The war in Afghanistan began with the oppressive, theocratic Taliban in power, and ended with the oppressive, theocratic Taliban in power. Sisyphus rolled his Katamari Damacy boulder up the mountain, and it rolled right back down again. The absurdity of the war is obvious on its face, but there is a desperation to find meaning within it that would make Camus blush. Though it’s somewhat old news by now, during the American withdrawal, there was all sorts of noise about how Western forces were abandoning their Afghan comrades to the brutality of the Taliban.

I am not trying to diminish the severity of what the Taliban has done and will continue to do with those dissenting under its rule. My glibness comes as a result of the crocodile tears shed over the bodies of those slain during the withdrawal from the war that ignore the over a hundred thousand bodies that accumulated preceding it. Losing a war is bloody; that’s the reality of war. If you don’t like it, maybe question the war itself rather than the means of its end.

The realities of war

The tears come from the bipartisan desire to create meaning in a pointless war: if there are good Afghans to save, it means that the war produced good Afghans worth saving. Nobody would have given a shit about them otherwise; the West would be much more inclined toward taking refugees if there was a heartfelt belief that we need to create a safe haven for those fleeing violence and persecution. The sad irony is that those whose freedom from the Taliban was being demanded were those who had aligned themselves with the invaders, cementing the linking of a “good” Afghan with their complicity in the war.

Another central tenet that the war in Afghanistan was meaningful is the women’s liberation that the war provided. Some women were able to go to school, and therefore 20 years of death, torture, and war crimes are vindicated. Those women are worse off now than they were before; again, no argument, but finding miniscule acts of success to justify what is otherwise 20 years of pointless war is incredibly ignorant. In actuality, using war to generate feminism is more likely to produce a nation of incels who see feminism as cancer than an Islamic Feminine Mystique.

Thanks, Betty Friedan!

Using feminism as justification for the war in Afghanistan, and gesturing loosely toward the mostly urban women who benefited, pointedly ignores the majority of women who live in rural settings where most of the war took place. Afghan women were certainly not benefitting from the war when they and their families were dying from it. The quick rise of the Taliban points to a nation hungry for incel-logic; Afghanistan may actually be worse off than it was 20 years ago from the perspective of democratic and liberal reformation due to the brutality used allegedly in its name. Sisyphus’s boulder fell back down the mountain and into a ravine. The West tried to viciously impose liberal secularism in Iran with the Shah, and he too was violently overthrown by a virulently religious fundamentalist group. Any positive regard held for Western ideals is just as dead as all the rest of them.

The war made Afghanistan worse, and for what? The bipartisan narrative adopted in much of the media paints the picture of a blundering but ultimately benevolent force trying so hard to do good but occasionally failing in simple but horrific ways. Like if Rocky Balboa knocked out Apollo Creed in the first round, but because his eyes were all bruised up and he couldn’t see, he wandered into the crowd and begun striking civilians at random. At home we’re watching and thinking, no! Rocky! If only Mickey had cut you so you could see! We are helpless as Rocky bludgeons old women and children in his missteps. Then, after the crowd boos too loudly for too long, we lament Rocky leaving, shaking our heads at the blows he receives on his way out the door. Meanwhile, Apollo Creed has gotten up and dusted himself off, and being the only one left standing in the ring, claims victory.

YO AMERICAAAAAAAA!

We could still love Rocky after such a blunder. It’s forgivable. But that’s not how war works. The better analogy would be if Rocky was at a bus stop where Apollo Creed was reading a newspaper, and Rocky was like, “I heard you hate women!” and then pulled out a gun and shot him. Then he wandered away from the bus stop to a nearby wedding reception and shot up the guests. And he did so with eyes wide open.

The West knew what was going on in Afghanistan. They’re actively preventing themselves from being held accountable to international law. We’ve had whistleblowers point out the war’s criminality to us repeatedly and they’re all being punished for it by both American political parties. And for what? For what? For literally no reason. Terrorism didn’t go away; Al-Qaeda evolved into ISIS-K. Afghanistan is fully red pilled. America wanted war instead of justice, the rest of the West went along with it, and this is what we’re left with.

