Wednesday, December 6, 2017

An Analysis of the Life, Legend, and Legacy of Cecil Rhodes

On the 11th of November 1965, the former colonial protectorate of Britain known as Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom.1 Ian Smith, the Prime Minister of this new and contested sovereign nation, was the first such leader of a former British possession to unilaterally declare independence from the empire since the American Declaration of Independence close to two centuries prior.2 Perhaps not so dissimilar as one may think, American and Rhodesian separatism were in large part pushed to imperial defection by a desire among certain circles of patrician elite to maintain, protect, and/or augment their existing privileges. Both can also be seen as party to perpetuating a cynically cavalier racial dominion over Africans and their kidnapped American progeny in the interests of white supremacy, though this is more often than not overlooked in the popular history of the American Revolution (needless to say this is not the case with the Civil War). There are very obvious historical reasons for this as unlike Rhodesia in 1965, the American defectors of the late 18th century were not troubled by the rather overwhelming problem of maintaining a form of minority rule over a massive and racially-disenfranchised majority on the very continent they had called home for millenia.3 Alongside this, colonialism as a concept and legitimate tool of statecraft was no longer in vogue even in the mother country of Britain itself; this, in fact, was one of the primary reasons Ian Smith felt compelled to sign the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in order to veer away from Britain's post-colonial framework for establishing genuine majority rule in the country.4 Wishing to preserve white minority rule as the Republic of South Africa was doing through the policy of apartheid, Smith and his rebel cabal represented the last hopes to maintain this vision, one on par with and undoubtedly deeply influenced by Cecil Rhodes, the man for whom the region of Rhodesia was named. It gained this namesake during the apex of British imperialism under Queen Victoria in 1895,5 and part and parcel to this imperial pride and fervour for wider domination, Rhodes wrote the following very telling words in his final will and testament of 1902: “The world is nearly all parcelled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered and colonised. To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.”6 So who exactly was Cecil Rhodes and how much power and influence did he truly wield during his time in southern Africa? As well, what cursory effects did his legacy have throughout the period following his death and into the present era, and what can his story tell us about life in the Victorian age?

It would be impossible to claim Rhodes' ambitions as the exclusive or overpowering force behind the British colonial project on the southern half of the continent. As with all historical leviathans, his legend obfuscates much of the details of what he intended to accomplish as well as the key role his multifarious influences played in shaping his worldview and intentions. His myth is a great plume of smoke, and where there is smoke, there is fire. Although the smoke of his popular myth is an important subject which will be broached later in this writing, the discipline of historical analyses demands we investigate the fire and trace an accurately compelling sketch of all that from which Cecil Rhodes emerged to become such a controversial force to be reckoned with. One of his favourite books which he carried with him practically everywhere he went was the “Meditations” of the ancient Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Throughout his copy of the book, Rhodes avidly emphasized the passages most affecting to him through ubiquitous circling and underlining in such a way as to communicate the earnest intensity of his revelations. He called “Meditations” his “guide in life” and his “most precious possession.”7 Through an analysis of the 101 passages Rhodes particularly emphasized (and provided by Rotberg8) the gist of the relevant themes can be broadly grouped into four categories:
1: Death can come at any moment, thus one should live as if it were imminent;
2: Intellect and reason take precedence over emotions;
3: “Just acts are their own reward”; in other words, do what is seriously meaningful, and avoid engagement in all that is deemed frivolous;
4: Success in one's life and ventures is largely contingent on working well with others, staying open to compromise, cultivating and maintaining the ability to listen, and not being so prideful so as to become closed to changing one's mind.9
From this analytical distillation, we can see that Rhodes was driven largely by a humanistic set of values emanating from the Renaissance and its trend towards the venerated study of ancient authors. By and large, it is likely that Rhodes already had a sense of all he learned from Aurelius, but found a certain confirmation of his ambitious intentions better articulated in the words of another. However, “Meditations” was not the only work of literature Rhodes found himself enamoured with at the time. Written by William Winwood Reade and published in 1872, “The Martyrdom of Man” was a highly controversial secular work of 'universal' history which broadly supported political liberalism alongside a particular vision of social Darwinism.10 The section most contested by critics was one which attacked Christian dogmas at length, and it lead many to misinterpret Reade as an atheist when he had, in fact, believed in some sort of Creator, just not in the set image decided upon by the established religions of his day.11 In this sense, he viewed the Christianity of his time as committing conceptual idolatry, thus facilitating a general ignorance resulting in dangerous worldly consequences as all operated on the basis of a collective illusion within which ultimate 'truth' was thought to reside. Rhodes, though a more traditional Christian than Winwood Reade, was deeply influenced by Reade's book. It seemed to confirm much of his intuitions regarding organized religion, acknowledging that God does indeed exist, but that he is not interested in humans as individuals, nor did he create man in his image.12 By 1889, as he reached the apex of his power, Rhodes, according to his good friend and key guarantor of his will William Stead, “neatly reconciles the two opposing tectonic movements of the Victorian age, science and religion, by concluding that God was supervising the perfection of the species by a process of natural selection ... and [that] the struggle for existence [was] recognised as the favourite instruments of the Divine Ruler.'”13 From this base of humanistic imperial thought stems the paternalistic racism which Rhodes came to embody for many during his lifetime and long past his death.

It was the overtures of yet another author contemporary to his time that many historians mark as the key and timely inspiration to Cecil's ambitions to expand the British Empire. In a lecture at Oxford University which is now part of school's lore, famous literary critic John Ruskin implored his audience that “[t]here is a destiny now possible to us … We are still undegenerate in race; a race mingled of the best northern blood … We are not yet dissolute in temper … Will you youth of England make your country again a royal throne of kings? … This is what England must do or perish, she must found colonies as far and as fast as she is able.”14 Many previous tellings of Rhodes' life portray him as present at the lecture itself, though this has been proven to be untrue through later investigation. Instead, it seems he purchased or otherwise obtained a transcript published by the Clarendon Press not long following Ruskin's 1870 address.15 The influence this lecture exerted on Rhodes, however, is uncontested. This is evidenced in his own words when he writes that Ruskin's “lectures made a great impression on one [and] [o]ne of them which set out the privileges and opportunities of the young men in the Empire made a forceful entry into my mind.”16 It once again reinforced his grand ambitions and explicitly imbued them with a sense of innate racial superiority alongside an ethereal urgency to 'correct' the course of humanity as a whole under British tutelage. This struggle for global hegemonic survival, a macrocosm of the preferred 'instruments' of the Divine Ruler as Cecil believed, seemed to precipitate a zero-sum view of politics and the proverbial “Other” through the normalized magnifier of late Victorian melodrama.

This melodrama was, for all intents and purposes, the closest thing to the language of scientific objectivity accepted in public discourse at the time. The 'discipline' of history as we once understood it was a melodramatic focus on an event in light of Victorian morality and/or one actor's inflated heroics or villainy, qualifying it more as a way for British imperialism at the time to spawn and cultivate a mythology capable of perpetuating a dominantly coherent image and 'sensation' of the empire's powerful grandeur.17 Neil Hultgren, in his book “Melodramatic Imperial Writing: From the Sepoy Rebellion to Cecil Rhodes,” writes that ‘‘[t]hrough its vividness and ability to reimagine complexities via readily accessible binaries and concepts, melodrama made the British Empire appear unified and comprehensible. It was one of the central fictions through which another fiction—that of the British Empire—might be understood.’’18 This last sentence of Hultgren's quote (with italic emphasis added by the author of this paper) points to the importance of melodrama as one of the key socially constructive pillars which permitted the Union Jack to continue billowing listlessly in the wind across the disparate width and breadth of the globe. To perpetuate itself across a series of held territories and dominions whose aggregate non-British population was beyond any doubt the very vast majority, the empire had to make itself seem larger and more powerful than it actually was, a purpose which this melodrama more than sufficiently served during its time. Cecil Rhodes was no exception to this trend as he earnestly bought into this spirit of the day through his wild ambitions and penchant to glorify his own achievements, even if at times this was only in the framework of the 'selfless martyrdom' of his efforts on behalf of the British imperial project. In short, Rhodes had a tendency—instrumental in his role as the 'Colossus of Africa' and not unusual for his time—to self-mythologize. As his notoriety spread for better and for worse, this process of self-mythologizing would likely have become a recurring feedback loop as the melodramatic Victorian press breathlessly disseminated reports of his glorious achievements, reinforcing Rhodes own self-sense as someone who was now larger than life, perhaps even a 'prophet' of a secular religion of sorts coalescing around the colloquial church of British imperial dogmas. Perhaps one of the best ways to demonstrate Cecil's imperial melodrama is to point the reader back to his quote provided on page two at the end of the introductory paragraph, the last half in which he declares that “[t]o think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.”19 This statement was something that even many in the 19th century would have found pejoratively melodramatic, though as the legend of Cecil Rhodes continued to wildly inflate, the perceived preposterousness of this and his other similar statements by-and-large diminished as he was informally 'canonized' as a gloriously heroic example of British imperial virtue in the same league as characters like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. However, Rhodes is unique in the longevity his mythologized idolatry has enjoyed, even up to and including the present day. Though its origins undoubtedly reside in the British imperialism of the late Victorian era, this longevity can largely be attributed to the fact that Rhodes was also the founder of the modern diamond industry.

