I mostly agree with you, but for one thing. You imply that a college degree is necessary to understand a subject.

I don't know anybody who can afford college right now. I also don't know anyone who reads like I do either. I have degrees, but in fields completely unrelated to my current interests. And my current profession? Flower farmer.

I felt that towards the end of this piece you imply that one must be fully credentialed in x to speak on x. If that were the case, you exclude anybody with a voracious hunger to learn but a simultaneous inability to earn those credentials. Whether it's time, money, or the feeling that the credentials are a waste of time.

As I'm sure you know, the US is a privilege-ocracy. It is very possible for an industrial worker to be very knowledgeable on Russian history. Or a flower farmer to be very knowledgeable on American class struggle.

That being said I fully agree with the rest of your arguments. Just felt a bit defensive about how one determines "expert" level. It's like, when I learned Spanish, at one point I just said, "I am fluent." Nothing magical happened the day I labeled myself "fluent". I didn't get an award or a degree. But at that time in my life I felt it was a fair description of my capabilities in understanding/reading/speaking Spanish. Note, one of my degrees (B.A.) was in French. Yet I have no mastery whatsoever of French. But I am fully conversant in Spanish. Please remember that formal degrees are only achievable by those fortunate enough to pay for them.

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I didn't mean to imply that: thus my remark about people who left school at sixteen but still know what they are dong. For what it's worth I'm reluctant to pose as an "expert" on anything, just a bloke who knows a few things.

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Back in 1990s, when Paul Krugman was still a serious economist who had a gift for writing about economics to a general audience, he used to complain that people who don't have rigorous training in economics love to write about economic matters and in many cases writing nonsense. True, up to a point, although my recollection of what I studied in grad school is that I learned lot of stuff about inverting matrices and such but learned very little about how exactly "economy" worked--which I guess says less about whether non-economists know much about how the economy works, as much as people who have the "right credentials" really don't have much to say either about the "economy" (On the other hand, I could teach ppl quite a bit about linear algebra, at least back in the days when I was actually smart....)

Of course, in case of Krugman, things got quite a bit funnier a decade later when he began spouting nonsense about things he had no background in but plenty of opinions after becoming a columnist....

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Is there any field whose practitioners feel less self-conscious about barging in where their knowledge is inapplicable than economics?

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arguing with my cousin about the new new world order that appears to be taking shape over the last year and a half...took forever to get him past the idea that...say, China...if "allowed" to overtake USA will step right into the role of Global Hegemon.

because, of course,lol.

he admitted to zero knowledge of Chinese culture, history, philosophy...a whole other civilisation with 4 or 5 thousand years of continuity and depth...but they'll obviously try to become Us.

same deal with Russia...incomprehensible that Russia could want something besides Global Empire.

its a major blind spot in just about everyone i know in real life.

so for all our pretense of mastery, stuff will just happen to us...and we'll cast around for something to blame that fits within our tired old assumptions.

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Hm. Well, China did not become the vast area it is today by being gentle on the outlying provinces. It became a regional empire, did it not?

Empires tend to happen by the pressures of power, not by the decision of the main actors... although they too can make a difference.

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> Why do pundits feel qualified to offer opinions on matters of war and peace, where they would hesitate to be as dogmatic on the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon or the guitar solos of Mr Jerry Garcia?

That's the job of a pundit, isn't it? Let's be specific and take an example such as Max Boot. He's been doing it for years. He's a very consistent and predictable writer. His job is producing Max Boot-type verbiage for NYT, WSJ, Brookings, etc. These organs can rely on him when they need something. So it seems the question as to why he feels qualified to do it is both obvious and almost beside the point since it leads straight to the question, why do people pay him and all the rest to produce this stuff? The opinion game is big business but it's worth the expenditure because it's what enables even bigger businesses.

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We're missing an important question: How did it happen that the PMC's identifiable and narrow set of habits of thought uniformly took over most of Western public, private, and NGO management? Our estimable host has done a tremendous job characterizing this as a social and cultural phenomenon but I sometimes feel this obvious question is being ignored. How come the specific PMC culture Aurelien has documented defeated everything else including the post-imperial culture of service it displaced and that Aurelien often compares it with. The people and cultures in the countries involved are very diverse so the uniformity of PMC culture needs inquiry. Why so uniform? Why specifically this and not something else?

