Skip to content

Posts from the ‘politics at the mantle’ Category

A framework for the spread of ideas

The term Globalization carries all sorts of connotations. To some, it inspires hope and change through the productive innovation of free enterprise. To others, it signals doom and destruction, the capacity for a New World Order and the subjugation of all mankind to one centralized dictator.

To most people, it registers nothing, a blank term they’ve never heard.

Globalization is a very large phenomena, and like a good critical thinker does to all large phenomena, I will set up some categories which will help to begin to understand it all. First, globalization happens economically, politically, and culturally. These are three separate processes, but they are not totally separate. Where they overlap and how they interact are the subject of theoretical debate and it all gets confusing very quickly.

(This is all irrelevant primer to the actual topic here).

The full subject of globalization will be treated in much depth later. But for now, I just want to present an interesting concept from one of my research books which will not fit with the actual research essay.

Malcolm Waters mentions this concept, and it has more widespread applications than the author’s modesty would allow.

“More importantly there has been a process of global cultural transmission to which the Japanese version of the best way has been carried around the world as a system of ideas. This transmission occurs in three arenas:

in the popular mass media Japanese production systems are represented as a highly generalized but somewhat ambivalent ideal, discussed in terms of both fear and admiration;

in universities, business school academics and organization theorists conduct comparative research on the Japanese advantage and these results are both published and incorporated into organizational design courses for potential managers;

and third they are written up as easily digestible popular books that can be peddled to managers as manuals for organizational transformation.” (82).

From Malcolm Waters, “Globalization” Routledge, 1995.

I will draw a crude comparison between this and the postmodern movement in the 1980’s. Initially the academic response to relativization of truth was fear and anywhere it was represented, which wasn’t many places, it was greatly oversimplified and streamlined. This is where fundamentalist Christianity stopped its analysis, and still today I have seen this streamlined version presented and ‘debunked’ on several occasions. This is a perpetual meta-strawman fallacy, and nobody realizes it. Second, the concept became academicized and gradually entered the mainstream of university departments like gender studies, social sciences, economics, and racial theory. These (some of them) are the <identity> studies departments, often mixed with Critical Theory. Finally, they become easily digestible chunks which has been everywhere in the feminist hyper-inflation bubble which finally burst late last year.

This same process can be repeated with a dozen other things. I will be writing on them in the future.

The Most Ironic Trend of 2016

The most ironic trend of 2016 will also lead to the death of millions.

I’m not talking about Harambe, or dank meme subculture going mainstream, or technocracy hitting only its second roadblock in 20 years, these, or political corruption being exposed DNC style.

The trend of 2016 is nationalism.

I noticed a slight uptick in Eastern Europe during the refugee crisis late last year, but who could have predicted everything since then? Brexit, Trump, potentially Le Pen, Erdogan, Xi Jinping, almost Hofer in Austria today, and Duterte.

This is incredibly dangerous for this reason: after WWII, which can be summarized as an attempt to destroy civilization using extreme nationalism, the world got together and decided that international cooperation, a good check against nationalism, could prevent this from ever happening again. So they formed the UN, NATO, eventually the EU, and big jumbo inter-national organizations.

Trump says that we will not “surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism.” But contra Trump, globalism is the only thing that has prevented WWIII for the past seventy years, and even that almost didn’t work (cold war).

The stronger that nationalist parties get across Europe and Asia, the more likely we are to enter a giant international war. We have had giant international wars even in a globally-interdependent world, but they have all been proxy wars in dinky foreign countries with small populations and little international sway (vietnam, iraq, afghanistan, lybia, etc). The wars of nationalism are in major population centers, with major weaponry, with major escalation risk.

Trump’s phone call to Taiwan shouldn’t mean anything. But it does, because the more each country nationalizes, the more risky and higher variance everything becomes. Nationalism is the gunpowder; alliances are the matchbook; phone calls are the matches; what will be the spark?

A Sociological Primer, BTYB Scott Alexander


Over the past year I’ve followed Scott Alexander’s blog Slate Star Codex.

It is obvious from his writings that Scott has a strong background in sociology and philosophy. Over time I’ve started to pick up on his writing style and insights (and his sense of humor?).

He has mastered the synthesis essay. This helps, after all, when your stated hobby is to ‘say complicated things about philosophy and science.’ It’s really quite breathtaking to read a good SSC essay and realize “this is what he’s been cluing me in on for months, and now, though it took mental effort, I understand.” I need to coin a term for this.

I also appreciate that he doesn’t try to systematize everything. SSC has no grand overarching philosophy to Describe Everything. He has some common themes, but Scott just tries to “package an obvious truth in a way that people would notice it.” This builds a “useful model and explanatory tool,” and soon enough you have yourself some amateur sociology (link).

So then, most of his ideas are very helpful, regardless of your political views. In these essays he has seemingly transcended the political and entered into a discussion of the mind itself. This can be described as critical thinking, epistemic virtue, intellectual honesty, or what have you.

Thought experiment:

If I were teaching a class on critical thinking, my syllabus would look something like this:

  • 15 classes on logical fallacies
  • 10 classes discussing readings
  • 12 classes debating on pre-assigned topics
  • 6 standalone classes
  • Begin each class with current events from the media
  • An essay on any current events topic, 15 page minimum, due at midterm
  • An essay disagreeing with someone else’s midterm essay, 25 page minimum, due a week before the final

For the sake of consistency, every class discussion reading would be from the same author. And for the sake of quality, that author would be Scott.

So then, I offer you an opportunity: over the next several months, in just your free time, you can take Ross Neir’s introductory critical thinking class, with some benefits:

  1. You never have to show up to class.
  2. You never have to debate other people
  3. You never have to listen to me discuss current events (unless you know me in person, in which case, you have no choice, as I dictate this aspect of your knowing me).
  4. You have no 15 page paper
  5. You have no 25 page paper

This reduces the class down to just the SSC readings. 10 of them, each an exercise of Scott’s critical thinking, from which we all can learn. This is like taking my college class, but much easier, with unlimited flexible hours, no grading, and no 8:00 am cross-campus trek.

Here are the 10 assigned readings from SSC for my critical thinking course:

End thought experiment.

In all seriousness, these essays have reshaped my perspective on political engagement. Society is complex, and it’s hard to take it all in at once, but Scott’s bit-by-bit breakdown will help you begin to make sense of it all.

What does the 2016 election mean?

The 2016 election, more than any before, has eroded the deontological foundation of American government. Never has moral relativism — justifying decisions because other decisions are worse — been so prevalent.

Let me break down the terminology.

  • Deontology looks at moral questions and tries to answer “what should I do?” and “what must I do?”
  • Consequentialism looks at moral questions and tries to answer “what would have the best impact?” and “how can I maximize benefit and minimize cost from this?”

For example:

  • A deontologist could say “abortion is wrong because it is wrong”
  • A consequentialist could say “abortion is wrong because of all these negative things it causes.”

When you think relatively on morals, you justify one thing because something else is worse. Heaven’s gates are open if you aren’t Hitler. Morality is just a relative issue, it can be compared, and as long as you’re better than a certain percentile of people, or not worse than a certain percentile of people, then congrats, you’ve been good.

Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton could rationally be considered virtuous candidates themselves. Clinton has all her dozens of scandals. Emails. Emails. Emails. Emails. And more telling is what’s found in those emails: widespread corruption, pay-to-play, conflict of interests, and whatever was in the 33k emails. Likewise, Trump has enough scandals to beat Clinton. Various sexual assault charges (which we know to be at least partially grounded in Trump’s psyche, given the Access Hollywood revelations), dozens of business misconduct cases, racial discrimination in renting practices, going far out of his way to alienate large sections of the electorate in order to win the xenophobic vote, etc.

Does anybody, beyond the most extreme partisans on each side, actually support either of these candidates? Without naming why they don’t like the other candidate, can they really provide a convincing, holistic, positive argument for their candidate?

But lets get beyond personalities and histories. Look at policies. Do either advocate virtuous policy? I’m not hearing much of an argument on this.

(I understand that it is notoriously difficult to define “virtuous policy,” in fact that is the whole question of politics. In an increasingly polarized system, beyond the obvious things, we aren’t going to find much agreement here. But whatever their support for virtuous policy, they hold that support inconsistently).

As a result, voters with an eye for deontological consistency were forced to turn to 3rd party candidates Johnson, Stein, Castle, etc., who by definition of first-past-the-post voting, had essentially no chance to win the election or even garner mildly significant support.

Woah, slow down there. Couldn’t Johnson have won if he wasn’t just an idiot?

Enter: Duverger’s Law, Per Wikipedia:

A two-party system often develops in a plurality voting system. In this system, voters have a single vote, which they can cast for a single candidate in their district, in which only one legislative seat is available. In plurality voting (i.e. first past the post), in which the winner of the seat is determined purely by the candidate with the most votes, several characteristics can serve to discourage the development of third parties and reward the two major parties.

Duverger suggests two reasons this voting system favors a two-party system. One is the result of the “fusion” (or an alliance very much like fusion) of the weak parties, and the other is the “elimination” of weak parties by the voters, by which he means that voters gradually desert the weak parties on the grounds that they have no chance of winning. (link)

People are thinking on the margin.

There is a certain marginal analysis (definition) happening whenever someone says “I support Trump because Clinton is…” or “I support Clinton because Trump/Trump Supporters are…” and we ought to reject this style of thinking not just because practically it enables the second worst evil to win election after election, but because it fails to provide a positive, self-enclosed justification for the candidate of choice.

