Who Really is ‘Presidential’? Thoughts Ahead of Tonight’s Debate – #Election2016


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Bernie Sanders was not presidential [sadly to say – despite many of his ideals being great – if not the best compared to his counterparts].

That is something the American people are struggling to grasp – especially the youth.

What is – ‘presidential’?

Donald Trump – is not presidential. But for reasons different than Bernie. Bernie is, well, simply put, without any character, really. Despite all the slogans and witty catch phrases, Bernie is just another product of social trends. He isn’t Justin Trudeau. He isn’t Obama. He just doesn’t have any flair. Americans like intellect – but they equally value humor; athleticism; suaveness – or “swagger” in today’s terminology. None of these are characteristic of Sanders.

The same could be said of Donald Trump but for different reasons. He is too uneducated, vulgar, impolite, erratic & irresponsible for such leadership – if not to hold any post. He can barely manage his own funds – or his father’s, rather.

That isn’t to say that Hillary Clinton is ‘presidential’.

Back in ’08, I hadn’t heard of a guy named Barack Obama, but as the campaign progressed, I realized – I had just witnessed the rise of an extraordinary individual. This man is beyond brilliant – something that few people truly appreciate. I can say that the world appreciates Obama more than America – which is quite telling. That isn’t necessarily true – a lot of Americans love our current president. But the ‘other side’ is equally if not more bent on voicing their hatred – to put it ‘mildly’.

Ahead of tonight’s momentous occasion, the first live debate between Clinton & Trump – I share the following sentiment. People often expect too much. This is a sign of…a lack of experience maybe. But other forces play a role too. The world is suffering and yet, the average American struggles to understand the nooks and crannies of his or her own political system and culture.

As an Armenian-Syrian immigrant living in America – I must say that my perspective should be heeded. There are many causes which are directly connected to me that have yet to be addressed or have been horribly managed, by the US wholly but also precisely by US president Barack Obama, whom I continue to support. Why? Because I am not a perfectionist in the political sense – and expect some compromise – not always – but in times of necessity and urgency. There is much change, and much work to be done in the stride towards justice – but it is just that – a stride – a path. We cannot be held back by radical expectations which in themselves seek to paralyze our sense of progress. That being said it is clear to me there is only one candidate worthy of a vote in this election and that reasoning is from contrived a moral and practical logic – that candidate is Hillary Clinton.

So while she isn’t necessarily the perfect candidate – relative to America’s choices – she is definitely presidential.

The US president is a person of immense wisdom and discipline; responsibility and sacrifice; public service and family value. Which of the two candidates possesses these qualities? And if you have to think twice – think again.

What gets me is that Americans want to change parts of their system that are less relevant to domestic and global wellbeing while ignoring the more pressing issues. And then when a tragedy or crisis occurs, Americans are left wondering how or why. Instead of a Wall Street revolution there should be a minority rights and immigration reform revolution. Instead of a focus on spreading democracy abroad we should be seeking to reduce our arbitrary and partial political influence overseas. Issues like these are costing us – but instead Americans wish to focus on ideological ambiguities and polarized politics.

That is why the candidates have dwindled down to the current options available – one representing the so-called establishment while the other represents the ugliest part of the establishment disguised as anti-establishment.

It is undoubtable that America and the world must implement comprehensive political reform – but this is likely an impossible feat under the auspices of a hypothetical President Trump. On the contrary, Hillary, like Obama (but perhaps to a lesser degree since she is more hawkish) – will pave the road for future generations to at least further the cause of progressivism in its purest form.

Perhaps future generations will reflect a more balanced perspective on US politics – representing minorities; women; LGBTQ; etc. But this cannot be associated with any particular ideological strand or populist trend as it has been in this election. American individualism and personal responsibility, contrary to the ‘8th grader youtube conspiracy video viewer mentality’ – is not preserved or protected by the far left or right – but rather, by a careful, tolerant moderate centrist. So when I say that Hillary Clinton is in fact presidential – that is precisely why. She isn’t just the echo of our grievances – but also of our reason.

The Rebalancing of Powers: From ‘Brexit’ to Babel?


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There is a disconnect between national policy and international relations.