Rhodes, after outmaneuvering market rivals in the area of Kimberley (situated in what is now the north-central region of the Republic of South Africa) in the midst of a diamond rush in the 1870s-80s, established DeBeers Consolidated Mines in 1888.20 In the decades immediately following Rhodes' death, DeBeers would go on to socially construct the modern cultural preference for diamond rings as the new orthodox necessity to be presented when proposing marriage.21 Remarkably, it was a way of controlling not only the supply side of the industry, but also its demand through manufacturing the perception that the combination of diamonds and marriage was a cultural necessity, and as such one could no longer adequately claim to have the latter without sacrificing to gift the former.22 Even the pithy maxim asserting “A Diamond Is Forever” originated from an assertive DeBeers public relations campaign in the late 1940s,23 though an investigation and assessment of Rhodes' company in the decades and century following his passing is a topic in itself best left to detailed treatment elsewhere as it is beyond the scope of this essay. Regardless, such a cursory look at this aspect of his immense legacy does indeed demonstrate his historical relevance as it pertains to understanding the global market and cultural context of the present day. As well, through all that has been said of Cecil Rhodes thus far there has been, save for the introductory paragraph, the conspicuous absence of any meaningful investigation and analysis of his Anglophilic white supremacy. This topic will be addressed in the following and final paragraph which will also double as the paper's conclusion, bringing us back full circle to the 1960s, the decade which saw the beginning of the end for the country bearing his namesake.

In the same final will and testament of 1902 in which he declared his melodramatic desire to 'annex the planets,' Rhodes also wrote that “I contend that we [the English] are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.”24 Buying wholesale into the racialization of empire—in part a result of the force his personal interpretation of Winwood Reade's social Darwinism had on him via “The Martyrdom of Man”—Rhodes began to speak of the native African population as a rightly disenfranchised subject peoples. In an 1887 address to the House of Assembly in Cape Town, Rhodes explicitly stated that “[t]he native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa.”25 Under his auspices, the taking of land from native Africans using armed force became acceptably routine.26 The prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, established through funds authorized by his estate following his death, does curiously stipulate that no one can be denied a scholarship on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion.27 Educational historian Marybeth Gasman asserts this was likely not in reference to the native black population, but rather the white Boers, with whom British settlers and their progeny had shared a long and mutually adversarial distrust. Eventually, however, even the Rhodes Scholarship went the way of Rhodesia and had to capitulate to the demography of the native majority. However, though it went the way of Rhodesia, it did not go away as Rhodesia did in 1980 when Robert Mugabe won power and re-branded the country as Zimbabwe. Instead, as time went on and policies of apartheid were repealed or overthrown across the southern half of the continent, the Rhodes Scholarship simply cancelled the criteria which had previously barred both women and black Africans from eligibility.28 Its imperial origins are still controversial among many, though just as Cecil Rhodes himself was a product of his time (eg.: a product of Victorian melodrama as his cultural modus operandi), so too was the Rhodes Scholarship. As history has sped forward, its context has evolved to become displaced and more just than it was at inception, just as we have all evolved to understand that what Cecil saw in the “Other” as embodied in the native Africans was, perhaps, less an accurate appraisal of another than it was a reflection of himself: an intensely driven megalomaniac who could—and does, in many contemporary African eyes—likewise qualify as a barbarian in his own terrible right, a self-confessed despot who could not be trusted to rule equitably.


Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1906.
Bivona, Daniel. "Review: Melodramatic Imperial Writing: From The Sepoy Rebellion To Cecil Rhodes By Neil Hultgren". Nineteenth-Century Literature 70, no. 3 (2015): 405-409. doi:10.1525/ncl.2015.70.3.405.
Fleming, John V. "Winwood Reade And The Martyrdom Of Man". The Princeton Independent, 2003.
Friedman, Uri. "We Buy Engagement Rings Because A Diamond Company Wanted Us To". The Atlantic, February 13th, 2015.
Gasman, Marybeth. "Philip Ziegler. Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, The Rhodes Trust And Rhodes Scholarships.". History Of Education Quarterly 50, no. 02 (2010): 261-262. doi:10.1111/j.1748-5959.2010.00271.x.
Gebrial, Dalia. "We Don't Want To Erase Cecil Rhodes From History. We Want Everyone To Know His Crimes". The Telegraph, December 22nd, 2015.
Nyerere, Julius K. "Rhodesia In The Context Of Southern Africa". Foreign Affairs 44, no. 3 (1966): 373. doi:10.2307/20039174.
Reade, William W. The Martyrdom Of Man. 18th ed. New York: The Truth Seeker Co., 1910.
Rhodes, Cecil, and W. T Stead. The Last Will And Testament Of Cecil John Rhodes. London: "Review of Reviews" Office, 1902.
Riches, Christopher, and Jan Palmowski. "Zimbabwe". A Dictionary Of Contemporary World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Rotberg, Robert I. "Did Cecil Rhodes Really Try To Control The World?". The Journal Of Imperial And Commonwealth History 42, no. 3 (2014): 551-567. doi:10.1080/03086534.2014.934000.
Walker, George. "‘So Much To Do’: Oxford And The Wills Of Cecil Rhodes". The Journal Of Imperial And Commonwealth History 44, no. 4 (2016): 697-716. doi:10.1080/03086534.2016.1211295.
"Who Can Apply?" Rhodes House: Home Of The Rhodes Scholarships, 2017.

1Julius K. Nyerere, "Rhodesia In The Context Of Southern Africa", Foreign Affairs 44, no. 3 (1966): 373, doi:10.2307/20039174.
5Christopher Riches and Jan Palmowski, "Zimbabwe", A Dictionary Of Contemporary World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
6Cecil Rhodes and W. T Stead, The Last Will And Testament Of Cecil John Rhodes (London: "Review of Reviews" Office, 1902).
7George Walker, "‘So Much To Do’: Oxford And The Wills Of Cecil Rhodes", The Journal Of Imperial And Commonwealth History 44, no. 4 (2016): 697-716, doi:10.1080/03086534.2016.1211295, 708.
10William W. Reade, The Martyrdom Of Man, 18th ed. (New York: The Truth Seeker Co., 1910), vii.
11John V. Fleming, "Winwood Reade And The Martyrdom Of Man", The Princeton Independent, 2003.
12George Walker, "‘So Much To Do’: Oxford And The Wills Of Cecil Rhodes", The Journal Of Imperial And Commonwealth History 44, no. 4 (2016): 697-716, doi:10.1080/03086534.2016.1211295, 707.
13Ibid, 706.
14Ibid, 705.
17D. Bivona, "Review: Melodramatic Imperial Writing: From The Sepoy Rebellion To Cecil Rhodes By Neil Hultgren", Nineteenth-Century Literature 70, no. 3 (2015): 405-409, doi:10.1525/ncl.2015.70.3.405, p. 406.
18Ibid (italic emphasis in Hultgren quote added by the author of this paper).
19Cecil Rhodes and W. T Stead, The Last Will And Testament Of Cecil John Rhodes (London: "Review of Reviews" Office, 1902).
20Marybeth Gasman, "Philip Ziegler. Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, The Rhodes Trust And Rhodes Scholarships.", History Of Education Quarterly 50, no. 02 (2010): 261-262, doi:10.1111/j.1748-5959.2010.00271.x, p. 261.
21Uri Friedman, "We Buy Engagement Rings Because A Diamond Company Wanted Us To", The Atlantic, February 13th, 2015,
24Cecil Rhodes and W. T Stead, The Last Will And Testament Of Cecil John Rhodes (London: "Review of Reviews" Office, 1902).
25Dalia Gebrial, "We Don't Want To Erase Cecil Rhodes From History. We Want Everyone To Know His Crimes", The Telegraph, December 22nd, 2015,
27Marybeth Gasman, "Philip Ziegler. Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, The Rhodes Trust And Rhodes Scholarships.", History Of Education Quarterly 50, no. 02 (2010): 261-262, doi:10.1111/j.1748-5959.2010.00271.x, p. 262.

