Fear Makes Enemies from Allies

The purpose of terror is to affect disproportionate change, to enlist emotions in recruiting unnecessary armies

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The world is a complicated place.

Freddie Gray dies in the back of a police van after being picked up for nothing. No one is seemingly held accountable. Maryland a black state attorney, Baltimore has a black mayor, a substantial minority presence in their police force, a majority-minority city council, and has basically been run by local Democrats for fifty+ years.
 
There are issues here of accountability, but they run all over the place. If they belong to any political party, they belong to the local Democrats. They certainly appear to transcend easy racial narratives on the side of any oppressor, though personally I find it easy enough to imagine the state being a tool of minority/poor oppression regardless of who’s in charge.
We know that, for example, police use of force is disproportionately applied to minorities. There’s some ongoing discussion of shootings – most research indicates a bias, there’s at least one recent study (though only examining incidents in Houston) which counter that conclusion – but personally I think it’s enough to point out that minorities get beat more often than whites in similar incidences to say that there’s smoke.
But what now?
The panacea of “better government” is not enough. Government is, by-and-large, a manifestation of society at large and for good reason. The downside is that transformation in government comes after transformation in society at large, and American society at large is struggling with itself: Black Lives Matter against All Lives Matter, awareness of the state’s largely out-of-sight minority oppression against a struggle to maintain deference to law and order. The good news is that the civil rights movements of the 60s were decried in their time for being disruptive, and that Black Lives Matter being considered similarly is at least a reminder that struggles can tip quickly.
The new, ugly wrinkle in all of this is the string of murders of police officers.That is the wedge, the worst fears of All Lives Matter come to manifest, an erosion of the ideal that it is possible to be both aware of the minority experience of the state’s violence and power, as well as aware that minority and poor communities in general require the help and aid of police. Just as any kind of terror attack is designed to drive rifts between populations, to make estranged allies and neutral parties into enemies, these shootings are terror attacks. If they work, they will erode the social capital required for change, and everyone will come out lesser.
I hope it doesn’t go that way.

A Machine Too Smart to Stop

Washington is seemingly incapable of learning productively from its mistakes

Philip Giraldi is a smart person, and he deserves credit for keeping The American Conservative flush with good foreign policy pieces. The piece comes out of his attendance at a conference held in New York, hosting lots of folks who have learned little of their time in Washington other than to embrace what brought them there.

The conference website has plenty of video to watch, and you can get a good sense of how things in Washington operate: lots of words, lots of pragmatism, little wisdom. It’s a sad thing to look out at such a large mess of very intelligent people trying their best to make America a better place, who are incapable of calling a timeout to reconcile how America’s policies have become a giant, placing chains on itself, swatting at flies.

When I see this kind of stuff in action, I’m reminded of what it takes to get ahead in any environment of hierarchies and stuffy orthodoxy: submission to hierarchies and acceptance of stuffy orthodoxy. Washington itself runs on just that, so does the military, and basically every institution that is large and difficult to manage is going to want to revert to precisely that behavior. It’s natural: the status quo is safe, even if at time morally undesirable. What’s unnerving is that it doesn’t have to be this way for these folks who go from “employee” to “outsider”… and it maybe would be, save for the prime dangling meat of consulting gigs that seem to prevent even outside criticism from being incorporated into the ongoing management of the Behemoth of the federal government.

Bangladesh, Terrorism, and Climate Change

With millions living close to sea level, the disruption of climate change is going to hit places like Bangladesh like a hammer

Bangladesh has had a string of assassinations over the past few months, and it’s part of an even longer trend within the country: bloggers and professors and generally agitating secular folks are turning up dead, hacked apart from machetes. It’s the sort of recurring, shocking event that can create a narrative of a country riven by terrorism, where fear stalks the alleys.

That’s sort of true, and sort of not. Certainly a country where LGBTQ activists are being murdered regularly is some kind of an ugly place, though non-liberal values are to some extent not surprising in such a religious country (most Bangladeshis are Muslim).

However, Bangladesh has a murder rate roughly 2/3 of the United States. Now, I know that the US leads the pack in murder among wealthy nations, but Asian countries just tend to have lower murder rates in general and Bangladesh itself, relative to other less-wealthy countries in the world, is middle-of-the pack. So while these murders are reprehensible and represent a stifling of the sort of debate and discussion that tend to go hand-in-hand with liberty and mass self-determination, they are also part of a larger picture wherein the country is still relatively safe, even with aggressive and violent assassins running around trying to fight social progress by splitting skulls.

What is not safe in Bangladesh, and gets quite a bit less press, is the country’s topography. Check out this map of Bangladesh, and note that its major cities are at least partly beneath the 10m sea level cutoff:bangladesh_10m_lecz_and_population_density1

If there is a recipe for looming threats, that map tells the story. You have high-density locations at very low elevations right next to the coast. The current rate of sea level rise since the start of the 20th century is a bit more than 2mm a year, though that average has been rising in the past few decades and is expected to accelerate due to accelerating global warming, and fluctuations around that average have also been rising due to the increased melting/freezing cycles at the poles due to the increased temperatures.

Given the current population, it is not unreasonable of to figure that by 2100 there will a relocation of 30M+ people into an area already inhabited and high-density, and most of those relocations will have to be repeated in a rolling migration as the cycle continues. That disruption is going to cause more havoc than any murderous religious extremists… but terrorism is a product of fear, and it simply isn’t in peoples’ mindsets to typically consider longer term problems as scary or worthy of immediate action in the face of things like a 0.001% chance of being hacked apart with a machete within the next ten minutes for expressing your mind and hoping for a better future.