Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Friday, November 21, 2003
Blog explosion Friday! (Pax v Lileks v Drezner)
I don't know if I have much to say that hasn't already been said. In fact, I think everything that could be said literally has been. You could spend an hour going through the links and comments section and you wouldn't be a quarter of the way through..... I did that and thoroughly enjoyed it.
What started it all? For President Bush's visit to London, The Guardian published a collection of reader's open letters to President Bush. The famed Iraqi blogger Salam Pax (his blog is linked to the right - he also now writes a column for The Guardian) published this letter:
I hate to wake you up from that dream you are having, the one in which you are a superhero bringing democracy and freedom to underdeveloped, oppressed countries. But you really need to check things out in one of the countries you have recently bombed to freedom. Georgie, I am kind of worried that things are going a bit bad in Iraq and you don't seem to care that much. You might want it to appear as if things are going well and sign Iraq off as a job well done, but I am afraid this is not the case.
James Lileks responded:
Listen, habibi, it is not over yet. Let me explain this in simple terms. You have spilled a glass full of tomato juice on an already dirty carpet and now you have to clean up the whole room. Not all of the mess is your fault but you volunteered to clean it up. I bet if someone had explained it to you like that you would have been less hasty going on our Rambo-in-Baghdad trip.
To tell you the truth, I am glad that someone is doing the cleaning up, and thank you for getting rid of that scary guy with the hideous moustache that we had for president. But I have to say that the advertisements you were dropping from your B52s before the bombs fell promised a much more efficient and speedy service.
Hey, Salam? Fuck you. I know you're the famous giggly blogger who gave us all a riveting view of the inner circle before the war, and thus know more about the situation than I do. Granted. But there's a picture on the front page of my local paper today: third Minnesotan killed in Iraq. He died doing what you never had the stones to do: pick up a rifle and face the Ba'athists. You owe him.
Let me explain this in simple terms, habibi. You would have spent the rest of your life under Ba'athist rule. You might have gotten some nice architectural commissions to do a house for someone whose aroma was temporarily acceptable to the Tikriti mob. You might have worked your international connections, made it back to Vienna, lived a comfy exile's life. What's certain is that none of your pals would ever have gotten rid of that "scary guy with the hideous moustache" (as if his greatest sin was somehow a fashion faux pas) and the Saddam regime would have prospered into the next generation precisely because of people like you. People who would rather have lived their life in low-level fear than change your situation. I understand; I would have done the same. I'm not brave enough to start a revolution. I wouldn't have grabbed a gun and charged a palace. I would lived like you. Head down, eyes wary. When the man's too strong, the man's too strong. But let me quote from a Guardian story on your life:
"Like all Iraqis, Salam was familiar with the dangers. At least four of his relatives had gone missing. In the past year, for no apparent reason, one of his friends was summarily executed, shot in the head as he sat in his car, and two others were arrested; one was later freed and another, a close friend, has never returned."
The rug was soaked before we got there, friend. Cut the clever cafe' pose; drop the sneer. That "Rambo" crap is old. Iraq needs grown-ups. Be one.
This led to Dan Drezner's (who I think is fantastic) skewering of Lileks. Dan makes some great points I encourage you to read, but I mostly agree with Lileks on this one. Salam Pax doesn't really offer anything constructive that would actually help with the clean up of his country -- though thanks to the invasion he no longer has to live there full time. I'm not saying that I, we, Americans, the soldiers, Bush are owed a constant debt of gratitude and un-ending thank yous, but I think Salam Pax could have replaced some of his sarcasm with some class. For more about this read Dan Drezner's above referenced post, then check out InstaPundit's roundup if you still want more.
After reading much of the arguments, perhaps the blunt "F-You!" from Lileks was a bit harsh, but maybe not..... nevertheless, everything else he said I thought rang very true, and perhaps most important was his last bit of advice for Salam Pax:
"Iraq needs grown-ups. Be one."
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
After two years of warnings from clapped-out Arabists that the incendiary "Arab Street" was about to explode in anti-American rage across the Middle East, it remains as unrousable as ever. Instead, it is the explosive European street that remains implacably pro-Saddam, pro-Yasser, pro-jihad, pro-Taliban misogynist homophobes, pro-anyone as long as they are anti-American.
