Street Credibility

While I was a graduate student at American University in Washington, I attended a seminar held by the Middle East Institute (MEI) where an American military commander said something incredibly noteworthy. His argument was that the mess the United States fell into in Afghanistan as well as other places in the Middle East is the result of the borders and divisions the British created throughout the world during their reign as the world’s most powerful empire. The goal from a political standpoint, as the commander suggested, would be to clean up the mess that the British created, which is undoubtedly a hefty task.

There are those who have suggested that conflict with Russia and Iran is inevitable due to their state ideologies. Ali Shariati labeled the ideology in Iran as one constituted by what he called “Dark Shi’ism.” One could also argue that the sectarian counterpart to Iran’s “Dark Shi’ism” is the Dark Sunnism of Saudi Arabia stemming from Wahhabi ideology that festered as a result of Britain’s overthrow of Ottoman rule in the Arabian Peninsula and the installation of the Saudi monarchy that was legitimized by Wahhabi clerics in the era of European colonialism. But as Hans Morgenthau wrote, the aim is not to establish what he called “the absolute good”; rather, the aim is to establish “the lesser evil” in a world that is fraught with chaos and corruption. Morgenthau’s maxim of establishing the lesser evil rather than the absolute good is perhaps the reason why the Trump Administration has been relatively mum on China’s crackdown in Hong Kong in recent days and months.

When a person speaks or writes, it is often done as an appeal to what is known as pathos, ethos, and logos. There is a difference between the imposition of ideas and getting what you want in politics. At times, you can get what you want without imposing one’s ideas on others. The latter form of politics that is constituted by the imposition of ideas, as mentioned in a previous essay, is a futile enterprise. Harvard professor Joseph Nye suggested that Congress responds to “squeaky wheels.” But does Congress respond to an appeal to pathos, ethos, and logos?

            What gives hope is the belief that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. Religion has suggested that we were all born out of sin. Nietzsche thus divided the world between “saints” and “pigs.” Apparently, Nietzsche saw no middle ground between the two groups, which is why the “Ubermensch” was a byproduct of his philosophy and a figure that had to overcome this dialectic in order to survive in a nihilistic age where all meaning is lost. One can argue that the imposition of the coronavirus on the world led to a renewal of the search for meaning for certain individuals. But for most, that insight is still missing, thus leaving humanity in a continued state of vulnerability that will persist long after this pandemic subsides.

From a realist perspective, power is the currency of politics and international relations, not institutions as is suggested from the liberal point of view. By virtue of Waltz’s “Levels of Analysis,” individuals do not represent the state, but the state represents the individual. Everything has to go through the state because it is the state that is the primary actor in the international system and is the primary means of self-preservation for a society. Presidents are thus an output of the situation within the state and thus the international system, especially in America where the electoral college serves as a check against the popular vote.

In a rapidly changing world where power is disintegrating and dispersing throughout the international system, states need to maintain their qualitative edge over regular people and their publics. As a result, artificial intelligence and governments know more about people than they know about themselves, according to Yuval Noah Harari in an interview he had with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur. John Mearsheimer drew an analogy between billiard balls and states, where one collides with another until they are all properly organized with the right strategy.

Perhaps if Russian oil and natural gas went to Europe instead of China through Russian integration with Europe, America could then bring China into its alliance system and render China dependent on Persian Gulf oil and natural gas, thus breaking China’s link with Russia. Ultimately, the game becomes a recurring cycle with a cyclical movement. It goes round and the cycle recurs at the end of every cycle. This cycle ended once with Reagan, Gorbachev, and Deng Xiaoping. It could end again with Trump, Putin, and Xi Jinping. In the end, the nature of the international system determines the politics of the state. The state has no power to determine the nature of the international system. It can only react to the nature of the international system, which is dictated by anarchy and chaos.

            Domestically in America, there is more of a desire for continuity rather than change and the uncertainty that comes with it, which is why candidates of color from both political parties did worse than their white counterparts. Through continuity and stability, states are then free to pursue what they are designed for, which is war. States convert military and economic resources into information, and in the cyber age, the information war takes on a cyber dimension. The danger is that this cyber war may escalate into nuclear war if the right strategies are not employed. Based on what is known as the “Savaroth Rule” or “Bismarck’s Rule of Five,” if China is linking with the EU and Russia and you are only left with Britain, you must bring China or the EU to your side. However, the US-Britain-EU grouping is highly unlikely due to “Brexit,” thus it is necessary to bring China to your side.

