim society and Latin American society. Santa Muerte or a thinly Catholicized Aztec Death-God, demanding human sacrifice, is rising, with people being tortured and killed over Twitter comments. Often the mass violence has no purpose save the satiating of the killers desires for murder and death. Given the widespread prevalence of human sacrifice and cannibalism that the Conquistadors found in Mexico (not just the Aztecs, EVERY TRIBE DID IT), you might argue that Mexico is reverting to pre-Columbian violent type.

Muslims have daily violence in their society on a deeply personal level, widespread, as well. Women are genitally mutilated, often honor killed, rape is done by judicial punishment, hanging and stoning to death for adultery is on the rise, child brides are increasing, and so is violence between Shia and Sunni, and against all non-Muslims unlucky enough to live in lands filled with Muslims in any number. This is the advantage, so Muslim thinkers and Mexican Drug cartel members alike, view versus the weak and soft West which is unable and unwilling to deal out violence except when it can massively pretend it is not.

Pinker and Brecher alike share in my view, a fundamental flaw by accepting the past as an absolute prediction of the future. They overestimate trade and cosmopolitanization. As Mark Steyn notes, the arrow of civilization does not go one way, women in Cairo in the graduating class of the University looked modern in 1959, and still fairly modern in dress in 1979. Today they are muffled in Burquas. Kabul in the 1950's had women in modern dress in record shops.

Most of the world's population lives in a place where people worship Santa Muerte, or the governments urge them to please on no account kill and eat Pygmies or Albinos for magic powers, or where women are honor killed because they talked to the wrong boy. These are places where commerce means only poverty, because now they must pay more for food and everything else, and they have nothing to sell. These are places where violence is a way of life, constant and casual, and where it is viewed as the best way to get ahead in life.

Globalization has hotwired these places right into Western civilization, and they are not being removed any time soon. Violence, and disturbing violence, are only going to increase. Why? Because the State is a joke, unable to stop violence any more (quick how many Flash Mobs have been crushed) and only able to send middle class people to jail for improperly filling their recycle trash bins. While all the while lacking any external measures to deal with violence except things done in secret and willingly ignored.

Pinker, and Brecher, are state of the art circa say, 1975. Today, they don't grasp that failing states all over the globe (particularly in the West where violence to suppress greater violence is not allowed against non-Whites, see the London riots) running hand in hand with moral pretensions, are easy pickings for failed societies that live in violence. For now, the great majority of Santa Muerte's violence stays South of the Border. That is unlikely to remain so, any more than Muslim violence will remain mostly outside of the West either.

20 comments:

Hubbard said...

Whiskey---

Excellent article, although I think you've seriously misread Gary Brecher. He has written (in an article about asymmetrical war that seems to be offline) about how there'll be plenty of wars in the future, just not conventional battles: rather than Soviets vs. Nazis, we're more likely to see insurgencies like America vs. Viet Cong or America vs. Iraqi Shiites. Brecher also suggested some ways to do counterinsurgency.

Out of curiosity, where did you get the notion that Brecher (who does sometimes write confusingly and has changed his mind about some issues, most notably the Irish Republican Army) thought that the whole human race was getting more peaceful? Brecher certainly holds much of the modern Western world in contempt. But what makes him so good is that he covers conflicts that even the well educated haven't heard of, such as the Tamil Tigers or the Soviet-Japan war for Mongolia.

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

"This is why native European martial arts and weaponry, including staff fighting, knife fighting, bludgeon fighting, and unarmed combat disappeared save Savate in Marseilles, an ultra-violent port that kept that art alive until the Twentieth Century turned it into a sport. All of this is true."

We do still have wrestling and boxing though. Weapon-based martial arts disappeared because the weapons did; they were all abandoned when firearms made them obsolete.

"Done by men who would not have dreamed of ever doing that in Japan."

Bah. They always had the inclination, just not the opportunity afforded by the lawlessness of a distant battlefield.

"Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya cannot feed their people. But they can cross the Med in boats, come ashore in Italy, France, and Spain, and simply take over. Killing any who object. That's violence, and violent enslavement. Which awaits Europeans who have a toy/pretend military and no will to use even that."