Cartoons make the villains easy to spot!

I’ve purposefully avoided talking about the military-industrial complex and how the reason for the war is obviously all the money that was made by the defense contractors and weapons manufacturers. It’s not that I disagree, it’s that we don’t have a smoking gun pointing to that level of Machiavellianism, and I want to be as convincing as possible. The war is provably pointless in a way that ought to make us reflect on why it ever happened in the first place. When there is no justification for a war, it’s a lot easier to compare it to straight-up murder. The war in Afghanistan was criminal. Those who participated in it are criminals. Anyone saying otherwise is covering up a crime.

While maybe not surprising to long-term readers who have been following since I wrote an article defending communism, I am now writing an article about how maybe we could all use a little less freedom. George W. Bush was right: we hate your freedoms, and we’re coming to take them away. Sorry America, but the terrorists just had the better argument. Blame the free market of ideas, and then marvel at the irony.

The thing is, freedom is actually a paradoxical ideology. Universal freedom is necessarily contradictory. The current “debate” about masking during a pandemic is case-in-point. If you are free to disregard masks and parade around mouth-breathing your aerosol droplets all over me, my freedom to avoid getting sick from Covid is reduced. There are millions of examples you can come up with: my freedom to be verbally abusive limits your freedom from verbal abuse. If you are free to make puns, it renders my freedom to live in a world without puns sadly utopian. If you believe yourself free to cheat on your monogamous partner and your excuse is, “I thought this was America!”, you will quickly discover that people aren’t super thrilled when your alleged freedom impinges on their own.

Kill me.

Am I entitled to mature and well-developed humour? Maybe not. Am I entitled to health? This point becomes harder to argue against. Am I entitled to health that is not being actively damaged by the choices of others? It would probably be a good idea to have a society that adopts that mentality, yeah. The issue is that the debate never focuses on the issues impacted by the free actions of others, and the freedoms they might be reducing in turn. It typically focuses on ‘freedom’ as an abstract, unexamined concept that just has that certain je-ne-sais-quoi that most people find appealing. Even those denouncing the demands of those freedom-loving anti-maskers won’t condemn the concept of freedom itself, but you heard it here first: freedom the way most people imagine it is a masturbatory fantasy.

Freedom advocates would argue that freedom should not exist completely deregulated, but that the only reasonable regulations are negative ones: you can’t murder, for example, but you shouldn’t be compelled to act in any particular way. Hence, you can’t make me put on a mask, you commie! However, the limits on negative regulation are arbitrary. Being forbidden from making puns is a negative regulation, but I have yet to come across a libertarian seriously making this argument despite its expansive merit. The distinction between negative and positive impositions on freedom is completely meaningless, and doesn’t address my original point that all the actions we take are going to be affecting those around us in ways that may well reduce their freedom. While this is a small case of conjecture, I can speculate that the ‘true believers’ would say that those who are negatively impacted by their free actions should just suck it up; they should content themselves with having less freedom than others. Sounds completely reasonable and not at all systemically oppressive.

Those kids should be free to do whatever they want, and if she doesn’t like it, she has the freedom to start her *own* school!

Freedom is a pretty great idea. I like being able to do things, but I also recognize that I am one individual among many with equal entitlement to the things that I ought to be entitled to. I want to be healthy, but I have to recognize that everyone else wants to be healthy too. I want to live in a world without puns, but I have to recognize that other people have the wrong sense of humour, and I just have to live with their wrongness. If I begin to act in a way that limits the puns of others using my own freedom to coerce their behaviour, I am limiting their freedom to make awful “jokes.” I would appreciate the same consideration when I make delightful and well-timed fart jokes from the plebeians that simply don’t understand the nuance!

