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Rhizome

Official Thread: Realism and IR

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If you are not reading "Heidegger is a nazi" and "Realism good" you clearly are losing to many K debates! Just kidding. This thread will deal exclusively will the realism and international relations (in all aspects). Have questions on how realism interacts with things like the Lacanaian Act go on and post and we'll answer!

Edited by Rhizome
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Here is me being serious:

 

Seriously, how viable are ad hominem attacks in answering kritiks?

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I would like an explanation of feminist critiques of IR. I would especially appreciate an explanation of what "masculinity" means in the context of these critiques. Does masculinity = violence, or what?

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This is a recent debate between Scotty P and Calum which discusses realisms inevitability and the warrants in a semi-in depth fashion (in the comments section). Other folks chime in too.

 

By my count the 3NR has about 8 posts which contain realism. At least half are worth serious investigation for those debating realism in IR (and by my count thats everybody--because you're affirmative roughly half the time). It includes discussions of representations good/bad among other things related to the realism good debate.

 

For instance one quite useful post is the , the Realism/IR reading list that Scotty Phillips provides in this bibliography is pretty decent. (Note: someone has been kind enough to explain where each resource can be located on various electronic databases in the comments section--so if you can get to a college library , have questia, or live near a public library with decent databases tracking these down should be fairly easy).

 

The first two I would take a stab at would be On Security and one of the prominent Feminism in IR books--both should provide a decent intro to these issues. I would quickly follow by diving into the realism good literature.

 

On a topic which is international in scope and deals with military strategy--realism debates are going to be relatively frequent. (also the way the debate community uses realism inevitable & realism good as the generic answer to so many critiques means these nuances of these debates is incredibly important to your win/loss percentage).

Edited by nathan_debate

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Beating Realism Good Based on Evolutionary Science

 

Seven awesome ways to beat the realism good arguments...

 

Read and cut this article by Agustin Fuentes on the evolutionary science of cooperation. Its outstanding and makes several compelling arguments about human cooperation and goodness (aka nonviolence--or rather not intrinsically violent). This evidence is on fire. "Not All Sex and Violence" (9 pages in length) Reading it should only take 25 minutes or so...and cutting it about 25 minutes too. Very quick...very powerful in debate rounds.

 

Second watch this video of Dacher Keltner at Google (PhD from Stanford and works at Berkeley). He makes the argument that:

1) Darwin thought compassion was incredibly helpful (Herbert Spencer is the real "survival of the fittest" author)

2) Compassion is contagious

3) Kindness trumps beauty/attractiveness on desirability. The talk is about an hour long--but well worth it--Kalter is quite intelligent. Here is what I'm sure is a similar video on ForaTV http://fora.tv/2009/01/21/Dacher_Keltner_Born_to_Be_Good 4) Technology cooperation via the book Connected

5) Peter Singer's recent work

6) cortisol. the nervous system has a bias for pro-sociality

7) the role of Oxytocin

8) how humans relate to pictures of those in distress

9) the physiology of pro-sociality

10) darwinian science means compassion/pro-sociality wins

 

Third, visit the website of his organization The Greater Good Science Center for a wealth of resources on the intrinsic goodness of people. Nothing short of AMAZING!!!! For instance, the ongoing research of Living Links and specifically

(who wrote the Age of Empathy) at Emory University is specific to the evolutionary issue (those are by far the most important resources on the list which have application for debate rounds).

 

Fourth, read Dacher Keltner's book "Born to Be Good" on Google books. (the book has been featured in the New York Times and Psychology Today among others)

 

Fifth, I would mine the bibliography from the book. (not sure if the bibliography is available on Google books)

 

Sixth, there is a lot of research online about self-organizing systems from social networks to open source collaboration. (for instance the book Connected which Keltner references--PS the author of Connected is a doctor from Harvard) There is a whole science behind this idea of connection & cooperation.

 

Seventh, their blog (their scientists at Berkeley--its qualified) has extensive coverage of the evolution issue here along with human nature here.

