Afghanistan | Part 2
Hello, and welcome to the Global Thread podcast! I’m your host, Yasmin Aliya Khan, and today we’re talking about Afghanistan again. This is Part 2.
Alright, in the Global Thread’s first-ever Part 2, we’re continuing our story about Afghanistan. Obviously, if you missed last week’s episode, go listen to that one before listening to this one. That’s how these things work.
To give you a super brief recap, though, in Part 1, we went over the Truman Doctrine, the history of Afghanistan, including the Great Game, the Durand Line, and Afghanistan’s significance in the Cold War, and we started to see the Afghan people taking back control of their own land while still being divided amongst themselves. In today’s episode, we’ll pick up where we left off, starting right around the 1980s. At this point, a leftist government was trying to enact progressive social reforms in a highly conservative society, and it wasn’t going well for them.
Religiously conservative rebel groups started to form throughout Afghanistan, some of them even fleeing to Pakistan and Iran where they could operate openly. Amongst the rebels, the most conservative amongst them were proponents of a very strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Very quickly, Sharia law is one of those things that isn’t well understood in the western world. It’s a series of guidelines for how Muslims should live and present themselves, both on a personal and societal level. It’s based on teachings in the Quran, as well as the Sunnah and Hadith, which are both teachings of the prophet, Muhammed. It’s not like you can just pull up the Sharia Law as a PDF on your phone like you can with, say, the US Constitution and read it all in one place. For most Muslims, this “law” details the everyday practices of Muslims - how and when to pray, how to carry yourself, how to navigate your relationships, how much and how often you should donate to charities, and how and why you should fast in the month of Ramadan.
When there’s disagreement over something, religious scholars step in and basically decide and decree what the interpretation is or should be. Of course, when things are subject to interpretation, they’re made to be malleable and easily exploited. Many different Muslim groups have different ideas about what Sharia law actually is, and it’s loose enough to accommodate different cultural considerations. For example, the head coverings you see Muslim women wearing? It’s not really in the Quran, at least not the way you see it practiced today. I have friends here who wear them and, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t really understand why. Burkas are a more extreme version of the hijab that are imposed on women by oppressive governments in the name of Islam. Again, I know women here in the States who wear them and I don’t understand why, but whatever. I guess it makes them happy, and at least over here, it’s their choice as to how much or how little they want to cover up. Women, for that matter, are supposed to be well-protected and highly valued members of Islamic society. In practice in many Muslim nations, that hasn’t been the case. That’s not Islam, though. It’s just chauvinism. For some perspective, the recent rulings we’ve seen against women’s rights in the US are based on Christian ideals and values despite having no basis in the Bible, and they’ve been imposed on a non-Christian population, so to criticize one without criticizing the other is hypocrisy. It’s also hypocritical to point out questionable passages in the Quran while ignoring equally questionable and nonsensical passages in the Bible.
Some of the more brutal aspects of Sharia law that are often cited involve harsh punishments for crimes - losing a hand for stealing, being stoned to death for infidelity, etc. Allegedly, these punishments were put in place to more serve as deterrents of high crimes, similar to the death penalty, but they’re not supposed to be executed without plenty of proof. Of course, that “proof” is another subject of interpretation. Similar punishments with similar justifications also exist in the Bible, and in over half of the United States today, the death penalty is still legal. I guess an electric shock or an injection is considered to be more humane than stones.
I don’t know if I actually need to say this, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I was raised Muslim but not in a religious household. I’m also not Arab or Afghan, at least not that I’ve been able to trace in my lineage. Today, I’m pretty anti-religion. I don’t like any of them, and I think religion has caused way more problems than it’s solved throughout the course of global history. I think the sooner we’re not beholden to these old books, the better off we’ll all be. Again, that’s my personal opinion and I’m not trying to sway anyone towards my own way of thinking. That said, it’s important to understand, for the sake of religion’s role in global politics, how religious teachings are understood amongst those that practice it, as well as how religion and culture are often wrongfully conflated with one another.