28"Who Can Apply?", Rhodes House: Home Of The Rhodes Scholarships, 2017,   

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Conceptual History of European Unity & What It Suggests for the Geopolitical Future of the Continent (Grand Narrative Essay)


The prolific 17th century European polyglot, philosopher, and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz once said that "ambition is not less effective than love" in achieving political ends beneficial to all (Roldan 2011). In particular, what he meant by this was that were a sovereign to decide to invest himself in the project of uniting the European continent, it would matter not whether this sovereign did it with the altruistic objective of establishing “perpetual peace,” or if he pushed such advocacy on the self-interested premise of causing the collapse of the House of Hapsburg for his own relative gain. So long as the effort worked to the ultimate political and material benefit of the vast majority, it was something to be supported in good conscience regardless of the hegemonic agency's ulterior motives. Leibniz's point was greater than that, though; he was attempting to illustrate through example a position of political realism in his critique of a popular treatise advocating 'perpetual peace' in Europe. Written in 1713 by Charles-Irénée Castel, better known simply by his religious title of the abbé de Saint-Pierre, the treatise advocated for the formation of a confederal union not only of Europe, but ultimately the entire world in idealistic eventuality (Roldan 2011). Leibniz, though he deeply admired Castel's work in its attempt and good intentions, asserted that the monk had not solved the perennial issue of how to make monarchs “want perpetual peace,” even if he believed that were such a hypothetical objective achieved, said perpetual peace was conceivably possible. The problem was not logistics or a lack of aggregate human ability to stop war, but the vicissitudes of human nature itself; and though we now live in an era where a form of European political unity has been achieved (whether meaningfully or nominally is a matter of strong debate), these very same critical observations ring just as true in form as they did at their time of conception three centuries ago. This essay will briefly summarize, investigate, and analyze the history of the concept of European unity and will present the ways in which such an investigation can give us a deeper understanding of the issues facing the contemporary European Union by posing and answering—to the greatest extent possible—what could be described as either one question in two parts, or two questions in one. First: what was the proposed anatomy of—and the ultimate cause of failure for—attempts at European unity proposed prior to the 20th century? And two: based on the demonstrable presupposition that such unifying projects were conceived of and organized in opposition to a larger perceived external threat and lacking such a similar cohesive opposition narrative as the Soviet Cold War threat with which the modern European project legitimized much of its supranational-integrationist character, what kind of future can be reasonably expected for the EU based on the patterns observed in a broader evaluation of the history of such a union in both concept and attempt? As well, all of this will be contextualized within the complexity of our present era, a direct result of the fracturing of these internal and external unifying grand narrative structures and contrasts across the world as a result of globalization and asymmetrical warfare with hostile non-state actors such as ISIS and al Qaeda.

'European Unity' Then and Now:
As of November 2017, the time of this writing, it seems clear to both political observers and scholars of political science that the primary source of dissonance in the Union exists in a clash between localized identities and cosmopolitan neoliberal capitalism (Pan 2016). The Brexit referendum of June 2016 is a clear demonstration of this as one of the greatest points of domestic controversy in the United Kingdom at the time was the prolific hiring of workers from Central and Eastern Europe for menial employment at low wages throughout the country. This was a result of an essential component of the EU Single Market facilitating the free movement of labor and capital throughout the Eurozone. The fact that such a concern for lost jobs focused on the continued presence of other Europeans simultaneous to the destabilizing influx of refugees and migrants from the war-zones of Libya, Iraq, and Syria speaks volumes on the resurfacing showdown between compartmentalized nationalism(s) and European integrationism throughout the continent. In one respect, it seems logical that long and strongly established nationalist sentiments would maintain a problematic magnetism as compared to the attempts to cultivate a larger, though ethereal, form of European collective identity. On another level, however, there indeed has been a potent sense of shifting common European identity for just over half a millennia which, up to and including the inauguration of the European Union itself with the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1952, has found greater stimulus and dissemination with the publication of formal and informal proposals for a European political union, sometimes in the form of a massive continental superstate, and other times through the looser intergovernmental framework of institutions established to facilitate perpetual multilateral dialogue and coordination. Such proposed multilateralism was an anomalous novelty until it saw practice through meaningful implementation in the 20th century amidst the aftermath of the immense industrial slaughters and destruction of World War's One and Two. However, collective identities are not forged with any meaningful longevity merely from proposition or disseminated discourse and debate alone, but from the composition, mythologies and institutional arrangements of concrete political entities such as states, confederations, and empires. In this respect, the echo of European unity was established in territorial precedent during the zenith years of the Roman Empire, though at this time there was no such concept—and thus no such thing—as “Europe” as we would understand it today. The story of the contemporary concept of Europe as we know it begins with the Christian religiously-centred geographical abstraction of Christianitas, which gained popular use for the first time in Late Antiquity with the ever-growing number of devotees to the new faith who scattered themselves across the Roman Empire—first, to flee persecution from Roman authorities, and not long after to evangelize so-called 'pagans' (Pasture 2015). This concept of Christianitas soon became supplanted by the near-equivalent and more ubiquitously recognizable term Christendom as the years of Late Antiquity faded into what would come to be known as the early medieval period (Pasture 2015). It is here that our survey investigation and analysis begins.

A Brief History of 'Europe' in Concept and Etymology:
Although the ancient Greeks coined the term “Europa” long prior even to the establishment of early Rome, it was not an abstraction of geography, but rather the name of one of their Phoenician deities. A princess god who, aside from a shared terminological etymology with “Europe,” had no relation to or influence on the future concept or its associated cultural and political practices (Pasture 2015). During their time, the Greeks actually feared and despised the greater European landmass and its inhabitants, preferring instead to cultivate a set of tentative connections in and knowledge of the civilizations to the east of their island-dotted peninsula. Historical records indicate that the term “Europe” was first used in reference to the continent (or segments of it) by Pope Gregory I in the 6th century not, as one may assume, in self-reference, but rather in reference to invading tribes from the northern Germanic territories. The term is then first used in external reference by those who we would traditionally consider culturally 'non-European' in the middle of the 8th century as evidenced from the work of an otherwise unknown Mozarab chronicler living in Umayyad Spain (Pasture 2015). In his writings, he identified Christian forces under the command of the Frankish King Charles Martel as “European,” thus implying that the Umayyad's were not. This demonstrates both the cultural centrality and the geographic ambiguity of Europe in concept throughout this and subsequent centuries, up to and including the present European Union. It is also a potent example of how external threats played a central role in the process of forming a European identity via contrast, regardless of whether such terminology was utilized by those external or internal to its amorphous and constantly shifting purview of definition. However, to provide a full synopsis of Europe as a basic cultural and geographical concept is beyond the scope of this paper. Having examined the relative linguistic and etymological origins of such, we will now turn to investigate the origins and first recorded instances of proposals for a political union of Europe (eg: Christendom), starting with the Hussite George of Poděbrady who was King of Bohemia in the 15th century from the year of his coronation in 1458 until his death in 1471.

The Project for Perpetual Peace:
George of Poděbrady, as sovereign of Bohemia, penned a formal diplomatic document known in English as the “Treaty on the Establishment of Peace throughout Christendom” sometime during or just prior to the year 1464 (Šimůnek 2010). Predicated on the aforementioned religious-territorial idea of Christendom, which at the time would have consisted geographically of roughly most of Europe west of the modern Russian Federation (with some notable exceptions), the Treaty sought to establish a permanent political union of equal but independent Christian/European states, both terms being at this time fluidly interchangeable (Šimůnek 2010, Pasture 2015). It differed quite radically from the conventional instruments of medieval diplomacy in that its proposal took the obtuse form of a multilateral agreement at a time when bilateral arrangements between realms were largely—if not entirely—the exclusive norm and practice. It is in respect to this attempted multilateralism that historians as well as political scholars of modern Europe assert King George's Treaty proposal to be the first clear precedent to the contemporary European Union in 'deep' history.1 George was also a part of the pre-Protestant Christian reformers known as the Hussite's and was thus considered a heretic by the Holy See in Rome. His strategic calculus in penning his proposal for a Christian union was in part influenced by his desire to offset the overwhelming coercive power of the Catholic Church (Šimůnek 2010) and can thus additionally be seen as an antecedent component to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Although serious formal discussions to realize this vision of political unity did indeed take place between 1462 and 1464, these efforts stalled and ultimately fell apart entirely as vitriolic accusations of heresy were flung back and forth and wars of words often escalated into physical military confrontations between states and sectarian actors (Šimůnek 2010). King George of Poděbrady died in 1471 having failed in his efforts to bring together the realms of Christendom in a political union on the justification of uniting against the Turkish threat to the east (Šimůnek 2010). Although a single sovereign had at least nominally taken up the cause of a relative form of 'perpetual peace,' the seminal impediment observed by Leibniz as to how to make monarchs “want perpetual peace” on a scale significant enough to truly manifest meaningful or even somewhat tangible results had not been overcome. Regardless, an important historical precedent had now been set which would be largely overlooked for centuries as new proposals for European unity began to appear independently of the example set by King George. One such proposal was the treatise mentioned in the introduction to this paper written by Charles-Irénée Castel, the abbé de Saint-Pierre, in 1713. Titled the “Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe” (which literally translates as the “Project to make peace perpetual in Europe”), Castel's treatise was inspired by and based on an even earlier proposal made by William Penn, the notorious English Quaker and colonial founder of the modern day American state of Pennsylvania, in 1693. Penn wrote that to secure peace and justice, the powers of Europe had to organize an international meeting place at which a European Parliament, assembly of Estates, or Imperial Diet could congregate on a constantly ongoing multilateral basis to coordinate certain matters of policy as well as arbitrate disputes between members of equal standing (Pasture 2015). In his proposal for a European Parliament, Penn even went so far as to elaborate on the the amount of seats any particular member state should reasonably hold, basing his numbers on population and existing geopolitical power differentials. The exact details utilized to illustrate his argument were only hypothetical in his writing seeing as there is no historical evidence to suggest he was privy to official information on European demography. In substance, his proposed European Parliament was not only much before its time, it was also so uncannily similar to the mandate and structure of the modern European Parliament of the 21st century as to seem almost accidentally prophetic. His proposal was also unprecedented in its injunction to enrol the non-Christian powers of the Muscovites and Turks into this supranational union as fully equal partners, thus uniquely marking the phenomenon of war itself as the primary external threat against which all should congregate in solidarity to defeat or, at the very least, restrain (Pasture 2015). In a continent still physically at war with itself over matters of religious conscience, however, Penn's was an extremely outlandish proposal. Though it was studied sincerely by scholars of subsequent decades and extracted of its most seminal insights, the broadness of his vision was not something that would convince a critical mass of already bickering and prejudicial sovereigns to take up the project of perpetual peace as it was based not on any sense of political realism, but instead on an extreme idealism. In other words, it was based on love and did not appeal to any executive ambition with which it could have perhaps garnered some relative leverage in the political discourse taking place within the corridors of power. Castel's work essentially repeated this naive faux pas as he, like Penn, was working not from a place of political sobriety, but religiously-inspired idealism. In both cases, the intentions were laudable, but Leibniz's central point still stood. In the century and a half following the publication of Castel's work, two of history's great philosophical powerhouses, Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, would also articulately insert themselves into the debate and subsequent discourse on this “Project for Perpetual Peace.” Having elaborated in detail on the primary precedents under inspection in this writing, however, we will unfortunately be largely overlooking the contributions of these two men as limitations on length restrict them both to beyond the scope of this paper. Having established the key precedents to the modern project of European unity, we will now briefly touch upon the events of the mid-20th century directly leading into the 1952 signing of the Treaty of Rome before concluding with a predictive analysis as to what all of the above can tell us about the geopolitical future of the continent as we edge closer to the dawn of the 2020's.