 

Here is a summary of Keltners talk at Google about "Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life":

 

"In this talk I will survey the latest evolutionary and neuroscience that aligns with Charles Darwin's thesis that sympathy is our strongest instinct, or that we are born to be good. I will take the audience on a tour of recent evolutionary thought, which suggests that our hyper vulnerable offspring rearranged our brains, genes, and social structures. I will detail new research on the vagus nerve and oxytocin, branches of the nervous system that have evolved to enable cooperation, trust, and caretaking. I detail new signaling systems -- tactile communication and vocalization -- which are critical to the transmission of prosociality across individuals. Throughout the talk I integrate the latest science with the wisdom found in Eastern thought."

 

Dr. Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, and Director for Greater Good Science Center.

 

Winning this debate is critical to the internal link to inevitability debate along with the entire underlying assumptive apparatus of realism good. Hopefully, educational and food for thought...along with ways to strategically win debate rounds.

Edited by nathan_debate
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I guess it's time somebody asked this question. What is Realism? Is it the idea that we assume everybody is evil and selfish?

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Even if realism has descriptive value, it's far from obvious that it is normatively coherent. In fact, you could grant most of the descriptive claims that realism makes and still argue that it's normatively repugnant without contradicting yourself in any serious way.

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Its inevitable

This is remarkably unhelpful.

 

(Here's an example: It's inevitable that people will be raped this year, but that tells us nothing about the normative facts about rape.)

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Realism is based on principles of economics, particularly that actors will always work in their own self-interest. This would suggest that actors like Russia would do something like invade Afghanistan only if it perceived that the benefits of doing so outweigh the magnitude and probability of any kind of disincentive, such as international disapproval. Seems pretty common sense, right? Using this same notion, it would make sense to say that the US engaging in a containing policy with China might lessen the risk of invasion but increase the risk of difficulties with diplomacy. Interestingly, realism doesn't support a lot of right-wing scare tactics generally associated with realism. For example, realists would argue that China in the status quo will not engage the US militarily or sell the bonds that we have with them because our economies are so interconnected that the price would outweigh the benefits. In that sense, realism is not always mutually exclusive with something like Pan or a security K because realism probably supports the thesis of such critiques, meaning that "realism good" and "realism inevitable" aren't very responsive to more specific China Ks.

 

Another economic principle seen in realism is that government intervention can, but does not necessarily, improve economies when they fail. For example, let's say that the pursuit of self-interest leads countries to consider something really, REALLY bad. Consider the classic Indo-Pak war scenario, which might claim something like: India and Pakistan both want the same bit of land and are really suspicious of each other, if Iran proliferates then Pakistan may also do so, which would increase tensions/suspicions enough to create an Indo-Pak war that goes nuclear, blah blah blah. This is an example of a market failure because it means that pursuing individual best interests would create a huge negative consequence. Realists would say that the intervention of an international organization such as the UN may ameliorate the situation by providing something like sanctions on Pakistan that would be big enough that Pakistan, acting in its best interests, would have to conclude that the cost of the sanctions would be far worse than the benefits of nuclear energy/weapons.

 

Economic concepts play into realism again with the consideration of intergovernmental treaties, such as SKFTA. Economics tells us that there are gains to be made from trade, which probably supports a multilateral strategy--these gains from trade could be not only economic but in terms of intellectuals, collective knowledge, etc. Therefore, treaties and multilateral agreements are probably a good idea in general. However, you still have to consider that countries will work in their own self-interest, so cost/benefit analysis has to be applied. For example, think of the Code of Conduct CP. One of the more common arguments is that China and Russia will cheat because it is in their best interest to do so in order to gain a military advantage over their competitors, but one of the most common (and most convincing) answers is that the COST of putting weapons into space (debris making space unusable) outweighs the BENEFIT of any kind of military superiority. Of course, debris and counterbalancing are side debates on the issue, but it's still a good example of how best-interest policymaking interacts with the general principle that trade/cooperation is good. Things like SKFTA are probably cleaner because neither country has an interest in "cheating" the other in any form, since in theory it should be best for both nations on the whole (despite it being potentially bad for some groups in both nations, it should theoretically improve the overall economies of both nations).

 

The Code of Conduct is another great example of yet another economic principle that winds up in realism- incentives change behavior. For example, many contend that I-Law fails in general because it's hard to enforce. However, the fact that incentives change behavior would say that I-Law is still at least a little effective because every actor has a different threshold at which they will be willing to risk the potential negative consequences of violation for the perceived benefits. If the Code of Conduct offers an extremely harsh penalty for violations, it's less likely that actors will violate it regardless of how enforceable it is. Therefore, having an unenforceable international treaty or law is better than no such treaty or law being in place.