--- Mark Steyn
What are they protesting exactly? I heard of plans to "chase Bush" and spill some red paint around town, presumably to represent the blood of Iraqi's. If that's the case, London's left is way way late to the party. Saddam killed close to 15,000 in Halabja in just a few days and so far 300,000 Iraqi's have been found in mass graves. Where were they then? (How many is 300,000? Go here and see.)
How much protest, pomp, and paint was on display when Robert Mugabe made his visit? How many rhyming signs were held up condemning the bombings in Turkey last week? The motivation of the protests is not to aid the citizens of Iraq, it is to demonstrate their superior enlightenment by being "against violence" and for "peace." But what peace are they for? Saddam's Iraq was certainly not a peaceful stable place. Under his control Iraq went to war with Iran, invaded Kuwait, used chemical weapons on his own people, supported international terrorism, and spent years in defiance of UN resolutions.
So tell me, what exactly are you protesting for!?!? Iraqi citizens right to live under the most oppressive conditions? Their right to be dropped into industrial plastic shredders head OR feet first? Saddam's right to sovereignty? Hah! Saddam rose to power by the barrel of a gun, and then stayed in power through methods much much worse. What possible moral claim to sovereignty does he have?
Despite the protests of the "peace" movement though, freedom of assembly has now been extended to Baghdad. Jeff Jarvis points to some Iraqi bloggers opinion's, here's what Omar had to say:
I was counting days and hours waiting to see an end to that regime, just like all those who suffered the cruelty of that brutal regime.
It's been really a disgrace chasing the world, the world of the 21st. century, reminding it how incapable it was to aid the oppressed and to sue those who dispised all the values of humanity.
Through out these decades I lost trust in the world governments and international committees.
Terms like (human rights, democracy and liberty..etc.)became hallow and meaningless and those who keep repeating these words are liars..liars..liars.
I hated the U.N and the security council and Russia and France and Germany and the arab nations and the islamic conference.
I've hated George Gallawy and all those marched in the millionic demonstrations against the war .It is I who was oppressed and I don't want any one to talk on behalf of me,
I, who was eager to see rockets falling on Saddam's nest to set me free....
Believe me , we were living in the "kingdom of horror".
Please tell me how could the world that claims to be civilized let Saddam launch chemical weapons on his own un-armed people?
Can anyone tell me why the world let Saddam remain and stood against America's will to topple him? ...
You all owe the Iraqi people an apology.
Here's more from another Iraqi, Ay
Today, when I was going to the clinic, I've seen a guy, he is tall, with a black hair, cute face, but he has sad facial expressions. There was something that has attracted me......,
It was his ear, his ear was cut from the upper portion.
At once I remembered Ali the man who was in our neighborhood, Ali had the same ear cut.
Also I remembered a mentally deranged man, he was hiking in Baghdad streets, he had the two ears cut and a burned forehead.
There are many others with those defects.
So, I've decided to write one of the heartrending stories in Iraq:
If my memory serves me right, that was in 1994, Saddam Hussien had given a command that said (( Any soldier who escapes from the conscription must be caught and his ear must be cut ))!!!
Then he had changed the command to be ((Any soldier who escapes from the conscription must be caught and his ear must be cut, and if he has escaped for the second time; the other ear must be cut. For the third time burn his forehead.))!!!!!!
The burn should be a straight horizontal line in the middle of the forehead!!
Follow the link and read the rest. In Nasiriyah, Iraq they are protesting against terrorism and for the coalition, here's a picture. 80% of Iraq is peaceful and the majority of citizens want the U.S. to stay, and the majority of Londoners have a favorable opinion of America. I ask again to the not so silent minority. What are you protesting?
Monday, November 17, 2003
War, Anti-War and some real differences.
