Commenter Archive

Comments by CK MacLeod

On “Comment Elsewhere: To @BurtLikko under “How to Fix a Broken Elephant: Prologue”

Well, as we know, we can find an occasional voice in favor of oppression and slaughter, but for the most part "oppression" is another word for "bad or undesirable politics," while "slaughter" implies pointless mass murder. So, you'll receive overwhelming support, including from many people you despise, for the goal of less oppression and less slaughter.

The architects of the Iraq War, for instance, certainly believed or certainly persuaded themselves that on balance they would be reducing oppression and slaughter. Almost every accused slaughterer-oppressor does (if self-conscious mass homicidal sadists exist, they may not often achieve political power). The accused oppressor-slaughterers' main problem, in their minds, will have been convincing themselves and their subjects or citizens that even one life could or should be expended - or even one citizen asked to give his or her life or take someone else's life. This ask is complicated by the fact that my giving my life (or moral life) to fix Other People's Problems is not something you can ever adequately compensate me or my victims for materially. You can pay estimated lifetime earnings equivalent plus punitive damages to my family or a victim's family, but you cannot bring me or my victim back to life.

So, you have to convince me that the sacrifice is what we call "necessary," that it preserves or advances "something" more important specifically to me than my life or, a different but related question, than the taking of another person's life by me. In addition to believing in something other than a merely material compensation, I have to be willing to accept some degree of oppression, both against me and against some other person, and some certainty of slaughter, potentially including my own slaughter and the slaughter of those whom I might consider innocent as individuals.

There is no way to avoid this question except by avoiding reflection on morality in relation to the taking and giving of lives altogether, in other words by turning one's back on politics and in so doing on living a meaningful life: Even and especially the pacifist makes that calculation, willingly submitting himself or herself, and kith and kin, to oppression and slaughter rather than initiate it directly - perhaps in the hope and belief that doing so will lead to less oppression and slaughter in the end, and in the present comprehension of a higher moral good justifying one's own personal sacrifice - or experience of oppression and slaughter and of permitting or refusing to intervene against other people's oppression and slaughter.

On “An Ancient Peruvian Mystery Has Been Solved From Space – IFLScience

All reasonable arguments I think. As for the question on "pre-historic," there's a tautological aspect to the question of what is and isn't "historic." To the extent we think we know that something happened when and why, then it may enter into "history." To the extent we're referring to a particular narrative - "our history" or "history for us" - maybe we're in the process of bringing or trying to bring Nazca civilization into "history for us." Others seem to treat the term "pre-historic" as purely or nearly purely a chronological designation: Before ca. 10,000 BC or so... Still others consider the term obsolete or at any rate imprecise and un-scientific or un-philosophic or even politically questionable: ethnocentric, Eurocentric, etc. I tend to avoid the term, though not because I'm terribly concerned about offending multiculturalists.

On “Conservative Neo-Imperialism vs Jacksonian Neo-Isolationism

My friend, it is with comments like that that you define yourself as something of an extremist - as though anything other than complete and immediate worldwide cessation of military operations could not possibly qualify as a significant change of direction.

On “On My Grand Strategy on Grand Strategy (Interim Book Report or Tour of a Tour of Tours of Tours)

Hmmmm... I think I might enjoy looking at his use of Schmitt - not quite sure yet it would be worth the time/effort/resources. The passage doesn't convince me he has grasped Schmitt's anticipation of this type of analysis. As the Chairman Mao post was meant to suggest, the theory of "Grossraeume" was intended as an answer to the disorienting, reductive universalism or globalism that Schmitt found to be very typically American and "liberal," and that other critics have in different ways associated with capitalism, technology, progressivism, the Enlightenment, and so on. As the Mao post also shows, I am not complete averse to the notion of a newly emerging "nomos," though I may have been more sympathetic at the time than I am now.


Found this interview with Bratton:


I find it ironic that tracking down discussion of Bratton's work on-line is a challenge. I did locate this hour+ lecture on YouTube. I hate lectures on YouTube, but I'll try to sample enough of it to see how much I want to read his book, and confront whatever he has done with Schmitt.

In the meantime, a site search here on "Schmitt and nomos" brings up three prior posts, including the post whose themes I have been seeking to extend, explain, and evidence in in the "Pacific War" essay: The State of the Neo-Empire Is Strong. Then there's Comment on Nob Akimoto’s Geographic Chains of Democratic Nationalism, which was written closer in time to my first reading The Nomos of the Earth. Then there's Chairman Mao and the Cosmopirates. If those don't help, maybe there's something else I've already written that might be helpful, or maybe you can narrow down your ask.