Iirc Aurelien once referred to neoliberalism as a conspiracy theory. I don't. I think David Harvey's account in his "Brief History of" book provides a theory that can yield an answer. Policy took a turn left in response to the great depression and stayed that way for 30-40 years. Then industrialists and bankers reasserted themselves with a comprehensive long-term plan to restore the rate of capital accumulation through influencing government policy and public opinion (see Harvey for receipts). This went into effect in the financial sector in the 70s and politicians emerged pushing suitable ideology in the 80s, starting dramatically with Thatcher and Reagan. The policies kicked off the trend of capital accumulation by dispossession (privatization, financialization, outsourcing, consulting, etc.) that continues to this day to concentrate capital and make it ever more convertible into social and political power (i.e. its legal freedom buy whatever it wants without accountability).

By this thinking the PMC can be crudely said to be the bureaucrat class of the transnational capitalist ruling class. They will deny it but that's a bit like NYT journos denying the Herman/Chomsky propaganda model. It has class interests and protects them including through membership enforcement with much public expression of pieties and aesthetics. And it doesn't take a lot more analysis to see how incompetence, lack of necessary skill, and failing upwards fit in.

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A lot of it is certainly down to money, in various ways. As I mentioned in the essay it's hard to find an institution in much of the world that isn't somehow financed by western money, directly or indirectly, and this has an impact on even the most independent minded expert. The, of course academics from Africa and the Middle East often have to go the West to find jobs, because there aren't enough where they come from. (There may not be any.) And the same applies to books, newspapers, internet sites and so on. Then there's envy and a feeling of inferiority: many non-western experts want to be valued and accepted, as well, perhaps as being disgusted with the governments and societies of their own countries.

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Your analysis would also explain how and why this version of the ruling class and PMC is interested only in internal politics and culture control, that their every policy position point of view revolves around the internal, how the external must be excluded, defined only as the enemy, and how this is merely the continuation of the narrow refugee mind set of those initial settlers

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Yes and that intersects nicely with something Aurelien wrote recently that our political class behaves more and more like The Party in a state with single-party rule. And it all ends up with homogeneous patterns of behavior in which nothing matters except kissing ass for career advancement and making your boss look good better than your peers. But since the boss and the boss's boss are no-talent-fakers too, kissing their respective superior asses, the outcome often ends up being a total pantomime of fake-it-till-you-make-it.

Now, here's the truly horrifying part. This also explains why France, Germany, Canada etc. snapped to attention at the start of the UA/NATO/RF war and saluted President Biden. It was clear to me and many others that France and Germany at least were going to pay dearly the the war's consequences on their countries economies and people so why were they so obedient? This question vexed me for a long time. The answer is simple: they feared for their jobs if they asserted any independence.

Now look again at the recent fiasco in which the Canadian Parliament honored Yaroslav Hunka in which the speaker of the commons introduced him saying that he fought the Russians in WW2. I cannot believe that everyone in the room failed to understand that Hunka therefore was a warrior for the enemy of Canada in WW2. And yet everyone in the room stood and applauded. Are they all abject idiots? Some, perhaps, but certainly not all. No. They stood and applauded because they were too scared to do otherwise.

Same thing with Europols and the war in UA.

It's really scary to think like this, isn't it?

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Fearing for one’s job used to be an unwelcome distinction of belonging to the working class, perhaps including the lowest elements of a ‘middle class’, and not the property of the ruling class, or of those servants they have installed to do their bidding

Although I’m not sure how the system you, and Aurelien, describe which contains such levels of resulting incompetence is tolerated as in any way useful – Debord had an explanation for this which convinced me at the time, I’ll have to re read

But otherwise – yes this class fealty over rides any lingering provincial notions of loyalty and belonging, efficiency and reason

The same is true in Africa – where the expression of any integral resistance is smothered by the same internationalist banalities which you describe, and which inhibit any expression of native thought - just start with football…..

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This is an important meta-analysis. I was particularly struck by, “Patterns of thinking and speaking about security —what Foucault famously called discourses—have been dominated since the nineteen-fifties by the competing political and intellectual forces that today make up the Western Security Complex, even among those who consider themselves bitterly anti-western.”

The Alt-Media Community does this a lot, and not just in seeing the perfidious hand of the Anglo-Americans in everything. What I see a lot is an expectation that other countries will act as the US acts; it likely results from the WSC thinking permeating to even blog commenters. Nor is it limited to “western” commenters. It’s a global phenomenon.

I don’t consider myself an expert on much of anything. I’m fascinated by international politics because of its complexity and variety. It wouldn’t be interesting if it could all be boiled down to a couple of discourses applicable to every situation.