The decision to leave the EU by the UK, or “Brexit”, is a symbol of that disconnect.

But in order to understand the origins of this decision, it is important to highlight the UK’s tradition of reluctance and hesitation towards the EU since its inception.

By nature, the UK, like America, prefers to play a conservative role in international affairs, dabbling in just enough to get the benefit, but not enough to bear the burden.

But the armed crises in the Middle East have created a storm in UK & EU politics, with the migration crisis being the crux of the problem.

Evidently, the UK prefers to leave such matters in the hands of its European counterparts, which is ironic because the UK is America’s closest ally in Europe – both countries are directly responsible for destabilizing the Middle East in the first place, under the premise of liberalization. This is where the disconnect begins.

At least half of the UK truly feels undermined by the concentration of power, underrepresented and almost collectivized by being part of the EU.

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But is the decision to leave the EU a right-wing populist scheme exploiting frustrations of the ordinary Brit? In South America, both right and left wing populism have failed to their more centered opponents. The US is still determining its fate.

Has this decision created a more or less secure world? Is this decision likely to produce positive or negative results in the UK’s social, economic and political fabric? How will this impact the rest of Europe? What will happen to the migrants?

It is in fact the people who have decided, through referendum, to leave the EU. Despite a targeted and well-developed “leave” campaign, the decision is also inspired by  general discontent towards the EU in Britain. But the facts and rhetoric surrounding the campaign reveals “Brexit” is more about xenophobia & Islamophobia than it is about sovereignty.

The majority of those who voted to leave the EU were above the age of 40. The vast majority of those who voted against were in their 20s ad 30s.

Given that London just elected its first Muslim mayor, there is reason to believe that unfounded, prejudiced paranoias about migrants and Muslims have stoked fears and insecurities in society, just enough to feed into the allure of right-wing populism and fear.

UK MP Nigel Farage proclaimed victory, ushering the 23rd as the UK’s modern independence day. He went on to claim that such a victory was achieved without any blood spilled. But only last week, British MP Jo Cox was violently murdered by a right-wing extremist who shouted “Britain First” as he committed the murder. Has this been understated by the media? Compared to reporting on terrorism linked to one or more Muslims, it is difficult to say that the media is not biased.

Notable international relations theorist John Mearsheimer predicted the disintegration of the EU as a result of the current international political dynamic which has seen America as the world’s sole superpower since the dissolution of the USSR. That dissolution has almost removed the security incentive for unity, or balancing that brought the EU together in the first place. There appears to be a growing rift among NATO members, particularly between European states and the US on how to manage international affairs. The differences stem from foreign policy on the Middle East primarily. Is the UK’s decision to leave the EU an inching towards or away from subservience to US leadership? That depends on the direction US democracy goes. If the American people also give in to fear, Donald Trump might be the next US president. This suggests that the two of the world’s most influential powers, the UK and America, are juggling between the past and the future – traditions of colonialism, racism & global mischief – and the equally traditional struggle against those forces, political enfranchisement, and socio-economic equality.

Europe is drifting towards a center-left progressive “utopia” – something despised by the British traditional-mentality. The same could be said of the US. This is vindicated by the statistics surrounding the ‘Brexit’ vote which saw the majority of the “leave” supporters being over the age of 40.

Without delving deeply into history books, the average person might not know that much of the US’ post-WWI behavior was determined by the British, by prompting fear and insecurity about illusory global threats. In 1952, it was the British who convinced the US that movements for sovereignty in the Middle East were a threat. Initially the US had actually empathized with the struggles for independence in the Middle East. The UK convinced the US to overthrow a democratically elected leader in Iran, and the US agreed because of the paranoias injected by the UK about the so-called “communist menace”.

To some it may be surprising that racism, Islamophobia and fascism are creeping into US and UK politics. To others, perhaps more victimized by these forces, it is more dangerous than surprising. If the US decides to follow suit and elects Donald Trump, there is reason to believe that global tensions might intensify. Remember that European history is bloody. Wars between France, England, Germany were commonplace. The UK’s exit from the EU might disturb this legacy of peace and harmony in Europe which has endured since WWII. Furthermore, it might reintroduce fascism into the West – long thought gone and dead.