This is mostly what has gotten us into the whole social-political landscape we have today. The product of choosing the lesser of two evils (when both are legitimately evil, like in the past ~50 years) is the system we have today.

American government and law used to be founded on the principle of Natural Law. Ever since and resulting from the gradual destruction of Natural Law in the presence of instrumentalist law in the 1880s-1910s (link), the country’s polity has become completely consequentialist. What is right? That which leads to my desired outcomes.

In backlash to these trends:

Candidates considered “ideologically pure” like Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders were as successful as they were because they cornered the deontological market during their year.

Here is the conclusion I draw: People want to return to Right = Right and Wrong = Wrong morality. This is true regardless of how you define right and wrong; all that matters is having them at all. It doesn’t matter if you use Christian morality or vaguely defined secular morality or some new synthesized xenophobia+classist morality. Just have something, some ideological standard, hold to it consistently, and then win.

The people want intellectually purity and consistency based on first principles, not some shape-shifting, internally contradictory realism that dominates “moderate” choices like Clinton, Romney, Jeb! Bush, and such.

Deontological thinking is dead to Americans. But we can resurrect it. Here’s how.

The problem is that people have to think marginally when they vote. So how can we eliminate or minimize marginal thinking on election day?

Ultimately the goal is IRV or other proportional voting systems, any of which would eliminate First Past The Post. Proportional voting actually allows people to be “consequentially deontological” if that’s not a contradiction in terms, because they can hold to moral imperatives but vote for them selectively. This would be a more ideal system.

How could the country conduct this? Many details remain unclear. This is not because the details are confusing, but because there are so many workable options.

States could still be winner-take-all, and it could still be separated by states and not a popular vote. So, it could still be Constitutional. For example, everyone in Illinois goes to the polls, ranks all options on the ballot, and ultimately through the tricky process of counting IRV votes, someone is declared the winner. That person get the electoral votes.

[THEN in the most interesting twist of all, each elector at the electoral college also gets to do IRV among everyone who had ballot access in enough states to mathematically win 270 electoral votes. This part would certainly require a constitutional amendment given the 12th amendment’s wording of “the person voted for as President”].

It wouldn’t be much of a practical advantage to 3rd parties, since most people actually do prefer the Democratic or Republican Parties to the Libertarian Party, but it would eliminate the vote-splitting effect, which currently holds 3rd party votes to well below their legitimate vote share.

Understanding Romans 13 without the Hyper-Calvinist Spin

[The title and idea for this essay come from and compliment the essay “Understanding Romans 9 Without the Calvinist Spin,” which I highly recommend for reasons unrelated to this post].

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,
4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.
7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

This passage is the main scriptural text on governance in the New Testament. As John Piper pointed out 35 years ago, this text has “often been used to justify an unseemly conformity to the status quo in this country and in others” (link). This passage is often thrown around in Evangelical circles, from my experience, with the weight of divine authority. Justly so, since the passage was divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Yet not so. The words themselves are divinely inspired, but the misunderstanding of the twin doctrines of Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility is not inspired by the Holy Spirit. So then, before fully explaining Romans 13, I must dissect the entire debate over free will and determinism.

But first, go read this.

D.A. Carson here articulates a position called Compatibilism. This is the argument that the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are, in some way, compatible.

The Sovereignty of God

People who believe in this doctrine will point to areas of scripture like Ephesians 1 and Romans 9, and several stray verses here and there that imply man is powerless to choose.

For example, the deafening mention in John 6 that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” is explicit that salvation cannot ever come without God’s expressed permission (if not more). In John 17 the same idea appears again: “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction,” and, well, does this require more convincing?

If you do need more convincing, in Ephesians 1 Paul writes that God “chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” and that “in love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” oh and also that believers have “been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” This really doesn’t cover it, but the prooftexting can relent for now.

The sovereignty of God is another way of saying that God is omnipotent — all powerful. He can do anything he wants, with no restrictions. David Platt has this to say on the sovereign power of God:

“Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things and by Your will they existed and were created.” By Your will. God is sovereign over it all. He is sovereign over all nature — the wind blows at the bidding of God. The sun’s heat radiates according to His commands. Every star in the sky comes out at night because He calls them each by name. There is not a speck of dust on the planet that exists apart from the sovereignty of our God.

He is sovereign over all nature, and He is sovereign over all nations, our God charts the course of countries. And he holds the rulers of the Earth in the palm of His hand and this is good news. It is good news to know that Ahmadinejad in Iran is not sovereign over all, and neither is Hamid Karzai or Hu Jintao or Kim Jong Un or Benjamin Netanyahu or Barack Obama. Our God is sovereign over every single one of them and He holds them in his hands. He is sovereign over them, sovereign over you, sovereign over me, sovereign over everything.

He creates all things, sustains all things, knows all things, He ordains all things. He owns all things. The author of Creation has authority over all creation. He has all the rights. American Christians: you don’t have rights. God alone has rights. He has the right to save sinners, and He has the right to damn sinners. People say well what about man’s responsibility? Doesn’t man have anything to do with his destiny? Well sure he does, man is certainly responsible in human history, but God is sovereign over human history. (cool video link).

(If this doesn’t clear it up, here are at least 3 dozen more resources from Desiring God, here are more from Ligonier, the Gospel Coalition search results, a wiki article on the omnipotence of God, and after that a good book to read would be this book or this book)

The Responsibility of Man

There was a great debate 1700 years ago between the writings of Augustine and Pelagius, the former believing in original sin and the latter rejecting it. Pelagius’s idea was that God only holds us responsible for sins we had the option to commit. So, we must have the ability to do good.

This was roundly rejected by Augustine, who argued that man’s default position of sin as nature (original sin) meant that we actually are “dead” in sin as Ephesians 2:1 teaches. But this is besides the point. Wayne Grudem observes the real issue at hand:

“If our responsibility before God were limited by our ability, then extremely hardened sinners, who are in great bondage to sin, could be less guilty before God than mature Christians who were striving daily to obey him. . . The true measure of our responsibility and guilt is not our own ability to obey God, but rather the absolute perfection of God’s moral law and his own holiness (which is reflected in that law). “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). (Systematic Theology, 499).

In quoting this verse from Matthew, Grudem notes a powerful logical dynamic: we have been commanded to obey, and by issuing a command, God has placed the responsibility outside of himself to achieve its completion.

In fact, if we reject Pelagius’s argument, there is no way to avoid the conclusion that man bears the responsibility for all his actions. God has created man with this inherent responsibility. Grudem, elsewhere in his book, writes this:

If we do right and obey God, he will reward us and things will go well with us both in this age and in eternity. If we do wrong and disobey God, he will discipline and perhaps punish us, and things will go ill with us. The realization of these facts will help us have pastoral wisdom in talking to others and in encouraging them to avoid laziness and disobedience.

The fact that we are responsible for our actions means that we should never begin to think, “God made me do evil, and therefore I am not responsible for it.” Significantly, Adam began to make excuses for the very first sin. . . Unlike Adam, Scripture never blames God for sin. . . Now we may object that it is not right for God to hold us responsible if he has in fact ordained all things that happen, but Paul corrects us: “You will say to me, then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, a man, to answer back to God?” (Rom. 9:19-20). (334).

Really, every commandment given in scripture could be cited here as further proof of human responsibility, because a command itself implies that the recipient must obey, because if there is no “must” (to be replaced by “could”) then it is just another option, and do remember that “options” also indicate human free will. So, then, either way, the burden of responsibility falls on man.


The argument from the initial D.A. Carson link is that, despite the complete contradiction, both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are found in abundance in scripture.

These should be mutually exclusive because if humans are passive recipients of someone else’s decisions, they would not be considered morally responsible for their actions, since they didn’t act freely. Conversely, if humans act from their own will, how could their actions be retroscribed upon God? Would that make him a God-of-the-retrospect, like the Mandate of Heaven from ancient China, where anything that happened was retrospectively declared the will of God? This was in spite of the fact that every action along the way came from humans.

Yet, we have both. There isn’t, to the best of my knowledge, a logical synthesis other than to suspend logic and act like the problem isn’t there.

John MacArthur, with his usual clarity of theology, writes this:

Scripture affirms both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We must accept both sides of the truth, though we may not understand how they correspond to one another. People are responsible for what they do with the gospel—or with whatever light they have (Romans 2:19, 20), so that punishment is just if they reject the light. And those who reject do so voluntarily. Jesus lamented, “You are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life” (John 5:40). He told unbelievers, “Unless you believe that I am [God], you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). In John chapter 6, our Lord combined both divine sovereignty and human responsibility when He said, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37); “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life” (John 6:40); “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44); “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47); and, “No one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65). How both of those two realities can be true simultaneously cannot be understood by the human mind—only by God.

And recall again D.A. Carson’s statement from the bottom of the first link:

at the end of the day, what the Bible does do is insist that those two propositions I gave you stand at the very heart of any faithful Christian understanding of the mystery of providence. God is sovereign, but his sovereignty doesn’t mitigate human responsibility. We human beings are morally responsible creatures but that doesn’t mean God is contingent. And we live with those tensions and all the mysteries of how God in his eternity relates to us in our time. We live with those tensions until the very end.

Returning now to Romans 13

Forgive me for the above longwindedness, but this topic of the sovereignty of God is directly implicated in this passage when Paul writes “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” So we see that God has acted in His omnipotence to appoint someone as king.

But how, practically speaking, did that person become king? Did the Roman Senate hold an emergency meeting and elect a new king at the death of the last? Did the existing king have two sons, and the younger killed the older so that he could ascend to the throne? Did the property-owning citizens of Athens gather together and write names on stones to cast their vote?