[AFGHAN CIVIL WAR AND THE RISE OF THE TALIBAN]
Back to our story, by the 1980s, Afghanistan is plunged into a civil war with religious extremists rebelling against the liberals in power. The new government was struggling to maintain its grip over its conservative majority, and for some reason, the Soviets got involved.
For context, the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan would come to be referred to as “Russia’s Vietnam.” While there’s some debate over why they even got involved in the first place, it seems to boil down to two things - protecting their own interests from an unstable regime, and spreading their own values and brand of governance. Yeah… sounds a lot like Vietnam.
So, the Soviets went into Afghanistan in 1979. They assassinated its leader and put someone they liked better in his place. They were met with resistance from the mujahideen, or guerrilla “holy warriors” who were backed by the US government. There’s no actual group called the mujahideen, by the way. It’s kind of a catch-all term that’s been used throughout history, and in this case, there were a few separate groups that made up the guerrillas who fought off the Soviets. Plenty of Afghans fled the country during this time, too, most of them going to either Pakistan or Iran. By the late 80s, the USSR was collapsing and the situation in Afghanistan wasn’t helping. A treaty was signed between the Soviets, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the US which resulted in the Soviets leaving Afghanistan.
However, continued chaos in Afghanistan, this time between different Afghan groups, perpetuated the nation’s instability. Several groups fought for control of Kabul, but by 1996, the Taliban had been victorious.
We’re getting close to 2001, now, so let’s talk about Bin Laden.
[OSAMA BIN LADEN AND AMERICAN MONEY]
Osama bin Laden is a man who, unfortunately, needs no introduction, but here’s one, anyway. He was the mastermind of the September 11th attacks on the United States, but for all of his infamy, there’s a lot people don’t know about him.
Osama bin Laden was known as the leader of al Qaeda, an Islamic extremist group with close ties to the Taliban. It was the Taliban who protected bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden wasn’t Afghan, though. He was from Saudi Arabia, as were the majority of the 9/11 suicide bombers. None of them, by the way, came from Afghanistan or Iraq, though those were the two countries that then-president George W. Bush decided to invade in response.
I can’t even talk about Iraq right now. This episode is already so long.
Osama bin Laden was from Saudi Arabia, but he wasn’t just some Joe Schmoe, or whatever the Arab equivalent of that would be. His family was LOADED. Flush with cash. Billionaires. His father was a construction tycoon who grew his wealth through infrastructure projects across Saudi. They had close ties with the royal family, and their family was… prolific. Osama was one of his father’s 52 children.
It’s important to mention that he was from Saudi Arabia for a few reasons. It was there that his disdain, let’s call it, for the Americans began. Prior to his involvement in Afghanistan, the US had been slowly setting up shop in Saudi Arabia, first by drilling for oil back in the 1930s, and eventually by setting up military bases, signaling our intentions to stay in the country long-term. We began inserting ourselves in Saudi affairs, and our presence was not widely welcomed. People started to resent us for attempting to westernize the conservative Muslim nation, and they just didn’t like us. Think about all the reasons people in other nations don’t love American tourists. We took our unapologetic Americanisms to their land, showing little regard for their native customs, traditions, or values, refusing to assimilate, and isolating ourselves on Americanized bases.
When the US decided to back Israel with financial and military support, the Saudis really didn’t like us. The monarchy never kicked us out of their country, though, because the oil money was rolling in. To bin Laden, specifically, the United States funded many of the infrastructure jobs that his family was hired to execute. Bin Laden resented the fact that his family’s wealth was owed, in large part, to the Americans.
He protested against our presence in his country, but his protestations largely fell on deaf ears. He then turned his attention elsewhere and decided to help the Afghans fight off their own superpower, the Soviets. It was around this time that he formed al Qaeda, and he worked closely with the Taliban to prevail against the Soviets. Of course, this, too, was done with military and financial support from the Americans.
Once the Soviets were pushed out of Afghanistan, bin Laden shifted his focus. He organized and executed the first foreign attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor.