      Churchill, the United States of Europe,
and a Closing Word on Europe's Today and Tomorrow:
Winston Churchill, known best for his tenure as British Prime Minister during the chaotic period of the Second World War, had in years prior already been exposed to the cause of politically uniting Europe through the public relations campaigns and explicit overtures of such prominent organizations as the International Paneuropean Union created and lead by the famous Austrian-Japanese philosopher and politician Count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi (Packwood 2016). In fact, Churchill had been pondering European unity in some form or another since as early as 1904, as evidenced in papers on the topic which were in his possession at the time. His advocacy for a proverbial 'United States of Europe' began officially, however, on February 15th, 1930 with the publication of an eponymously titled article in the Saturday Evening Post where he described the overwhelming need to preserve what he identified as 'the best of European civilization' by abolishing “the tangled growth and network of tariff barriers designed to restrict trade and production to particular areas,” thus consequently returning to “the old foundations of Europe” in which unity was contiguously imposed and maintained by such venerated authorities as the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the “catholicity” of European Christendom, and Napoleon Bonaparte (Packwood 2016). Finally, it seemed like there was a chance of convincing a critical mass of sovereigns (or, rather, the political equivalents of their time) to endorse a concrete form of continental political unity. The destruction of (particularly western) Europe as a result of World War Two prompted a radical intervention from the United States in the form of the Marshall Plan (Pasture 2015). Its mandate was to bankroll as well as provide physical assistance in the reconstruction of the continent, but it came with a catch. In return for this unprecedented international assistance, Europe had to agree to re-organize itself along the lines of a bonafide United States of Europe. Though part of this was motivated by an altruistic will to assist devastated allies and alleviate the suffering of fellow human beings, another motivation—just as important—was to guarantee against the threat of further Soviet communist expansion, whether in the form of directly annexed territory or the exertion of indirect geopolitical influence. Churchill's official position on the matter notably changed following the agreement to and implementation of the Marshall Plan. Once a great supporter of the United Kingdom being “with Europe” but “not of it,” he suddenly came out in relative support of Britain's incorporation into this united European polity (Packwood 2016). Thus, through the force of collective economic compromise in the wake of the most devastating war in human history, the new unipolar American global superpower bargained a critical mass of these colloquial European sovereigns into finally endorsing political union. Leibniz's objection to the abbé de Saint-Pierre had finally been overcome by the force of history and the quirks of an ascendant world order, the likes of which the world had never known before. However, history is the story of precedents which are set and later used to guide future efforts, but too often we are dragged into new situations and world order's that have no precedent or existing playbook and which we must awkwardly stumble through blindly in order to truly receive their lessons for posterity. The 21st century is one such era, and at this point, we can only hope we as a race will make it through this catastrophic bottleneck to pass on what we have learned to future generations through the precedents we have—and have yet—to set. The grand unifying narratives of old have, for the most part, faded entirely or fragmented into the compartmentalized echo-chambers of partisan identity politics. For once, there is no clear enemy or conventional threat with defined borders and a standing army with which to identify collectively in opposition against. The new 'enemies' are jihadist sleeper-cells and lone wolves who legally pass as civilians until their deed is clearly already in process and it is too late to prevent their assault, as well as the shadowy 'political elite' in Brussels and the many cabals of elected representatives throughout the member states of the European Union who seem to be 'collaborating' with them; a worldview demonstrably acted upon in the slim victory of the 'Leave' campaign in the UK's Brexit referendum. The state is no longer a standard basis of identity, but an obtuse vessel in a world order defined primarily by relational asymmetry between individuals, groups, organizations, and, yes, even nations themselves on a nearly-unrestricted scale spanning the length and width of the entire globe. Previous attempts at and proposals for European unity throughout history failed because everyone knew far too well who they were and who they were not; hence a Catholic knew without a doubt that living in peace with a Lutheran was unthinkable as it was a matter of religious conscience and risked one losing access to eternal life in the Heavenly Kingdom. The current enterprise at European unity, if it does not collapse entirely under the weight of old ghosts and bad habits that refuse to die, will remain in at least relative precariousness—embroiled in political spats and potentially even outright geopolitical upheaval—until the end of humanity, and thus the end of large groups with which a spectrum of conflicting viewpoints much be reconciled with and compromised between. Old habits truly do die hard, as evidenced in our desire for that Biblical Shining City on a Hill, or for our desire to see an end to conflict in and of itself when conflict is an inevitable fact of life insofar as we have ever known or observed it. In conclusion, although length restricted him from incorporation through meaningful analysis in this paper, it seems that the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau from his “A Lasting Peace through the Federation of Europe” are just as true now as they were in 1782:

The present balance of Europe is just firm enough to remain in perpetual oscillation without losing itself altogether; and, if our troubles cannot increase, still less can we put an end to them, seeing that any sweeping revolution is henceforth an impossibility” (Rousseau 1782).

1'Deep history' here meaning that it is beyond the usual purview of European Union history as investigated and reviewed within the limited confines of the 20th/21st centuries and their many seminal moments. Essentially, it is the investigation of precedents to European unity prior to 1900 CE, whereas anything after this threshold would be considered 'recent' history for the sake of this paper.       



Kant, Immanuel. (1795). Towards Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Ebook. John Bennett.

Packwood, A. (2016). Churchill and the United States of Europe, 1904-1948. Comillas Journal of International Relations, 7(1).

Pan, David. (2016). "European Union and Holy Roman Empire". Telos 2016 (176): 202-208. Telos Press. Doi:10.3817/0916176202.

Pasture, Patrick. (2015). Imagining European unity since 1000 AD. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.11-31.

Roldan, C. (2011). Perpetual Peace, Federalism and the Republic of the Spirits: Leibniz Between Saint-Pierre and Kant. Studia Leibnitiana, 43(1).

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. (1782). A Lasting Peace Through The Federation Of Europe. Ebook. Zurich: International Relations and Security Network, p.5.

Šimůnek, Robert. (2010). "George of Poděbrady (Jiří z Poděbrad)". Oxford Reference.

van den Dungen, P. (2014). The Plans for European Peace by Quaker Authors William Penn (1693) and John Bellers (1710). Araucaria, (32), pp.69-92.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

thoughts on "response-ability"

Often lately I've been contemplating “responsibility,” both as a concept and a word. To say we have a responsibility means, as is quite literally enumerated in the word itself, your ability to respond; eg. your “response-ability.” It's not so much an abstract construct as it is a general disposition contingent on your capacity to notice events, people, and objects around you and thus 'compute' your responses to such based on your available repertoire of abilities. At its most basic form, it's nothing more than how you respond to life and all events, people, and objects in it. In its higher form, it's also what initiatives one's intention to respond may generate and thus entail.

Ultimately, both basic and higher form response-ability are unavoidable. To attempt to abdicate either is simply to stand in petrified denial of life itself. The beautiful thing, however, is that there is no concrete road-map or template with which to assuage existential angst or command yourself with unwavering certainty as to what a 'correct' response would be or might look like. Some of the more philosophically traumatized writers of the past century have presented this as a terrifying state of affairs in the absence of the illusory certainty previously provided by Judaeo-Christianity, often topping off a similar diatribe about the ambiguity inherent in one's choosing how to respond in any given circumstance with, “and now man is utterly alone in the universe, condemned to act and react to life in its totality on the fragmentary and thus flawed moral and ethical merits devised and implemented by himself, and himself alone.”

