Monday, 5 October 2015

Picture Post No. 5 Tabernacle Reflections

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t that what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Piazza Vetra, Milan, November 2014
Picture credit: Antonio Borrani

Posted by Tessa den Uyl

The expressive imagery necessary to bring some kind of sense to our lives is compromised by the production of other, competing images. This neutralisation of the grace of the image brings with it some transformations in our perception.

If we can say that every image offers us various possibilities for interpretation, placing itself before our thinking, then we can see images as providing a kind of balancing pole for our lives. This balancing element is rightly placed between the image and the viewer - like a bridge where imagination is free to flourish, for the bridge is the space of the unforeseen.

We might say that the very instability of the bridge provides the movement for our imagination. It is by using such bridges that human beings can deal with their existential selves.

Yet what happens when the unforeseen becomes foreseen?

When things are taken away from their natural environment and placed somewhere else, change occurs. When change occurs by a manipulative act, it is very much possible that the next act upon that will function to enforce that first one.

An image that originally handed to us a multiplicity of possible interpretations, offering to give sense to our lives, becomes meaningless. The image is placed behind the thought.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Foundations of Spirituality

The oldest known portrait of St. Francis.
Posted by Thomas Scarborough

An Exploration of the Thought of Fr. Cornelis (Kees) Thönissen.
“A thought theory that never comes to grips with intuition, hallucination, spirituality or dreaming cannot possibly be a serious account of cognition.” —David Gelernter.
The entire discipline of spirituality – insofar as one may call it a discipline – is unstable. It is pluriform, fragmented, free-floating, subjective, without firm ground and without accepted categories, lacking cohesion. In a word, it is ramshackle.

However, spirituality is where we must begin, if we desire true religion. All religious dogma, without spirituality, is hollow at best. In Fr. Kees' Roman Catholic tradition, a vital spirituality has been neglected in favour of the laborious effort of straining to God through a metaphysics which St. Thomas Aquinas built on a rediscovered Aristotle. It is an impressive yet static edifice, employing (to most) unfathomable language: being, substance, essence, accidence, and so on.

The existing traditional edifice, on its own, is ill equipped to respond to the most pressing challenge of the Roman Catholic Church, which was identified by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI as the spiritual reform of faith. Here is the classic predicament which both Catholic and Protestant traditions still properly need to resolve: faith remains weak (fundamentalist) without reason, while rationalism is uninspiring and incomplete (Descartes, for instance, or Kant). There is a pressing need for a vital spirituality.

But then, how should one derive a living spirituality from that which is sterile? How should one ground it? And how should one unite it with a theology of truth? How may one even – to be yet more bold – universalise it? Answering the call of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, these questions became Fr. Kees' journey of fifteen years of doctoral research.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Reason and Contradiction

Posted by Thomas Scarborough

“Beginning to think is beginning to
be undermined.”  –Albert Camus.

What is reason? Like an axe in our hands, we use it, we don't contemplate it. But we do know that we use it to make sense of things. We do know that we (puzzlingly) apply it to a variety of seemingly disconnected fields: science, ethics, and art, among others. And then, perhaps most importantly, we know that reason is a conscious activity.

One of the most important characteristics of our consciousness is that it kicks in where contradiction arises. Imagine a pendulum, swinging, swinging, swinging. So little contradiction does this present that, rather than producing consciousness, people use pendulums to induce hypnosis. But let the pendulum suddenly drop, and we quickly jump forward to examine what has happened to it -- for then it has contradicted our expectations. 

Things like this happen all the time, in many different ways. A shadow passes over my table in a restaurant. I feel a sudden pain under my foot. Or there is a strange taste in my coffee. These all contradict what I expect – and immediately I want to know: What is it? Why? Where did this come from?

Monday, 14 September 2015

Poetry: A Royal Question

Editorial note: In this poem, Chengde talks at one level about the Queen of England, a topic of perennial interest to the English and the social media - but evidently of rather limited 'philosophical' interest. However, we feel he uses the theme to explore deeper and and more subtle issues. Is he making a very contemporary point about the relationship of parents and children – and how economic power can lie (stay) with the parents even in old age?

