"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Trump And Kim Jong Un - From Playground To Battlefield Human Nature Rules And Peace Will Always Be A Vanity

As of this writing (8.12.17) the United States and North Korea are aiming their conventional and nuclear weapons at each other, hoping for a solution to the escalating crisis.  North Korea has persisted in what it sees as its rightful claim to a full nuclear arsenal while the United States denies it categorically.  Kim Jong-un has made it unmistakably clear that he intends to fire missiles at the American territory of Guam, risking the wrath and retaliation of its far bigger and more powerful enemy.

Image result for images kim jong un latest defiant

Donald Trump’s reply has been apocalyptic - ‘Fire and fury’ will rain down on North Korea.  The implications are clear – the United States will not hesitate to incinerate the People’s Republic with a strike far more punishing than Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, and Tokyo combined.

None of Trump’s incendiary rhetoric seems to have had any impact, and Kim seems determined to carry out his threat.  Unlike former Presidents who have dealt with North Korea’s truculence and aggressive posturing with carrot-and-stick compromise, international sanction and pressure, and appeals to the Communist leader to join the world community, Trump has taken a menacing, uncompromising, inflexible position.

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In other words a stand-off.  No one can predict how it will end – whether Trump, under European and Asian pressure, will moderate his tone, opening a path to peaceful resolution; or whether he will say, finally, enough is enough.  Time to get rid of The Hermit Kingdom once and for all.

Or whether Kim will find a way to assert his defiance; to show the world that he has the technology, the scientific savvy, the discipline, and the resolve to act fearlessly and with determination; but to back off from an all-out assault on Guam.  While Kim has stated his intention to attack Guam, he might fire them instead over international waters towards the Philippines.  Such a firing would demonstrate his ability to successfully launch an ICBM without risking military response from Japan or South Korea, countries over which missiles bound for Guam would have to fly.

Image result for images north korea parade of armaments

A conflict which would result in the total destruction of North Korea, catastrophic damage to South Korea and Japan, and the complete destabilization of Asia seems unthinkable; but here we are 55 years after The Cuban Crisis faced with the same unsettling possibilities.  We came within a hair’s breadth of nuclear war because neither Cuba, the United States, nor the Soviet Union – until the very last minute – would retreat.  What has changed? Belligerent, stubborn opponents claiming political and moral rectitude, national sovereignty and integrity, and the ability to prevail.

Richard Nixon was fond of his ‘Madman Theory’. He wanted the Soviets to think that he was instable and capable of irrational, unpredictable acts.  If the Russians believed that a lunatic had an itchy finger on the nuclear trigger, they might well keep their own counsel.

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Both Trump and Kim are playing this game.  Many critics of Trump say that it is by no means a game; and that the President is indeed imbalanced and dangerous.  His supporters believe that his defiant, apocalyptic stance is exactly what is needed to back down a tyrant, bully, and coward.  Whether Trump is or is not mad is beside the point.  He is giving the appearance of ‘madness’; i.e. willing to risk world conflict and nuclear war.

Kim, like most dictators, is not mad but canny, savvy, and smart. He knows that America has done nothing to thwart his nuclear ambitions, has made a nuclear deal favorable to Iran signifying America’s preference for compromise, and has in the past fumbled and bumbled its way to non-decisions because of a hopelessly outdated ‘democratic’ process.  Yet he gives the impression of being ‘mad’, capable of anything to preserve his own power and to increase that of his nation.

Even the most casual observer of this drama cannot help but draw parallels to the school playground.  Despite liberal attempts to eliminate bullying and aggressive behavior, the playground is still no different from the African veldt.  Males preen, posture, challenge, and fight for territory, mates, and status.  There is no compromise in the jungle, savanna, mountains or seas. Why should anyone expect human beings, only a relatively few geologic years from purely animal behavior, to behave any differently.

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Whether on Wall Street, in New York real estate, Hollywood, or the inner cities, we act in ways that are just as primitive as those of our Paleolithic ancestors.  Threats and intimidation are part of deal-making, litigation, wealth accumulation and protection, market expansion, and social change.  Even the most progressive environmentalist does not shy away from aggressively challenging climate deniers.  Battles are fought in front of abortion clinics, Confederate-era statues, and on college campuses.  We have all subscribed to ethos of strategic confrontation, and are willing to escalate the conflict as much as it takes to win.

