Mittwoch, 15. Januar 2014

Neorealism and neoliberalism: suicide as a geopolitical strategy.

Trying to find a reason why governments worldwide employed an obviously suicidal strategy, has boggled my mind for some time now. I think, I might have come up with, or stumbled over, an explanation that goes a little further than just “greed and stupidity”.

When pursuing geopolitical objectives, the most successful strategy since the beginning of industrial revolution has been realism (today succeeded by neorealism). It was the most successful, as it was employed by the dominant geopolitical powers in this world, USA, Russia and China.

In short, realism and neorealism as geopolitical strategies rest on the conviction, that any other nation is a potential or factual enemy. (For german readers, there is a very nice introduction to foreign relations, that compares the common strategies with peoples from the Lord of the Rings, link.).

All symmetric wars, and indeed all conflicts between nations since the beginning of industrialization, have been fundamentally decided by one side being able to outproduce the other. As a leader, neorealism therefore commands you to prepare your country to win any potential armed conflict with any other country, by building up economical muscle - pursuing GNP growth.

As in all wars industrial output has been the deciding factor and any other party knew that also, it was only logical to abandon armed conflict between equally developed nations with comparable GNP altogether, and replace it with economic competition (i.e. cold war, the conflict between western "free" capitalism and soviet state capitalism).

This kind of reasoning also suggests, that the “military-industrial-complex” is nothing else, than the implementation of the most successful strategies for achieving geopolitical dominance in the past. Neoliberalism and neorealism are both dominant strategies, meaning they are both strategies employed by the ruling elite (to serve its interest). They also share infinite growth as means to achieve their goals. Today, they have effectively melted into one dominant strategy, the neo-neo strategy.

Yes, what I am basically saying here is that capitalism is war and war is capitalism, there is virtually no distinction between economic competition and military conflict any more, not even if you count the bodies.

The long term (evolutionary) success of the neo-neo strategy is dependent on an infinite supply of ressources to stimulate infinite growth. Naturally it should be abandoned when ressources become scarce, or further growth endangers our planet and our survival.

But as resources diminish, diverging from the neo-neo strategy would mean, that any country will loose in any competition with other nations over resources that its people demand. For any democratic system abandoning this strategy is therefore almost impossible, because politically, long term thinking will not be supported by the electorate and the industry, if it means real short term losses!

It also implies, that securing resources for military upkeep and industrial production would be the only reason to enter military conflict. This is also only logical if a net benefit in total resources (for the winning side) is to be expected.

In this mindset it is impossible to find an amicable solution to global problems like global warming or diminishing resources. As Robert Axelrod showed (1), two parties with the neo-neo mindset, that are engaged in a prisoner's dilemma, or a chicken game, are locked into mutual distrust and are unable to change into a productive cooperative strategy. This is also called a “security dilemma”. We can see the outcome of this dilemma, and the strategies pursued in the 2013 climate summit.

Basically our leaders decided that we will all be driving down the cliff.

The chicken game, as made famous by James Dean

"Security dilemmas are not given by anarchy or nature" but, rather, are "a social structure composed of intersubjective understandings in which states are so distrustful that they make worst-case assumptions about each other's intentions". (2)

Even if you know, as a democratic leader, that this strategy will mean collapse for everybody, you will not be the first one to change from egoistic to cooperative strategy, because possibly there is no way back to egoism, and your country stands in danger to loosing its remaining ressources to other nations.

Secondary, on a personal level, any administration/party will be held responsible for any short term losses and would not be given enough credit for long term benefit, resulting in loss of political power and the rise of a party that would again employ the neo-neo strategy.

Basically, in this mindset, “caring for your people” and staying in power to do so, demands of you as a leader, that you hold course towards self-destruction, because you believe destruction by other parties is the alternative.

There is also another factor playing into this. Changes in the dominant strategy are not accepted by a body of people without pressure to do so. (This argument has been the content of my very first post in this blog.) This pressure must be immediate and undeniable. If it is in any form deniable and ignorable without immediate repercussion, it will be ignored or denied. The pressure can ultimately take the form of internal revolt or economical or ecological crisis, but must on a fundamental level, destroy any viability for any further pursuit of the dominant strategy.

This is the only “logical” reasoning I came up with for the collective stupidity of humankind. Note that I do not share that believe, I just wanted to put myself in the mindset of believers in neo-neo strategies to find why we are not able to change course.