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It is disheartening whenI have gone to places where non-western people live and see how much they are trying emulate the West. I had hoped to see people forging new ways of existing on this planet. I used to ask people there, would they follow a man walking over a cliff? They told me no, but I said that is what I see happening in your society, with its Coke, soap, and deodorant billboards, and Toyota showrooms. Why were they trying to copy the west and its extractive destruction of the natural world and its willingness to destroy anyone who stands in their way? Their answer was silence. I'd like to think they came up good responses after we parted.

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Thank you Aurelien🙏

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I think there is a much deeper dynamic at work. That knowledge, that collection of information by which we try to make sense of this world around us, is inherently centripetal. Not only for individuals and groups, but goes to the very dynamic that makes individuals and groups.

In a word, synchronization. Being on the same wavelength.

The problem is when we view our particular vision as sacrosanct and not just a useful point of focus.

And that goes to the most powerful concept in Western Civilization; God.

In the words of Pope John Paul 2, the all-knowing absolute.

Consider that democracy and republicanism originated in pantheistic cultures. The family and cycle of life as godhead. To the Ancients, monotheism equated with monoculture. One people, one rule, one god. The formative experience for Judaism was the 40 years isolated in the desert, giving the Old Testament the Ten Commandments.

Greek religion originated out of fertility rites. The new god born in the spring, of the old sky god and the earth mother. Though by the age of the Olympians, tradition prevailed over renewal and Zeus didn't give way to Dionysus. Which provided fertile ground for the story of Jesus, of royal blood, crucified and risen in the spring, to take root.

Yet by the time Rome adopted it as state religion, it too had become more about tradition. So the monotheism served a very useful conceptual function, as the Empire rose from the ashes of the Republic, to validate The Big Guy Rules. Divine right of kings.

The origin of the Trinity was obscured, as the Catholic Church became the Eternal Institution.

The problem is that logically, a spiritual absolute would be the essence of sentience, from which we rise, not an ideal of wisdom and judgement, from which we fell. More the light shining through the film, than the narratives played out on it.

So while it served a useful political function, it confused ideals with absolutes.

Truth, beauty, platonic forms are ideals. The village alter or totem is an ideal.

An absolute, on the other hand, brooks no distinctions, divisions, differences, etc. The only modern use of the term is absolute zero.

So when you assume your particular ideal, around which your creed revolves, like the eye of a storm, is absolute, than all others must be imposters. Rather than realizing there can be many nodes in the larger networks. Given the political implications and applications of this, it doesn't give us much grounds to see beyond our particular tribal affiliations.


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Slight edit to the now deleted comment: the interesting thing is that WSC include not only the people who think that the everything in the world is taking place because of them and those who imagine that the rest is somehow unified in the opposition to the West (and the latter imagine themselves to be not part of the WSC). From your description, it seems that you are including both of these groups in your definition of "WSC"

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I don’t know if he’s including them in the WSC so much as pointing out that the influence of the WSC is deep and global in how it affects thinking and analysis.

For example, I think the WSC is deeply frustrated by Putin (and even Xi) because he’s not playing by the rules that the WSC assumes to be universal. The anti-US alt media crowd always has loud calls for Putin to quit being a wimp and retaliate, because that’s the thinking of the WSC that is also very, very American in its outlook.

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Sep 27, 2023·edited Sep 27, 2023

"So in one form or another, the various competing lobbies within the WSC sit atop the very understanding of what security is. (As I used to tell students in Africa: So long as we can control your brains, we don’t need to control your countries.) And that is still the case, arguably more so now than it was then. Patterns of thinking and speaking about security —what Foucault famously called discourses—have been dominated since the nineteen-fifties by the competing political and intellectual forces that today make up the Western Security Complex, even among those who consider themselves bitterly anti-western."

Western soft power is seriously underrated, even as western hard power is shown to perhaps be not all that it was cracked up to be.

The average frustrated Bangladeshi minigarch wants to get his offspring into Oxford or Stanford, not some Chinese university. A Russian manufacturing baron with an art collection craves plaudits from western cultural institutions, not the kind that are based in Mombasa. Even if this Titan Of Industry collects African art, he still wants the kudos to come from London or New York. A Paraguayan tycoon wants to own a trophy property in London or New York, while a perfectly nice complex situated in Alma-Ata just doesn't have the same vavoom!

