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Partisan Hostility: Climate Change Consequences

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on January 18, 2016

A curious vehicle carrying a mock-up of the Soviet Sputnik satellite. It was used for political propaganda in the 1950s by the Italian Communist Party (PCI). Up to the 1980s and even later, Italy was a deeply divided country where two opposed and incompatible factions squaring off against each other: the "Reds" (the communists) and the "Whites" (the Christian Democrats). Something similar seems to be taking place in the US with the Republican and the Democratic parties. 

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Partisan hostility in society and the consequences on climate change policy

Seen from Europe, the current Republican debate in the US looks completely incomprehensible. The presidential candidates, the debate, the press reports, everything seems to be taking place on an alien planet, somewhere in another galaxy. One would be tempted to define the situation, paraphrasing Darwin, as the "survival of the nastiest".

Yet, there seems to be some method even in this madness. A recent paper  by Iyengar and Westwood (commented in Deric Bownds's blog) generated as small satori in my mind. There is indeed a (perverse) logic in the current US debate. To explain it, I have to start from my own personal experience of when, as a child, I understood two things: 1) that Santa Claus doesn't exist and 2) that the Communists don't really eat babies.

The second discovery had more important consequences than the first on my political views. When I found out that neither of the two factions dominating the political life in Italy was engaged in evil practices such as eating babies, then I started wondering what was all the fuss about. Why was Italy so sharply divided in two separated and incompatible political halves?

I never could find an answer; it was just the way things were. On the one side, there were the Christian Democrats, the whites, the churchgoers, on the other, the Communists, the reds, the anticlericals. The sharp divide that separated these two sections of society didn't just appear at voting times; no, it pervaded society. The Communists, just as the Christian Democrats, had their own shops, restaurants, entertainment places, and entire towns. And it was very rare that a Communist boy or girl would marry into a Christian Democrat family and vice-versa.

This structure of the Italian society came back to my mind while reading the paper commented by Bownds (see below) that describes how deep is the Republican/Democrat divide is in the US. Honestly, I wasn't aware that the US society was so sharply divided into two factions, to the point that boys and girls born in Democratic families rarely marry into Republican families and vice-versa (I lived in California for a few years, but that's not the same thing as "the US"). And, yet, after some mulling over, it dawned on me: it is the way societies tend to behave. Do you remember "Romeo and Juliet"? Yes, the Montagues and the Capulets. Then, the "Blues" and the "Greens" of ancient Roman times; the Guelphs and the Ghibellines of Medieval Italy, and so on, all the way to the modern split of Sunnis and Shiites.

These sharp divisions of society bring many problems, even beyond the fact that they often lead to violent conflicts. One is that all debate is ideologically filtered. No matter the logic of your arguments, the validity of your data, the rigor of your analysis, whatever you say will be always judged in relation to your membership in one or the other faction. This is something I can say from my personal experience in Italy. A partisan debate is not a debate; you either are with one side or with the other. And if you try to mediate; it is worse. As I came from a "White" family, I found that, politically, I was always mistrusted by Reds as an enemy and by Whites as a potential traitor. I am not sure of whether the US society reaches these levels, but, from what I read, it seems that the Republican/Democrat debate is as much ideologically driven as it was the Reds/Whites debate in Italy up to the 1990s.

In this kind of situation, changing anything in society becomes nearly impossible, because each side has its own rigid worldview and is unwilling to budge from it. This has disastrous consequences when change is absolutely necessary, as it is nowadays with the climate change issue. In the US, by now, the Republican worldview includes as fact that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by evil scientists on the US taxpayers. There seems to be little or no way to change this view. And that's bad(*).

So, as scientists we tend to think that by showing the data, by developing models, by being clear and comprehensible, then the message will pass and everyone will understand the risks associated with climate change. But it doesn't seem to work that way: if anything, the republican conspiratorial view of climate change seems to become more and more entrenched. That fits perfectly with my past experience in Italy: the more you argue for your position, the more you reinforce the perceptions of an ideologically minded opponent.

