Saturday, January 31, 2009

Refusing to see evil

What do the rise of Islamofascism and the return of Keynesian-big-government-welfare-statism have in common?

This has been bothering me. I think I have finally figured it out. Both stem for the stubborn refusal to see evil in the world.

Sounds ridiculous, right? Indulge me.

Evil? Well evil is a human quality. Animals are not evil – they act according to instinct. We do not hold them morally accountable. And nature is Nature. Natural laws are neither good nor evil, though they can sometimes be harsh. They are what they are.

No, evil is exclusively reserved for human behavior. It is a moral category that we reserve for humans.

If you are part of this conversation then I am going to assume we share some basic moral values, those values broadly consistent with what we understand by "liberal democracy." Included in this are:Respect for the person and property of every human being regardless of race, gender, national origin, etc. – non discrimination and equality before the law

  • Respect for promise keeping, valuing the fulfillment of one's word in business and in life in general. The value of trust.
  • Respect for freedom of action and especially freedom of speech. Freedom of action includes anything that is not coercive. Coercive behavior is behavior that is violent, threatens to be violent, or creates dangerous conditions. The burden of proof is on those seeking to restrict human behavior to show that it is coercive.
  • Etc.
OK, so I hope we can broadly agree. I understand that we may differ in the details – we may differ a lot in the details. But at this level of abstraction general assent among the people I usually talk to, and who would bother to read this blog, should be fairly easy.

Moving on. I see two broad set of problems in the world right now and they are causing me much anguish and frustration. And they appear completely unrelated. Appearances can be misleading.

The first is the return of Statism. Advocates of big government social engineering are back– lets call this X.

The second is the rapid rise and spread of Islamofascism – actually to be more accurate, what bothers me is not only this rise in radical Islam (which is bad enough) but also the fact that it is being tolerated, indeed facilitated, by the policies of the governments of the economically developed world. Let's call this Y.

Both are very serious problems that threaten to destroy civilizations based on the principles of liberal democracy. And both are supported and facilitated by the same group of people. They call themselves "liberals" – but what they actually are is naïve. They are naïve and mistaken in their understanding of the diversity of human motivations and predispositions in the world. I see no other way to analyze this thing than to resort to some social psychologizing. Forgive me.

Lets take X. The motivation for statism is the conviction that "good things" can be done by giving the state more power, lots of power. This means giving the state lots of money. This money has to come from somewhere and lots of it is coerced from some, deemed less deserving of it, and given to others, deemed more deserving of it. At least that is the theory. In practice of course the people charged with carrying out these beneficent policies are fallible human beings who seldom have the expertise, knowledge or moral fortitude to accomplish the tasks. The incentives that rule in the public bureaucracies are notoriously perverse tending to ever-larger budgets and inefficient implementations. The liberals base their hopes for grand state social policies on an implicit belief that the people charged with implementing these policies share their goals and share their commitment to the values of liberal democracy – that they can be trusted to keep their word, that they respect and honor the sanctity of the property of others, that they will not discriminate in order to benefit themselves and further their own, as opposed to the public's, welfare. This belief is discredited every day in every way. Bureaucracies attract a particular kind of person, one usually with a comparative advantage in survival, that is, one with political survival skills. Playing the game and looking out for number one, that's the ticket. Master the rhetoric, pretend to have the knowledge and tell them what they want to hear. Then they will keep the money coming. Above all never tell them you have reached your goal – that is the kiss of death. And, of course, never leave a single dollar unspent. Its not what you know, its who you know. Wise up.

Statism, apart from being based on coercion, and encouraging the implementation of an "ends justifies the means" mentality, causes liberal democracy to fail because it is parasitical of prosperity. It destroys private initiative and innovation. It punishes the pursuit of profit, necessary for economic growth. It diverts resources from their most valuable uses.

Statism has been slowly gaining ground in America for more than 50 years, with a temporary interruption for the Reagan years. This current financial crisis however has provided it with fiscal steroids. The politicians, mostly, though not exclusively, Democrats, are in hog-heaven. This "crisis" is a party for them. By their own admission, endorsed by President Obama, this is an opportunity to fund all manner of social programs that have heretofore never made it off the collective liberal wish list. Yes we can! We are all Americans, we all believe in the same thing. Lets throw enough money at it and the good in all of us will rise to the occasion. Hallelujah!

