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An alternative representation, to emphasize the “flor”

The Flor de Luz, the Flower of Light, is both a symbol and, potentially, a tool. It is the symbol of Transcendental Politics (and logo of The Transcendental Politics Foundation) found in the middle of this Venn diagram, and the diagram itself. The name is, in part, a play on words of the French “Fleur de Lis” (a stylized lily), recognizing the incidental similarity of the original logo to a luminescent lily. It is also in part a reference to the concentric flower patterns formed by the overlapping circles of the Venn Diagram, with five small petals surrounding the logo, five larger ones surrounding those. and five larger ones still surrounding those (see the alternative representation). Most importantly, it is a reference to what both the logo and the Venn Diagram represent: Transcendental Politics, the flowering (“flor”) of a new Enlightenment (“luz”).

The Flor de Luz is, in one sense, a simple graphic with a simple purpose. It represents how Transcendental Politics resides at the confluence of our various overarching social institutions, how it aspires to be a distillation and synthesis of what is best in each of them, what has thus far worked well for humanity, leaving out what is least useful in each of them, what has thus far not served humanity well, an ongoing social movement that recognizes and respects the cumulative product of human history and humbly but proactively builds on it, weeding and pruning and watering portions of our social institutional landscape with new layers of conscious cultivation, continuing the human enterprise of transforming the wilderness of what time and numbers have produced into a garden of intentionality that better serves human welfare.

But the Flor de Luz is, in another sense, potentially (in a dynamical form discussed below) something more subtle and complex, a conceptual tool to assist in the identification stage of that ongoing endeavor of social institutional distillation and synthesis, a tool that is only partially and statically represented by the Venn Diagram above. Let’s explore, step-by-step, how it might be transformed into a dynamical tool.

First, consider possible variations of the Venn Diagram above. A different arrangement, or sequence, of the same five circles could be chosen, different pairs overlapping in the outermost petals (e.g., placing politics and activism next to each other, and religion and science next to each other, producing in their overlaps “campaigning” and “pursuit of universal paradigms,” respectively); or different overarching institutions altogether could be chosen (e.g., economics, family, technology, energy, environment, fine arts, etc.), creating a proliferation of possible combinations and sequences. (For instance, one product of the overlap of activism and economics might be “entrepreneurialism,” and of entrepreneurialism and technology “innovation,” leading to one of the already identified smaller petals by a different route.) Different aspects of what their convergences create can be highlighted, illustrating, in a sense, how “all roads lead to Transcendental Politics,” to the commitment to foster a more rational, imaginative, empathetic, humble and humane world.

We can create a completely different kind of Flor de Luz comprised of cognitive and emotional modalities instead of social institutions, with, for instance, reason, imagination, empathy, humility, and humanity (the five core values of Transcendental Politics) as the five overlapping circles, producing social institutions and types of behaviors and endeavors. We can even include such emotions and modalities as anger, fear, and tribalism, things we usually identify as that which we are striving to transcend, to acknowledge that they too have evolved for reasons, and that they may well have something to contribute to our garden of intentionality. Or we can combine cognitive and emotional modalities with social institutions from the outset, testing our minds to identify, for instance, what good can be harvested from the distillation and synthesis of anger, reason, and activism, or of imagination, fear, hope, and science, or of the convergence of those two sets. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

The purpose of presenting ourselves with these nearly limitless combinations is to guide our minds in an exploration of what is, in pursuit of what can be, by facilitating consideration of how we can work to leverage what is into something more beneficial. This can occur both in the abstract, imagining possibilities without worrying about how to attain them, and in the particular, identifying viable pathways to implementation and devising first steps that can be taken now in service to that end. It is, if nothing else, a tool for taking our minds out of the tumultuous onslaught of the perpetual urgency of now, and providing them with a space defined by a more synoptic view, in which we are guided not only in “thinking outside the box,” but in redefining “the box” as something far more expansive.

(I should insert here a response to the criticism, that I imagine has arisen in the minds of at least some readers by now, of “what does this have to do with anything? How does combining names of social institutions and cognitive and emotional modalities accomplish anything?” The answer is that it displaces our tendency to think in fixed ways determined by ideological narratives and ingrained habits of thought with a set of semi-random but also subtly systemic prompts to think in new ways. That can be remarkably useful, and it is integral to the meaning of “Transcendental Politics,” which is about institutionalizing the ongoing effort to transcend our ideological tribalisms and false certainties.)

Let me guide you through a consideration of how this design (five overlapping disks representing distinct social institutional, cognitive, and emotional modalities) can be utilized in the manner described above.