When we recognize the needs of others as equally requiring consideration, we recognize that we must be responsible to those needs and our freedom must be curtailed. If we disregard the needs of others, we are not actually advocating for universal freedom, we are demanding selfish preference. Freedom is not generalizable, but the great thing about responsibility is that it is! Everyone is capable of shouldering equal amounts of responsibility to their neighbour. An argument could be made that some parties may be more responsible than others (more polluting nations are more responsible for reining in their carbon emissions to address climate change, for example), but aspirational responsibility is not as contradictory as aspirational freedom.

I may have lived long enough to see myself become the villain, here

Viktor Frankl is quoted as saying that America needs a Statue of Responsibility to temper its Statue of Liberty, and his worries are coming to deadly fruition today. Politicians and pundits that espouse and proselytize freedom can only be pandering to the selfish ego of their followers, by the very nature of the ideology they are spouting. The purposeful disregard and neglect of one’s neighbour is the disregard and neglect of their freedom. I guess the point is you’re not supposed to give a shit about your neighbour because your freedom is the only freedom that matters.

Let’s instead work toward a universal responsibility. It’s not particularly difficult because it’s something that can be adopted in every action. We can be responsible to others as individuals; it can be foisted upon our politicians and other macro-level actors sure, and adopted by corporations and those on the mezzo level too. Everyone can be responsible. The less we focus on a pointless concept like freedom, the more we can focus on taking care of one another. I think the world would be much better off, and we’d probably have fewer Covid cases too.

More reflective criticisms of communism, outside of the absurd mainstay of communism being the antithesis to “America” that most critics rely on, focus on the centralized government being in complete control of the economy. Economies work best when dictated by the invisible hand of supply and demand, and if a powerful bureaucracy were to attempt to fumble their way through managing the intricacies of varying economic factors, they would inevitably fail. An economy inherently cannot be managed by a centralized power. Just look at the Soviet Union, or Cuba, or Venezuela, or any of the other “failed” communist states who weren’t able to trade with other countries due to economic sanctions. It was The Communism that crippled their economy because their governments were too hands on; it wasn’t their isolation from markets. Also, don’t look at China because they seem to be managing their economy fine and are one of the most prosperous nations in the world.

IGNORE US! MILLIONS OF PEOPLE OUT OF POVERTY NEVER HAPPENED!

I’m not here to be a defender of communism or to detail about how it isn’t even necessarily linked to a managed economy (I’ve already done that). Nor am I trying to defend China (the Muslim-minority Uyghurs don’t seem to benefit from a prosperous GDP) or get into a debate about the extent of capitalism that exists under a self-described “communist” government (that’s why Western governments are totally fine with Huawei’s networks in their countries and are fully supportive of the Belt and Road Initiative – there is no government management in their economy whatsoever). I want to talk about managed economies in general as someone who has never formally studied economics. Strap in!

Let’s take the conservative view that any kind of government oversight is going to hinder economic growth. We’ll imagine the libertarian paradise where government finally leaves companies and corporations alone to competitively spar with grit and vigour. Of course, in competitions there are winners and losers, and when a company loses, it either folds or is bought up by the winning company it was competing against. Once a company wins, it dominates its market and becomes more powerful making it harder for newer, innovative companies to compete. It would sort of be like if Mike Tyson ate the heart of everyone he beat in a boxing match and gained their strength on top of his own. Or I guess the literal plot of the movie Highlander. And much like the film, there can be only one, and that’s why capitalism tends toward monopoly. You can look at Alphabet Inc., the corporation that owns Google, for instance: they’ve cornered the market, and bought up 243 companies that came up with innovative ideas related to internet-y type stuff. If some young entrepreneur working in their parents’ garage came up with some new technology that improved the way searching works, you think they’d be able to compete with Google? Or not be bought out in an instant? Even a trillion dollar company like Microsoft can’t compete with Google in its market, and if you use Bing, you’ll know why.

Most of the memes comparing Google and Bing are pretty dark, I’ve just now discovered, looking for an image to break up this text. I went with one that illustrates my point instead.