            Playing the game right ultimately becomes more important than “pounding dirt” per se. In Afghanistan, Americans claimed that they were not interested in “pounding dirt.” But pounding dirt is the essence of regime change, and the primary outcome of pounding dirt is getting the recoil of dirt in your eyes. Essentially, there is a higher cost associated with pounding dirt than benefit. Education, particularly self-education, and elevating oneself socially through aesthetic means is the sole impetus behind going from what Ali Shariati called “dust” to “God.” The reason why America is the land of opportunity is because no one stands in your way when you seek to achieve your goals. It is why Mexican laborers are six times more productive in America than in Mexico, thus producing economic benefit to both laborers and American society. In many third world countries, it is usually your own family or tribe who stands in the way when you seek to achieve your personal goals. Many Western European countries and Scandinavian countries even provide social services through government or private actors to help individuals achieve their goals in life. One should assess whether corruption in the third world is a bottom-up phenomenon, a top-down program, or both.

There is a difference between autonomy and self-determination. In a world of big powers and small countries, the reality is that a degree of autonomy is a compromise between those seeking self-determination and the big powers. Self-determination is obsolete in the face of bigger powers, and there are many cases to support this point. Calls for self-determination around the world went unanswered despite Woodrow Wilson having raised the hopes of millions of people seeking self-determination around the world in the early 20th century. The Greek “tragicomedy” and thus human nature serves as the rationale behind the veritas of the realist theory in politics and international relations.

What developed in the midst of writing these essays was the goal of applying physical and social science to politics and international relations, which ultimately falls within the realm of morals, ethics, and values. The essence of science is to employ rational inquiry in the effort of shedding light on first causes, principles, and ultimately truth. As mentioned before, nothing in the postmodern and post-structural environment of our day and age is original. Everything is a reconstruction of past ideas and material. Also, facts are points that conform to reality. But what is reality?

As a matter of fact, reality is something that is totally dependent on our level of scientific inquiry, the results of which are at times bewildering especially when one takes a Freudian or Jungian approach to understanding social behavior or when one arrives at the predicament of reconciling Planck’s theory of quantum physics with Einstein’s theory of relativity in the physical sciences. Ultimately, the underpinnings of science are philosophy and “natural religion.” Science is similar to building a house, and the foundation of the house is philosophy and natural religion. When scientific inquiry is left free to take its own path and its own direction, it often results in art rather than the implementation of a rigorous process. The basis of Bertrand Russell’s “Tractus” on mathematics is the notion that the world and the universe can be quantified mathematically. Qualitative research is essentially a referendum on mathematics and the notion that mathematics can fully explain the world and the universe. If the mathematical notion was the absolute truth, the role of art and aesthetics in the world would be nullified.

The link between qualitative research and quantitative research which enables the mixing of both methods is the ultimate goal, which is to test your hypothesis. It is the end rather than the means that is at times important. “God exists” or “God does not exist” are ultimately hypotheses that are tested through experimentation and inquiry. However, in the end, nothing is proven. Hypotheses are tested and supported, not proven. No matter how large one’s sample is and no matter how profuse one’s data, there are outliers and anomalies that can undermine the entire scheme. No one can account for the entire population or the entirety of data. Data is also subject to differing interpretations. Moreover, how does one verify the veracity of data? Epistemology and the role of status, scope, and ultimate source come into play.

If everything could be accounted for through scientific inquiry, truth may not have become a matter of dispute. What is established in support of a hypothesis is not the truth. Rather, it is confidence in one’s hypothesis that is established through scientific inquiry, especially when a wide range of variables are accounted for and controlled. It is why the endpoint of empirical research is the beginning of existential philosophy as Irvin Yalom argued. Finding one’s truth and sticking to it establishes credibility and legitimacy in every scenario, and it is credibility and legitimacy that is the basis of power. There reaches a point where one’s conversation is not with the public. Rather, the conversation is with God and the public watches. Renewal of credibility and legitimacy is ultimately the renewal of power in our nihilistic postmodern and post-structural age, and thus the end goal.

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