A poem by Chengde Chen 

A Royal Question

With Her Majesty’s 90th birthday approaching,
Britain can’t help asking an inconvenient question:
why still no sign of abdication?
Apart from anything else, won’t the 68-year-old future king
become too old for his future?
It is said that there are two reasons for her persisting.

One, it’s a British tradition that the monarch doesn’t retire.
Two, she made her vow in her coronation to serve for life.
Yet, how does she see her heir apparent’s situation?
Isn’t a mother’s devotion an instinctive “tradition” and “vow”?
If a ceremonial title weighs more than her son’s happiness,
hasn’t wearing the crown exhausted her motherhood?

To succeed to the throne is a prince’s natural desire,
much as students want to graduate or fledglings want to fly.
The humiliation of the long wait, the grey hair from restraint:
wouldn’t the mother have seen and understood?
She can pretend not to have, or choose to ignore them, but
can she ignore the resentment growing in his heart?

If he is waiting for, or even longing for, his mother’s…,
what would this mean to her?
The soul-stirring succession stories that happened in history
–the internal strife, the murderous fighting with drawn swords–
are the logical development of prince psychology.
To keep the throne, or the son, that is the question.


Chengde Chen is the author of Five Themes of Today: philosophical poems. Readers can find out more about Chengde and his poems here

Monday, 7 September 2015

Picture Post No. 4 The Dan Dare Badge

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t that what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Martin Cohen and Ken Sequin

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Power of Man

Posted by Gregory Kyle Klug
      and Thomas Scarborough

What is man?  The answers to this question vary – typically according to the scientific discipline which asks it.  Chemistry, genetics, biology, psychology, history, or religion, all yield different answers as to what man is.  

In fact all of these disciplines are in some way symptomatic of the essence of man, and none should we dare to exclude from our explorations.  And then, too, since the middle of the 20th century, linguistics has joined the inquiry into the nature of 'man' – language being what we call a semiotic code which reveals (in coded form) much about the structure and function of the mind.  With this in mind, the purpose here is to reflect on the importance of a single word in our language in revealing what man is, namely: 'power'.

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Price of Culture

Is the world's biggest bookshop - killing the book?

The journalist, Sonny Yap, once described the library as ‘perhaps the best antidote to the insidious influence of the suburban shopping mall… a chance to browse in a marketplace of ideas instead of a marketplace of goods and services*’, but even if it was once, these days the antidote is no longer effective. Far from it! Amazon, which is today where the world goes for books, has carefully applied the ruthless Walmart model to every stage of publishing. Its founder, Jeff Bezos, is proud of revolutionising the means of book production and distribution, yet the old mechanisms by which academics did have at least the ’potential’ to spread ideas are also disappearing, replaced by a much more ruthless market in intellectual property. 

Monday, 17 August 2015


Posted by Thomas Scarborough
Apart from Descartes' Deus deceptor – namely, his notion of a God who deceives – most of us would be hard pressed to know whether philosophy has anything to say about untruth at all. Yet in real life, untruth looms large in our daily lives. 
Not only do we encounter foolishness and fallacy in every sphere of life. We find lies, half-truths, bluff, deceit, rationalisation, subterfuge, and weakness of will – to name but some of the many forms of untruth we encounter almost daily. And then, too, we find violence in many forms: physical, emotional, verbal, financial, and sexual. This, we intuitively feel, has much to do with untruth, too.

The way in which we arrange our world – which I have described previously on PI – is through the employment of our reason. The end result is our general conception of the world. And our conception of the world, in turn, is what motivates us emotionally, whenever we find a disjunction between our conceptions of the world and the reality which surrounds us. My life in my imagination may be, for example, a happy family in suburbia – a friendly dog, fresh muffins on the table, and daisy-chains and laughs. Then I look from my kitchen window, to see my little girl with her face down in the grass. Suddenly there is a disjunction, and I spring into action.