With further expansion of corporate assets, one can imagine quite a spread. Amazon, an online retailer, has made inroads into grocery chains, robotics, video streaming, and news media. With this diverse portfolio already existing within a world with already too much nanny-ing in its state, it’s easy to see these big corporations building their own empires of employment were governments to dissolve. The abolition of government in favour of capitalism wouldn’t lead to any kind of libertarian paradise, but to more of a corporate feudalism where one’s national identity would be better defined by where they worked rather than where they lived.

Jeff Bezos would be king, the managerial class would be his aristocracy, and the workers would be his peasants. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and the other b(tr)illionaire owners would be neighbouring monarchies. The metaphor works quite well. Current day governments are the centralized Catholic church; the church had control over the identity of their subjects for hundreds of years. Then the individual, national monarchies got stronger and stronger, and identity was shifting. In the end, Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife, the Pope said no, and King Henry said fuck you and started his own damn church. We’re at the stage now where there is an uneasy alliance between the two superpowers of government and corporation, and there is a real possibility that some corporate lord is going to have his own Henry VIII moment where he doesn’t want to do what governments are regulating and decides to secede.

Anti-trust laws are the only thing standing between me and my Anne Boleyn

Maybe this isn’t so bad because capitalism relies on pecuniary wealth as its measure of power rather than land ownership, right? Well, that’s not technically correct because capitalist power resides in ownership just as much as feudal power; Jeff Bezos is powerful because he has a say in how Amazon, the Washington Post, and Blue Origin are run. And within capitalism, this power manifests itself much in the same way as between warring monarchies. When Iran’s Prime Minister Mossadegh wanted oversight on his country’s oil reserves, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) pushed American and British forces to assassinate him to accommodate their corporate interest. When the United Fruit Company (now Chiquitas Brands International) didn’t like how the democratically-elected government of Guatemala was challenging its monopoly of their arable land, they lobbied the American government to arrange a coup. Both instances led to the installation of brutal dictatorships – notably, brutal to their people, but quite friendly to corporate interests.

This capitalist utopia would ultimately be a regression of civilization, and more importantly, the economy would still be managed! Jeff Bezos is already talking about it! He wants to solve global warming by sending industries into space, which, however unreasonable it might be given the timeframe that climate change has allowed us, is a goal he intends to use his vast wealth and influence to realize. The examples I listed above were governments working in tandem with corporate management of the economy, and that could be the only reason we haven’t had our King Henry moment – governments are quite content to whore themselves out to corporate mercenary interests. They’ve got fewer scruples than the Borgias.

By “we” I obviously mean the West, since Iran and Guatemala did actually have their own King Henry moments. Quite viscerally, in fact.

The thing is, Chiquitas is still around. BP is still around. Greenpeace recently tricked an Exxon lobbyist into admitting the ways that the oil industry manages the economy by curtailing green initiatives and reducing oil regulations in government. We’re already living in a plutocracy where the wealthy and ownership class manipulate government to exert their will. Cutting back government will only make their manipulations more open because they will be able to act on the economy much more directly.

Economies will always be managed; whether it’s by a communist government or a Keynesian one, whether by a feudal king or a corporate one. Once we accept that there is no such thing as a free market within capitalism due to accumulations of power, we can approach the problem of a managed economy with open eyes. I think everyone is in agreement that a concentration of control and power is bad and corrupt. Even Bezos’s “benevolence” toward climate change is myopic and likely influenced by an echo chamber of sycophants and power hungry trolls.

I think Bezos’s real goal is to make Elysium just as prophetic as Idiocracy.

The right happens to think that this concentration of power exists in government and calls it communist, and the left sees it in corporations more subtly exerting their influence. When the government and corporations work hand in glove, the distinction really becomes inconsequential. Both right and left even seek the same goal: a diffusion of that control. It’s just that the right wants that diffusion to take place in an environment where power cannot be diffused due to the tendency of monopoly within capitalism. The left seeks democratic control to replace this concentration, democracy in both community and organizational levels.

A managed economy isn’t such a scary thing because they always have been and they always will be. The invisible hand doesn’t exist – Adam Smith was a na├»ve idealist. The question you have to ask yourself is, who should be in charge?