Saturday, October 14, 2017

Nagle nails it - how the far right trolled the US presidential campaign

Kill All Normies is the book about how internet sub cultures became mainstream and beyond morality trolled, terrorized and harassed anyone who spoke against their candidates. And it might just be the book to read if you wanna know what happened in the 2016 vote on the US presidency.

As the saying goes: the generals allways fight the last war. That might be true also for political experts when they try to understand - and help us voters understand - what's going on amongst voters in the election campaigns. And maybe that's why allmost noone were able to foresee or believe that Donald Trump would actually win first the nomination and then the presidency. 

There they were, the experts, with their statistics, their polls, their segments, their economic figures and so forth. They seemed to have forgotten all about political views, and meanwhile a fight on political views took place elsewhere. On the internet. Or rather in the fringes of the internet, because those who ended up supporting Trump felt left out from the mainstream medias and the campus debates, where nobody wanted to listen to their views. 

Nobody saw them or nobody took them seriously - they didn't care for their concerns out there on the far right.
"But what a few on the left were paying attention to in the years leading up to Trump's election, and really throughout the entire Obama administration, was the alt-light building a multilayered alternative online media empire that would dwarf many of the above [Jacobin, Chapo Trap House, Novaro Media, Current Affair]. This stretched from the white nationalist bloggers in the sparsely populated corners to the charismatic YouTubers and Twitter celebrities in it's more popular form. These included right-wing outsiders such as Steve Bannon who, through building a publication like "Breitbart", became chief strategist to the US president.
YouTube vloggers produced an abundance of popular commentary videos and 'SJW cringe compilations', while alt-light celebrities like Milo [Yiannopoulis] build careers from exposing the absurdities of the kind of Tumblr identity politics that had gone mainstream through listicle sites like Buzzfeed and anti-free speech safe space campus politics. Meanwhile, ironic meme-making adolescent shitposters formed a reserve army of often darkly funny chan-style images-based content producers, who could be easily summoned in moments like gamergate or whenever big figures like Milo needed backup, to swarm and harass their opposition."

As you might note from this quote there's a lot of new concepts to know if you, as I am, is a "lamestream normi". But that is just a part of what is great about Angela Nagle's book. 

As a witty person posted on facebook this is the first 
book cover were both the question and the answer i
on the front. It is not the book I'd read to understand 
what happened in 2016

To be more precise. There were no debate, since the campus-left were busy "no platforming" right wing views trying to fence off any emotional disturbance while confirming eachother in their moral superiority. At the same time the alt-right was doing just the same. If there had been more of a debate, it might have been possible to explain how contradictory the views of the alt-right is. We've tried nationalism and protectionism in Europe. It didn't work. 

"Blood and soil" the nazis and white supremacists are chanting in the streets of Charlottesville followed by a "Make America Great Again". Europe also tried that - twice actually and both times to our ruin. The European borders and nations, as Nagle ironically writes, were build on blood and soil, and the price was high, the United States where build on the idea of liberty and equality and the believe that every human being has a right to pursue his or her own goals in life. That is what originally made America great. And this is not to say that the campus left has understood their history better. They haven't!

If Hillary Clinton had been able to see the right places and analyze the fringes in the American culture war, she might have realized the reviwing of second hand political views was not just a small thing. That the political views of the European past resonated in rather large groups of the US population; who, whether righteously or not - feeled themselves alienated by the post-modern, individualized, and globalized world.  But why should she have looked that way when nobody else did. 

They analyzed and commented on the election of 2016 as they did all other elections. They followed the same movements, polls, surveys etc. as allways. This time, though, the explanatory power was gone.

But Nagle seem to have nailed it. 

* As I'm writing this it seems as if the online culture wars has entered phase two. The alt-right wants to build their own internet, writes April Glaser in Slate.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Francis Fukuyama on the meaning of life

INTERVIEW* The liberal democracy creates prosperity and peace. But there is more to human existence than just money and security, and liberal democracy cannot deliver that. We must do so ourselves - and it's not going well. The American political thinker Francis Fukuyama gives some suggestions on why.

By Lars Andreassen, Egå Ungdoms-Højskole, and Andreas Harbsmeier, Editor at Højskolebladet **

We know him for something completely different. But Francis Fukuyama’s, one of the most prominent intellectuals of the last 30 years, home of Palto Alto, California, is filled with all sorts of tools. Here he spends time – when he is not out and traveling or teaching at the university – making, among other things, reproductions of antique wooden furniture, which, according to his own opinion, he would otherwise not be able to afford.