This might happen some day, if everything keeps going down the shitter because of multiculturalism and liberalism, but right now there's no way those countries could invade Europe. Europe does need to shape up and stop hiding under Uncle Sam's skirt, but our militaries are still plenty powerful.


The way liberals feel about violence becomes most obvious when the subject is self-defense. They think it's either unnecessary, (nobody is going to attack you, and even if they do the police will show up instantaneously!), impractical (criminals have gained super powers through years of street fighting, you'll never be able to beat them no matter what! Just give them your money/stuff/girlfriend and they'll let you live!), or immoral (what gives you the right to hurt or kill someone because they want to murder you or take your belongings? Violence begets violence, so you should just comply with the criminal's demands and then forgive him immediately afterwards!). They have roughly similiar arguments against guns, e.g. even if you have a gun the super criminals will take it away from you (but if they have a gun you're fucked because it's absolutely impossible to defeat an armed person, so just give up already). There's always some reason why you never can or should defend yourself or anyone else.

It's the same thing with school shootings and similiar scenarios. The possibility that the intended victims could fight back is just absolutely inconceivable to these people, and they'll get very upset if you start making crazy suggestions like: "Well what about rushing the gunman when he's reloading?" Only the proper authorities may do something during a crisis. Everyone else should act like proper citizens by running away and getting shot in the back.

Jules said...

Brecher's a douchebag. His real name's John Dolan and he's a raging lib who believes Hearts and Minds are more important than winning a war i.e. by killing as many of the insurgents as you can, not taking them prisoner, just hunt them down. This is how the mumbai police subdued the mafia gang violence in the early 90s, by forming "encounter" squads whose unofficial orders were shoot on sight gang members.

Lee. S said...

Great article - this is why I read your blog

Nine-of-Diamonds said...

"The War Nerd has said the same thing, and much the same was said in … 1913."

It's perhaps, exquisitely ironic that I first learned of this argument when I was doing a High School report on Tuchman's "The Guns of August". At the same time, I read excerpts from Fukuyama's "The End of History" in my European History Class. Our textbook assured us that large-scale warfare was a thing of the past thanks to Globalization. Nothing worse than another Bosnia, at most, would mar our future. It was the Summer of 2001. Four months later, the world had changed in ways neither I nor my classmates could have ever imagined.

Whiskey said...

Brecher has written that large scale warfare is impossible, it will not happen. That seems to discount the classic, Western-front style mechanized warfare of Iran-Iraq, and the Russia/US withdrawal re-igniting regional wars between various combatants.

Because guerrilla-style wars in the shadow of the Cold War were the main type of wars, Brecher assumed that this would hold once the US and Russia withdrew from many places. It is true Africa cannot field this, but the ME, Asia, and many other places can field conventional militaries.

Jules said...

Whiskey, do you comment on the Wall Street Journal's website? I'm a subscriber myself, I'd like to see what articles you find interesting. I emailed you a while back so find me through that if you don't want to give your username out here.
Btw, just saw Transformers 3 and loved the pro-American message embedded in the film. James Cameron benefited from this country and he shat all over it in Avatar.
Michael Bay gives me hope.

Anonymous said...

But what makes him so good is that he covers conflicts that even the well educated haven't heard of, such as the Tamil Tigers or the Soviet-Japan war for Mongolia.

Do not underestimate average Joes ;-)

johnsal said...

I agree with your basic thesis that Pinker and Brecher are buffoons. History has taught many lessons, but one of the fundamental ones is that when someone says "this time it's different" you should watch out for "the same" to arrive. See the real estate bubble for one recent example. The gods will punish hubris.

That being said, what's with the following statement? "Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya cannot feed their people. But they can cross the Med in boats, come ashore in Italy, France, and Spain, and simply take over." A response to such an outrageous claim is both impossible and unnecessary. Of course, they can theoretically "cross the Med in boats." But can they really "come ashore" "and simply take over!"