It isn’t hard to imagine what would happen if the US did in fact follow suit. Two blocs would eventually form in the global order – a rebalancing of powers if you will. The UK and the US would be together on one side; Russia, China & Iran on the other. India would likely play an indirect role, but ultimately throwing most of its support behind the latter bloc. The contrary would apply to the Gulf states in the Middle East, Israel and Pakistan, who would likely remain under the auspices of the UK & the US. Altogether this can be described as the modern world order. In this scenario, the EU disintegrates completely. The fault line will likely split between France & Germany – to no surprise, with much of eastern Europe balancing against the UK & the US. The war between fascism and collectivism ensues. The ideologies of capitalism and culture are at war – they are mutually exclusive. In reality, capitalism fully realized is fascist, and collectivism fully realized is communist – both authoritarian to some extent. But the latter is conditional and retaliatory. In a perfect world, neither would exist, and universal democracy could flourish without capitalism and communism. Till then, we must pick sides and lesser evils or resort to anarchism.

There is still hope for the world and America. Clinton is not our salvation – but in politics there are no angels; only lesser devils – or so it seems.

Still Under Occupation: The Middle East & the Struggle for Dignity


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Time and time again, we hear about the causes of injustice and instability in the Middle East.

There are about four main causes offered from analyses on this region. Each of them point to internal factors, though somehow quite different from one another.

But none of them recognize the possibility that instability is not a domestic ailment.

How could democratic institutionalism evade the Middle East for so long?

Here too, an anthology of theories has been written.

Getting into all the explanations would require too much attention, a luxury that modern high speed internet cannot afford to its consumers.

The main argument echoed in the halls of western political debate rooms blames ruthless dictators and Islamic crazies.

A list of more intricate explanations exist too.

None of them point to external factors.

But none of them can truly explain the distinctive features of the Middle East that make it lag significantly behind other regions in terms of democratic reform and political stability, like for example Latin America, where similar conditions exist: colonial history & resource abundance.

Why has America, and before it Europe, exercised endless security initiatives in the Middle East since the end of World War II? The US and Israel remain the only two occupying forces in the Middle East.

Research supports the logic that suicide terrorism is linked to foreign occupation.

US interventionism is not beneficial to the US nor to the international community. Violations of sovereignty are the primary cause of global instability. Whether or not democracy should evolve in a particular country is a domestic issue. Furthermore, cultural values must be considered to determine whether democratic political institutions can endure. Albeit, by injecting itself in the affairs of other countries, a US foreign policy of interventionism incites radicalism, paralyzes political development, and violates universal principles of self-determination and sovereignty. It was a the democratically elected leader of Iran, President Mossadegh, who was ousted in a CIA-led coup d’etat, which produced the mess that is radicalism and sectarianism today in the Middle East. World powers have played a hypocritical role in the region, loaning aid to authoritarian dictatorships and Islamic radicals simultaneously (Saddam & al Qaeda, for example), pinning two counterintuitive initiatives against one another – neocolonialism in plain-sight.

If democracy is in fact possible in the Middle East, its chances of seeing the light of day are being dimmed by the political hubris of world powers, namely the US.

 

How Arab Unity Became An Oxymoron – Another Tale of Orientalism


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A more liberal strand of Islam might argue that cultural identity is tied to Islamic heritage. Furthermore, it encompasses all philosophy and knowledge into Islam, as opposed to radical Islam which excludes philosophies from the Enlightenment, Renaissance, and the mystical indigenous religions of various regions in the world, like Central Asia and Latin America.

What if identity, whether it is Chinese, or Syrian, is also tied to an Islamic consciousness?

Let us say for example that Confucius was a Muslim. But only in the philosophical sense.

Let us say that Islam, is a philosophy too, a form of consciousness that becomes intertwined with language and custom.

If that is the case, instead of isolating extremism in Islam – what if we look at national struggles for national representation as well as national struggles for independence through the lens of a struggle for a higher level of consciousness?

In communist China, Islam is systemically suppressed. In the West, Islam is discriminated against. In the Middle East, from where it originates, it is disenfranchised from the political process. Palestine, the crux of Islamic scripture, remains occupied. Mecca, resides in a politically corrupt nation-state. The vast majority of Muslims, shiite or sunni, are living in poverty due both to foreign occupation and arbitrary authoritarian government. Russia is united with many forces, some its enemies, like the US in the fight against radicalism, of course, without looking at the initial cause.

