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Culture War Roundup for the week of February 20, 2023

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Touch grass.

No, seriously. Unsubscribe from this guy. Take a step back from Eliezer-style doomscrolling and the Internet in general. You don’t have to literally go outside, but it helps.

If you have a hobby, delve into it. If not, get one. I have personally quite enjoyed learning the banjo. My girlfriend is allegedly writing the great American novel; I couldn’t say for sure, since she won’t let me read it.

Contrary to dril there is a difference between good things and bad things. Experiences matter. When yours come to an end, by Singularity or by the quiet repose that awaits us all, make sure yours have been good.

Touch grass.

No, seriously. Unsubscribe from this guy. Take a step back from Eliezer-style doomscrolling and the Internet in general. You don’t have to literally go outside, but it helps.

This is always good advice for anyone worrying about things they see online or in the press, most especially if they are things that you personally have no control over.

Personally, the thing that keeps me up at night isn't GAI alignment, because I keep myself in a perpetual bubble of blissful ignorance about AI alignment woes -- either the people worried about it are wrong, and so I shouldn't worry, or they're right, and I'm not smart enough and definitely not mathematically and computationally gifted enough to make a dent in it. If the AI ethics people come to a consensus about what normies should do and want government regulation or something, they have my vote, but otherwise my approach is to ignore it.

Rather, what keeps me up at night is the threat of all-out WW3, potentially with nukes. Every time this Russia thing escalates -- US sending tanks, Europe training Ukrainian soldiers, Putin's nullifying anti-nuclear treaties, China talking about getting involved, Biden visiting an active warzone -- I feel like the leadership of my country and its allies seriously underestimates the risk of all-out superpower warfare threatened by this conflict, which lies at the heart of my objections to US involvement. It was never about the money, and, frankly, I'm insulted whenever people suggest that Ukraine-war-isolationists are cheapskates. I'm not. I just don't want to die.

I pray that the leadership of the US remains opposed to direct, boots-on-the-ground involvement. Biden seems, on a deeply personal level, to hate the US military and its treatment of its men, due to his son Beau's death-by-burn-pit-carcinogens. In fact, I rather suspect the withdrawal from Afghanistan was so insanely rapid (foolishly, of course, but still) because Biden personally said "get our fucking troops out of there LITERALLY RIGHT NOW BECAUSE YOU FUCKING PIGS KILLED MY SON." So I am heartened by his realization -- unlike so many of my country's insane leaders -- of the true cost of American military mobilization. For his part, DeSantis has expressed skepticism of the extent of American involvement in Ukraine, while Trump has written, "FIRST COME THE TANKS, THEN COME THE NUKES. Get this crazy war ended, NOW." So I have a few reasons to believe the people most likely to hold the presidency in the US in the next few years don't have any desire to put boots on the ground. Aunt Kamala is the wildcard, but I pray the electorate never lets her become president, although Biden's octogenarian heart just might. Boy, the passage of time sure is significant!

I would definitely be one of the people protesting during Vietnam, and I am fascinated by how my outright and passionate opposition to American involvement in wars and frantic opposition to nuclear warfare has shifted from being coded left-wing to being coded right-wing in but a few decades.

...ahem. Anyway.

The advice of friends and family as to how I should deal with this worry was, well, touch grass, so I'm trying to do that. Hey, maybe I'll even have the chance to pick some daisies (or push them up, more like).

Existential anxiety is everywhere these days -- just ask my progressive zoomer friends how they feel about climate change -- and as far as I can tell the only good thing to do about it is try and live as best you can and pray to God to have mercy upon us:

And pray that I may forget

These matters that with myself I too much discuss

Too much explain.

Let these words answer:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Fat Tuesday, and the Fat pax Americana, are over now, boys, and may the judgement not be too heavy upon us.

Wait, what?

I don’t think I’ve seen any evidence, rather than speculation, that Biden hates the military. His natsec policy has been a mixed bag, but in what I see as a fairly pedestrian Democrat way: treating it as a giant bank account to trim for other programs.