But different people will spring into action for different reasons, and this reveals their arrangement of the world – whether this be balanced and broad, or short-sighted, self-interested, or parochial. With this in mind, I shall describe here a three-fold descent into untruth: foolishness and fallacy, lies and deceit, and finally coercion and violence – each of which is closely related to the other.


Some, however, may not want the happy family in suburbia, or the dog, or the muffins on the table. Others will prefer to be loose and wild, or they will prefer paperwork to people, or will set all else before for the career of their choosing. The possibilities are as many as the people. And in the process, some will become wise, and some will become fools. It all depends on the way in which people arrange their world.

This accounts now for what we might call the first step to untruth. Rather than living a 'large' life – a rounded and meaningful life – many people live a self-destructive life, a small-time existence, as fools or bunglers. They may be accomplished, too, or influential, yet in the eyes of many, judged as tragically misdirecting their skills and priorities. This is a kind of untruth which, in itself, tends to matter little to the rest of us. We tend to pity it, laugh at it, or denigrate it, rather than hate it. 'They are living a lie,' we say.

Now let us consider that my own motivations will differ from those of others – and theirs from mine. In fact, my own motivations may threaten to defeat the motivations of others. And since my motivations arise from the way in which I arrange my world, it would seem obvious that others could try to change my arrangement of the world, and so change my motivations to their own liking – if only this should always be possible.

But if the interests of others are important enough to them, and if they cannot change my own motivations through any natural process, it may be possible for them to accomplish this through changing the substance of what I have to work with, in arranging my world. I may feel passionate about the village pond, for instance, while another man wants to build a parking lot there. If he cannot overcome my passion for the pond by legitimately changing my arrangement of the world – the way that I see things – he may tamper with the material I have to work with. He might, for instance, tell me that permission for his parking lot has been granted on high authority, or even forge the signature on a consent form. This differs from mere foolishness or fallacy in that it seeks to manipulate what I know – and this happens all the time. This represents a second step of descent into untruth.

This raises the issue of the importance of having access to information, and the ability to assess all relations truly, to arrive at a satisfactory view of our world. Information should be open to view. Wherever information is falsified or withheld, whether on the personal level of lies, or on the political level of propaganda or ideology, the intention is to change my arrangement of the world. Universally there is an aversion to this, since our very existence depends on a reasonable tracing of relations.

But there are other ways of changing my arrangement of the world. One may change the physical entities I have to work with. Let us return to the man who wishes to create the parking lot. In the dark of night, he might send a small-time crook with a dump truck, to fill in the pond with building rubble, in one dramatic act. Now my arrangement of the world must change, because the world itself has changed. I have no pond left to defend, and no more purpose to opposing the parking lot. The dynamics may of course be far more complex in the real world. It may be easy to see that a pond was filled in on the orders of the man who had a vested interest in the same. It might be less easy to see that running me out of town with false rumours had to do with the pond. And so the world of untruth may become tangled and dark, and as vast as the ocean. This is the third step in the descent into untruth.

We are now in a position to reconcile all manner of untruth and evil. Whether someone seeks to subvert my arrangement of the world conceptually or physically – through lies and deception, or through strength of force, the two are basically one and the same. To tell a lie or to commit a murder, to deceive or to destroy, have the same underlying dynamic: my arrangement of the world must be changed. It is through false arrangements of our world that we have polluters and terrorists, hoaxters and sociopaths – and fools and bunglers.


The way in which we behave has, needless to say, a lot to do with psychology. Abnormal psychology is the branch of psychology which studies unusual patterns of behaviour, emotion, and thought. Historically, the origins of such behaviour have been interpreted in various different ways. Before one even gets to the differences in the detail of approaches to psychology, there are supernatural, biological, and psychological explanations for mental and emotional dysfunction, as well as theories of multiple causality.

I have noted that all motivations, and therefore all behaviours, are generated through the way in which we arrange our world. While there is no doubt that we are physically predisposed towards certain behaviours – perhaps through weariness, infection, or medication – there can be no behaviour at all without the way in which we arrange our world.

