Is the US losing its face?

Dialogue with the Alter Ego on the US’s pivot to protectionism and “America first”

Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): In its various comments on the upcoming Trump presidency, Noah denkt™ has repeatedly expressed its hope that the closest advisors of the 45th  President of the United States (POTUS 45) will be able to steer him away from making the most outrageous mistakes and push him to do the right thing instead. Does Noah denkt™ still nourish this hope?

Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Not as much as we used to. In the course of the inauguration it has somewhat dawned on us that Messrs. Mattis, Kelly and Flynn probably don’t  understand the corrosive effect that protectionist trade policies can have on the strength of traditional military alliances.  It now seems to us as if they are compartimentalizing their new job as being strictly about military matters only. So they will probably be able to steer POTUS 45 in the right direction as far as NATO, Russia and Syria is concerned but they won’t stop him from causing an endless number of trade wars with erstwhile friends and foes alike. That is very troubling and very disappointing in deed.

AE: What is it exactly that gave you that negative intuition with respect to Sec. Mattis and others?

Nd:  Well, we suddenly realized that security and foreign relations experts especially of the conservative brand are traditionally strong in analyzing geopolitical power politics (Russia etc…) but that they have little if no interest for the implications of trade agreements and disagreements.  They tend to view this as an issue of secondary importance. So they fail to understand that the Trump pivot to protectionism is not just a disagreement on the price of chicken but a serious threat to the stability of our world order and thereby to the US itself.  Clearly, we should have realized this earlier. But it was so obvious to us that POTUS 45’s  rejection of a core US policy stand must lead to a huge international upheaval that we were unable to comprehend that the extent of this pivot is probably hard to grasp from the inside.

AE: Can you expand on this? What is so hard to understand from the inside in this?

Nd: If you are US patriot as Sec. Mattis certainly is, the plight of laid-off factory workers in Ohio is clearly closer to you than the consternation that Chinese leaders may feel over the US betraying its own earlier convictions.  It is simply harder for you to understand the Chinese point of view.

AE: What is that Chinese point of view?

AE: Well, think about how many US Presidents have gone visiting China lecturing it on the virtue of open societies, free trade and the values of the international community. Think about how long it has taken China to warm up to the idea of international trade to begin with, let alone to that of becoming a member of the World Trade Organization.  Now, that it has finally started to do that the US changes its own stance on free trade and the value of supranational, collective security arrangements. And it, the US that is, does so just because it has gotten a little more costly and inconvenient to stay true to its earlier missionary beliefs. Must that pivot by the US not be perceived by the Chinese as an American loss of face? How can the Chinese continue to view the US as a credible negotiating partner that stays true to her word if the current experience is that the US ditches its own high held convictions at the first inconvenience? And what does all this mean for the creditworthiness of the US? Don’t forget that China is the US’s biggest lender. Presumably, the Trump administration will want to expand on that when it goes to the markets in order to generate massive loans for a huge infrastructural spending that POTUS 45 has announced during his campaign.  How can China trust that it will in deed get its money back eventually if the US is now betraying its own word in a matter that supposedly was so fundamental to it? Continue reading

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Will the US under President Trump change the essence of its being?

Comment on the post-election gloom that had befallen us, first drafted on Dec. 6, 2016

Dear Reader,

You may have wondered why we have gone quiet on this site for such a long time. You did not hear from us when François Fillon won the Republican primary.  We did not comment on the all-time highs the Dow Jones reached not long ago.  And certainly you have not heart from us since Donald Trump won the US presidency on Nov. 8. In fact, it was the outcome of that particular election that had us go into a soul searching mode. Although we had flip-flopped on his candidacy during the campaign, first endorsing him then disavowing him, we cannot deny that the sheer misguidedness of his views on free trade as well as the xenophobic undertone of some of his rhetoric had us wonder whether we may have ever so slightly been an accomplice in creating a monster which you really, really do not want to see in the top job. Obviously, it is still very unclear where the Trump Presidency will actually be heading for. His pronouncements in the campaign were so light on substance that a moderate Trump is still just as much possible as is the out of control one.  In any case, one can only hope that the advisors who have his ears will be clever and adroitly enough to steer him into a reasonable direction.