How does the Afghan withdrawal make any more sense as a punishment for the military? It is literally removing a decades-long foreign entanglement. If he hadn’t pulled out, would you be arguing that letting Americans continue to die for

Afghans is a sign of his spite?

opposition to American involvement in wars has shifted…to being coded right-wing


You’ve got to be more specific, because the interventionist/militarist/ColdWarrior mindset is alive and well.

How does the Afghan withdrawal make any more sense as a punishment for the military?

It's not that it was a punishment... I think his chain of logic was "Let's end this war immediately so no more Americans die, despite what the generals say about the strategic outcome." Personally, I think that this is the most plausible cause of the Afghanistan withdrawal; I'm not saying I have evidence of it, just that I believe it.

I should say that I'm also speculating -- but this is actually me trying to be hopeful that Biden won't start a world war and draft me in it, because he knows what it's like for a parent to lose their child due to war (and especially military malfeasance, which I think the burn pits were -- the military knew the serious cancer risk but had soldiers burn shit anyway). I guess it's less about him hating the military, but more recognizing that the military isn't infallible and often soldiers and veterans are treated like absolute trash by the brass, because of his personal experience with Beau. In fact, I think the fact that his son died not in battle but due to cancer that he himself seems to think had a connection to the explicit military policy of running the burn pits makes me more hopeful, because it allows the rose-colored ideology of war heroism to be stripped away from him, and the real flaws in our military and its frequent disregard for its men to be exposed.

I think that plan failed spectacularly, of course -- I think a more gradual withdrawal would not have led to American deaths in Afghanistan, while the actual plan did. I attribute that to Biden not actually being a military strategist and in fact overriding the military strategists because of his distaste for the Afghanistan war, and I see the spectacular failure of the Afghanistan withdrawal as evidence for my interpretation of events. You're free to disagree, of course -- I don't mean to suggest anyone else should think this, just that this is what I tell myself when I can't sleep at night.

Again…what? You’ve got to be more specific

I'm not saying that the entire right is anti-war, or even that most of the right is. I think most of the right, especially the members of the right who are in power, are in fact interventionist as you say.

But I also think most of the left was pro-interventionist during the 70s. But the minority of the country that did stuff like write signs saying "Make Love, Not War," and protesting on college campuses was also a part of the left, a lefty faction, if you will.

My position is that the people in 2022-23 who express skepticism of US involvement in the Ukraine war are, or at least are considered, a faction of the right. I'm talking about people like Tulsi Gabbard -- who in fact left the Democratic Party in part because of their support for military aid to Ukraine -- like Donald Trump ("We need to end this war now!") and like Tucker Carlson. The list is rather short, but popular polling shows a distinct partisan split over Ukraine aid. I think "we should be less involved in Ukraine" is in fact a major view among normal Republicans now, even if the leadership doesn't listen to them.

(And for the Democrats in the audience: this is why the right hates their establishment. This is why the Tea Party happened, why it took forever to elect McCarthy last month, why people like Boebert and Gaetz and indeed Donald Trump get elected. The right hates the right-wing establishment, because they don't actually listen to their voters.)

I think these righties are described (falsely, I believe, except maybe for Tucker Carlson, but who knows what that man believes) as people who just love Putin and fascism and hate freedom and democracy by people in the mainstream, mostly on the left, because of the age-old Everyone I Don't Like is Hitler phenomenon. People on the right talk to this faction -- and you see them actually talking to them, because they see them as allies who can be persuaded -- about the monetary cost of our military aid to Ukraine being comparatively low and it enabling us to weaken Russia.

But I don't like Putin and fascism -- I agree with the mainstream interpretation that Russia is bad and is an immoral aggressor, that "Russia decided to invade a smaller country called Ukraine, so basically that’s wrong." I am 100% on board with this, and I feel sorry for the people of Ukraine and -- here's where I probably part ways with the right-wing faction -- strongly support the US's non-military aid to the Ukrainians and our taking of refugees. In fact, I'd rather say the best thing to do would be to set up a New Ukrainian State somewhere in middle America and escort every Ukrainian man, woman, and child there. How's that for a scorched earth policy?