Yes, yes, the Europeans have largely been led into the lala land of political correctness and multi-culturalism by their ruling class. But, do you seriously believe the EU would not respond to a military invasion from a motley collection of failed states? Or, that the EU would not respond to an uninvited mass migration of the poor and uneducated?

I guess I'm missing something 'cause that just doesn't make any sense. In fact the above sounds Pinkerish, as in "this time time Europe won't respond to armed provocation with war." I'd be careful with that supposition.

Whiskey said...

Anon -- I don't comment on the WSJ because it requires registration and I'm just chronically ... lazy.

Johnsal -- Europe is terribly vulnerable because to respond to any invasion ala Camp of the Saints (which is what we are talking about) would require both willpower (seen absent in France, Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, and Austria where Muslims have set up no go zones and car-b-ques and Britain in the recent riots) and young men equipped to well, kill people.

How many young men can say, Italy put out to suppress a human wave of Camp of the Saints? Not very many because Italy has very few young men, and North Africa has them in abundance. Meanwhile Italy lacks boats and planes to keep refugees from coming ashore in all sorts of places, Sicily, Lampedusa, Calabria, and more. Spain and France are much the same.

The Roman Empire in the West fell because there were literally not enough Roman men to put in Legions to keep Visigoths, Vandals, Franks, Saxons, Angles, and Jutes out. The Visigoth sacking of Rome, and the Vandals crossing into North Africa and sacking cities like Carthage wrongly thought to be safe were symptoms of just not enough young Roman men to stop them.

Whiskey said...

Look at say, Algeria. It is filled with young men who achieve nothing in life, in Algeria. Hence a constant need for the military regime to crack heads. There are many, many Algerians living in France. They might well decide, to declare the Islamic Republic of Algeria in France.

Would the French have enough will power, and young men, to crush that? They haven't been able to do so in the Banlieus, and have now ceded parts of central Paris to "youths" (Muslims from Algeria and Africa) so things are not optimistic there.

The French could not even topple a fifth-rater like Khadaffi without extensive US support, their one Aircraft Carrier is stuck in Marseilles because the propeller is broken and the propulsion system literally does not work. Weakness begs attack.

Hidden Author said...

Whiskey, the Muslims can kill some people by evading French, Italian or Spanish firepower. But to completely conquer France, Italy or Spain (as opposed to a few enclaves where they can evade the state to a large extent), they could not just evade the security forces but would have summon enough firepower to DESTROY the native security forces.

Whiskey said...

What security forces? Most of Britain's ran away during the riots. Italy probably has even worse. Same with France. Do you think most Italian security forces are willing to die for ... what exactly? Berlusconi's new under-age conquest? The hard-left letting more of those folks in? Heck most of them probably don't get paid regular.

There are about 324K total police forces, in Italy, the highest in the EU, both absolute and per-capita. Most are of poor quality, poorly trained and paid, worse equipped, No serious paramilitary police force patrols in this.

Nor does say, the FBI for all its faults Blackmail the equivalent of the Naderites over engaging Trans-sexual prostitutes like the Carabinieri.

You could conquer Italy with a bunch of camel-herders.

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

"How many young men can say, Italy put out to suppress a human wave of Camp of the Saints? Not very many because Italy has very few young men, and North Africa has them in abundance."

Human waves are useless against a modern army.

"Meanwhile Italy lacks boats and planes to keep refugees from coming ashore in all sorts of places, Sicily, Lampedusa, Calabria, and more. Spain and France are much the same."

I'm no expert, but I think 180 ship, two carriers and 123 aircraft should be sufficient for that task. Even if some of the "refugees" get through, they'll just be killed or captured by ground forces. North African countries don't have the force projection to launch an effective naval invasion.

Hidden Author said...

Exactly Jesus Christ Supercop! The police and military of European nations are pathetic compared to what America has but they are still strong compared to a mere mob (as with European Muslim radicals) or even Third World militaries (see how Argentina and Sierra Leone are Britain's bitches or how France can still dictate to the Ivory Coast). Even in a heavily black and/or Muslim urban enclave, the confrontation between the police and the would-be insurgents is more of a guerrilla war (i.e. a war of evasion and maneuver) than a head-on collision in which the urban rebels get rid of police harassment once and for all. Outside such urban enclaves (i.e. within the vast majority of any given European nation's territory), the black and/or Muslim would-be insurgent and/or criminal is even less powerful.