And of course, just try to convince a typical Mongolian that a Lada is really just as good as a Mercedes-Benz.

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You say that me and Ken Opalo have divergent views. Well, wait until you read my analysis of Russia-Africa summit.

SPOILER ALERT: Do not expect any of the russophobic trash that emanates from English-speaking African academics hooked on CNN and BBC narratives about Russia. But my article will have the usual nuances.

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With regard to the two writers you choose to make a point about the advantages of a local point of view in Africa- I think you underestimate the degree of penetration of the African middle class, ‘intelligentsia’, local and so called diaspora, by the prevailing ideologies or doctrines pandered by the US or the EU

Such ‘voices’ as get ‘heard’ in the EUUS are, naturally enough, those which format most closely along the commentariat in those areas : the two in question offer an ersatz mimeograph of US ruling class propaganda, salted with enough local detail to pass muster to a western audience, and may be sold as ‘alternative’, 'ethnic', 'genuine'

Moreover - if it is true that genuine in house resistance to common from out of Africa propaganda is rare, it is (partly, mainly) because EUUS scoop up, educate and retain many of that middle class which otherwise would be the natural instigators and leaders of revolt – those they choose to return (start the list with Kagame) function as implants

It is possible that a new generation, fresh from time in Russia or in China may offer a way out from the cul de sac

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Very interesting commentary. For another take on how MIC funded think tanks have made ‘liberal hegemony’ the only acceptable view for those seeking to make a career in the US foreign policy establishment see Stephen Walt’s The Hell of Good Intentions, Chapter 3.

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A good piece. As often.

It would be great to read some examples and illustrations of what the WSC misses. It would substantiate your thesis with tangible elements, which would be welcome.

A couple possible counters to the overall argument put forth:

1) it is somewhat hard to imagine what would constitue a non-WSC take, whether of the supporting kind or of the critical kind. This difficulty is presumably partly what you’re trying to point at, but it seems we should be able to point out at least a plausible non-WSC take on any given subject. If we cannot, can we really talk of ethnocentrism, rather than talk of the pervasive hegemony of the Western view today?

From the above, it seems you lament the lack of expertise, but on one hand isn’t that mostly due to the type of media we read - I’m sure books on Ukraine and West Africa will come out in due time, but it takes time - and on the other hand, even when the books do come out, there will still be disagreement along the lines you describe (aside maybe from fascinating but obscure ethnographic takes).

Thus, lack of expertise, while infuriating doesn’t really lead us all that much further in terms of explanation or action. The bottom line is that public opinion, rilpolitical and military strategy are ny formed in a rush, expertise is not, and even when it finally comes out, it relies on an inevitable set of assumptions that produce different outlooks.

The other thing is what makes something WSC if barriers are so low that anything and everything counts? Again, can we really point at a non-WSC take?

Are we just saying that pundits tend to be Westerners? That seems rather untenable if we want to hold on to ideas such as expertise, knowledge, etc. Plus, as you mention, the western view is so prevalent that it is basically inescapable even for non-western folks - even if we leave Fanon aside.

2) isn’t the fact that we can’t easily point at non-WSC views whether from experts, non-experts or even non-western folk a proof of the pervasiveness of Western hegemony? If so, is it not to be expected that this Western hegemony reassert itself constantly (until that hegemony is effectively challenged that is)? That is what hegemony is, is it not?

If that is the case, what are we really talking about when we complain about all this? And like you, I too complain about all this. But why? And why are we surprised? Are we ourselves also effectively taken in the short circuit of punditry?

And so to return to a relatively western trope, which nonetheless seems rather trivial here: will history not just unfold materially, with a change of the material situation, partially fought for and willed by some actors but also mostly unexpected by all?

i.e. shit will happen and even the experts don’t know what that is. But whatever happens, it will nevertheless depend on the position everyone takes on the matter (and no position is also a position in politics).

And if one must defend a position, then doesn’t it make sense to at least pretend we know what we’re talking about? Aren’t the pundits merely rationally responding to the human condition? A very Western-Kantian take I know...

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*it seems to me the military thrashing of the Japanese and Germans (but many others too) can only be really told in hindsight, where we can say that one party got reality ‘wrong’.

But that very reality was created by many many variables, including the ethnocentrism and expert saber-rattling.

No political struggle is determined from the outset, no one in fact knows the outcome ahead of time, that is why they/we go to battle, otherwise why act at all?