On the free trade issue, however, it will not be dependent on his advisors whether Mr. Trump will be able to avoid making the worst protectionist mistakes. In our humble opinion, it will be the historical legacy of the US which will stop him from undermining let alone dismantling the WTO system and spirit. After all, it was the United States of America itself which fathered the World Trade Organisation rightly arguing that free trade will be instrumental to bring nations closer together, increase their understanding of each other and thereby contribute to the spread of universal values such as rule of law and world peace. Woodrow Wilson was the first to suggest a supranational approach to international relations. His League of Nations concept was the beginning of what later, after yet another devastating world war, became the United Nations, the Worldbank, the IMF and yes the WTO. Mr. Trump may be a great dealmaker but he certainly does not have the intellectual depth and analysis to understand the tectonic implications that come with undoing a cornerstone of US policy which has defined probably forever what the United States actually stands for. In other words, the unilateral and arbitrary undermining of WTO rules which the United States had earlier subjected itself to not just by law but also in spirit will not come to pass.  The consequences of this would be too preposterous that any such thing would indeed be allowed to happen by the wise men establishment in the US. In that respect, there is reason to hope that the financial markets will do to an out of control Mr. Trump what they are supposed to, i.e. force him into doing the right thing just as much as they earlier forced Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Hollande to give up their adolescent pipe-dreams of redistribution for budgetary responsibility.

Be that as it may, this still does not explain why we are back in action now. Well, the answer to that simply is that you have to do what you have to even if the latter seems quite futile meanwhile.

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How futile is the written word in the digital era?

Dialogue with the Alter Ego on the artistic challenge of contemporary writers

“Well, I said to Gambetti in front of the Hotel Hassler, if we are totally honest, the state of general stupidity is already so advanced that there is no going back on it. Ever since the invention of photography, that is, with the beginning of this brain annihilation process more than a hundred years ago, the intellectual capacity of the world’s population continues to decline. The photographic pictures, I said to Gambetti, have initiated this global process of stultification, and it has taken on a deadly speed for mankind at the moment when these photographic pictures became motion pictures. For decades now mankind is doing nothing else but stupidly watch these deadly photographic images and is paralyzed by them. At the turn of the millennium, mankind will have reached a point where thinking and reflection is effectively no longer possible, Gambetti and the process of disseminating stupidity, which has been set in motion by photography and has become a worldwide habit through the motion pictures, will be at its peak. In such a world, which is then dominated by stupidity, it will be quite impossible to exist, Gambetti, I said to him, standing at the open grave, and it would be good if we kill ourselves before this brain eradication process of the world is complete. (…) My advice to the thinking person can only be to kill yourself before the turn of the millennium, Gambetti, that is truly my conviction, I said to Gambetti, standing at the open grave.”

Excerpt from Thomas Bernhard: Extinction (Text reference: Thomas Bernhard, Auslöschung, Frankfurt/Germany, 1986, page 645f). Translation provided by Noah denkt™; original text in German see footnote*. In the excerpt it is the fictitious narrator Franz-Josef Murau who tells us about a conversation he had with his student Gambetti. You should note that “Extinction” was published before the internet became a household item in Europe.  Franz-Josef Murau, the fictitious narrator, by the way died in 1983 at the age of 49. It is unclear whether he died of a natural cause but we think he did.

Question by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Dear Alter Ego, we are wrestling again in with a question that we have already run by you occasionally but that needs reconsideration again. It’s about what we do. The question is this: What sense does it make for an unrecognized artist/poet/philosopher to add his voice to a market place that is already overwhelmed by an information, entertainment and analysis overkill as it is? Is it not true that there is only one way to demonstrate the superiority of your judgment at a time when people are frantically jockeying for attention which is to not participate in that attention game and then not crack up for doing so? Obviously, the latter isn’t an easy feat to accomplish. Jihadists, for instance, don’t manage to achieve this. Neither do Xenophobists, nor Femen activists, nor guerilla marketing practitioners. So isn’t it time to shut up and focus on our practical daily life instead? After all, we can still confide in the irresistible quality of our analysis to evidence itself in the many private interactions we have with members of the public on a regular basis.