This is one of many 19th and 20th century philosophical examples (paraphrased and reduced from the writings of many nihilists, existentialists, post-structuralists, etc.) of the psychic overcompensation for the loss of God in the general cultural metanarrative(s) of our day. This was expected even by Nietzsche, the man who himself declared God dead when he wrote: “After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave - a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. And we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.” In the absence of God, our metanarratives became, at best, emptier, more confusing, seemingly illegible—while at worst, they morphed into vacuous black-holes that sucked away all that was previously thought so sacred and meaningful in our lives.

Either way, the important point is that a collective psychological wound was inflicted upon us, and as all organisms do when wounded, we recoiled in pain. But since it was a collective reflex recorded in detail for posterity through the work of many brilliant thinkers, many of us became as immersed in and as convinced of these new insights like they were eternal religious truths, something to fill the gaping hole of meaning left by God, even if this 'meaning' described its central meaningful insight as 'meaninglessness.' Some philosophers and their readers thus found the certainty they had lost in their new doctrinal uncertainty. In other words, they were no longer simply uncertain; they were certainly uncertain. Even if this led to bleakness in perspective, some of those who felt they needed the guarantee of certainty were willing to go to the darkest corners of the psyche to find it.

In this certain uncertainty, many of us fell for the illusion of a fiercely hyperbolic individuality and lost our ability to respond meaningfully to life, because life, though certain in its uncertainty, remained as dead as before. This describes the state and sensation of abdicating responsibility (response-ability) on both key levels, and demonstrates the petrified denial of life itself that results from and embodies this attitude.

It is my assertion that we now have the will and ability to cross this horizon of hopelessness in human thinking. By taking responsibility for ourselves, holding a belief in our honest heroics, truly cultivating our ability to respond to anything life does or can throw at us without compromise, and trusting our impulses to meaning without becoming intoxicated by neatly ordered systematized worldviews that appear to offer us some form of certainty equivalent to the old self-evident religious truths we've lost, and if we can do all of this without rejecting meaning wholesale whenever we lack the old conventional resorts provided by ready-made worldviews, we'll once again wake ourselves up and ask the most important question of all: “is it not beautiful?”      

Friday, July 28, 2017

On “The Great Decoupling” of Consciousness from Intelligence


 -In his chapter on “The Great Decoupling” of consciousness from intelligence, Harari posits that with the rise of unprecedentedly intelligent algorithms, 'intelligence' as a faculty is no longer intrinsically tied to consciousness or subjective experience. As computers, these algorithms are not at all conscious or experiencing subjectively; they are 'mindless,' and thus require a new and novel description: “mindless intelligence.”

-As a result of the rise of mindless intelligence, the competition between humans and machines comes to regard not only physical abilities and capacities, but psychological abilities and capacities as well. This means that the paradigm of mass automation taking human jobs has, perhaps, reached a point where machines will not be employed simply for the automation of physical work, but also for jobs which until recently would have required a certain cognitive acuity and depth possessed only by humans. As such, Harari asks: “As long as machines competed with us merely in physical abilities, you could always find cognitive tasks that humans do better. So machines took over purely manual jobs, while humans focused on jobs requiring at least some cognitive skills. Yet what will happen once algorithms outperform us in remembering, analysing and recognising patterns?”

-Earlier in “Homo Deus,” Harari points out that science typically understands consciousness (insofar as it does understand it) as akin to a complex set of algorithms as our artificial intelligence is. Winding the clock back to the 19th century Industrial Revolution, he points out how the general scientific / academic consensus of that time understood consciousness through the comparable analogy of the steam engine. Sigmund Freud's work is a good example of this insofar as he writes of such tactics as a military trying to curb and exploit the 'sexual drives' of individual soldiers by sexually frustrating them, thus building a pressure that is strategically released and utilized for combat. In other words, like a steam engine, pressure is strategically and mechanistically applied and released to propel the engine forward, hence the saying that one needs to “let off some steam.”

-Why were steam engines the analogical focus of the time? Harari says, “[b]ecause that was the leading technology of the day, which powered trains, ships and factories, so when humans tried to explain life, they assumed it must work according to analogous principles. Mind and body are made of pipes, cylinders, valves and pistons that build and release pressure, thereby producing movements and actions.” The same applies to our use of algorithms as the dominant analogical device for consciousness; because algorithms are “the leading technology of the day,” we work our studies of brain, mind, and body quite strictly from said analogy.

-It is my assertion that, though the analogy is very valuable, it should be recognized for what it is: an invented analogical framework with limits intrinsic to how strictly we apply it as a comparative rule of thumb. This seems to get lost on Harari as he delves further into his writing and applies the analogy within strict parameters as if it is now the only analogy possibly relevant to understanding consciousness. Though consciousness does undoubtedly have manifestly algorithmic qualities, to take our theoretical understanding of intelligent algorithms as we have invented and discovered them and then turn to strictly1 apply it to our studies of the human mind would ultimately be a case of making the tail wag the dog. Though Harari does undermine the strictness of the analogy as applied by himself and others by presenting the parallel between the 19th century steam engine analogy and our present-day analogy of algorithms, it seems he still holds on to the latter too tightly himself, thus perhaps obfuscating certain insights (and endorsing such obfuscation as a rule) with an implicit doctrinalism.

-Further into “The Great Decoupling,” Harari says there may come a day when algorithms are essentially able to do everything we currently do, but much better. As a result of such an evolution, people will no longer be economically relevant, leading many to say this could be an opportunity for all those who have become productively disenfranchised to focus on creating art. However, employing his rather reductive tone, Harari then goes on to give examples of how algorithmic intelligence is able to compose incredible classical piano, orchestral, and symphonic pieces alongside haiku and other such poetry as well as or even better than average humans can. Thus, he asserts, humans will also become artistically irrelevant. The automation of classical composition, for example, has led to much disgust and fear on the part of traditional classical musical buffs who a) do not think a computer is capable of meaningful artistic composition because humans have a certain 'touch' that cannot be replicated, and b) likely feel threatened at the idea of being relegated to said artistic irrelevance.

-However, just because algorithms are capable of creating beautiful artistic works, so are humans. It seems impossible to me that humans will somehow thus be rendered valueless in their artistic endeavours as a result of artificial intelligence. Likewise, the idea that a computer can create art should not degrade its value to anyone for two interlinking reasons:
  1. just as the name of the chapter implies, this 'Great Decoupling” of intelligence from consciousness means that, though the algorithms are irrefutably intelligent, they are not conscious and do not draw their artistic insights and abilities from experience as humans do, but instead from aggregated and processed data; though people may not be able to tell the difference unless explicitly stated, when aware of whether a computer or a human composed a piece, humans will understand and appreciate more highly the piece that is known to be the product of a combination of human intelligence and consciousness, as it roots from the expression of a subjectivity we can and must relate to as said subjective relatability is one of the prime reasons for the existence of art. Art as human self-expression for other humans will not disappear simply because algorithms are now capable of effective creativity. This is the reason people became offended when they discovered a beautiful piano piece that had truly moved them was actually composed by a computer: because now the rug of self-expressive relatability had been pulled out from under them whereas they were under the illusory understanding they were relating to something emanating from a like subjectivity at least as complex as their own, with similar life trials, tribulations, ecstasies, boredom's, and joys. When it was revealed to be the creation of an algorithm, the audience understood this for what it is: the result of the aggregate data-processing and self-learning of a mindless computer—of mindless, as opposed to a relatable mindful, intelligence.
  2. And, in the algorithms defense as well as to contextualize, the compositions created by said algorithms are the result of aggregating, processing, and learning the techniques of innumerable human composers from throughout history. As such, it is still from the perch of unconscious intelligence, but as the old medieval saying goes, it is “standing [or, perching] on the shoulders of giants.” Human composers do this as well, but from a necessarily more partial position as regards the limited capacities of an individual human brain. Thus, human compositions will remain valuable even if algorithms are capable of much more technically impressive heights regardless of personal technical ability and prowess as subjective relatability is and will remain a central tenet of artistic expression and reception. However, the algorithm's music can also still be appreciated for what it is, as it obviously would retain a human beauty and relatability as a result of it ultimately being the product of nothing but. In other words, human creativity will be joined by human-generated algorithmic creativity and perhaps even fused with it in novel ways, but it will not be steamrolled out of existence.
1: In some ways, 'literally' apply in a format similar to tired monotheist dogmas, as in the singular 'mono' implying 'this and only this' analogy as it once implied 'this and only this' God or doctrine.

Friday, June 2, 2017

“Under what conditions, if any, is it acceptable to eat the flesh of non-human mammals?”