Further, Military experts have gotten it wrong as often as military ethnocentrists (with better supporting arguments though). And in political struggle, getting military expertise on board with one’s ethnocentrism is likely to draw the crowd and thus the troops and thus influence the outcome.

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I agree with your comments

I am not sure whether it is the author’s point that the WSC is a vicious circle, or that capitalism produces self justifying ignorance of anything exterior

Or whether he, simply, does not know enough about different cultures or ways of thought to offer the kind of compare and contrast you request

The war in the Ukraine is an illustration of this – as far as I know very little in the ‘West’ is known about, or is written about, the Russians- reasons motives attitudes culture- other than very basic propaganda : presumably this ignorance is wilful, is one reason why the war is being fought

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I've been fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time in different cultures, and in every case I have found that as time passed I realised how little I understood and how much there was to learn. I think that the compare and contrast exercise is very interesting, but also extremely difficult once you get past gross differences. That said, the beginning of wisdom is surely the recognition that everybody is NOT like us.

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I agree with that for sure. I just feel that on one hand, to understand that substantially we need to expose ourselves to these differences as well as provide examples of this 'otherness' as many times as possible because otherwise we do unfortunately tend to revert to a kind of egocentrism of some sort.

The first time I came across the obviousness of this exercise was in undergraduate experimental psychology unit: we'd be presented one experiment, and it would all be incredibly compelling and seemingly right, but then we'd be presented another experiment which seemed equally compelling and it'd be hard to decide. And this repetitively so. So as long as one hadn't been exposed to the second set, the first seemed generally 'right'. I feel like one can never do this enough times.

On the other hand, I find that otherness doesn't always lie elsewhere, it also lies within ourselves, both at the individual level and at the societal level.

For examples, a proclivity to progressivism or conservatism exists within ourselves, depending on the subject, and it exists within and across all societies. So it may sometimes be that I am in fact much closer to an 'Other' (different culture), than to my own on some topics (e.g. I feel closer to a progressive Muslim, than I do to a fundamentalist Christian or atheist). But I definitely agree that punditry dampens the obviousness of this. But when I look at punditry from a distance, minding looking less at the content, it seems relatively obvious that that is its very role. A kind of 'the medium is the message' conclusion.

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I agree – the first hurdle of difference is the collective: in whatever country still undefeated by the refugee mentality of the USEU the reality of the general, of the community, is …well I guess ‘our’ way of expression or mind frame has no language to grasp the collective, belonging is not an easy concept, still less act, for the stranger

(One reason those two writers who think to be taken as expressing a local point of view, the point being that a local point of view does not bear such expression, down here the word for such is ‘ les vendus’)

Perhaps - Writing is rejected as spurious, probably along the lines Plato gave : learning how to not write? otherwise, without recourse to the mystic, one can see how difficult it is to de learn, another of the hurdles, to shed the refugee life

One might say – become a Hindu, learn to plant rice, but then one would never hear from you again

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I have read a few Russian pieces, but they haven’t struck me as all that insightful.

Many of them are just the mirror image of Western propaganda, and some are more nuanced, just as what you seem to get on the Western side.

I’d love to get some kind of refined first person view account. I just haven’t come across them. But like Aurélien, I am pretty sure they exist and that it would be a good thing to have them a more visible.

It seems to me that is both the nature of war and the nature of the media during wartime.

For the time being, while I’m on board with the conceptual existence of these takes, I have seen none and cannot even come up with a plausible alternative take. And so I’m left with just acknowledging that that is the case, and that it must be so for a reason.

For now, leadership, money, public opinion, global geopolitics, local geopolitics, and so on will have to suffice in ‘explaining’ what is going on.

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I think that the answer must lie in some distinction between the westie style of expression and the 'other' , I can only think of the collective as opposed to the individual - and so the difficulty of comprehension

The reports published by Karl Sanchez on Substack are a revelation - these are official read outs and transcripts of Russian senior level speeches and meetings, many involving President Putin - the degree of collaboration, detail, the priorities and concerns addressed are quite different from anything in the West, the level of reason ditto : adults

It might even be possible to find similar for China and India -

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Thanks for a thought provoking piece. I still remember the feeling when I realised that while having lost of opinions on China and what the ccp should be doing, if someone would have asked me how one goes about running a country of a billion people my answer would have been very short: I have no idea.

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Possibly, one of the best recent examples of Western ethnocentrism was Josep Borrell and his garden vs jungle comparison. He didn't apologise and doubled down when many noticed his euro-centric "colonialism". Pathetic.

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