Answer by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): Clearly, there is solid reasoning in this. But is it not also true that we need to come up with dialogues like these at least occasionally only to feel good about ourselves? Doesn’t our brain muscle require the regular exercise of concentration and focus that comes with the production of a literary piece? It seems to us that meditation, sports and run-of-the-mill human interaction can only take you so far in the process of sharpening your judgement and awareness. It also takes the precise pinning down that is implicit in the artistic act. And then the question arises: How can you motivate yourself to go through the pinning down process when you already know upfront that your final piece will end up in the trash can anyway?

Nd: Correct. And yet, honest to God, there isn’t that much to say anymore, is there? It’s simply gotten so absurd, so pathetic and so hysteric out there that it seems ridiculous to still validate this with our own bla bla bla.  Continue reading

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The Buddhist versus the Biblical versus the Existentialist versus the Bourgeois Business Model

Overview of the options for philosophical entrepreneurs

There can be no doubt that times are difficult. Inflation adjusted wages for average employees have been stagnant or even falling for decades. Many traditional industries (taxi drivers, hotel and store owners, journalists, etc.) face near-existential threats from digital competition. And public sector workers are exposed to the effects of inevitable government austerity. It is hence small wonder that more and more people, especially those in the humanities field, look for alternative business model build their lives on. For all you fellow comrades, Noah denkt™ would like to offer an overview of some of the major “Hail Mary” – business concepts that are out there. And let’s start with the most popular of all of them which is that of the Buddhist Monks.

A) Buddhist Monks

The business model of Buddhist monks rests on four pillars:

  • It exploits the market credibility of its founder who has undoubtedly made it into mankind’s universal canon of great minds.
  • Taking advantage of this fundamental achievement the monks’ business model is to offer books, seminars and advice with the expectation that such services will be compensated by its constituents through purchases and donations.
  • Most importantly however the monks’ business model is that of a mendicant. Strict rules apply as to how the monks can go about making themselves available for donations. Active solicitation of donations is prohibited And the dignity of the mendicant monks should be preserved at all times. (For more details on Vinaya, the monks’ code of conduct, see: Lay Guide to the Monks’ Rules, in: Buddhist studies; http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhistworld/layguide.htm). Nevertheless it is in the very nature of that practice that in extremis monks cannot shy away from exploiting their own specter of need and starvation in order to press home the need for voluntary donations by onlookers. In other words, there is an element of silent, probably even passive aggressive coercion in this mendicant business model.
  • Obviously, the monks work hard to minimize the need for putting on display the most dramatic consequences of their at times insufficient diet by exercising a very well administered frugality in the consumption of the goods that have been recovered in the marketplace.

Pros of this business model:

Contrary to most other business models, the Buddhist monk approach allows for enough processing time to actually get to the bottom of all things related to life and death and develop a balanced and independent judgment accordingly. A slight constraint to that independence of judgement may be found in the fact that as a Buddhist monk one tends to be a member of a monastery and is hence obliged to remain compatible with the general views in the monastery. As opposed to other religions however, Buddhism operates with only a negligible interest in metaphysical considerations. This makes Buddhist reasoning and practice extraordinary compatible with the basics of enlightened Western reasoning.