It seems that Bratton is as concerned with "sovereignty": I think that that search would turn up a longer list of prior posts, in connection with "the exception." It's also possible that the Heidegger-Gray critique of the Age of Technology or just technology - as dangerously or perhaps essentially nihilistic - or Polanyi's more moderately greenish views on the Great Transformation, would be as relevant. Kahn also persuasively links the all-consuming/annihilating essence of the internet to earlier propagations of "Enlightenment." (Schmitt's critique parallels and reinforces all of these, in my view.)

So, I suppose my main questions for Bratton and his brand new improved nomos would be how aware it or he is of such critiques, of the two- or multi-sidedness of the process he seems to be describing, and of its pre-figuration in or possible status as continuation of earlier politico-religious and philosophical globalisms. Perhaps I'd first have to see how he defines "nomos," however.


(Thought I'd replied already... must have forgotten to push the button.)

Thanks for the link, and I'll read the piece with interest. Maybe a response to it do the other trick, too.

On “An Ancient Peruvian Mystery Has Been Solved From Space – IFLScience

Nope, didn't read the comments.

The association with the Nazca lines would naturally point in the direction you describe, but all ages are contemporary, as the man said. I of course do not know whether the proposed "solution" is correct, but I don't see why we need to presume that what a civilization accomplished some 2,000 years ago must remain "far removed from any prospect of modern comprehension." Around the same time the Romans, after all, were building their aqueducts, some of which are still partly in use. There is still disagreement, I believe, over the reason or main reasons for the Egyptian pyramids or Stonehenge, but I'm not sure we exactly and entirely know, or comprehensively comprehend, why the Burj Khalifa skyscraper was built, or why we leave comments at blogs, or why World War II was fought, and so on. Maybe we start out with one idea or another, recognize a better explanation somewhere in the middle of the process, and to our delight or shame or both arrive at the explanation that sticks much later. Could be that all such acts are themselves "comprehensions" in one mode that we quite predictably find difficult to translate into verbal form. So, maybe the puquios were brilliant and useful engineering, but were also beautiful and mysterious and even "alien" to the makers and users, as the makers and users remained to themselves, and as we remain to ourselves.


Even the guy with the Hakenkreuz avatar thinks you're overdoing it, MBD! (Really, WM, I much preferred your prior virtual incarnations - are you really determined to cause trouble?)

Anyway, you get me right enough on this one.

On “On the matter of your moral inferiority…

Thank for you the suggestion. I've watched the first few minutes of the lecture, and intend to give the rest of it a hearing.

On “On Ignorocracy (Own Comment at Ordinary Times)

Without our public confusion and aphasia we would be lost truly. Or something. Did that make sense?

You seem to be saying if we weren't truly lost we'd truly be lost. Seems obvious we'd've know way a noin tweret so nor tweret so, tweret so.

On “Philip Gordon: Obama Should Have Bombed Assad… – The Atlantic

As for justifying regime change if it justifies anything, as I wrote at the time (just noticed it over in the sidebar): "Even worse, for the committedly anti-committal majority, which seems to include the President himself, the proposal of minimal means is burdened not only by threateningly maximal moral and historical justification, but by multiple additional independently intimidating justifications, each seemingly more disqualifyingly persuasive than the last."

However, Gordon is making a narrower argument. He is insisting, as a practitioner and very well informed observer, that in this particular context the "credibility" argument is valid, and in multiple ways - whatever all the King's political scientists may want to say against it, or whatever doubts Gordon might have about it in more general terms. Reinforcing credibility on just this matter (of WMD against civilians), in just this way (after warnings, after extensive signaling and rhetoric), would, he says, have had salutary effects a, b, and c, and have reduced really-bad-things x, y, and z, without committing us to regime change.

Goes without saying this entire discussion takes place according to presumptions different from yours regarding what Obama called "the purpose of the international system that we've built."

On “David Frum: Hillary Clinton’s Polarizing Path to Victory and the Republican Party – The Atlantic

Didn't find the post so odd, but was more interested in his speculative comments than in his blame-assigning.

May have more to say later, but it's off to jury duty for me in a minute. On your question about the site feature, yes, the click-to-source is intentional. Could go either way on it. If I were commenting on the items rather than just "noting and quoting" them, I might go with the other mode, but seems less like "stealing content" this way. At the time I implemented the feature at OT, I hadn't yet coded it in as nearly foolproof a way for the aggregator-curator. If I had it do over, I might choose link-to-source for OT, too, but differences over the feature itself were part of what led to my separation from the site, and I think a link-to-source approach would have accentuated them.

BTW, did you ever hear back about Electronic Atomic Geography?

On “Citizen Trump’s Path of Least Resistance to a Classy Profitable Exit

What is still to be undone?

