Monday, February 19, 2007

Interests, Not Values: Empirical Data

In my recent debate, a point that I was taken to task by a number of people is the assertion that interests rather than values drive relationships between states.

Now, we have a 27-country poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and GlobeScan for the BBC World Service.

From the press release: "The global public believes that tensions between Islam and the West arise from conflicts over political power and interests and not from differences of religion and culture, according to a BBC World Service poll across 27 countries.
While three in ten (29%) believe religious or cultural differences are the cause of tensions, a slight majority (52%) say tensions are due to conflicting interests." (Emphasis mine)

The poll can be found at

well, that's nothing new, conflicting interests are the reason for initiation of tensions but values/culture/religion/ethnic background are very influential on the way we assess and discern interests. Apart from that "values" are fundamental psychological forces provoking and facilitating the escalation of conflicting interests.
As the social constructivist Alexander Wendt put it:"... there is a sense in which Soviet and American ideas about the Cold War WERE the Cold War."

In other words interests or conflicting interests are fundamental but the outcome, (acceptance and settlement, tension or escalation) concerning the "process" of "interaction" of interests/ conflicting interests is determined by ideas, "values"...

To split up the complex correlations involved in international, inter-religious, inter-ethnic processes and emphasize constraining interests is not a solution to anything. It leads to a misleading, incomplete structural analysis. Our "values" are a major factor regarding our understanding of interests. For example, a suicide-bomber's interest is to blow himself and some non-believers up and go to paradise,...this a very extreme example but it shows how much influence "values" can have even if we try to apply them on international level...
I think this talk about values is overblown. It is all very subjective and in the eye of the beholder. US says how terrible is the suicide bomber but has no problem using depleted uranium pellets. Fuel air bombs which cook victims are legitimate weapons of war but mines aren't. And so on.

Would we feel better if we supplied precision guiding munitions and smart bombs to Palestinians so they wouldn't have to use humans?
Successful Diplomacy can best be describe as the meeting or creation of mutual self-interest. Sounds oxymoronic but none the less true.
All this lofty chatter belies, or purposely ignores the factbasedrealities that truly divides all humans, that are exclusively economic in nature.

The haves, the superrich, the tyrant kings and connected royals, and thier ministers flying around the world first class, enjoying luxurious accomodations in Five Star Hotels, and engorgin themselves on gourmet meals and delicacies day and night obdurately debating the why's, how's, what for's and what to do's know absolutely nothing of the other 99% of the human population's grievous suffering, pervasive anxiety, penetrating despair and utter hopelessness.

Try eating crackers, McDonalds, insects, rice, of fasting for a few days if you dare. Then imagine or actually try to live in a room, in a treacherous neigborhood with no, or inadequate electricity, or no, or inadequate sewage, or water, for one day. Then walk every where you must go, or rely on what passes for mass transportation in any city you care imagine for one day - and get back to me.

Then imagine you have no dental insurance or access to health care, or decent employment opportunities, or access to education, or the most basic human rights or dignity and then - maybe, - I would begin to respect, afford any credibility to this ridiculous gibberish pretending to understand what divides one human being from another.

I have some bad news for you realists, - you are wildly detached and either purposefully, or ignorantly misinformed.

So long as your obdurate, heartless, elitist, corporatist, imperialist, colonialist, fascist, biggoted ignorance and woeful disdain for the rest of your fellow human beings pervades your thinking and you impotent policies - none of you will ever know why human beings fall so easily to one or another of the many deceptions or pathologies that pervert the hearts and minds of desparate human beings for any semblance of hope, or the slightest link or attachment to empowerment.

So long as the powerless, are ruthlessly ignored and/or abused by the rich and powerful, - this world will remain a turbulant cauldron of seething boiling hatred, division, demarcation, and hopelessness working, wanting, and waiting to explode.

Push enough people down, long and hard enough, - and the inevitable combustable result will be a volcanic eruption of resistance, reaction, and a violent explosion of forces demanding forcing release and some equalibrium.

The pendulum has swung far too far to the right, to exceedingly extreme to the exclusive benefit of the exceeedingly few have's, less than 1% of the earths population, - that the entire system, the network of human interaction, and the machine that is civilized humanity is vibrating wildly and violently, stressing the limits of structural stability, and threatening to explode in a cataclysmic eruption of violence, bloodletting, and disintergration that will threaten the future of all organic life on earth.

