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Axis of Evil: Christopher Hitchens

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betequeue Avatar
betequeue
Posted: 09.24.10, 07:04 AM
ok, thanks. It's hard to believe that in our narrowing globalizing world some think we should not intervene in countries with massive human rights violation - unless there's a direct threat to us. Very indifferent thinking. Everything regards us (the civilized).
kenny Avatar
kenny
Posted: 09.24.10, 04:47 AM
Kurdish....Hitchens' wears it as a sign of solidarity with those who have been left high and dry to face the chemical and biological weapons that Sadam apparently didn't have. ....except we know he not only had them, he used them to wipe out 10s of thousands of said people.
betequeue Avatar
betequeue
Posted: 09.24.10, 04:41 AM
what is that little flag Hitch is wearing on his revers?
Periergeia Avatar
Periergeia
Posted: 07.10.10, 01:18 PM
"Singapore, of course. If you haven't been there, yet, you should go for a visit, it's utterly fascinating..." I hope you haven't tried to chew bubblegum there." Why would I? There is much better food there than the usual industrial by-product that goes for sweets these days. In any case... I would suggest you travel there. It's a purging experience for anyone who thinks they know anything about "communism". Just like visiting Switzerland is a purging experience for anyone who thinks they know the least about "democracy". In both cases you can learn something about cultural peculiarities of the people dominating crucial aspects of the political systems. Singapore is a livable repressive state, while the Swiss are a (psychologically) repressed democracy. You can live well in both places as long as you are willing to give up some of your notions of how the world should be and that a people can change (at least rapidly).
Dmitry76 Avatar
Dmitry76
Posted: 07.09.10, 07:42 AM
"Singapore, of course. If you haven't been there, yet, you should go for a visit, it's utterly fascinating..." I hope you haven't tried to chew bubblegum there.
Periergeia Avatar
Periergeia
Posted: 07.07.10, 04:52 PM
I remember to have heard once that Schiller has been described by his own contemporaries as a horribly pedantic and boring to the bone reciter of his own works. According to some he managed to make his own words (some of which are absolutely to the point) appear long-winded and insufferable. People basically had to stop him from his attempts at self-promotion... I don't know if it is true or not... it might be. Not every writer is also a good actor. But we digress... thanks to your love and mention of Schiller. My point is that reality is complicated (as a scientist you get used to that fact and you stop evading the complexity). One can not shear all totalitarian regimes over one comb. To do so is irresponsible because we are living in a world where the free have to work with the oppressed to make the future somewhat livable for all of us. China, in particular, is a giant experiment (most likely the largest social experiment ever undertaken... half an order of magnitude larger than the USSR in population!) that we can not afford to see fail. India, is the second large experiment, it also can not fail, but it is somewhat closer to our hearts in terms of political freedom... for now. As for the Chinese interest in science and technology... it is enormous and they are putting their minds, hearts and hands to it. So here you have almost 1.4 billion people who do not live in a free society but who all at the core believe that knowledge is the way forward and have done so for over 2000 years! Chinese have had a belief in knowledge based management for many, many centuries. And, in keeping with tradition, the modern Chinese Communist party believes that too and does whatever it takes to make knowledge the centerpiece of their "harmonious society". China, very much unlike your description of the totalitarian state, does not put much of an emphasis on weapons development (Who, seriously, is going to attack a nation of that size and population militarily?). It happens to be the US, obviously the freest of societies, which does! We have this overwhelming need over here to believe that the next intelligent weapons system will solve all war... while all it does is to make killing in wars ever more expensive. With exception of nuclear weapons, which are truly useless, spear are economically better at fighting conflicts than anything that has a computer in it. Yet, the US has still not figured it out... even though our war spending is bankrupting the nation. I can understand where you might be coming from with your thesis about totalitarian societies. And, honestly, the world would be so much easier to understand if you were right... but in this particular issue, I am afraid, you aren't. There are many drivers in science. Some of them are personal (interest and dedication of individuals) and some of them are utterly political and economical. I would wager that in the historical analysis the current leadership of the US in basic science has anything to do with our GDP and very little with the particular love of the population and/or the political cast with the accrual of basic knowledge. We were pushed into science by nations like Germany which had made a professional effort to use it for war and we ran with it. It was good for us. If you ask the majority of Americans, though, they would be much happier if the world had been created 6000 years ago and if we (the scientists) didn't try to make them think about random mutations and natural selection. And that war and economics are the drivers of many things is well acknowledged in e.g. Germany... where the high school system arose from the need to produce military officers with a real understanding of ballistics, logistics and engineering. Germans are very well taught where the source of their educational system and their state sponsored science comes from historically. Same in England where many schools of higher learning are traditionally organized like military training facilities and in France which always had a lust for ever more bureaucrats to create the perfect centralized state keeping tabs on everyone. You want Orwellian control of language? The French got it... they are also some of the best read people on the planet, with a love of the written word. Yet, they will fine you for introducing a foreign word into their culture! Even freedom loving people can have rather complicated ways of expressing themselves about the very topic of what can and can not be done... But today its mainly China which is driven not by military but by economical considerations that are in perfect alignment with its history of central rule and its longing for a unified identity. That, I would suggest, is their primary motive for science. That they are emulating our greatest successes (like human spaceflight and even a moon flight program) has everything to do with the fact that they have read our playbook... they saw the innumerable advantages that we have gotten from doing these things. They are simply learning from our success and they find them utterly compatible with Confucianism. Stalin and Mao are over, done, out. You can amuse yourself with descriptions of 1950s events in Communist states, there is nothing wrong with that... but don't mistake what happened back then (and what is still happening in the world's poorhouse totalitarian regimes, e.g. in North Korea) for the reality of non-free states today. What some 25 million starving North Koreans do will have no long-term impact on the world... but the model of 1.3 billion Chinese engaging in both technology and basic science at an ever increasing rate is something to watch out for. As for your question... I do not engage in "what if" style history. I merely look at the facts. Science and technology are well alive in Russia. Stalinism, however, is just an old nightmare. Russia is still not free and probably won't be for a long time, but when I listen to some of my Russian friends, they claim that the communist oligarchy has morphed into an increasingly value free oligarchy which measures the process by results and not by how well they match some hundred year of failed ideology. While I can't judge how close these witness reports are to the "real" Russia, the basic tenets sound eerily like China. And ultimately, measuring a process by its rate of success is, at the core, nothing but a different way of talking about the scientific method...
