Vanity thought #1224. Geopolitics

Up until very recently I though of geopolitics as an extension of “real politics”, ie politicians acting out of self interest as members of their societies. I mean people elected someone to be a mayor but when a big real estate guy comes knocking on you door with campaign contribution promises you got to give his desires a bit more consideration than to a vote cast by an average nobody two years ago. With geopolitics, I thought, it’s just like this but on a bigger scale.

Then I read an article by George Friedman of Stratfor, the founder of a think tank that has been producing top notch analyses for almost two decades. This dude is all into strategic forecasting and he figured that real geopolitics defines the future better than anything else. By geopolitics he means countries interests based on their geographical locations. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Initially.

I mean, what is so special about US geography that makes it try to police the rest of the world? What makes China so special that makes it quietly buy half of Africa? What makes Russia so special to challenge US desire for global hegemony, which in itself doesn’t have obvious geographical roots.

One word answer – complexity. The world is not a simple, binary, black and white place. The currently observed interests might not display their geographical roots but they are there, one just have to trace them back to their origins. They are also very logical and very rational, almost inevitable, but more on that later.

Take France, for example. In the south it’s cut off from Spain by Pyrenees, in the west it’s separated from rest of Europe by Alps but there’s access to Italy along the coast and easy roll in to Germany, Belgium, and Holland from north-west. If you think about it, it all makes sense. Original western civilization spread from Italy so bottle-neck connection in the south and through Alps in the west means that once culture gets out into open, fertile planes it grows like crazy on it’s own with little feedback. If you think of modern, borderless politics then France, as a society and its culture, appears to be quite big and therefore influential in Europe but it’s always somewhat off center. French, therefore, are independent but also in tune with the rest of the continent, and, given the size of their country, comparable to their influence to Germany.

Friedman gave an example of Germany, btw, to show how geopolitics really work. Germany, being big and situated right in the middle of Europe, has to trade with everybody and keep balance between competing interests on all sides. Sometimes they might also get an idea that, given their central location, they are ought to control the rest of the continent, too. I mean that for Germans any particular interest, be it coming from French, British, or Russians, is of no paramount importance, it’s just one out of many they have to deal with everyday so they might feel they have the wherewithal to bring everyone together under one big German boot, sorry, roof.

Or take Britain. I’m not going to explain British empire but these days their interests and inspirations are purely geopolitical. They are in Europe but separated by the sea, which perfectly explains their love-hate affair with the rest of the continent. As soon as things go wrong they retreat, as soon as they want something they come back, and if things don’t go as they planned they can always fall back to their long time partner the US, which they never take seriously but always need anyway.

Russia’s situation is determined by geography as well. They want to be part of the West but western ideas take so long time to get to them that they always come down filtered, if not heavily censored, and always several steps too late. They also have absorbed large quantities of Asians of all stripes, which means they have to accept at least acceptance of Asian culture as part of their make up. They can’t say ideological no to Islam or Buddhism, they’ve got to find common values, share them, and live together.

This means that when westerners with their homogeneous experience come to lecture them Russians have to run their advice by their local Asians first and so they appear less than enthusiastic. There is also thousand and a half years split in Christian church that put Russians on the other side of ideological divide. They just can’t become European no matter what they try, geography and history works against them.

At this point I should point out that history is determined by geography, too, even more so than the present, so it all comes down to geopolitics in its true sense – policies guided by geography more than by anything else. George Friedman’s quote summarized it very well:

    ..there is no distinction between economic, political, military and technological affairs. They are convenient ways to organize departments, but in reality, they are simply a different and linked dimension of the nation-state and related socio-political activities.

It’s all very well, but my personal experience adds quite a bit, too. Over the time I noticed that the color of sand and dust collecting in my house is the same as the color of the soil outside. Duh! Obviously, but not in the bedroom, where dust is the color of discarded skin flakes.

First I noticed connection between the color of the soil and the colors used by people for pretty much everything was in Cambodia some fifteen years ago. I suddenly found myself in a place where everything was red,or at least had heavy red shades mixed to it. Sand was red, dust was red, roof top tiles were red, walls were painted orange, and clothes people wore had red and orange colors, too. All browns had the shades of red everywhere.

It was very different in the Northern Thailand, still in the same part of Asia but about a thousand kilometers to the north. Browns were gray and almost bluish there, just as was the soil, sand, and all the colors associated with their Lanna culture. To an average westerner all Asians have the same faces but you can’t mistake reddish brown Cambodians for blueish brown Lannanians. Well, people of Northern Thailand were not like Kṛṣṇa, their skin wasn’t blue, they were very white comparing to Cambodians, but this particular shade of brown was nevertheless everywhere you look.

Does it determine the way you behave? I don’t know how but Cambodians and Northern Thais are people of very different temperaments, too. Cambodians are people of tropical plains and forests, it always hot there, and so is the general temperament, while Northern Thais are people of the mountains. They don’t have snow there but at this time of the year they usually get frost and temperatures drop close to freezing point. In their behavior they are very different from Cambodians, they are sweet and reserved.

What does it have to do with my house? Nothing, it’s just that the color of outside dust reminded me of differences pronounced elsewhere. Friedman, at the time of writing of that article, was on his way to Moscow. Afterwards he wrote a report on his trip and he started it with describing how Moscow FEELS, which, according to him influences how people live.

Geography makes Russians resilient to pressure, they have to, they have no other choice. History makes them quite separate from the rest of the western civilization and unwelcome visits by Napoleon and Hitler make them feel defensive against intruders, too. When going gets tough, Russians get going, while in their normal state (three months of summer, I guess) they feel safe and under no threat, gathering strength to repel yet another assault by nature or by outsiders.

Friedman also noticed that being in trouble has become a default state of Russian psyche. Last decade of relative prosperity is viewed by them as an aberration, as a short summer, so they are fully prepared to tighten their belts and live through the winder of sanctions and dropping oil prices.

Okay, but what has it got to do with Kṛṣṇa consciousness? Quite a lot, actually, because most of the time we don’t notice our own conditioning nor the conditioning of others. We still think that people have their independence and act in the world as if they are in control of their actions. We, then, of course judge them for that, which leads to committing offenses, which leads to the lack of progress on devotional path.

What I mean to say is that we don’t see devotees doing things as not being responsible for their actions. We think they are to blame when, in fact, it is all guru’s mercy and just geography. This obviously needs examples or case studies but I don’t have time for that today, so maybe tomorrow.

Or let me put it this way – no one does things that don’t make sense to that person. Making sense, however, being logical and rational, by definition strips that person of independence. Rationality is not a personal subject, it’s absolute regardless of how you feel about it. Given same conditions and same background people of certain cultures will act in certain ways with little deviations, so it makes no sense to blame them for what they do naturally, according to their svabhāva, which is another misnomer because it’s imposed on people by material energy.

This means that we should just chant our lives away without being disturbed even by devotees doing apparently strange and unacceptable things.

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