2004 November 19 Friday
Jerry Pournelle: Jacobinism Root Cause Of Iraq Debacle

Jerry Pournelle sees the embrace by American intellectuals of Jacobin assumptions about human nature as providing the flawed rationale for the Iraq Debacle. (go read the whole thing!)

The more I think about the Iraqi campaign, the more I am convinced that the chief cause of this debacle -- I fear that is none too strong a word -- is the pervasiveness of Jacobinism among the intellectual leadership of this country. The notion that "all men are created equal" is a noble concept, and useful when establishing a government by the middle class which has only begun to wrest political control from an aristocracy that controls most of the wealth. It is useful as a legal principle in a nation governed by the rule of law. Objectively, though, it is nonsense. All men -- and women -- are not created equal. Some are smarter than others. Some are so stunted as to be counted human only through religious assumptions and legal definitions. If we expand our horizons beyond our own borders, the notion becomes even more absurd. Be it heredity or be it culture or be it a combination of both, nothing is more clearly false than the assumption of the equality of cultures, societies, and the people who live in them. To say otherwise would be to say that a culture of death and destruction which seeks to enslave as sub-human all those outside that culture; which says that there can be no peace with outsiders, only conquest; is the equal of the liberal democracies that believe in the notion of equality. Carried to extremes, the assumption of general equality states that the only thing the Nazis did wrong was to lose. Of course logic is never the strong suit of the Jacobins.

Jerry gets to the heart of the flawed Jacobin assumption about human nature:

All are equal, and thus all will be reasonable, and thus if given the opportunity all will choose to be like the Jacobins; and make no mistake, this is taught in almost every political science and anthropology class in the nation, and if the enlisted troops have not been forced to act as if they believe it, the officer corps, all of whom have college degrees, most certainly have been required to act that way to get those degrees. Think upon the fate of anyone in our colleges who asserts that some people are born smarter than others, and nothing the society can do will change that; and who asks for the evidence that his view is false. We do not have anything like freedom of thought or rational debate of ideas on our college campuses, and in our credentialed society one cannot become an officer without pretending to believe the current views despite the simple fact that those views are self-evidently nonsense.

It probably comes as no surprise to my long term readers that I think Jerry's analysis is correct. In a way this is the problem of an anti-empirical solipsism among intellectuals who think if they just can stifle all dissent from the modern liberal view of human nature that they can make their view be reflected in the way that all humans behave. The belief in the liberal ideal of man as Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "noble savage" is intellectually not at all far from the belief that the vast majority of Iraqis strongly desire a free and democratic society. Never mind that the Iraqis continue to demonstrate an unwillingness to fight for such a society. Liberalism and its offshoot neoconservatism keep the secular faith with a view of human nature that is inconsistent with a scientific view of what we now know about homo sapiens. What is now wrong with a large range of social policies ranging from education, immigration, racial preferences, and the neoconservative foreign policy agenda is a result of a willful denial of what is now known about human nature.

If you are unfamiliar or insufficiently familiar with the term "Jacobin" as it originated in the French Revolution then the Wikipedia Jacobin entry is a useful starting point. Also the Wikipedia Enlightenment entry has some relevant description:

The Enlightenment idea of rationality as government found its way to the heart of the American Declaration of Independence, and the Jacobin program of the French Revolution, as well as the American Constitution of 1787.

The French Revolution, in particular, represents the Enlightenment philosophy through a violent and messianic lens, particularly during the brief period of Jacobin dictatorship. The desire for rationality in government lead to the attempt to end the Catholic Church, and indeed Christianity, in France, change the calendar, clock, measuring system, monetary system and legal system along lines suggested by what was seen as an orderly rationality. It also took the ideas of social and economic equality further than any other state.

The Iraq Debacle may still serve a useful purpose of helping to undermine Jacobinism in the West. Though expect the growth of a large liberal and even neoconservative critique of Bush's Iraq intervention as something that could have been a smashing success if it had only been executed better. You know, communism failed because it was never tried in its pure form. That sort of nonsense.

Update: Prince Charles holds a very un-French view of human nature:

Charles’s note was read yesterday at a tribunal hearing into former Clarence House personal assistant Elaine Day’s compliant of sexual harassment against a senior member of staff.

In the letter, the Prince complained: “What is wrong with people now? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?

“This is to do with the learning culture in schools as a consequence of a child-centred system which admits no failure.

“People seem to think they can all be pop stars, high court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability.

“This is the result of social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically and socially engineered to contradict the lessons of history.”

The English and Scottish Enlightenments were more practical and empirical. English Burkean Conservatism stands in opposition to Jacobinism.

By Randall Parker    2004 November 19 05:04 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 22 ) | TrackBack ( 0 )
2004 July 12 Monday
Lawrence Auster On Universalists And Multiculturalists

Lawrence Auster, View from the Right blogger, has a long essay in Front Page Magazine on the failure of liberals and conservatives to recognize multiculturalism as their enemy.

Since multiculturalism claims to stand for the sanctity and worth of each culture, the discovery that its real tendency is to dismantle the existing European-based culture of the United States should have instantly discredited it. Yet it has not—not even among conservatives. A leading reason for this failure is that modern conservatives are themselves ethnicity-blind, democratic universalists. Their conservatism consists in seeing multiculturalism as an attack on their universalist tenets. They fail to understand multiculturalism as an attack on a particular culture and people, namely their own, because as universalists they either have no allegiance to that particular culture and people or their allegiance is defensive and weak. Thus the typical conservative today will say that multiculturalism is bad because "it divides us into different groups"—which is of course true. But he rarely says that multiculturalism is bad because "it is destroying our culture"—America's historic culture and civilization—since that would imply that he was defending a particular culture rather than a universalist idea. Because conservatives are unwilling to defend the very thing that multiculturalism is seeking to destroy, they are unable to identify the nature of multiculturalism and to oppose it effectively.