Imagine a narrated animation in which, first, the diagram is explained as representative of how Transcendental Politics is that which resides where our social institutional modalities overlap, each mitigating the others’ defects and reinforcing the others’ strengths, a sort of distillation of the best of what we’ve produced over the millennia, the product of the spinning lathe of trial and error. Then, the outer sections labeled “science, politics, education, activism, religion” are removed and the largest flower pattern is revealed, the narration stating that even though the various institutional modalities themselves are not precisely what Transcendental Politics is (because they exist independently), those aspects of their synthesis that are relevant to serving our shared humanity most effectively are distilled into the Flor de Luz. Then the next layer of petals is removed, and the next, and the narration continues, focusing on the distillation down to those essential ingredients that define Transcendental Politics, bringing the narration to a focus on precisely what Transcendental Politics IS, that quintessence at the center of this convergence of social and cultural evolution.

The animation can then grow back outward, with new petals labeled with new virtues distilled from other arrangements, both in sequence and in selection, of overarching institutions and modalities until a new completed Flor de Luz is constructed, the narration describing along the way how the petals of the concentric flowers, which in the other direction were derived from the larger overlapping petals, in this direction are emergent from the smaller ones (and ultimately from the center, from Transcendental Politics), illustrating how it inherits the cultural material of the past and helps create the cultural material of the future. The animation can then proceed to to a sliding around of the overarching circles, with the petals formed by their new overlaps changing accordingly, and then to a changing of the overarching institutions and modalities themselves, exploring some of the many different permutations of the Flor de Luz.

Now imagine a physical artifact, with five overlapping translucent plastic or glass colored circles in the form of the Flor de Luz, each rotatable around its center and able to switch positions by pivoting around the center circle containing the TPF logo and snapping into a new position. Each disk would contain perhaps three related social institutions or cognitive or emotional modalities that can be rotated into place, creating the possibility for 15 different arrangements without moving the relative positions of the disks, and some multiple of that by moving the relative positions of the disks. A complete set of disks can include far more than five, with the ability to switch out individual disks for others, removing all limits on how many arrangements can be explored. Of course doing so only suggests the combinations; the work of thinking about what that implies, what productive uses those combinations have, remains. But that work, too, can be cataloged and accumulated, in a kind of ongoing “social institutional genome project.”

(We can even create disks whose overarching categories are the finer ones produced by the confluence of other disks, and take their confluence into deeper, finer, and subtler levels.)

In an online version, that cumulative work can result in different combinations leading to different implied products of those combinations appearing in the various petals of the flower (much as they do in the graphic above). The physical artifact might accomplish the same through symbols visible in each petal in each rotational position of the disk, depending on which overarching principle is in effect, forming a sequence with the others, and then using a reference manual to interpret different sequences of symbols, the reference manual itself being a cumulative compendium of previous thought about the various possible combinations. Thus, this device could be used to explore different configurations of overlapping social institutional, cognitive, and emotional modalities, as a useful analytical and practical tool for thinking about how we can create different kinds of collaborative projects using those modalities in service to working our way toward the convergence in the center (Transcendental Politics).

(I can imagine turning it into a game as well, one that exercises the mind in certain ways that are aligned to what we are trying to cultivate, in which in each player’s turn they are challenged to take the set of social institutions and cognitive modalities they get from their “spin” of a Flor de Luz designed for that purpose and either create something from it following a set of rules and in pursuit of a defined goal, or build on what previous players have created. This is, obviously, not a fully fleshed out idea yet; just a glimpse of another possible use.)

What the Flor de Luz thus represents is that we have inherited an enormous quantity of social institutional, technological, cultural, cognitive, and emotional material, that is blended and can continue to be blended in complex ways, and that forms an evolving shared cognitive landscape of enormous complexity, subtlety, and power. It represents that we are not merely passive recipients of this material, but rather active participants in its ongoing formation, in how we combine and distill it, in what we derive from it, in how we employ it, in short, in what kind of world we choose to create together.

The Flor de Luz provides us with a relatively simple but elegant tool for thinking about this, for focusing our thoughts in productive ways. It reminds us of the possibilities, of how religious material and scientific material can combine beneficially, of the need to draw on reason and imagination and empathy all at once and not to pretend that anger and tribalism can (or should) just be wished away, of where our shared stories come from and what purposes they can serve. It reminds us of the fractal geometry of the anthrosphere, of how social institutional and cognitive and emotional materials are tributaries to larger streams; it helps us to reconstruct those tributaries and streams and rivers of possibilities in endless combinations. It is not a necessary tool; we can engage in the same contemplations without it. But it assists us in doing so more comprehensively and more precisely. Think of it as a social institutional kaleidoscope, with mechanisms for considering every set of combinations of every set of cognitive, emotional, and social institutional materials, and thinking about what those combinations imply, what challenges and possibilities they pose, what opportunities they present.

While potentially useful, it is certainly not a sufficient tool in and of itself; in the forthcoming book, “Transcendental Politics: A New Enlightenment,” I go into considerable detail exploring some small portion of the corpus of analytical and practical tools that are relevant to our endeavor. The need to continue to gather, produce, and synthesize them is perpetual. But the Flor de Luz is a reminder that at the core of all of that intellectual material and practitioner expertise are the lessons of our ongoing history, the convergence of a history of past experiments, and the cumulative products of human genius forming the foundation of present and future innovations. It is up to us to design those innovations to most effectively serve the ever fuller realization of our consciousness and of our shared humanity.