Cons of the business model:

Rightly so, an enlightened and post-modern audience rejects the notion of willingly subjecting itself to a silent and perhaps passive-aggressive coercion. Instead the Western philosophy of assertive communication encourages the public to proactively define and defend the legitimate limits of what it is willing to stomach. That approach basically rules out the starker aspects of the monks’ self-denigrating mendicant activities. In other words, the post-modern business model of Buddhist monks rests in large measure on the exploitation of its founder’s credibility (sale of books etc.). That obviously forces the monks to awe its potential donors even more by playing up and exaggerating the intrinsic holiness of the Buddhist wisdom. Being a Buddhist monk hence is not entirely void of having to oversell its product to a prospective clientele.     Continue reading

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The new UK Brexit cabinet looks good, – but for the sake of the world one can only hope it will fail

Observation on Theresa May’s new UK government

After the Brexit earthquake and the tumultuous days and weeks thereafter, Britain is trying to find a new normal in its domestic and foreign policy. Prime Minister David Cameron and his successful Chancellor George Osborne are out, while Theresa May, a lukewarm “Remain”-campaigner is in as new Prime Minister. Here is the line-up of the new British Brexit cabinet and what Noah denkt™ makes of it.  ….

(Please click here to see the table)

…. Continue reading

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Western Democracy 0 versus Asian Values 1

Observations a day after the British vote to leave the European Union

Usually you have to listen up when Britain takes decisions that are hard to comprehend for the rest of the European continent. Because the country has proven to be on the right sight of historical progress too many times in the past (Magna Charta, Golden Revolution, parliamentary system, privatization, football, tennis, rugby) that you can simply discard it when Britain takes a turn now that leaves most of us behind in a state of disbelief. Yet, this time it appears to us as if Britain’s vote to leave the European Union is so counter-intuitive to all historical wisdom that we find ourselves shell-shocked by the outcome of yesterday’s Brexit vote. Noah denkt™ had made a decision yesterday to not even follow the news coverage of the vote since we were quite confident that the British public would not want to vote against the recommendation of all its living Prime Ministers.  That it has done so all the same marks clearly a moment of historical proportions the implications of which can probably not be underestimated.

In our humbled opinion, it is likely not the British economy that we will be the hardest hit by yesterday’s vote. It clearly is the cohesion inside the European Union that will suffer most by the British exit.  What will happen to the EU from now on is hard to predict. But everything is in the cards now even an eventual disintegration of the project itself and a return to pre-World War I nationalism.

Obviously, it is easy to get ahead of oneself in the face of such a momentous decision.  Noah denkt™ therefore will make an effort to restrain itself and not to go doomsday all along.  So, for the time being shutting up is all we can do in this respect.

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Orlando, Magnanville, Birstall…. Out of the box-thinking is required to deal with the rising tide of lunacy and hate in our digital society

Observation a day after the killing of British MP Jo Cox

Yesterdays’s murder of British Labour MP Jo Cox has left us just as devastated as the mass shooting in Orlando and the killing of Jean-Baptiste Savaing and Jessica Schneider in Magnanville, France. There can be no denying that our Western societies are being faced with a rising tide of highly aggressive pathological behavior and hate. And yet governments are hard pressed to find adequate answers to quell that phenomenon. Under these circumstances it doesn’t take much to imagine that Asian leaders in the tradition of Dr. Mahattir Mohamad, Lee Kwan Yew or Li Peng are now sitting in their offices thinking to themselves that recent events in Orlando and elsewhere only confirm their long-held believe according to which Western values of freedom, democracy and equality ultimately won’t do the trick.

Nevertheless the final bell on Western values hasn’t tolled yet. So there is still room for Western society to adapt and reinvent itself in order to successfully address the challenges which a disintegrating digital society imposes on us. And obviously, that reinvention needs to start from a correct analysis of the true causes that lie behind the rising tide of pathologic aberrations. Continue reading

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How to avoid cracking up in the digital society!

Observation on the challenges of excessive down time

Man is an extremely complex creature: he usually acts in an unselfish manner for selfish reasons.

Mokokoma Mokhonoana : The Selfish Genie: A Satirical Essay on Altruism (see: http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/48079399-the-selfish-genie-a-satirical-essay-on-altruism)

 

Some people, especially but not only in the Baby Boomer bracket and beyond, ask themselves what it is that they can do to contribute to society. After all, this is not an easy question to answer. The number of people who are underemployed, unemployed or simply alone and left behind in this world is constantly increasing. Mature individualism makes community based activities ever less appealing. And frankly most social interaction tends to be of the wanting kind. So how do you cope with this situation? How do you continue to be a valuable member of society when that society seems to be more a virtual concept than a real thing?

