Friday, July 14, 2017

The compassion paradox in the UK

‘Kinder, gentler’ political activism is so often the opposite

It is somewhat ironic that ever since Jeremy Corbyn promised a new dawn of ‘kinder, gentler politics’, one of the great paradoxes of modern politics has become ever more glaring. This is the compassion paradox, the phenomenon by which the more caring and sympathetic people profess to be in their outlook, the nastier they are likely to be in person.

This paradox is not new, of course. Animal-rights fanatics are legendary for their misanthropy and acts of terrorism. ‘Tory Scum’ has long been the charming phrase used by those who complain, without any self-awareness, that the Tories are ‘nasty’.

Belligerent sanctimony is an age-old character trait of anti-Tories who love nothing more than rancorous, vindictive rhetoric. As one placard at the anti-austerity march at the weekend opined of Theresa May: ‘I’m sorry. I just really fucking dislike you. You piece of shit.’ Another, held aloft by a man in a black-and-red striped jumper, simply said: ‘Oh just fuck off!’

This compassion paradox has become more evident recently. Last week, Conservative MP Sheryll Murray talked of her experiences during the General Election, in which she read posts on social media urging people to ‘burn the witch’ and ‘stab the cunt’. Murray’s election posters were defiled with swastikas and a protester urinated in the doorway of her office, before shouting: ‘Fuck you, Sheryll Murray, you’re a fucking prick.’

Elsewhere, Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, had the walls of her constituency office defaced with anti-Tory messages by masked men. A bridge leading into Totnes was also graffitied with the obligatory ‘Tory scum’. In east London, the Conservative MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell, had the windows of his car smashed by a man on a moped. He, too, was followed everywhere with taunts of ‘Tory scum’.

This has generally been the direction of ‘caring’ politics lately: a radical posture combined with a lust for violence and bullying. Momentum’s reputation for threatening critics is infamous, while in the US this secular jihadism has manifested itself in the rise of antifa.

This behaviour is entirely consistent with the law of the compassion paradox: the kinder and gentler are your politics, the more violent are your words and actions. And the more you believe you are on the side of righteousness, of the poor against the rich, of Good against Evil, the more your mindset comes to resemble that of a religious fanatic. For those possessed with supreme righteousness, anything is permitted. The holy warrior can legitimise to himself or herself any manner of ferocity.

Intoxicated by a heady cocktail of malignant vindictiveness, grievance, moral indignation and unshakeable certitudes, the ostentatiously compassionate are on the march. They are whipping themselves into a frenzy over Grenfell Tower in particular. So watch out for greater tension on the streets. Behold when these kind, gentle zealots exact vengeance upon society.



Most Europeans actually agree with the 'wicked' Donald Trump

Take his notorious decision to ban immigration from various Muslim countries. Even to raise such a proposal would shock most of those at the G20, and it's generally taken to be a policy that proves the blackness of Mr Trump's heart.

But if European voters disagree with him, it's more likely to be because they don't think he goes far enough. A survey by Chatham House this year showed that a majority in Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Italy would support a blanket ban on all immigration from Muslim countries. In Poland, which Mr Trump visited first, almost three quarters of the public would back a ban.

This does filter through into politics. A few weeks ago, Slovakia's prime minister declared that Islam has "no place" in his country. The Czech Republic has told the EU it will not take any Muslim asylum seekers.

Mark Rutte only won re-election in the Netherlands after telling immigrants to "behave normally or go away". They might not say this on Twitter, but the language is as shocking as anything coming out of the White House.

When it comes to building walls against neighbours, Mr Trump should spend his time in Europe today looking for tips. Macedonia built a wall with Greece last year, Lithuania is fencing off Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, and Norway is building a wall to keep out those making the rather heroic journey over its Arctic border with Russia.

Brazil, also a G20 member, has gone for a "virtual" wall, monitored by drones and satellites, around its 16,000-kilometre border. So you can disagree with Mr Trump's plan to build a wall, but it's hard to dismiss the idea as crazy.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, some 40 countries have built fences against 60 neighbours. The nation state is back in demand, as are walls: both are seen as useful tools to help manage a new era of mass immigration. The EU's idea of borderless travel was invented when net migration was at a fraction of today's levels. Now, we see chaos. For some Europeans, even a wall is not enough: Austria has been talking about deploying soldiers and armoured vehicles against migrants who might come over from Italy. Enough to shock even Mr Trump.

On trade, it's unclear what Mrs Merkel – or any EU leader – has to teach. Trump's "America first" trade policy simply mimics the Europe-first protectionism that has defined the EU since its inception. Trump has at least decided to keep NAFTA, the free trade deal with Canada and Mexico. The EU struggles to agree deals with any of its major trading partners; this week's much-feted agreement with Japan is only an "outline". And the US has been quicker than the EU to start free trade negotiations with Britain; talks start this month.

The difference is, mainly, one of language. The EU talks about being globally minded, while practising shameless protectionism. Trump boasts about his protectionism, while not (so far) managing to do very much of it.

