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There is no “Right Side of History”

Published June 24, 2016 in Culture , History , Philosophy , Religion - 1 Comment

historyThere is no right side of history. There never was, and there never will be.

The biggest reason this isn’t immediately and painfully obvious is because modern westerners are so horrendously ignorant of history. This was not always the case. Westerners – and Americans in particular – have a long history of actually being relatively well self-educated on the subject. And I don’t mean “long history” in the sense of “back in my day.” I mean that going back to pre-revolutionary days, Americans knew their history. Yes, somehow they managed to have a good knowledge of it despite (or is that because of?) their lack of schooling.

But the last fifty years have seen a steady erosion of historical knowledge. We can pretty much lay the fault of that squarely on our “deteriorating” (working as designed) schools. But whatever the fault, the ignorance is growing.

“Right side of history” is not a logical phrase. It’s a rhetorical device. It’s intentionally designed not to further discussion but to shut it down. It’s designed to foster two thoughts in your mind. First, that history is “progressing” toward a particular end. And second, that this is somehow a moral good.

It’s wrong on both counts. Let’s work backwards, though. In order to accept the phrase, you must first accept the idea of “right.” It’s a moral statement. But by whose morals? The phrase is intentionally left vague. It’s a rhetorical technique called “assuming the sale.” By agreeing to the phrase itself, you’re implicitly accepting the morality chosen by the speaker. But should you? Christian morality is slightly different from Jewish morality. Both are quite a bit more different from Islamic morality. None of them are really all that close to Hindu or pagan morality. Buddhist morality is in a weird zone all of its own that kind of overlaps with all of the above but never quite matches any of them. And modern secular morality is a beast all of its own.

So which one should you accept? In this case, the phrase was coined by the progressive movement – and coined for a specific purpose. The progressive movement has a specific ideology of it’s own – the idea that history is “progressing.” Historical ignorance is the only reason we don’t see this for the utterly absurd concept that it is. Anybody with any actual knowledge of history can debunk this idea in about five seconds. There is no linear progression of history.

First, in order to define progress itself you have to pick a metric. But what metric? Pick any metric you like and then plot it over time. There is no linear progression toward improvement. It does not matter which metric you pick. History doesn’t move that way. It’s ups and downs and ups and downs. There is no long term trend.

The idea that there is one is a peculiarly western – indeed, almost a peculiarly American – idea. It’s largely an artifact of the last 300 years of material improvement, due largely to the industrial revolution. But the industrial revolution itself – and that material improvement – brought a lot of other issues with it. And that’s where we see the second issue. Progress in one area almost always means regress in another. Material progress in the western world has been huge since the industrial revolution began – but it brought huge social costs with it. We’re still fighting through many of those issues, and we still will be in another hundred years.

But the third issue is almost tautological. There can’t be a right side of history when history has no sides. History itself is a harsh master. It doesn’t care one whit about your morality – or mine, for that matter. History simply is.

The idea that there is a “right side” of history necessitates concepts that many of those who use the phrase would find themselves very uncomfortable with. The concept itself requires an objective standard of reality. What those who use it don’t realize is that the idea itself is Christian in origin (if heretical), and it shows in the statement itself. The phrase was deliberately designed to invoke the feeling of “the right side of God” – only that word was deliberately changed to be more amenable to the less religious. Yet it should always be remembered that those who coined the phrase believed it as my re-phrasing.

When you drop the idea of God, however, the statement itself falls apart. Who chooses the “right side?” Without God in the picture, the phrase forces us to imagine that all of humanity is moving toward a shared goal. If you actually believe that is happening, then you’re simply not familiar enough with the way people actually behave in the real world. Also, I have a bridge for sale. E-mail me and we’ll work out a deal.

There is no right side of history. Anybody who tries to tell you that there is has lost interest in rational debate – they are instead trying to shut you down. Don’t let them. Force them to actually debate the issues on their merits.

The Archduke Ferdinand Moment Will Occur in Saudi Arabia

Published May 2, 2016 in Economics , History , Politics , World War IV - 0 Comments
King Salman of Saudi Arabia

King Salman of Saudi Arabia

As I have been stating for some time now, World War IV is upon us (there’s no logical case for not calling the Cold War World War III; 100 years hence historians will name it such). Many refuse to accept it, in large part because the great powers have yet to fully engage. Many are also under the mistaken impression that the war will ultimately be between the US and Russia, as if the Cold War never happened. It won’t be. It will be – and currently is – between the western world – nay, Christendom – and the Islamic world. Indeed, this is what’s already happening as we speak.

With that in mind, the following question arose on Twitter last night:

To which I immediately replied: Saudi Arabia.

A year ago I wrote about the uneasy situation in Saudi Arabia. Since then, the situation has not improved.

I’ve also already noted that oil has historically been overpriced. Middle eastern dictatorships have long relied on this for stability – Saudi Arabia most especially. Their entire nation essentially runs on a patronage system that begins at the top with the Saudi King. He buys loyalty from those directly beneath him – literally buys it – with oil money. And they buy loyalty from those beneath them with that same oil money. And so on. The entire system depends on the flow of oil money.

The recent plunges in oil prices have put this system in mortal peril. The money flow has slowed tremendously. In the past, Saudi Kings would have lowered output in order to push the price back up. But right now they can’t. The obvious reason that everyone is talking about these days is all the new oil sources coming into the market, specifically from fracking in the US, but also from other sources. On top of that, OPEC has lacked the discipline it’s had in the past. If they agreed to cut output, nobody would actually stick to the agreement.

But the other reason is the Saudis themselves. King Salman is caught in a huge catch-22 right now. On the one hand, if he doesn’t cut production and force prices back up it will bankrupt his country. On the other hand, if he cuts production he’ll run out of money to pay his cronies with in the short term. As I’ve noted previously, unlike his older brother King Abdullah, he has not yet had time to truly consolidate his power. He’s also eighty years old, and by all reports not in the best of mental health. And, as I noted in the piece last year, the succession path in the kingdom is currently shaky. It’s uncertain that his recently appointed heir would actually become the next king.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

The Archduke Ferdinand moment in World War IV will come when King Salman dies. Worse, it will likely happen whether he is assassinated or simply dies peacefully in his sleep. Saudi Arabia itself is very likely to face internal civil war. At best it will have a period of serious instability. Its adversaries in the region will not hesitate to take advantage of it. And when that happens, all pretense of stability in the region will collapse.

Why do you think the US government is so desperate to keep those 28 pages of the September 11 report classified? There are plenty of career folks in the State Department who are well aware of how tenuous the situation in Saudi is right now. But they’re fighting a losing battle. No matter what they do, this powder keg is going off.

The avalanche has already started. It’s too late for the pebbles to vote.