Well, the most important contribution you can offer in this circumstances is to avoid cracking up (i.e. becoming a political or religious extremist, turn into an addict of whatever or simply end up in depression).  If you achieve that you have already accomplished more than a good number of your fellow citizens in similar situations manage to do.  And realizing this objective you will naturally turn yourself into a force for balance, peace and harmony in the few social interactions you continue to have. And that is an amazing social contribution, a true jewel, a very rare feat, not at all to be taken for granted.

So, how do you avoid “cracking up”? Continue reading

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US Voters tell pundits and analysts that any complacency about the future is dramatically mistaken

Comment on the US Primary after Sen. Cruz’s post-Indiana retreat

The results of the US presidential primaries in Indiana mark a watershed moment not only for US politics. For the first time in recent US history voters have rejected in dramatic fashion the TARP-like effort from the media and political establishment to rescue subject establishment from defeat in the GOP Primary. It is now effectively clear that Republican Party frontrunner Donald Trump will be the GOP candidate in the 2016 presidential election. And it is equally clear that Sen. Sanders will continue to mount a credible challenge to Mrs. Clinton’s frontrunner status despite all the odds that were stacked up against him from the get-go.

While there is no denying that voters are sending a powerful message of discontent, concern and frustration about the state of affairs in society and economy, financial experts and commentators go about their business in the same complacent manner as before. They generally continue to believe that more of the same, i.e. a little raising or lowering of interest rates here and some retooling of human capital there will be enough to meet the challenges which the digital age is imposing on us. Nothing could be further from the truth and voters are effectively telling us so. The sad reality is that nobody at this time has any meaningful proposal as to the scope, the content and the direction subject “retooling of human capital” will have to aim for in order to deal with the massive amount of people laid-off or being transferred to inferior low paying jobs in the course of the digital revolution. In fact, there is not even a national debate about this issue. So how can we possibly hope that business as usual will take care of this emergency if that emergency isn’t being sufficiently recognized as it is? Continue reading

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It is not the economy, stupid! It’s about Britannia!!

De-constructing what is at the heart of the British debate on EU membership

And here comes Hurst! He’s got…(Wolstenholme gets distracted by some of the crowd spilling onto the pitch) Some people are on the pitch! They think it’s all over! (Geoff Hurst scores to put England two goals ahead) It is now, it’s four!

Original TV Commentary in the dying minutes of the 1966 FIFA World Cup Final, Kenneth Wolstenholme, BBC  (source: Wikipedia)

 

On April 16 campaigning for Britain’s referendum on EU membership has officially started and we are now two months away from it. As it looks now, the in-campaigners will largely base their case on economic concerns claiming that a Brexit would entail considerable market access risks for British exporters which, in turn, could negatively affect the solidity of Britain’s economic recovery. There may be some minor merit to this argument but Noah denkt™ can’t help but feel uneasy about such reasoning. After all, it cannot be denied that countries like Switzerland or Norway face little or no negative repercussions from being outside of subject EU. Likewise, it should also be clear to the out-campaigners that no legal barrier nor border control will ultimately stop the migration flows that push people from the Southern hemisphere into the North. Both parties in this referendum debate should, hence, recognize that the heart of the matter which they are going to decide upon on June 23 is a psychological, cultural, and yes, emotional one. And that emotional conundrum can best be summed up as follows:  Will Britain have more inner strength, more international appeal and more cultural shine if it keeps itself a tad bit apart from the boring mingling of greyish equals in Brussels, or is it more likely to turn itself into a somewhat ignored oddity because of that peculiar retreat?

Obviously, nobody can say for sure whether this or that outcome will ultimate come true. However, there are some secondary, external guesstimates against which the probability of the various outcomes can be measured. Noah denkt™ would like to offer a few of these subset issues for your consideration. And perhaps we can do Mr. Johnson a favor by putting the Churchill perspective first.  Continue reading

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