Every parent knows that competition and conflict are hardwired in their children as much as in adults.  They fight over who got the bigger portion, the easiest chore, the best toys, the most parental favor, the most freedom and responsibility.  Boys scuffle, fight, and brawl over rights.  Older girls taunt and ridicule younger brothers.  Peaceful standoffs result only after the wars have been fought to a draw.

Scientists and philosophers have long debated the issue of human nature and its role in determining behavior.  Is human nature innate, immutable and permanently aggressive, territorial, self-interested, and violent? Or is it subject to external influences and can be moderated, softened and recalibrated?
Human nature was fundamental to Marx, for example.
However, in the sixth Thesis on Feuerbach (1845), Marx criticizes the traditional conception of "human nature" as "species" which incarnates itself in each individual, on behalf of a conception of human nature as formed by the totality of "social relations". Thus, the whole of human nature is not understood, as in classical idealist philosophy, as permanent and universal: the species-being is always determined in a specific social and historical formation… (Wikipedia)

Sartre and the Existentialists agreed with Marx on the lack of any innate human nature:
Famous for saying that there is no human nature, no human essence—existence precedes essence. (So Sartre would think that you can be without being something.) There is no human nature because we are at root free—which seems to mean unconstrained to Sartre. Freedom has a negative tone for Sartre—it is a great danger (www.carroll.edu)

Plato and Aristotle thought there was indeed such a thing as human nature, and it could be best describes as rational – reason is what defines us.

Darwin understood human nature as generically animal – both men and beasts acted in the same genetically programmed way.  Christians believe that Man was given a free will by God, and that there are no Darwinian brakes on our ability to evolve spiritually.  Descartes described human beings as ‘thinking spirits’, and that whatever human nature might be, our ability to think superseded its constraints.

Nihilists like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Schopenhauer were uninterested in human nature but the randomness of existence human, social, or historical.  Nietzsche postulated that the only validation of life in a meaningless, random world was the expression of will.  Nineteenth century socialists and their inheritors today hew to Marxist philosophy.  There is no such thing as a Darwinian animal essence in Man, and he through collective action can affect the  environmental forces that shape him and society.



History and common sense are on the side of the Darwin and Nietzsche.  Shakespeare’s Histories, for example, chronicle the lives and times of England’s kings which are very little different one from the other.  The details and expressions of rule might vary, but all monarchs, courtiers, and pretenders all displayed the same aggressive, self-interested, territorial, protective behavior. 

A more objective review of world events since pre-history shows that the behavior of family, tribe, nation, and empire is remarkably similar if not identical.  What else but an innate, hardwired, immutable human nature could be responsible?

The wisest observer will conclude that  all people and nations act on the same principles of self-interest, survival, territorialism, and acquisitiveness; but that equally predictable and pre-determined is the conflict between differing ambitions.  Every social group configures their ambitions differently – i.e. thinks that their way is the best way – and that political, economic, and military conflict will always result.  Rather than judging ambitions in terms of right and wrong or good and evil, the sanest approach is to accept conflict as a natural expression of human nature, to recognize the natural tendency of groups to define and consolidate a political philosophy, and ultimately to defend it.

Therefore it is not surprising that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are doing battle, for their conflict conforms to all criteria.  They are both bullying men not far removed from the playground and the ghetto.  They both have understood leadership as a projection of power, a rejection of the status quo, and as a mandate for geopolitical dominance.  They both have been raised to consider compromise a failure.

What will be the result of the current Trump-Kim standoff? There have been many possible denouements suggested, none of them entirely plausible, practical, or realistic.  Since human nature is in play – dander up, insults traded; self-image and political entitlement challenged; territory, power, and wealth at stake – it is unlikely that this playground affair will end peacefully. 


If in the unlikely event there is a peaceful settlement, it will be only temporary, inconclusive, and unsatisfying – that is, the can of war will only be kicked down the road.

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