The animal rights debate has necessitated much philosophical re-evaluation of our relationship with animals as pets, consumable livestock, and involuntary test subjects for human medical experimentation. I will take the position that it is permissible to eat the flesh of non-human mammals when there has been both an equal consideration of these animals interests as well as their capacity for pain, and the consequent mitigation of unnecessary suffering alongside the enhancement of these animal's lives preceding their deaths for human consumption because 'animal rights' does not preclude animal husbandry or killing for consumption on an ethical basis. This paper will not explore the vast bodies of literature regarding the subjects broached and will thus not address all possible supports and objections central to this very complex debate, but will instead rely on two primary arguments to demonstrate its points.
The first is Peter Singer's prescription for universal animal rights as addressed through his utilitarian approach within the framework of the rights debate itself, and the second is the interpretive eastern philosopher Alan Watts's simultaneous rebuff of both the commodified industrial slaughter of factory farms as well as vegetarianism in its uncompromisingly abolitionist forms, evaluating it to be an evasion of the central truth that life does, ultimately, feed on other life. Despite his critique of vegetarianism, Watts' did later take up the dietary habit himself; when asked why he had done so, he famously quipped, “because cows scream louder than carrots.”1 In this paper, I will be extrapolating, rephrasing, and, at some points, re-interpreting Watts's main philosophical arguments and contrasting them with Peter Singer's position in favor of full animal rights as the equal consideration of individual interests. What results is a position supporting animal welfare in a very broad sense, wherein the basic sanctity of these lives is deeply respected and the death is swift and painless when the time for consumption arrives. As such, it is permissible to eat the flesh of a non-human mammal if the life of said mammal has been given equal consideration not only in an ethical death, but in the life preceding said death; and, as will be demonstrated, this should logically also apply to an equal consideration of the interests of plant-life, insofar as it is known that plants do feel pain—but do not have the same complex psychological capacity to consternate over said pain in the same way humans can. More complex animal life, with some exceptions, cannot be said to 'consternate' (as in, become filled with anxiety over) pain in any anticipatory way entirely analogous to humans, unless they are being physically harmed or threatened with such quite visibly. Their reactions to pain, like ours, are hardwired in as basic instinct. The difference is that our pain is often amplified into many different forms of often uselessly or involuntarily prolonged psychological (and thus physiological) suffering through excessively 'creative' processes of thought and worries about the future or the past, thus able to—and often—anticipating future pain or suffering, causing greater commensurate suffering in the subjective life of the individual.
In its universal prescriptions for the total abolition of animal agriculture and consumption, extreme elements of the animal rights debate project anthropocentric characteristics on non-human beings in a way similar—but not directly equivalent—to the exploitative anthropocentric prejudices born of the Judaeo-Christian psyche, in which animals, plants and everything else are made for 'man,' whether in exploiting natural resources including non-human mammal flesh, or acting as their benevolent suzerains as designated by Judaeo-Christian, or Western, cultural orthodoxy. Resting on such assumptions, abolitionists ultimately choose to privilege the rights of animal life based on an evolutionary proximal relatability in the form of sentience and an ability to feel emotions often uncannily like our own. If we can relate to animals based on Singer's definition of equality as extrapolated from a criteria established on the 'lowest common denominator' of similarities between humans and animals, we can (and, by Singer's logic, must) do the same for plants; though just as 'equal consideration of interests' is dependent on the contextual 'interests' of the beings or people involved, so would we reach a separate criteria of 'lowest common denominator' similarities between humans and plant-life.
What this yields is not the same moral sensation of equality in consideration of interests as established between humans and animals, but a new set of considerations relative to a separately measured criteria wherein we do not treat plant-life and its capacity for pain with an anthropocentric guilt complex, but instead recognize and respect plant-life's capacity for pain within its own unique context. Does it then inevitably follow that such consideration would preclude us from consuming plant-life? Or does it simply imply 'ethical consumption'? It has been shown that plants do indeed feel pain insofar as they have some sort of nervous system, but that they do not 'consternate' over such pain, just as many animals do not. The difference is that non-human mammals still have a nervous system centralizing and interpreting signals in the brain, thus able to feel pain in a much more consolidated, self-conscious sense that does, ethically, require a deeper consideration as regards the animal's right to life and freedom from useless and unnecessary suffering. Now, the question that is begged is whether this likewise should preclude us from consuming non-human mammal flesh, or if this too is a case requiring ethical consumption. It could even imply a more nuanced measurement based not on broad generalizations (such as 'animals' or 'non-human mammals'), but on species in particular. This does not imply that we are thus able to kill and eat our pet dogs and cats as that would be said to be abrogating not only an established convention of affection for these animals as pets in this context, but an embedded cultural norm as well, as selectively discriminatory as it is or may seem. Within differing parameters, it is not inherently wrong to consume cats and dogs as livestock like we do other non-human mammals providing they are given an equal consideration of interests under such circumstances. This may almost seem Kantian insofar as animals are portrayed as mere means to human ends and never as ends in themselves, as Kant asserted humans to be. What I would like to propose is not treating animals as mere means to human ends, but as ends in themselves (just as plants are) who can still ethically be a means to human consumption sans being neurotically moralized from an elevated place of anthropocentric moral indignation which extrapolates and overlays too much of our manufactured rights debate onto our relationship with animals in a way that suggests direct equivalency in context. Animals are seen as being almost lower-format humans who operatively yearn for equivalent treatment, as distinct from an equal consideration of each being's interests.
Though this is not the explicit message pushed by Singer, it seems to be the implication of his musings on the matter that animals must be considered not only with the same ethical weight, but through the same complex social lens of the 'rights' debate. What reveals the anthropocentrism central to such opinions is the fact that rights will always be extrapolated, delegated, and applied to these animals from 'on high'—as in, from humans socially contextualized enough to consensually sign the implicit 'social contract' that comes with the constructed rights debate. This is not to suggest the rights debate is totally null or useless in regards to animals, but simply to point out that our relationship with animals is deeply contextual and our considerations of their interests must occur within this understanding of said context just in the same way we find ways to sustainably interact with, cultivate, and grow plant-life with a consideration for its effect on a wider environment, its vague capacity for pain, and the basic fact that it is life, the sanctity of which must be deeply respected most especially as regards consumption. When all is said and done, however, life does—and always has—fed on other life. Our best hope and highest calling as human beings is to make such a cycle of consumption an ethical one for all life involved.


1 Sean Voisen, "Staying Vegetarian", The Kōan, March 23, 2013,   

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

News Analysis: “Qatari jet sits on tarmac in Baghdad as royal hostages await release”

Below is the Chicago-style citation for the news story being analyzed.
Click the link provided in the citation to read the original article from The Guardian itself:

Chulov, Martin. "Qatari Jet Sits On Tarmac In Baghdad As Royal Hostages Await Release". The Guardian. Last modified April 19, 2017. Accessed April 19, 2017.    

- - - 

An aircraft sent by Qatar to retrieve 26 kidnapped member's of Doha's royal family has, according to an article in the UK's Guardian newspaper, remained on the tarmac of a Baghdad airport for a fourth straight day as a result of a delay in a deal exchanging the Qatari royal hostages for a ransom payment alongside safe passage of all those wishing to leave the Syrian towns of Kefraya and Fua. This as all part of the comprehensive and delicately negotiated deal regarding population swaps occurring in the area. The release and exchange was delayed by the suicide car bombing of buses full of evacuees on April 16th which resulted in 126 deaths. The negotiations have laid bare at least a fraction of the complex webs of contacts and alliances involved in the agreement on population swaps, underpinned by the diplomatic engagement and guarantees of Iran and Qatar. Many of the militant groups involved are scheduled to get pay-outs with the disbursement of the ransom money, leading some in the rebel camp to postulate the bombing may have been carried out by a group who was not in on the deal and thus would not be obtaining any of the money.

As so often occurs in war, human rights are not part of the relevant combat discourse and thus remain the partial, elevated ideal constantly propounded by Western countries and the United Nations. It seems that, in the case of similar state terrorism, the global discourse on human rights is somewhat effective at naming and shaming state actors who were complicit, as in the case of the chemical weapons attack likely carried out by the Syrian regime on the town of Khan Shaykun earlier this month. The weight of such condemnation does not apply with the same force, however, when directed at amorphous non-state actors such as splintered rebel groups or militant jihadists, leading to a narrow selectivity as to which severe breaches of human rights are straightforward enough in their occurrence to warrant a temporarily exclusive focus. In this case, it is easy to chastise a recognized state for war crimes, but it is far too complex and ineffective to attempt a similar strategy in regards to non-state actors, especially when they are in fragmentary abundance and thus cannot be discussed as a singular monolith. As such, the Qatari government's efforts to secure royal release through a mixture of guarantor diplomacy and paying ransom exists in a moral grey-zone, as the possible blow-back is implied in providing such groups with significant financing, thus putting a greater premium on the future kidnapping of Qatari royals as a valuable risk with a significant potential payout. This, in the long run, also finances further breaches of fundamental human rights within the obfuscated murkiness of Syria's many non-state rebel groups. Perhaps, then, it might be time to open up the human rights dialogue in regards to Qatar's hostage swap, permitting a level of nuance in discussion that will evade the simplicity of straightforward condemnation.  