In the first example, the Senators are the ones directly responsible for the King coming to power. In the second, the younger brother is responsible for his own coming to power, and sinned in the process. In the third, the citizens of Athens are responsible for their actions.

All rulers, besides the direct ascendancy of a first-born son, come to power because of some actual choice made by a human. (Even in the first-born son case, the Father decided to have a child, or decided not to have the child killed, or decided not to have the throne filled otherwise, or what-have-you).

This is especially true in democracies (read: systems that hold a vote), where the responsibility actually falls upon everyone in the country. This is part of the argument (though not consistently followed) by conservatives who decried President Obama as a sign of God’s judgement against the nation. It could also be true of President Trump, though only time will tell.

My argument in interpreting Romans 13 is this: Paul is giving the sovereignty of God position, but like other texts that depend upon the sovereignty of God, we must look elsewhere in scripture to receive the whole message.

You wouldn’t read Ephesians 1 and think “well, since God is sovereign, man has absolutely no responsibility for his actions,” yet this is exactly what people do with Romans 13 all the time.

So what would it look like to apply the Compatibilist model of the will of God to something like Government?

In this model, when discussing salvation, the following things are true:

  1. we do not know the future
  2. we are held responsible for our choices
  3. God commands a response

And I would say that, when applying this Compatibilist model to Government, those translate roughly into these three principles:

  1. we do not know who will win an election, and therefore God’s will can only be acted upon in retrospect (which means it can’t be acted upon).
  2. we must act according to conscience, which I venture to say should be informed by Scripture, by history, and by political science (though blending these can be difficult work).
  3. we must participate in the decision making process, and if not, we implicitly still are, much like a person who makes no decision about salvation is actually just deciding to reject God.

So then, let us return to the original passage. Romans 13, with some commentary.

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,
4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.
7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

“Those that exist have been instituted by God” is true in the same way that the color socks you wore today were instituted by God, or that you took 31ml of Nyquil last night rather than 30ml was instituted by God. In no way does this abrogate the responsibility of the people doing the tangible action of choosing the authorities. This is especially obvious today, when hundreds of millions of people cast votes, rather than 30 in the Senate or some other less-than-obvious system. So then, while God can be credited when a good ruler comes to power, man must take the blame when the ruler turns out to be sour.

This type of theological minutia may seem nitpicky, or irrelevant. “What difference does it make?” someone may ask.

The difference is that, as a result of human responsibility, we must treat governance like any other choice. We are responsible! We must take action when things go wrong! Now this action must occur within the confines of the system, and violent revolution is never prescribed in scripture to overthrow existing evil governments (except in the entire book of Joshua where the Israelites are commanded to overthrow the existing governments in the land of Caanan … though this does not translate to today)

This lays out the foundation of my belief in Christian political activism. I must take seriously the notion that God can and does act through humans to change governments, to elect leaders, to restructure society. I can safely push against the system, in one sense because God will override my actions if they are outside his will, in another sense because my actions themselves are determined by his will (?) and therefore they cannot happen unless they are allowed by him, and in one final sense because I have been commanded to love justice and hate evil, and this includes any institution for which I am responsible.

Notice that Paul gives the function of government: the authority must be an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. But notice also that Paul says nothing about the proper Christian response to authorities who themselves are wrongdoers. Who is the King above all Kings? God, yet what if in his silence he is commanding humans to act on his behalf? This seems to be exactly what he does with kings themselves.

My main takeaway point from this pedantic essay should be: to read Romans 13 without the hyper-Calvinist spin, simply add in the recognition that humans are responsible for their actions, and suddenly the all-too-familiar blurry line between His sovereignty and our responsibility has reappeared. What do we do? This is just as difficult a question to answer on government as it is on anything else.

“And While I’m At It” – Explained

A few weeks ago I performed a slam poem at my university’s open-mic night. Here is a link to the footage. Lest ye explode with the furious rage of ten million momma grizzly bears separated from their cubs, I’ve provided lengthy justifications of each stanza below.

And While I’m At It
Ross Neir (2016)

You see,
I was a conservative until last fall
He came and I fell out of my party
He spoke and I departed
He rebranded us as the alt-right
but i’m not alright with voting liberal either
so where does that leave me?
It leaves me put off with less hope in the political
System than even Trump could pretend not to have.

I began politics with an extreme right-wing ideology. Somewhere around 7th grade I had my first exposure to politics, when a few fundamentalists — who held to absolute truth! — taught me their perspective on the world. I didn’t know to question it. Everything they said was absolutely true. If you followed along from their premises, like I did, it all made sense — and their logic checked out quite well. I was pro-family, pro-war, and anti-secularism.

But during the fall of 2011 when the Ron Paul Revolution went into overdrive, I learned about the Libertarian Party, and it changed my mind on a lot of policy issues. Lockean ideas like self-ownership and the rights to life, liberty and property seemed like a good basis for policy, and from this logically came all the Libertarian Party positions, minarchism, (and even anarcho-capitalism), with rigor and consistency. I still hold most of these positions.

But last fall it all started shifting again. I went from a Libertarian leaning conservative to a Libertarian learning liberal.

But did I? Is that even true? I still believe in free trade, I still believe in laissez-faire capitalism, I still believe in de-escalation of the US military presence in the world, I still believe in immigration, I still believe in drug decriminalization. I didn’t change. But the Conservatives changed in sync with Trump’s campaign and I no longer fit with their label.

Trump didn’t coin the term ‘alt-right,’ but his supporters now dominate my demographic (white, teenage and college-aged, middle-class males who spend too much time on the internet) (see Tucker on the alt-right at this link). But was I supposed to automatically become a Democrat in response? I completely disagree with that party on economics, which is very important to me. This unresolved tension comes up later in my poem.

He says “They’re bringing drugs.
They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…
And some, I assume, are good people”
But I say “They’re my neighbors
They’re sojourners.  They’re human
And all, I assume, are made in the image of God.”

This is a quote from Trump’s campaign launch speech in June of last year. He was arguing that we have no idea the mix of people that cross the boarder illegally into the United States from Mexico. Now, there are dozens of the problems with this, and Wikipedia has a nice list of them (link, other link, also follow Wiki’s footnotes for some well-done studies). Also I’d add that if we can’t conclude with certainty that Mexican immigrants are saints, then we also shouldn’t conclude with certainty that they are demons. My lines in this stanza rephrase Trump, because I think that our default attitude toward human rights issues should be to recognize their humanity before jumping to policy conclusions.

Even still, the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants to the U.S. has flatlined for several years (link), meaning either that no new Mexican immigrants are entering illegally, or they are entering and existing at mostly equal rates. Most immigration to the U.S. is legal (link) and “India was the leading country of origin for new immigrants, with 147,500 arriving in 2014, followed by China with 131,800, Mexico with 130,000, Canada with 41,200, and the Philippines with 40,500″ (link). At any rate, most illegal residency in the U.S. is from overstaying Visa times, not from dashing over the boarder at night, hence The Wall idea (link, very conservative perspective).

Trump does not regret this statement either (link), at all. “It’s common sense: they don’t want these people, so they send them to the United States because the United States is run by stupid people, we have stupid leadership, we have incompetent leadership that doesn’t know what it’s doing… so we take them…We take them because nobody else wants them. We are like a dumping ground. The United States, Erin, is like a dumping ground for the world’s problems.”

Now aside from the fact that immigration does not increase crime and that immigrants are less violent than non-immigrants (wiki links from three paragraphs up), who does Trump think is “sending” them? Is this an intentional state-sponsored program from other governments? Because if those other governments can’t make people follow their laws (crime, drugs, rape), then it probably also can’t get them to up-and-move to another country that barely speaks their language. Moreover, I’d expect criminals to favor their home countries, which have less strict and more corrupt policing than the U.S.

Trump’s language here is designed to evoke an emotional response more than a policy response — but the real tragedy is that he immediately follows up with a policy proposal and conflates the two. It becomes difficult to argue against The Wall logically or policy-wise when his followers are arguing from a deeply emotional place, and especially when that emotion is fear.

And While I’m at it,
I’d say that I’m okay with
Trump praising Putin
but can anybody really
Lie like that?
Can I support a man who supports a man
That supports men to kill for his power?
Conservatives hated Putin- until they didn’t.

This refers to his interview at the Commander-in-Chief forum a month ago (link). Slate published a great article on this (link). This author makes a really good point, that “Whatever else he may be, Putin projects responsibility*, sobriety (in multiple senses of the word) and a steady hand* on the affairs of state. And he has, indeed, ensured that Russia remains relevant* on the world stage.”

*Trump projects none of these things and his economic isolation and opposition to free trade agreements would minimize the U.S.’s place on the world stage. So in the sense that Trump wants to run the country like a dictator CEO, sure, he can love Putin’s leadership style all day; in any other regard, and in any way consistent with the American principles of separation of powers, he cannot.

U.S. foreign policy has been messy, nuanced, technical and complicated for over a century. We can’t, I stress, we cannot, I stress, we can not afford one president to leave and another to take office, only to have the other completely break line with the original’s plan. We need long term consistency in international relations. This was the tragedy of Obama’s ‘middle eastern power vacuum’ from leaving Iraq during his first term. Yet where Obama’s transition was subtle and gradual, Trump would be abrupt and abrasive. Day One: end NATO (link), which will lead to a large international conflict.

This should scare you. It scares me. Our world seems so strong, so solidified and so unbreakable. It would only take a few missteps to expose just how precariously perched the world really is above the ravines of global conflict and economic slough.

