"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Conservative Dilemma

In a letter to interested parties, the writer and attorney Spencer Warren sent us the following interesting exchange from Lawrence Auster's View from the Right blog, in which the anti-Iraq War advocate Auster and a correspondent argue against what Warren correctly calls "the PC mantra that all societies and cultures are equal":

VFR reader Barbara Gilbert, R.N., brings up another Muslim custom that shows the utter incompatibility between democracy and Islam:

There are more, much more, painful questions than polygamy about Muslims' culture and traditions. As a nurse, I feel it is important that people demand that women's rights everywhere must be extended to include protection from the common brutal Muslim practice of female genital mutilation. The simplest form involves only circumcision, but it can extend to horrible acts of mutilation, and even result in death. For in depth descriptions, I refer you to this article at wikipedia.

It is the act of savage barbarians. It is butchery. How can anyone believe that Muslim men will ever respect women or women's rights in a democratic society when they are permitted to commit this heinous act?

I wonder if Mr. Bush or Ms. Rice is aware of the practice?

My reply:

The key point you're making is, given the prevalence of these practices (not just in black Africa and Muslim Africa including Egypt, but in the Muslim Near East as well including Iraq), sexual inequality is profoundly—to a degree inconceivable to us—built into these societies. Therefore, if women's equality is, as President Bush says, a "non-negotiable" feature of democracy, then on that basis alone these societies can never have democracy.

Of course, you're making a different argument. You’re saying that FGM must be rooted out, both to end this horror in itself, and also to further the conditions for male respect for women and thus the possibility of women's rights. I'm all for people working to bring this monstrous evil to an end. But right now, and for hundreds of years past, it exists. And changing the deep-seated customs of a people is extremely difficult or even impossible short of totalitarian measures. For Bush and his supporters to think that peoples who believe in such things and practice them are essentially like us and that, above all else, they desire individual freedom (if only someone will deliver it to them), is the wildest fantasy.

Barbara Gilbert:

Quite correct. And having been brought here by immigrants, it is being practiced in this country to a greater degree than is realized. While working in ER departments and on an paramedic team, I witnessed other practices of that culture. Women are "attended" by several men when brought to an emergency facility, for instance, and not allowed a private examination by a physician. It is my personal belief that the men do not wish to have the secret revealed.

While it is openly practiced and acknowledged in many countries in Africa, the Arab nationals take great pains to hide it. It is being discovered in the emergency rooms and private offices of physicians who are sought out secretly. Individual freedom? For an Arab woman? Ridiculous!

They are so different from us that they will never integrate into our society because of cultural, religious or political differences. Their customs and traditions eliminate the very concept of democracy. I consider the Muslim women who immigrate as imported chattel. Not only will they never practice democracy in their own countries, they cannot practice it in ours.

Auster and Gilbert make an important point about the persistence of cultural habits. However, what Auster fails to consider here is the multitude of effects of something in which he strongly professes belief in cases other than arguments about the War in Iraq and immigration of Muslims and other non-Westerners into the United States: the common characteristics that all people share as a result of human nature.

It is these characteristics that the Bush administration means to depend on in liberating Iraq, and which are essential to any strategy of assimilating immigrants into American society. The administration and its friends may well be wrong to believe such a liberation of these persons' inner nature possible, but the arguments that Auster and his followers make regarding human nature certainly lend support to a classical liberal view of human possibilities.

I think that the interaction between human nature and human culture is more complex,variable, and fungible than either Auster or his enemies on the left tends to think. An acknowledgment of this truth is central to the classical liberal position.

After citing Auster's blog entry, Warren then adds some insightful comments of his own:

In addition to the above, there have been several press reports in London newspapers about the Muslim practice of revenge killings of Muslim women in Great Britain by their husbands or fathers if they are believed to have violated some Muslim "law." The British police try to cover up the religious nature of these murders because they contradict the PC mantra of multicultural equality.

Consider that PC mantra in light of these two examples, plus the evil Muslim attitude toward dogs, discussed previously.

The foregoing prompts thoughts about PC and History, and about Radical Equality and Our Cultural Crisis.