Dmitry76 Avatar
Dmitry76
Posted: 07.06.10, 09:58 AM
My favorite Schiller's quote is actually "Was ist der langen Rede kurzer Sinn?" means like "the long and the short of it" but may be it's not yours. Totalitarian regime has no reasonable motives to develop science freely in general, if you not limit science to some fields of natural science which could result in development of weapons, because at the end it may prove that the basic ideas of that regime were wrong. Totalitarian regimes let the science develop in the confined limits only because of the mere sence of self-preservation. Imagine what would have happen if Stalin for example unfortunatelly would occupy the whole world would he endure the presence of independent opinion of the scientists?
Periergeia Avatar
Periergeia
Posted: 07.05.10, 12:43 AM
"Peaceful achievements of Soviet science are just a by-products of weapons development with the goal to advertize the superiority of socialistic way of life." Kennedy's take on the Apollo program was pretty clear... he called it a political, not a scientifically motivated move. The players in the development of pretty much every active space flight system in the world are rooted in the military industrial complex of their nations. They are the same companies that make missiles or components thereof of one type or another. Until very recently that was independent of ideology. It's simply a matter of funding... you can also argue that there would be no recognizable civil aviation without military aviation. To go closer to home, the beginnings of the internet were funded heavily by DARPA, the Reagan Administration actively approached the US high energy community asking "Show us what else you got...!" (meaning new weapons) when they pushed the SSC (superconducting super colider) through congress... the downside was that after everyone eventually understood that one can not aim 10TeV proton beams, the funding simply went away and the US high energy community is in shambles ever since. "Don't forget that a truly totalitarian regime was only at the Stalin time." Your discussion with Sakharov about that topic would have been quite interesting... but I agree... Stalinism was the most extreme, but the USSR after Stalin was not a free society, neither is Chine today. Still, I would take post-Stalinist USSR and modern China as more representative for non-free societies than Stalin's and Mao's terror regimes. I think one can make the case that some lines of research are simply coupled to the kind of means that only can come from military programs. The reason why the US had such a lead in technology had everything to do with its military expenditures, which give technology companies a solid source of income. It's no different from what happened in Prussia leading up to WW I and WW II Germany. It's no different from England, which could only develop the kind of science culture it had in the 19th century because there was a deep seated need for science by the military and support for science by very, very rich people who had gotten rich by exploiting the conquests of the empire.
Dmitry76 Avatar
Dmitry76
Posted: 07.04.10, 09:19 AM
The first human in space Gagarin took off with the R-7 ballistic missile that is a symbol of Soviet science for me. Peaceful achievements of Soviet science are just a by-products of weapons development with the goal to advertize the superiority of socialistic way of life. Don't forget that a truly totalitarian regime was only at the Stalin time. Nikita Khrushchev was like a Goofy compared to Darth Vader as Stalin. That is why it is so strange that this GOOFY brought us to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Regarding China there was historical precedent case introduced by Lenin. It is called New Economic Policy. Lenin thought that it is step back from his idea. Chinese made this a base for a giant leap forward.