It is certainly the case that neoconservaties are universalists and highly ideological. In fact, neoconservatives are not really conservatives. They just decided they no longer fit on the political Left and included the word "conservative" in their name because that is what most (though not all) people on the Right call themselves. This has led to a lot of confusion which has benefitted the neocons as they have tried to co-op the rest of the Right to their causes.

Leaving aside the complex question of whether and under what conditions Western culture includes non-Westerners, the more immediate concern to us here is that Western culture is the culture of Westerners. Gates wants to include other cultures within Western culture so that the resulting hodgepodge will belong equally to everyone in the world. But—and this is the point overlooked both by the multiculturalists and their conservative universalist opponents—that means taking Western culture away from Westerners. The debate becomes a debate between the global multiculturalists on the left, and the global universalists on the so-called right, with no one standing up for the historical Western culture.

The universalist denial of the importance of cultural differences is a major (though not only) cause of splits on the Right between neoconservatives and paleoconservatives. The neoconservatives favor Open Borders and an aggressive military foreign policy aimed at spreading democracy. By contrast, the paleoconservatives are more interested in preserving our own culture and do not think there is a large set of universal values that we can convert the whole world to believe.

For the multiculturalists, Western individuality is nothing but a mask of illegitimate dominance, which must be stripped away. But for Westerners, Western individuality is an integral aspect of their being. Therefore to get rid of Western individuality (so as to include non-individualistic, non-Western cultures) is to destroy the very essence of Western people. Conservative critics of multiculturalism never grasp this fact, because, as universalists, the notion of a particularist Western essence is alien to them.

My only beef with Auster is that, contrary to his assertion (which is perhaps a necessary simplification and so this is more a quibble), there are conservative critics of multiculturalism who grasp that it is an enemy ideology. Granted, these conservatives have been marginalized by the neocons. But they exist. Granted, the paleos are nearly invisible in the mainstream media and even the neoconservatives pile on attacking their character labelling them racists and all sorts of other dirty words. But Auster ought to give a nod in their direction since they exist. I even suspect that in wake of the Iraq debacle and George W. Bush's idiotic immigration proposal their ranks are growing.

In the second part of his article Auster sees the fragmentation of political systems.

In every field one can think of, ranging from student groups to professional associations to legislative bodies, the former mainstream organization has been "quota-ized" via minority representation so that it no longer represents or can represent the traditional American majority culture, but only the idea of "diversity," while at the same time each of the minority groups has been granted the right to a separate and exclusive sub-organization to represent its racial interests. There is the Congressional Black Caucus that speaks for blacks as blacks, but no Congressional White Caucus that speaks for whites as whites; the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials that speaks for Hispanics as Hispanics, but no association of white elected officials that speaks for the interests of whites as whites; an Hispanic Journalists' Association, but no European-American Journalists' Association; black policeman's organizations, but no white policeman's organizations; an infinite number of nonwhite student organizations, but no white students organizations. And, of course, any attempt to create white-oriented organizations is stopped in its tracks by the same mainstream institutions that officially promote the development of non-white organizations.

...

If minority groups do not need to give up any aspect of their culture, as Ravitch and others have suggested, then it is hard to see why they shouldn't have their own systems of justice as well. Such an alternative system is already being practiced by black juries who refuse to convict their fellow blacks regardless of the evidence. Depending on the ethnic identity of the parties in a given case, there could be an African tribal council one day (complete with "enstoolment" ceremonies and ritual bows to ancestors), a Communist Chinese-style inquisition hearing the next day, a Mexican village-style gathering the next day, then an Iranian-style revolutionary tribunal presided over by a Mullah, then a trial with a black judge and jury getting revenge against the racist police. When things like this start happening, will the liberal believers in a pluralist civic culture—having encouraged non-Westerners to keep their language, dress, and folkways—cry out: "But this is not what I meant, not what I meant at all"?

That is not far-fetched. Ontario province in Canada has authorized the use of Sharia law in civil arbitrations. Of course the result will be the pressuring of Muslim women by their families to submit to Sharia court arbitration. In Canada this is the logical outcome of years of compromises with French Canadians (who may yet secede from Canada to form their own country) and native tribes as possessors of unique legally protected cultures. Increase (whether through teaching or immigration or both) the numbers of people who think of themselves as distinct enough to deserve special legal status and representation and the result will be rising levels of inter-group hostility and eventual break-up of a polity.

There is a conflict between group rights and individual rights and differences in cultures translate into incompatible desires for how to order society.