In today’s world we see North Korea and Russia and Iran and China as US arch-rivals. But how can we be so sure? It appears premature to assume that enemies on the media aren’t cooperating behind closed doors. Does the US not benefit from the existence of a constant menace? Fanatical ideology or religion, whether it is coming from ISIS or North Korea, isn’t the concern of the great powers.

The world powers are still playing their great game, and they are doing their utmost to prevent the emergence of an autonomous Middle East (or Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia) that can balance their power, out of arrogance as well as out of the desire to exploit resources and prevent any fair competition in the Middle East.

And fanaticism is working in their favor too, because it does nothing to promote national sovereignty – in fact, it is almost carrying out the neoconservative deed under the guise of a Salafi strain of Islam.

A united, moderate and tolerant Middle East would counter all of these forces – but the greatest obstacle to this includes all the puppet regimes in the Middle East which have resisted challenging Israel militarily – the crucible of Middle Eastern conflict and instability. Once the leadership in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt is overthrown, the Arab front against imperialism can actually hold its ground.

The so-called Arab Spring was a delusional, western manufactured initiative distracting everyone from the real cause of conflict in the Middle East – Occupation.

Democracy is a concept meant for parts of the world where religious sensitivity and culture does not overwhelm the philosophical expectations of the individual. Ideologies like neoconservatism and communism all have threatened the peace and sovereignty of the Middle East. The Arab Spring was a farce attempt in this regard, as much as communism was to liberate Afghanistan, America to liberate Afghanistan afterwards, or Iraq, Libya, Yemen and so forth.

Whether political immorality is exercised by the Chinese, Russians or the Americans, does not matter – the point is that a brainwashing game is being played on the media to blur the lines between good and bad.

But all you need to do to understand who the bad guy is have a basic understanding of boundaries – and that when boundaries are crossed, war ensues.

That boundary has been, since 1948, Palestine.

Until sovereignty is respected, the brainwash will continue, and so too shall conflict.

Democracy will save nothing – unity will.

The Fate of the Middle East


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The fate of Middle Eastern conflicts is that they are long and bloody.

More recently, they have been immortal.

The Palestine issue has almost turned into a hopeless cause in which activists are smeared as promoters of violence. The losses suffered by Arabs, while Israelis and Americans gain footing, is tough to look beyond. How does one have hope beyond all these drawbacks?

In 2003, Iraq was invaded. Ever since, terrorism has risen sharply becoming a norm.

Then the Arab uprisings occurred, and no real progress came about. In fact, the Middle East is arguably in worse condition than it was before 2003, whether it is temporary or transitional.

None of the world’s major powers have done anything to reduce the suffering and destruction – but they certainly have invested resources into protecting their interests and initiatives. As I watch videos upon videos of suffering Syrians, both inside and outside of their country, I become more disenchanted with the Syrian government’s lack of accountability, morality and disregard. Where is the empathy? The obedience of many Arabs to the tyrannical cults of personality which rule their societies isn’t that mind-boggling to me, only because here in America, we study things like the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. I see too much suffering happening to my people.

But if Palestinians are suffering the same fate, and have been, for the last 50 years, at the hands of a so-called democratic Jewish state, who am I to blame? Americans and Europeans are quick to point their fingers at Arab heads of state – but in Palestine and Iraq, conditions have been worsened not by heads of state but also by foreign occupiers.

The sense of distrust among Syrians, and Arabs altogether towards any attempt to “police” the Middle East should not be so difficult to grasp – though it is for many Americans.

But why must ordinary people suffer at the hands of political officials? The levels of political, economic and social control in Arab states is beyond apprehension. If we cannot trust democracies or authoritarians, we have nobody to go, but ourselves. In doing that, menaces like ISIS and al Qaeda emerge.