And he got us.
The Americans, for our part, were… confused. Most Americans had no idea that we had essentially been occupying Saudi Arabia for 70 years. Our own collective narcissism prevented us from even considering the fact that not everyone abroad likes us or sees us as their Western saviors. We had been interfering in Middle Eastern conflicts for so long, and it’s more than understandable that they would come to resent our foreign interventions, many of which left various countries less stable than before we got involved. Honestly (and sadly), I don’t think most Americans understood the difference between any of those countries in the Middle East - we tend to just kind of lump them together into one big ideological landmass. Case in point, when we invaded Iraq after 9/11, I don’t think many of us realized that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks. I don’t think many Americans even realize that today.
In Bin Laden’s own words, he stated in an interview in 1997 that the United States is [QUOTE] “unjust, criminal and tyrannical… The US today, as a result of the arrogant atmosphere, has set a double standard, calling whoever goes against its injustice a terrorist. It wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose on us agents to rule us.”
So, he told us why he didn’t like us. Instead, we were given a narrative that made no sense, not then and not now, when our brand new president attempted to explain the attackers’ motive by telling us, “They hate our freedom.”
I was 12-years old, nearly 13 when the towers were struck and I knew then that that didn’t make any sense. I, like every other American, was horrified to see my home attacked. I also knew, almost immediately, that everything would be different from that point on. I knew that brown Americans were about to be targeted by our own countrymen. I had friends who were told to go back to where they came from, which by the way, is so dumb and weak as far as racist comments go, but I guess racists aren’t known for their nuanced grasp of culture. I had relatives who were placed on no-fly lists just because they had Muslim names. And I suddenly felt the need to defend a religion that I and millions of other Americans had been brought up in. Overnight, we all became ambassadors of the faith whether we wanted the role or not, desperately trying to get average Americans to understand simple concepts, like the difference between a culture and a religion, or the difference between a follower of a faith and an actual terrorist, or even the incredibly simple fact that Muslim people were actually nice. Seriously. I started smiling more at strangers just so they could say a brown person smiled at them.
George W. Bush, to his credit, did mention that not all Muslims are terrorists, which was appreciated at the time, but it was also an insane statement for a president to have to make.
In response, as I’ve already mentioned, the US attacked Iraq and Afghanistan despite none of the hijackers coming from either of those countries. 15 out of 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, but attacking Saudi wasn’t really an option for us. We were too close to them and we couldn’t afford to alienate them as our ally in the Middle East. Also, it wasn’t the nation of Saudi Arabia that attacked us - it was a handful of terrorists who just happened to be from there. How could we retaliate against a handful of terrorists, most of whom were already dead?
[THE AFGHAN WAR]
The US found a way to justify and launch a war, taking full advantage of a rare moment of American unity. When things like the September 11th attacks happen, they’re usually followed by overwhelming public support for swift retribution - we want someone to pay for what they did to us. It’s revenge-driven, which is a trait that’s generally considered to be a weakness in one’s character on the individual level, but on a collective national level, it’s not only weak, but it’s incredibly dangerous. It pressures nations and leaders to take impulsive action without having all of the necessary intelligence in place, which more often than not exacerbates tensions and threats instead of quelling them. It’s also strategically weak because we’re doing exactly what is being asked of us. We play into enemies’ hands when we retaliate impulsively. Japan wanted us in World War II, so they bombed us at Pearl Harbor. Bin Laden wanted to cripple the United States - our people, our economy, our military - so he flew planes into our buildings.