Was just having a Twitter discussion with one of NRO's younger writers on just this subject (I strongly doubt he was aware of this post). Goes back to the 100 theories of Trump that are mostly versions of the same theory, from different angles: If the GOP (or we) weren't so damaged, he wouldn't have arisen to damage it (us) further, or only a party damaged to the point of unsalvageability could have ended up in this position of being damaged to the point of unsalvageability.

Touched upon some related specifics, so I think I may recapitulate the convo from my side later.

On “If the Trump Roast Is Done, Give the Crucians Some Credit

Unless he tops himself with something even more outlandish. Then he is back on top, right?

I don't think so. "Topping" what he's done the last week - something like a global assault on everything a Republican or any candidate in his position ought to be doing - it would have to involve some kind of felony, atrocity, or expression of sheer babbling insanity... Maybe a full frontal assault on his own most loyal supporters... At some point you reach the far end of the keyboard and there just aren't any lower notes to play... So it's a question of whether people like the theme enough to hear another set of variations in the same range. We're assuming that the reason he needs to get even lower is that people are in fact (finally) getting tired of the song.

On “Defense and Defense Mechanisms

The Will of God, obviously - mainly as realized in the form of geography and the evolution of the human species. Some have pointed to certain critical inventions, such as the stirrup and the turnplough, or "guns, germs, and steel," or the rifle, or modern mass governance, and so on, but there are chicken-and-egg problems those, while a geographical determinist can make a case that the general course of development was either set or radically narrowed by at latest around 10,000 years ago.


There is no fortress Saudi Arabia or fortress Egypt or hermetically sealed "Arab World" or "Middle East." Currently, there is a vast disproportion in wealth and in human or social capital by numerous objective measures, while nature fills that which is empty and empties that which is full. Simply on that level, the West (objectively) is drawn to "fill" the Middle East as inexorably as solid objects in the air are pulled down by gravity. What do you imagine is supposed to occur instead - even before we consider the long history, or virtually the entirety of what we call history, of interpenetration and critical conflict between the regions and their cultures.

Put differently, the Middle East rests on the "crossroads" of civilization between the two great economic systems of the world: The Asian, land-based system whose backbone was and is the Silk Road, and the maritime system, formerly the Mediterranean, now the global oceanic system (encompassing the Western Hemisphere, which prior to the Age of Discovery was mostly segregated). You can fantasize about everyone leaving everyone else alone, but to make it real you'd have to lower the average temperature of the surface of the Earth to freezing.

From this perspective, the continually interrupted "Pivot to Asia" is just an attempt to return to the same conflict by a different angle of advance. The problem is that converting the Middle East from central front to rear area will be strategically impractical - and dangerous - as long as that rear area remains unsecured.

On “The Melancholic Anti-Interventionist

The problem with Syria, (and this may sound unintentionally quite callous) is what is it worth?

In and for itself, perhaps little except to the Syrians, of course. The question for the Neo-Empire and also for the lesser, generally old-fashioned would-be imperialists who have taken a life and death interest, would be the value of Syria, or the cost of abandoning it, in the larger system of relations and designs.

I understand that you are aware of this fact, but the mode of questioning tends to favor the narrower view. The implication is somewhat insulting to Obama. To suggest that he would be looking mainly for a "quick win" is like suggesting his main concern was how many votes he'd win for his party by choosing to bomb vs not to bomb - the very opposite of the "statesman"'s question.

I make these observations as someone who was all along quite skeptical of the arguments being put forth by pro-interventionists, on the basis of the other problem you describe: their and the Syrian revolutionaries' inability to align their cause with American ideals, or, somewhat the same thing, to make the Syrian revolutionary cause "our cause." I think we know or knew what those ideals are (or were) in general terms, and as confirmed for our era during World War II and the Cold War.

As for the present conjuncture, we can see Syria's status as the anti-Iraq as a kind of practical experiment - "What if we try virtually nothing rather than excessively something?" - that Obama's reversal on Assad allowed us to complete. At the same time, that means "What if we try, this time, refusing to extend our sympathies to the potentially unworthy?" Otherwise, there was no "big and obvious win-win" available at any cost Obama and we were willing to pay, if at all. The unwillingness to pay such costs, or to pursue a matter sometimes for less obvious and smaller victories, while facing risks including of failure and "blowback," according to the American faith that "right makes might," would sooner or later be an unwillingness to sustain American "leadership" as we have known it.


Suspect O's unique role if any will be for scholars to draw swords over in future years. My recollection is that Bush moved drones and then weaponized drones into the field/sky/space as soon as they were available, unusually quickly for a new weapons system (war does that), and I think the incentives for O to rely on them and other "special" tools would have been as strong for any other successor of W's.