Please again consider the countless examples of systematic atrocities by Japanese armed forces in WWII, for which Japan to this day has refused to apologize. Three I omitted last time are: 1) during the Bataan Death March, in which about 10,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners were murdered, one U.S. soldier was crucified with nails; 2) according to the book Flags of Our Fathers, by the son of one of the men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima in the famous photo, when one of those men was found killed on Iwo, after having been taken prisoner by the enemy, a certain organ of his body had been cut off by the enemy and placed in his mouth -- this is how his body was found; and 3) also according to that book, the Japanese made a regular practice in combat of first shooting our medics, who under the Geneva Convention were supposed to be spared in battle because they bore the Red Cross.

We are reminded of the relevance of this history to current debates by the NY Times review of the new film The Great Raid, about the 1945 liberation of a prison camp holding survivors of the Bataan Death March. The critic, Stephen Holden, complained that the film would revive wartime "stereotypes" of treacherous "Japs." Well, in light of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor (as the enemy sailed into position for the attack, remember, two Japanese diplomats were in Washington to negotiate a peaceful settlement of differences), as well as the systematic atrocities detailed above and in my last comment, how else should they be described? Americans of that perilous time did not view events from the critic's luxurious perch.

Holden, a typical left/radical liberal working at the beacon of that faith, essentially is denying historical fact in order to promote the PC mantra that all societies and cultures are equal. Either drag us down to the enemy's level, or deny the enemy was any different from us. Deny our identity in order to eliminate differences from alien Enemies. Either way he is lying about the past. In 1984 George Orwell wrote that he who has the past has the future. That is why leftists are always attacking our history and rewriting the past. Remember the controversy about ten years ago concerning the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum's exhibit of part of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb? The exhibit was filled with so many falsifications that protests forced it to be withdrawn and replaced with a simple, non-political description of the aircraft and crew. In the case of the NY Times movie review and the Enola Gay exhibit, the PC mantra of equality and abolishing differences went so far as to embrace our enemy in WWII!

The movie review and cancelled exhibition are two of countless examples of the insidious growth of what I call "soft" totalitarianism in our country -- falsifying facts and history, distorting human nature and traditions, to advance radical egalitarianism. (This is not the American tradition of equality of all individuals before the law, but of the absolute equality of result, custom and historical tradition, including absolute equality of every society and culture on Earth -- and the elimination of any differences dividing peoples.) Since such extreme equality that abolishes difference is not the natural order, state power, media power, or other power must be employed to coerce thinking in the "progressive" direction. After all, the goal of totally erasing all differences is so "moral", are not any means therefore justified to advance such an end?

In this respect, the NY Times movie review and the cancelled exhibition are illustrations -- minor, but noteworthy -- of communistic thinking. Note the word -- communistic -- an adjective. The drive toward coerced absolute equality has been the radical project for more than 200 years, since the French Revolution. It failed economically in the communist world (where the State waged a massive war on human nature and society) and led to its implosion and collapse. But a similar way of thinking and emotional/"moral" impulse is driving the PC movement in the West to remake our culture and society. State power is not being employed remotely on the scale of a communist dictatorship, but the way in which the courts are usurping legislative authority is also tyrannical (e.g. imposing homosexual "marriage"). And that State/judicial power is being supplemented by the left/liberal media and other private institutions. That is why Political Correctness is more correctly termed Cultural Marxism.

Ironically, this egalitarian view, in the broadest sense, is the premise of Pres. Bush's policy in Iraq -- that societies in that region -- including their religion -- are not so different from ours and can develop into free societies with some help and a good constitution. Time will tell. But the bizarre conjunction of this policy premise with the PC agenda demonstrates the profound contemporary influence of the radical egalitarian ideal.