If there are no important differences between Western and other cultures, then no hard choices between Western and other cultures are necessary. When a niece of mine was in college she said to me: "Western culture is good, but others are good, too." Her point was that we should welcome all cultures and fear none. Like my niece, the typical moderate liberal cannot understand that certain differences may be irreconcilable. Confronted with dichotomies as old as the hills, the moderate innocently asks: "Why can't we have both? Why can't we have Western culture and multiculturalism? Why can't we have excellence and diversity?" When his wishful thinking collides with reality, he must resort to further evasions. Jim Bowman writing in the Chicago Tribune complained that advanced courses in the Oak Park elementary schools were being dropped because those classes tended to be all-white, which went against the school's goal of racial diversity in every classroom. "A good thing, diversity, is used as a club to bash another good thing, gifted or advanced classes." The schools, Bowman writes, "have elevated racial diversity (our civic religion) from a legitimate, permeating element to an illegitimate, all-encompassing one."(14) But what is the difference between a "permeating" element and an "all-encompassing" one? Somehow Bowman imagines that the drive to establish proportional racial diversity in every niche of society is suddenly going to be abandoned when it threatens something he likes, such as advanced academic classes. Unable to grasp the radical essence of his own ideas, the moderate liberal always ends up believing that he can eat his civilization and have it.

This is where we are today. Moderate liberals think multiculturalism is not their enemy. Neoconservatives believe they can convert the world to their own universal culture by invading the world while simultaneously letting the world immigrate in massive numbers. They are both very wrong.

Auster agrees with Samuel P. Huntington on the importance of culture alongside creed.

Thus the multicultural ideology has advanced and entrenched itself through a variety of false and deceptive arguments, even as the leading spokesmen and ordinary members of the former mainstream culture have either actively subscribed to it or have failed, time after time, to understand what it was about and to confront it effectively. This failure is evidenced by the remarkable fact that while grassroots and Beltway activists have successfully organized themselves over the years to oppose such progressive innovations as Whole Language Learning, bilingualism, and the promotion of homosexuality in the schools, no activist organizations have come into being to fight multiculturalism as such.

And the reason the defenders of our culture, the so-called conservatives, have failed to oppose multiculturalism is that they themselves subscribe to radically liberal ideas that, without their realizing it, have for all intents and purposes defined our culture out of existence. To use Samuel Huntington's terms, today's conservatives define America almost exclusively in terms of its liberal, universalist creed rather than in terms of its historical, Anglo-Protestant culture; or, if they do claim to see America as a culture, they reductively define that culture as nothing more than the set of behavioral values needed to maintain a productive economy. Since modern conservatives see America in creedal rather than in cultural terms, when the culture began to be attacked,—through the subversion of classic works of literature, for example, or through the inclusion of cultural standards and perspectives wholly incompatible with our traditional values and sense of nationhood—many conservatives barely noticed or cared that this was happening.

Auster's lengthy essay is worth reading in full.

By Randall Parker    2004 July 12 07:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 15 ) | TrackBack ( 0 )
2003 October 07 Tuesday
Tom Tancredo: Ban Racial Caucuses

Colorado Congressional Representative Tom Tancredo wants the US House Of Representatives to abolish ethnic caucuses.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) plans to introduce a rule to abolish all race-based congressional caucuses. The rule would banish all caucuses created on the basis of ethnicity, such as the Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific caucuses.

His suggestion, which the congressman said he knows will spark outrage, immediately drew accusations of insensitivity from members of the caucuses he proposes to destroy.

If you happen to have a Congressional representative who belongs to a racial or ethnic caucus and you are not of the same ethnicity as your Congressional representative then basically your representative is not even pretending to represent you by being a member of such a caucus.

Tancredo ties his position on this proposal to his support for a large reduction in immigration. Large scale immigration helps prevent people from assimilating. But there are strong forces working against a change in immigration policy:

“The Democratic Party sees massive immigration as a source of votes, and the Republican Party sees immigration as a source of cheap labor, and the president sees it as a wedge issue,” he said.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 07 02:05 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 0 ) | TrackBack ( 0 )
2003 September 25 Thursday
Ann Coulter On Mount Athos And The European Parliament

The Mt. Athos Orthodox monastery in Greece (see it in context here) does not allow females to enter and hasn't for centuries. But, as Ann Coulter reports, the European Parliament is not happy with this state of affairs.

Who could object to such an arrangement? The European Parliament, that’s who. You see Mt. Athos is all male. Only males who are monks can reside there. Only males can visit.

That violates today’s extremist ideology. That ideology demands that there never be separation between the sexes. No all-boy schools. Not even boys’ choirs. Even in athletics there is a challenge to the male domination of some sports.

What makes this ideology capable of being exercised in the first place? We need to look at what basic right is at stake. What is violated here is not just freedom of religion. The violation of freedom of religion is a side-effect of a more fundamental violation of the basic right of freedom of association. This is a right that is rarely defended in the current era.

They propose to violate a fundamental right of association in order to defend human rights.

This followed the Strasbourg Parliament’s adoption of its annual report on human rights in the EU, which called on Greece to abolish legislation that imposes 2 to 12-month jail terms on women caught entering the easternmost leg of the Halkidiki peninsula, from which all women have been banned for over 1,000 years.

The report also urged Athens to allow the construction of mosques and Muslim cemeteries, to legalize proselytism and to ease draft terms for conscientious objectors.

Fodo Sylla is leading the fight to end the right of free association.

The Greek Orthodox Church, in its latest Ecclesia Report, announced that "the plenary session of the Euro-Parliament passed a proposal-report prepared by French Euro-deputy Fode Sylla concerning the EU Fundamental Rights situation for 2002, which includes, among others, a reference to the special status enjoyed by the monastic community of Mount Athos, in northern Greece."