In the days following 9/11, we asked the Taliban, who we believed were hiding Bin Laden, to give him up. They refused, so we started bombing places that we believed to be terrorist bases. Bin Laden was able to escape, but by the end of 2001, the Taliban were more or less out of power in Afghanistan. Proponents of the war, or even critics who attempt to look at it objectively, will argue that invading and destabilizing Afghanistan was crucial to thwarting further terroristic efforts by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
We wouldn’t kill bin Laden until 2011 in the first term of the Obama administration, just shy of the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
While the US was occupying Afghanistan in the coming years, the Taliban was held at bay. The people of Afghanistan reaped several benefits from our presence there that shouldn’t go without acknowledgment. The women, in particular, enjoyed freedoms that were outwardly denied them by the Taliban, such as rights to an education and an income. Women fare much, much worse under Taliban rule, which deliberately oppresses them and minimizes their presence in their own country, reducing them to figures shrouded in black and stripping them of any individualism or dignity. Many women who grew up under US occupation are currently mourning the dreams they once had regarding their education and careers, as many of those doors have been unapologetically closed to them.
I know we talked about this a little bit in Part 1, but I’ll just remind you that these practices are not supported in the Quran.
Another less savory effect of US presence in the country was the presence of our money in the country. That may sound like a positive thing, but the mismanagement of large amounts of money that flooded into the country at previously unimaginable rates led to a corrupt Afghan government and society. How could it not? The corruption that ensued in Aghanistan was pervasive, creating millionaires and billionaires out of those who were once impoverished and contributing to a widening wealth gap, which is known to have adverse effects across nearly all facets of society, regardless of which country and regardless of the causes. Much of that American money ended up in Taliban hands, too, however indirectly. After the US pulled out of Afghanistan, many Americans were left wondering why and how the Taliban was able to take over the nation so quickly. This is a big part of why. Several key Afghan government and military officials cashed out the coffers and fled with millions of US dollars instead of attempting any kind of resolution or defense.
[THE POST-9/11 ERA]
In the years following 9/11, the Bush administration would use the attacks as justification for all sorts of things that were generally deemed unpalatable by the American people. We still have 9/11 security fees that we pay every time we book flights, even though TSA security measures have been proven ineffective and inefficient time and time again. They say you can always spot an American in an international airport because they’re the only ones waiting in the security lines with their shoes in their hands. One time while was submitting to a TSA pat-down that I wasn’t particularly happy about, I remember telling my agent about an article I had recently read about how TSA was more about creating the illusion of security rather than actually preventing terrorist attacks, which by the way, is one of those things that’s incredibly difficult to prove. It’s the argument, “Well, they must be working because there haven’t been any more attacks since 9/11!” It’s not really much of an argument, but hey, at least we’re spending over $7 billion a year for people to feel safe.
I won’t even get into those “random” searches, nor am I interested in detailing how many people that I know personally faced increased security measures just because their names matched some name on some list of alleged terrorists. Allegedly, allegedly.
But, shout-out to the TSA agent from Get Out. He certainly came in handy once or twice.
Beyond that, though, the Bush administration started tapping phone records of everyday Americans who were suspected of terrorist activities, whatever that meant. In truth, it meant whatever the government officials wanted it to mean. Many of the checks and balances that would have otherwise been in place before rolling out initiatives such as the Patriot Act were waived in the name of international security. Hell of a name, by the way. Americans are very predictable in the sense that if you stick the word “patriot” in front of something heinous, a lot of people will support it, or at least look the other way. God forbid we’re deemed to be “unpatriotic,” which is seemingly the worst thing you can call an American citizen.
Guantanamo Bay was opened following 9/11, where the US committed war crimes by performing extreme measures of torture against captives. Here’s the thing with torture… however you feel about it, whether you think it was justified under the circumstances or whether you think it was completely unacceptable regardless of the situation, largely indiscriminate torture at the level that was present at Gitmo is never a good thing. Many US officials who were involved in its activities have since come forth saying that the US’ actions there was one of the biggest mistakes we made in the post-9/11 era. The right-wing of this country loves to talk about “witch hunts” in regards to things like anything regarding Trump and his associates, the #MeToo movement, and cancel culture, but what was going on in Cuba was way more reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. Many detainees were held without proof of involvement in terrorist activities, and many of the confessions extracted from them were subsequently thrown out due to the ways in which they were obtained. One detainee who was held for 15 years without ever being charged with anything said he confessed to terrorist involvement only after the US agent threatened to kidnap and rape his mother unless he cooperated.