Warren is perfectly correct to point out that some societies and ways of life are indeed better than others. In addition, he correctly shares Auster's concern about the persistence of cultural habits when Warren criticizes "the premise of Pres. Bush's policy in Iraq -- that societies in that region -- including their religion -- are not so different from ours and can develop into free societies with some help and a good constitution." Warren, however, improves on Auster's argument by acknowledging that the belief in total freedom from restraints of human nature is not a liberal idea but a radical one, and that the idea traces back to the beginnings of what has been commonly called the Enlightenment: "The drive toward coerced absolute equality has been the radical project for more than 200 years, since the French Revolution," Warren writes. (Full disclosure: Warren has borrowed this distinction from my article "The Origin of Modernity," published in the Summer 2005 issue of The National Interest.)

In arguing, from conservative premises, against Western projects of nation-building in the "developing world," conservatives such as Auster and Warren (and Buchanan, etc.) face a huge dilemma: their belief in a common human nature (though one that certainly permits a wide variety of human customs and organizing beliefs) is a strong argument against radicalism of the left, but it is not useful in refuting the logic of projects based on a belief in a common human nature, as Bush's nation-building action in Iraq most certainly is. From a classical liberal point of view (which is one that accepts the belief in human nature), it appears that antiwar conservatives would make much more headway by two means:

1. Accept the idea that the Bush administration is reasoning from what conservatives believe to be a valid premise (that all human beings share commonalities through what is called human nature) when the administration argues that the people of Iraq have the potential to live democratically. (By the way and to make it perfectly clear, I personally consider the commonalities of human nature to a rock-solid truth based on science, strongly confirmed by modern insights in sociobiology.)

2. Argue that the mission the administration has set itself conflicts with human nature, specifically the persistence of cultural notions that, however perversely, accomplish certain things necessary to human existence (such as the need for physical and emotional security, etc.).

I would be very interested in any such arguments.

15 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"argue against what Warren correctly calls "the PC mantra that all societies and cultures are equal""

That is NOT a PC mantra. What that is is the most fundamental lesson of anthropology. Political Correctness has nothing to do with it.

James Elliott said...

Equality in the sense that Warren is speaking of above is a value judgment made from his own cultural perspective. Now, there isn't anything per se wrong with that. People do it all the time. The part of multiculturalism that most people find difficult is that it requires us to realize that we are evaluating others from our own cultural perspective which is no more "normative" than that of the person we are evaluating. That is to say, "normal" is in the eye of the beholder.

It is important to note that revenge killings, the oppression of women, and genital mutilation are facets of a number of different cultures and are not limited to Muslims (whose religion was profoundly influenced by the good and bad facets of Arab and Bedouin culture). For example, the Indian tradition of suttee--setting a widow or accused adultress on fire--is still practiced by the Hindus and Muslims of that country despite the government's attempts to root it out. Until the modern age, women were heavily oppressed, including physical and mutilative abuse, in Western Europe. The oppression of women in Western culture continues, though it is certainly much less obvious and institutionally abusive than it was.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

Don't forget the genital mutilation of males. Think there's a medical basis for circumcision? Think again.

Hunter Baker said...

T-man, this is another one of those self-evident truths (but don't perseverate on that). Some societies are clearly better than others. Based on your many, many comments and objections, it is clear you have an idea in your mind of what a better society would look like relative to what we have now.

Tlaloc said...

"T-man, this is another one of those self-evident truths (but don't perseverate on that)."

Hunter "self evident truth" is a euphemism for "it's not true but I chose to believe it anyway."


"Some societies are clearly better than others."

By all means explain this clesr deliniation of societal worth.



"Based on your many, many comments and objections, it is clear you have an idea in your mind of what a better society would look like relative to what we have now."

No no no no no! you aren't paying attention. I have a clear idea of what our society should be doing but I've explicitly said I don't want to force that on anyone else. I can know what's best for our society because I'm part of it but I respect that other cultures will develop societies that are best for them. This is precisely the problem with our war in Iraq we go in full of bluster thinking we'll convert them to our way of life and then stand by shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, when they elect a bunch of Islamic hardliners.

Well duh. What worked for us won't automatically work for them. It's not that arabs are incapable of democracy but that they simply may not give a damn about it. Frankly democracy isn't that great a success over here that they have any reason to be jealous.

James Elliott said...

