Barlow on war motivations

An interesting (albeit hideously formatted) John Perry Barlow article that guesses at what the hell they're thinking: Sympathy for the Devil.

"If one takes the view that war is worse than tyranny and that the latter doesn't necessarily beget the former, there is a case to be made for global despotism. That case is unfortunately stronger, in the light of history, than the proposition that nations will coexist peacefully if we all try really, really hard to be nice to each other."
Tags: ,

19 Responses:

  1. baconmonkey says:

    Certainly, the global body count was much lower in the second half of the Twentieth Century than it was in the first half.

    This is so incorrect.
    From 1945 and up to 1987, about 76,000,000 people have been murdered in cold blood by one regime or another
    In total, this century's battle killed in all its international and domestic wars, revolutions, and violent conflicts is so far about 35,654,000.

    He conveniently ignores when goverments slaughter their own people.

    • jwz says:

      Those two quotes cannot simultaniously be true, unless they are counting heads by different measures.

      And those numbers are not scaled for population increase. World population in 1950 was 1B, today it's 6.1B. For the second half of the 20th century to be bloodier than the first half by any sensible metric, it would have to beat the first half by 6x.

      • baconmonkey says:

        The first number is governments killing their own people.

        the second is governments killing other people.

        poke around the site.

        • My favorite statistic, of course, being estimates of the numbers killed under Chairman Mao.
          In particular, the "Great Leap Forward" - where he sent the intellectuals to the countryside to become farmers and learn to appreciate the peasant.

          Kinda like use of "Hitler' in any argument, the use of those statistics is fantastic when refuting someone's critique of capitalism. "You have problems with the slaughter of cows for happy meals? Well, let me tell YOU about the numbers KILLED by TRUE RED COMMUNISM"

          Not, of course, that I'd ever cop to such extremist rants... but in college. :-)

          • baconmonkey says:

            No, in US Capitalism, we just lock up dissenters in prison, thanks to the brilliant observation on the part of Nixon that left-wingers tend are far more likley to smoke pot than right-wingers. talk about jerrymandering (sp?).

            McCarthyist dichotomies of US-Style Oligarchy, I mean free-market democracies, Vs. Communism are ridiculous. Neither system's practice bears any resemblance to it's theory. However, what find most interesting is that the most commonly cited example of the largest mass-killing, the Holocaust, is dwarfed by Russian/Soviet and Chinese murders of their own non-warring people. However, I think in some cases, life imprisonment on over-inflated "get tough on crime" charges is not really much different than outright killings - It just tends to evoke far less of a visceral response from most people. It accomplishes the same goals for those in power, the removal of unpredictable and dissenting persons, but without causing survival instinct panic in most people, or moral quandries for leadership and enforcement.

    • macguyver says:

      Not to mention the greatly increased fatality rates from various cancers due to nuclear war and testing. What, maybe 65 million there.

  2. rpkrajewski says:

    Basically, we're in what might be the endgame to a truly unipolar world where the US dominates. Nearly every serious threat to the US order has been cut down to size since 1989, with Iraq and North Korea being the holdouts. Now the holdouts perceive themselves as beseiged and will behave badly to forstall what I think is their inevitable demise.

  3. darwinx0r says:

    Properly Formatted copy of this article.


  4. "If one takes the view that war is worse than tyranny and that the latter doesn't necessarily beget the former, there is a case to be made for global despotism. "

    That sentence makes absolutely no sense.
    First I looked up "tyranny" and "despotism" to figure out if I was missing some subtle difference between the two. (According to Webster's, I'm not).
    Then I tried unpacking it to a syllogism to follow the logic, and I'm stuck at the first sentence:

    If one believes war is worse than tyrrany,
    and that tryanny does not create war
    there is a case to be made for global tyranny.

    That makes no sense to me, am I missing something?

    As to the latter part of that quote, the problem here is that Barlow capitalizes on a myopic view of what history means. Certainly, history is written largely as a "Look at what I did" - by the victors. Heck, look up "Bill Gates" in the MS Encyclopedia - power over info is big power indeed. We can focus on victor-tales, but postmodernism gave a big fat kick-in-the-pants to "classical" traditions of this sort back in the 70s. There are tales a'plenty about cooperation and playing fair outside both despotic and war-culture contexts... but as we've evolved to an age where International RoShamBo's new rules are: information (paper) beats brute force (rock), it sees fairly obvious that "war" also follows this evolution.
    Hence, "The War On Drugs" as a war rooted ultimately in the state's power to smite,
    but primarily fought with information - including laws that encodify new norms for distribution.