Can societies ever free themselves from the deadlock of partisan splitting? Yes, they can and they do. In Western Europe, for instance, in the 1980s and 1990s. the entrenched worldview of the Communist parties of France and Italy gradually became totally incompatible with the way society had evolved. As a consequence, these parties disappeared. Not that anyone changed their minds: the old Communists remained Communists, but they became too old to engage in active politics (you can still find many of them scattered in the suburban areas of Tuscany, in Italy). At the same time, young people found that the idea of becoming the next generation of party members was most uninteresting for them. Something similar occurred for the Christian Democrats in Italy, although the story is more complex. Not that the Italian society has become less partisan than before (perhaps, actually, less). But, at least, the old "Red/White" split seems to have disappeared.

With the onrush of evidence about the negative effects of climate change, it is possible that the worldview of the Republicans in the US will gradually become so dissonant with reality that the Republican party will become an anachronism, just like the Western European Communist Parties. But how long will that take? Hard to say, but if we have to wait for the current generation of Republicans to get too old to engage in active politics, that will be too long in comparison with the urgency of acting against climate change.

So, here is the summary by Eric Bownds of the results by Iyengar and Westwood. Worth reading and meditating about.

________________________________________________________
 

Our strongest prejudice – partisan hostility

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Haidt points to the fascinating work by political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, titled “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization.”, who found – in four studies designed to reveal prejudice based on race, gender, religion, or political party or ideology – that cross-partisan prejudice was the largest. For white participants who identified with a party, the cross-partisan effect was about 50 percent larger than the cross-race effect. Haidt points out that This is extremely bad news for America because:

…rising cross-partisan hostility means that Americans increasingly see the other side not just as wrong but as evil, as a threat to the very existence of the nation, according to Pew Research. Americans can expect rising polarization, nastiness, paralysis, and governmental dysfunction for a long time to come…This is extremely bad news for science and universities because universities are usually associated with the left…we can expect increasing hostility from Republican legislators toward universities and the things they desire, including research funding and freedom from federal and state control…This is a warning for the rest of the world because some of the trends that have driven America to this point are occurring in many other countries, including: rising education and individualism (which make people more ideological), rising immigration and ethnic diversity (which reduces social capital and trust), and stagnant economic growth (which puts people into a zero-sum mindset).

The situation is made worse by the "motive attribution asymmetry" that I have referenced in a previous post. Both sides of a political divide attribute their own aggressive behavior to love, but the opposite side's to hatred. Millions of Americans believe that their side is basically benevolent while the other side is evil and out to get them.

_____________________________________

 

 

 

 


(*) Note by UB: Perhaps we could bypass the Republican opposition to climate change policies by pushing renewables as a good solution for energy independence, without ever mentioning climate change. The risk is that the Republican worldview may soon absorb and include also the idea that renewable energy is just another hoax perpetrated on the American People by leftists and greens. It seems that it is exactly what's happening. And that's very bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calvinball in Yemen

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on April 1, 2015

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Snippet:

…Meanwhile, on the BIG 3 front, you can see ever increasing Polarization between the Ruskies, Chinese and the FsoA, a split in the currency regime and the ever increasing unlikelihood that anyone “in charge” of this clusterfuck will be able to do anything that keeps it from spinning out of control. Because in all reality here, nobody IS in “Control” of this, it is a systemic problem outside the reach of any individual, even the most powerful of individuals. They are governed by the events that take place and can only REACT to them, and there are so many Players in the game that Wild Cards get thrown out all the time, bollixing up any kind of Planning that might be done by anyone.

In just about all cases, the players finally resort to Violence of one sort or another regardless of the fact it doesn’t resolve underlying problems of resource depletion, other than it serves as a Death Vector eliminating some of the Overshoot Population. There are “strategies” and “game theories” putched around, but the rules change daily and then there are always new bunches of people who don’t play by those rules. It’s basically Calvin-Ball on a Global Scale with everybody flying by the seat of their pants…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

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US-Saudi Blitz in Yemen

Off the keyboard of Anthony Cartalucci

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Published on Land Destroyer on March 26, 2015

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US-Saudi Blitz in Yemen: Naked Aggression, Absolute Desperation

March 27, 2015 (Tony Cartalucci – NEO) – The “proxy war” model the US has been employing throughout the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and even in parts of Asia appears to have failed yet again, this time in the Persian Gulf state of Yemen.