At times I have found myself annoyed by the anti-war movement's often compartmentalized characterization of those that supported war in Iraq. As bothersome as it has been the charge that this is a war for oil, or to kill Muslims is so devoid of substance that I'm really good at ignoring, and in some cases, laughing at the absurdity of it all. Porhpyrogenitus though has an excellent piece on exposing the flaw of these stereotypes as well as taking on the absurd belief that being anti-war, or "for peace" is inherently a more enlightened position. Here are some excerpts , but you really need to read it all.
couldn't stop thinking about the lads in their trench. I couldn't stop thinking about the men and women who are not only fighting, but dying or suffering horrible wounds in a war I supported and continue to support. About people in hospital beds with their faces or limbs blown off. About people who, even if they are not injured in this fight, will see things - see things they do to others - that are difficult to live with. This is of course only appropriate.
and there's this:
My belief is that it is the pro-war people, not the anti-war people, who tend to have a deeper understanding of exactly these things. Frankly I hope this belief is correct because it must be correct, because it is a responsibility we bear and must accept when we favor such a course of action. In some moral sense, those who oppose the war do not have to have it to the same degree, because they aren't asking people to face this. In other ways, I think it would be better if they did have a greater knowledge of both war and the alternatives to war than I think many of them do, because they bear a different moral responsibility, one that is no less grave, as a result of their opposition. And the consequences are really not as dissimilar as they seem to assume.
War is simply not the only font of human suffering, and there are worse alternatives to our fighting. Those alternatives can and frequently do include having more people see others blown apart by bombs. Lose their face or limbs to explosives. Witness and have to live with things so terrible that no one should have to live with them. Or sit by smugly, at a distance, while they happen to others, and condescend about how non-violent solutions should be preferred, and lecture the victims or those of us who would propose to fight on their behalf about responding to violence with violence. There are those who would rest pacifically, and assert to those of us to say there are some things worth fighting for that the fact they are not prepared to fight for anything is the best evidence of their superior enlightenment.
In '90 I suppose we could have stood by and not gone to war when Saddam invaded Kuwait. It would be interesting to see someone, especially those who ended up opposing sanctions throughout the '90s because of the suffering sanctions (or Saddam's manipulation of them) imposed on the Iraqi people, come up with a scenario for how everything would have been better in the world if we hadn't. Similarly in the Balkans: sending the UN Peacekeepers to watch and observe while murderous marauders slaughtered defenseless people in what were called "Safe Zones" does not seem to have been a less bloody alternative to bombing the aggressors till they accepted terms.
This is one of the more thoughtful pieces on the issue I have ever read, there is much more that you don't want to miss. Thumbs way up to Porphyrogenitus!
Miss Afghanistan makes another appearance, Mullah Omar must be rolling in his cave!
Some in Afghanistan are not happy about it, I sure hope the women's movement takes up her cause, though I'm not holding my breath.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Arabs close the book on reading
Well, more like it's been slammed shut for them -- and then burned. Then again, if not for fundamentalist Islam protecting Arabs from the corruptions of the outside world, who would? The Chicago Tribune reports:
Across the Arab world, a region of 280 million people, a best seller is a book that sells just 5,000 copies. Translation of foreign works into Arabic lags far behind translations into many other languages: Five times as many books are translated each year into Greek, a language spoken by just 11 million people. Some of Cairo's most-storied old booksellers have given up entirely and been replaced by cell-phone vendors, clothing shops and shoe stores.
This is why the opinion of the oft-cited "Arab Street" means little to me, it's mostly indoctrinated and certainly not an opinion formed with any insight beyond what the Mullah/Shia/Cultural Ministry have allowed to get in. With over 20 different government standards of information censoring it's a wonder any books are published in the Arab world, and one can only imagine the bland uniformity of those that do get a pass. Perhaps what is most disturbing though, is the near infinitesimal number of books that are ever translated into Arabic. This is the inevitable product of an oppressive regime, and as I've noted here before it is this dictatorial oppression that culturally, economically, and intellectually isolates the populous. I'm still waiting to hear, what, other than the core values of democracy, free speech, and human rights can solve this. The whole Arab region is mired in stagnation. They are denied a real chance to personally develop their talents, innovate, or obtain a worldly education. Never a chance to push themselves, never a chance to achieve their potential, and never a taste of hope. That is the real tragedy.
The Carnival of the Capitalists!