These are the vectors and the trajectories our fascist leaders are are carving, and inevitable the unholy unknown, unknown ends are quite predictable and ghastly.

We're doomed.

The tensions dividing humanity are a direct proportional result of the rich robbing, raping, abusing, and enslaving the poor, - and until these trends are altered in the most minor degree's, our future is doomed to one of voilence, upheaval, and cataclysmic destruction.

"Deliver us from evil!"

Aha, but to some degree that's the world we live in and the recognition of just that world is what realism is about. Realists
accept reality and reality is complex. In contrast to realism, which when applied at least enables maintenance of the status quo, normative thought of all kind proved to be inadequate in dealing with the complexity of reality, since most of normative thought overemphasized some societal issues and ignored others, e.g. the Marxist reduction of society to economic constraints and relationships, or social class. In addition normative thought is responsible for a whole lot of societal tragedies. Although realism comes with a certain lack of moral principles, in the end a realistic account of societal processes and a realistic approach to societal struggles averts disaster (which is only true if you do not feel humanity is a disaster itself,...???).

This brings me back to Wendt, we live in an anarchic world and social constructivism is as far normative as we should go, all we need to understand is that ideas can to some degree transform structure, but diversity, inequality and unpredictability will always remain a part of societal reality, just like violent and ruthless competition. Though we can transform the acceptance of supposable necessity of violent competition within society into relative nonacceptance and try to limit the realization of violent competition, we will never be able to eliminate violent competition. My point is: realism with a touch of social constructivism enables us to exercise damage control, at least. Once again, I said normative thought is dangerous,...egalitarian wishful thinking just as "spreading democracy". We should therefore analyze world affairs in consideration of the "balance of power" (or balance of interests)and the "balance of ideas/ideology" (or balance of "values"), whereas maintaining "the balance" with a considerable collective effort to avoid violent competition being the only thing we should be normative about.

The "factbasedreality" is: the unknown remains unknown.

Throughout history we were supposed to be doomed many times, but we are still here, aren't we?

The hardest thing about realism is defining reality and interpreting reality adequately by giving a balanced account of it(as far as our mind enables us to), plain pessimism is something different.
Tony Foresta:

Don't lump all realists together as being Kissinger. Lieven's developmental realism and Etzioni's security first paradigm start from the scenario you outlined.
One thousand thanks for your erudite definition of "realist" thinking and constructs D.Dimitrov, Hamburg, Germany said.

I would liken myself a "realist" believe it or not, and do not hold to any delusions or dim hopes for utopian solutions, or Marxist reductionsim, or normative thought as applied to realword factbasedrealities and societies.

As you say, reality is exceedingly complex, and the "factbasedreality is that unknowns remain unknown.

Further, the complex often seemingly chaotic interpenetration human relations involving religion, economics, culture, class, gender, sexual persuasion, politics, national identity, and even sociology, psychology, philosophy, and the inevitable unknown unknowns or the impoderables render any blanket solutions, or universal elixers, or remedies a virtual impossibility.

Realists can only best manage the wild and complex interactions.

My point is that in that realistic approach to best managing these complex issues, - from my perspective - redressing economics and most particularly the increasing often ruthless divide and entrenchment of the haves and havenots, is the most critical and important factor in easing the tension dividing human beings and nations.

I do not hold any belief in ultimate solutions, - but as a pedestrian and a human being, - I do hold the dim hope that leadership someday will work in ways to best manage these conflicts, crisis, and divisions.

Tragically now and especially here in the land of Oz, our socalled leadership are the actual problem, and offering no kind of real solutions. Our leaders now are rabidly, almost insanely increasing divisions, demarcations, threats, weapons, wars, and the astronomical divide between those who have and those who havenot.

These fascist predatory imperialst vectors and trajectories, combined with the wanton increase of ever more lethal and unholy weapons and technologies compells (as a realist) to at least consider the very real possibility of the kind of armeggedon, or doom all the prophets through out history have warned us about.

Humanity, and particularly America is moving in all the wrong directions.
I don't quite get the difference between values and interests. As usually referred to, interests are objective, while values are subjective. But aren't interests what states pursue? Don't they create what their interests are? The ultimate interest may be survival, but moral justification has always played a big role in foreign policy.
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