According to the Euro-deputies, the controversial point is that the isles of Athos do not allow entry to women. The Euro-deputies see this prohibition as an infringement on women's human rights, so they asked the Greek government to revise the prohibition.

But what about female birds that land on the roofs or trees?

· In the Greek monastery of Mount Athos, nothing female is allowed. Men can enter but not women; roosters but no hens; horses but no mares; bulls but no cows. The border is patrolled by armed guards to ensure that nothing feminine passes the gates. It has been this way for more than 700 years.

To repeat myself, why is there so little recognition today of a right to free association? Granted, it was not mentioned as a fundamental right in the US Bill Of Rights. But I suspect if James Madison had been able to see the future he would have written one in. Imagine that you wanted to give a dinner party and you sent out a guest list and the government found out about it and insisted that you couldn't restrict who could come to your house for the party. Wouldn't you think that was a moral outrage? Why is this any different? Why can't a church choir be able to be all boys if that is what the church wanted? Why shouldn't a country club be able to be all males or all South Carolinians or all people with green eyes, or all people with double joints if that is their preference? Why shouldn't we have total control over who we associate with outside of the corridors of government?

By Randall Parker    2003 September 25 03:06 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 2 ) | TrackBack ( 0 )
2003 August 23 Saturday
Charles Murray On Europe's Run As Dominant Culture

Charles Murray argues that, contrary to all claims by postmodern scholars that other parts of the world have made as many contributions to science, art, and literature, Europe was overwhelmingly the biggest source of intellectual accomplishment from the end of the Middle Ages thru 1950.

The third caution is to remember that many civilizations arose independently of Europe, and rose to similar technological levels-developing tools and techniques that enabled them to build large structures and road networks, develop complex agricultural practices and distribution mechanisms, conduct commerce, and build thriving cities. Evidence scattered from Angkor Wat to Machu Picchu attests to the ability of human beings throughout the world to achieve amazing technological feats.

And yet the underlying reality is that Europe since 1400 has overwhelmingly dominated accomplishment in both the arts and sciences. The estimates of the European contribution are robust. I write at a time when Europe's run appears to be over. Bleaker yet, there is reason to wonder whether European culture as we have known it will even exist by the end of this century. Perhaps this is an especially appropriate time to stand back in admiration. What the human species can claim to its credit in the arts and sciences is owed in astonishing degree to what was accomplished in just a half-dozen centuries by the peoples of one small portion of the northwestern Eurasian land mass.

Murray explains why he came to those conclusions in the text of the article.

The article is an overview of the topics covered by his new book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 23 01:43 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 3 ) | TrackBack ( 0 )
2003 August 01 Friday
James Woods On Playing Golf, Politics, George Bush, Northfork

James Wood, talking to Salon.com's Amy Reiter about his new film Northfork, offers a number of political opinions including the fact that hugs and love can't melt the hearts of evil people.

And you're pretty happy with the kind of decisions Bush's been making so far? You're unfazed by recent controversies, like the ...

Uranium in Africa?

Right.

It's like playing golf. Even Tiger Woods gets a triple bogey but still goes on to win the U.S. Open. Clearly, everyone's going to have their moments, but by and large do I think -- to me the more relevant question -- and you probably won't print this -- but the more relevant question is when millions of people are suffering and millions are being murdered, do we as a nation have a moral obligation?

A lot of my friends in Hollywood have actually said things like "Let's melt their hearts with hugs and love." It honestly doesn't work. So I respect people's sweetness for believing that you can melt the heart of Osama bin Laden with a hug, but you can't. The only solution to Osama bin Laden is a fucking 88-millimeter shell through his forehead.

The whole interview is pretty interesting.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 01 11:02 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 0 )
2003 June 26 Thursday
Mark Steyn Sees Virtue In Destruction Of Trans-National Imperialism

Mark Steyn notes Matthew Parris's reasons for opposing the war in Iraq and sees virtue in those very same consequences of the war that Parris finds so objectionable.

Last week Matthew said that, had he been president, he would not have invaded. That way, ‘international law would not have been violated, swollen-headed neocons would not have gained sway, the yee-hah tendency in US foreign policy would have been restrained, precedents for future unilateral regime-changes would not have been set, Nato would be intact, the UN Security Council would not have been damaged, America’s relationship with Europe would have remained good, and Britain would still be on speaking terms with our EU partners.’

Actually, aside from anything else, they’re all reasons why I was in favour of war. If the overriding issue for M. Parris is American hegemony, the issue for me is the rise of transnational neo-imperialism. I’d rather take my chances with nation-states and great power politics than submit to ‘international law’. I think Nato and the UN Security Council need ‘damaging’, and so does America’s relationship with ‘Europe’.

What is imperialism but the rule of one group by another group? However, what is democracy? Best case in a close election it is the rule of one group (the slightly more than 50% who voted for the winner) over another group (the slightly less than 50% who didn't get their way). An even worse case take on democracy from the standpoint of the individual is that since one rarely gets one's way on the vast majority of subjects about which one has opinions even the majority are not really rulers.

It seems fair to say that we are each more ruled than ruler. Each individual lives under some form of imperial rule. The difference between various systems of government really amounts to a difference in which group or individual makes the decisions on any given subject. My own preferences over who I want to be ruled by lead me to the say that I'm with Mark on this one. Down with the transnational progressive neo-imperialists. Better to be ruled by the militaristic liberal democratic nationalists.

Curiously, Parris has since gone on to write a column proclaiming that America's national character is German.