 

There are a bunch more examples, but those are some basics. Keep in mind my point that realism=/=right-wing scare politics. Though "realism good" checks against more out-there versions of the security K (i.e. "there are no threats, it's all in our heads. Every. Single. One."), it doesn't make a good answer to a more middle-of-the road version (i.e. "yes there are threats in general, but Russia isn't one of them, and you shouldn't be making this stuff up to scare the judge into an aff ballot because x, y, and z."), which typically are better for debates and have better warrants in general anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

TL;DR Realism is political microeconomics and follows many of those same basic principles, but in a much more complex manner. Additionally, realism doesn't justify things that are debatable (i.e. Russia's gonna nuke us) and is therefore weak against realist defenses of such truth claims combined with a more critical component.

 

 

 

EDIT: All of that is about positive economics, not normative. Positive describes the world-as-is, normative describes the world-as-it-should-be. While what I outlined above is straight-up true, there are debates over whether it's ethical or whatever. Realism inevitable is probably a good answer to extremely leftist security Ks because they're going to say something like "vote neg to shatter the restricting chains of realism" or some bs like that, but you can and should call them out on it. All their K is saying is that realism is ethically bad, but doesn't provide a realistic alternative. Even if it's bad, it's what we've got and it's probably what we're going to work within forever.

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what I outlined above is straight-up true

To be fair, there are serious debates over whether or not important aspects of rational choice theory are correct in the way you've outlined. I'm not claiming that what you've said is false, but it's a bit more controversial than just "straight-up true" would lead people to believe.

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Explaining realism as derived from economics or economics as derived from Realism is incorrect IMO, they both derive from the dominant discourse of truth. We don't have a signified for this discourse, because its very hard to identify before the epokhe changes. Easier to look back at others than to look at self. Instead, at present, we have myriad names for its symptoms.

 

 

As for the inevitability of Realism:

stolen from 3NR comments:

Monkey see monkey do, its called "mimesis" or internationally "altercasting". All truth claims are just stories. If the story we believe is that violence between states (remember that realism can't look inside the state, all states are "black boxes" to realism it does not matter what their political system looks like: they're all the same) is inevitable, then violence between states will be inevitable. Claims about biology have nothing to do with IR realism, because they are claims of individual behavioral traits, they have nothing to do with state action. So they are just a further link to kritiks of realism. They just show that you assume the state as heroic protaganist individual without even having to say it, Its already assumed as the undergirding of your argument! Do you understand why that re-entrenches us in a realist mindset without even making realism more desirable? If the kritik is of IR realism, than making arguments about individuals' behavioral motivation has nothing to do with international relations, it just shows you are so ignorant of the dominant paradigm(realism) that you assume individuals to be the same as states, drawing us further in to the realism trap.

Also your game theory argument is a pile of shit, when the experiment was iterated people didn't snitch on eachother. And life is not a one time deal, life is a series of interactions. When you make game theory bs args, you just further link yourself to realism without making it desirable again. This is because realism cannot explain friends, family, love, or empathy (just to name a few). Think about it you have friends, family, love or empathy . If not you either already killed yourself or are a sociopath. So if life has any value and if we don't want to all end up sociopaths then breaking the chains of realism is essential. Now if you were confronted with the prisoners dilimna would you snitch on your friend or family? someone you were in love with? Someone you would see tomorrow and the next day? The answer is no, and the experiments prove this. Also game theory is still just a simulation story telling, so it has nothing to do with what is "real". Conclusions in game theory can never be fully translated to real life as we live it either, so realism as more real world doesn't work it suffers from the same problems of any radical or marginalized kritik. The gap between thought and action, word and life is still apparent in realism just as any codified position in international relations.

 

All your arguments are just evidence that you think realism is neutral and true.

 

 

 

 

IMO: it should be understood that the reificiation of realism is what makes biopower possible. The war of all against all finally spread to the domestic sphere. Thanks HObbes!