Even on climate change, Mr Trump is not the villain that he pretends to be. He walked out of the Paris Agreement, but America's record is – and continues to be – strikingly impressive. Thanks to the fracking energy revolution, and ever-more efficient cars and machinery, the per capita carbon emissions in the US are now at levels not seen since the 1960s. The work might have been done by basic consumer demand rather than government diktats, but the US is doing rather well with marrying economic growth and decarbonisation. On the environment, the US should be judged by its achievements, not its promises.

And if Mr Trump is saying he's not too worried about global warming, he's also speaking for a lot of Europeans. A Pew survey shows just two in five say that they are very concerned about climate change, perhaps because environmental progress is doing rather well under its own steam. So, again, it comes down to language.

Mr Trump was elected president, in part because he has a genius for provoking his enemies into a deranged frenzy. But there's not much point in the EU, or any country, succumbing to the same temptation: this is how populists win. He might be jaw-droppingly undiplomatic, pointlessly argumentative and routinely offensive – characteristics that needlessly harm America's reputation. But he won because a great many of his supposedly fringe views are popular and, ergo, mainstream. Hard as it may be for his European counterparts to admit, this is true on both sides of the Atlantic.



North Korea

China wants to maintain North Korea as a buffer state and will do nothing that could topple the Kim dynasty and give South Korea the chance to unite the peninsula. Beijing supports Pyongyang's view that nuclear arms will further protect the regime from externally induced regime change. Furthermore, Beijing believes that the propaganda spread in the Western media that even before Kim Jong-un has a weapon of mass destruction that can hit America, he has "escalation dominance" because of his massed artillery within range of Seoul. This is supposed to deter any military action to take out North Korea's research centers.

However, neither North Korea nor China has escalation dominance and the Trump administration must make it clear to both regimes why the balance of power still rests with the U.S. and its allies. Any attempt by North Korea to attack any of its neighbors in the wake of a limited strike against its nuclear and missile programs would mean the end of the Kim regime. Allied retaliation would be massive with the core objective of decapitating the government and military. If fighting persisted, the North would be decisively defeated and China's worst fears would be realized.

Kim must be told in no uncertain terms that he must disarm or face death. Menacing his neighbors is what will imperil his rule. If done quietly, we can count on him being too much of a spoiled brat to embrace martyrdom; problem solved.

Beijing must be given only two options; control and perhaps even remove Kim or risk being pulled into a wider war where its years of economic development would be demolished. For President Xi to take actions he does not want to take against Pyongyang, he must be presented with outcomes he finds even more unpalatable. As Carl von Clausewitz famously put it, the purpose of war is to "compel the enemy to do our will." That end can also be accomplished by diplomacy at a much lower cost; but only if the enemy believes war (and defeat) will be the consequence of diplomatic failure.

China knows the risks. The day after the Xi-Trump G20 meeting, Global Times ran a story on a joint U.S.-South Korean exercise, "Saturday's drill, designed to 'sternly respond' to potential missile launches by North Korea, saw two US bombers destroy 'enemy' missile batteries and South Korean jets mount precision strikes against underground command posts." The article concluded with the claim that "China has repeatedly expressed opposition to North Korea's missile launch against UN Security Council resolutions, as well as unilateral sanctions bypassing the UN Security Council, calling relevant parties to avoid escalating the tension and come back to the right track of peaceful negotiations." Beijing believes from experience with past American Presidents, that if America is talking, it is not acting---- and it is only acting that Beijing worries about. Talking gives North Korea more times to find a way to perfect long range weapons and nuclear warheads to put on them. Strategic patience is the route to Pyongyang becoming a global nuclear power          

China retreats from a superior United States, but reverts to form when the threats subside. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Beijing organized the Six Power Talks to negotiate the "denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula so as to head off a feared attack on North Korea which had been lumped with Iraq and Iran into what President George W. Bush called an "axis of evil." The diplomatic efforts collapsed when it became apparent that the U.S. was not going to expand its military campaign against nuclear proliferators. No threat, no need to make concessions.        

In 2010, after North Korea sank a South Korean warship, tensions flared and military exercises were held by China, Russia, Japan and the U.S. all around the peninsula. Beijing's rhetoric hit new highs for militancy, but it backed away from any direct confrontations as a USN carrier group sailed into the East China Sea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked to forge a strong coalition all along the Pacific Rim, including overtures to Vietnam. President Barack Obama, however, undercut Clinton. At a summit with President Xi, he called on business leaders from both countries to work together to promote peace. This sign of weakness assured China that it need not make any concessions on either North Korea bellicosity or its own mercantilist trade policies; both of which are dangerous to American security. The Chinese had taken stock of Obama and were not afraid.          

President Trump got Beijing's attention at Mar-a-lago by sending a barrage of missiles into a Syrian airfield in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons. But there has been no follow up in Asia. Washington has reinforced its naval and air strength in the region, but Beijing does not think anything more will happen than in 2010. Global Times even proclaimed, "The Trump administration has not been as tough on China as expected....Trump is returning to Washington's previous China policy." This so-called "engagement" policy of past years has worked in Beijing's favor, supporting both its own rise and that of North Korea. Trump must prove the Chinese wrong.  Only if there is a credible threat to Beijing's core interests will the Chinese work to resolve the crisis before the costs of resistance becomes too high to bear. The threat will not become credible until the costs actually start to be felt as America takes action. As the old and tested saying goes, "actions speak louder than words."



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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