North Korea, Poster Child For HBD Theory

In a response to a race denier on this blog, who argued for the primacy of culture and political economic systems, Lazy Glossophiliac wrote:

In regards to North Korea: how’s that Sudanese nuclear weapons program coming along? Any 100-story hotels put up with the help of local engineering talent? Come to think of it, did even any of Dubai’s high-rise projects use local engineering talent? If the US government ever became so displeased with Congo-Brazzaville as to wish to contain it, how many troops would it need to use? 400? 4,000? 40,000? How long would they have to stay? How much money would have to be spent on this?

Touché. NK demonstrates that no matter how fucked up a country’s polity is, the HBD component will still make itself felt. The distortions of a command economy that directs up to a third of the national output into the MIC might be making it as poor as Senegal but the hermit kingdom nonetheless managed to build nuclear weapons, ICBM’s, architectural splendors, an indigenous operating system; synchronize gymnastics performances involving hundreds of thousands of people; invent political philosophies like Juche and Songun; create a ton of inspiring music; and maintain a million man army posing a grave threat to the prosperity and well-being of its immeasurably richer southern neighbor.

In effect a nation of 23 million people has managed to build, and sustain for 60 years and counting, a mini civilization against a hostile outside world. It might be a deeply perverse civilization from our perspective, held together by love and fear of the Leader, but it is no less an achievement for all that. It is ironic but had Koreans been a less intelligent and socially conformist people, the regime would have likely long since disintegrated from total collapse of basic infrastructure and discipline.

How a Second Korean War will be Fought

The recent sinking of a South Korean (ROK) corvette, with the probable deaths of several dozen sailors, brings to focus the fraught situation on the Korean peninsula. Now the cause of this incident – North Korean (DPRK) torpedo or tragic accident – is not yet clear. Moreover, the two sides have a long history of border clashes – the current hot-spot over the Northern Limit Line, claimed by the ROK but disputed by the DPRK, has already seen three armed clashes in 1999, 2002, and 2009. The Korean War never really ended (the DPRK actually withdrew from the 1953 Armistice in 2009), and the North has pursued a strategy of periodically ratcheting up tensions to extract concessions from South Korea and the US. So this latest near-crisis is neither unexpected nor exceptionally destabilizing. As with the Cold War nuclear standoff, though the chances of any one trigger setting off an escalation to all-out war are small, they do accumulate over time.

Welcome to North Korea!

The Democratic People’s Republic is, as is well known, neither democratic (elections are fixed), popular (it is run by a small clique), or even a republic (Kim Jong-il succeeded his father Kim Il-sung to become “Supreme Leader”, and his son Kim Jong-un is slated to take over in 2012). Its political economy is essentialy based on the Asiatic mode of production – “held in thrall by a despotic ruling clique, residing in central cities and directly expropriating surplus from largely autarkic and generally undifferentiated village communities” (Martin & Wigen, 1997). These surpluses are used to buy the loyalties of the ruling elites who plan the DPRK’s self-sufficient economy (Juche) and uphold the “military first” (Songun) policy, as a result of which the DPRK is by far the most militarized state in the world – around 5% of its population are in the Korean People’s Army, on which the state has lavished a third of its entire gross product since the 1970’s. What emerges is an apotheosis of industrial totalitarianism, a “hermit kingdom” that manages to develop ballistic missiles and nukes, but can’t even feed its people – permanent dearth occasionally dips into outright famine, such as in 1995-98 when around 12% of its population starved to death.

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Collapse Ethics: Anarchy or Coercion?

The reaction to my article on the “ecotechnic dictatorship” garnered a vigorous response on this blog, and more of a vitriolic one elsewhere (see below for a summary). So let’s ask the question outright. Suppose that all your observations and models indicated that business-as-usual would doom the global industrial system to collapse, causing the premature deaths of the many surplus billions it now supports on a “phantom carrying capacity” based on fossil fuel-powered agriculture, industrial fishing fleets, and a stable climate. In this hypothetical scenario (IMO, no longer very hypothetical at all), would it be ethical to support the coming of an “ecotechnic dictator”, a despotic Messiah, who would suppress individual freedoms in order to force an unwilling populace into making the consumption sacrifices needed to avert the Crash?

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Ecotechnic Dictatorship is Our Last Hope of Averting Collapse

As a follow-up to my article on the historical necessity of Green Communism, I would like to  1) refute some common myths and misconceptions about limits to growth-induced collapse, 2) clarify the concept of Green Communism, and 3) elucidate why the only realistic way to prevent collapse now is to force through a “sustainable retreat” by an “ecotechnic dictatorship”.

Let’s take as a starting point our current situation. From the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, calculations indicate that humanity exceeded the long-term carrying capacity of the Earth. Fossil fuel resources are being used up at an unsustainable rate, producing an increase in what William Catton called the “phantom carrying capacity“, which now supports many of the Earth’s surplus billions. However, should the energy base becomes too weak to sustain this phantom carrying capacity, there will be a catastrophic fall of the human population as the Earth system snaps back into equilibrium, producing a massive Malthusian dieoff. The recent peaking of world oil production and accelerated Arctic methane release are but the early portents of hard limits to growth on our finite planet.

We are in a predicament, dependent on an industrial Machine whose insatiable appetite for ever higher levels of material throughput will eventually doom us all. A Machine and its brother, Mammon, with whom we have made a Faustian bargain. We have to somehow wriggle out of this physical and spiritual dependency on our industrial Mephistopheles to avert a collapse of industrial civilization by 2050, but continued dithering and denial makes the changes required ever more drastic year by year. Had the world begun the transition to sustainability in the 1970’s, a great deal of personal freedom and private affluence could have been preserved; as of today, it looks ever likelier than only a Leviathan invested with total power over society can haul us back from the brink of the Olduvai Gorge.

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Philosophical Musings #1

1. Long Live Death!

Why is everyone so afraid of death?

Granted, it is directly opposed to our instinct of self-preservation; but in reality, our intellect should recognize it as the road to the ultimate freedom – a world free of boxes, restrictions, the prison of existence itself.

As the Japanese saying goes, “while duty is heavier than a mountain, death is lighter than a feather”.

Life is a constant barrage of insults, injuries and injustices, punctuated by brief moneys of success and happiness; yet their very fleeting nature, by holding out an illusory hope of sustained bliss, just further reinforces life’s burdens. As Milan Kundera wrote:

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

Yet death is complete dissipation into thin air, nirvana. Sublime ∅blivion.

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