Ultimately, our actions at Guantanamo Bay were not only costly and ineffective, but appallingly inhumane to the point that it hurt our reputation as a nation that positions itself as a global protector of human rights and a champion for justice as validation for getting involved in foreign affairs. As recently as this year, Vladimir Putin used American torture at Guantanamo to further his point that the United States isn’t what it claims to be and should not be trusted to manage humanitarian crises. Furthermore, torturing people without probable cause isn’t a great way to make friends. Many detainees were left with more hatred and disillusionment with the United States than they had prior to detention.
Today, Guantanamo Bay remains open. President Obama sought to close it during his two terms in office but failed to do so due to wavering political support, opposition from government agencies and figures, and difficulty placing prisoners abroad. He did, however, manage to release nearly 200 of the remaining detainees during his time in office, which is a significant chunk when you consider that the center held a total of 780 detainees since it’s been open, the majority of which were released prior to Obama taking office. Once Trump took office, he pledged to not only keep it open, but to add prisoners to it and to ramp up the methods of torture. He also said he would fill it up with [QUOTE-UNQOUTE] “bad dudes,” which was later revealed to mean American ISIS supporters, which many deduced to mean American Muslims, a group Trump has never been fond of.
Jumping to 2020, then-President Trump signed a deal with the Taliban - not the Afghan government. The deal, which was referred to as a “surrender agreement” by Trump’s national security advisor, included the removal of US troops from Afghanistan, the ending of military and contractor support to the Afghan government, the promise that the US would no longer interfere in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs, the release of Taliban prisoners being held by the Afghan government, and the easing of economic sanctions against Afghanistan. In return, the Taliban basically just had to promise not to attack us, not to allow other terrorist groups to target us from any bases in Afghanistan, and to work with the Afghan government once we were out of the picture.
Apart from the Taliban walking out of the deal with way more than we did, stipulations were not put in place to define what “working with the Afghan government” would even look like or what that should entail, nor were any checks and balances put in place to ensure that the Taliban would uphold their end of the bargain. Trump also advocated for pulling out American troops by Christmas of 2020, though he ultimately set the pull-out date for May of 2021, when it would be a problem for another administration.
The new President Biden was left in a strange position. The pull-out had already been negotiated, and he argued that pulling out of the pull-out could potentially have more dire consequences than simply seeing it through. I tend to agree with that, but you may not. Also, the pull-out probably needed to happen. It was never going to be a smooth transition, but the alternative was prolonging a deadly and seemingly neverending conflict that has already cost the United States government millions of dollars a day for 20 years, not to mention the lives it cost both sides, including tens of thousands of Afghan civilians.
So, what does this all mean geopolitically? From a cursory glance, this is… perplexing. The US presence in the Middle East has long been the result of an ongoing proxy war being “fought” indirectly by the US, Russia, and more recently, China. With each nation vying for influence and control of resources in the region, the absence of US troops in Afghanistan could mean open season for Russia or China.
China, for its part, is seeking to expand its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which is described as an updated and modernized iteration of the Silk Road. However, the reality of it goes far beyond a friendly trade route. The initiative sees the Chinese government funding large infrastructure projects in various countries, including most of the continent of Africa, and the Middle East and Central Asia, specifically Afghanistan and Pakistan. In most cases, these nations take Chinese funding for these projects because they don’t have any other way of financing them, but the result is that these nations end up severely indebted to the Chinese government and, therefore, become beholden to them.
I mentioned Afghanistan and Pakistan specifically because those two countries are both aligned with China, at this point, even though Pakistan is technically a US ally. Many Afghans fled to Pakistan following the fall of their government, but Pakistan has long been accused of harboring Taliban members. The Pakistani Taliban, the TTP, is still operating, too.