Our various personalities and affinities are reflected in which petals of which variations of the Flor de Luz resonate most with our own predispositions, talents, and desires; it becomes a way of locating ourselves in this shared endeavor of ours, of thinking about who our social institutional neighbors and natural partners are, of who we can reach out to to create new synergies in service to our shared humanity, to the greatest realization of our consciousness and our well-being, individually and collectively. It recognizes both diversity and coherence, facilitates both, draws upon both. The Flor de Luz is a way of thinking about our various roles in this shared story we are living and writing together, and how we can each individually and in cooperation with others, consciously and conscientiously, ensure that we are writing it and living it well.

To learn more about Transcendental Politics and The Transcendental Politics Foundation, visit our Facebook group, our Facebook page, or our website (still under construction).

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Mischievous imps blowing invisible darts that stoke human passions and spin them out of control, moving twigs a few inches across the forest floor providing links in conflagrations that would not otherwise occur, plucking the strings of nature to produce crescendos of catastrophe. Zen-mathematician wizards dancing in their ice spheres high in the Vaznal Mountains, solving ever-deepening riddles of sound and sight and sensation, weaving order from the chaos the Loci imps foment. Winged muses carving sensuous stories from the clouds and celebrating the lives of those from whose dreams and tribulations they were born.

A fiery giantess is held captive in a hollow mountain. A sea serpent’s breath inspires the priestess of an island oracle poised above a chasm beneath which it sleeps. City-states are at war; slaves, led by a charismatic general, are in uprising; dictators and warlords are vying for power; neighboring kingdoms and empires are strategically courting local clients in pursuit of regional hegemony or outright conquest. Human avarice has strained the natural context on which it thrives. And ordinary people in extraordinary times, caught within the vortex of the powers that both surround and comprise them, navigate those turbulent currents.

Follow the adventures of Algonion Goodbow, the magical archer; Sarena of Ashra, the young girl at the center of this epic tale; their friends and mentors, guides and adversaries, as they thread the needle of great events, and discover truths even more profound than the myths of legend and lore. Discover the truth of fiction and the fiction of truth; celebrate the fantastic and sublime, in this magical tale laden with rich echoes of world history and world mythology, informed by blossoms of human consciousness from Chaos Theory to Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts, from Richard Dawkin’s Meme Theory to Eastern Mysticism, enriched by the author’s own travels and adventures.

A prophesied Disruption is upon the land of Calambria, causing the Earth to quake and societies to crumble. The Loci imps are its agents, but, according to Sadache mythology, it is Chaos, one of the two Parents of the Universe, who is its ultimate author. As Chaos eternally strives to make the One Many, Cosmos, the other Parent of the Universe, strives to make the Many One. The Sadache people view themselves as the children of Cosmos, whom they worship, and the lowest rung of a hierarchy of conscious beings opposing Chaos and the Loci imps. Above them, both of them and apart from them, are the drahmidi priests of the Cult of Cosmos, founded by the hero and conqueror Ogaro centuries before. Above the drahmidi are the Vaznallam wizards, Cosmos’s agents, just as the Loci are Chaos’s.

As the Great Disruption begins to manifest itself, Sarena of Ashra, a peasant girl from a village on the outskirts of the city-state of Boalus, flees an unwanted marriage to an arrogant lord and in search of freedom and destiny. She meets a young vagabond on the road, coming from the seat of the ceremonial High Kingdom, Ogaropol, fleeing his own pursuers. Together they form an alliance that leads through adventures together and apart, and binds them into two halves of a single whole.

Swirling around them are the wars of would be dictators and cult-leaders, of neighboring empires and kingdoms; the adventures of young Champions engaged in the prophesied Contest by which the Redeemer would be chosen and the Realignment realized. But, in both different and similar ways, the culmination of centuries of history flows through these two people, Algonion and Sarena, on haphazard quests of their own. And both the past and the future are forever changed by their discoveries and deeds.

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In response to a Facebook post wondering at the uncritical commitment to Israel insisted upon by the American far-right, and their insistence that any wavering from that commitment is “anti-Semitic,” I wrote the following essay:

Being critical of Israel is not necessarily “anti-Semitic,” just as being critical of America is not necessarily “anti-American” (and, for that matter, being critical of any given religious order, movement, or individual, isn’t necessarily an affront to “God”). Israel and America are both nations, more like than unlike others despite the mythologies surrounding them.

Israel and America have had an important strategic relationship, confused and exaggerated by two religious communities that have become overzealously committed to America’s unflagging and unquestioning support of Israel, even to the point of to some extent ceding our own sovereignty to Israel. Those two groups are, of course, the American Jewish community, which has always been overwhelmingly blindly and fanatically pro-Israel (though not without many exceptions, Jews who are first and foremost humanists and are first and foremost concerned with our shared humanity), and,  now, conservative evangelicals, who have their own religious reasons for feeling a zealous commitment to Israel (having something to do with their interpretation of the requirements for the Rapture, as I understand it, rather than any sincere love of Israelis) combined with their own ultra-conservative, ultra-nationalist leanings.