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maxpow- you're absolutely right, I misphrased that sentence. What I meant was that what I had outlined is an attempt at understanding the way things are and not how they should be, which is a notable characteristic of realism.

 

freewayrickyross- even if one isn't derived from the other (I agree that they're both based on a discourse of truth, but the way you have it described is pretty nebulous and/or jargon-ey), they undeniably share fundamental concepts and so I likened them to each other in an attempt to explain realism. The comparison also allows others who know about micro/macroeconomics to use this as a style of explanation in rounds, which I find to be somewhat more effective depending on the judge.

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stolen from 3NR comments:

Monkey see monkey do, its called "mimesis" or internationally "altercasting". All truth claims are just stories. If the story we believe is that violence between states (remember that realism can't look inside the state, all states are "black boxes" to realism it does not matter what their political system looks like: they're all the same) is inevitable, then violence between states will be inevitable. Claims about biology have nothing to do with IR realism, because they are claims of individual behavioral traits, they have nothing to do with state action. So they are just a further link to kritiks of realism. They just show that you assume the state as heroic protaganist individual without even having to say it, Its already assumed as the undergirding of your argument! Do you understand why that re-entrenches us in a realist mindset without even making realism more desirable? If the kritik is of IR realism, than making arguments about individuals' behavioral motivation has nothing to do with international relations, it just shows you are so ignorant of the dominant paradigm(realism) that you assume individuals to be the same as states, drawing us further in to the realism trap.

Also your game theory argument is a pile of shit, when the experiment was iterated people didn't snitch on eachother. And life is not a one time deal, life is a series of interactions. When you make game theory bs args, you just further link yourself to realism without making it desirable again. This is because realism cannot explain friends, family, love, or empathy (just to name a few). Think about it you have friends, family, love or empathy . If not you either already killed yourself or are a sociopath. So if life has any value and if we don't want to all end up sociopaths then breaking the chains of realism is essential. Now if you were confronted with the prisoners dilimna would you snitch on your friend or family? someone you were in love with? Someone you would see tomorrow and the next day? The answer is no, and the experiments prove this. Also game theory is still just a simulation story telling, so it has nothing to do with what is "real". Conclusions in game theory can never be fully translated to real life as we live it either, so realism as more real world doesn't work it suffers from the same problems of any radical or marginalized kritik. The gap between thought and action, word and life is still apparent in realism just as any codified position in international relations.

This comment is silly.

(1) It's not obvious that all truth claims are stories. That might be one way to look at truth, but it's not exactly uncontroversial to say that. There needs to be some argument for it. Even if it's true, it's much less obvious that truth stories are self-fulfilling in the way the author seems to suggest implicitly. Let's say I make the claim that "5+7=12". I might have a great story for why that's the case, but it's pretty clearly false that such a story is self-fulfilling. If it's true, it's necessarily true and it was never not true. This isn't to say that some theories aren't self-fulfilling, of course, and there is some evidence in economics about the performativity of theory, but that's something that needs to be established empirically.

(2) It's also not clear to me that individual behavior is irrelevant to claims about state behavior, even if we accept the black box picture. One reason that a black box theory might be true is that individual behavior creates emergent properties of states that hold regardless of the political workings of a state. I'm not saying that is true, of course, but there are plenty of ways that theses about individual behavior could be compatible with a black box thesis.

(3) Game theory has evolved far behind single-iteration games. If the criticism is relying on single-iteration games to make its arguments, fair enough, but it's unlikely that they are, at least if they're any good. Even so, multi-iteration games might still be compatible with realism. It just changed the sort of strategies that states might pursue, i.e., they might give lip service to cooperation in various iterations of the game but renege in later iterations.

(4) And, sure, realism (or, rather, psychological egoism) can explain friends, family, love, etc. It's just that having friends, love, etc. makes us happy, and thus we engage in it. Now, some people (e.g., Michael Stocker) will claim that it is incompatible with true friendship, love, etc., but that's a debate to be had.

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In terms of IR, Realism is pretty well linked to economics theory. So says Waltz, Morganthau and Keohane. It comes from the game theory of cost/benefit as applied to states (with the assumption that states act as a unitary rational actor...like a single person rather than a collective of government officials.)

