Friday, July 28, 2006

Bush/Blair Press Conference: Piled Higher and Deeper

Bush Sees a Chance for Change to Sweep Mideast - New York Times:
President Bush, vowing to turn conflict in the Middle East into a %u201Cmoment of opportunity%u201D for broader change, said today that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would be dispatched to the region on Saturday with a plan for a multinational force that would help Lebanon%u2019s army take over from Hezbollah in the southern part of the country.

War brings out the worst in me, and probably everyone else. I've been following the events in the Middle East and in my gut I hope that Israel beats the crap out of Hezbollah, destroys Hamas and levels the surrounding territory. This is the Clash of Civilizations--not a war of Jewish Zionist and Christian Crusaders against Muslims, but the war of Modernity against Barbarism.

Religion isn't the issue even if Islam fuels the conflict. Other barbarians recognize that their cultures are inferior and quest after Modernity. They just want in. But for some (not all, and probably not most) Muslims, Islam provides an ideology that promotes cultural pride and provides justification for those who, because they cannot join us, want to beat us.

But we brought this on ourselves because we locked them out. Palestinians, living in stinking mud brick refugee camps could look over the border and see the settlers who forced them out living in American-style suburbs. Israelis congratulated themselves for creating passageways in the Wall they were building so that Arab peasants could haul their olives on donkey-back along dirt roads--while they commuted on paved highways. Even the Palestinians and other Third World people who couldn't look over the border could see the life we lived on TV--and recognize that they were locked out.

No one knows what to say about 'those counterfactuals.' If they could get in, and not merely as colonized people or as second-class citizens, but enter our culture wholly, as equals and full members--would they? Or would they prefer to preserve their tribal, misogynist, barbaric cultures, live in hovels, haggle in bazaars and haul their produce to market on pack animals? I can make an educated guess.

It's a moral dilemma. This isn't a war against terrorism or, as Bush asserted over and over, a war for "freedom" and "democracy.' It isn't at bottom a war about ideology--not for the masses, who don't know anything beyond plowing the fields, herding goats and cooking cous cous, and simply see it as our tribe beating up their tribe because that's what tribes do. It's about a way of life. And the West must win--to send the message that traditional cultures will inevitably be crushed and modernity will prevail.

But the damage is horrific and the sheer injustice of it is intolerable. We locked them out, by commission and omission. A fraction of the money going into this war, and an approaching infinitesimal fraction of what has gone into all these wars, could have provided the education, medical care and basic social services Islamicist groups provide for their constituencies. If we weren't intent on shoring up the regimes corrupt dictators and pashas who kept their people ignorant and poor to stay in power and enrich themselves, we could have rebuilt the entire place.

There was a feature on TV last night about rebuilding New Orleans, where some of the worst slums and old-style housing projects were leveled by Katrina showing pictures of some of the beautifully designed mixed-income housing that was being built to replace them, to house the people who lived in those slums affordably. Compared to the price of war, the cost of such urban renewal projects is negligible. Bush talked about rebuilding Lebanon, but will he? Will we do anything comparable to what's being started in New Orleans? I'd like to see that happen, but I'm deeply skeptical about whether it will. Even if we've got the idea that poor Americans would prefer living in pretty townhouses, with central air conditioning, modern appliances and manicured lawns to human storage facilities, we resist the idea that poor Arabs would rather not live in mud-brick hovels with their goats and chickens.


Sanpete said...

My gut is different from yours. It's hard for me to root for the Israelis in this fight. Less than 60 years ago they essentially stole or were complicit in the theft of most of the land they live on, and only the unreasonable and unwise support of the US from the start has enabled them to get away with it. The creation of Israel was one of the most boneheaded acts of the 20th century, born in part of blind idealism and in part of cultural ignorance and arrogance of the kind that is still strong in the West, even among many so-called liberals, especially since September 11th, 2001. I find it hard to root against the victims and their supporters in this for fighting with the only tools we have allowed them. Especially when they do far, far less damage than the "civilized" Israelis.