I think there's clearly some truth to the idea that we want the strategic benefits of WMD without the rather unfortunate by-products of WMD use - which by-products also make WMD virtually unusable, since, if your only response to an opposition is obliteration of large parts of the landscape and all the people and other living things in and around it, and invitation of counter-obliteration, that kinda hems you in. Even in regard to WMD themselves, greater accuracy means that the main objective (destruction of a missile silo, say) can be achieved via smaller warheads. So, the Russkis needed multi-megaton warheads to do what we could do with with sub-megaton payloads. For some purposes, warheads don't need any explosive munitions at all.

I'm just not convinced that Obama has had any unique or more than marginal role in accelerating or focusing this development. It would have provided a path of least resistance for a President McCain or President Romney, too. I think that O's vast unwillingness - which mirrors the country's unwillingness - to invest life and limb at all has produced the focus on this particular set of weapons. It's the only hammer (or one of the very few hammers) we're willing to use at this time, but it's also just the latest extension of the general radical heightening of "kill ratios." Even if a President McCain had double-down on COIN and the Neo-Con project for Iraq, he or his Pentagon would still have been refining drone and other WPD (I like that!) practices and technologies

A well-trained and -equipped force is expected to enjoy high kill ratios vs. inferior forces, 2 or 20 or 100 to 1, as we are used to seeing in Israeli-Palestinian clashes (and prisoner exchanges!) for example, or as during both Iraq wars. Drone warfare, at least in the short term, seems to offer an infinite (divide-by-zero -> error) kill ratio - but there are, as you note, perverse effects. One is to drive the enemy to develop new types of a-symmetric and indirect response - and to preserve an unintimidated and resentful, hostile population where once upon a time we might have produced relatively docile, fearful and dependent loser-survivors prepared to try something else out (Japan, Germany). The other, connected effect is to raise the question of whether drone warfare is really warfare at all. If you're not yourself risking your own life, are you really a "soldier" engaged in "combat," or are you some kind of exterminator, de-humanizing both victim and victimizer?

Obama and his "kill list" creep us out, but they make perfect sense, moral and otherwise, from another perspective, since non-state actors or terrorists operating outside of the law of war (the war conventions) aren't worthy enemies. Under old regimes of international law, going back to ancient times, those who did not agree to and operate within the conventions were not subject to their protection either. Upon encountering a pirate, brigand, insurrectionist, and others, a soldier could, and in some situations was expected to, perform summary execution. The confusion over the status and proper treatment of non-state combatants is typical and problematic for the current era in international law - and can be seen as part of the same neo-imperialist project of extending a regime of "universal" human rights all around the globe. We've looked at this problem more systematically in past discussions of drones and torture.


I'd have to dispute some of those assertions.

WMD work by "mass" destruction, but the line of development with US weaponry - a few exceptions like thermobaric bombs notwithstanding - has been toward greater precision, which serves several parallel purposes, including the intention or hope at least up through the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts of winning the hearts and minds of non-combatant populations (at home as well as abroad, as a matter of fact). However, there's more to strategy than weaponry, and not all conflicts or axes of conflict are alike. Petraeus COIN strategy, for example, relied in part on increased "presence" of American military and civilian personnel, in a range of roles beyond "kinetic" combat. (It also turned out that we did not have the patience to execute or test the strategy as designed: It was supposed to need at least 10 years in Iraq, and we gave it a fraction of that.)

Also, the emphasis on technological advantage in warfare goes back to around the first time one of our forebears crushed someone else's skull with a rock. If the American way of war has the character now of a "hyper-technologization," that seems a product of the American age, and nothing I'd attribute specifically to Obama. Ever since the US military determined that it would be "second to none," it has sought technological advantage as a matter of course, and it has been in the position to seek not just advantage, but something close to un-challengeable superiority in key areas. The intention is to dissuade anyone else even from attempting to compete - to specifically self-reinforcing and generally stabilizing effect - although a byproduct is that the reasons why the US might for example, want or need to dominate the oceans of the world fade from public consciousness and the ability of pro-military politicians and pundits to articulate them begins to atrophy. In order to appreciate the value of a reliable, uninterrupted global resource and supply chain, we may need to experience the effects of its interruption and destabilization.

My questions regarding Joe's statements about weapon systems weren't questions about their existence. I don't make as much of an effort as I used to to keep up on this stuff in detail, but I've been aware of the various technologies and systems his links describe for quite some time. My question had to do with the conclusions he reached.


We know what he tells us, and his thinking about Syria and other matters make no reference to a military-technological arms race. I have to wonder where you're getting your information, and why you consider it credible.

On “Goodbye, Reaganism, too?

There's no absolute and objective measurement of "how good things really were." The appeal of Trumpismo arises within your blindspot, the patriotic feeling of being part of something "great." (I don't think the need and mechanism are absent from your character - or can be - but you experience them via displacement to a different concrete ideal.)


The Trumpian turn is to blame the browning of America and the Jihadi under the bed on the elites.