Israel’s history and pre-history are also both critical threads in a complete understanding of the geopolitical landscape into which it has woven itself, and the moral implications of that choice. The one thing that isn’t relevant to anyone but Israelis themselves is their ancient, religious-based claim to the land: Every parcel of land on the face of the Earth has changed hands –far more often by violently imposed than by peacefully mutual means– many, many times over the ages, and the current legitimate claims of one racial/ethnic/religious group that had been in continuous possession of that parcel for about a thousand years prior to the Israeli colonization and usurpation of that parcel had, up until that point, the far superior claim to legitimate rights over that parcel.

So, one thread in the tapestry to understand is the very legitimate grievance of the Palestinians, whose currently and extant ancestral land was colonized by a group of Europeans who decided to call it their own and create a state explicitly dedicated to their own culture and religion on it, instantly reducing the pre-existing inhabitants to the status of second-class citizens. Another thread of the tapestry is the recognition of the strong and compelling push factors that induced that European population to do so, though the legitimacy of those push factors (i.e., a history of violent oppression, culminating in the Holocaust), as horrific and empathy-inducing as they may be, can’t justify colonizing and oppressing another, unrelated, foreign people. (That injustice experienced by the Palestinians, however, does not justify and excuse their own atrocities committed since the establishment of the state of Israel, a lesson to those who forget their humanity in the midst of their commitment to other abstractions.)

But another fact of our geopolitical history is that it is a story of borders drawn and redrawn, populations placed and displaced, by endless series of combinations of militant initiative and gross injustices, so that once some new formation becomes a fait accompli, the injustice of its formation becomes less relevant than the reality of its existence.  No modern nation on Earth can claim not to trace its roots to the military conquest of other peoples and the drawing of lines in the sand based on that conquest (if there are a few tribes scattered about the world, who still have some identity of themselves as a nation, who never occupied land they took from others, they are an exception to the rule defined more by the circumstances they encountered than by some idealized superior moral quality of their own). For that reason, Israel’s right to exist should not be brought into question; the Israelis aren’t going anywhere, and any agenda that insists they do at this point can only become a source of gross inhumanity.

Finally, there is the issue of the Israeli-American relationship and their combined and separate relationships with the rest of the Middle East and the rest of the world. America quickly recognized Israel’s right to exist, in part to avoid having to absorb millions of European Jewish refugees in the wake of World War II, in part due to the presence of large numbers of Jews in America who strongly favored supporting Israel, in part due to a sense of the inhumanity that had been inflicted on the Jews in the chapter of world history just preceding the establishment of the state of Israel and some generalized debt of humanity to them that that chapter incurred, and, undoubtedly, in part due to recognition of the strategic value of such an alliance. And America quickly formed a strategic partnership with Israel, becoming Israel’s staunchest and invaluable military and economic supporter in return for having a country-sized base of operations and proxy agent in a region of the Earth very much at the vortex of historical geopolitical struggle and conveniently located near the Eastern Communist Block.

This meant that the hatred of the Arab world toward Israel for colonizing and usurping what had been an Arab country became generalized to the United States as well, and, in some ways, raised to a higher pitch against the United States, whose superior wealth and power and secularity all piqued the jealousies and religious animosities of many in that region of the world. America, the rich, secular, militant supporter of the small power that had ensconced itself on previously Arab land, easily became “The Great Satan” in the popular Arab mind (and, yes, the animosity toward America in the Arab world, while far from universal, is very wide-spread).

Our unfailing support of Israel’s own sometimes overly aggressive reactions to their own perceived insecurity has not helped this modern historical animosity between America and the  Arab world. All of this combined with our support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, in order to use them as proxies to repel the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s, and our choice to leave abruptly once that was accomplished, leaving a tribally-contested power vacuum and a whole lot of very deadly state-of-the-art military hardware and weaponry. As a result of that latter choice, a very bloody civil war ensued in Afghanistan, for whose intensity we were in part correctly blamed, resulting in the establishment of the Taliban, who hated us for all of these reasons involving our relationship with Israel; our secularism, wealth and power; and the deadly and bloody ruin we had set their country up for.

So our support of Israel has come at a high price, a high price that we should have been glad to pay if that relationship really were as morally perfect as some pretend it is. In reality, we incurred the enmity of the Arab world in part by taking a very strong side in a complex regional relationship that required more of an honest broker from what is in fact the global hegemon (The U.S.). (The extent that we failed to be an honest broker can also be exaggerated; our shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East has often played a very valuable role in resolving conflicts there, and forging new alliance where enmity had existed, such as between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan.) This is a difficult error to correct at this point, but one which we should strive to correct by taking a harder line with Israel, not rescinding our alliance, but insisting on more restraint, accountability, and accommodation from those often wayward allies of ours.