Thankfully, the neo-neo mindset is not an evolutionary stable strategy (ESS). In the long run, as evolutionary pressure builds up, neo-neo strategies will be the ones selected out. New "intersubjective understandings", that follow cooperative strategies, will necessarily develop.

Axelrod showed that "success in an evolutionary game is correlated with the following characteristics":
  • Be nice: cooperate, never be the first to defect.
  • Be provocable: return defection for defection, cooperation for cooperation.
  • Don't be envious: be fair with your partner.
  • Don't be too clever: or, don't try to be tricky.
What Axelrod (and Richard Dawkins) stress is, that the most important traits of any evolutionary successfull strategy are to be nice (never be egoistic first) and to not hold a grudge (be quick to forgive), but also to retaliate quickly.

What can we, you and I, do on a personal level? Obviously it is important to participate in every form of organization that employs or promotes an ESS strategy. Any form of action that breaks out of the vicious circle of mutual distrust will change the world on an infinitesimal level. Never listen to any form of argument, that says: "we cant do that by ourselfs, this problem can only be resolved on a global level".

The vicious circle can only be broken by making the first step towards trust and forgiveness. Be the first one to be nice, be quick to forgive, motivate others to follow your example.

(1) Axelrod, Robert (1984), The Evolution of Cooperation link
(2) Wendt, Alexander (1992). Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics", International Organization vol. 46, no. 2: 397.) link


  1. Haven't you just re-discovered what Enlightenment was/is all about?

  2. "Enlightenment" was not what brought me to change my life recently. It is rather the other way around for me. "Enlightenment", though I would not use that term, for me brought a personal crisis and changing my life is the way out of it. And I am rather fine now, thanks.

    Thanks to my new curriculum, today I am spending more time than ever figuring out why we are where we are today and where we go from here.

    Identity is a very important term in cultural anthropology. I feel much more at home with myself, because my assesments are very much shared by my professors and my fellow students. Its not that I was not convinced of my arguments before, its just that you become very much disconnected with an environment that chooses to ignore facts in favor of comfort and delusion.

    I also realize that great thinkers who have come to similar and often much more thought out conclusions long before I have, are obviously very worthwhile to read, none of them had much good to say about capitalism or neoliberalism yet, I am afraid.

    But while I have read much Foucault, Bourdieu, Geertz, Marx and others recently, and learned about many theories of culture ans society, I am still leaning very much in favor to incorporating materialist and socio-biological views in macroscopical analysis.

    In this post, I take on the problem from a macroscopic geopolitical theorists view, to futher my understanding where we did go wrong and how we could avoid collapse, because I obviously still believe that the "convolution of crisis" we face today will bring this civilization to a full stop.

    Actually I wrote the first version of it as a comment on Gail Tverbergs latest post on common misconceptions in economic models concerning peak oil.

    See here:

    Its an important read.

    1. "Motivate others to follow your example" - Kant'scher Imperativ: "Verhalte Dich so, dass Dein Verhalten Vorbild für andere sein kann!"

      "Never listen to any form of argument, that says: 'we cant do that by ourselfs, this problem can only be resolved on a global level'". Kant: "AUFKLÄRUNG ist der Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit. Unmündigkeit ist das Unvermögen, sich seines Verstandes ohne Leitung eines anderen zu bedienen. Selbstverschuldet ist diese Unmündigkeit, wenn die Ursache derselben nicht am Mangel des Verstandes, sondern der Entschließung und des Mutes liegt, sich seiner ohne Leitung eines andern zu bedienen. Sapere aude! Habe Mut, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen! ist also der Wahlspruch der Aufklärung".

    2. Maybe this is not what I was aiming for, but I guess it fits.

      I feel we are currently converging to a new understanding of "interconnectednes" from various directions. The old story of "everyone for oneself and against all others" is deconstructed from many that "make use of their own intellect", be they anthropologists, economists, psychologists or biologists.

      We "feel" that constant competition takes its toll, that It corrupts our planet, our societies, our minds and our souls.

      But, in relation to Kant, I would say, that Enlightenment, and with it the rise of civil society, the french revolution and finally capitalism, was the driving force behind this state of constant competion.

      We have to find something again that we lost soon after the era of enlightenment. Where are liberty, equality and fraternity today?

      I fear we sacrificed those on the altar of progress, growth, accumulation of capital and world domination and called it enlightenment.