The narrative in America is that the Syrian people are suffering because their government is stubborn. Like many governments outside of the Occident, authoritarianism is rampant in the Middle East. Syria is one of the examples. With a notorious secret police service, haunting tales about political prisoners and disappearances, horrifying accounts of state terror, Syria is a prime example in fact. The state’s inability to accept a free society that enables economic mobilization, has led to an economic disaster in which tribal ideologies are sought for survival. In this scenario, ISIS is the shadow of Assad. Neither can exist without the other. Would ISIS wain with Assad’s end? Would the specter and appeal of Islamic radicalism lose ground because of a lack of justification?  In this case, the Syrian government is inciting sectarianism and extremism.

But this theory rests largely on the assumption that authoritarianism is the cause of the problem in the Middle East. If that were the case, it would be authoritarianism, not Israeli apartheid and occupation, which subjugates Palestinians. But maybe an end to authoritarianism, would also imply an end to Israeli authoritarianism. In this case, the menace to the Arab and Islamic world is not colonialism, but rather, authoritarianism – a domestic sentiment of political hubris practiced by political elites, whether they are Zionist, Alawite, Saudi or Shia.

In another scenario, global powers are playing tug-o-war for control of regions like the Middle East, Latin America, Central & Southeast Asia. These powers include the US, Europe, Russia & China. Here, the cause of instability is imperial overstretch, violating state sovereignty, stirring animosity and violence. If nation-states like the US did not seek superiority but rather economic development, the world could experience a state of co-existence. Culturally, the West is more inclined to domination. As a result, the East responded with their own mechanism for resisting imperialism – communism. Here, the instigator is the Anglo-Saxon civilization, which seeks a level of exploitation of others. But if all nation-states sought containment, there would be less imbalance and instability. There is a level of insecurity among the Anglo-Saxons in which they cannot accept a level-playing field.

Both scenarios are compelling. Others would point to less human based factors, like oil abundance or environmental factors. Some analysts argue the main cause of instability in the Middle East is cultural – Islam is unique.

All of the arguments have some truth to them but which is most compelling and which has the most support?

Since the end of WWI, the Arab & Muslim world became more vulnerable than ever. That is because the Ottoman Empire officially collapsed, withering away into a fragmented and divided states, leaving them vulnerable to colonial domination, which is exactly what happening via Sykes-Picot in the Middle East. In the 20th century, the West dominated the East through covert operations. But in the 21st century, this manifested through direct invasions, such as the 2003 War in Iraq. Then came the war in Libya. Now the US is considering its options in Syria and Yemen. It seems hard to believe, that the removal of Saddam Hussein did anything better for the Iraqis than his initial takeover to begin with. It could mean that Iraqis have to wait another hundred years before their country is able to function democratically and resist destabilization – but is this possible with a constant threat of foreign intervention?

All of these factors must be considered.

Personally I feel that because destabilization in the Middle East increased sharply after 2003 indicates the influence of foreign intervention. Furthermore, covert operations by the US to overthrow even democratically elected leaders further enflamed the fire of radicalism. It would seem then that the argument which points to foreign intervention in the Middle East, or occupation, as the main driver of terrorism and instability, to be the most compelling.

America has pushed for democracy in its foreign policy while not practicing it fully domestically. Furthermore, its pressures for regime change have only revealed its ulterior motives in meddling in the affairs of usually more vulnerable states. Only through containment of the US’ imperial ambitions can the world see a reduction of Russian assertiveness, the appeal of Islamic radicalization and global instability.

 

Power & Technology – A Bromance?


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The relationship between technology and power is rather complex. There are numerous theories that technological advancement is the key to strength and prosperity – in parts of the world where such evolution did not occur, political institutions and therefore economies developed less (Diamond 1999). Technological evolution has especially revolutionized America’s modern military, as well as the military capabilities of other nations. Since today’s world no longer exhibits a Soviet Union, newer threats have emerged, particularly in the form of radical terrorism, but also by the assertiveness of China, Russia and India, who possess technologically advanced weaponry too.

World War II marked the beginning of a new age, with the creation of the nuclear bomb, as well as revolutions in aviation, mechanization and information (Krepinevitch 2006). There are various instances in history of major shifts in technology which almost coincide with changes in the nature of warfare. Perhaps America’s military and technological superiority have created the current scenario in which the only global hegemony, the US lacks a coherent “enemy” or “threat” in the form of a state. Rather, this modern counterforce is splintered into terrorist networks across the globe.