Overcoming the US-Saudi backed regime in Yemen, and a coalition of sectarian extremists including Al Qaeda and its rebrand, the “Islamic State,” pro-Iranian Yemeni Houthi militias have turned the tide against American “soft power” and has necessitated a more direct military intervention. While US military forces themselves are not involved allegedly, Saudi warplanes and a possible ground force are.

Though Saudi Arabia claims “10 countries” have joined its coalition to intervene in Yemen, like the US invasion and occupation of Iraq hid behind a “coalition,” it is overwhelmingly a Saudi operation with “coalition partners” added in a vain attempt to generate diplomatic legitimacy.

The New York Times, even in the title of its report, “Saudi Arabia Begins Air Assault in Yemen,” seems not to notice these “10” other countries. It reports:

Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday night that it had launched a military campaign in Yemen, the beginning of what a Saudi official said was an offensive to restore a Yemeni government that had collapsed after rebel forces took control of large swaths of the country. 

The air campaign began as the internal conflict in Yemen showed signs of degenerating into a proxy war between regional powers. The Saudi announcement came during a rare news conference in Washington by Adel al-Jubeir, the kingdom’s ambassador to the United States.

Proxy War Against Iran 

Indeed, the conflict in Yemen is a proxy war. Not between Iran and Saudi Arabia per say, but between Iran and the United States, with the United States electing Saudi Arabia as its unfortunate stand-in.

Iran’s interest in Yemen serves as a direct result of the US-engineered “Arab Spring” and attempts to overturn the political order of North Africa and the Middle East to create a unified sectarian front against Iran for the purpose of a direct conflict with Tehran. The war raging in Syria is one part of this greater geopolitical conspiracy, aimed at overturning one of Iran’s most important regional allies, cutting the bridge between it and another important ally, Hezbollah in Lebanon.

And while Iran’s interest in Yemen is currently portrayed as yet another example of Iranian aggression, indicative of its inability to live in peace with its neighbors, US policymakers themselves have long ago already noted that Iran’s influence throughout the region, including backing armed groups, serves a solely defensive purpose, acknowledging the West and its regional allies’ attempts to encircle, subvert, and overturn Iran’s current political order.

The US-based RAND Corporation, which describes itself as “a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis,” produced a report in 2009 for the US Air Force titled, “Dangerous But Not Omnipotent : Exploring the Reach and Limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East,” examining the structure and posture of Iran’s military, including its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and weapons both present, and possible future, it seeks to secure its borders and interests with against external aggression.

The report admits that:

Iran’s strategy is largely defensive, but with some offensive elements. Iran’s strategy of protecting the regime against internal threats, deterring aggression, safeguarding the homeland if aggression occurs, and extending influence is in large part a defensive one that also serves some aggressive tendencies when coupled with expressions of Iranian regional aspirations. It is in part a response to U.S. policy pronouncements and posture in the region, especially since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Iranian leadership takes very seriously the threat of invasion given the open discussion in the United States of regime change, speeches defining Iran as part of the “axis of evil,” and efforts by U.S. forces to secure base access in states surrounding Iran.

Whatever imperative Saudi Arabia is attempting to cite in justifying its military aggression against Yemen, and whatever support the US is trying to give the Saudi regime rhetorically, diplomatically, or militarily, the legitimacy of this military operation crumbles before the words of the West’s own policymakers who admit Iran and its allies are simply reacting to a concerted campaign of encirclement, economic sanctions, covert military aggression, political subversion, and even terrorism aimed at establishing Western hegemony across the region at the expense of Iranian sovereignty.

