Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Europe, the West, and the graphs of destruction

Jerry Stratton, April 6, 2016

Nedā Āghā-Soltān: “A frame from the video of Agha-Soltān's death by gunfire.”; Iran

Her children will never speak against tyranny in Iran.

The significance of the graphs of destruction is that they empower individuals and small groups to cause mass destruction. Only one line on that graph is subject to alteration. The march of progress in medicine, biology, technology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics ensures that the technological line will always move down—it will always be getting easier for individuals to cause mayhem. Even improvements in our ability to travel quickly also improve the ability of people who want to kill to move to where they want to kill.

Our only hope is that people—our euphemistic “non-state actors”—don’t want to use new and easier technology for destruction when it becomes available.

We have, for the last eight years at least, been going about it wrong, 180 degrees from what we should be doing to affect the graph’s line of desire. It isn’t Iran that we have to worry about in the long run. It’s Iranians. Not Syria, but Syrians. Not China, but the Chinese. If we want to affect that line positively, we need to support the Green Revolutions, not their oppressors. The librarians of Cuba, not the Castros. The people of Iraq who voted Maliki out, and not Maliki. The people of impoverished countries and not their corrupt governments.

It is the children of the Green movement in Iran who will grow up abandoned by the United States who will cross the graphs of destruction. The children of Cubans who we threw to the Castros in favor of improving state relations.

Almost every aspect of our top-down foreign policy is wrong, from charitable organizations that put charity in the hands of corrupt governments to diplomats who prefer appealing to dictators rather than to the people the dictators oppress.

We need to support opportunity, not put handouts in the hands of governments to maintain their power. Both political and economic opportunity must be improved; when there exists real opportunity to improve their own lives, people will have less time and less desire to ruin the lives of others.

And the two sides—governments and people—are not mutually exclusive. It isn’t “do nothing or go to war” as politicians often like to characterize their relations with dictators. We do not have to abandon Cubans to normalize relations with Cuba. All we need do is tie improved human rights to normalization. The Castros are not going to block millions of dollars of investment just to keep beating librarians. But small liberties mean more people speaking; which means shining more light on abuses; which means more concessions in favor of human rights that we can require for further normalizations.

As we saw in Russia, small liberties can mean the rise to power of real reformers, not the fake reformers hand-chosen by despotic mullahs.

We need to be proud of our own freedoms.

It has long been tempting to think that we can make friends with strongmen, and their people will fall in behind. But this has never been true. If their people supported them, they wouldn’t need to be dictators. And as their ability to bypass dictatorships rises, the more of a mistake top-down foreign policy becomes.

It is in America’s national interest to encourage freedom and free markets abroad, because that is how we bend the graphs of destruction to humanity’s favor.

In response to To the ends of the earth: Why don’t we see any evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence? And will we survive long enough to make ourselves known to the universe?

  1. <- California arson
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