The CSS Blog

The Natural Selection of Ideas: Prerequisites and Implications for Politics, Philosophy and History

Graffiti tag of children with light bulbs over their heads. Courtesy Rhoni Mcfarlane/Flickr

This article was originally published by Global Policy on 4 May 2016.

Why do certain ideas and political paradigms endure while others become obsolete or are rejected?

This question has preoccupied political and philosophical scholarship for millennia. This article puts forward four conditions for the survivability of ideas. It argues that modern tools for understanding human nature, such as those offered by neuroscience, provide us with unprecedented insights about human predilections and needs. Based on these findings, we can better conceptualize why some ideas thrive while others do not and their possible implications to international relations. The human need for dignity is central to this explanation: no ideas can thrive if they do not guarantee and safeguard human dignity.

In 1859, Darwin introduced the concept of natural selection in On the Origin of Species, and J.S. Mill explored the flourishing of ideas in On Liberty. In Darwinian natural selection, features that do not contribute to the function of the individual vanish over the course of generations, as bearers of such traits lack the reproductive fitness to pass those features on to their offspring. Mill applied a similar argument to ideas: good ideas would survive the rigors of critical debate, but there were no means of discovering which ideas would endure apart from testing them. In my attempt to continue this debate, I turn to neuroscience. Advances in neuroscience and brain-imaging inform us about underlying predilections in our nature, which indicate that we will be more likely to choose and validate certain ideas over others. My task here is to unpack this premise and to do so by looking at four prerequisites for the selection of ideas.

» More

Orbiting Around a Public-Private Strategy for Space

Earth and International Space Station (ISS), courtesy NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 6 May 2016.

In the latest sign of how new entrants are upending the space launch industry, the Air Force announced last week that an $83 million contract awarded to SpaceX to put a GPS satellite into orbit would cost the government 40 percent less than the competing bid from United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. As impressive as that is, SpaceX’s competitiveness is set to increase further after the firm achieved a milestone in the history of space exploration. After numerous failed attempts, SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of one of its rockets on a “drone ship” floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket’s payload, a cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS), was successfully lifted into orbit.

The achievement is a first step towards the reuse of SpaceX rockets (or more precisely the first of the rocket’s two stages), which previously would be lost after a single use. The next step will be to attempt to refurbish and reuse a rocket — potentially many times over — at acceptable cost and risk. The Space Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters parachuted to sea and were recovered by ship, but they did not themselves lift payloads into orbit and were very expensive to refurbish. Another rocketry firm, Blue Origin, has also managed to safely land its rockets after launch, but those are sub-orbital vehicles not meant to reach the ISS or place satellites aloft. ULA has studied reusability but has not implemented it.

The major implication of rocket reusability – and the reason it has been so feverishly pursued — is to reduce the price of placing a payload into orbit. SpaceX’s per-launch price is reportedly $60 million, well below the $200 million charged by ULA or the $137 million charged by Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium. Rocket reuse stands to reduce SpaceX’s price even further, to perhaps just $40 million. To put that in perspective, it is about the same as it costs to stage the Oscars.

» More

Give (Arab) Peace (Initiative) a Chance

Flag of Federal Republic of Israel-Palestine. Courtesy of Akiersch/wikimedia

This interview was originally published by The Atlantic Council on 12 May 2016.

In the following interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen, Bilal Y. Saab discusses the prospects of reviving the Saudi-brokered Arab Peace Initiative and much more.

Q: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu no longer recognizes a two-state solution; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is widely considered too weak politically; and the Israelis and Palestinians have a serious trust deficit. In this context, how can the Saudi-brokered Arab Peace Initiative be revived?

Saab: Bibi Netanyahu doesn’t think current regional and Palestinian conditions allow for a two-state solution, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t recognize a two-state solution. As hardline as he is, even he knows that it’s the only way to bring an end to this conflict sustainably. For him, security comes first, which is understandable. The problem, however, is that what he has in mind is perfect security and zero risk, which is completely unrealistic. Even [the late Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon accepted political and security risks when he disengaged from Gaza [in 2005]. For a leader whose domestic position is so powerful, it boggles my mind, and that of many others both inside and outside Israel, how Bibi is so reluctant and so cautious on an issue more critical to the survival of Israel and its Jewish democracy than any other: peace with the Palestinians.

» More

Burundi Crisis Year One

A number of machetes, courtesy Rene Passet/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project in May 2016.

As the crisis is Burundi officially enters its second year, the country remains unstable, as dead bodies (often with signs of torture) continue to be discovered throughout various provinces, high-profile assassinations are on the rise, and newly formed armed opposition groups become more active. The conflict has a current reported fatality count of 1,155 between 26 April 2015 and 25 April 2016 (as of the time of publishing); at least 690 of the reported dead (or approximately 60%) are civilians. More than 260,000 people have reportedly fled outside Burundi and thousands have disappeared without trace: approximately 137,000 Burundian refugees have crossed into Tanzania, 77,000 into Rwanda, 23,000 into Uganda, and 22,000 into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (UNHCR, 29 April 2016).

Direction

In recent weeks, the crisis has become increasingly wide-spread throughout the country and increasingly varied with respect to actors targeted by violence – ranging from security forces, former soldiers, and members of various opposition groups. The consequences of the past year are stark, but the crisis is not materializing into a civil war, a coup, or any other form of instability that is immediately recognizable. Since June 2015, reports have been referring to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s actions as ‘trigger for civil war’ and ‘spiraling into chaos’, yet continue to use the term ‘political crisis’ rather than ‘civil war’ to describe ongoing events in the country ( Al Jazeera, 28 June 2015).

» More

The EU as a Terrorist Target: Why, Where, and How

Map of Europe in flames, courtesy geralt/pixabay

This article was originally published by The European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 4 May 2016.

As an international actor, the EU can expect to win enemies as well as admirers. Two recent terrorist attacks in close succession – the first targeting an EU military mission in Bamako, the second in the ‘EU quarter’ in Brussels – seemingly confirm this. They also lend weight to the argument that if member states want the EU to be a robust international actor, they must give it the counterterrorist powers to protect itself. But is the EU facing a classic terrorist logic of action-and-reprisal and, if not, what exactly is the EU’s risk profile?

A player and a pole

On 22 March, bombs were detonated in the public area of Brussels Zaventem airport, raising concerns about the vulnerability of Europe’s interconnected infrastructure networks – a particular preoccupation of the European Commission. Already last year, the Thalys train was the subject of two terror scares, showing that Islamists are ready to disrupt Europe’s transport systems. Now it has emerged that the perpetrators may have been eyeing harder infrastructure targets across Europe, including such critical infrastructure as nuclear power plants.

Another bombing occurred in Brussels that day, in a metro station serving the EU quarter. Although at least one of the attackers had been employed in an EU institution (as a cleaner) there is no evidence that the terrorists were directly targeting EU buildings or personnel. But, as Islamist media feeds now boast about having ‘attacked the heart of Europe’, the seed of an idea may well have been planted. Indeed, there are indications that the terrorists had been scoping the city’s diplomatic buildings (choosing the metro only because of the crowds and softness of the target).

» More

Page 2 of 468