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

From Obama to Trump: Tracing the Contours of Change and Consistency Between Administrations

On the morning of March 6th, 2017, Donald Trump signed into law for the second time an executive order attempting to stop the flow of migrants and refugees into the United States from six (down from the original seven) Muslim majority countries, this time excluding Iraq on the advice of the Pentagon and the State Department on account of its essential role in the ongoing campaign against ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).1 A year ago, under then-President Barack Obama, a move of unilateral legal bombast of such blanket proportions emanating from the White House would have seemed close to impossible, though most of the American political landscape shares this same tinted veneer of impossibility—an impossibility which, now fulfilled, has morphed into a dangerous and unprecedented absurdity. This essay will trace the foreign policy contours of both the Trump and Obama administrations in order to contrast them and analytically investigative what—and to what extent—has thus far substantively changed in terms of America's policy dispositions in the realm of international relations. Major contrasts in already implemented policies of the Trump administration are plenty, many very dangerous in implication; however, much of the underlying policy infrastructure in foreign affairs remains both expectedly and unexpectedly contiguous with the preceding Obama administration, such as a strategically rhetorical caution with regards to North Korea's missile testing, the continued existence of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the policy of unilateral American strike intervention in places such as Yemen. Much else, however, has cleanly broken from the previous administration, such as the scrapping of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade deal, the above mentioned hard-line xenophobia of the executive orders on refugees and immigration, the advent of the far-right in a more general regard to the executive branch and social landscape, the development of an apartheid-style wall on the border between Mexico and the United States, and an extremely friendly relationship with Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu, extending so far as to probe the possibility of moving the official American embassy to contested Jerusalem, which both Israel and the decimated Palestinian Territories claim as their rightful capital.2 Due to limitations on length, all of the above is sufficient only towards scratching the surface of these issues; or, rather, towards tracing their contours.
There is much in President Trump's demeanour and tone that add to the generally correct impression of discontinuity with previous political orthodoxy, especially that practised by Obama during his time in office. However, despite the tectonic shift in operative ideology, policy content, and rhetoric, it can often be far too easy to overlook some of the analogous similarities and continuity between the two administrations when Donald Trump as an abrasively overwhelming spectacle flaunts himself so readily and constantly through the news media.3 In this time of unprecedented political instability, it is essential to trace these continuities and catalogue said analogous similarities as have been made apparent thus far in order to tease out a deeper context from the web of volatile and widely misunderstood socio-political complexity that is the American political landscape. As such, we can start with Trump's promise, made as a candidate on the campaign trail in April of 2016, to cancel remittance payments to Mexico and redirect the money towards funding his wall on the southern border.4 An important distinction, however, must be made between Trump's rhetoric and truly enacted policy, as it is clearly enacted policy that is of greater consequence than policy promises. This being said, Trump has only been in office for a little over a month at the time of writing, and has not enacted his pledged cancellation of remittances, though he has officially begun development of the southern border wall with Mexico, but has yet to concretely impose any measures to force Mexico's payment for its construction. Rather ironically, then-President Obama was quick to chastise candidate Trump for such a promise when he said, “The notion that we’re going to track every Western Union bit of money that’s being sent to Mexico—good luck with that.”5 What is overlooked in this exchange is the fact that, under legal directives implemented under his administration, Obama cancelled remittance payments to Somalia from Somalis and Somali-American's working in the United States. The intention was to cease these payments so as to avoid the money falling into the hands of terrorist organizations, though it facilitated quite the opposite when people desperate to send portions of their earnings to destitute relatives instead opted to pack suitcases full of money onto planes, often unattended, in the hopes that it would make it to its intended beneficiary.6 Not only did this mean that many Somalis did not receive the money that acted as their primary source of income, but that when the suitcases did not make it to their intended destination, they are far more likely to have instead wound up in the hands of the same terrorist groups the American government intended to financially starve.
On climate, Trump's rhetoric may be as good as policy insofar as the agreement signed in Paris during November 2015 by 194 countries on capping carbon emissions and weaning off fossil fuels over the course of the coming decades is, for all intents and purposes, non-binding. As was reported by the UK's Guardian newspaper this past November, only 4 days prior to the 2016 American election, “The Paris agreement is legally binding in forcing governments to accept and cater for the [cap on global temperature increases by 2 degrees Celsius]. But the commitments on curbing greenhouse gas emissions in line with that goal are not legally binding. This means incoming governments can renege upon them. There are no sanctions for governments that flout the goals.”7 This means that Trump should have no real procedural issue withdrawing the United States from the covenant if he decides not to abide by its terms. There would have perhaps been a chance for the agreement to enjoy a stronger legal standing in America had it been presented as an official treaty and put to the Senate to ratify as such, but as it stood in late 2015, the Senate was stacked with an overwhelmingly obstructionist Republican majority bent on stymieing President Obama's every move. Regardless of this, it is also true that, even if it had been ratified as a national treaty, it could have been repealed by a new composition of senators following another election. Considering the recently-elected Republican majority in both houses of government, the push to repeal would likely have remained as much of a risk as withdrawal is today, and was thus not likely something Obama could have worked to avoid.8 As it stands, however, it seems that Trump has yet to make up his mind in as far as the Paris agreements are concerned, and is, reportedly, being counselled to remain within the pact by his daughter Ivanka and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, while being advised to the contrary by former Goldman Sachs banker as well as former Breitbart News executive and the first demonstrably fascistic—or, cryptofascistic—White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon.9 Alongside this, Trump appointed former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a man who, when asked whether he believed in global man-made climate change, simply stated that “the climate is changing, and human activity contributes to that in some manner.”10 More substantively, however, and more troubling, is that during his time as Oklahoma's Attorney General, Pruitt sued the EPA as many as 14 times11 as part of his crusade against the agency he now leads as a self-described “leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda.”12 In this respect, he attempted to clarify during his confirmation hearings that he believed most environmental policy can be left within the exclusive jurisdiction of the states, distancing himself from the more federalist approach taken by previous EPA administrators such as Obama's last appointee, the air quality and environmental health expert Gina McCarthy.13 Beyond all this, the elephant in the room would be Trump's 2012 Twitter remarks which alleged that “[t]he concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”14 It is absurd past statements like these coming from none other than the new President of the United States that paint a more ideational concern for those in opposition, regardless of who Trump puts in place to oversee matters of environmental and energy sustainability. When Obama attended the signing of the Paris climate agreements, most world leaders and dignitaries present assumed Trump was going to lose the coming Republican primary contests and slip into political obscurity. However, fear-mongering found further legitimization and social license as only a few days prior to the congregation, the French capital had been devastated by a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that took the lives of 130 people, and injured hundreds more.15 Immediately, the environment became fertile ground for political gain through fear by the likes of the far-right French Presidential-hopeful and National Front leader, Marine Le Pen.
Trump himself, then just a candidate in the Republican primaries, also capitalized on the Paris attacks, stating that things “would have been different” if Parisians had been carrying guns.16 Thus far, despite incoherently belligerent pledges made on the campaign trail, the Trump administration has kept anti-terrorism policy and operations coherently contiguous with those of his predecessor, having given the green light to a Navy SEAL raid on an al-Qaeda branch (AQAP, or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) compound in Yemen in late January 2017. The raid itself had been developed under Obama's administration, but the Pentagon advised waiting for a moonless night to launch the operation, the next of which would not come until after Obama's term ended on January 20th. In itself, the raid resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL, as well as several civilians including the 8 year old daughter of Anwar al-Alwaki, an al-Qaeda operative who also happened to be the first American citizen extra-judicially assassinated by drone strike in 2011 on the orders of President Obama.17
During his time in office, Obama oversaw the rapid expansion of the weaponized drone program begun in earnest under his predecessor, George W. Bush. Intended as a strategy to deal with the proliferating asymmetrical threats facing the American military machine without putting any actual personnel in harms way, these remote drone operations consist of two main tactical approaches. The first are known as 'personality strikes,' the criteria for which “require the operator to develop a high level of certainty about the target's identity and location, based on multiple sources such as ... imagery, cell phone intercepts and informants on the ground.”18 Personality strikes, then, are designed to be accurate and specific in their choice of targets. On the other hand, the second main tactical option are known as 'signature strikes,' which are notoriously vaguer in their strike criteria. When planning and orchestrating signature strikes, “the United States assesses that the individuals in question exhibit behaviors that match a pre-identified 'signature' (for example, pattern of observable activities and/or personal networks) that suggests that they are associated with al Qaeda and/or the Pakistani or Afghan Taliban organizations. Because the identity of the target is unknown, even during the strike, it is possible that these persons are innocent civilians, a possibility that both [the Obama] and former [Bush administration] officials concede.”19 As a result of such indiscriminate attacks, innocent victims are galvanized by anger, fear, and despair, only to then become radicalized and easily lured into joining—and thus growing and perpetuating—extremist organizations like al-Qaeda, ISIS, or the Taliban. This is one particular realm of American foreign policy and its consequent blow-back that is unlikely to change under the Trump administration, and the remote drone program in particular could see significant growth in its military application as Trump looks to 'get tough' on such groups as listed above. In this respect, many see the new administration's so-called Muslim ban as a bit of cruel and deliberate irony, insofar as the countries to which the travel ban applies have been the target of American bombings, both discriminate and indiscriminate, over the course of the past three decades.
It can be soundly argued that the Obama administration was responsible, alongside the preceding Bush administration, for fuelling violence and chaos across the world which resulted in the continued destabilization of these regions, thus contributing to the circumstances conducive to the ongoing international refugee crisis. It seems incontrovertible, however, that Obama was, on net, much more open to and receptive of refugees and immigration from all corners of the globe during his tenure than his successor is, or likely ever will be. In 2016, under Obama's watch, the United States granted entry to some 85,000 refugees, 38,901 of whom identified as Muslim.20 As it stands, this means “the U.S. has admitted the highest number of Muslim refugees of any year since data on self-reported religious affiliations first became publicly available in 2002.”21 This data set, however, belies a deeper and more disturbing point of similarity between the Trump and Obama administrations: in the first five years of Obama's Presidency, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) issued deportation orders to over 2 million people, most of whom were disproportionately Latin American including “hundreds of thousands of parents of U.S.-born American citizens.”22 Trump, by contrast, has yet to truly begin his pledged mass deportations of illegal immigrants, but already there has been debate over so-called 'sanctuary cities' which have committed to denying federal authorities the requisite information and access needed to identify and deport undocumented immigrants within their local jurisdictions. On its face, it seems strange that these cities did not make themselves available as 'sanctuaries' at all during the Obama era, but upon closer inspection, the nuance in deportation criteria has indeed altered to an extent which may soon be stymied due to legal overreach. Whereas the Obama administration gravitated into a primary focus on the deportation of undocumented immigrants who were shown to be involved with gangs or credibly accused of serious crimes such as murder or drug trafficking, in mid-February 2017, the Trump administration broadened the criteria for deportation so as to make “[a]ny immigrant who is in the country illegally and is charged or convicted of any offence, or even suspected of a crime [...] an enforcement priority, according to Homeland Security Department memos signed by Secretary John Kelly. That could include people arrested for shoplifting or minor offences.”23
It is a challenge to attempt an ideological classification of Trump, as he appears to exist primarily as a cult of personality deeply cultivated through the media with a rather impulsive Presidential disposition which, at its most coherent, seems to be operatively transactional. He is against strictly globalized free trade, though he still believes in American global imperialism as demonstrated in his adding $54 billion to the military budget via dollar-for-dollar cuts in other departmental funding, including the EPA and international financial aid through the State Department.24 Obama, on the other hand, is much easier to categorize in terms of his double neoliberalism, first in the form of his support of neoliberal economic theory, and second, in the form of his operative neoliberal multilateralism on the world stage. Both are demonstrated aptly in his dedicated pursuit of the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have expanded global free trade and integrated the markets between the signatory nations into the international system to an unprecedented degree. On another level, Trump's ascendancy represents the rise of what is broadly known as the so-called “alt-right” (alternative right) to the American political scene and, by implication, the globe. The most forward example of said ascendancy would be the appointment of former Goldman Sachs banker and Breitbart CEO Stephen Bannon as White House chief strategist, a man known as an open white supremacist25 and anti-Semite.26 In this regard, the operative ideological composition of the American executive branch is, in many ways, unprecedented. It is also in stark contrast to the ideological make-up of the Obama administration, as well as the entire political orthodoxy that has both implicitly and explicitly reigned since the end of the Second World War. Through a more constructivist lens, a certain cryptofascism of immense ideational consequence has come to inhabit the American executive branch, one that speaks broadly of 'taking back the culture' for those of white and ultimately European descent. Though it would be naive to explicitly define the new administration as openly and operatively “fascist,” it is not only entirely fair, but is also entirely true that all of the ingredients are now present, and if a particular political, geopolitical, or domestic attack incident appeared as a convenient catalyst, then the administration would likely not only be required to respond, but would respond vigorously and comprehensively via an authoritarian and 'dystopian' overreaction. To clarify, it is essential to define fascism so as not to allow the reader to mistakenly conflate it with its other more specific historical connotations. To do so, this paper will rely on the definition synthesized and provided by Alex Schulman in his study for Human Rights Watch titled “PurgePolitik: The political function of decadence in fascism,” in which he asserts that “we cannot circumscribe fascism as a simply political system that held power and prestige from about the early 1920's until the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, but rather as a set of sociopolitical and cultural tendencies that, while particularly ascendant in that period, threaten to break through in various forms at any time.”27 Through his scholarly synthesis of multiple other academic sources looking at fascism as a political phenomenon, Schulman comes up with a list of nine demonstrable 'symptoms' or signs of fascism, eight of which are disconcertingly applicable to the new Trump administration and its political standard bearers. For the purposes of this paper, only the eight applicable symptoms will be listed and elaborated on. The first is a “virulent antiliberalism and anti-individualism,” demonstrated quite presciently in the Trump administration's aggressively adversarial relationship with the media, which Stephen Bannon explicitly labelled “the opposition party” that should “keep their mouths shut,”28 alongside the banning of multiple news organizations from White House press briefings. Second is the “[e]mphasis on the aesthetic structure of politics, on [...] emotion, usually involving some sort of cult of personality at the center”; third, “[a] totalizing system where a single party under a single “great leader” is associated with the will of the entire nation-as-organism”; fourth, the “[e]xaltation [...] of the new against the old, [and] of charisma over rationality”; fifth, “[e]xcessive militarism, whether imperialistic or simply focused on a fetishization of martial discipline at home,” demonstrated in the increased military budget and aggrandizement of imperialistic martial values; sixth, the “[f]etishization of masculinity, defined as aggression and a will-to-power, as a virtue”; seventh, the “[f]etishization of continuous struggle as a virtue, variously defined”; and, finally, the eighth and final symptom, a personal addition of Schulman's, which is the “purgation of [social, cultural or political] decadence” as an excessively prevalent motif.29
It can be soundly argued that the United States has been a 'totalitarian democracy' since the legal ratification of the U.S. PATRIOT Act (a terrifyingly clever Orwellian acronym which stands for the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act”) under the Bush administration in 2001.30 As such, the first prerequisite circumstances toward a more fascistic polity have been present since 9/11, but the machinery of state has now, 16 years later, fallen into the hands of an unpredictable ethno-nationalist administration under the helm of a dangerously narcissistic and temperamentally unstable 'Great Leader' who has a serious disdain for complexity. So, though it may not be explicit fascism, it is operatively fascistic in a way that is entirely unprecedented in the history of the United States of America. As well, as a result of the unipolarity of American hegemony in a largely globalized system, there is little to delineate the domestic and international spheres due to the sheer scale and reach of American imperial and economic influence.31 The Obama administration, though nominally liberal in contrast to the invasively over-abundant right-wing political extremism so widespread in the American body-politic, ultimately still worked primarily to maintain and preserve American imperialism, thus acting as a bridge between the regressive right-wing extremism of the Bush administration and the fascistic ethno-nationalism of Trump and his cabinet, and even working to inadvertently increase the tools of coercion available in the arsenal of the executive branch. Much has changed drastically in the transition from Obama to Trump, but ultimately, the deeper machinery of the state has remained a totalitarian democracy ready for further abuse by fascistic elements of the far-right since the attacks of 9/11. Guantanamo Bay is about to get a new and expansive lease on life.