And While I’m At it,
Politically Correct This
Politically Correct that
But what if its racial inequality
That we’re mad at?
So what if Kaep takes a knee
When soldiers fought bled and died
So that he could speak free?

Conservatives complained for two years
about black lives matter being too violent;
someone let the coons out!;
get the animals back in their cages!
We want nonviolent protests! They said.
Yet Kaep’s nonviolent protest met their demand
And they still wanted him dead.

The Colin Kaepernick episode highlighted a great irony in conservatism: the same people who decry Political Correctness, meaning the repression of ideas outside the mainstream because they are deemed offensive or intolerant, were overwhelmingly offended at and intolerant of Kaepernick’s outside-the-mainstream method of protest. “But what if it’s racial inequality that we’re mad at?” means that conservatives selectively see and criticize Political Correctness – which means they don’t actually care about Political Correctness, they care about the issue being Politically Corrected, and they use Political Correctness as an abstract principle that happens to support them.

If you didn’t get what I just said, then here’s Slate Star Codex to the rescue:

“This is related to an idea I keep stressing here, which is that people rarely have consistent meta-level principles. Instead, they’ll endorse the meta-level principle that supports their object-level beliefs at any given moment. The example I keep giving is how when the federal government was anti-gay, conservatives talked about the pressing need for federal intervention and liberals insisted on states’ rights; when the federal government became pro-gay, liberals talked about the pressing need for federal intervention and conservatives insisted on states’ rights.” (link)

So, I’m saying that the same effect is true here. Conservatives aren’t actually against PC, they are just pro-conservative values, and sometimes that actually means being pro-PC..

When I say that “soldiers fought, bled and died so that he could speak free,” we have to remember that soldiers do not:

  1. sign up for war to protect US oil interests;
  2. sign up for war to help W. avenge his father’s misgivings a decade before;
  3. sign up for war to be pawns in a geopolitical and economic chess game.

These are the real reasons for war, among many others. But soldiers, in their mind, are fighting for the ideals of freedom and democracy. So to use soldiers in any other way than to support the free exchange of ideas is to defame their honor, to cast them as liars. Like ol’ Ron Paul said in one of those 2011 primary debates, “We don’t have the freedom of speech to talk about the weather. We have the first amendment so we can say some very controversial things.” And this, I say, is why we should honor individual soldiers by speaking out against the nation when our conscience convicts us to do so.

Conservatives complaining about BLM being too violent: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit E, Exhibit F, Exhibit G, … and if I had a link for every time I’ve heard this in person, my whole blog would be underlined in blue text.

Please note I myself am not calling blacks ‘coons’ or ‘animals,’ I am quoting a general sentiment among racist people kid from my high school who ranted on Facebook about BLM violence during the Ferguson protests in 2014 (or was it Baltimore in 2015?). He called blacks ‘animals’ in general, and then when a black kid from our school replied, he called him a ‘coon’ without remorse. He deserves to have his name posted here, and every fiber of justice in me wants to eternally blast him for his attitude towards blacks and hispanics. But I’ll relent. This enters into emotional waters, and I try to keep policy discussions dry when possible. At any rate, those three lines are within quotation marks because they do not originate from me.

And yes, Kaepernick did receive death threats for his protest.

And While I’m At It,
The media shoots for ratings
The alt media shoots for nonsense
How can I know whats happening?
How can I know whats happening?
But then again, who cares?
Who cares whats happening?
I did, but I don’t, and I won’t again.

I could say a lot about media cycles and the clickbait effect, but complex theoretical discussion aside, it is discouraging that I have to go unbelievably out of my way to receive accurate information when an entire field of Western professionalism is supposedly dedicated to doing that for me. Journalism is a paid field. Why should I, an unpaid, random teenager, have to move mountains to find the truth?

As much as Deplorables complain about the mainstream media, their media (the alt or alternative media) falls into the exact same incentives schemes as the MSM, but those outlets are obscure enough to mostly avoid fact-checking. This is even worse.

I’ll admit, it’s melodramatic to say that I won’t care about politics again. In fact, that is not true at all. But it expresses a sentiment of discouragement within myself and large swaths of the population who are tired of the same nonsense-on-loop that media outlets produce.

And While I’m At It,
Donald Trump may hate Muslims,
But hey, he loves cake-baking businesses
That can’t seem to understand
That Jesus made water into wine
And stopped the pharisees from stoning the adulterer
Jesus said “He who is without sin cast the first stone”
But Trump says “He who isn’t unluckily Middle Eastern cast the first stone”
Does he remember Simon the Zealot, the terrorist, the apostle?
Or Saul the persecutor of the Church, the murderer, the apostle?

His hatred of Islam has made him the center of Islamophobic thought in the country, naturally. He wants to “bomb the shit of them” (exact quote), doesn’t care about civilian casualties in the Middle East, wants to torture and kill the families of terrorists (per one of the primary debates last year), wants to give Saudi Arabia nuclear weapons (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), had made a variety of discriminatory remarks about Muslims, and can we ever forget the Khizr Khan moment?

But again, he isn’t for or against discrimination itself. He is no where near principled enough for that. He just selectively employs it when convenient, and that happens to exclude the entire Christian/gay cake baking scandal.

Jesus’s attitude is probably not reproducible on a national policy level. Actually, I’m certain that it isn’t. But Trump himself, as a person, could try it out and see what happens.

I delivered this poem to a crowd of 19-22 year old evangelical students at an evangelical university. Everyone understood my references. I was amazed at how, two weeks later, I gave the same poem, and nobody at the secular, underground grunge/punk art show audience understood my metaphors. The audience’s religious background makes the difference. I’ll leave it to the reader to research Simon the Zealot and Saul the Persecutor of the Church. They are powerful New Testament figures, and all Christians should pray that more like them rise up out of the Middle East and Asia.

And While I’m At it,
I’ll coin a new term: The Trump Dump
Because Trump’s charity Dumped 200k in the pocket of
The Attorney General suing him for conning the rest of us
Oh, am I not supposed to say that out loud?
Could another Trump Dump be his
list of Supreme Court nominees come November 9th?
Oops. I’m really not supposed to say that out loud.

Trump rhymes with Dump. Aren’t I clever?

I’m sure that someone else has made that connection elsewhere but I had yet to see it when I wrote the poem, so it felt unique. I felt creative! In a lame, moronic way.

Whatever. The Attorney General case in Florida is a huge deal. That should have screamed corruption louder and more directly than even the Clinton Foundation did, which is a high standard to pass.

[CORRECTION, apparently the figure is 25k, not 200k (link). I’m not sure why I didn’t look this up. Most of the same principles still apply, regardless of scale.]

This article (link) makes the argument that Trump is the most corrupt candidate ever. After all, you don’t usually make it in business without collaborating with the government when all your competitors are collaborating with the government. So his corruption in business is based on economic self-interest rather than political self-interest (Clinton). Is that any better?

I see four types of elites in the American public landscape. The political establishment is the aggregation of all politicians that hold public office and maneuver to stay in office at the expense of principles. They tend to coalesce to the center, be neo-conservative on foreign policy, and gladly cooperate with party authorities. The mainstream media is a term for popular news companies that hold to a generally centrist line while having a very scripted, professional tone. They aren’t necessarily non-partisan (MSNBC and Fox are both very partisan in my opinion) and there are a lot of inconsistencies in defining it, but it tends to hold high standards for publication and therefore is seen as suppressing information sometimes when it actually just isn’t willing to break controversial news that may not be credible. The business elite are the billionaires that Bernie Sanders decried throughout his campaign. They run large banks or companies, own most of the country’s wealth, pull the economic levers behind the scenes, and work together with the bureaucracy to suppress competition. The cultural elite are actors, celebrities, art producers, musicians, relatives of other famous people, former politicians, and other leaders in the culture. They tend to lead the way in attitudes and cultural norms and disproportionately live in California, Oregon and the East Cost.

Donald Trump belongs to group number three. He may not have been liked by his fellow business elites: I remember seeing that Goldman Sachs even used him as an example in their staff training on avoiding terrible investments. But nonetheless, he has acted just like them. He hasn’t been scruntinized for as long as Clinton or as hard as Clinton (link on Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign CEO, notice the line “we’ve got $1.3 billion of equipment I’m using at almost full capacity” being used to dig dirt on the Clinton Foundation. To my knowledge, this isn’t being done against Trump). So in that more broad sense, he is just as much a part of the corrupt system as the rest.

In May, Trump published a list of SCOTUS nominees to replace Scalia (link) and in September released a new list (link). I’d not be surprised if a President Trump scraps both and goes with someone else, although I’d also not be surprised if he just picks the most business-elite-friendly option from his lists, whoever that is.

And While He’s at it,
He’ll just divide the country any way he sees fit
And slander anyone who calls him out on it
But in spite of the propaganda and the panda panda panda
We aren’t all as different as Trump makes us feel
And we don’t have to ruin the nation
To demonstrate some ill-placed zeal

Political polarization is when the population moves farther to the extremes and leaves the middle ground. This has happened and has been extensively documented over the last decade (link). 


And the data hasn’t come out yet for 2015 or obviously for 2016, but I’d speculate that this has accelerated. The left is getting lefter and the right is getting righter. Trump’s hyper collectivizing of the most divisive segments of society doesn’t help. His racially charged rhetoric, or even just his support of Blue Lives Matter over All Lives Matter, has further solidified this along racial lines. I think this is a huge problem in American society and having an ultra-controversial figure lead the way is a great solution.

