Painful Choices

Bertrand Russell once wrote that science is the pursuit of truth. Hans Morgenthau, who was a prominent political theorist of the Cold War era, purportedly abandoned his political endeavors for what he called the pursuit of truth. Scientific methods all have philosophical underpinnings, and philosophy is ultimately the pursuit of scientific truths. However, the truth will ultimately be a matter of psychology, given that the mind is final frontier of both philosophy and science. According to Carl Jung, psychology is merely the application of aesthetics. As a result, a person can pursue one of two possible routes for the pursuit of truth, namely, through art or through science.

Given that both philosophy and science are psychological, and that psychology is the application of aesthetics, art also becomes a matter of psychology and science. As Bertrand Russell said, art is the transformation of pain into pleasure. Ultimately, political and economic decisions will be based on psychological factors, which in turn equates to an art. Thus, the truth is more a matter of art than of science per se, especially given the fact there are no controls or laboratories to experiment ideas in the social sciences. As Machiavelli argued, politics creates ethics, and practice creates theory. It is the art of doing and exploring rather than the employment of a scientific method that will lead to the accomplishment of psychological and material tasks. Although the truth exists, the truth cannot be epistemologically or empirically proven; thus, a certain level of phenomenological experience must be taken into account.

Also, if one were to remain true to the Socratic method, it would require a disavowal of the real world and permanent seclusion aimed at pursuing the ultimate truth. But to shape the world in a certain way, one must be a part of the world and accommodate a certain acceptance of the nature of the world, which is based on anarchy and chaos. Engaging in the real world and doing anything in your power to reduce the aggregate anarchy and chaos in the world by either advancing intangible goods such as ideas or providing tangible things such as food, clothing, shelter, or medicine which are necessary for physical well-being would translate into time well spent.

Remaining true to the Socratic method and pursuing the ultimate truth is an internal act done in seclusion whereas engagement with the real world means bearing the brunt of anarchy and chaos head on in the spirit of reducing the aggregate amount of anarchy and chaos that exists in the world. Both dedication to the Socratic method and engagement with the real world requires immense psychological energy, and the choice between the two paths is ultimately a matter of preference. But the preference lies between two painful choices, neither of which are easy to choose.

Engagement with the world would probably entail using one of the four mechanisms of the power elite, namely, the mainstream media, academia, the pharmaceutical industry, as well as business and finance, to enter into government. Also, without a correction of the imbalance between civilian and military power that currently exists, anarchy and chaos in the world will only grow and will not diminish due to the perpetuation of the “security dilemma” that stems from unhindered militarization. The reduction of the aggregate anarchy and chaos in the world is scientifically possible only through the employment of political and diplomatic tools, not the unhindered production of weapons of mass destruction. Mao said that power is in the barrel of a gun, but that the gun should be controlled by the party, meaning the civilian wing of the government.

As a result, a degree of disarmament and de-nuclearization will have to occur in conjunction with the expansion of global commerce, the forging of a shared meaning of existence through diplomacy, and the enabling of the free flow of information in order to reduce the aggregate anarchy and chaos in the world. If the core aim of international politics and diplomacy is not a certain degree of mutual disarmament and de-nuclearization in conjunction with the expansion of global commerce, the forging of a shared meaning of existence through diplomacy, and the free flow of information, anarchy and chaos will only increase, not decrease, and as a result humanity will get closer to the brink of dissolution.

On the other hand, if the aim of international politics and diplomacy is hyper-militarization and the unbridled production of conventional and nuclear weapons, it is better to disavow oneself of the world and employ the Socratic method for the sake of pursuing the ultimate truth, which in the Quranic tradition equates to “seeking the face of God.”

If the aim is not to reduce the aggregate total of anarchy and chaos in the world but to take advantage of the situation, then the intent is to perhaps increase the aggregate total of anarchy and chaos in the world through passivity and inaction. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of people are hyper-social and irrational creatures, and only a small minority of people in the world are rational truth seekers who seek to maintain a safe social distance from the irrational majority. There is a certain level of crime that is normal. But if it were not for an omnipotent being that is in control of every single thing and displays incredible mercy, nature would have already taken revenge for the level of criminality displayed by human beings and in turn humanity would have already been dissolved through something deadlier than the coronavirus.

The question is, how do Americans as isolated inhabitants of earth who are largely separated from the anarchy and chaos of the old world approach this anarchic and chaotic world? In general, there have always been four policy options available. Policy, as stated by Hannah Arendt, is the distillation of the totality of both political and phenomenological experience.

For one, America could take its original approach to the old world that was commonplace before World War II, which was isolationism. There is still a veritable strand of isolationism active in the American DNA due to the election of Donald Trump and as before, the option of withdrawing from the world is always available.

Second is the Kennan strategy of “Containment” set in place at the end of World War II and at the beginning of the historic Cold War. The entire foreign policy apparatus of the United States during the Cold War was designed to prevent China from conquering Asia and Russia from conquering Western Europe. If isolationism is at the extreme end of the policy spectrum and is an outdated policy option, then containment is somewhere in the center-left or center-right of the policy spectrum.

Third is the Kissinger and Brzezinski option that was developed due to the changing realities of the world towards the end of the Cold War. The world was largely in a state of flux towards the end of the Cold War, and Kissinger and Brzezinski were meticulously observing world affairs at this particular time. Their assessment was that the Soviet Union was collapsing and the Russians were reorienting their stance towards the West, while China had decided to forge a relationship with the United States as the Soviet Union was collapsing.

With a post-Soviet Russia and a China that is now largely interconnected with the West, the Kissinger and Brzezinski option suggests that Russia be integrated into the international order through its inclusion into the European economic community and that the relationship between the United States and China be broadened in order to address transnational issues that affect both Europe and Asia.

Fourth is the current option being employed by the United States, which is the global hegemonic option. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s and with China largely isolated, the United States decided that it would be worthwhile to conquer the entire world. For one, the United States would expand its military presence into Eastern Europe and would also establish a military presence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen in order to conquer Asia.

But as in any other situation in life, aspirations exceeded capabilities. There is now a resurging Russia that is highly influential in both the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and the United States is now in a quagmire in Afghanistan and the Middle East that has led to the hemorrhaging of American blood and treasure in Asia. As a result, the United States is in a state of relative decline vis-à-vis China, and while America is losing credibility and legitimacy in Asia, China’s stock is on the rise.

The one option that would establish a lasting peace in the world and would ensure global order and stability through a safe employment of American military power is the Kissinger and Brzezinski option. This option would lead the United States into focusing on its major troop deployments established during the Cold War such as the ones in Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the Persian Gulf while simultaneously determining roles for Russia and China in the international community as they are further integrated into the international order.

No option is perfect because we live in an inherently imperfect world. But some options, when weighed against the other options, are better than the rest. If the United States is going to approach this growingly anarchic and chaotic world in a resolute manner, it must do so in a balanced way such that both diplomatic and military resources are employed with the aim of establishing equilibrium between East and West and that heavy-handed interventions around the world are replaced with wise engagement.

Global hegemony, as demonstrated by the empires of the past, is an unsustainable state of affairs. Containment would put the United States in a largely defensive position. Isolationism would precipitate an increase of anarchy and chaos in the world, given that the United States has been the anchor of global order and stability since World War II. But the Kissinger and Brzezinski approach strikes a perfect balance between offense and defense. In this massive chess match, balance and equilibrium increases the probability of victory and reduces the chances of defeat. The options available are limited, but it is the task of the analyst to bring the cream of the crop to the top of the surface and to enable the government machinery to make informed choices, albeit painful ones.

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