And do you remember the Durand Line from Part 1? The Durand Line is the borderline between Afghanistan and Pakistan that was drawn by the British and cut through the Pashtun homeland. The Taliban and the TTP will likely want to test the validity of the line, which they see as illegitimate, especially since most Taliban members are Pashtun. Pakistan is now in a position where it has to deal with the Taliban without upsetting them. Many people blame Pakistan for creating the radicalized Taliban in the first place, though, and many others are upset that Pakistan isn’t doing more to prevent further Taliban aggression. Pakistan has also been accused of tacitly supporting the Taliban as a means of bolstering its defenses against India while officially maintaining an alliance with the US. Tweets coming out of Afghanistan in the days prior to the Taliban shutting down the internet implicated Pakistan in drone attacks against Afghan civilians, however… it’s really hard to find any American news outlets reporting that. Around the same time these tweets came out, a three-star Pakistani Lieutenant General was spotted in Kabul. Just a few days ago, the Taliban successfully took Panjshir, the last holdout against the Taliban and the former hub for the Northern Alliance, a group of anti-Taliban fighters.
I recently had someone who voted twice for Trump tell me, “If you don’t think this whole thing is botched, then I don’t know what to tell you.” Sure, we can agree that this is botched, but you can’t say that without acknowledging that the 20 years leading up to this point were also botched, from the moment we went in there. You can’t call it “botched” without acknowledging that Trump negotiated the removal of American troops with the Taliban and not with the Afghan government, only to later remove that bit of information from his website after seeing the mess it created. And you can’t call it “botched” without telling me what you wanted to happen instead, or even what you thought was ever going to happen. This was always going to be a cluster, regardless of which president was in office at the time of execution.
So then the question becomes - did we do enough for the Afghan people? Some will argue yes, we did more than enough. We stayed there for 20 years and staved off another Taliban takeover for those 20 years. Women were allowed to live their lives more comfortably, getting educated and planning their futures. The nation was allowed to function more secularly, which is a good thing at least from our own American perspectives.
Others will argue no, we didn’t do much of anything for them. We left the country in the same condition we found it - under Taliban rule with one of the worst economies on the planet. We contributed to corruption and economic inequality in the region, and we didn’t leave any lasting systems, structures, or leaders to govern in our stead. Sure, we gave them a ton of money, but that led to the corruption and inequality. Sure, we trained and equipped their troops, but those efforts proved futile once the corrupt leaders fled the country. We maintained the illusion of peace within a nation that was unstable before we got there and became more unstable as the years under US occupation turned to decades.
Then there’s the matter of the refugees. Are we obligated to help them after we helped destroy their country? Or have we done our part by simply removing ourselves from the equation? Can the US portray itself as a global hero and purveyor of justice while failing to assist the Afghan people?
I’ve always said that my older brother is maybe one of the smartest people I know, and that carries over from childhood. I remember eating at McDonald’s with my dad and him once when we were little. We were talking about whatever we learned in school that day, and long story short, we started talking about Genghis Khan. My brother, who was only a grade above me and definitely hadn’t studied Genghis Khan at that point in his elementary school education, proclaimed, “Genghis Khan was the ruler of like, half the world!” Turns out he wasn’t too far off, but then I had questions as to what happened to this huge empire that once existed - did Genghis do all that work for nothing?
My brother just shrugged and said, very matter-of-factly, “Eh, it was an empire. Empires fall. It’s just what they do.” Then he added, both cryptically and nonchalantly, “America’s an empire, you know.”
I still don’t know what kind of books my brother was into back in the early 90s, but his comments stuck with me - clearly. I mean, I’m talking about them on a podcast almost 30 years later.
I think this is why so much of what’s happening now in the United States, not just in the realm of geopolitics, but in terms of group-think and fake news and gaslighting and the refusal to see an issue for what it is rather than what it could or should or would otherwise be… it’s all so strange to see. Granted, a child has a seriously limited worldview, but children are also not afraid to see things as they are and then state them as such. There’s no constraint in their speech, let alone in their thoughts. They don’t know what to fear, what to praise, or what to deny. They don’t know about context or this or that narrative. They usually aren’t indoctrinated into any one school of thought by that point in life, unless maybe they were raised in a very religious household. They just know what they’ve absorbed.