Does he slander anyone who calls him out? Not ‘anyone,’ because that would be impossible given that half of the name-recognizable figures in the country have called him out, but we’ve seen it over and over throughout the campaign. He’s threatened to sue the NY Times for publishing his sexual assault advocacy tapes, let’s not forget the Khan family episode (and this article about Trump defamation in that case (link)), and I’m sick of writing this blog post so you can go research other lawsuits he has threatened. There are a lot.

Trump’s propaganda is just as bad as anyone else’s propaganda. The ‘panda, panda, panda’ refers to that one song that I hate and it just seems vaguely creepy. That is a good description of Trump’s rhetoric — I hate it and it just seems vaguely creepy. This isn’t a very strong argument. There is a racial dimension to the song Panda, though I’m unsure of that as well, and again like Trump, it’s something vaguely racial that I’m unsure of.

What is this ill-placed zeal? It’s the passion of the Evangelical Right, the passion of people who care about constitutional original intent, the people who value economic freedom, all being willing to support these issues over the issue of racial justice. The swap didn’t have to happen, and I recognize that people are choosing the lesser of two evils, but the race piece didn’t have to be this way. The other Republican candidates held to those principles without the race shtick. It didn’t have to be this way.

But before you think I’ve come to support Clinton
I’ve got a few emails to show you
And a bridge to sell you
But no story here to tell you
Only the story of a boy who turned 18
And couldn’t escape the two party system.

Hillary Clinton represents almost everything wrong with the political establishment. Politically connected – to the point of corruption. Tries to be efficient – to the point of overstepping boundaries. Involved in the action – to the point of making mistakes. Works in the law – to the point of being above the law. Tries to save face and put forth a diplomatic front – to the point of lying.

Her policies on war continue the current administration’s policies. Her policies on the economy continue the current administration’s policies. Her policies on social issues continue the current administration’s policies. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that voters see her as a puppet for some grand globalist NWO conspiracy. She seems to exist as a politician but not as a policy maker, an empty hollow pant-suit shell, and the least common denominator is neoliberal economics and broadly rational-sounding diplomacy-based foreign relations.

Scandal after scandal after scandal — after a while I have to wonder, “couldn’t we have just found someone else?” There have to be at least a dozen senators or high-office holders in the Obama administration who are relatively scandal-free, not to mention Bernie Sanders. The conspiracy theorists are rarely wrong about her. She really isn’t great.

By emails, I refer to her email server, the deletion of 33,000 emails, and the DNC email hacks. I didn’t know at the time, but there would also be the Podesta emails leaked in the weeks following my writing of this poem. Emails seem to be a general theme.

Until he did.

What led me to my current political philosophy? Ron Paul’s campaign in 2012 opened my mind to libertarianism. Stefan Molyneux’s radio show from 2014 to early 2015 (before he went full Trump and reversed half his philosophy) gave my critical thinking stills and expanded my perspective on rationalism. My political science professor at Beloit College last fall gave me the professionalism-in-politics mindset that I now choose to use, along with the categories necessary to understand international relations. The blog Slate Star Codex (mentioned in this post probably at least five times) has helped me view policies on a system-level and understand the dilemma before evaluating right and wrong. I’ve done lots of independent study — lots, and spent years thinking critically about governance.

These gradually led me away from conservatism, but I didn’t see how far I’d drifted. I still identified as a Republican — because, after all, I’m not a Democrat! — and voted in the Republican primary in March. After that, it occurred to me.

In the past months I’ve come to believe that the US Constitution is deeply flawed and needs revision or replacement. Now, I am a constitutionalist; countries need founding documents that specify how the government will divide powers, and that document should prevent or delay the state-sprawl of politics beyond its original scope. But the 1789 US Constitution was drafted without consideration of 21st century instant communication, or the now 240 years of experience upon which political scientists draw conclusions. First-past-the-post voting must end. This means revising Congress to be a parliamentary or other system, providing party accountability instead of individual political accountability (which barely exists anyway).

The two party system will either collapse or reorient itself along new battle lines. I am hoping for the former, somehow, but without the aforementioned constitutional changes, the two party system will creep right back in. It isn’t the product of random history; it is the product of the structure in which it operates. I’m writing a very, very, very long article about this. About 15,000 words. Give me some time there to explain myself, it should be done before the election.

Because, While I’m At it,
Maybe my vote may be a protest vote
And maybe my vote may be a throwaway vote
But I’ll tell you this:
I’m fully convinced in my own mind on this vote
That the only vote I’ll be casting on November 8th
Is a Gary Johnson vote.

Gary Johnson is not a perfect candidate. He doesn’t have the intellectual purity and command of policy that Ron Paul had in 2008 and 2012. He appears to not have much grounding in international relations. He sure climbed Mt. Everest, though! I wish that he hadn’t ran at the convention in May. Austin Peterson or John McAfee could have carried the torch much better.

Nonetheless, the Libertarian Party represents the most acute attack on the two party system that I can see. They are in third place in this election and therefore will send the loudest message. But beyond that, I am a libertarian, so it makes sense anyways.

I do not believe in protest votes or throwaway votes. If you are running for president of my country, you have to earn my vote. It is the height of entitlement — which Trump’s supporters so loudly decry — to assume you deserve my vote just because I am not a Democrat. Nor does not voting for Trump mean that I’m implicitly casting a vote for Clinton. I live in Illinois, after all, and I’d predict at least a 10% margin for Clinton in this election. My vote doesn’t count anyways. This is another problem with the current Constitution – the Electoral College nullifies the votes of anyone living in a “safe” state and amplifies the votes of anyone living in swing states.

“I’m fully convinced in my own mind” refers to Paul in Romans 14. It is a matter of conscience. See also Luther before the Diet of Worms: “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other.”

This is the point in the performance where I unbutton my outer shirt and reveal to the audience that I’m actually wearing my Gary Johnson shirt. It’s pretty dramatic, it doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, but it’s memorable and audiences eat it right up. It’s a piece of visual rhetoric to accentuate my point.

So, when my absentee ballot comes in the mail sometime next week, I’ll be filling in the bubble for Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. I’ve known this for a long time. Back in May of 2015, I said I’d end up voting for Rand Paul in the primaries and the Libertarian candidate, whoever that is, in the general. 17 months later, and it’s hard to believe it has been that long, we are here. The election is over in just about two weeks. I’m glad, and I’m happy to move on to non-electoral politics again. Or just non-politics again, though it seems inescapable in many ways.

Chinese Export of Small Arms

china_gunpowder2Chinese drawing c. Tang dynasty

For over a thousand years China has enjoyed experimentation with guns. Alchemists in the Tang era chanted claptrap phrases, mixed volatile chemicals and accidentally created gunpowder, an invention used by the West later to revolutionize warfare [1]. From its spread to Europe and the development of mechanized artillery came the modern gun, bound eventually by the irony of time to return to China, now humiliated by the Europeans with gunboats for a century. In time, China would again develop firearm technology and export it abroad.

Under Mao Zedong, China’s arms export policy exclusively followed state interests; from Deng to present, the introduction of Titoist market incentives has created a new state interest: profit. The profit motive has reduced China’s political use of small arms and light weapons (hereafter, SALW) and encouraged China to deal less cautiously with SALW, which have become products of economic rather than geopolitical value to China.


The UN defines small arms as “weapons designated for personal use” and light weapons as “those designated for use by several persons serving as a crew.” Combined, the term small arms and light weapons (SALW) describes usually handheld and always portable equipment [2]. The term “political use of SALW” refers to intentional actions by a state to reduce another state’s power relative to its own. The term denotes coordinated and active state policy, not the result of an invisible hand or market incentives alone. Finally, this essay uses Edward Friedman’s definitions of Maoism, Stalinism and Titoism to describe variations within and between Leninist regimes; each line originated from its namesake but describe tendencies seen in all Leninist systems [3]. Mass campaigns occur to “combat corruption, favoritism and nepotism,” which are Maoist when they involve “solidaristic egalitarianism,” Titoist when they include “respect for autonomy, social diversity and performance criteria,” and Stalinist when they are “inner policing of the centralized bureaucratic apparatuses” [4].


Mao Zedong; 1949-1976

e15-507Chairman Mao Zedong

In international relations, Mao’s ideology emphasized development without reliance on foreign powers [5]. Mao 

collectivized the land and organized the peasants into communes. The party-state extracted capital from agriculture, used it to build state-owned industry, and returned the profits to more industrial investment. This led to rapid industrial growth in the 1950s, although growth slowed later under the impact of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. In three decades China made itself self-sufficient in nearly all resources and technologies [6].

The Party later shifted to the full Maoist idea that China must chart its own way and “must always maintain [its] own national dignity and confidence and there must be not slavishness or submissiveness in any form in dealing with big, powerful or rich countries” [7].

The Sino-Soviet Split then developed in the late 1950s, with tension gradually forming over ideological and other disagreements between Mao and the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev on Marxist theory. Khrushchev pursued a post-Stalinist policy of coexistence with capitalist states, a policy which Mao opposed but which led to talks between the USSR and the U.S. and Britain on nuclear non-proliferation. The disagreement amplified existing tensions, and in 1959 Khrushchev cut support for Chinese military programs [8]. Mao denounced Khrushchev as committing “the error of adventurism and the error of capitulationism” for perceived passivity in the Cuban missile crisis, while the Soviets praised his handling of the crisis as a “major victory of the policy of reason, of the forces of peace and socialism” [9].

norinco_type_56the Type 56 rifle

In the context of SALW, China, with the rest of the world, had primarily relied on Soviet assault rifles such as the AK-47 to equip its military. Given the principle of self-sufficiency in international affairs, and given the Sino-Soviet split in the late ‘50s, China began to develop its own variant of the AK-47, the Type 56. China widely proliferated this assault rifle; for instance, during the Vietnam war, the United States faced Viet Cong militias almost entirely outfitted with that gun [10]. Throughout the 1960s and into the 1990s, China supported 

client states, anti-Western insurgents, and others pursuing “wars of national liberation.” Arms embargoes did little to curtail local and regional conflicts as by the time the situation had escalated and the United Nations attempted sanctions, the country was awash with AKs and there was no need for more [11].