Just because two civilizations are involved doesn't make this a war of civilizations. This isn't primarily a war over cultural differences, and its outcome is unlikely to greatly change the course of cultures in the world. (Markets will drive culture regardless.) This fight is about an especially sad and ironic injustice inflicted by the victims of the Holocaust on others as soon as they had the chance to do it, all the while pretending that they weren't doing what they were doing. They are indeed more refined in their morality, to our Western tastes, but they can afford to be. They have almost all the power. Before they got that power, they had their own terrorists of the type we in the West can easily recognize as such, whose acts were decisive in the formation of Israel. The long-standing policy of collective punishment is a more refined form of terrorism, but just as deadly and corrupt. One's morality concerning war tends to track with the kinds of military options one has available.

I can't tell if you object to the tactics of the enemies of Israel or only the culture you think they're fighting for. You see yourself as a consequentialist, so I would be very interested in knowing whether you see the seemingly more "civilized" tactics of the Israelis as actually better than those of their "barbaric" opponents. Who has killed and maimed many, many more people than the other side? Who has killed and maimed many more noncombatants than the other side? Were these consequences foreseeable, and have they been each time for decades? Which civilization has tolerated and even winked at this and does so even now? I have talked with very sophisticated, thoroughly Western Israelis who would be happy to kill every Arab within 500 miles, if they thought they could get away with it. But they would do it in a civilized, morally justified way, of course. Isn't civilization wonderful?

I agree with your sympathies for the Palestinian plight, as far as they go. There has been more than enough money committed to doing something like what you suggest, but its effects have been ruined by corruption and, especially, Israeli bombs. The context of this occupation doesn't allow great progress.

I doubt your position is any different from Bush's when it comes to cultural supremacist ideals, which I find very disturbing. Bush is just bright enough not to say these things the way you do, but it seems you two would get along just fine discussing the many ways we're better than those "dark" cultures and our duty to fix that, even by force. How is your feeling different than that which a racist has for disfavored races? Just that you're right and the racist wrong? I'm sure the racist could match you for certainty and "evidence." Does the fact that one can change culture but not race really justify hatred and prejudice of very much the same flavor in the one case but not the other? Or are you "hating the culture, not the people"? Hard to tell the difference by what you say. It's very disturbing, to me.

H. E. said...

My issue isn't the tactics but the culture. There is no human or civilized war and the Israelis are every bit as brutal as Hezbollah and probably more since they have more manpower and more effective technology.

I don't agree with Bush because I don't see any value in "freedom" as he understands it, i.e. laissez faire capitalism and don't see much value in democracy in circumstances where a population of ignorant tribalists vote in demogagues. The issue is culture, culture, culture.

And I am not a racist because I don't believe that culture is genetically coded. I hate the culture, not the people, and believe the aim should be to liberate people from their brutal, primitive cultures. The first step towards that is to break the back of Islamicism, that encourages cultural pride, and the second and most important step is to let them into our culture, to make Westernization a real possibility.

The only decent country in the Muslim world is Turkey, because Ataturk, whom I admire, set out to dismantle the culture that kept his countrymen down. This was like the much maligned policy of Indian schools in the US that aimed to "kill the Indian to save the man."

Sanpete said...

What I think you and Bush agree about is cultural supremacism. But no matter whether he would really agree with you. You believe in it. I don't say this makes you a racist; rather it is disturbingly like racism, only it's about culture instead of race. The sameness includes the feelings of hate, disdain, disgust, the arrogance, ignorance, prejudice and so on that we're familiar with from racism. It seems just as troublesome and dangerous to me.

Hating the culture but not the people is even trickier than "hating the sin but not the sinner." People must try to do it where sin is concerned, I suppose, but it's not entirely possible even there. One problem with trying it with culture, even more than with sin, is that culture is very much a part of who people are, even you. To hate your culture is to hate a great deal about you. Without culture you'd be more like a horse than the person you are. Well, you probably wouldn't be at all, as humans can't thrive without culture.

