Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Just How Dumb is Western Europe?

No dumber than anyone else, actually. But they are currently a shining example of Normalization of Deviance.


This is why.

Gazprom is indeed a power-projecting organ of the Russian State. Putinism is entering the Pirhana stage.(H/T to commenters at the Chicago Boyz)

In his book Riding Rockets, Astronaut Mike Mullane explained that NASA ignored known risks with the Shuttle because the craft had flown without those risks manifesting themselves in an incident. It is a common feature of humanity. Someone tells you that riding motorcycles without a helmet is dangerous. But you do it once and get away with it. You do it twice. A thousand times. But on the thousand-and-first, someone cuts you off, and you spray your brains all over the landscape, realizing, in your last, painful instants on this Earth, exactly why doctors call people like you "rolling organ stockpiles".

You normalized the deviance, assuming the odds would never catch up with you.

I was studying Russian in college when a lot of the debate on the trustworthiness of Gorbachev with respect to the gas supply took place. And that was part of an older debate. I clearly remember the arguments against the pipeline:.

French, West German and British Firms were largely supported by their respective governments in evading Washington’s demands for an embargo on the shipment of technology for a Soviet natural Gas Pipeline to the West. Nor did they pay much heed to American arguments on the danger of dependence on the USSR for energy supplies.

The problem with such warnings is that the negative consequences are many times removed in time from their cause. When Gorbachev, and then Yeltsin proved relatively benign, never seriously threatening Europe's newly acquired energy supplies, the talk of threat was dismissed as American jingoism. Now, between the Russian cut offs over price and the Georgian incident, the threat is being re-evaluated. Perhaps too little, too late, as delayed feedback loops often have more severe consequences than immediate cause-and-effect chains.

Individual Russians, such as Gorbachev, may be friends of the West, but Russia herself is not, and will not be until the last vestiges of serfdom are thrown off of that society several generations hence. Russia sees life as a zero sum game because her society has never created much wealth, it has subsisted on selling natural resources. The wealth from those resources is bitterly fought over within Russian society, and the created wealth of the West is viewed with jealousy.

As far back as in 1991, during the coup that ousted Gorby, Europe should have been taking precautions to diversify its future supply. It did not:

The EU currently relies on Russia for a quarter of its total gas supplies. Of the bloc's 27 member states, seven are almost totally dependent on Russian gas.

Even former Eastern Block countries, where people should have had memories of previous bad experiences with the Russians, fell prey to Normalization of Deviance and wishful thinking.

"It was a huge shock. We thought we had good relations with Russia and that we'd be supplied at all times regardless of what happened between Moscow and Ukraine," he says.

"We thought Russia would protect us."

How could a resident of country within the former Iron Curtain make such a spectacularly obtuse statement? Some of it has to do with the modern intellectual's assumption that Europe has outlawed bad behavior, and that the Russians will play nicely in the sandbox because that is what is expected of them.

The other reason is the special history that Bulgaria enjoyed with the USSR.

There is a Soviet / Russian joke about elephants. The nations of Europe decide to celebrate a year of the elephant by publishing a book in each nation. The French, of course, publish a detailed account of the sex life of the elephant. The German book is a dry, but extremely detailed encyclopedia about elephants. The Soviet book proclaims the superiority of the Soviet elephant. The Bulgarian book merely proclaims that the Bulgarian elephant is the best friend of the Soviet element (see the middle of the posting here, I have heard the same joke made about Mongolia as well, reflecting their tough position between the Russians and the Chinese).

So one can perhaps forgive a modern Bulgarian intellectual for such a statement, suffering as he does from two major blind spots. But not the rest of the West. As can bee seen from the examples of the Shuttle and the helmetless motorcyclist, when the bill for normalizing deviance comes due, the price is often exorbitant.

1 comment:

Jim Wright said...

Several doctors I know call helmetless riders: Donorcycles.

You are, of course, correct. But western Europe is not alone in normalizing of deviance, the United States continues to base its energy policy on the same nonsense. Every time the oil producing process screws us, we talk about alternate energy sources, until the price per gallon of gas drops, then we go right back to building huge gas guzzling SUV's, and then act surprised the next time the cycle squeezes us again.