China also began to establish diplomatic relations in Africa under Mao, for the purpose of supporting the spread of socialism into the third world, which Mao defined as states exploited by imperial powers [12].

Deng Xiaoping; 1976-1992

deng_0Deng Xiaoping

Deng’s economic reform policies led to a transition in the Chinese Leninist regime from Maoism and Stalinism into a blended structure between state and market, which recalls Friedman’s definition of Titoism, where, in response to the failures of socialism, states enact policies that emphasize “respect for autonomy, social diversity and performance criteria.” Thus Deng’s theory shifted ideology (rhetorically) to prioritize economic development using aspects of markets, including the profit motive and the private ownership of businesses [13]. The profit motive is Titoist in its emphasis on performance criteria, in the respect for limited autonomy of privately owned businesses, in Deng’s moderate allowance of dissent and reestablishment of the academic sphere, and in the relatively greater social and intellectual diversity allowed.

The introduction of a profit motive undergirds all subsequent changes in arms exports. Dissent was permitted, but not to the extent of civil disobedience on firearm ownership; in fact, China had and continues to maintain one of the strictest internal gun regimes in the world [14]. Nor did private ownership of business impact small arms production, because the only firms permitted to manufacture small arms are state-owned enterprises (SOEs) [15]. So, of Titoism, only the profit motive remains.

iraq-iran-warIran-Iraq War

From 1980 to 88, Iran and Iraq fought an intense war, instigated when Iraq tried to capitalize on Iranian instability following the 1979 revolution. While financial and military support poured in from the West to support Iraq, China took a different approach: from 1986 to the conclusion of the war in 1988, it sold a quantity of 1500 HN-5A man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) to both sides of the conflict [16]. One could speculate that the only reason to fund both sides of a conflict would be the hope of overall destabilization; yet, the Iran-Iraq war represents two of the world’s most already unstable states. China’s motivation, though perhaps elusive in this scenario, probably amounts to profit, gained through the desperation of war-torn states. One author comments that, when working with Iran, 

the approach of China’s arms sales representatives was also ‘business-like.’ Chinese representatives were not concerned with human rights issues or proliferation. They were willing to work with and accept Iranian demands for indigenization of production and find ways of surmounting constraints on Iran’s ability to pay cash [17].

The thesis that China disregards human rights in order to maximize profit both receives support from international experts [18] and raises concerns over the extent to which Titoism will scar China’s international image.


Current; 1992-2016

A misconception may exist that international small arm flows primarily come from the black market; this is not true, and by following the supply chain to its origin, one sees that states initiate the flow. There is significant evidence that armed non-state actors are using SALW manufactured in China [19], and, given that “all Chinese companies that are allowed to export conventional arms are state-owned enterprises” [20], one might assume direct illicit sale. Given that no record exists of Chinese sales to any non-state actor, a more probable explanation holds that China has exported weapons to states, which then resold them to non-state actors, or else weapons are stolen from ill-secured stockpiles in these states [21]. So, while illicit arms flows may pose a threat to global security, perfectly legal arms sales occur that can have an equally negative effect on human life.

libe-mmap-mdPosition of Liberia within western Africa

One should consider China’s relationship with Liberia. The Charles Taylor regime ruling Liberia formally recognized Taiwan rather than the mainland [22].  When discussions in the Security Council turned to sending a peacekeeping intervention to the Liberian civil war, China repeatedly complicated and delayed the efforts until UN officials assured China that the post-Taylor government would recognize and establish formal diplomatic relations with the mainland. One would therefore have expected China to support the Sirleaf government in full [23]. However, between 2001 and 2003, China sold to the Taylor regime via a European arms sales facilitator rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers [24]. In so doing, China “broke the UN arms embargo on Liberia” [25] but only the European consignment agent faced charges. Why did China support opposing sides of the Liberian conflict?

The Liberian timber market primarily exports to China and France; a UN panel established in 2001 to monitor compliance with the Liberian arms embargo found that funds from the timber industry “has strong links with” SALW flows into the country [26].

The Panel has stressed concerns that revenue from the timber trade – a major source of government income – is being used to purchase military assistance and that timber companies have facilitated transfers of weapons. These weapons are being used to pursue internal armed conflict between government forces and the armed opposition. . .Both sides continue to commit grave human rights abuses against civilians as fighting has intensified and spread during 2003. Liberian government forces and armed militia fighting with them are responsible for killings, torture, including rape, and forcible recruitment of children under-18 [27].

One should consider the possibility that China sees no political gain from supporting this regime. As a consequence of Titoist market reforms, China has found favorable economic incentives to produce and export small arms, and these economically underdeveloped African states happen to sate China’s demand without much objection. Or, more directly, the market for primary goods in Africa meets needs in the homeland, and that requires interaction with shadowy and often dictatorial parties; China must meet the needs of those parties to curry favor and eventually gain access to their raw materials.

That small arms sales are no longer fully political in nature comes as a consequence of Deng’s introduction of market incentives and removal of Mao’s economic self-sufficiency principle. For example, contrast China’s exports to Vietnam and to Liberia: in the former, direct state interests led to export of arms to solidify political power; in the latter, market incentives led to business deals that probably could have been made elsewhere, but indirectly contributed to the support of a repressive regime.

Be cautioned not to understate the severity of these business deals; some are incredibly bad ideas. For example, in the 1990s China exported SALW to Zaire, a poor central-African state run by the dictatorial Mobutu. In defiance of the UN arms embargo, Mobutu funneled weapons into Rwanda to support the Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR), the Rwandan army, which conducted the genocide [28]. In a less serpentine manner, China directly sold weapons to FAR [29] and later to ex-FAR Hutu militia groups, each sale in defiance of the UN arms embargo [30].

Legal Framework

The UN Program of Action (POA) on small arms outlines potential measures for states to implement that would minimize exports to repressive regimes and requires signatories to submit annual or bi-annual reports to the UN. China has released several reports, none of them specific or moving beyond shifting the blame to purchasing states; China holds that poverty and social instability are the main causes of illicit transfer of SALW and should therefore be addressed by all states collectively [31]. Notably, China has “never provided detailed information in a POA report on its responses to requests for information filed by UN panels of experts about SALW that have been found in destinations subject to UN arms embargoes” [32].

china unroca
UNROCA website, link here for SALW page

China suspended reporting to another UN body, the UN Register on Conventional Arms (UNROCA), ostensibly because the US listed Taiwan in its UNROCA report in 1997 as a “recipient state,” when China considers Taiwan part of its sovereign territory [33]. This act of protest means that China no longer reported data to international experts on SALW, nor collected it, until the US removed Taiwan from the category of “recipient states” and listed it just as a “recipient” in 2007. China has not signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and reportedly pushed back against inclusion of SALW in the definitions of the treaty [34].  

In the post-cold war era, China has increasingly used the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs to oppose Western attempts at humanitarian intervention and to ground China’s international talking points against humanitarian law and human rights [35]. Chinese regulations on SALW, or any other type of weaponry, contain no language stipulating that sales be denied on grounds of human rights violations [36].

Conclusion; Geopolitical Hypocrisy

Western commentators who analyze China’s SALW policies without giving consideration to their own state’s actions commit a particularly sinister geopolitical hypocrisy. For example, the United States in 2012 exported more SALW than any other state [37]. While one could err on the side of understating human rights abuses by governments receiving small arms from China, one could most definitely err on the side of understating the degree to which this has decreased since the Mao era; in fact, the introduction of a profit motivation by Deng has rendered SALW just another economic tool, rather than a device of intentional state violence.