Saudi Arabia’s Imperative Lacks Legitimacy 

The unelected hereditary regime ruling over Saudi Arabia, a nation notorious for egregious human rights abuses, and a land utterly devoid of even a semblance of what is referred to as “human rights,” is now posing as arbiter of which government in neighboring Yemen is “legitimate” and which is not, to the extent of which it is prepared to use military force to restore the former over the latter.

The United States providing support for the Saudi regime is designed to lend legitimacy to what would otherwise be a difficult narrative to sell. However, the United States itself has suffered from an increasing deficit in its own legitimacy and moral authority.

Most ironic of all, US and Saudi-backed sectarian extremists, including Al Qaeda in Yemen, had served as proxy forces meant to keep Houthi militias in check by proxy so the need for a direct military intervention such as the one now unfolding would not be necessary. This means that Saudi Arabia and the US are intervening in Yemen only after the terrorists they were supporting were overwhelmed and the regime they were propping up collapsed.

In reality, Saudi Arabia’s and the United States’ rhetoric aside, a brutal regional regime meddled in Yemen and lost, and now the aspiring global hemegon sponsoring it from abroad has ordered it to intervene directly and clean up its mess.

Saudi Arabia’s Dangerous Gamble 

The aerial assault on Yemen is meant to impress upon onlookers Saudi military might. A ground contingent might also attempt to quickly sweep in and panic Houthi fighters into folding. Barring a quick victory built on psychologically overwhelming Houthi fighters, Saudi Arabia risks enveloping itself in a conflict that could easily escape out from under the military machine the US has built for it.

It is too early to tell how the military operation will play out and how far the Saudis and their US sponsors will go to reassert themselves over Yemen. However, that the Houthis have outmatched combined US-Saudi proxy forces right on Riyadh’s doorstep indicates an operational capacity that may not only survive the current Saudi assault, but be strengthened by it.

Reports that Houthi fighters have employed captured Yemeni warplanes further bolsters this notion – revealing tactical, operational, and strategic sophistication that may well know how to weather whatever the Saudis have to throw at it, and come back stronger.

What may result is a conflict that spills over Yemen’s borders and into Saudi Arabia proper. Whatever dark secrets the Western media’s decades of self-censorship regarding the true sociopolitical nature of Saudi Arabia will become apparent when the people of the Arabian peninsula must choose to risk their lives fighting for a Western client regime, or take a piece of the peninsula for themselves.

Additionally, a transfer of resources and fighters arrayed under the flag of the so-called “Islamic State” and Al Qaeda from Syria to the Arabian Peninsula will further indicate that the US and its regional allies have been behind the chaos and atrocities carried out in the Levant for the past 4 years. Such revelations will only further undermine the moral imperative of the West and its regional allies, which in turn will further sabotage their efforts to rally support for an increasingly desperate battle they themselves conspired to start.

America’s Shrinking Legitimacy 

It was just earlier this month when the United States reminded the world of Russia’s “invasion” of Crimea. Despite having destabilized Ukraine with a violent, armed insurrection in Kiev, for the purpose of expanding NATO deeper into Eastern Europe and further encircling Russia, the West insisted that Russia had and  still has no mandate to intervene in any way in neighboring Ukraine. Ukraine’s affairs, the United States insists, are the Ukrainians’ to determine. Clearly, the US meant this only in as far as Ukrainians determined things in ways that suited US interests.

This is ever more evident now in Yemen, where the Yemeni people are not being allowed to determine their own affairs. Everything up to and including military invasion has been reserved specifically to ensure that the people of Yemen do not determine things for themselves, clearly, because it does not suit US interests.

Such naked hypocrisy will be duly noted by the global public and across diplomatic circles. The West’s inability to maintain a cohesive narrative is a growing sign of weakness. Shareholders in the global enterprise the West is engaged in may see such weakness as a cause to divest – or at the very least – a cause to diversify toward other enterprises. Such enterprises may include Russia and China’s mulipolar world. The vanishing of Western global hegemony will be done in destructive conflict waged in desperation and spite.

Today, that desperation and spite befalls Yemen.

Tony Cartalucci, Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazineNew Eastern Outlook”.

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