Caution: The following may contain non-graphic sexual content. Just like everything else, parental guidance is advised, as always.
In the news last week was a smallish note, in which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted that ‘peace [in Ukraine] could be a cynical trap’.
Really? Killing people is better than not killing them? To stop killing would be ‘cynical’? Whence cometh such a strange idea; and how could you explain it to the widows?
The answer came to us as we awoke this morning: Doing it!
Like all our ideas, this one was surely rehearsed by a thoughtful Greek more than 2,000 years ago. But we never met the Greek. We see no copyright. And so, it’s ours.
Useful? You decide.
Need versus want
Humans have two major impulses. Need and want. Everything else can be derived from them.
We need to eat…or we will die. This is a purely practical matter. It leads us to practical actions…and material progress. We develop better hunting techniques (including cooperation)…and then we learn to plant tomatoes and cabbages…and finally, we’re able to harness fossil fuels to power our tractors, factories, and homes.
Solving the need issue led to Pythagoras, pi, science, maths, and engineering. Adding two plus two. Identifying plants. Figuring out how to string a bow or throw a boomerang…then to the agricultural revolution and the Industrial Revolution. Calculators, foot warmers, atom colliders, double-entry bookkeeping, coat racks, and chainsaws — all are derived from our practical, needs-based thinking.
But there is a second impulse — desire. After we get enough food to survive, our main want (speaking socio-biologically, not necessarily from personal experience) is to reproduce. Were it not so, our species would have disappeared long ago.
Desire is an entirely different thing from need. It’s sex…and the world is full of it.
Fantasy, fallacy, and fiction. The ‘big man’ in the tribe brings back a young deer. He shares it with his friends and relatives…and gets the best piece for himself. Mating is infinitely complex, nuanced, and fanciful. It is pouty lips and an enhanced penis…a successful novel or a souped-up Chevy. It is full of lies and myths…deception and contraception…political slogans and great power competition…exaggerations on Facebook…breast augmentation and a third world war. It is hours in the gym and botox…‘Gone with the Wind’ and the Madonna della Pieta.
We began thinking about this when we were reading the headlines. One urged us to beware of TikTok because the Chinese might be using it to gather ‘intelligence’. Another told us that the Chinese were ‘getting ahead of us’ because they were subsidising their technology companies. Still, another urged us to support a bigger Pentagon budget lest the ‘Chinese dominate the South China Sea’.
Probably the dumbest of this genre came from TIME, the once-half-intelligent popular magazine:
‘These 5 Facts Explain Why China Is Pulling Ahead of the West
‘1. It has the world’s most powerful leader.’
Really? Stalin was powerful. Hitler was powerful. Did they ‘pull ahead’? Generally, the more powerful the leader, the weaker the nation.
‘2. It reaps global benefits from a state-controlled economy’
Huh? Since when is a ‘State-controlled economy’ a benefit? It is always a disaster.
‘3. It keeps the population in line with state-created jobs…’
This is absurd. People enter the workforce at 18 or later. Do the geniuses in Beijing know how many workers the country will need 20 years down the pike?
‘4. …and by leveraging advances in technology’
Leveraging? China’s entrepreneurs leverage. Its central planners misallocate, misconstrue, and mislead…just like central planners everywhere.
‘5. Others are following in its footsteps’
How does that help China ‘pull ahead’? China only pulls ahead by innovating and growing faster than the US. The number of nations trailing behind is completely irrelevant.
But most puzzling is that TIME thinks we should care if China ‘pulls ahead’. Why?
Win-win versus win-lose
Why do we care if China dominates the South China Sea? So what if it has a stronger economy…more people…more technology…or whatever? Logically — drawing on that part of the brain that concerns itself with ‘need’ — the stronger, richer, and more advanced China becomes…the better off we all are. Americans like TikTok; let China give us more of them.
But the ‘want’ category is another way to look at it. Americans don’t only desire to live better…have more to eat…and be richer. They also want to live better, have more to eat, and be richer than their neighbours. That is, they want to be Number Uno. The lead dog. The hegemon.
We want our team to win the Super Bowl. Whether our team wins or not is no reflection on us personally; we had nothing to do with it. But in the hall of mirrors of the ‘want’ mind, all we see is ourselves. There is no joy in Mudville if the home team loses. For then, we are all losers.
The ‘need’ part of the brain is rational, expansive, and generous. It is the optimistic, win-win part that recognises that more for anyone is more for everyone. But the ‘want’ part is jealous and fearful; in order to win, someone else must lose. Ergo, making someone else lose is the way to win.
It makes perfect sense. The wealth of the world is unlimited. Tractors and chemicals have increased farm output by five times since 1910 and the ratio of farmer-to-consumer has dropped from one farmer for every 13 consumers to one to 159.
But the ‘desire ratio’ of girl to boy is still the same — about one-to-one. So, if you’re going to get the girl…or the boy…or the trans or undecided person…you’re gonna have competition. Supplies are limited. You can only ‘win’ by making someone else ‘lose’. It’s always been that way…and always will be. Need is absolute. Desire is relative.
You can build as many skyscrapers as you want. But if the home team is going to win, it must defeat the visitors.
What does this mean for US foreign policy…for the future of the dollar and your investments? Give us a day to think about it…
…and stay tuned.
For The Daily Reckoning Australia