The Carnival of the Vanities is a year long running collection of the week's best blog posts. October 12 marked the first edition of the Carnival of the Capitalists, a "weekly roundup intended to be a "Best Of the Blogosphere" for posts covering business, economics, stocks, accounting, taxes, business law, and related topics."
I've been meaning to link to it regularly, however the overhaul of my site and the usual life obligations relegated it to the bin of "stuff I didn't get to." But enough of the 'dog ate my blog' talk, I'm linking to it now, and not just because they linked and gave a nice endorsement to my Dinesh D'Souza review. I swear. So the link to this weeks Carnival of the Capitalists is here
and you can find the link to my piece on D'Souza below the "Capitalism as a Force for Good" category. Browse through it all, there is much worth considering.
Going forward I'll post a weekly link to the new Carnival of the Capitalists entries as well as a permalink to them all on the right, the first four collections can be found below.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Thank You Veterans
A simple, sincere thank you. What else do you say to those that demonstrated the will to make the ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of those they've never met? Nothing I can think of. Thank you again.
Here's some Veterans Day reading that is worth your time:
Corporal Plank was a volunteer, not a conscript. So you could argue that he had an idea of the risks associated with his profession, though I wonder about that. Even so, it seems, when you think about it, amazing, crazy almost, that young men and women still die simply because we ask them to. I look at photographs of tall, shiny-faced teenagers in uniforms, who leave behind parents who loved them just as much as I love my kids, and I am staggered that in 2003 we continue to require their sacrifice. We, who no longer believe that the dead live on, and that those who die have, therefore, lost everything.
And there's this observation:
There are other lessons. War is a great and unpredictable misfortune, but today, as Rwanda showed us, it is not necessarily always the greatest. Deferred war can be worse than early action. Appalling though it is to say so, badly applied sanctions can cause more suffering than carefully applied bombs.
There's much more, you should read it all.
Also, this piece from Donald Sensing examines a new kind of veteran in a new kind of war and is well worth reading.
(Both links via InstaPundit.)
The Day Laborers Market
For reasons as various as construction plans, worn relationships, and neighborhood/merchant complaints, the daily gathering place of Chicago's day labor workers has been constantly on the move. In his October 30 column, the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn (who's blog is linked to the right) offers some first hand insight:
Everything that is poignant, inspiring, disturbing and ultimately wrong about the daily gathering of jornaleros in the 5000 block of North Pulaski Road came into focus in one 15-second incident Wednesday morning.
Jornaleros are day laborers, mostly Hispanic, who stand at informal open-air hiring halls waiting for contractors and others who need temporary employees to drive up and offer them work.
I was standing in that lot Wednesday morning talking to a group of them with the help of interpreter Jessica Aranda, an organizer with the Latino Union of Chicago, when a car pulled in.
Immediately and from all sides, at least a dozen men swarmed the vehicle, their voices raised in expectant greeting.
Poignant and inspiring: I had seen some of these same men at 6:45 a.m. when I had driven by. They want jobs. They want to support their families. They sometimes stand out all day nursing one cup of coffee and shifting from foot to foot, then walk home with nothing in their pockets.
Disturbing: The sight of these men can be intimidating. The driver of the car that pulled into the lot was simply looking to turn around, and for a moment it looked from his expression as though he thought the mob intended to drag him from his vehicle and beat him.
And neighbors do feel intimidated, many complain that those hanging out are smoking pot, drinking, and just general riff raff. Police and the local alderman say that the perception of danger is the real problem. The day laborers agree: "These are men who come here and stand among us but don't really want to work," said Luis Gonzalez
That seems likely to me. Day laborers ARE men that do want to work, many are immigrants who came here looking for some stability, something better than unemployment. Eric Zorn concludes:
These residents of Chicago are looking to get that same first foot on the ladder that many of our ancestors looked for when they arrived here--the opportunity and dignity of honest work.
The city can create centers for them or just chase them around. But they're not going away.