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(This essay is an elaboration of Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems).

Imagine that I offered each person in a group the following deal: You can agree to give me $30, and in return I’ll give $10 to each and every person in the group, including you. I’ll give the $10 to everyone, whether they paid $30 or not, for each person that does pay $30.

Each person is faced with an offer to pay $30 dollars in return for, to him or her individually, $10, a bad deal for that individual (a loss of $20). But since everyone else in the group also each gets $10, for any group with a membership of more than three people, it is a bigger return to the group than cost to the group. If there are 10 people in the group, and everyone makes the deal, they each pay $30 and each get $100 in return, for a net gain of $70. However, if one doesn’t pay, he or she gets $90 outright (9 people taking the deal times $10 to each person in the group) while each of the others only get a net gain of $60 ($90 minus the $30 paid in). The individual incentive is not to pay in, even though everyone is better off the more people who do, with everyone coming out ahead if 3 or more people pay in. Those who don’t pay in, however, always do better than those who do (the “free rider problem”).

This dynamic is a major underlying force in the generation of social institutions, which to a large degree exist to overcome this collective action problem. There are many scenarios woven throughout our collective existence in which people benefit from some form of cooperation (even those forms that establish the rules for competition, such as the enforcement of property rights in service to the functioning of markets), but are tempted by individual incentives to cheat or fail to act cooperatively. Our laws, our contracts, our governments, our social norms, our ideologies, all are laden with mechanisms that have evolved with the purpose of creating mutual commitment mechanisms, enforced either externally by social institutions or internally to one’s own psychological make-up. Combined, they form social institutional technologies which are robust sets of memes self-replicating and spreading throughout our shared cognitive landscape (see the essays linked to in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts).

It has always been a dynamic at the heart of intertribal and international relations, in which sovereign societies must strategically interact in a world with limited international legal enforcement mechanisms. With increasing political, economic and cultural globalization, and information, communication and transportation technologies make the world ever smaller and more tightly integrated, examining these dynamics is one critical component of understanding the shared geopolitical landscape in which we live.

“The War of the Woods”:

Imagine that long ago, two countries, Apestonia and Pulgalandia, had a forest on their border. Both countries desperately needed the wood in the forest, because it was both their primary building material and their fuel. Each country was faced with the choice of either dividing the forest evenly, or attacking the other and trying to get more of the forest for themself.

There are 1000 acres of forest between the two countries. If the two countries agree to draw their border right through the middle of it, they can each have 500 acres of forest, which they both desperately need.

But if one attacks quickly while the other one is planning on sharing the forest evenly (and so isn’t prepared for war), the one that attacks will capture 700 acres of the forest, 300 acres will be burnt or destroyed during the fighting, and the other will get zero acres. Since they are militarily evenly matched, if they both attack each other at the same time, 400 acres of forest will be destroyed in the fighting, and they’ll each end up with 300 acres of forest.

Here’s a table that summarizes these choices and outcomes:

Pulgalandia Apestonia Cooperate(don’t attack) Don’t Cooperate(attack) Cooperate

(don’t attack) Apestonia: 500 Acres

Pulgalandia: 500 Acres Apestonia: 0 Acres

Pulgalandia: 700 Acres Don’t Cooperate

(attack) Apestonia: 700 Acres

Pulgalandia: 0 Acres Apestonia: 300 Acres

Pulgalandia: 300 Acres

Each country faces the following logic: “We don’t know what the other country will do. If they decide to cooperate (not attack first), we will get 500 acres if we also cooperate, but 700 acres if we don’t (if we attack unprovoked). Therefore, if they cooperate, we are better off not cooperating (attacking). If they decide not to cooperate (to attack), then we will get zero acres if we cooperate (don’t attack), but 300 acres if we don’t (if we attack). Therefore, no matter what the other country does, we are better off attacking.”

However, if both countries follow that logic, they each end up with 300 acres, though if they had cooperated and split the forest, they would have each ended up with 500 acres. So, while each country has an incentive to attack, if they can find a way to commit one another to cooperation, they both benefit.

So, even though they have a conflict over the forest, they have a shared interest in finding a way to commit one another to cooperating for mutual benefit. This is often the case, with war being costly in blood and treasure, and peaceful coexistence (and even mutually beneficial exchange) being far more conducive to general prosperity.

Historically, real tribes and countries have faced this challenge. Some have said, “Okay, let’s agree to cooperate, and to make sure no one cheats, we’ll exchange hostages.” And then each country would send an important member of their own society (often the ruler’s daughter to be raised by the other ruler as his or her own) to go live with the other society, so that if either cheats, that hostage can be killed in retaliation. Later, countries sent the children of royalty to marry the children of royalty in other countries, sort of as “permanent hostages,” but also to bind the countries together so that they can act more cooperatively.