The primary means of treating mental disorders, therefore, is to assist people to see how their behaviour might relate to 'the big picture': to understand how they act upon the world, and how the world acts upon them – in their social relationships, their personal relationships, their relationship to their own nature and their own body, their relationship to to ideology and to religion, and in their relationship to present, past, and future. This implies, too, that the best counsellor or psychologist will be in a position to help people see themselves through eyes which see the world in healthy relation – both by opening up the mind of the counselee, and by opening up their own mind, spirit, and being to them. The goal is a healthy, expansive view of the world.

Above all, for behaviours to change, one requires a fundamental decision – an 'abandonment' – a conversion, as it were – to abandon, if need be, all the ways in which I have ever arranged my world, even if it should cost me everything. And always, truth requires independent thinking and robustness, to discern those arrangements which are false, which press in on us every day.
The solution ... means the setting forth of all the typical patterns or modes of arrangement into which mental processes fall.
 – Madison Bentley


Posted by Thomas Scarborough
In ancient times there was a saying, best known in Latin: mens sana in corpore sano – a healthy body is a healthy mind. It is attributed in slightly different form to the Greek philosopher Thales around 600 BC. 
With this in mind, there has long been a basic agreement that education is not merely about a healthy mind, but a healthy body. That is, it has long been seen, in some sense, as a rounded or holistic enterprise. Therefore school curricula will typically include both academic subjects and sports, and in many cases practical subjects and educational excursions. They will embrace, too, social norms and discipline, which in a sense serve as an 'untaught' moral education.

With this in mind, Pope Francis notes that the fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon. This makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world. In this regard, education has an obvious role to play, in equipping us for these times.

Education is a large field, and it takes place in many different contexts, at various stages of life. Yet for all this, it is not difficult to discern a fundamental philosophical approach to education. The first notable philosopher in the field was Plato. For him, education was ultimately about social and individual balance. This included, in his day, commerce and trade, military preparedness, and politics. In fact it was Plato's general outlook which later shaped the education of the medieval universities of Europe, which taught the seven liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic (the trivium), and arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy (the quadrivium). Typically, advanced students then went on to study philosophy and theology.

In spite of the intervening centuries, it is interesting to note some basic similarities between medieval education and our education today. In the medieval education system, the trivium and quadrivium divided our knowledge into seven largely separate compartments. Today, beginning in (pre) primary school, our education continues to be divided into separate subjects, largely self-contained, and about the same in number. While the subjects themselves have changed, they have changed in content, not in number – where the content is similar throughout most of the world. By way of example, few English speaking adults today will not have studied English, science, mathematics, history, geography, and biology – at least for a period of time.

Due to the size and momentum of this educational approach most broadly surveyed, it seems unlikely that there will be any sweeping changes in the near future. At the same time, however, there is reason for fundamental critique.


The greatest function of education is to teach the inter-relatedness of all things. In fact our world suggests far wider connections than we ordinarily appreciate. Yet where metaphysics was all but mandatory in previous generations (and the philosophies of various subjects, which are broader than the subjects themselves), it is a mark of our times that philosophy has, by and large, been dropped from the school curriculum. Metaphysics, above all, helps us to appreciate connections between thought, emotion, and action, between the intellectual, moral, and physical, the between the visual, auditory, and kinetic – in fact, the connections in every sphere of life. While in our age, the inter-relatedness of our world has grown in importance, yet the subject which studies it has been sidelined. 'Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor,' begins the old nursery rhyme. To which Alan Milne added, 'Or what about a cowboy, policeman, jailer, engine driver, or a pirate chief? Or what about a ploughman or a keeper at the zoo? Or what about a circus man who lets the people through?' There is more to our world than the familiar categories of the past.