And I agree, but I have serious doubts that the city would ever sanction a center where workers could find jobs. In doing do, they'd immediately inherit a myriad of responsibilities including, but not limited to, documenting that all workers are legal, that jobs pay "a living wage," offering proper benefits and whatever other demands that activists and unions make behind the rhetoric of "social justice." Lost on the activists though is the reality that one may rationally decide that a day spent working for some money is preferrable to a day spent earning nothing and not working. The day laborers that gather have expressed a clear preference for the former, and no third party (who bears neither the costs or benefits) should be allowed to preempt that decision. For day laborers, any work improves their skills, and given the turnover in the manual labor market, it often provides a helpful foot in the door for permanent work. Of course in a utopia everyone would have gainful employment, but the world is not fuzzy teddy bears and flowers, and the hard reality is that today some don't, and today they may have bills to pay and a family to feed. Debating public policy, increasing minimum wage laws, or requiring union scale pay in the name of standing up for the working man does nothing to help them today, on the contrary it only serves to keep them out of the market.
The hidden costs of regulations such as wage and benefit requirements is what helps contribute to a day laborers market in the first place. Artificial price floors lead to unemployment, for some employers, a certain task may not be worth more than $10 or $15 an hour, if union laws require compensation greater than that, a man willing to do that work for $15 will not be hired, and unions remain insulated from that competition. It is precisely regulation that helped create this market. If the city were to build or sanction a center for the day laborers their market place would eventually become subject to the above regulations that contributes to their unemployment in the first place. Once again these men, desperately hoping for work, would be left looking for a place to go.
In the short term, politics always trumps economics. This is no different. A city built or sanctioned center would eventually succumb to labor law regulations, and if those that comprise the day laborers could get a job in a regulated market they would have already done so. Since they can't, they'll flee any center in search of another gathering, a place where regulations don't apply, where potential employers don't fear repercussions for giving them work, a place where they may carry out a mutually agreed on task for a mutually agreed on compensation leaving both parties better off. Unfortunately because of the politics involved, the city will have little choice but continue to chase them around.
Sunday, November 09, 2003
New Look, Same Great Content
Limited html skills means lots of tedious work, but I got through it with some patience, a couple books, and a few beers. I learned a lot too, though the transfer didn't go perfectly, you might notice some odd characters where quotation marks or apostrophes should be. Font issues that I can't quite solve. I'll fix it all manually sooner or later. I've also (FINALLY!) built in permalinks so each individual post can be linked to. (If I'd known it would only take 30 seconds I would have done that much much sooner.) Also note the list of my past columns, they are generally a collection of longer, more comprehensive pieces I've written and there's more that to be added. What an improvement though huh?
Special thanks to Jason Shellen who's website I downloaded the template from, and thanks for Google for helping me find him of course.
Sunday, November 02, 2003
I attended Dinesh D'Souza's lecture at Monmouth College on October 23rd which was (roughly) based on his most recent book "What's So Great About America". D'Souza is an excellent speaker, he has an uncanny ability to pull quotes and facts off the top of his head and weave them right into the topic at hand. He was originally scheduled to speak only once, but because of the response, concerns for seating capacity led to the scheduling of a second lecture. Both looked to be at full capacity.
I can't weave it all together with near the precision that Dinesh D'Souza did but here is my summary of what he said in both lectures as well as some notes from the luncheon that I was able to attend with him:
History and Western Ascent
D'Souza began with some historical background on the current clash of civilizations of Islam vs. The West. Some may be tempted to draw comparisons to the Cold War, but that is not entirely accurate. He highlights this point with the phenomenon of the suicide bomber and asks, what movement in history, political or otherwise, produced suicide bombers? Not the Nazi's and certainly not the Communists. Kamikaze pilots were perhaps similar, but they were soldiers, not students or mothers. In other words, the Islamic militant movement contains an abundance of something that the others did not, true believers.
Today, America's power is unparalleled, politically, economically, and militarily. There is no rival. But of course we all know that it was not always this way, in fact, over the last 1000 years, Islam was the most dominant and advanced civilization. Unlike Christianity and Judaism, Islam was born of success rather than defeat and at one time enjoyed 5 Islamic empires ruling simultaneously. The success of Islam was rivaled only by China, but they were geographically and politically isolated. There was no real rival and no real threat. In fact, Muslim travelers of that time often wrote about the West with a similar note of amused disdain that, centuries later, one would find among Westerners describing Sub-Saharan Africa. One described Europeans as "more like beasts than men" who lacked intelligence, understanding, and were generally uninteresting and primitive.