Another problem is that hating a culture seems to go far beyond the mark. A culture is a vast conglomeration, and there are only particular things about it you have reason to object to. Going too far that way has practical consequences.

It is incongruous to see a cultural supremacist complain about cultural pride. What of cultural arrogance? History is seldom kind to that kind of pride. It almost always leads to great mistakes.

Such as the Indian schools, which were more successful at killing the Indian than saving the man. The system was cruel, arrogant, dehumanizing, and contributed to the degradation of Indian culture and Indians. How things are done matters, and motivation affects how things are done. Your talk about wiping out Islamists, breaking the back of Islamicism and so on seems no better considered to me than the Indian schools were, and seems similarly motivated. So far such policies have been no more successful than the Indian schools.

To think that Turkey is the only decent country in the Muslim world is to care only about a very narrow range of things.

We would have a hard time keeping Islamic culture from becoming Westernized. Our clumsy military efforts are more likely to interfere than to help.

H. E. said...

Of course I'm a cultural supremcist--I thought I'd made that abundantly clear. Except I think that the supreme culture is the generic culture of "Old Europe" that has its roots in the Enlightenment, of which American culture is a defective example.

Of course it's reasonable to have pride in one's culture if it's a culture to be proud of--but not if it isn't. I'm proud of my virtues, but not my vices. I'm proud that I have a PhD--it's a good thing and I worked hard for it; I'm not proud of being a smoker, and I'm trying mightily to quit. You aren't doing anything for people who belong to inferior cultures by encouraging cultural pride any more than you would be doing something good for me by telling me to accept myself as a smoker and take pride in it.

And, of course, Westernization is inevitable--in the long run when we're all dead. It's radical Islamicists and corrupt, reactionary regimes, including those of some of America's "friends" in the Middle East, who are trying to stop it.

Sanpete said...

My point isn't that you're a cultural supremacist, which you have made abundantly clear. My point is that cultural supremacism is bad for most of the same reasons racial supremacism is, that it has very much the same odors and dangers.

Is there some non-defective actual example of culture you could point to?

Being proud of one's defective culture no more entails being proud of its bad points than your being proud to be "enlightened" entails pride in the mass slaughter of noncombatants in the many, many wars between the enlightened. The way you treat Islam is analogous to hating you and wanting to break you because you smoke. (Good luck with the quitting--I understand it can be hellish.)

In the long run when we're all dead may be the fastest run you'll be able to have for changing the world. Our bloody efforts have quite possibly slowed down the process and made things worse.

Boofykatz said...

Sanpete, you are wrong. HE is right. What is relevant is the good in the present, not the bad in the past. Anyone who appeals to the distant (more than a few years) past for moral justification is an arse. Deal with what is, not what 'should' be.

Sanpete said...

Boofy, I'm not sure what you're talking about. Maybe my reference to the history of modern Israel? I'm not sure HE and I disagree so much about that; it wasn't what we were arguing about. How far back should be considered still morally relevant is a difficult question, but very few would agree with you that a few years is enough, at least in the most important cases. There is no statute of limitations on murder, for example, and in determining ownership of land and other valuable things facts far older than 60 years are often considered highly relevant. From an Israeli perspective, the Holocaust is still regarded as highly morally relevant today, its perpetrators still pursued, its wrongs still viewed as requiring righting, and it is still treated as part of the present moral case for the existence of Israel. There is a glaring double standard when it comes to the way the "facts on the ground" argument is applied in Israel.

If you read past the first paragraph of my reply to HE you'll see that I also talk about more recent and current events, and HE appears to have no beef with me about that either. The main issue between us here is how we regard culture in general and Islamic, Arab and related cultures in particular. It appears that she takes the bad points of those cultures as reasons to hate and fight against them entire, or at least very broadly, whereas I think it more sensible and productive to oppose only their bad points, as we do with our own culture. It also seems to me she doesn't mind indulging the same kinds of feelings and attitudes about these and other cultures that one would associate with racism, except that culture rather than race is being singled out. I believe this is just as wrongheaded, counterproductive and dangerous in the context of culture as in that of race.