The Long View 2006-07-16: Bulletin Board; World War III; Progressive Realism; Spelling Reform Summer

The bulletin board that John Reilly set up in 2006 did end up being a major feature of his website. It featured lively discussion for a number of years. It was on that board that I first conceived of archiving and restoring John's writings after his death, since the bulletin board coasted on autopilot for some time after John mysteriously stopped posting.

Robert WrightBy The original uploader was Cardsplayer4life at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Robert Wright

By The original uploader was Cardsplayer4life at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0,

I am also quite interested to read Robert Wright's foreign policy suggestions from 2006 in the New York Times. I find some things I really like about his suggestions, and a few ideas that have turned out not to be so. For example:

Yes, the Chinese government could probably reverse the growth in popular expression of the past two decades, but only by severely restricting information technologies that are prerequisites for prosperity. Meanwhile, notwithstanding dogged efforts at repression, political pluralism in China is growing.

China has clamped down quite effectively on both the Internet and political pluralism, with no obvious effect on economic growth. At least yet.

Wright also makes a point that John Reilly often made: political systems expand to cover the range of the economy. The same dynamic that produced federalization via the Commerce clause is likely to push for some kind of universal state in the next century or so, covering the developed bits of the world.

Bulletin Board; World War III; Progressive Realism; Spelling Reform Summer

Bulletin Board: Please note this new feature of the website. The link is above, to the right. I am not now requiring registration, but you might want to register anyway, in case I have to tighten access in the future.

This is my third attempt at greater interactivity. No doubt it is the charm. Yes.

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Regarding the current unpleasantness in the Middle East, we have no reason to doubt that they will just bury the archduke and everything will be back to normal by September. That's what happens, 99 times out of 100. On that 100th occasion, of course, something worse than the worst imaginable happens. Could the war between Israel and Hizbollah be one of those occasions?

That seems to be the opinion of former Speaker of the House (and current presidential aspirant) Newt Gingrich, of whom we read this in The Seattle Times:

...He lists wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, this week's bomb attacks in India, North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist arrests and investigations in Florida, Canada and Britain, and violence in Israel and Lebanon as evidence of World War III. He said Bush needs to deliver a speech to Congress and "connect all the dots" for Americans.

He said the reluctance to put those pieces together and see one global conflict is hurting America's interests.

War all over the world is not the same as a world war. The difference between the Middle East now and during the 1970s and '80s is that, today, it is hard to tease a world war out of the Middle East. The major local power is Iran, and though it has international supporters, or at least defenders, no major power is willing to fight for it. In fact, despite all the talk about realignment against the United States, the interesting thing is that Russia, and China, and the EU have been willing, indeed eager, to punt these issues to Washington. Only if the major powers of the world lined up on different sides could we have a proper world war.

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Robert Wright has a new model, or what he imagines is a new model, for foreign policy. It chimes well enough with his well-thought model of history. He applied it today's New York Times:

It’s now possible to build a foreign policy paradigm that comes close to squaring the circle — reconciling the humanitarian aims of idealists with the powerful logic of realists. And adopting this paradigm could make the chaos of the last week less common in the future.

Every paradigm needs a name, and the best name for this one is progressive realism. The label has a nice ring (Who is against progress?)

I like "progressive," too, but one might point out that the term was hijacked by Stalinists in the 1930s and never lost the undertone of duplicity it gained from the connection. In any case, Wright suggests that we restore and reinforce the authority of the multilateral structures that come to us from the post-World War II era. He particularly laments the loss of authority of the UN:

The administration’s misjudgment in Iraq highlights the distinction — sometimes glossed over by neoconservatives — between transparency and regime change. Had we held off on invasion, demanding in return that United Nations inspections be expanded and extended, we could have rendered Iraq transparent, confirming that it posed no near-term threat. Regime change wasn’t essential.

Let us put aside the fact that everyone in the UN who had anything to do with the sanctions regime on Iraq seems to have been on the take. I can only express astonishment that Wright has not taken on board the fact that the same post-invasion inspections that found no weapons of mass destruction also found that Iraq planned to go back into the WMD business as soon as the sanctions were lifted. That would have happened as soon as UN weapons inspectors satisfied themselves that there were no WMDs in Baathist Iraq. One might argue that such an outcome would be better than the current situation. Be that as it may, one of the features of that alternative outcome would have been the total discrediting of the UN system: UN involvement would have been see to neutralize the result of the Coalition victory of 1991. In other words, there was no way the UN could have come through the Iraq crisis with credit.

Still hoping to goad the dead horse into action, Wright makes this recommendation:

We need multilateral structures capable of decisively forceful intervention and nation building — ideally under the auspices of the United Nations, which has more global legitimacy than other candidates. America should lead in building these structures and thereafter contribute its share, but only its share. To some extent, the nurturing of international institutions and solid international law is simple thrift.

I know this must sound like American chauvinism, but the fact is that any recipe for world order that involves treating the US like any other country is just not going to work.

What has been happening since the turn of the century is that the post-World War II international system is falling apart. Anti-Americanism is just a reflection of that. Actually, the situation that Speaker Gingrich calls a world war is even worse than he describes. Among the other things that are now acutely different from 1950 is the demographic situation: the Voelkerwanderungen from the South into the US and EU are also part of the emergency.

And those who say, "What a shame that we do not have better leadership in this crisis," misunderstand what kind of thing it is. Many grinding tectonic plates are producing volcanoes in this historical transition, but one of the greatest faultlines runs straight through the center of American politics.

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I continue to track the commentary regarding the Spelling Reform Summer of 2006 (in part, perhaps, so I don't have to project what happens if it it turns into the Nuking of Mecca Summer of 2006). Over at The Lexicographer's Rules, we find this old chestnut:

Any advocate of drastic spelling reform must have an insufficient understanding of just how differently English is spoken in the various groups that contribute to our various American English dialects.

I answered the point there (which I otherwise find a congenial site). I can deal with misunderstandings of that order, but I have no patience for the sort of willful ignorance we find at Campus Report Online:

Ef u kan reed this, u must saport tha simplefied speling system. If you couldn’t read the previous statement due to typographical errors, you must be for the current spelling system, which is as strong as ever before.

No doubt. In any case, if you would like to use the American Literacy Council's Soundspel system, you can download the macros here. Please note that it is phonics teaching software. One may use it for illustrative purposes in discussions of spelling reform, but not even its greatest fans say that it is a mature upgrade for English orthography .

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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