With regard in particular to fact (knowing) and value (action), it is patently clear that our educational systems are strong on fact today – yet they are weak on value. In the area of fact, most of us are well grounded: whether in physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, history, or geography, to list but a few important examples. However, in the area of value, which represents a vast field area of our daily existence and experience, school curricula are largely empty, and ethics and morals are taught only implicitly: through the daily order of the school system, or by means of covert values. Ethics will seldom be found as a prescribed subject in schools, let alone its crucial sub-fields – among them public ethics, military ethics, business ethics, and medical ethics.

We may cast this again in terms of the many connections in our world. On the one hand, we discover connections in the world around us – for instance, between the sun and the rain, supply and demand, or quarks and leptons. On the other hand, we discover that the people around us have each created their own connections inside their own minds – which represent billions of possible conceptual arrangements of the world. In the case of connections in the world around us, the requirement upon us is for our mind to range broadly through the world, to relate our world broadly and truly. In the case of the connections inside people's minds, the requirement upon us is to seek to understand their semiotic codes, by which they each articulate their own worlds: through utterances, gestures, or postures, to name but a few possibilities. That is, apart from knowledge, we need to teach how to achieve rapport with people, in every aspect.

Another, major way in which our notion of a balanced education is impoverished is in the compartmentalisation of subjects – which is, their relative isolation from one another. Philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin considers, 'Our compartmentalised, piecemeal, disjointed learning is deeply, drastically inadequate.' It is one thing to offer an assortment of subjects – quite another to relate these subjects to one another. By and large, today, we fail to consider how one subject has a bearing on another – not merely in regard to our standard stock of subjects, but in regard to their various aspects: the relationship of science to outcomes for instance, or of poverty to politics, or of business science to ecology. It is only as we relate educational subjects one to one another in an expansive way that we develop a truly balanced education. Not only this, but we now have adequate empirical evidence that an interdisciplinary education, rather than an assortment of subjects, has much to do with creativity and genius.

This requirement for an inter-relatedness of our education may address the complaint of various alternative models of education, namely that there should be more problem solving and critical thinking in education today – apart from the impartation of knowledge. In relating different educational fields one to the other – in fact, in relating all things in the broadest possible way – we are engaging in problem solving rather than mere learning. Further in this regard, if we understand the purpose of our reason as the 'flagging' of contradictions, as I have argued elsewhere on PI, then effective reasoning has a lot more to do with problem-solving than it does with the construction of subjects in our minds. With this in mind, it is crucial that the limits of knowledge and action should be taught. Wisdom is to know both that which one knows and that which one does not know, both that which one can do and that which one can not do, both that which one ought to be and that which one ought not to be – and with this, the limits of one's insight, power, and stamina.


Through many generations, education has become both more structured and more variegated. It has also become compulsory for the majority of children today, where once it was the privilege of only a few. In practice this means that children today, at any level of education, have experienced a common introduction to education, and the need for adaptation to individual students would seem to become smaller.

At the same time, the many proposals for revision to the educational mainstream have by and large included a focus on individualised attention: home schooling, indigenous education, progressive education, or any of a large number of models besides. In this regard, it is important to make connections with that point in time and space where find ourselves now – each one individually, with their own needs and limitations. However we accomplish it, in education we can do no better than to acknowledge our subjective reality, and to start from there.

It is a truism to say that education may be used for ideological or propagandistic purposes. History is littered with examples of ideologically charged education and (often) the tragic results of the same. Ideology and propaganda represent the limitation of our ability to survey the full scope of connections in our world – by governments, media conglomerates, or corporations – to encompass only narrow or partial points of view. But an opening up of the entire scope of relations is what withers ideology and propaganda.

What this means is that, rather than there being subjects which we imagine to be off limits due to their inherent ideological nature, such as politics, ethics, or religion, it is rather our approach to these subjects which holds the danger – or the blessing. Whatever the case, these subjects are critical to our education as citizens, and any curbs on them may be far more dangerous than the teaching of them in an age where political sophistication and ethical bearings are urgently required.
The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks. – Albert Einstein

Special Investigation: Gene Therapy and the Origins of Life

The process of natural selection and survival of the fittest lies at the surface of the great molecular chronicle of gene therapy. This investigation argues  the approach will play a great use in near future- as long as  attention is paid to the very spirit of its conceptualisation.