Now he sits in a bright room at Aarhus University in Denmark talking about the big questions of human existence and the basic conditions of life. His voice subdued and sentences eloquent. He prefers to sit with his back against the big floor to ceiling window, where the early summer sun shines sharply, so he can see who he is talking to.

"My dad wanted to build model ships. But he couldn't do it while he was working so he waited until he retired at the age of 65. I always thought it was a pity to wait. I might as well enjoy it right away if it doesn’t get in the way of the things I have to do to take care of my work – so why not?" He asks rhetorically and smiles.

He rejects that there is a direct link between his intellectual work and his love for woodwork – or one of the other hobbies he spends time on.
"But it's very satisfying to create something you can touch and use. I enjoy doing it. I think that everyone likes to create something with their hands – something that can be used," Fukuyama explains, while we inform him that there seem to be a tendency in Denmark – especially at the folk schools – to explore artisanal skills and create stuff that can be immediately put to use. 

Few other things give him more satisfaction than building this furniture. But he feels a bit lonely in his artisanal interests. A few years ago, he wanted sell some of his electrical tools, but couldn’t even find someone to pass them on to for free. "People were too busy updating their iPhones."

In one of his earlier books, Fukuyama quoted the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) saying that labor is the essence of being human.

"People express their freedom – essence – through their ability to mold and transform the world and make it a place they can live. Work has the role of being a source of value and a source of human recognition and dignity," Fukuyama explains, moving from the concrete to the general condition of human life.

The work must, of course, satisfy human basic biological needs, but it must also satisfy the human pride and need for recognition, thymos, as Fukuyama calls it with a concept borrowed from Platon.

"People would also want to be recognized to excel, to do better than others. It is the origin of both envy and competition. The ancient aristocratic understanding of dignity had to do with putting one’s life at stake in battle. In the context of democratization, we’ve move from war-based ethics to ethics where dignity is supposed to be an inherent trait in everyone. Everybody works, but not everyone is a warrior."

The equality in citizens is an essential feature of the liberal society – the mark of democracy - but equality in liberal democracies also means a narrow space for the thymotic desires to be fulfilled. That is, the urge to be recognized as better than others.

Aarhus University, May 2017

The defect in the core of liberalism

Back in 1989 the today 64 years old American with Japanese roots had a regular intellectual world hit with the idea of the end of history. Fukuyama then looked back at the two hot world wars and one cold and found that nationalism, fascism, nazism and socialism all had failed in their efforts to bring prosperity, freedom and peace to the people of the world. Only liberal democracy remained. History was over – in the realm of ideas, that is.

However, Fukuyama wrote at that time that there is a defect in the core of liberalism. It contains no predetermined meaning, no directions to what is right and what is wrong. Each individual is his own master in the liberal society, totally unbound and left to his own judgements, which, Fukuyama warned, may also prove to be the greatest threat to freedom and peace.

Fukuyama points out that there is no longer anything to fight for in the liberal democracy, at least nothing that can seriously evoke a feeling of pride within us. Liberalism, so to speak, is empty – without the completeness that traditionally accompanies religious communities. Freedom has won, prosperity as well, and to a degree so that even self-satisfaction at the end of a good day's work is endangered. Thus, it thwarts thymotic desires in modern western society. Boredom and existential emptiness knock on the door and threaten to restart history. Maybe it already have.

"I think there is a correlation between political tumult and the lack of existential guidance in liberalism. What the liberal democracy promises you is peace and prosperity – basically. It is a political system that can resolve conflicts without the use of violence. It is an economic system that produces a lot of material prosperity, so people want to live in that kind of society. But when they are in it, it appears to them that there is more in life than just peace and prosperity. They want struggle and they want recognition and other things. And it creates frictions in liberal societies," Fukuyama says, referring to many of the negative movements that are taking place right now.

"Some people turn to religion, other people against endless desires. Or they turn to other forms of competition that do not really satisfy them. I think it might be Donald Trump's problem. He does not know when to stop. "

Denmark is one of the most equal countries in the world – perhaps the most equal. In The End of History you worry about equality as a threat to stability.

"There are a number of threats right now because the development of global capitalism has caused a number of economic inequalities. There are oligarchs in any society - extremely wealthy people who use their wealth to gain political power in ways that ordinary people do not have access to. And then we also have a problem with people who are not working because of automation and technological development. Many people's jobs disappear at high speed. And if their dignity is linked to their ability to work, it's a real problem because they then have no source of pride and dignity in their lives."

How about the elections in Holland and France [where populist parties didn’t succed to the degree expected or feared]. Would you interpret them in the sense that it is now occuring to people that democracy is not something we can take for granted. It's not just something we can count on. Perhaps we may even transcend our personal life and find something worthwhile in the struggle to preserve democracy – maybe a thymotic struggle?

"I hope that's what's happening. People have found out that there is a real threat to democracy from within. They mobilize to defend. This is happening at least in the United States. Many young people did not even vote for the latest elections. But suddenly, with Trump as elected, they have realized that it may make a difference," Fukuyama says, and move a little back in the chair.

"In Europe, there are many problems with unemployment, especially among young people, but in many respects Europeans have forgotten the reason why the EU was created. They wanted to avoid war. They wanted to create a foundation for prosperity. And they did. But now, the European population take it for granted. It is especially striking to witness excatly that in Eastern Europe as the generation that grew up after the fall of communism is coming to power. They do not remember any of the great ideological matches so they assume that they live in a democracy and that they do not have to fight for it. Part of the problem is that people underestimate the value of democracy just as soon as they get it."

The meaning of life

While Trump according to Fukuyama does not know where to stop, the opposite is true for many young people in Denmark. They really don’t know where to start. They are sucked into this meaningless void in the midst of the liberal society's abundance of material goods and opportunities. They seem to struggle to find out how to get into life, find purpose and meaning. Where should they look?

"Earlier, religion gave that kind of meaning to people - or the ideological struggle, which nowaday, however, is largely absent too. We live in secular societies where people no longer believe in any transcendental purpose. People do not think there is an utopia they can fight for. We almost inhabit utopia," Fukuyama says, but people do not realize it. There are other possibilities which he wants to point out:

"Even if Denmark or the United States or another developed democracy is peaceful and prosperous, it does not mean there are no injustices in other parts of the world. Once I led an international development program in my teaching where people went to poor countries to help them with development. Such activities complement many young people's idealism," he says. Something like that of course could resonate with most Danish folkschool students.

"Another obvious purpose could be just to make money. It is not a particularly rewarding thing to do, but there is a group of people who see it as their challenge to become richer than others. It's a empty life, but it's better than using your time to gather weapons and rule other people with violence," says Fukuyama.

His third example is from a completely different domain. "If you are looking at extreme sports, it is fascinating", he says with a suggestive smile, "to see how many people, who for example are trying to climb Mount Everest. There are many approaches you can take in the seach for meaning. Much of it is also empty, but it is one of the problems that arise when we leave all thoughts of a transcendent purpose of life," says Fukuyama, looking out at the University's Park.

In your book Our Post-Human Future (2002), you notice that we tend to try to make the existence less complex - and reduce human life to a matter of well-being. And if we struggle then we struggle to avoid personal suffering and pain.

"It's difficult to argue for it, but I think that being human is also about dealing with suffering and disease. No one wants more suffering and death, but in a sense, the greatest human virtues come out of the struggle to overcome those things. We admire people who risk their lives for the community - even if they are killed. Because they strive for something higher than their own lives. I think that much modern biomedicine tries to pretend that suffering and death can be overcome on a permanent basis. And I think it will make us less human in the end."

A potential dehumanizer

In Denmark it is often argued by people with liberalist views that the welfare state pacifies people and thus prevents them from searching and creating their own meaning in life.

"It's a typical objection in the US toward the welfare state that it relieves people from personal responsibility. But it is imperative that the Government can take over from time to time, because much of what happens to people is not a result of their own choices. They cannot take responsibility if the entire industry in which they are engaged collapses because of foreign competition. The state has a certain obligation to step in and help them with for instance education. But you can come in a situation where, if you do not feel that you have any responsibility for your own life you become less of a human."

Is it fair then to say that the welfare state might lead to dehumanizing?

"Yes, it is. The problem is that no welfare state is rich enough to satisfy everyone's basic needs. There is a lot of debate about the need for universal income because of the technological development and as a consequence of that there will not be enough meaningful work left. This is a big problem because, as I said, people's dignity depends on their ability to work and that they are paid to make something useful to society. If you just get a paycheck from the government, you will not spend your time creating something creative and beautiful. You'll just feel bad about yourself."

There are some people in Denmark who live on social benefits and seem to accept a life with entertainment and consumption, who do not seem to have an internal drive towards creativity and enterprise. The lack of internal drive also seems to apply to some young people. How do we inspire and motivate those people?

"What you are doing is important. You work with young people. You must teach them that work is meaningful and has an intrinsic value. The Folk High Schools sound like an excellent institution."

