Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Circumstances Cause Behavior

To figure out what makes a foreign regime tick, take a look at the circumstances in which it exists.

Imagine a fat and happy fundamentalist religious plutocracy, i.e., a regime divided between rich guys and religious extremists dreaming about the 8th century, sitting next to an ostracized and angry regime with its own (different) fundamentalist faction allied with a military that sees itself quite correctly as on the rise, intensely resentful about the discrimination it faces from the world’s powers. Now imagine that the fat and happy plutocracy can see that it is losing its grip, perched precariously at the top of a restive population in an unstable region, fighting a Talleyrand rear-guard campaign against the course of history. Further imagine that the angry emerging power has just won two wars in a row – the first through eight years of bloody trench warfare and the second simply by sitting back and letting its main enemy do the fighting on its behalf!

What kind of behavior might one expect from the two sides? First, the plutocrats will warn endlessly about the “threat” posed by the emerging power, so their words should be taken with a large grain of salt. Second, the plutocrats will become increasingly erratic in their desperation to build a political dike against the flow of history, so they will make increasingly dangerous allies. Third, the marginalized militants will be troublemakers to the degree that they continue to suffer from discrimination, because they have no choice (except return to subservience), because they have been getting away with it, and because when you are the only neighbor not invited to the party you naturally resent the noise.

So arguments about who is a “good guy” and who is a “bad guy” miss the point entirely. The behavior of the two sides is entirely predictable on the basis of their respective situations. If you want them to change their behavior, you need only alter their circumstances. Telling a marginalized troublemaker that he will be punished until he proves he will play by the very rules that are being used to punish him is not a logical approach to making him a model citizen.

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