Hunter, your response is the intellectual equivalent of "I'm rubber, you're glue, so nanny-nanny-boo-boo!"

Usually when people say things are self-evident, it's because they don't have an argument to convince others.

Hunter Baker said...

James, sometimes you can be so recalcitrant I just want to give up on trying to discuss things with you. Your defense mechanism is to attribute bad motives or stupidity to people making an actual point. Unless you think Thomas Jefferson was a moron, then you should reconsider your opinion of self-evident truths and the claim that they exist. Are you Jefferson's clear superior? Was he a caveman compared to James the great?

Hunter Baker said...

I just looked back at my previous post to make certain and it is clear, JFE. You are making nonsensical statements. I clearly offered an argument for Tlaloc to deal with. He did, whether I agree or not that he is right, and the dance continues. No rubber and glue here.

James Elliott said...

See, here, my defense mechanism was a response to your defense mechanism, which is to announce something as "self-evident" and then throw up your hands and walk away without engagement.

I disagree with the idea that anything is self-evident. I'll agree that some are such good ideas that most people would agree with them.

Hunter Baker said...

That's exactly what I didn't do, JFE. Again, read the comment. The part about self-evident truths was throwaway because I know you and Tlaloc don't understand it or believe they are real. The actual engagement was beneath.

Tlaloc said...

"The part about self-evident truths was throwaway because I know you and Tlaloc don't understand it or believe they are real."

Which proves they aren't. A real self evident truth would be seen as true by everyone as everyone has a "self." A disputed statement then can never be a self evident truth.

James Elliott said...

"Some societies are clearly better than others."

This delineation of worth is made from your own cultural perspective. It cannot be a self-evident truth because the denizens of the culture one is judging will feel theirs is the superior one. The judgment of worth is made from a biased evaluation system, predicated on one's own cultural and socio-religious beliefs. Even an attempt at a utilitarian evaluation is doomed to failure due to cultural disparities in perception.

(Full disclosure: I happen to agree that Western European culture, while far from perfect, is one of the better cultures out there; but I'm willing to acknowledge that I make this evaluation on biased grounds. Everyone, including myself, approaches other cultures from a biased place.)

Hunter, you were right. Your statement was not "rubber and glue." It was more like, "I believe what I believe, so there!" Now, there's nothing wrong with that statement, so long as you acknowledge that your evaluations of other cultures come from a biased place.

BamaDoyle said...

Tlaloc,
"A real self evident truth would be seen as true by everyone as everyone has a "self." A disputed statement then can never be a self evident truth."

Are you not positing the non-existence of self-evident truth as a self-evident truth?

I tend towards Lewis's argument here. Some people cannot see the color green, for instance. Do we toss out the concept of "green" simply because they have a flaw that prevents them from seeing green? Again, in some cultures, it is posited that you should love your neighbor. In others, it is ok to eat your neighbor. In that instance, do we reduce both to moral equivalency?

The Liberal Anonymous said...

Nope, you totally misunderstand his point of view. Try again.

Tlaloc said...

"Are you not positing the non-existence of self-evident truth as a self-evident truth?"

No I'm not. If I had I would have just said "It's self evident there are no self evident truths." What I did was to give a (short) argument explaining how a disputed self evident truth is an oxymoron. There is nothing "self evident" about a logical construction.


"I tend towards Lewis's argument here. Some people cannot see the color green, for instance. Do we toss out the concept of "green" simply because they have a flaw that prevents them from seeing green?"

Who said "toss it out"? What I said (adapting it to this analogy) is that because there are people who cannot distinguish the color green the statement "It's self evident that the grass is green" is false. It is obviously not self evident. You could however measure the wavelength of the light reflected by the grass and compare it to a set of commonly agreed upon definitions to say "the grass is green" if you felt the need to prove it.

Again proving is completely different than claiming something is self evident.



"Again, in some cultures, it is posited that you should love your neighbor. In others, it is ok to eat your neighbor. In that instance, do we reduce both to moral equivalency?"

:) Since I do find moral relativism strongly supported by the facts of life I have no problem with that.