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Connor, Phillip. "U.S. Admits Record Number Of Muslim Refugees In 2016". Pew Research Center. Last modified October 5, 2016. Accessed March 8, 2017.

Davenport, Coral. "Top Trump Advisers Are Split On Paris Agreement On Climate Change". The New York Times. Last modified March 2, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Dennis, Brady. "Scott Pruitt, Longtime Adversary Of EPA, Confirmed To Lead The Agency". The Washington Post, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Detrow, Scott. "Scott Pruitt Confirmed To Lead Environmental Protection Agency". NPR. Last modified February 17, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2017.

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2Tovah Lazaroff, "US Delegation In Israel To Study Relocation Of Embassy To Jerusalem", The Jerusalem Post, last modified March 4, 2017, accessed March 6, 2017,
3Douglas Kellner, "Donald Trump And The Politics Of The Spectacle", American Nightmare 117 (2016): pp 3-6.
4Andrew Cockburn, "A Policy Of Hypocrisy", Harper's Magazine, April 26, 2016, accessed March 6, 2017,
6Andrew Cockburn, "A Policy Of Hypocrisy", Harper's Magazine, April 26, 2016, accessed March 6, 2017,
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31Radovan Vukadinovic, "America In The New World Order", Medunarodne studije 1, no. 2-3 (2001): 5-20.

On This Day in History:

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The world is meaningless,

there is no God or gods, there are no morals, the universe is not moving inexorably towards any higher purpose.
All meaning is man-made, so make your own, and make it well.
Do not treat life as a way to pass the time until you die.
Do not try to "find yourself", you must make yourself.
Choose what you want to find meaningful and live, create, love, hate, cry, destroy, fight and die for it.
Do not let your life and your values and your actions slip easily into any mold, other that that which you create for yourself, and say with conviction, "This is who I make myself".
Do not give in to hope.
Remember that nothing you do has any significance beyond that with which you imbue it.
Whatever you do, do it for its own sake.
When the universe looks on with indifference, laugh, and shout back, "Fuck You!".
Rembember that to fight meaninglessness is futile, but fight anyway, in spite of and because of its futility.
The world may be empty of meaning, but it is a blank canvas on which to paint meanings of your own.
Live deliberately. You are free.