A Special Pi Investigation into the Biochemical Mechanisms involved in Origins and the Evolution of Life - centred on the role of Gene Shuffling.

by Muneeb Faiq and PI editors
Is gene therapy - or gene shuffling as we might alternatively call it -  a product of human genius or a traditional method employed by evolution for last 3.2 billion years in order to give rise to all forms of life that the planet earth has seen? 

Indisputably, this is a very important question which has escaped attention from theoretical biologists for almost four decades (since gene therapy was conceptualised) and there seems to be almost no literature available on it. Instead, there is a general tendency to think that gene therapy is a very recent phenomenon innovated by human mind to achieve desired functioning of a gene and consequently an organism.

That notion is correct in its own right but when you look at it with a little scrutiny, you have to be drawn to the conclusion that gene therapy has been the modus operandi of the process of evolution for billions of years and it is the process of gene therapy (or gene manipulation for that matter) that has brought about the variety and complexity of life that we witness today.

This philosophical investigation will oppose the self-evident notion that the best survives (which begs the question of what the 'best' means) by emphasising that it is the shuffling, the complexity, of gene manipulations that is the real engine of evolution.

Monday, 10 August 2015

A Liberation Economics

Image courtesy of liberation blog
Posted by Thomas Scarborough 
We no longer live in a state of nature. Over the course of centuries, our vocations have become more specialised, and more distanced from our roots.
Our workplaces now at a distance, our knowledge contained in isolated pools, our tools manufactured by others, our potential curbed by managers, and our recovery-time limited by numbers on a wall – among other things – the question is pressing as to how we should best accommodate vast changes as we move through time and through history.

We tend to underestimate the hapless way in which we have managed the change, and the burdens we have brought upon ourselves. Consider the word 'employment' – derived from the Latin implicare, to enfold. We may thus be seen to be enfolded by employers: surrounded, enveloped, even engulfed. The consequences need no introduction: traffic jams, night shifts, equipment malfunctions, red tape, even surrendering our children to strangers. Fatigue, oppressive environments, unrealistic targets, and demands beyond our ability to cope. Nor are we free to be excused: to the point, sometimes, of exhaustion, depression, road rage, divorce, even suicide.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Picture Post No. 3 The Holiday Photo: moments caught in amber...

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t that what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Ben Hendriks and Tessa den Uyl

Monday, 27 July 2015

We Need Animal Cognition, Not Neuroscience

Posted by Matthew Blakeway
A generation ago, it was thought that neuroscience held the promise of solving many philosophical problems. Looking back now over those lost decades, we are able to see that it failed to solve a single one, and arguably created a new one or two.
The purpose of this post is to introduce a single idea, painted with a large brush: As we see our hopes for answers from neuroscience fading, animal cognition may hold the promise of the future. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Poetry: The Making of Terror

A  poem by Chengde Chen

Terrible as terrorism is, should we be so terrified, just as terrorists want?

It’s much less frequent than road accidents that kill hundreds every day; nor scarier than psychopaths’ random attacks that are as unpredictable.
There’re greater chances of being killed by a common cold or diarrhoea.

It is the media that 'turns' a homemade bomb into a nuclear explosion.
It is the government that 'legalises' the fear of it by changing the laws.
It is the trembling public psyche that completes the process of terror –
a religion of fear, jointly founded by enemies in the name of war!

The Americans should invite their 32nd President (Roosevelt) back,
as he understood that 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself'.
Or they might consult successful or unsuccessful actors on Broadway,
who know only too well that a play can’t run long without audience

Readers can find out more about Chengde and his poems here

Monday, 13 July 2015

The Art of War? Obama's Machiavellian Foreign Policy

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” 
- Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince (1513)

Is Obama a foreign policy genius - a modern day Machiavelli - or an inept ingénue

Consider some recent and some ongoing cases.