    Still, am I missing something in that first sentence?

    • The way I interpreted the quote was:

      1) Hypothesis: Tyranny prevents war, by crushing all potential opponents before they grow powerful enough to put up a *real* fight.
      2) The first objection to such a hypothesis is that tyrrany itself will breed dissent, and eventually the force of the dissent will be too great for the tyrants to keep a lid on. Thus tyrrany will *cause* war. But, for the purpose of discussion, let us assume that this objection does not hold.

      I disagree with your International RoShamBo. My formulation: "Information plus Brute Force" beats "Brute Force", but "Information without Brute Force" does not. Information is just a force multiplier. But multipliers don't help if you're starting with zero.

      And as for post-modernism kicking the pants of classical traditions, let me quote KMFDM's Dogma: "We used to hate people. Now we just make fun of them. It's more effective that way." If the government can toss political dissidents in the slammer just by arbitrarily (and unsubstatiatedly) calling them a terrorist (like our glorious new Patriot Acts allow), then those badass post-modern writers will have a bit of trouble kicking the pants of the classical jackbooted thugs. Don't sound very effective to me.

      And what are you doing mentioning post-modernism on jwz's journal, anyway? You want him to leave the party?

      • Ok, wait - now I'm totally confused.
        How in the heck did you parse that from the first sentence?

        Point taken on RoShamBo, I'm not speaking in specific terms but pointing to an evolutionary trend.
        As per postmodernism - I wasn't speaking in general terms, but more specifically to Barlow's sense of what historians say. What they might have said in his day is quite different from the Ph.D. requirements today - you look beneath victors.

        I re-reviewed the quote again this morning, and have decided that he confused the meaning of "former" with "latter", and vice-versa. It's the only way I can make sense of that sentence.
        If I do that, then his first sentence makes sense. Otherwise, it's gobbledy-goop without logical order.

        • jwz says:

          The sentence makes perfect sense as is.

            "If ... war is worse than tyranny, and ... the latter [tyranny] doesn't necessarily beget the former [war], [then] there is a case to be made for global despotism [tyranny]."

            If A is-worse-than B; and B does-not-cause A; then choose B.

          One might not agree with it, but it's a perfectly reasonable sentence. I don't understand why you're having any trouble parsing it.

  5. bmarklein says:

    Cheney is a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, along with Rumsfeld and several other architects of the Bush administrations current policies. The PNAC's reports (e.g. "Rebuilding America's Defenses") explicitly call for the US to fight wars in order to demonstrate its military might, with the goal of US hegemony over the world (Barlow got this part sort of right). This doesn't jibe with Barlow's theory that Cheney et al are just bluffing and really aren't interested in war - they've made it quite clear that they want it. Unless their reports were also part of some elaborate bluff, which would be odd considering they weren't part of the government when they wrote them.

    As for Cheney being a "man of principle" and "indifferent to greed", I can only assume Barlow is basing this on his personal interactions with the man. The public record paints a very different picture. As CEO of Halliburton, Cheney played accounting tricks to hide liabilities in order to maintain the stock price, then sold $18 million in stock just before it tanked, and finally received a $20 million retirement package he wasn't entitled to. All of this while cutting tens of millions in employee retirement benefits. What motivation other than greed would explain this?

    There's a lot of other tripe in here as well. For one the assertion that the Soviet Union "capitulated" in the face of US nuclear superiority and perceived irrationality, when in fact it simply collapsed economically. For another the notion that there was ever a "symmetrical balance of power" between the US and USSR. While it's true that each could annihilate the other completely, in economic and conventional military terms it was never close.

    In any case we'll see how this all plays out very soon. Even though I don't think it's Cheney's motivation, I think the scenarios Barlow mentions (coup or exile for Saddam) are probably the best that can be hoped for at this point. At least the Iraqis will be spared from barrages of cruise missiles and who knows what else.