 

In simple terms, it's the assumption that we can predict a state's behavior by seeing what is in their interests. And things like ideology are irrelevant except as ways to justify that behavior. (Nation A invades a country to spread Communism, Nation B invades to "liberate", but in actuality they both did it because there was something in it for them...a natural resource, a strategic shipping port, etc.)

 

By the way, the early realists like Hans Morganthau were more interested in "national interest" and moral considerations than the neorealists, like Waltz, who view realism as an inevitable outgrowth of the will/desire to survive, thus neither moral nor immoral. Most of the IR stories in debate are actually talking about neorealism, (also called structural realism because of the belief that the structure of an anarchaic international order creates statist motivations) not classical realism.

 

Neorealism is basically this:

States will try to maximize the differences in power between themselves and their weaker competitors.

States will try to minimize the differences in power between themselves and their stronger competitors.

States will make alliances to balance power between themselves and their competitors.

 

Outside of the debate world (where some of the more radical IR theories reign) the main objection to Neorealism has been "Institutionalism", which is where the Globalization theories developed. These guys basically agree with the tenets of neorealism, except that they say there are some times when national interests of different nations coincide (Non proliferation, environmental issues, etc) and when that happens, nations may put aside their own sovereignty in favor of a global solution. Between the end of the cold war and 9/11, this was the theory in vogue...that we were moving towards grand institutions like the UN and WTO and away from state actors. Since 9/11, it has taken a backseat somewhat as nations have returned to more unipolar actions. Some modern theorists have also posited that states may soon take a backseat to multi national corporations and non state actors (like Al Qaeda) rather than institutions.

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This comment is silly.

(1) It's not obvious that all truth claims are stories. That might be one way to look at truth, but it's not exactly uncontroversial to say that. There needs to be some argument for it. Even if it's true, it's much less obvious that truth stories are self-fulfilling in the way the author seems to suggest implicitly. Let's say I make the claim that "5+7=12". I might have a great story for why that's the case, but it's pretty clearly false that such a story is self-fulfilling. If it's true, it's necessarily true and it was never not true. This isn't to say that some theories aren't self-fulfilling, of course, and there is some evidence in economics about the performativity of theory, but that's something that needs to be established empirically.

(2) It's also not clear to me that individual behavior is irrelevant to claims about state behavior, even if we accept the black box picture. One reason that a black box theory might be true is that individual behavior creates emergent properties of states that hold regardless of the political workings of a state. I'm not saying that is true, of course, but there are plenty of ways that theses about individual behavior could be compatible with a black box thesis.

(3) Game theory has evolved far behind single-iteration games. If the criticism is relying on single-iteration games to make its arguments, fair enough, but it's unlikely that they are, at least if they're any good. Even so, multi-iteration games might still be compatible with realism. It just changed the sort of strategies that states might pursue, i.e., they might give lip service to cooperation in various iterations of the game but renege in later iterations.

(4) And, sure, realism (or, rather, psychological egoism) can explain friends, family, love, etc. It's just that having friends, love, etc. makes us happy, and thus we engage in it. Now, some people (e.g., Michael Stocker) will claim that it is incompatible with true friendship, love, etc., but that's a debate to be had.

 

 

(1) NO, 5+7=Cherry Pie, you may disagree but it is truth, so say I. Your truth claim was not true, it was a story, even though you claimed it was true.

(2) you actually have a point, but at least you see mine, which is what roblawrence sez after u: "also called structural realism because of the belief that the structure of an anarchaic international order creates statist motivations". The motivation for state action is the anarchic nature of the international system, not individual actions.

(3)The evidence that I have seen shows that the more iterations that are in the experiment the more likely cooperation occurs. If we extrapolate that to a world of infinite iterations (reality) then game theory shows cooperation is what humans do.

(4)Realism is a paranoia that would tell me to take out potential enemies. In order to be secure I would have to kill anyone I found threatening, well I guess everyone has the potential to be threatening, soooooo I'd have to kill everyone to finally achieve world peace.

 

Don't get me wrong Realism is incredible for a nice easy heuristic when it comes to political events, but when the event is scrutinized it never holds up.