So your little Chicken-Little jeremiad about Third World might is a little melodramatic and pathetic. Sure, it is mathematically certain that IF the Europeans continue to decline in power and IF the Third Worlders rise in power, THEN eventually the Third Worlders will be stronger than the Europeans but in 2011 the world has not yet entered that potential stage in history!

With the thoughts you’d be thinkin said...

The closest historic situation comparable to ours is the mass migrations of various barbarian tribes that caused the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Detailed in extensive detail by the history of rome.

Nine-of-Diamonds said...

It's not so much the military logistics that will be the problem for Western states; it's how things will play in the media. Along with the anti-democratic nature of European institutions.

"Camp of the Saints" was clear about this. White men in riot gear gunning down Cute Brown People does not make for good dinner table viewing. Nonwhites are masters at exploiting Western compassion, and pitting "weak" mass movements against "oppressive" White authority.

Imagine that, 2-3 years from now, the Falafel hits the fan in the Middle East and a couple million boat people land in Italy. They won't engage the Italian military in combat, except perhaps for a few skirmishes. Instead, Leftist political parties - generally much more powerful in Europe than in the US - will demand humanitarian measures. Just to tide the Brown People over, for 2-3 months. 3 months becomes a year. And, say, what about political asylum for people in "danger" if they go back home? Once the inevitable happens and they gain citizenship or residency, does anyone really think they'll need much force to take over their new homelands? Their current method of "take-bite-hold" will suffice. Law-abiding small immigrant communities that gradually swell into huge, alien no-go zones and manage to influence local politics, to native Europeans' detriment. With, perhaps, the occasional bombing & shooting that immigrant leaders will dutifully condemn - all the while pressing for more concessions in the name of "peace".

Commander Shepard said...

"Egypt, in order to survive without war, would have to deep six all of Islam, spend its time studying math and science not heaving their butts into the air five times a day, use the scientific method not something written in the Koran to figure out the world, teach their women to read and write, outlaw polygamy, give women equal rights, allow religious freedom and intellectual freedom, and promote a national concept of hard work and studying. Egypt would have to copy … China. And they cannot even be China, much less South Korea, Japan, or Finland. All that would destroy nearly everything that makes Egyptian society. The same goes for nearly all of the Muslim world, which would have to cease being Muslim if it is to eat, unless it makes war." Whiskey



That's essentially what this blogger says in his two part piece on why Asians fear individualism.


"Therefore the real culprits behind declines are those who try to preserve and maintain traditions, mores and culture in the face of continuous, and objectively quantifiable, adverse feedback." -AD

http://dissention.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/behind-asian-fear-of-individualism-1/


http://dissention.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/civilizations-are-about-maintaining-the-status-quo/

Commander Shepard said...

"Brecher's a douchebag. His real name's John Dolan and he's a raging lib who believes Hearts and Minds are more important than winning a war i.e. by killing as many of the insurgents as you can, not taking them prisoner, just hunt them down. This is how the mumbai police subdued the mafia gang violence in the early 90s, by forming "encounter" squads whose unofficial orders were shoot on sight gang members." - Jules


That's how the Indian authorities put down the Punjab militancy. In the early 80's the Sikh separatists/terrorists made the Golden temple complex (their spiritual Mecca) into an operational command center from which they issued death warrants against their enemies across the state. Eventually the Indian government smashed the temple with a military assault using tanks in Operation Blue Star. This led to reprisals such as the Prime Minister's Sikh body guards assassinating her. Plus the Punjab insurgency went on for nearly a decade until "encounter" squads" put an end to lawlessness. My Punjabi parents brainwashed me as a youngster into taking the separatist position that the Indian government were genocidal oppressors but since I know better now I accept that the Indian authorities did the right thing throughout the period.

Will said...

The Wall Street Journal hasn't been worth reading since News Corp acquired it.