But in the late 17th century, that began to change. D'Souza cites the routing of the Turks, and the defeat of Islam at Vienna, as major turning points in the decline of Islam and a major global shift of power. For the first time, Napoleon, a westerner was able to stroll in and rule at will. The ascension of Western Civilization had begun, but what did they do to get there? Some charge that The West got its power and riches at the expense of minorities and the third world via crimes of slavery, exploitation and colonialism. But that charge implies that there is something distinctively Western about slavery and colonialism. Yes, The West had their empires, but so did the Turks, Mongolians, and everyone else. Yes, The West had slaves, as did every known civilization from ancient India to China, to American Indians. Slavery was common all over Africa then and still exists there today. Over the course of history, conquest and slavery are universal. Indeed the only thing unique about slavery in The West is that we ended it. Of course in any slave culture there were runaways and slave revolts, the slaves were certainly against slavery, but nowhere else did those with the power to be masters organize to relinquish that power. D'Souza quotes Abraham Lincoln "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master" and notes that a vast amount of resources as well as blood was spent to demolish the institution of slavery, as hundreds of thousands of white men died to bring freedom to African Americans.
If it was not slavery and colonialism, then what did bring power and riches to The West? Three things: Capitalism, Science, and Democracy. The three are certainly all natural human impulses, but Western Societies created unique and specific institutions that maximized their efficiency and hence their benefits, leading to an exponential growth in standard of living. The impulse to trade and barter is universally human, but it was the creation of property rights, courts, free trade, credit, etc that distinguishes the Western capitalist system. It was in the West where the scientific method of experimentation and verification, the invention of invention, as its been termed, developed. It is the combination of capitalism and science that delivers technological advances, advances in living standard, to the society as a whole. Democracy, free elections, free press, transfer of power by something other than violent means, separations of power, this is clearly a Western invention. It is these three pillars that gave birth to and continue to provide the foundation for advancement of Western Civilization as we know it.
This quantum leap forward that has now forced Islam to examine itself. Why has the once great civilization of Islam fallen? D'Souza describes two distinct camps of Islamic intellectuals. First is the classical (not American) liberal camp which believes that Islam needs to follow the lead of science, modernism, capitalism, and open tolerant societies that protect human rights as well as property rights. Islam must, at least selectively, embrace these institutions.
The second camp, which we'll call the fundamentalists, says that the liberal way has failed them, that the Middle East is ruled by oppressive dictators (is there any other kind?) propped up by the West. The Koran promises prosperity in this life, and paradise in the next for those faithful to Allah and for centuries the Muslim civilization clearly lived in prosperity. However, today they find that they've fallen significantly behind. Why is that? The fundamentalists consider the answer obvious – Muslims are no longer following the teachings of Allah, instead they have fallen away from their true faith in favor of the life of the infidel. The influence of the infidel must be purged.
The core idea of the West, of America, is one of self-determination, that the individual is the architect of his own life. The leaders of the fundamentalist camp do not dispute this, they acknowledge the freedoms of the West, and that America is what it is. But while America has freedom, Islam has virtue. Human nature is flawed, they say, and therefore freedom is used badly -- divorce, materialism, pornography, the trivialities of Western society, they contain no virtue and virtue is superior to liberty. D'Souza acknowledges these criticisms as legitimate.
But what is the value of virtue if it is imposed? A woman wearing a veil is not modest if it is required by law, she is modest only if she chooses to wear it when she has the freedom not to. In short, freedom is a prerequisite to virtue, it must be chosen, otherwise it is false.
This is why Western Culture is a threat to Islamic elites. Freedom says that you don't have to follow the Koran, you don't even have to believe in Allah if you so choose. This is the crux of our cultural conflict.
The Culture Debate
D'Souza also argues that western culture has made the world over better off, even through immoral acts of conquests and colonialism. He offers the personal example of his own life growing up in India, a former colony. Yes, his grandfather was worse off being ruled by British Colonialism in India, but his own life, as well as that of future generations, were made markedly better. He quotes Muhammad Ali who, after fighting George Foreman in Zaire, was asked by a reporter, "Champ, what did you think of Africa?" Ali replied brusquely, "Thank god my granddaddy got on that boat."