I do not find all these qualities unattractive. I love the sudden directness of Germans; I share their hankering for road maps in life; I admire bullishness; and I think an instinct to impose theory and system on a haphazard world marks a high order of intelligence.

...

But is it not uncannily like George W. Bush’s America? Is it not as close an approach as we are likely to get to a definition of the neoconservative personality? And has the Tory Right removed continental Germans from the party’s guest list, only to welcome their reincarnation from across the Atlantic?

Perhaps Parris as an Englishman has so totally internalized the norms of anti-Germanism that he can instinctively sense German patterns of though emanating from Washington DC. This has led him to oppose US influence. Parris then supports transnational neo-imperialism against America because he sees it as a force that opposes the spread of German rule over the world.

In that case then is Paul Wolfowitz really working to establish Deutschland Uber Alles like Henry Kissinger before him? Is Germany's membership in the EU just an elaborate trick to hide the German plan to achieve world supremacy thru German control of America? It would explain so much. Germany's opposition to the war in Iraq could have been just an elaborate trick to throw off any suspicion that Germans were really behind the whole operation from the start.

If Parris is right then England has been caught in a pincer movement. It can either ally itself with the German United States or the German European Union. Hah! You lose either way Matthew. We have you surrounded.

Oh, and Mark, you are revealed as a Wilhelmine German nationalist.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 26 02:30 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 0 )
2003 February 11 Tuesday
Theodore Dalrymple On British Academic Boycott of Israel

Theodore Dalrymple has written an excellent essay on the phenomenon of contempt masquerading as compassion.

There’s nothing British academics like more than a good academic boycott. It makes them feel they are at the center of things, important cogs in the motor of history—and virtuous into the bargain: for virtue these days is more a matter of making the right gestures and expressing the “right” opinions than of conforming one’s behavior to inconvenient ethical standards. It allows one to be a libertine on a Neronian scale and yet detect the odor of sanctity emanating powerfully from oneself.

Dalrymple argues that one reason academics do not boycott Syria and other countries with worse human rights efforts is they expect more from the Jews than from the Arabs. Why? Because they really believe that the Arabs are not capable of better behavior but that the Jews are. So this boycott is a compliment to the Jews because it views them as having a greater capacity than the Arabs to live up to Western moral standards (though that brings us to the separate question of whether the academics really believe those moral standards should be the ideal that all should live by).

This argument reminds me very much of an argument that Steve Sailer has made about why liberal whites like to accuse other whites of racism: it gives them someone to feel better than.

And this is typical, in my experience: whites who proclaim their anti-white feelings don't really care much about blacks or other minorities, pro or con. What they care about is achieving social superiority over other whites by demonstrating their exquisite racial sensitivity and their aristocratic insouciance about any competitive threats posed by racial preferences.

For the British academics (and some American academics as well) Israel provides a group that is enough like them that they can point at the Israelis, draw a distinction, and say "see, we are better than those folks". Their protest is motivated by a desire for more status. It also becomes a way of proclaiming solidarity and membership within one's group: "Oh, of course I support the boycott. You know how I feel about colonialist oppressors and fascists".

Israel is a great place to boycott or condemn because what happens there attracts so much press attention. Its rather more easy to get attention for one's views about Israel than about, say, Tibet (the "Free Tibet" bumperstickers I see on the occasional Volvo in an upscale community are definitely much quieter statements of moral superiority - though great for showing up in a museum parking lot and having acquaintances see it when they arrive at the same time). Also, since the uber-capitalistic United States (colonial oppressor, ya da ya da) is Israel's chief supporter a boycott of Israel is also a way to boost one's status (at least in the group that the academics imagine themselves to be a part of - and its status within one's group that matters most) by looking down on the United States. This is double bonus points.

When someone is proclaiming membership in a protest movement or identification with a cause it is always important to ask why. For a lot of young men in college and afterward involvement in environmental and other politically correct protest activities is a great way to meet young women and impress the women with their principled compassion. For academics (who after all could just as easily be protesting much larger scale violence and killing in Africa) protest is mainly a way to demonstrate the correctness of one's moral beliefs to one's peers. In far too many cases the prevention or ending of an injustice is not the main goal of protest and workable solutions are not offered.

Update: My original quote from Steve was apparently from an earlier draft and the URL had a slightly later version. The quote now represents what the URL points to.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 11 01:26 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 0 )
2003 January 15 Wednesday
Kay Hymonitz On Feminists And Islamic Women

Kay Hymonitz examines why the three major schools of feminism are failing to speak out more forcefully against Islamic oppression of women.

That this combination of sentimental victimhood, postcolonial relativism, and utopian overreaching has caused feminism to suffer so profound a loss of moral and political imagination that it cannot speak against the brutalization of Islamic women is an incalculable loss to women and to men. The great contribution of Western feminism was to expand the definition of human dignity and freedom. It insisted that all human beings were worthy of liberty. Feminists now have the opportunity to make that claim on behalf of women who in their oppression have not so much as imagined that its promise could include them, too. At its best, feminism has stood for a rich idea of personal choice in shaping a meaningful life, one that respects not only the woman who wants to crash through glass ceilings but also the one who wants to stay home with her children and bake cookies or to wear a veil and fast on Ramadan. Why shouldn’t feminists want to shout out their own profound discovery for the world to hear?