 

 

 

 

Outside of the debate world (where some of the more radical IR theories reign) the main objection to Neorealism has been "Institutionalism", which is where the Globalization theories developed. These guys basically agree with the tenets of neorealism, except that they say there are some times when national interests of different nations coincide (Non proliferation, environmental issues, etc) and when that happens, nations may put aside their own sovereignty in favor of a global solution. Between the end of the cold war and 9/11, this was the theory in vogue...that we were moving towards grand institutions like the UN and WTO and away from state actors. Since 9/11, it has taken a backseat somewhat as nations have returned to more unipolar actions. Some modern theorists have also posited that states may soon take a backseat to multi national corporations and non state actors (like Al Qaeda) rather than institutions.

 

THe rest of your post is great, but I don't agree with this paragraph. I think in academia the main objection has always been liberalism in different forms and what you call "institutionalism" is "regime theory". So maybe we're talking about the same thing? Hasenclever is the text on regime theory in international relations that I"m familiar with. Regime theory is a mix of realism and liberalism. It is liberalism insofar as states are ceding sovereignty to any other entity. It is realist in that it recognizes the inevitability of war and that states can pull out of these institutions at any time.

 

Wendt's mimesis is constructivist. It argues that yes there are regimes and yes states can pull out, but most likely if a pattern of cooperation has developed, it is more likely to continue than turn in to a pattern of non-cooperation. Unfortunately the converse is also true, which is why "turn the other cheek" actually appears to be a foreign policy which will result in long term peace. This is arguing against any cosmopolitan values(and thusly not liberalism), it is saying normative values are what matter to people not transcendent values. And is is arguing against Realism by saying that war isn't inevitable in a relationship with a clearly established pattern of cooperation(like US and Britain or US and Isreal).

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(4)Realism is a paranoia that would tell me to take out potential enemies. In order to be secure I would have to kill anyone I found threatening, well I guess everyone has the potential to be threatening, soooooo I'd have to kill everyone to finally achieve world peace.

Realism doesn't say kill all enemies, it says maximize individual state security. Attempting global extermination tends to upset people to the point where it jeopardizes your survival, so it wouldn't be advised by any reasonably sane derivative of realpolitik.

 

I kind of agree with Wendt's mimesis as you've articulated it, because it matches everything I've seen on an individual level within games theory type experiments, etc, but I don't know that it'll apply equally as well to states. It depends on whether the type of people who get to control nations are also likely to cooperate, which seems to not be the case, at least to me. It seems like those are the kind of people who don't make compromises very often and who are used to getting what they want.

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Realism doesn't say kill all enemies, it says maximize individual state security. Attempting global extermination tends to upset people to the point where it jeopardizes your survival, so it wouldn't be advised by any reasonably sane derivative of realpolitik.

 

I kind of agree with Wendt's mimesis as you've articulated it, because it matches everything I've seen on an individual level within games theory type experiments, etc, but I don't know that it'll apply equally as well to states. It depends on whether the type of people who get to control nations are also likely to cooperate, which seems to not be the case, at least to me. It seems like those are the kind of people who don't make compromises very often and who are used to getting what they want.

 

 

I think I might have been wrong Wendt calls it altercasting I think, but other authors call it mimesis.

 

There are two problems which you bring to light in your realism comment. First of all my illustration is the horizon or logical extremity of Realist thought. If I need to secure myself against others this security(defense) will take the form of violence(offense).

 

The second problem is rationality itself and Realism's epistemological reliance on the rationally self-interested individual. The texts are numerous but my two favs are Mancur Olson "collective action something" and Antonio Demasio "Decartes' error". Olson finds that large group behavior cannot be explained by rational/material motivators. That there must be some sort of emotive/non-instrumental/role-playing desire in humans in order that the collective action of large groups(olson specifically loves unions) be explained. Demasio takes a number of modern "phineas gages" and shows that when people's emotions are subordinated to rationality it creates a monster. At the extreme is sociopathy, but for Demasio's subjects it is isolation and inability to relate to loved ones.

 

The SToic/cartesian ideal of subordinating emotions to reason, or the contemporary ideology (found in realism, economics, etc.) that people ARE rationally self-interested individuals. This is what I mean by realism cannot explain friends and family. Demasio's subjects lost certain emotive abilities and soon alienated themselves from significant others, children, etc.

 

Humans survive not because they rationally maximize self-interest, but because they can relate to each other.

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