* The interview was published in Danish in Højskolebladet #4 /June/ 2017 /pp. 18-24
** Thanks to Chase Doctor for help with the translation.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Does Rouhani rhyme on Harmony?

af Lars Andreassen

Or did the ‘Great Satan and ‘Axis of Evil’ – as Reuters put it - strike a deal on the Iranian nuclear programme? A deal between satan and evil really should cause some unrest - which also seem to be the case in Israel and Saudi Arabia - but this one, I think, deserves at least a smiley. It could prove to be a bit like the math thing were minus (satan) multiplied with minus (evil) yields a plus, even though we're not safe home yet. 

Real politics or politics for people
Some people are not as optimistic as I am. Those people would no doubt call themselves realists. Michael Rubin, who says this interim deal with Iran risks creating another North Korea, I guess, is one of them. The 5+1 must somehow have conditioned Iran in the old fashion Pavlonian way, so that “whenever Tehran needs cash, it can restart enrichment and then demand billions in payment for temporary suspensions. In effect, Iran has replicated North Korea’s strategy: blackmail for cash and technology.”
Rubin makes a perfectly sound argument, but he misses out on at least one thing: the Iranian people. The Iran deal is not just a deal between states, it is also a deal between the populations of these states. 

There is a viable opposition in Iran, which is causing the supreme leaders a lot of headache. First they had to let Hassan Rouhani in to the presidential election, and even though he was probably not their favorite candidate, they did let him win. Rouhani was the candidate that the Green Movement – the people’s opposition – preferred. Those in Iran who want peace, development, independence, freedom, and the possibility to choose for themselves; the youngsters, the educated, and they neither need nor want nuclear bombs. 

They want peace just like most Americans – and, I dare to add, most of the rest of common folks on this planet.

The Iranian people are well informed, they are educated and they know, that we, in the west, does not oppose them. That know, that we want peace as well as they do. And we know, thanks to our valuable freedom rights, about the Iranian people, that Iranians has everything to win and nothing to lose by a peaceful relations to the west. They want more than just a nuclear deal, they want to tap into the global economy, and the opportunity to live peaceful and prosperous lives, as one can read in this Al-Monitor reportagefrom Iran.

When Pr. Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are to sell this interim deal to congress, they should take on the case of the Iranian people. Those are the ones we’ll have to share our future with, and they aspire to the same dreams and hopes as every other human being does – whatever religious views they fancy.

What Historical Mistake
The deal is a historical mistake says Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. It threatens the security of the state of Israel, he claims. The Iranians only appear peaceful, but appearance is not what it seems. And now, with the new deal and relieved sanctions they can proceed their strive toward gaining nuclear weapons – and even with a better economy. But how on earth are the Israelis more threatened by Iran now,  than they were just three months ago, I’d like to ask.

Sanctions didn’t work before, why should they work in the future to come. “Iran had 164 centrifuges operating in 2003; today it has 19,000 centrifuges,” as Fareed Zakaria writes on GPS“Had the Geneva talks with Iran broken down, Iran would have continued (International Atomic Energy Agency) expanding its nuclear program.” And now Iran might have visits from IAEA on a daily basis.

On the other hand, Netanyahu has been feeding extremists of his own, and proceeded the building of settlements on the West bank and other places violating both collective and individual rights of Palestinians. That might be the real historical mistake. The making of new settlements is not just a provocation to the enemies of Israel they are also making it harder for allies to remain devoted allies as this article by Akiva Eldar, clearly shows.

The above point is also clear from Ben Caspit’s article, which add to this, that many Israeli security- and military officials and experts “believe that the agreement with Iran — while not perfect and with a few holes — has benefits that outweigh the damage.”

State Rights or Human Rights

Pr. Rouhani of Iran has often claimed that his state has the same rights as any other state to protect themselves and to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. It is not viable for an international rule of law to deny some states the same rights as others. But a state's rights should be conditional to how it protects and respects its citizens' individual rights. This will protect the international society from abusive governments. 

A long-lasting agreement with Iran must be accompanied by demands for real democratic reform and respect for individual rights. An Iran led by its people, as we know from Western and Scandinavian democracies, will yield the best guaranty against conflict. From people to people. Repressive states only guarantee one thing: repression, war, and conflict. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

How the Conflict in Syria can lead to an nuclear agreement with Iran

One day I did not say goodbye to my boys as they drove to school, I sent them off with a remark, saying that they might get to live their adulthood in a peaceful world. That day was the 20/9-2013, and I’d just read President Hassan Rouhani’s now famous op.ed. in the Washington Post, and the thought occurred to me: Can the conflict in Syria lead to a more peaceful world? I believe so, but what will it take for the Syrian conflict to lead to a better international system and a lasting global peace. For a beginning, Rouhani points at three key factors.

Karl Fredrik Reuterswärd's sculpture Non Violence, which is located outside the UN headquarters in New York. UN's overarching goal is world peace. Photo from UN archives.

The migration of power
If world leaders grasp the opportunity that has arisen in the wake of the civil war in Syria, then yes, we can come closer to a more stable and peaceful world. But what are they, the world leaders, to look for up until the Geneva-meeting?

First the global balance of power has changed in the last 20 years. It is no longer the West against the rest, and herein lies the chance to say goodbye to an unjust and therefore, dysfunctional international system. A system that first and foremost, as Kishore Mahbubani states, has protected western interests. Those days are over, and it is, as Barack Obama said when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly this year, time to rethink - and more deeply, to take into consideration the overarching goal of the UN, which is global peace.

The changed global environment is the first Pr. Rouhani points out in his article: "The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.”

This displacement of economic power is well documented. But to reform the institutions of the international society, it is important that the leaders of world and their populations realize that national interests can no longer be handled in fierce competition with each other. And that is the second important thing, Pr. Rouhani points out:
In other words, win-win outcomes are not just favorable but also achievable. A zero-sum, Cold War mentality leads to everyone’s loss."

To achieve peace in the world obviously requires more than a new president in Iran. It requires reform of the international system, particularly the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC). Reforms that on the surface, seem counter to western interests: we must share our influence after general democratic principles. But in the long run democracy is the only viable option.

The way the Syrian conflict has been handled and mishandled reveals some of those elements that should be taken into consideration in making a more just international system. And if we in the West do not rise to the challenge of the times, and participate in making this world a better and more fair place, we might be the ones who in the future get our arms twisted or become ousted, when India, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Vietnam, Nigeria, South Africa, and China get enough.

The citizens of the western cultures represents only 12% of the world’s total population, says Mahbubani in an interview in The Economic Times. Asia's population constitutes 55% of the total world population. We could also just say that 88% of the world population is non-western, but 60% of the permanent seats in the UNSC is taken by western countries: the US, England and France. Russia and China have the last two out of the five permanent seats. That seems tainted, when as Mahbubani wrote in The Great Convergence, the western democratic ideal is "every citizen has equal moral worth.” UNSC reflects so clearly yesterday's world – the Cold War mentality.

Thus, the world is ruled by a minority – not unlike many totalitarian states. This undemocratic injustice should be changed, and Mahbubani has a possible proposal balancing UNSC in another way, which I will advocate later on.

The third thing Pr. Rouhani points to is the question of identity. Maybe the most important issue. And in my opinion exactly the same factor, that Samuel P. Huntington in 1993 pointed to as the key factor in the conflicts to come; after the clash and crash of the political ideologies we would identify ourselves along the lines of civilizations. Pr. Rouhani points precisely at this ghost in the world's conflict zones, when he states: "We must also pay attention to the issue of identity as a key driver of tension in, and beyond, the Middle East.
At their core, the vicious battles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are over the nature of those countries’ identities and their consequent roles in our region and the world."

Religious affiliation is about identity. Pr. Rouhani’s focus on identity is a thinly veiled call for religious tolerance in its modern form, another Western idea.

From Pr. Hassan Rouhanis inauguration, August 2013. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader hands Rouhani something (I don't know what). A portrait of the Islamic Revolution Leader, Ayatollah Khomeinei, who in 1979 ousted Iran's last Shah (King), is hanging top left. Shah Reza Pahlavi was reinstalled by the Americans after a coup in 1953 against the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq. Photo from the Iranian President's website.

The dysfunctional UNSC
In the heydays of the Arabic spring, we could only look scared and in wonder at the way in which Bashir Al Assad responded to the Syrian people's demands for freedom and reform. In this light it was only natural to demand Assad's departure as part of the solution. Maybe Barack Obama made a rhetorical error with the remark about the red line. I don’t think so; he knows what Kennedy thought of appeasement, and he knows what Kennedy achieved. And if you don’t, there’s plenty of inspiration to get in Jeffrey Sachs book on Kennedy’s quest for peace.

But the deeper cause of the failure in Syria is to be found in the dysfunctional institutions of the international society. More precisely, the UNSC. But it is also precisely in its dysfunctions, we can see what to alter – and therefore in which parts our hopes for a global peace can rest. Not for the Syrian citizens, unfortunately, but for everyone else. As Assad resorted to chemical weapons, and Obama then had to take his word on the red line seriously and begin preparations for an attack on Syria, the British House of Commons voted against an intervention without the UN. Obama lost an important ally, and then found time to consult the Congress about their views on the matter. During this period Vladimir Putin made his move.

Not, as Putin claims, to defend the Assad regime but to preserve the balance in the international system.
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. […] It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

It’s ironic to claim that the international system was in balance before. It’s precisely because of imbalance in the UNSC, that the Syrian conflict could escalate to the present – for the Syrian population hopeless level. The imbalance in the international community was visible in Russia's and Iran's alliance with Syria and a passive China. The West, on the one hand, and the rest on the otheror rather Orthodox Christians and Shias on the one hand and the West and Sunnis on the other side. No pure civilization lines. At the same time it seems to me, that the Sino-Orthodox-Shia flank – cynical at the expense of the Syrian population – wanted to demonstrate to the US that they can no longer take action on their own. That’s for the better. Instead of drawing up hostile borders, we have a unanimous UNSC vote to disarm Syria from chemical weapons. Who saw this coming a fortnight ago?

It is also ironic that it probably was Obama's threat to act on his own, that made Putin respond, jump in and attempt to rescue the same system, he’s been helping to destroy. And you have to wonder to what extent Putin is ready to commit?

In any case, Putin has stumbled so far into a solution that he will find it difficult to back down. The longtime Beirut correspondent for the Danish newspaper, Information, and author of a book about the Arab Spring, Lasse Ellegaard, is citing an anonymous Western diplomat as saying that: "The two sides [U.S. and Russia] has come so far in the process that they would lose face if they returned to the veto-zero-situation." And let's be happy about that, no matter how little we like Putin.

Putin's Russia might very well be a major obstacle for a peaceful development. A world society can not passively watch as Putin slowly strangles civil society and passes on laws, that clearly violate basic human rights – especially as China is working in the opposite direction. It's a good question whether Putin stumbled into the solution of the Syrian conflict out of sheer excitement over what he saw as Obama's rhetorical mistake, and an opportunity to demonstrate his power. But Obama maybe have Putin cornered by this talk of a red line – mistake or not.

Once in a Lifetime
Nevertheless, the chance of a serious change is here. And to consider the future path of the international society, and to straighten out the imbalance between the world's superpowers. Whether Putin wanted it or not, he is a part of a solution now, and properly he also has to commit himself to this rational path in the near future. Caught in the net by his own words of a
“system of international law and order.”

It will not save the Syrian population. But it should be able to prevent a similar conflict from escalating – it could be in Yemen, North Korea, Al-Shahab in Somalia or it could be the Iranian nuclear programme. But if Iran becomes a part of the world community it has no need for nuclear weapons. And if the responsible countries of the world stands firm and united (in an inclusive and friendly way) against Iran, and willing to ease sanctions it will make it extremely difficult for Iran to return to the rhetoric and strategy of the time under Pr. Ahmedinejad.

The controversial political scientist Kenneth N. Waltz (1924-2013), was of the opinion that Iran only wanted the bomb to be appropriately listened to in the international society. It is a matter of identity and recognition – exactly as Pr. Rouhani points out. Maybe Iran wants to be the Japan of the Middle East; to develop an Islamic country embracing modernity in a slightly different way.

Pr. Rouhani speaks about the country’s right to defend itself – isn’t that reasonable? What are the Iranians to think when they’re not allowed to enrich uranium. Though in a friendly world, the Iranians wouldn’t need nuclear weapons. They have oil, and if they manage to reconcile with the rest of the world they can also sell it, and they can engage in the development of alternative energy sources and the lives of people. That is not only in Iran's interest, but in everyone's interest.

Of course, Pr. Rouhani must move further from conciliatory words to action, as Ray Takeyh strongly emphasizes. And commentators are justified in their skepticism toward Iran's supreme leadership, after all, Khamenei and not Rouhani has the last word. But read this little encouraging analyticalpassage of Fareed Zakaria from Time magazine:

”During the campaign, Rouhani vigorously attacked the most hard-line candidate in the race, Saeed Jalili – thought to be the favorite of the Supreme Leader – for being unable to come to an agreement with the international community and ease any of the sanctions arrayed against Iran. “It is good to have centrifuges running, provided people’s lives and livelihoods are also running,” he said in a debate, to great applause.”

The Iranian people have shown, A) with the election of the pragmatist Pr. Rouhani, in which direction they want to move and they already did so during the Green Wave in 2009 after having voted for Mir-Hossein Mousavi. And B) What interest can even Iran's supreme leader, Khamenei see being cornered if his only playmates will be Russia, Syria, and Hezbollah? C) When Pr. Rouhani in his UNGA speech criticizes other nations for violating various human rights, he must be sufficiently intelligent to know that his criticism also fit his own regime.

In 2009 the Iranians elected the reformist Mousavi to the great annoyance of the religious elite who robed him his, and the Iranian people their, victory. Millions took to the streets and protested against the electoral fraud. They were completely struck down slain to pieces by the Revolutionary Guard. "They Killed My Bro Koz He Asked Where is My Vote", it says on the young woman's sign. Photo Hamed Zaber, the wiki medias license.

The West, the Ruling Minority
Fortunately, neither Iran nor Russia are greatpowers (what can Putin use his nuclear weapons for), and the US is no longer dominant, but just a major power among equals, as Fareed Zakaria puts it. The West can no longer obstruct the agenda of other’s, and if we want to prevent China and other major powers in deciding that what is good for them is good for the rest of us, then cooperation is in our long term interest. Western countries will lose influence, but in the long-term it will be a victory for every nation of the world. It could be the last leading move of the West to point out the direction towards a real democratic international society.

I’ve already touched upon the imbalance in the UN Security Council, but the institutionalized absurdities do not stop there. The Western 12% population of the world has 50% of the votes respectively in the Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the leaders are furthermore always from Europe and America. If you try to put yourself in the shoes of a non-western, would you then think it odd that some countries step up to the West from time to time?

Mahbubani recently continued his critique of the West in a razor-sharp analysisin the Financial Times: ”The G20 website boasts that its 20 members represent almost 90 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and 65 percent of the world’s population. At the end of the meeting, 10 G20 countries – representing 12 per cent of the world’s population – supported the American call for action [in Syria]. The maths is clear: 50 percent of the world’s citizens, a vast majority of the G20 population, did not support the US.”

Three times 7 for the eternal peace
Mahbubani can do more than criticize. He’s been a diplomat for 33 years, and has a proposal for a reform of the UNSC. The details of the proposal are outlined in his book The Great Convergence. This is not an ideal solution, he states, but something that might be politically possible, and I would like to end my article with a rough sketch of his proposal.

The Security Council shall consist of 7 permanent members: the EU, the US, China , India, Russia, Brazil, and Nigeria. And 7 pseudo-permanent members: a group counting roughly 28 countries competing for the membership responsibilities. These should be countries like Pakistan, which definitely will feel offended by India's permanent seat; Argentina and Mexico, who will be offended by Brazil's seat and of course South Africa, but also countries such as Japan, Vietnam, Turkey, Colombia, and even the major European nations, although they would be permanently represented by the EU. These are countries which all have a sufficient size to be able to pay their dues and commit troops and other kinds of assistance to the world's hotspots. Finally, 7 countries, elected from among the rest of the world's small states with the same status as today’s 10 non-permanent members.

Such a 7-7-7 Security Council, with each of the world’s major regions permanently represented, would yield a fairer and more balanced distribution of seats and thus a council of greater legitimacy. The medium-sized countries will not have to compete with quite so many to gain influence and they would more frequently find themselves sitting at the table. For the smallest nations the advantage is, that they do not have to compete with the medium sized countries.

Europe's crisis-affected populations must realize that a peaceful global development is dependent on a fair distribution of benefits and the majority of the world's population can’t afford the pensions and annual holidays as many Europeans can, and they do not have free access to hospitals and are not protected against unemployment. The best protection for minorities is rule of law, Mahbubani writes in Why We - especially the West - Need the UN Development System, therefore, the West should live up to its own ideals of democracy, and give every individual a voice.

Many Europeans, especially left-wings, believe that government subsidies are the way out of the crisis, but it's a dead-end. If we continue along the path of state-subsidiaries, we can by no means take it for granted, that invited to trade negotiations with the big economies in the future. It might as well happen that the Rest will treat us in the future as the West has treated them in the past. In a global economy, access must be equally granted to everyone – the EU and the US can’t protect their economies from competition from lower wages in development countries.

The conflict in Syria – or rather the UNSC agreement on Syria – could yield a change of the world. If we grasp the chance and cast off our shoulders old geopolitical paradigms and Cold War mentality. We can move closer to the United Nation’s basic purpose: a peaceful world.

Text, Lars Andreassen

I owe Emily Beresford a lot of thanks for helping with the translation from danish.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Teufelsberg – US Ears Behind Enemy Lines

First word from my intended sentence returns from the fiberglass shell of the radar dome. In a split second it breaks the waves of the next word, the next, and again, and the words of the others. All these bashed utterances create an inferno of sound waves, desperately seeking ears but instead in vain bounces off the wall. Communication is impossible. But communication wasn't really intended here. No word should ever leave the place. At Teufelsberg listening is the only thing or it once was.

One of the ragged domes at Teufelsberg, Berlin's highest mount, and a a small impression of the resort's panorama view. Photo Lars Andreassen.