In the modern world, we’ve developed a much more elaborate system of international diplomacy, with embassies in each other’s countries, and treaties, and international organizations (like the United Nations). The European Union, whose roots go back to post-WWII efforts to create economic ties that would diminish the chances of resumed warfare, is perhaps the most advanced example of emerging international political economic consolidation

Not just internationally, but within nations, overcoming this collective action problem is a big part of why we’ve created many of the social institutions we’ve created. Our Constitution, our laws, even our religions, have developed in many ways to help make it easier for people to commit one another to mutually beneficial actions even when they have individual incentives to cheat or act in non-cooperative ways.

With modern technologies, modern weapons (such as nuclear weapons), modern transportation and communication technologies, an increasingly global economy, increasingly global environmental and natural resource issues, all nations in the world face many collective action problems. Our increasing political globalization is a complex tapestry of conflict and cooperation woven within this underlying logic.

So far, we’ve assumed that the countries were equally matched, and looked at the cost-benefit analysis of each when considering whether to attack the other or to live in peace. But what if they weren’t evenly matched? What if one was militarily stronger than the other? How would that change things?

If Apestonia were more powerful than Pulgalandia, then Apestonia would capture more forest than Pulgalandia would if the two went to war. If Apestonia were to attack first, perhaps it would capture the whole forest against the weaker Pulgalandia, losing only a small portion (let’s say a tenth) in battle. This outcome can be seen in the lower-left square of the two-by-two table, in which Apestonia attacks first and captures 900 acres, while Pulgalandia ends up with zero.

Conversely, if Pulgalandia attacks first, it will gain the advantage of surprise, but will still be facing a superior force, and might manage to capture and control 300 acres against Apestonia’s 500, 200 being lost to the destruction of war. This outcome is summarized in the upper-right square.

Pulgalandia Apestonia Cooperate(don’t attack) Don’t Cooperate (attack) Cooperate

(don’t attack) Apestonia: 800 Acres

Pulgalandia: 200 Acres Apestonia: 500 Acres

Pulgalandia: 300 Acres Don’t Cooperate

(attack) Apestonia: 900 Acres

Pulgalandia: 0 Acres Apestonia: 600 Acres

Pulgalandia: 100 Acres

If they both attack each other at the same time, more forest will be lost to the destruction of battle, and neither will have the benefit of surprise, but Apestonia will still come out ahead. This is reflected in the lower-right square.

Because of the difference in power, when they negotiate a peace in which neither attacks, Apestonia can demand more of the forest than Pulgalandia. This is reflected in the upper-left square.

The logic that the two countries face is still similar to the logic that they faced when equally powerful. Neither knows what the other will do. Apestonia says to itself, “If Pulgalandia cooperates (doesn’t attack), we can get 800 acres for also cooperating (not attacking), or 900 acres for attacking. If Pulgalandia doesn’t attack, we are better off attacking. If Pulgalandia does attack, we can get 500 acres for not attacking first (only reacting to their attack), and 600 for attacking first, so, again, we are better off attacking. No matter what Pulgalandia does, we’re better off attacking.

Similarly, Pulgalandia is better off attacking no matter what Apestonia do. They say to themselves, “If Apestonia doesn’t attack first, we get 200 acres for also not attacking, but 300 for attacking, and if Apestonia does attack first, we get zero acres for not having attacked at the same time but 100 acres for having attacked at the same time. Either way, we’re better off attacking.”

But they both know this, and both know that they’d be better off not attacking one another. So, just as before, they need to invest in some way of committing one another to cooperation.

But the pay-offs can look different as well. It may be that, while the weaker Pulgalandia has incentives to attack no matter what the stronger Apestonia does, Apestonia gets a stronger benefit from cooperation. In the chart below, Pulgalandia still is better off attacking no matter what Apestonia does, and Apestonia, knowing that, knows it has to attack to get 550 rather than 500 acres. This is reflected in the table below:

Pulgalandia Apestonia Cooperate(don’t attack) Don’t Cooperate (attack) Cooperate

(don’t attack) Apestonia: 800 Acres

Pulgalandia: 200 Acres Apestonia: 500 Acres

Pulgalandia: 250 Acres Don’t Cooperate

(attack) Apestonia: 650 Acres

Pulgalandia: 100 Acres Apestonia: 550 Acres

Pulgalandia: 200 Acres

But the most Pulgalandia can possibly get is 250 acres, if they attack before Apestonia does. Apestonia can just say, “look, we’ll give you 300 acres, 50 more than you can possibly get by attacking us. We’ll keep 700, which is more than we can get in any other way. If you attack, even while we are planning on cooperating with you, you lose 50 acres. You have no reason to attack, and we’re both better off than we can otherwise be.”