Perhaps, finally, because to do so would be to acknowledge the freedom they themselves enjoy, thanks to Western ideals and institutions. Not only would such an admission force them to give up their own simmering resentments; it would be bad for business. The truth is that the free institutions—an independent judiciary, a free press, open elections—that protect the rights of women are the same ones that protect the rights of men. The separation of church and state that would allow women to escape the burqa would also free men from having their hands amputated for theft. The education system that would teach girls to read would also empower millions of illiterate boys. The capitalist economies that bring clean water, cheap clothes, and washing machines that change the lives of women are the same ones that lead to healthier, freer men. In other words, to address the problems of Muslim women honestly, feminists would have to recognize that free men and women need the same things—and that those are things that they themselves already have. And recognizing that would mean an end to feminism as we know it.

Western intellectual factions such as those described by this article effectively reduce the ability of the United States to reform Iraq. Far too many of the intellectuals of America have embraced ideological views that make them hostile toward any effort to spread core values that make a liberal democracy possible.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 15 02:56 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 0 )
2002 December 19 Thursday
Collin May on Root Causes of Terrorism

Reflecting on the latest Lord of the Rights movie Two Towers Collin May finds problems with root causes explanation for terrorism.

For my part, this speaks to an issue that has become increasingly prevalent in the face of terrorist attacks around the world today. It is often said that we have to look at the root causes of terror to determine why people turn to such desperate measures as blowing themselves apart in a crowded bus. Inevitably, the root cause in question is poverty caused by the greedy western world, and just as inevitably, you can be sure that wherever someone is talking about the mighty root cause, you’ll find an expert with a Ph.D. nodding smugly in agreement.

Unfortunately for our scholarly friends, there is a problem with root causes. Root causes assume something that is rarely mentioned. Root causes assume that humans can escape their moral obligations by standing outside the normal world. It assumes humans can abstract themselves from reality and go romping through history looking for the all-powerful distant cause that will explain each and every aspect of our current situation. Then, having discerned the historical secret, the wily scholar can, with a gentle wave of his hand, dismiss all those silly concerns about morality, responsibility and honor, while providing the road map for solving all our social ills. That this approach, which is really none other than the methodology of the social sciences, is simplistic in the extreme, reducing human decisions to little more than unthinking reactions to a single dominant stimulus, means little to its proponents. They accept all this because the root cause provides an immediate and simplistic explanation to impress the gullible and justify the foolish.

Regardless of what has happened in our historical past we are each still responsible for making moral decisions. There is no "get out of moral obligations for free" card which is handed out to those who can weave together the most tragic-sounding story of historical wrongs done to our ancestors.

The root cause explanation doesn't make sense for other reasons, not least of which is that the terrorists are coming from the more affluent Muslim nations and from the middle and upper classes of those nations. These people have not experienced the real poverty of places such as Bangladesh. Their claims of victimhood are not credible. The modernizing Islamic countries are the ones that are experiencing the greatest increase in radical Islamist sentiment in part because modernization causes changes and bring influences that threaten Islam's central role in society. Historical grievances and current poverty are not the main causes of the rise of anti-Western radical Islam.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 19 12:38 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 0 )
2002 November 29 Friday
How Churchill Narrowly Defeated Diana In Britain

The popularity contest war could easily have gone the other way. Dianism could have become ascendant and assumed total control of the hearts and minds of the British. It was a closely run battle but once again Churchill saved Britain from an embarrassing defeat at the hands of sentimental idiots. Frank Johnson on the BBC popularity contest for greatest Briton:

But Churchill saw us through. Somehow he made the British believe that they could defeat this woman. Probably, what told against her in the end was Britons’ fear that, if she won, Blair — voice quivering once more — might read a lesson again in Westminster Abbey. The British would not tolerate such a thing twice in a generation.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 29 12:20 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 0 )
Matthew Leeming: Afghans And The Guardian

Matthew Leeming travels to Afghanistan with a collection of newspaper clips of articles written by assorted British lefties such as George Monbiot, John Pilger and Terry Cook and compares what they said to the facts:

I read this article out to a class I took at Kabul University. I thought that they would find it quite funny, but halfway through I realised it wasn’t getting any laughs. I stopped because the women were angry. The few of them who had received any education during the long night of Taleban rule had done so at secret schools. The mother of one had been beaten with electrical flex because a spy from the ministry for the prevention of vice and propagation of virtue had heard her shoes clicking on the pavement.

‘Who is this man?’ she demanded. I said that he was the Observer’s chief reporter. ‘How can he say such things?’ ‘Because he hates America,’ I said. ‘He also says that all the Taleban did was to make law out of what had always been the case in rural areas.’ There was uproar. Even the men joined in. They thought that this was really impertinent and offensive. ‘He also says,’ I went on, ‘that there is no need to ban television because there aren’t any.’ ‘Who does he think we are. Of course we’ve got television.’ And that’s true. I’ve watched television all over the country, even in a Khirgiz yurt in the High Pamirs.

Reflexive anti-Americanism is a substitute for the much harder job of thinking, research, and learning.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 29 12:54 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 2 )
2002 November 16 Saturday
Kenan Malik: Diversity Is Not An End In Itself

While I disagree somewhat with Kenan Malik about the origins of multiculturalism (I think it was cooked up by lefties who basically hate Western Civilization) he makes some good points in this essay on multiculturalism:

The real failure of multiculturalism is its failure to understand what is valuable about cultural diversity. There is nothing good in itself about diversity. It is important because it allows us to compare and contrast different values, beliefs and lifestyles, make judgements upon them, and decide which are better and which worse. It is important, in other words, because it allows us to engage in political dialogue and debate that can help create more universal values and beliefs. But it is precisely such dialogue and debate, and the making of such judgements, that multiculturalism attempts to suppress in the name of 'tolerance' and 'respect' - as, for example, in David Blunkett's attempt to outlaw incitement to religious hatred.