Those “knowings” are supposed to be challenged as a child grows, whether that results in the premise being further supported or abandoned altogether. There’s a certain level of detachment required for that process, but detachment becomes harder and harder as we get older. We have more data points to consider. We have competing ideologies that have been fed to us through various mediums that we struggle to reconcile with one another. And most importantly of all, we begin to understand how infinitely little we actually do understand.
So, in search of meaning and to prevent our own brains from collapsing in on themselves, we take one of two approaches (though to be fair, most people fall somewhere in the middle). The first approach is choosing to completely ascribe to one or maybe two ideologies and defer back to it whenever faced with something confusing or unfamiliar to us. We let the ideology tell us how we think or feel. This usually takes the form of a strong religious and/or nationalist identity. These people are called “cult members” who have forgotten how to think for themselves. They’re called ignorant or hypocritical when they deny the realities of the world because those realities don’t fit neatly into their willfully and comfortably limited world views. One could argue that they’re happy in their bubbles, but even that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Instead, they seem fearful of the outside world and its people, regressive in their thoughts and behaviors, and angry that they have to keep defending their beliefs and lifestyles.
The other approach involves a never-ending quest for knowledge, a quest that inherently can never end because we’ll never know enough about any one thing nor every thing. We see these types dedicating their lives to academia, or at least to the pursuit of knowledge. Their lives seem empty to those watching them from the sidelines, pitying them for never feeling satisfied with what they know, what they think, or how they feel. They seem distrusting, disloyal, and lacking in faith and conviction, choosing to prioritize their perception of “realism” over one that feels better. All of that, by the way, is framed as a negative by those hurling such criticisms at them, but as someone who’s grown increasingly nihilistic over the course of my life, I could argue that it’s actually kind of empowering and freeing.
Nothing actually matters, at least not in a metaphysical sense, so everyone just… chill. Like, just chill. War? Nah man, chill. Rigging elections? Dude… chill with that. Stealing resources from impoverished nations? Pass. Chill. Of course, that reality is an idealistic one, because all it takes is one bad actor to upset the whole thing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad actors out there, and there are a lot of people who are inclined to follow them for one reason or another, and those reasons usually aren’t dripping in hate. These bad actors are those we trust as our decision- and policy-makers. They’re those we trust to take care of us. Those we trust to do the right thing on our behalf. Those we trust to be the best of us.
Furthermore, problems arise when one side misidentifies itself as the other. You have dogmatic and cultish people claiming they “took the red pill,” and you have intellectuals and academics fighting for their own side through often cherry-picked defenses. Again, many of us fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, but this dichotomy is now more felt and present in the United States than I’ve seen in my 33 years living in this country and on this planet. None of this, by the way, makes any mention of compassion or empathy for other human beings, which should preside over all other thoughts and beliefs but doesn’t always.
As Winston Churchill said between the two world wars, “The MULTITUDES remained plunged in ignorance… and their leaders, seeking their votes, did not dare to undeceive them.” He also cited a “refusal to face unpleasant facts, desire for popularity and electoral success irrespective o the vital interests of the state.”
I can’t imagine that that quote doesn’t strike a single chord with you, but therein lies the problem. The problem with such statements is that people on both sides of the spectrum can and will identify with it, each interpreting them to mean whatever they want it to mean.
And who’s to say who is actually right or wrong? Well, to appropriate a common phrase from people I tend to disagree with, “Be blessed and go with God.”
That wraps up this episode of the Global Thread podcast! Thank you so much for being here. These topics take a lot of time and mental energy to take in, so I really appreciate your listening. If you’d like to read a transcript of this episode, you can do so at globalthread.org, and if you’d like to support my work, you are more than welcome to do so at patreon.com/globalthread. Talk to y’all in the next episode!