This is reflected in the table below, in which neither country has any incentive to do anything other than cooperate:

Pulgalandia Apestonia Cooperate(don’t attack) Don’t Cooperate (attack) Cooperate

(don’t attack) Apestonia: 700 Acres

Pulgalandia: 300 Acres Apestonia: 500 Acres

Pulgalandia: 250 Acres Don’t Cooperate

(attack) Apestonia: 650 Acres

Pulgalandia: 100 Acres Apestonia: 550 Acres

Pulgalandia: 200 Acres

This is an illustration of how power is exercised among nations (or factions within a nation), even without having to exert any military force at all to do it. Nations know their relative power to one another, and when they negotiate treaties and deals they negotiate agreements that favor the more powerful. When the United States was formed, the more powerful (populous) states made sure that their power was reflected in the new government (by having representatives in Congress proportional to their population). When the United Nations charter was drafted, the most powerful nations insisted on forming a “security council,” that had far more power over the organization than other nations did.

Weak nations sometimes have the power of threatening to create problems for stronger nations, and thus get concessions to keep them calm. But nations also sometimes have leaders or governments that cease to act rationally, like the current government of North Korea seems to not be acting rationally.

Of course, if, in the end, the United States, worried about an irrational nuclear armed North Korea, gives them large amounts of aid to keep them from causing problems, then it will have turned out that North Korea’s “craziness” was pretty smart after all…. Strategies that “trump” rational considerations can be very rational strategies, including various ways of binding oneself to a limited range of options in order to increase one’s own bargaining power, or behaving in ways which make an opponent question one’s rationality in order to make them more accommodating for fear of erratic responses.

The scenarios presented above are highly simplified, leaving out many factors, such as uncertainty (real actors in such situations don’t know what the exact outcomes of various combinations of choices will be), more complexity in available options (not just binary choices), more interacting actors (not just two), more conflated issues being bargained over (not just a single resource), more costs and benefits to be considered (not just the amount of that single resource gained or lost), factional conflict across levels (different interest groups and political parties vying for different outcomes due to differing material interests and political ideological orientations), less centralized decision-making (not a single ruler making unlimited autocratic decisions, but rather in various ways collective decision-making processes impinging on the negotiations between actors constituted in that way), and various intrusions of emotional and irrational considerations, that even rational actors have to take into account.

But the complexity of the real world does not mean that abstraction from it is not a helpful tool in understanding underlying dynamics. Rather, it is a way of isolating individual dimensions of those underlying dynamics, gradually adding in enough of the complexity to begin to capture a deeper and subtler understanding of how our social institutional landscape really functions.

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Profound lessons come from unexpected quarters. The military, throughout history, has always been a paradoxical social institution, the nexus of the most profound social solidarity but the vehicle of our most violent conflicts; the organization of our basest nature, but the cultivator of our noblest attributes; the realm of brutal action, but the narrative of transcendental philosophies (especially in Eastern philosophies and religions). Therefore, it is appropriate that the most poignant piece of writing I’ve encountered in recent times was an op-ed in today’s Denver Post, describing the ordeal of informing a fallen soldier’s family of the loss of their loved one (http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_16653516).

While the author, Captain Michael Odgers, subtly imports some of the ideological glorification of war that sacrifice facilitates, it is only on the margins of his beautifully written and deeply felt piece. The thrust of the narrative is one of compassion, of feeling the pain of others and taking it on as your own, of knowing that their suffering is our shared burden. I’ve written often that this should form the cornerstone of our national ideology (see, e.g., Our Brothers’ and Sisters’ Keepers). How ironic that the most eloquent expression of the argument should come from the institution that is arguably most biased against it in other spheres of life.

Is the parent’s, the spouse”s, the child’s pain at the loss of their son or daughter, their husband or wife, their mother or father, any less when it occurs in other contexts? Is the compassion that Captain Odgers describes any less appropriate, any less essential, any less necessary to the definition of what it means to be a society?

Not all deaths, even in service to country, occur on the battlefield. Not only do police officers and fire fighters and other rescue workers die in the line of duty, but so do social workers, construction workers, miners, and others making their various contributions to our collective welfare.

But does, or should, our compassion require a down-payment? Must those who have suffered a loss be able to invoke some special claim before they merit our organized and institutionalized moral (and perhaps material) support? Leaving aside the fiscal issues of what we can and can’t afford for the moment, would it be so bad to be a society that cares so much for each and every member that we mobilize such instruments of compassion as Captain Odgers and Chaplain Andy whenever they experience such a loss, or whenver they experience such a need?

I do not deny that we live in a world of limited resources, and that all of our social policies have to be subjected to the cold reality of thorough cost-benefit analyses. But when we engage in those analyses, doesn’t it behoove us to include on the “benefits” side of the ledger the value of institutionalizing assistance for one another when we are in need? We can argue the subtleties within that context, the concerns about “perverse incentives” for instance, but there should be no doubt that what Captain Odgers and Chaplain Andy represent, the institutionalized but absolutely sincere compassion expressed on behalf of a larger society, is a good thing, and it would be just as good a thing in the broader context of a nation (or world) of mutually interdependent and caring human beings, expressing as much goodwill for one another as we possibly can, and making that a cornerstone of who and what we are.

Several developing events on the world stage point to the importance of cultivating and maintaining strong international diplomatic partnerships, built on mutual trust and cooperation.

North Korea, arguably the most militant rogue totalitarian state in the world, is building a nuclear reactor. Despite the blithe but information-deprived popular belief (in some right-wing quarters) to the contrary, bombing North Korea into oblivion would not solve the problem, because any military strike to put an end to North Korea’s nuclear program would create more, and more dangerous, global instability than it resolves, as well as entangle us in another materially and morally enervating military quagmire. However, improved American cooperation with China, for instance, would create more leverage, since China is an vital patron of North Korea.

American soldiers in Afghanistan are trying to convince Afghans that it is the Taliban, not the Americans, who are killing civilians. It’s an object lesson in what is sown by killing civilians (which we had done plenty of, and still do some of). In many wars, even within the morally exceptional context of military objectives, “it’s more important to avoid killing civilians than to succeed in killing the enemy,” as an ABC news correspondent put it. The battles we are fighting now on the international stage (nuclear non-proliferation and anti-terrorism, for instance) depend more on goodwill than on successfully implemented mass violence.

The START II treaty, which the Republican leadership is obstructing (in the form of Jon Kyl, almost certainly at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s direction; http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2010_11/026673.php), would provide the U.S. once again with the means to secure and verify Russian compliance with nuclear non-proliferation, after a year of a lapse in this cooperative regime due to the sunsetting of START I. Not ratifying it imposes only costs and no benefits, and undermines a gradually improving relationship with a still-militant Russia (which cooperated with the U.S. in Afghanistan, by allowing troops and materials to pass through Russian territory, for instance).

The Cholera outbreak in Haiti points to the humanitarian dimensions of international cooperation, or its absence. Many epidemics don’t respect national borders (e.g., Swine Flu and Avian Flu, harking back to the Global Flu epidemic in the immediate wake of World War II, which killed more people globally than the war did). In fact, the particularly virulent strain of Cholera that broke out in Haiti has now shown up in the United States.

Americans think in insular terms, but live in a world characterized by interdependence, both within our nation, and among nations. Throughout the 20th century, amidst the worst outbreaks of international violence, fledgling but promising seeds of global cooperation emerged, the first (The League of Nations) sabatoged by our isolationist Congress, and the second (The United Nations) sabatoged by our imperialistic tendencies. The United States is, without a doubt, still the world’s hegemon, still the locus of greater international political and military power than any other single nation. It’s time we took that responsibility seriously again.

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Jonathan Zimmerman, in his Los Angeles Times column reprinted in the Denver Post “Letting Atrocities Define Afghan War a Mistake” (http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_16544999), almost got it right: Atrocities are not dispositive. But they are relevant. It is our ability to divorce the relevance of war’s very real and abundant brutality from our case-by-case decisions whether to go to war or not that enables the overly blithe willingness to commit mass murder and impose massive suffering in service to political ends.

I think Zimmerman is right, though, that if a war must be fought, because avoiding it will lead to more suffering than prosecuting it, then its brutality, including the war crimes that will be committed by some on our own side, should be a part of the calculation, rather than proof of some irrefutable conclusion (Zimmerman errs by not acknowledging that such brutality should always be a part of the calculation, weighing heavily against the choice to go to war). The illegal brutalities committed by some of our soldiers in Afghanistan, like the brutalities committed by some of our soldiers in World War II (and accepted more readily by the military and the public), should be treated as the  crimes that they are. So Zimmerman’s point that using those war crimes as proof that it was an unjust war is disingenuous is correct. However, his conclusion that those war crimes have no bearing on the judgment of whether it is a just war or not is strikingly incorrect.

Our bias should be against war, against dropping explosives on civilians’ homes that rip children and babies, as well as their parents and grandparents, to shreds. The horrors unleashed, sanitized by our deliberations, largely scrubbed of concern for those we are killing, oblivious to the full scope of the violence and brutality unleashed, should always be a primary consideration. Instead, we ask ourselves only if we are willing to sacrifice the lives of our own military personnel, along with the material costs to ourselves, of going to war. We rarely ask ourselves “Is it worth killing tens of thousands of innocent people?”

I am not a pacifist, though I dearly wish that it were possible to be one, that the world were a rational enough place that pacifism could be a viable position. But, as Henry Kissinger (who I rarely quote) once said, pacifism is simply the surrender of the world to the most ruthless. And he was right. The British policy of Appeasement in World War II ended up contributing to far more suffering, to a far more brutal war, than a stronger military stance earlier on probably would have. Sometimes, you do have to stand up to brutal dictators. Sometimes, you do have to resort to “defensive” violence to prevent the often more extreme, and, perhaps, more unjust “offensive” violence that would occur in the absence of such military diligence. But it is a decision that should always ask, almost before and above all other questions: Is the need great enough to justify slaughtering tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children? Because that will always be a part of the very real cost of going to war.

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