The modern technological shift has taken the form of unmanned drones, as well as long-distance warheads. Drones have enabled policymakers in the US to conduct military operations without employing any troops. A prime and often cited example of this is the use of US drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan both for surveillance and to eliminate targets – but this tactic has arguably not changed the trajectory of US policy. Rather, it has refined it by further exploiting the technological primitiveness of the opposition. Two other factors limit the vast influence which the Revolution in Miliary Affairs could affect policy – the accountability of American democracy & perhaps more ambiguously America’s moral idealism. Together, these two traditions have arguably helped to limit indiscriminate use of modern military means. Furthermore, the War in Iraq demonstrates how nation-states are willing to employ troops on the ground despite technology superiority over their enemies. Perhaps this implies that policy is less motivated by technological advancement and more by the threat of attack as well as economic interest.

Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. WW Norton & Company (1999).

Andrew F. Krepinevich, “Cavalry to Computer: The Pattern of Military Revolutions,”The National Interest (Fall 1994), 37: 30-42. http://wwe.jstor.org/stable/42896863

Mearsheimer’s Legacy: The Future of International Relations & Political Theory


International relations theory generally breaks up into three focuses – individual, state and international.

The prevailing schools focus on the state level, arguing that, based on the evolution of history, this is the unit of analysis in international politics.

John Mearsheimer whom perhaps is referenced less nowadays since his controversial piece on Israeli foreign politics argued from the realist perspective that US hegemony would be challenged due to “imperial overreach”.

The emergence of new powers (BRICS) and the souring of relations between western allies is further evidence of a new impasse in international politics. Are we facing a challenge to the unipolar order which has seen US domination for a half century?

Earlier this year Scotland debated exiting the UK. This failed. Now the UK is considering exiting the EU. Could this be affirming the predictions of Mearsheimer?

But are we committing the same fallacy done by political theorists in early history who analyzed from the perspective of empires? Is America not behaving as an ambitious empire? Could the world ever revert to an international system of empires, or are states the permanent fate of international political theory?

America’s internal politics largely contributes to its foreign policy, and vice versa, contrary to claims of isolationism, disentanglements and illusory self-dependence. Currently, America is witnessing an internal challenge to its tradition of ideological exclusivism which has prevented social, economic and political inclusion for all people, particularly minorities – individuals who might possess the capacity to influence US policy away from exclusivism both domestically and internationally. This change is the only chance America has at containing its imperial tendency – because that tendency has only been able to exist due to its domestic tradition of social inequality for minorities.

In political theory, there are assumptions nowadays that a “free market” only exists within capitalist ideology. The reality isn’t so simple – states form because cultures exist and need protection and preservation. Sometimes in history, I argue, one culture becomes domineering and expansive beyond sustainability, such as with the Romans, Greeks, Persians…even the English, French, the USSR and now America. The ideologies and cultures were distinct, but shared a common feature – political hubris – expanding beyond boundaries.

Ideologies are meant to distract from the international political reality which is less simplistic. Assuming the state is the prevailing political agent, I argue that cultural fanaticism, be it populistic or elitist, results in domestic and international imbalance of power. This causes instability and violence. Historically such endeavors were justified through ideologies promising various rewards or statuses – today that “religion” is accepting subservience to imperialism – the desire to disrupt the state system through imperial ambitions. The tactics are mischievous.

The idea that capitalism is responsible for American prosperity is ignorant of the involvement of the collectivist policies of the US government over time. Further it assumes that markets cannot exist smoothly without corporate lawlessness. In fact, true markets can only exist in healthy fashion when a given stage is culturally united and conscientious of its citizens needs. Because contrary to the naive wisdom of modern capitalist theorists, markets are influenced by more than just supply and demand but a range of social and political factors.

When all nations learn to contain their imperial ambitions and return to a state of international balance, there will be less ideological mania and political instability. What we need is a sort of global treaty of Westphalia that recognizes sovereignty an a moderate economic system that is decent.

While these complex assertions are difficult to digest or perhaps even to suggest, they certainly highlight The plight of a mixed economist and social constructivist seeking to make sense of an ideological, polarized and dogmatic world.