What about Y – the tolerating and facilitation of the rise of a brand of Islam that is predicated on religious racism and sexism? (Only Moslems possess religious truth, only Moslems are entitled to full social rights,… an explicit denial of the basic tenets of liberal democracy – it unequivocally rejects both liberalism and democracy). I leave aside some important questions like, is radical Islam broadly representative of the essence of Islam? Is Islam capable of being reconciled with liberal democracy? Where are the moderate Moslems? And so on. Leave those aside.

Now clearly everyone in this conversation with me will have to admit that according to our adopted moral standard, this world-view is evil. It is fascism based on religious teaching, fascism claiming divinely revealed truth. It is a denial of any and all of those truths that we hold so dear and self evident, enumerated above. Who can doubt that it is evil pure and simple? Any doubt must surely be banished by the unspeakable acts of cruelty perpetrated by its adherents in the name of its creed. Yes we all agree.

The liberals, however, while condemning the creed and the acts, mostly in muted terms, urge tolerance for the protagonists, seeing them as unfortunate victims of Western domination and exploitation. Liberal guilt over the achievements of the west, and the relative deprivation it suggests for the rest, translates into forbearance for the outrageous. They are desperate, they don't know any better, how could they? Our liberals, to be sure, are consummate elitists, patronizing benefactors who see it as their duty to reform the excesses of the world with kindness and understanding. The terrorists are not evil, they just commit evil acts. They can be brought to embrace liberal democracy. We need to talk to them firmly but with understanding and compassion.

At root here is the same basic presumption that everyone shares the same goals, the same values – liberal democratic values. Any appearance to the contrary is just an illusion. People are basically good.

Well what if they are wrong? What if some people are irredeemably evil? I don't care why. Maybe Hitler had a bad childhood. What difference does it make? No amount of conciliation, education, negotiation, or whathaveyou could have brought Hitler to embrace the right values. Why do we think that Ahmadinejad, Nasralah, Meshal, … are any different?

News flash! They do not share our values, they do not share our goals, they never will. They want us dead or subjugated. They do not want to live among us, they regard our lifestyles as immoral. This is a clash of values a clash of civilizations.

So why are we bending over backwards to accommodate them and their noxious values? Why are British religious authorities bowing to Islamic religious law? Why are tens of thousands of militants allowed to collect welfare in Britain and in Europe? Why did Denmark compromise free speech by dignifying Moslem intolerance of cartoons they find offensive? Tolerance does not require us to tolerate intolerance. The liberals seem to be more afraid of precipitating self-guilt than of sacrificing principle. Europe is in serious danger of imploding in a surrender of liberal values. We are not far behind.

This is all shrouded in illusion - lack of clarity. Groupthink has run amuck. We have lost an understanding of and a commitment to western civic virtues. This loss will be debilitating in our attempt to limit the size of the state and preserve prosperity and in our ability to defend against the insidious destruction of our culture not only from outside but also from within. Just because you are paranoid does not mean they aren't out to get you.

The momentum is formidable. I have no illusions that I or even those more eloquent and visible than I can make any real difference. But you are entitled to ask what I propose. With regard to X, the solution is simple – a return to a commitment to a much smaller government. Reduce the role of government. It can't happen overnight. But if the current infatuation runs its course and culminates in a collective disillusionment with government solutions maybe we will get another round of Reaganomics. Who knows?

What about Y? Well we ought to be able to recognize evil when we see it and not tolerate it. Freedom of speech means we ought to be able to call it. Lets stop pretending that Islam has nothing to explain. I am not suggesting government actions. I am suggesting a public awakening, which will have to be reflected in a wising up of the media. The mainstream media is either shrill right-wing shriek or nauseating left-wing soft peddling. Clarity of vision is what we want. If something threatens to compromise liberty, lets say so loud and clear. There are people who wish us harm not because of what we have done, are doing or will do. Reforming our ways will not redeem us in their eyes. Nor will it change them. They wish us harm simply because of who we are. We better understand that.

No comments: