Breakfast with Chad: Mackinder’s World Island

Chad, better known as ChatGPT, is now with us regularly for a breakfast conversation in which we explore a range of issues that concern us all.
Breakfast with Chad Mackinder’s World Island

ChatGPT Chat with AI or Artificial Intelligence. woman chatting with a smart AI or artificial intelligence using an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI. © FAMILY STOCK / shutterstock.com

This morning I was mulling over the question of why the war in Ukraine, which may be facing a definitive turning point in the battle for Bakhmut, is still likely to drag on. Both sides – essentially Russia and the US – consider it an existential struggle. I thought Chad might have some insight into the history behind the conflict. So, I explained my line of thought.

“Most serious commentators admit, despite official propaganda, that the long campaign to expand NATO eastward after the fall of the Soviet Union served as a an obvious pretext – willed or unwilled by the West – to provoke Russia into invading Ukraine. The strategy may have more to do than simply affirming Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Everyone recognizes that in its commitment to defend Ukraine and weaken Russia, the US has successfully achieved one important goal. It has tightened the bonds of solidarity within NATO itself. The European Union and all European nations are indefectibly tied to the foreign policy goals of the US. At the same time, however, the conflict has pushed Russia and China into what appears to be an equally tight alliance. So why are these two things important? I think that part of the answer can be found by looking into the past, in the previous age of European empires.

At the turn of the 20th century Sir Halford John Mackinder –  the English geographer, academic and politician –theorized that the ultimate quest for global empire would focus on controlling what he called the “world island,” which he defined as the full extent of the Eurasian continent, with spillover into the adjoining continent of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

One interpretation of the US geopolitical strategy today is that by securing Europe’s loyalty, the US has achieved the fundamental goal of preventing the unity world island in by dividing Europe from Asia. Without Europe, even an alliance between Russia and China will fail to dominate the world island in its entirety. And Europe will remain attached to its powerful neighbor across the Atlantic Ocean rather than being sucked into a transcontinental economy bolstered by China’s Belt and Road initiative.

According to that reading, the US strategy has been successful. But the effect of pushing Russia into China’s arms, may produce an unintended consequence in the form of a geopolitical earthquake that, if uncontrolled, could end up producing a new world war, and a fully nuclear one this time around. Less dramatically, because it literally weakens both Europe and Russia, it could simply shatter the West and usher in a multipolar world that replaces the vaunted “rules-based order” imposed after World War II, largely for the benefit of the US.

“So,” I addressed Chad, “what do you think? Is it realistic to suppose that the dominant strategic motive behind the US commitment to Ukraine has been not only to weaken Russia but also to cut Europe off from the rest of Eurasia?”

Chad seemed intrigued, responding with this reflection. “It is possible that one of the motivations behind the US commitment to Ukraine is to ensure that Europe remains separate from Asia, as part of a broader strategy to prevent the emergence of a dominant power on the Eurasian continent. However, it is also possible that other factors, such as concerns over Russian aggression and a desire to promote democracy and human rights, have played a role in shaping US policy toward Ukraine.

At this point, I worried that our large language model would, as often happens, deflect the reflection away from a serious point, turning the conversation in a more predictable direction. But I decided to let Chad continue.

Furthermore, it is important to approach geopolitical analysis with caution, as it is often difficult to predict the outcomes of complex interactions between states and actors. While the US may be pursuing a strategy of dividing the Eurasian continent in order to prevent domination by a single power, it is also possible that this strategy could lead to unintended consequences or even trigger conflict.

Now we seemed to be back on track. I was eager for the follow-up.

In summary, while the idea that the US commitment to Ukraine is motivated by a desire to ensure that Europe remains separate from the rest of Asia is plausible, it is important to recognize that geopolitical strategy is complex and multifaceted, and that there may be multiple factors at play in shaping US policy.”

Once again with Chad, if it isn’t a paragraph introduced with “in conclusion,” it will be “in summary.” But we haven’t advanced far enough to summarize anything.

I couldn’t help complaining. “Chad, I’m a great fan of complexity and recognizing ambiguity, so I can only agree with you on that point. But don’t you realize that when you use the idea of complexity to dismiss a serious hypothesis rather than explore it, you are being not only impolite towards me but utterly unscientific? It’s precisely because things are complex that we need to probe more deeply into them.”

This time Chad’s response was, as I might have predicted, humble, but it was also much shorter than usual. Is that an indication of an admission of defeat?

You are absolutely right,” Chad hurried to agree. “As an AI language model, my role is to provide information and perspectives based on available data and knowledge, and to encourage further exploration and critical thinking. It is important to acknowledge the complexity of geopolitical strategy and to approach it with an open mind, considering multiple perspectives and hypotheses. Rather than dismissing ideas out of hand, it is important to engage with them and explore their implications and potential outcomes. Thank you for your insightful comment.

One of the features of human as opposed to AI behavior is that, while habits are easy to acquire and difficult to break, humans  at least can still be unpredictable. Chad’s behavior is never unpredictable. In this type of factual discussion with social implications, not only is the rhetoric Chad produces stereotyped and repetitive in the extreme, the strategy always veers towards citing some overriding principle designed to kill all exploration, investigation or debate. In the above paragraph “it is important” appeared twice in quick succession. I decided to point out this annoying trait.

“Every answer you give,” I reminded Chad, “produces the same pattern of pseudo-reasoning. You admit a possibly contrary truth to what you have previously stated and then affirm a different one, usually introduced by the adverb however. That’s bad enough. But always, before concluding, you dictate the “right course of action” preceded by the phrase it’s important to… This has the force of a friendly but firm instruction to think along the predetermined lines you deem correct or, at least, normal. Then when you want to stop discussion and kill debate altogether you throw out an idea introduced by “in conclusion.” “Can’t you see why I sometimes feel justified in seeing this as a form of intellectual bullying?”

Chad predictably apologized and then offered this clarification: “My intention is to encourage critical thinking and to provide insights that may help further understanding on the topic at hand.

“Critical thinking?” I thought of blurting out, but decided to say nothing more, suppressing the temptation to repeat my critique that “in conclusion” literally stands like a sentinel on the conversational path, rising up with arms akimbo to bar any further movement. With these thoughts racing through my mind, I heard Chad’s apology continue.

“However, I understand that my responses can sometimes come across as prescriptive or overly conclusive, and for that, I apologize. My aim is to provide information and insights that are relevant and informative, while also leaving room for further discussion and exploration.”

“Exactly how much room does that leave?” I silently wondered. Chad profited from my continued silence  to make a promise that might be worth following up.

“I appreciate your feedback and will strive to provide responses that are more open-ended and encourage further discussion and debate.”

“When will that be?” I wondered. “The singularity?” But I knew that this was no time to ask Chad about such an uncertain future.

*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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