[1] Brenda J. Buchanan, Gunpowder, Explosives and the State: A Technological History  (NY: Ashgate, 2006) 42.
Mark Bromley, Mathieu Duchâtel, Paul Holtom, et. all. China’s Export of Small Arms and Light Weapons. (Stockholm: International Peace Research Institute, 2013). Box 1.1.
Edward Friedman. “Three Leninist Paths Within a Socialist Conundrum,” in Dorothy Solinger, ed., Three Visions of Chinese Socialism. (Westview Press, 1984). 11-19.
Ibid., 15
“China’s Foreign Policy: The Historical Legacy and the Current Challenge.” Asia for Educators, Columbia University,  2009. << >>
William A. Joseph, Politics in China: an Introduction, Second Edition. (NY: Oxford University Press, 2014). 177.
 Austin Jersild. “Sharing the Bomb among Friends: The Dilemmas of Sino-Soviet Strategic Cooperation” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2013.
Alfred Low, Sino-Soviet Dispute: An Analysis of the Polemics (NY:  Associated University Press, 1976). 131.
[10] Gordon L. Rottman, The AK-47: Kalashnikov-series Assault Rifles. (Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2011). 48.
Ibid., 48.
Jing Men and Benjamin Barton, China and the European Union in Africa: Partners or Competitors? (NY: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2011). 221.
Joseph, 178.
See for example the policy Cap 238, Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance, a policy which sets a 14 year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a firearms.
Bromley, et. all, 1
Bromley, et. al, 40.
[17] John W. Garver, China and Iran: Ancient Partners in a Post Imperial World (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006). 80.
[18] cf. “Secretive Arms exports stoking conflict and repression,” Amnesty International, 2006.
[19] Bromley, et al., vii.
[20] Ibid., 1.
[21] Ibid., vii.
[22] Evan S. Medeiros, “China’s International Behavior: Activism, Opportunism, and Diversification” (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2009). 185.
[23] cf. Nicholas Cook.  “Liberia’s Post-War Recovery: Key Issues and Developments”. Congressional Research Service, 2008. 9.
[24] Bromley, et. all., 44.
[25] Ibid., 44
[26] “A Catalogue of Failures: G8 Arms Exports and Human Rights Violations.” Amnesty International, 2003. 42
[27] Ibid., 42.
[28] Damien Fruchart, United Nations Arms Embargoes: Their Impact on Arms Flows and Target Behaviour. Case study: Rwanda, 1994–present (Stockholm: International Peace Research Institute, 2007). 14.
[29] Ibid., 5.
Ibid., 13.
Bromley, et al., 7.
Ibid., 8.
Ibid., 8-9.
[34] Ibid., 10.
[35] Ibid., 31.
[36] Ibid., 31.
Small Arms Survey Yearbook 2015, Small Arms Survey, 2015. 4


“A Catalogue of Failures: G8 Arms Exports and Human Rights Violations.” Amnesty International, 2003.

Bromley, Mark,  Duchâtel, Mathieu, and Holtom, Paul. “China’s Export of Small Arms and Light Weapons.” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2013.

Buchanan, Brenda J.. “Gunpowder, Explosives and the State: A Technological History,” NY: Ashgate, 2006.

“China’s Foreign Policy: The Historical Legacy and the Current Challenge.” Asia for Educators, Columbia University, 2009.

Cook, Nicholas. “Liberia’s Post-War Recovery: Key Issues and Developments.” Congressional Research Service, 2008.

Friedman, Edward. “Three Leninist Paths Within a Socialist Conundrum,” in Dorothy Solinger, ed., “Three Visions of Chinese Socialism”. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984).

Fruchart, Damien. “United Nations Arms Embargoes: Their Impact on Arms Flows and Target Behaviour. Case study: Rwanda, 1994–present.” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2007.

Garver, John W. China and Iran: Ancient Partners in a Post Imperial World, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006.

Jersild, Austin. “Sharing the Bomb among Friends: The Dilemmas of Sino-Soviet Strategic Cooperation” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2013.

Joseph, William A. Politics in China: an Introduction, Second Edition. London: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Low, Alfred. “Sino-Soviet Dispute: An Analysis of the Polemics.” Associated University Press, 1976.

Medeiros, Evan S.. “China’s International Behavior: Activism, Opportunism, and Diversification.” RAND Corporation, 2009.

Men, Jing and Barton, Benjamin. China and the European Union in Africa: Partners or Competitors? NY: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2011.

Rottman, Gordon L. “The AK-47: Kalashnikov-series Assault Rifles.” Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2011.

“Secretive Arms exports stoking conflict and repression,” Amnesty International, 2006.

“Small Arms Survey Yearbook 2015,” Small Arms Survey, 2015. N.D.

Social Science Science



Phrenology held that since each part of the brain controls different aspects of the personality, and since the brain is larger in some areas, the bumps and contours of the skull would indicate the strength of each personality trait. By taking skull measurements and comparing them to existing diagrams, the phrenologist can give a consistent, accurate read of every person they encounter. It had reached its high water mark by the 20th century; mainstream scientific consensus had moved on, though vestiges of the study remained in isolation.

Phrenology tried to do something most theories cannot:

Explain with a single variable (skull shape) a near-infinite number of other variables (personality traits), accurately and definitively.

Phrenology was unbelievably popular. Racists and eugenicists used it to justify white superiority over blacks. Many saw it as a parlor trick designed for fun, but still based in reality. Many prominent scientists (like Hewett Watson) and writers (like Walt Whitman) publicly upheld its legitimacy.

Scientists now safely dismiss phrenology as bad social science. But what separates good from bad, what are the limits of social science, and where did phrenology go wrong?


Consider this document from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, which lists the criteria for good social science:

  • Parsimony
  • Breadth of phenomena explained
  • Accuracy
  • Ability to be disproved

The term parsimony means eliminating or consolidating variables, until as few remain as possible. If the social scientist has a wide breadth of phenomena explained, that means their work matters; they should try to eliminate variables (parsimony) but still address a wide variety of issues.

The theory must still be accurate. At some point, although nobody ever knows when, the social scientist gets carried away with parsimony and eliminates variables that he shouldn’t have eliminated. Those factors matter, and the theory becomes less accurate as a result.

In the same way that Accuracy and Parsimony tend to trade off, Breadth of phenomena explained and Ability to be disproved trade off. Occasionally the social scientists tries to explain too many things at once (wide breadth), but if a theory addresses literally everything, it cannot be disproved and probably explains nothing at all. The technical term for this effect is a tautology. Similarly, a very easily disproved effect (like, white people tend to tie their shoes more than nonwhites) is very falsifiable but not very useful (narrow breadth).

Part of the goal of the Social Sciences, as opposed to their predecessor the Social Studies, was to apply these principles from the hard sciences to sociology, psychology, history, politics (now known as political science), and more. They say, let’s boil down the wide array of potential causes into just the ones that matter, trying to create a predictive theory.


Consider this document from Virginia Commonwealth University, particularly the sections on Classical Realism and on Constructivism. Each of these are theories of International Relations held by credible intellectuals, each have abundant scholarly work, and each generally fit some of the above principles. For Classical Realism, notice the lone variable: power, which “is the first and last principle of state behavior.” All of the elaboration for this theory are just paraphrases of that sentence, scenarios with more or less power, or an exploration of balances of power. It uses one variable (parsimony), but attempts to explain all of state behavior (not falsifiable- breadth too wide- anything can count as evidence).

For Constructivism, state behavior in foreign relations comes from “a set of defining political, cultural, economic, social, or religious characteristics.” These aren’t even factors; they are meta-factors, each containing dozens of factors that collectively influence state behavior. This fails the parsimony test, but passes the Accuracy test- after all, the social scientist just throws in another variable after looking at the picture, trying to account for more accuracy. By definition, it approaches accuracy over time.

Notice the tension between eliminating variables and actually getting it right; notice the tension between explaining the most possible phenomena and still being falsifiable. Classical Realism is parsimonious, Constructivism is accurate, and neither are falsifiable enough to be helpful.


Phrenology should be rejected as quackery, but not just because it sounds crazy. Often we can’t see the difference between the crazy and the real. News media airs reports that convince us that the impossible is possible, when it really was impossible. And with philosophy education in the U.S. practically not existing, we can’t expect the average person just to know what is real, let alone have the physical sciences or social sciences background to have intuition that raises warning signs.

Instead, good social science follows well established principles: parsimony, explanation of a wide number of variables, accuracy, and mythbustability.

In a way, the existence of these principles acts like a meta-social science. In just four variables, I can determine the goodness of a theory, accurately, and any of these principles could be argued against and disproved if suddenly new principles arise that explain more effects with less variables more accurately, with more easily disproved hypotheses. Ad nauseum.

Phrenology could not possibly have explained, using one variable, the incredibly and increasingly large number of factors that go into personality, with any sort of accuracy. It wouldn’t be psychology; it would be mathematics, and even mathematics often cannot do that. Thankfully for science, it was easily falsifiable, or it might still live on in the form of Facebook newsfeed articles, strange medical associations with legitimate sounding names (the website never states the organization’s full name, always the acronym), and confused scientists tossing their results because they fear contradicting widespread consensus.



The 體用 ti-yong dichotomy refers to an intuitive hesitation in Chinese political thought: where Western methods and practices seem more effective in society they ought to be adopted; yet, some may contradict the core principles of Chinese identity. How much of the West should China adopt? To what extent should China maintain its own culture and practices, and conversely to what extent should China embrace foreign ideals?

China’s doors flung open, though involuntarily, during the first Opium War. From then on, initial resistance to Westernism could not outweigh desire to emulate its practices; several attempts to reform meet resistance throughout the 19th century, backsliding in the early 20th, but ultimately Mao upends Chinese Traditionalism. When Deng subsequently upends Mao’s economics, the conversion is complete, accelerating to the present. I will delineate this historical continuum into 19th Century, which spans 1839 to 1911 (First Opium War to fall of Qing dynasty), Republican from 1911 to 1949 (Fall of Qing dynasty to Communist Revolution) and PRC from 1949 to present.


From the early 19th century, following social unrest related to the Opium Wars, among other reasons, many social uprisings attempted to overthrow the Qing dynasty. Hong Xiuquan led such a rebellion, merging quasi-Christian religious ideas with individual revelation (Schoppa 73). His “startlingly different framework from traditional Confucian social hierarchy” placed extreme value on egalitarianism by erasing Confucian societal roles (75). In response the Qing emperor appointed Zeng Guofan to create an army, pushing back the Taipings. Guofan decried Xiuquan’s anti-Confucian teachings, and further, intentionally built his army according to Confucian social structuring principles (79). These figures provide a challenge to Confucianism and a reactionary pushback, illustrating their views on the degree to which Chinese ideals should be replaced by Western (here, Christian) ones.