No one in their right mind would argue that slavery was good for the slaves, but it cannot be disputed that it paradoxically benefited their descendants. Just as African-Americans are better off today in America than they would be in places such as Ethiopia or Rwanda, so too are the people of Asia, India, and South America, for it was through colonialism that Western values of democracy, self-determination, and human rights were transmitted and spread.
D'Souza reflects on his own life and how it might be different if he had stayed in India. He would have likely spent his whole life within 5 miles of where he was born, married a woman with an identical religious, socio-economic and cultural background and become either a chemical engineer or a doctor. Materially his life would not have been radically different than it is now. However, his destiny would have been somewhat given, his life lacking the depth it has now, where travel is enjoyed by almost everyman, where one can meet individuals from different cultures and different backgrounds and the ordinary person can achieve extraordinary things. The social egalitarianism we enjoy here is unparalleled. Bill Gates, with all his money, could not make any of us kiss his feet. Where else could a C.E.O. of a company go to a restaurant and not be sure that he won't run into his secretary, also dining there? Indeed most wealthy people would be better off in another country where they could enjoy the pleasures of aristocracy. The triumph of America is that it has extended affluence and comfort to a large segment of society, where very few have to wonder where their next meal may come from, where every child gets an education, where our poor are overweight, own cars, and multiple T.V.'s.
The multi-culturalists, however, argue for cultural relativism. That we should respect and not influence other cultures, for none is superior to the other. Standard of living cannot be disputed, the West wins by knockout. Virtue can be, and according to D'Souza America is more virtuous, as it is freely chosen. We have opportunity for deeper, richer lives, and offer a much more open and tolerant society. He quotes Edmund Burke, "To make us love our country, our country must be lovely." The suggestion is that one shouldn't have a sort of unconditional patriotism, one shouldn't love his country simply because it is his, but also because it is good. D'Souza concludes that America for all its virtues and shortcomings rises to this standard. America is well worth loving.
In the second lecture of the day, D'Souza talks a bit more in detail of U.S. foreign policy and the prevailing anti-American sentiment. One criticism that is made, and D'Souza supports, is that U.S. foreign policy is couched in the language of morality but there are clearly hypocrisies. In making the moral case, the U.S. is losing. They are failing to reach and open sufficient channels of dialogue with the Arab world, to explain that we also seek virtue and that our different ways of life are indeed compatible. To be sure, D'Souza does not outright condemn U.S. foreign policy for its support of dictators, he defends some of it as alliances out of strategic necessity. We sided with Stalin over Hitler and the Mujadeen over the Soviets. In a dynamic world, with constantly shifting alliances, they were the lesser of two evils.
So what platform should U.S. policy be based upon? Some believe that our policy should strictly follow the line of doing only what is in our best interest, others lean towards intervention for only philanthropical purposes. One only needs to look to those who supported intervention in Liberia, but vehemently opposed the deposing of Saddam Hussein. According to D'Souza neither is correct. Intervention should meet two standards, first that it be in our interest, but also that it help advance the cause of liberty, that it make the U.S. AND the world a better place.
I agree with D'Souza's framing of this conflict as one of a clash of cultures. On one hand you have a civilization based in freedom and self-determination, on the other one that is based on man's interpretation and physical enforcement of God's law. One wants a society base on the individual, the other prefers 12th century theocracy. A clash was inevitable.
However, my one criticism of D'Souza is that he did not always answer questions directly, to be sure he addressed the subjects, but at times I found myself looking for more specifics. This was almost negligible however, because hardly any of the questions seriously challenged the substance of his lecture. Where were all my former lefty professors?
During the questions session of the second lecture I asked something along the lines of this: "You mentioned that one of the criticisms of U.S. policy is our propping up of dictators in the region, but now that we have actually deposed one and appear to be moving away from that policy, the militant movement is using that as a rallying cry to fight American Imperialism. It seems that the "America is Evil" meme has such a powerful grip, is there any way to break that other than the spread of democracy to the region?"