Its easy to see that multiculturalists oppose making of judgements only about other cultures. They are more than willing to condemn capitalistic America and do so at every opportunity. They are really just trying to convince the people who live in Western civilization to abandon an intellectual defense of their own culture. Other cultures are seen as useful tools to use to dilute the cultural beliefs that they oppose.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 16 04:47 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 2 )
2002 November 07 Thursday
Theodore Dalrymple on The New Inquisitors

Theodore Dalrymple finds parallels between the UK Equal Opportunities Commission and the Spanish Inquisition

The lady from the commission demanded to know where the volumes by such and such black authors were. My friend showed her where they were, among all the other books.

“You should have a section for black authors,” she said.

“We don’t classify books by race,” my friend repeated.

The lady from the commission, very annoyed, stormed out, exclaiming for all to hear, “This is a white racist bookshop!”

By Randall Parker    2002 November 07 11:46 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 0 )
2002 November 01 Friday
Salman Rushdie: Liberal Argument For Regime Change

Salman Rushdie says the suffering and oppression of the people of Iraq deserves more attention.

In this strange, unattractive historical moment, the extremely strong anti-Saddam Hussein argument isn't getting a fraction of the attention it deserves.

This is, of course, the argument based on his 31/2-decade-long assault on the Iraqi people. He has impoverished them, murdered them, gassed and tortured them, sent them off to die by the tens of thousands in futile wars, repressed them, gagged them, bludgeoned them and then murdered them some more.

Saddam Hussein and his ruthless gang of cronies from his home village of Tikrit are homicidal criminals, and their Iraq is a living hell.

There is a thread of anti-war rhetoric that is based on the idea that regimes have legitimacy just because they exist. This statist argument treats governments as rights-possessing entities by placing more importance on the survival of regimes above the rights of individuals. While Rushdie starts out taking a position that is an effective counter to that argument he still ends up falling back on it in a later paragraph:

The complicating factors, sadly, are this U.S. administration's preemptive, unilateralist instincts, which have alienated so many of America's natural allies. Unilateralist action by the world's only hyperpower looks like bullying because, well, it is bullying. And the United States' new preemptive-strike policy would, if applied, make America itself a much less safe place, because if the United States reserves the right to attack any country it doesn't like the look of, then those who don't like the look of the United States might feel obliged to return the compliment. It's not always as smart as it sounds to get your retaliation in first.

Well, is bullying always bad? Are there not regimes in this world that it would be beneficial to bully? Do regimes have rights? Then there is his "any country it doesn't like the look of" comment. What is he talking about? The US is expending its effort trying to oust governments that are involved in WMD development or the support of terrorists or both. Does Rushdie think we shouldn't view governments that are hostile to the US and which develop WMD and support terrorists as enemies?

As far as "natural allies" are concerned, what exactly makes a country a natural ally? A strong desire to fight the same enemies seems like a necessary characteristic of a natural ally. By that definition the US does not have many natural allies. But the US does have a great many fair weather friends who are willing to try to convince us not to do things that many Americans believe are necessary for our security.

Rushdie's lack of mention of the strategy of preemption is clearly an intentional avoidance of the arguments of the pro-war camp. What is not smart about preemption? If an enemy regime has hostile intentions, if it treats its own citizens like serfs or slaves, and if it is development weapons of mass destruction then how is the US harming its own interests by taking out that regime? It is disappointing that Rushdie, like so many on the Left, ignores the argument for preemption. The argument is compelling. You can read my collection of posts on preemption here.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 01 09:42 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 0 )
2002 October 21 Monday
Christopher Hitchens: So Long, Fellow Travelers

Christopher Hitchens has written another excellent essay about the values and beliefs of the anti-war Left. Be sure to read the whole thing:

Instead of internationalism, we find among the Left now a sort of affectless, neutralist, smirking isolationism. In this moral universe, the views of the corrupt and conservative Jacques Chirac -- who built Saddam Hussein a nuclear reactor, knowing what he wanted it for -- carry more weight than those of persecuted Iraqi democrats. In this moral universe, the figure of Jimmy Carter -- who incited Saddam to attack Iran in 1980, without any U.N. or congressional consultation that I can remember -- is considered axiomatically more statesmanlike than Bush.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 21 01:00 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 2 )
2002 October 17 Thursday
Roger Scruton on the Salisbury Review's History

Conservatves became even more ostracised in Britain than in the US. Roger Scruton discusses his founding of the conservative Salisbury Review 20 years ago in the UK, his experiences editing it, and the price paid by him and contributors:

One of our earliest contributors was Ray Honeyford, the Bradford headmaster who argued for a policy of integration in our schools as the only way of averting ethnic conflict. Ray Honeyford was branded as a racist, horribly pilloried (by some of my academic colleagues in the University of Bradford, among others) and eventually sacked for saying what everyone now admits to be true. My attempts to defend him led to extensive libels of me and the Review. Other contributors were persecuted (and also sometimes sacked) for coming to Ray’s defence. This episode was our first great success, and led to the 600 subscriptions that we needed.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 17 01:43 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 0 )
2002 October 14 Monday
Why Ron Rosenbaum is no longer a Leftist

Ron Rosenbaum has written an essay in The New York Observer entitled Goodbye, All That: How Left Idiocies Drove Me to Flee:

Here’s the analogy: Heidegger’s peculiar neutrality-slash-denial about Nazism and the Holocaust after the facts had come out, and the contemporary Left’s curious neutrality-slash-denial after the facts had come out about Marxist genocides—in Russia, in China, in Cambodia, after 20 million, 50 million, who knows how many millions had been slaughtered. Not all of the Left; many were honorable opponents. But for many others, it just hasn’t registered, it just hasn’t been incorporated into their "analysis" of history and human nature; it just hasn’t been factored in. America is still the one and only evil empire. The silence of the Left, or the exclusive focus of the Left, on America’s alleged crimes over the past half-century, the disdainful sneering at America’s deplorable "Cold War mentality"—none of this has to be reassessed in light of the evidence of genocides that surpassed Hitler’s, all in the name of a Marxist ideology. An ideology that doesn’t need to be reassessed. As if it was maybe just an accident that Marxist-Leninist regimes turned totalitarian and genocidal. No connection there. The judgment that McCarthyism was the chief crime of the Cold War era doesn’t need a bit of a rethink, even when put up against the mass murder of dissidents by Marxist states.

Most of the modern left has turned away from empirical evidence and from reason because when faced with a choice between giving up their wrong beliefs or turning away from the evidence they decided that the rejection of relevant evidence was less emotionally painful. Its too humbling and humiliating to admit that one spent much of one's life fighting for the wrong side. Few people can do that once they get into middle age because they have too much invested in their beliefs.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 14 01:32 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 1 )
2002 October 06 Sunday
Why the Nazis get more bad press than the Soviets

Over on Daniel Drezner's blog he and his readers are discussing "why commentators tend to treat public figures and thinkers associated with communism with more respect than those associated with fascism." Assorted reasons are offered. I agree with the explanation that he attributes to Tony Judt: that intellectuals are drawn to power. However, this does not explain why they are still going easy on communism when communism is pretty much in the dustbin of history. There is, after all, no more power left to be drawn to.

I think the Nazi vs Communist system comparison is restricting the scope of the debate. Hence, the arguments are coming up short of a satisfying explanation. What one first ought to ask is one that the late philosopher Robert Nozick asked in a 1998 essay: Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?"

Intellectuals now expect to be the most highly valued people in a society, those with the most prestige and power, those with the greatest rewards. Intellectuals feel entitled to this. But, by and large, a capitalist society does not honor its intellectuals. Ludwig von Mises explains the special resentment of intellectuals, in contrast to workers, by saying they mix socially with successful capitalists and so have them as a salient comparison group and are humiliated by their lesser status. However, even those intellectuals who do not mix socially are similarly resentful, while merely mixing is not enough--the sports and dancing instructors who cater to the rich and have affairs with them are not noticeably anti-capitalist.

Why then do contemporary intellectuals feel entitled to the highest rewards their society has to offer and resentful when they do not receive this? Intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit. But a capitalist society does not satisfy the principle of distribution "to each according to his merit or value." Apart from the gifts, inheritances, and gambling winnings that occur in a free society, the market distributes to those who satisfy the perceived market-expressed demands of others, and how much it so distributes depends on how much is demanded and how great the alternative supply is. Unsuccessful businessmen and workers do not have the same animus against the capitalist system as do the wordsmith intellectuals. Only the sense of unrecognized superiority, of entitlement betrayed, produces that animus.

Why do wordsmith intellectuals think they are most valuable, and why do they think distribution should be in accordance with value? Note that this latter principle is not a necessary one. Other distributional patterns have been proposed, including equal distribution, distribution according to moral merit, distribution according to need. Indeed, there need not be any pattern of distribution a society is aiming to achieve, even a society concerned with justice. The justice of a distribution may reside in its arising from a just process of voluntary exchange of justly acquired property and services. Whatever outcome is produced by that process will be just, but there is no particular pattern the outcome must fit. Why, then, do wordsmiths view themselves as most valuable and accept the principle of distribution in accordance with value?

From the beginnings of recorded thought, intellectuals have told us their activity is most valuable. Plato valued the rational faculty above courage and the appetites and deemed that philosophers should rule; Aristotle held that intellectual contemplation was the highest activity. It is not surprising that surviving texts record this high evaluation of intellectual activity. The people who formulated evaluations, who wrote them down with reasons to back them up, were intellectuals, after all. They were praising themselves. Those who valued other things more than thinking things through with words, whether hunting or power or uninterrupted sensual pleasure, did not bother to leave enduring written records. Only the intellectual worked out a theory of who was best.

So here is own theory for why intellectuals were more attracted to communism: capitalism accords intellectuals even less status than fascism did. By contrast communism accorded intellectuals a higher status than fascism did. Fascism didn't have as much of a need for intellectuals because it was a more tribal and primitive ideology. One wasn't a great fascist because of one's thoughts. Fascism was a form of ethnic nationalism. One was a great German fascist because one was a prototypical German. That definition based on idealized national characteristics downplayed the role of the mind. Communism, being a more abstract and theoretical political ideology, has a greater need for intellectuals as justifiers, planners, and intellectual defenders.

Here's another post from Drezner's blog that follows up with more explanations.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 06 04:05 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments ( 28 )
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