1. During the US presidential election campaign, Barack Obama mocked his opponent, Mitt Romney for saying that Russia was a threat  - opting instead to forgive Russia past transgressions, press the restart button and have 'business as usual' relations. China, he asserted, was the real threat, even as Chinese money kept the US economy afloat.

Yet, as has widely been pointed out, the Russian military interventions in Ukraine, which have led to the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and to the entrenchment of separatist enclaves in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, directly challenge the post-Cold War consensus. Eastern Ukraine follows on other more tentative land-grabs, and in turn will be followed by greater prizes - Estonia, Lithuania… And if incursions there show the NATO lion cannot roar, why not further?

2. In Syria, faced with a choice between supporting the moderate rebels, and leaving the extremists to take over, he opted for the latter policy - with the result that the Assad government recovered lost ground and ISIS became a regional force. Originally, U.S. intelligence saw the terror group as a U.S. strategic asset. Now though, as David Kilcullen, the US military strategist said to have saved Iraq through the 'surge' has put it:
'Western countries have a clear interest in destroying ISIS, but counter-insurgency should not even be under discussion. This is a straight-up conventional fight against a state-like entity, and the goal should be to utterly annihilate ISIS as a state.' 
Just unfortunate then that ISIS has now become a force that would require a greater military effort than that of the original Iraq war. Your move, Professor!

3. But it is in Ukraine that his judgements seem most dangerous. Obama has apparently decided that there is no strategic significance to allowing Russia to annex parts of the former Soviet Union. Of course, the morality of this do not concern him - a man who says in one of his books that he learned his his ethics from the backs of cereal packets. In pursuit of this policy there have been so substantial sanctions, although there is a possibility that the US was involved in the Saudi policy of lowering the world price of oil - which has hurt the Russians. Under Obama there has been no access to arms and training, leaving the hopelessly amateurish and poorly equipped Ukrainian conscripts to be slaughtered in their thousands by the separatists backed by Russian special forces and the very best equipment that the Russians have.

4. In Egypt, Obama sided with the Egyptian military against the democracy movement, in due course helping to usher in a new and if anything even more vicious regime than that run by the US's client Hosni Mubarak.

5. As for the Palestine-Israel conflict, Obama has managed to present the US as both powerless and inept - threatening responses and laying down red lines which he never has any intention of following through on. The Israeli Prime Minster is encouraged to treat him with contempt.

6. And then, earlier this month, his international trade agenda was left in tatters after even the Democratic minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, voted against his plans to for a new bill, going directly against Obama less than three hours after the president begged his party’s caucus to support it.

7. Not to foget the War in Europe, entirely! The economic policies one between Greece and the Eurozone, that is.  Here, Obama weighed in on the side of Greece, ordering the rest of Europe to forgive its trangressions and, well, bend the Eurozone rules a little. Such advice might have been deeeply probematic for the Eurozone if followed - it certainly helped reduce the liklihood of the Greek's seeking a compromise. Result - this week - boom!

The fact is, Obama sees himself as a true Machiavellian Prince, one who presents one face to the world while acting in a quite different way in secret. He sees himself as enhancing US geopolitical and structural power; strengthening the American identity (hence the oft-repeated determination to stop the torture programme and release the extra-judicial prisoners such as those held at Guantanamo,  policies he has no intention of genuinely carrying out) and the search for domestic political consolidation.

According to former US national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski:
'He’s not a softy. But he’s a person who tries to think through these events so you can draw some long-term conclusions.'
The longterm consequence of policy in the Middle East seems likely to be polarisation - between a US-backed series of kleptocracies and ultra-Islamists. In Europe, it is likely to be a 'hot war' between the Western Europeans and the Russians. In general, Obama seems to be sowing the seeds of global chaos - but a chaos in which perhaps for some it can be imagined that Continental United States will be immune. If that is indeed his aim, it is certainly a piece of cynicism worthy of the Italian master himself.

Further, or is it backwards? reading here

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