I’m standing half an hour from the Berlin downtown, in Grunewald, on the top of an abandoned building from the Cold War, in a flayed dome that once hid the West or more precisely America's listening devices in the middle of the past GDR (German Democratic Republic). USA’s ears behind enemy lines, deep within East Germany.

On the map you see how far inside East Germany, Berlin was actually located (GDR red). Source Wikimedia. The guy to the left is me inside Teufelsbergs control center by the U.S. Military Police emblem: Assist, Protect, Defend. Photo Peter Wang.
Jeffrey Sachs writes somewhere that Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader from 1953 to 1964, ”… viewed West Berlin as a staging post for Western spying and aggression against the Soviet Union, ”a NATO beachhead and military base against us inside the GDR [German Democratic Republic].”

A Ragged Design Classic
What the listening equipment in the dome caught and how important it was, we do not know. And we are first to know, when the archives of Teufelsberg is opened in 2022. But the ears of the west in the east had 500,000 East German soldiers to listen to and 400,000 soldiers from GSSD, Gruppe der Sowjetischen Streitkräfte in Deutschland, which was stationed at the frontline of the Cold War.

The spy tower looks like an enlarged version of the famous Bauhaus lamp. It was obvious to everyone, that the hill could hear, but only a small bunch of Americans know how the fine mechanics of the ears were functioning. You have a fantastic view from Teufelsberg over Berlin and surroundings, but the complex itself had almost no eyes. Only in the canteen there were windows.

Despite the panorama view from Teufelsberg, only the canteen had windows. Not because it was prohibited to enjoy the view, but to prevent the GDR and their Soviet allies gaining knowledge of the activities at Teufelsberg. Photo Lars Andreassen.

Anyone could get close to the outer fence, but they were not supposed to see what went on inside. Numerous Russian busses were passing by with photographing "tourists" during the years of the Cold War. And residents of West Berlin was skiing down the hill until 1972 when they closed the 400-meter-long slope – they even had a world Cup there – because electromagnetic radiation from the snow machines disturbed the sensitive technology in the inner ear.

The spy tower reminds me of the famous Bauhauslamp. Photo Lars Andreassen.
And while the precautions appears relatively relaxed from the outside, there was a double fence around the inner ear, where even the British employees had to badge ID to get into the deep of the U.S. military facilities.

Street Art or Cold War Monument
We don’t know what they heard on Teufelsberg, and we also do not know what will become of the place. A small group of tenacious people guides visitors through the history up here, our guide, Martin Schaffer, tells us, while they try to raise money to maintain the site, create a monument and a museum of the Cold War.

(Left) Martin Schaffer, our very dedicated and well speaking guide. One of the people trying to preserve the site and create a Cold War monument and museum of Teufelsberg. (Right) An example of information posters glued up upon the raw bricks - clearly a part of the resort's current charm. Photos Peter Wang.
That evening, as we are visiting
with a group of students from Egaa Folk High School, in the afternoon, Deutsche Telekom has rented the abandoned radar station for a gigantic party.

Ready for the night's Telekom party. The inside of the top dome turned in to a disco dome - how the acoustics will work out during a party is beyond me. It was utterly impossible to communicate there. Photo Lars Andreassen.

And right now its Berlin's main site for street art. Empty spray cans, waste, falling ceilings, old machines, dark and empty door holes, and rusty barbed wire make up the settings for our afternoon and the evenings coming Telekom party.

Teufelberg's surviving buildings has been a mecca for graffiti artists and other creative temperaments. According to our guide, Martin Schaffer, the location contains right now one of Berlin's largest collections of Street Art. Photos Lars Andreassen.

Ruin of rubble
The mound Teufelsberg is 120.1 meters high, the highest place in Berlin. Built on the remains of 2nd World War bombed-out Berlin. All the rubbles that couldn't be used for the city's reconstruction were run out here in the suburbs, where they initially covered the remains of what should have been the University of the World Capital, Germania’s Department of War Technology.

(Left) Wehrtechnische Fakultät, the first and largest building of what should have been Germania's, the world capital of the Third Reich, University City. (Right) The listening station at Teufelsberg before the trees covered the hill, and the graffiti and decay took over the buildings. The Americans left the place in 1992. Photos Peter Wang.

The Nazis worked on their project in Grunewald from 1937 until 1942 but they never finished. And now, on the remains of Hitler’s and his architect Albert Speer's megalomaniac visions, the abandoned towers of the Cold War's victorious power
as a history’s ironic comment – resides.

Text, Lars Andreassen

P.S. If you would like to visit the place, check it out.