In answer, D'Souza referred to his above mentioned criticisms of U.S. foreign policy. In (very) short, he cited the "true believers" of the movement, and suggested that we put much more effort into opening up dialogue with the Middle East. Only by articulating our values will we sufficiently make the case of the moral superiority of our society, one based on the inalienable rights of the individual.
I think he is right, but I do take some issue with "true believers." That they exist I have no doubt, in every society there exists some religious fanatics. In the Middle East though I tend to think that much of this is indoctrinated, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism is a not small part of many Middle Eastern schools' curriculum. They live in closed societies, without a free press, and without free elections. Authoritarian rulers have much control over the flow of information, and open dissension is met with jail time, intimidation, and violence. Despair, hopelessness and poverty, the inevitable product of dictatorial regimes, is suffered by the general population, while the elites build lavish palaces. Authoritarian figure heads know that the anger and frustration born into the peoples must be directed elsewhere and with near full control over information, they point much of it West. It is because America is rich that the Muslim world is poor, so goes the myth. Blame is passed to a common foe that the dictator promises his people he'll help fight against. They rally around him, or face consequences, and that is what I was trying to get at in my question. How can we open that dialogue without the free flow of ideas, without a free press. How do you have open discussion when everything you say is filtered by the powers that be? Without those freedoms the door of discussion will remain mostly closed, democracy is, I think, a prerequisite to dialogue.
Of course, technologies such as satellite TV and the Internet are making it increasingly difficult to control the flow of information, even in closed societies. Thanks to science, democracy, and capitalism, these technologies are not only improving but also becoming more accessible world wide. It was the fact that America embraced these three so wholly, that led to the power shift from Europe to where we stand today, as well as providing great benefits for the rest of the world. It is the wealth of the United States and all of our "materialism" that is a customer to economies all over the world. It is American companies that open overseas and create jobs that locals are happy to take given that their other option is usually unemployment.
Think of medicine. It is the American capitalist system that spends billions of dollars on research and development in the health care industry. The benefits of improved treatments, new drugs, vaccinations, and the open sharing of this knowledge are extended to those well beyond our borders.
For as much as European leaders carp about the power of America's military, they should be cognizant of the benefits it provides. Knowing that they have the protection of the American military behind them, they can afford to reduce the size of their military and instead use those funds to support their sizeable welfare states. Which is to say nothing for the immeasurable benefits of living free of the Soviet threat in their own neighborhood. For it was the American economic engine and the arms race that the USSR could not keep pace with, that eventually led to Soviet collapse. America did all this and at the same time was able to keep market places stocked and its citizens out of soup and bread lines.
Even environmentalism was born of capitalism. The communists certainly never had a green faction. You only need to look at the toxic dumpings and other environmental disasters that occurred behind the iron curtain, sites that are still being cleaned up today. Saddam Hussein drained the wetlands in Iraq to punish the Marsh Arabs, taking away their means of subsistence and of course his burning of wells and dumping of oil into the Gulf has been well documented. Environmentalism is a luxury, it is only societies that have achieved a certain amount of stability and wealth that can afford to take up environmental causes. A person worried about his next meal has no time for the spotted owl. Who funds the Sierra Club? It's not communist China and it isn't anyone who made a fortune selling real estate in Sweden.
Without the wealth created by capitalism, where would these riches come from? How would organizations such as the ACLU or Human Rights Watch survive? Welfare does not create affluence - it is a product of it. That is the dilemma critics of capitalism face. They love the wealth capitalism creates, they want to redistribute it to anyone they see fit, but doing so would remove the incentive to be creative and the mechanism of wealth creation itself. To use an apt cliche' it kills the goose that lays the golden egg.
So until further notice, for all its imperfections, the Western way of human rights, self-determination, capitalism, and democracy is the best we know. The progress made by the human race over the last couple hundred years is stunning. Our standard of living, our income, our life expectancy, and a host of other quality of life indicators, are constantly improving and the march of human progress goes on. D'Souza gives us a quietly deep reminder of the foundations of our advancement and I think it should be our goal, as human beings, to extend the rights of freedom and self-determination to the Middle East, so that they main join and enjoy the benefits of that march.