Periergeia Avatar
Periergeia
Posted: 07.02.10, 10:53 AM
Dimitry... the Russians learned the very hard way that science by denunciation does not work. Their overall success in the physical sciences, by the way, proves that they were not at all interested in having "Communist science". They were eventually simply interested in having "science". A standard work of Quantum mechanics, to this day, is the book by Blochinzev... I used to learn my QM with its help, despite some of its, as I learned later, ideologically driven didactic. Another standard work is the "Handbook of Mathematics" by Bronstein and Semendjajev, which, in it's later versions, has chapters on linear programming and different planning algorithms, which, of course, hardly any user will ever need... except for those who were using it in the socialist planning bureaus. And one should not forget that Russian mathematicians basically pulled a whole field of global optimization out of their hats... mostly because their engineers needed it to make better surface to air missiles against the US spy planes (I am sure the Americans had a similar line of research in secret, it might simply not have been published, the history of mathematics will, eventually, sort out who had the better ideas, first). You could make an argument that basic physics research failed in Nazi Germany because "Deutsche Physik" had to make due without any contribution by Jewish physicists, which pretty much erased everything that had been done in physics since 1900... But even having said that, German technology during the war did kick ass... ask the Americans who had to fight German tanks found out. And the few pilots who were unlucky enough to have encounters with the first German built jet planes were quite impressed. In rocketry the Germans were a generation ahead of everybody... based on technology and engineering alone Germany would have won the war well until 1944/1945 when the Americans finally got the upper hand with better organized programs that had access to an order of magnitude larger economic resources. Even the development in nuclear weapons was basically stopped by two things: the personal hubris of people like Heisenberg who basically overestimated their ability to pull something like this off single-handedly (whereas the Americans assembled large teams to solve problems of this size), as well as the missing financial funding because of the deterioration of Germany's war economy. Remove both (by picking more professional management of the project which would have reduced the risk of having only very few key people in charge) and assume hundred times the resources (as the Americans had) and history would have taken a very, very different turn, despite "Deutsche Physik". Stalin, by the way, did not target scientists... he targeted EVERYBODY. His fairly complete exhaustion of experienced Russian strategic talent almost cost him the war and might have doubled the number of Russian war casualties. The idea behind Stalin's terror was that behind any other terror... make ALL people fear you so they do whatever you want, especially your own military and middle class. It did, indeed, set the USSR 20, if not more years back and ultimately did lead to the fall of Communism... except, of course, that it didn't. It merely lead to the fall of the USSR. Communism is very much alive in China, where the party has found out, also the hard way, that pragmatism is the name of the game and that Communism is not threatened by a Capitalist system of economy, you just have to know how to use it in the name of the party. My prediction is that China will become the big success story of communism and controlled economic development. The Chinese did learn from smaller examples like Singapore, of course. If you haven't been there, yet, you should go for a visit, it's utterly fascinating (and the food is to die for!). Having been born in a communist country, myself, my very first impression after arriving in Singapore was "Oh, my god! These people did exactly what the communists were always dreaming about! And look at how well it works! Not only that... with services working and repression being almost invisible (unless you are a drug dealer or opposed to the political leadership) it's an utterly livable place!". Chine is on its way to become a scaled up copy of that. And when they do... we (the radical west) will be the losers in the contest between creative chaos and managed economy. To look selectively at a few failures of a system and not acknowledge that it can and has learned from them is a failure in itself. That's the chief failure you can see playing out in the "freest" country in the world right now. We are so free that we can not make hard political decisions. One of these decisions would be to invest in regulated health care to stop the death spiral of the US health care cost explosion which will soon dominate absolutely everybody's life, with exception of the very rich, maybe. The next tough decision would be to put education before nation building. If we had committed the same dogged energy to forcing our children to get, at least, a high school degree that we are showing in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would be a lot closer to the quality of education that can be found in most other developed countries. Then there is the tough decision to enforce energy efficiency... we are getting, at most, the same quality of life out of our energy as the Europeans are getting at of theirs... but using twice the amount per person. This makes us vulnerable to international energy politics... the Chinese have us already by the throat there, because they can offer to buy oil at a much higher price, since they are actually doing something useful with it... whereas we are driving our kids to school in four-wheel drive pseudo-trucks. Then there is the question of inner cities and right-of-way for large scale transportation projects. In the US, because of "freedom", planners have to fight for every foot of easement, they have to put up with every annoying little town that wants to get on the map... with the result that building a mile of track costs tens of millions of dollar. The Japanese have essentially bankrupted their economy by bidding a million dollars a square meter (or was that per square foot?) for the last generation of their urban architecture. Compare that to Europe, where city planners have much more influence over large scale changes and can actually build livable cities. Or compare it with China where the central planning bureaus can decide to raise an old city district and replace it with a new science and industry park, basically at will. Now, I am not saying that being an individual in a totalitarian society like China is a great thing... it isn't. But that does not make me believe that individual freedom can trump the well understood long term needs of the collective without serious downsides. I am afraid that uncontrolled Capitalism has not won over Communism. Merely American post-war economy has won over Russian post-war chaos and corruption. And some of us are still partying twenty years later, not noticing that the world is an endless series of challenges and not a finite game that, when won, is won forever. The real challenge between freedom and state controlled order will play out in the 21st century. From what I have seen, so far, we already are lagging about two to three decades behind... and it will only get harder to play catch-up from here. We have a few good things going for us, but the freedom to sabotage ourselves is not among them.
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