And my sympathy and admiration for slavic people (not their leadership, but indeed hating your leaders is as slavic as anything!) -- who have lived under tsars and dictators and tyrants for essentially their entire existence -- gives me a peculiarly pessimistic view of government in general, here and there, and I might personally suggest to the Ukrainians that perhaps the concept of the political entity known as "Ukraine," which I would argue is as fictitious as "Russia" or "Austria-Hungary" or "Yugoslavia" or hell, even "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics," isn't worth killing all your young men to preserve. They might, of course, have to give up elements of their culture in a surrender to Russia, and to many Ukrainians that is not a price worth paying. But I respect that choice if it is made freely, while opposing conscription.

But then again I'm also a crazy person who thinks the American Revolution did jack shit for the average Pennsylvania farmer and, personally speaking, if you put me at gunpoint and forced me to take a side, I would have been a loyalist during that conflict (God save the king!). I think expressions of political nationalism often distort real utility-on-the-ground, and I think the outcome of almost any revolution not involving the elimination of literal slavery or possibly fiefdom is usually only marginally better for the average person than the status quo -- if not much worse.

Do I think life would be better for Ukraine and the Ukrainians had Russia never invaded? Absolutely, and I hate, condemn, and abhor that they did it, and may Putin burn in hell! The choice of Ukrainians between their democracy -- a failing, corrupt, deeply troubled democracy, but still something -- and captivity under the Russian state is an easy choice, if made in a vacuum, without any costs involved. But there are costs -- costs written in blood.

My view is that War Is Hell, whether you're on the offense or the defense, and I rather wish Eurasia had learned this lesson after they propelled the world into a trench war over literally nothing. I would suggest that the costs are too high, but of course that is not a choice for me to make.

But I make my choices in terms of American involvement in the war on that basis, that human life is more precious than ideology. And I'm an American, so stuff in and concerning America affects me. I don't want to be involved, for the same reasons this collection of Czech lefties and righties doesn't. It's not my war, and I don't want to pay the price for it, certainly not with blood. But in response to such people, the Czech government can only say nonsense about how these people "are expressing pro-Russian views" because they're high on their own ideology and like all politicians don't give a rat's ass about their actual citizens. I only know about these Czech protesters because of a man I met randomly at the supermarket, who as of yet is one of the few people I have met in person who agrees with me about Ukraine and who expressed contempt for both the American left and right. I hate the whole damn system, man.

Anyway, this has been my schizopost about how I hate nationalism, I hate war, and I think conscription is a bad thing.

What I lament is that the only people I hear expressing skepticism of the Ukraine war in the United States (God bless the man I met at the supermarket!) nowadays, as I said: "are, or at least are considered, a faction of the right." I know that most of them would, of course, be horrified by my contempt for nationalism of all kinds and especially by my lack of reverence for the American Revolution. But I am yet to hear any lefties -- who, of course, are the natural allies of someone who hates nationalism and war per se and wants to take more refugees -- express this sort of viewpoint. All I hear are the mainstream, Democratic Party folks, who seem more likely to fly Ukrainian flags outside their homes than American flags. But perhaps this is just the same sort of perception of outgroup homogeneity that makes it weird for you to hear me talk about opposition to interventionism being on the right despite the mainstream faction of the establishment right being super interventionist.

My view is that War Is Hell, whether you're on the offense or the defense, and I rather wish Eurasia had learned this lesson after they propelled the world into a trench war over literally nothing. I would suggest that the costs are too high, but of course that is not a choice for me to make

You're not being serious here, I take it ? You don't truly believe the only reason for the war was the murder, and you also don't truly believe a state* supported, politically motivated assassination of the heir to the throne is 'no big deal' ?

*well, the Serbian prime minister probably didn't know what his military intelligence was up to, but doesn't really exculpate Serbia.

Okay, that makes a lot more sense. I can definitely see how the chain of events would shake out. Especially in combination with CPAR’s quote.