Where the West could truly lose

INDIA, May 2 2012 – On a promontory high above the Arabian Sea, Fort Aguada was once a conspicuous seat of power for indomitable warriors who extracted riches from their newfound subjects far from home in Portugal.

Now there are just seawalls above a sprawling beach that could be the set for an Indian version of “Baywatch”, complete with cavorting tourists and shrieking para-sailors.

The cocktail created by oxygen-rich air and ocean spray is almost cool enough to beat down India’s searing summer heat.

But the rich tableau is not enough distraction to wean me from the over-arching concerns I have for the viability of the Western way of life four years into the financial purgatory I believe we entered during 2008.

I ventured down to Goa with some valued friends to wrestle festering thoughts into some sense. A lucky break from the absorbing fervor in Bangalore let me try to follow this sage advice of Francis Bacon from a perch in paradise:

“Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man and writing an exact man”.

The rising perils we must face soon will not be beaten back by “photo-ops” and slogans. Nor will the voices of our critics and enemies be stilled for long by even the most lethal ordnance. Instead, logic must be our lodestar.

For years I have been trying to reconcile triumphant announcements of progress made by so many Western leaders with nagging doubts concerning the inherent strength of societies addicted to obsessive consumption and to excessive borrowing.

Is it even possible to discern the real course of national economic progress?

Perhaps an answer is found considering a much smaller notion-the size and speed of a single sub-atomic particle.

One distinguished author[1] characterized the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle as follows:

“The more you know about [the] mass and velocity [of a particle], the less you can possibly know about where it is.”

Does this core plank supporting the theory of Quantum Mechanics extend to the softer social sciences and help to explain why leading experts disagree so strenuously concerning the dimensions and trajectories of economies?

I actually think it does.

Defining collective progress and extolling equal outcomes is simply misdirection that has proven useful to those who practice modern politics and to the few who pull strings removed from public view.

No modern politician can render you and society “better-off” by giving you some benefit he has taken from your neighbor or borrowed from your children.

The hard fact is that even poor citizens within the richest nations are much richer, in material terms, than billions of the destitute who can only scrape by with little education, no wealth and ever dwindling hope.

By any reasonable set of measures, all of us in the “advanced”, aging, indebted nations of Europe, North America and Japan are much better off, financially, than the “bottom 85%” of earth’s current population.

Instead of agreeing to distract one another by beggaring our neighbor, we must gain sight of and fend off our most dire, existential threats.

Where do these presently lie?

Weeks have now passed since my first Goa visit. Still I remember vividly the crashing surf on the rocks just below Fort Aguada—the relentless unspoken refrain that proves how insulated land-locked humans are from greater furies.

Far away from the modern tragedy being played out in America, on the continent of Europe and in Japan, I think now of a different promontory and a different time.

I will always be touched by the tribute paid to exceptional American and Allied valor watching this video of a speech delivered at Pointe du Hoc in Normandy on 6 June 1984. (video above)

Dread contests are never just about things—irreconcilable ideals, power vacuums and undefended wealth are the root causes of wars.

A tired Britain under Neville Chamberlain was sure peace could be made with Germany under Adolf Hitler.

Kofi Annan felt he “could do business with” Saddam Hussein.

And apparently the Obama Administration believes America and our Allies can arrange a just peace with the Taliban in time to score points with the American electorate.

George W. Bush will be forever mocked for his premature, “Mission Accomplished” landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf on 1 May 2003.

I fail to see much difference between that stunt and President Obama’s short and ill-conceived touchdown in Afghanistan.

Both events broke news—but neither measures up in wisdom or honor or humility to President Reagan’s heartfelt embrace of valiant, purpose-filled sacrifice.

Inside fine buildings and insulated from inconveniences, leaders become sure they actually know best. Some even strut and preen thinking they truly are more powerful than the changes in which they believe. They are actually making the history and we are just following along for the ride.

This unbecoming pride only yields unhappy endings—modern testaments include the now withered extent of the Portuguese Empire and the dwindling circumstances of the British Commonwealth.

Yet we Americans somehow believe that our uni-polar world remains immune from the swirling historical currents that define the reported course of progress through history.

Too many Western leaders fail to perceive the stark vulnerabilities they have created for their nations and their citizens by premature celebration of victory over distinct and indistinct foes, alike.

Are we really so self-absorbed that we can revel in one politician’s well-guarded, fortunate decision?

What of the sacrifice paid scant months later by members of the raiding party or by those killed, wounded or missing since hostilities began in 2001?

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar remains very much at large—a man who directly ordered destruction of an ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site (the Buddhas of Bamiyan) and still perpetrates unspeakable atrocities.

No just peace will come through surrender to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

No good has come from unwise accommodations made to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in the wider Middle East.

Yes, the Al Qaeda network may well be degraded; however, “peace” in a traditional western sense is certainly not at hand in the region nor is security assured in many countries still targeted by this shadowy group.

Do we really believe the Carter-era decision to abandon the Shah has advanced American and Western interests?

Above all, Western nations have steadily circumscribed their dwindling array of options by stoking the politics of envy, by piling on debt and also by ignoring our entrenched reliance on fossil fuels sourced in the volatile mid-East.

What will happen to us after we discover that Western leaders may have squandered the “Peace Dividend” returned following conclusion of the Cold War?

On 19 August 1991, I flew from Tokyo over the full expanse of the Soviet Union to London, marveling at the apparent vastness and natural wealth of a long-feared nation that is inhabited by comparatively few persons.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the contest fought from 1917 through 1991 was settled years ago in favor of a model where all nations compete in peace to build the larders and the bank accounts of their citizens.

However, I see signs of a rising Russia whose fundamental values and core strategic interests could easily clash with our own starting in the Middle East, sooner rather than later.

And I doubt that Vladimir Putin believes he now holds weaker cards than Barack Obama or any other western leader. 


Charles Ortel became a lapsed member of the silent majority in August 2007 when he began alerting the public to dangers posed by structural changes in the global economy. Since then, Charles has appeared in the print, radio and television media with increasing frequency. Graduated from Horace Mann School, Yale College and Harvard Business School, Charles tries to learn each day. 

Follow Charles on Twitter at @CharlesOrtel





[1] Samuel Avery, The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness: A Physical Basis of Immaterialism, p. 57.

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Charles Ortel

Charles Ortel became a lapsed member of the silent majority in August 2007 when he began alerting the public to dangers posed by structural changes in the global economy. Since then, Charles has appeared in the print, radio and television media with increasing frequency. Brass Tacks will attempt to offer non-partisan perspective on factors contributing to the unresolved, burgeoning crisis and discuss potential solutions. Graduated from Horace Mann School, Yale College and Harvard Business School, Charles tries to learn each day.  

Contact Charles Ortel


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