Most Interesting Reads of the Week (November 1, 2014)

Some of the more interesting things I’ve read this week:

  • How we turn other human being into something less than human.  “Consequently, clever primates that we are, we have developed methods to circumvent and neutralise our own horror at the prospect of spilling human blood. We have constructed and disseminated toxic ideologies, ingested mind-altering drugs and engaged in powerful collective rituals, all for the sake of disinhibiting aggression and directing it against our neighbours.”
  • Julian Assange on Google. “Nobody wants to acknowledge that Google has grown big and bad. But it has. Schmidt’s tenure as CEO saw Google integrate with the shadiest of U.S. power structures as it expanded into a geographically invasive megacorporation. But Google has always been comfortable with this proximity.”
  • How time is used in North Korean children’s literature.  “When North Korean people wake up to their present misfortunes and realize that they cannot easily escape them by simply smiling away, the conception of time as a powerful force and an ally can still be used by the North Korean propagandists but for a different purpose: as a means for assigning blame for who is supposedly responsible for their current misfortunes.”
  • The political difficulties in counting the dead. “[W]hat is most needed after some horrific event has taken place that one wishes to understand (be it Bloody Sunday, how many civilians are dying in Iraq or died at Wounded Knee) is academic freedom – openness, freedom to collect, to explore, to posit, reflect, revisit, interpret and repeat. Without this, the scientific enterprise cannot continue. Indeed, these are central to the process. Unfortunately, openness, freedom to collect, explore, posit, reflect, revisit and interpret do not frequently follow after horrific events. There is a window for such revelations and after the window is shut (discussed below), then the conversation is kind of over.”
  • Disillusionment sets in.  “One of the few bright spots in the latest wave of the jihadist tourism trail is the growing disenchantment of some fighters in the Syria-Iraq conflict, where they have found themselves thrown into a war that is dirtier than anything they had ever imagined, where the religious authoritarianism is stricter than anything they have experienced, and the violence between jihadist groups is too brutal for comfort.”
  • Troubled people and the draw of Revolutionary Islam. “ISIS ‘seems to calculate—correctly, in my view—that small-scale lone-wolf attacks on symbolic targets will get it outsized attention. … The propagandists seem to understand the link between certain forms of mental illness and susceptibility to mass violence, even if we don’t.’”
  • The life I think I wanted once. “The hand that mixes the Georgetown martini,” said Kissinger, “is time and again the hand that guides the destiny of the Western world.”
  • How America’s elites really work. “Just as Machiavelli does not entrust liberty to any one class—nobles, king, or people—Mosca does not believe freedom depends on any particular political formula. Such doctrines are myths, even if some historically correspond only to the most repressive regimes. The reality is that liberty comes from specific conditions, not abstract formulas—conditions that permit open competition among what Mosca calls ‘social forces.'”
  • Tourism in North Korea. “Tourism means exposure: If North Koreans remain isolated and know nothing about the outside world, how would you expect them to start demanding change?” he wondered. “How on earth can they learn that there are better ways to live and run society?”
  • America’s rigged justice system. “The practice of plea bargaining never really took hold in most other countries, where it was viewed as a kind of ‘devil’s pact’ that allowed guilty defendants to avoid the full force of the law. But in the United States it became commonplace.”
  • Democracy, Judaism and the future of Israel. “Neither is it possible to be a Muslim or an Israeli Christian, and not merely because the Israeli Supreme Court has rejected Israeli as a civil identification. As long as Israel is essentially a Jewish state, being Jewish is essential to being Israeli. A non-Jew can be an Israeli citizen, of course, and carry a blue identification card and passport, but she or he would not for all that be Israeli.”
  • What makes political Islam work in the Westphalian world order. “While they have little in common with Islamist extremists, in both means and ends, the Muslim Brotherhood and its many descendants and affiliates do have a particular vision for society that puts Islam and Islamic law at the center of public life. The vast majority of Western Christians—including committed conservatives—cannot conceive of a comprehensive legal-social order anchored by religion. However, the vast majority of, say, Egyptians and Jordanians can and do.”