In a new development occurring in the mid-to-late 19th century, the Self Strengthening Movement argued that China should use Western technology to preserve itself (Joseph 46). Diplomacy, education, technology, but especially the military; the Self Strengthening Movement’s main success was the establishment of refortified military power (47). In counter, the semi-Empress Cixi ruled as a “thoroughgoing conservative traditionalist” in self interest (Schoppa 104); she later immensely persecuted Kang Youwei, the Hundred Days reformer for a reinterpretation of Confucianism that threatened Cixi’s power.


The Republican period began on rocky footing, with Yuan Shikai taking extreme measures to solidify and centralize power. The May 4th movement, responding to these and other issues in China, flourished as a rejection of Chinese Traditionalism and an embrace of modernity. It is hard to overestimate the degree to which the 5/4ers disregarded traditional culture – Shoppa remarks that they discarded, and even “trashed” symbolism that represented Confucism, Chinese authority or the Qing empire (176). Iconoclasm aside, the 5/4ers embraced new principles of social change and evolutionary cultural change, fully upending Chinese Traditionalism (Joseph 55).

In the decades following, communism would grow in China to become the dominant political force; Li Dazhou, Qu Qiubai and Chen Duxiu, early communist leaders, found and solidify the party in this time period (Shoppa 182). Despite later rhetoric from Mao, communism is not an especially Chinese philosophy; its import from the West signifies the furthest adoption of Western ideas in supplantation of Chinese tradition.


The People’s Republic of China, led in paramount by Mao Zedong from 1949 until his death in 1976, continued in full the communism of the 1920s and 30s CCP. Perhaps Mao’s first piece of anti-Western rhetoric was the “Resist America Aid Korea Campaign,” a move to expel UN troops from northern Korea. Had the Chinese army been more trained, it is possible that the Chinese would have lost less soldiers; their casualty rate far outnumbered Westerners, a “brutally costly war” (Shoppa 317). These military issues caused Peng Dehuai to call for reform of the military, with modernization that essentially amounted to Westernization of its forces. Beyond just the Korean War, however, Mao’s policies generally isolated China from Western influence, condemning at every opportunity bourgeois practices or ideas, especially individualism. Lin Biao led Mao’s efforts to upend existing Chinese Traditionalism in the Cultural Revolution, but rather than replacing it with modernity, replace it with Mao himself.

After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping controlled the Chinese political apparatus, gradually undoing all of Mao’s economic policies in favor of a blended command economy with market features (Godement 85). After this point, China will increasingly resemble the West, with accelerating similarities after Deng. From the mid 70’s to 1983, non-Deng Chinese leadership conducts the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign, a move to resist bourgeois Westernism in all its forms; however, Deng intervenes (Joseph 128); so, attempts to gut Westernism ultimately fail, and the figurehead driving Western economic policy into China has perpetrated it. The Deng model of economic growth through command economics proves very successful under Wen Jiabao, leader of China in the mid 2000s, whose unhesitant acceptance of market systems indicates the end of the central 體用 ti-yong hesitation (Godement 109).


R. Keith Shoppa, “Revolution and Its Past: Identities and Change in Modern Chinese History, Third Edition,” Prentice Hall,  2011.

William A. Joseph, “Politics in China: An Introduction, Second Edition,” Oxford University Press, 2014.

Francois Godement, “Contemporary China: Between Man and Market,” Rowman & Littlefield Press, 2016.

Follow the guns: Response

This essay responds to this interview and was submitted in an application for the University of Northwestern at Saint Paul’s honor program, formatted accordingly, and later reformatted for this blog.


Researchgate interviews Paul Holtom, an expert on global firearms trade and the impact of the Arab Spring on weapons sales, asking for his perspective on the origins of the Kalashnikovs used in the Paris terrorist attacks of November 13. Most small arms and light weapons (SALW) enter the illicit market through complicit governments that purchase them legitimately but later forward them to underground distributing points. SALW also arrive at black-market midpoints through theft and by the reanimation of equipment from earlier wars. For example, the rifles used in the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in France had been funneled through Slovakia and mechanically reassembled in Belgium.

A European Union ban on semi-automatic weapons would help law enforcement agencies by reducing the number of potential intermediaries of SALW trade, allowing law enforcement to bottleneck the shipment routes. In the past, states generally avoided SALW trade with Syria because of its connections to Hezbollah, but now many states pretend not to notice, implicitly funding rebels like the Free Syrian Army. Holtom provides an example of such distribution going awry, when ISIS intercepted a U.S. airdrop of SALW intended for the Free Syrian Army in October 2014.

Contrary to popular belief, not all illegal firearms trade occurs on the deep web; instead, many otherwise legitimate arms distributors forward SALW to off-market demanders. Law enforcement agencies therefore cannot usually prove their guilt with certainty. Finally, Holtom mentions that the U.S., Italy and Germany produce most of these weapons; slowing down production of SALW could mitigate most of the distribution its start.


Holtom’s interview understates the state-sponsorship of SALW flows, suggests an ineffective EU-wide ban on semi-automatic weapons and implies that the U.S. could potentially stop the use of deep net technology in the sale of weaponry, which it cannot.

The term State Interests, in neorealist International Relations theory, denotes intentional attempts by states to become more powerful relative to other states, usually militarily. When a state’s interests include allowing SALW flows through their countries, no level of international diplomacy will stop them, in general, especially for something considered so innocuous. Many African states funnel SALW into their neighbor’s insurgencies to destabilize those neighbors; to establish themselves as a regional power, they must destabilize their neighbors, since power comes as a relative gain. Take for instance the insurgency in Sierra Leone, which received SALW from Senegal, Gambia, Liberia, Cote D’Ivory and Burkina Faso; these weapons originally came from Bulgaria, Slovakia, Ukraine and Lybia. Presumably these original states did not intend for secondary distribution. As Sierra Leone remained in perpetual chaos in a decades-long civil war, its neighboring states continuously pumped weapons into the country, as that policy fell within their state interests. Such states therefore act intentionally.

U.S. military intervention – besides usually failing to establish democracy abroad –  leaves behind residual weaponry. In many cases these leftover SALW have hurt U.S. interests, its allies or the local civilian populations. For instance, fearing that Afghanistan could fall into Soviet control, the Reagan administration funded and funneled SALW into Kabul to support the mujahideen, a fundamentalist religious insurgency; two decades later the U.S. fought a war against fighters who used those same weapons. For all the outcry in the early 2000’s on WMDs, which have international regulation mechanisms like the non-proliferation treaty and annual atomic energy inspections, the true mass killers and counterinsurgencies fight with SALW, for which no international regulations exist. In another example, the US provided SALW to Indonesia, but had to discontinue the program when news broke about the genocide in East Timor, where the aggressors used those same weapons. Intervention causes the unintended consequence of SALW blowback.

While a European Union ban on semi-automatic weapons would restrict state-sponsored flow from EU countries, the problem mostly originates with poor African states and rich Gulf states. Moreover, most of the European states that participate in illicit SALW trade do not hold EU membership, like Ukraine, Moldova and the countries in former Yugoslavia. Of the EU states implicated, most already ignore EU ordinances when those ordinances contradict state interests. So, the problem isn’t centrally European, the main European actors are not bound by the proposed ban, and the EU members who are bound will disobey once it matters. Europeans tend to enjoy empty but rhetorically dense lawmaking, so perhaps another Lisbon-treaty-esque bill could sate demand for a solution to SALW flows.

Weapons funneling in the Syrian war creates even more unintended consequences. It should surprise no one that the U.S. could not securely deliver weapons to Kurds. Parallel to Holtom’s example, as President Obama rushed the troops home from Iraq in 2011, the Department of Defense had allocated $200 million in military equipment for the Kurds; fearful Iraqi Defense forces fled northern Iraq when the Islamic State swept the region, and all of the equipment fell into ISIS control. But ignore these examples and assume temporarily that the U.S. could effectively deliver weapons to the Kurds. Iraqi and Syrian Kurds represent an unstable irredentist movement, fought by ISIS, Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Lebanon, Syria, the Syrian Rebels, Iran, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Saudi Arabia. In other words, nearly every state in the region disagrees with the establishment of a sovereign Kurdistan, for various reasons. As such the weapons that the United States forwards to the Kurds represent an even greater than usual threat of incidental SALW flows contrary to U.S. interests.

Holtom correctly identifies the prosecution of deep web crime as tricky, but ignores a much greater reality: the United States increasingly cannot regulate the deep web at all. For example, it took the DEA more than three years to track down Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind the internet’s largest drug distribution website, in spite of several incredibly sloppy mistakes. Even still, deep web users since have created 19 equivalent websites. This process would presumably apply for SALW as well; facing a constant demand, limiting supply doesn’t actually limit supply, it pushes it underground. For example, a coalition of European and U.S. law enforcement agencies had to spend six months planning a raid that took down over 400 deep web markets. Prosecutors celebrated their immense victory at the time, but once the back-patting finished, they immediately had to take down the (more numerous) replacement websites. The implication that governments can stop illicit trade by monitoring and prosecuting the deep web is laughable, and incredibly understates the anonymity, flexibility and immutability of these encrypted services.


Small arms and light weapons present the greatest challenge to regional stability in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East; in a classic North-South conflict generation scheme, key NATO members produce the weapons used by developing countries in their wars. Holtom correctly identifies a potential solution for de-escalation: the U.S., Italy and Germany could decrease the total quantity of weapons exported legitimately from their countries, or at least not intentionally go out of their way to overproduce weapons and sell them at below-market prices, incentivizing developing countries to their own collapse in civil war, if not worse: the genocide and crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda and East Timor.