The Book!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Supposed Evil of Individualism

One more example of the way so many people get things exactly reversed: a friend feels guilty for nursing urged for freedom from community, and supposes such urges are immoral. He writes:

     
I don’t think it came from my church or my religious faith. If anything, they taught me to value community.
      An oft-told sermon illustration says that a fire burns hot while its embers are gathered together. Remove any single ember from that fire, and that ember soon grows cold and lifeless.
      The same applies to human interaction. I have been known to argue that a truly isolated individual can never be fully human. Our relationships make us who we are.

The error of thinking that communitarianism is more moral than individualism is an old one, as well as a very common one among the modern left: many of the ancient Greeks, including Plato, thought disciplined Sparta was somehow more moral than individualistic Athens on this basis.

But they were, and are, wrong.

In the gospel, it is pretty plain that Jesus took pains to cut all conventional tendrils of community. He did not marry. He rejected allegiance to family (“What have I to do with you, woman?”) and demanded that any true follower do the same (“Let the dead bury their own dead.” “Whoever does not despise his own father and mother for my sake is not worthy of me.”) He apparently rejected ties of nationality, speaking openly to Samaritans, praising Samaritans and Roman soldiers; and this stance was affirmed by the early church (“neither Jew nor Greek in Christ”). Given that, as an itinerant teacher and preacher, his occupation was “Pharisee,” he obviously felt no strong allegiance to his class or trade (“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees!”).

In this “rugged individualism,” he stands, of course, directly in the tradition of the prophets, who almost to a man left their settled communities and lived a life of wandering, often in the desert. Truly isolated individuals.

So it would seem that Christianity and Judaism (not to mention Buddhism) are clearly on the side of individualism being more moral than life in community. Not all communities, clearly, are equally bad—the church, too, is a community—but the need to reject community seems to be prior in all of this. A principled, strict, individualism comes first, and then voluntary communities can be formed by a conscious contract among individuals retaining their inherent individual rights.

The lesson of history agrees. The idea that community comes first was, as the names imply, the core ideal of both Fascism and Communism, not to mention the Cosa Nostra and the Ku Klux Klan. The greatest crimes of mankind have always been in the name of community and communitarianism.

The problem is that community--”peer pressure”--subverts conscience and free will. “Following community values” can be a great excuse for doing deeds that, if we accepted individual responsibility, would seem plainly immoral.

Every tie that binds us closer to the other members of a given group, after all, automatically and equally also loosens our bonds to all the members of humanity who do not belong to that group.

We will not be saved because we belonged to the right club.

Sparta is long gone, and there are few traces remaining. Fascism, too, is gone, and the old Soviet empire. Freewheeling, trading, Athens went on to found Western Civilization, and is still there, thriving.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Muslim Oppression of Men?

It is a fascinating truth that people don't tend to get things a little wrong; more often, when they are wrong, they believe or assert close to the perfect opposite of the truth.

This suggests to me that many people—it seems to be most people--are not honestly mistaken about things, but in full and conscious flight from truth.

One example is the common claim that Muslim women are oppressed by wearing the burkha.

Arab colour symbolism happened to come up in a class today. The students noted that, in the Arab world, black is the colour of kingship, as purple would be in Northern Europe. My Palestinian Arab officemate confirms the association.

Black; like every burkha.

So, to make the point clear: every Arab woman has the right to wear black. But only one man in any country has the same right: the king. Every woman dresses as a queen.

Arab women also have the right to cover their faces. Men may not; for a man, to do so would be a crime. Now, in Arab/Muslim culture, who else is conventionally shown with their face covered? God, and God's prophets.

Not exactly slumming it here, girls, are we?

Yes, women are, for the sake of modesty, expected to cover their hair, and their legs and arms—voluntarily, everywhere except some parts of Saudi Arabia and Iran, but there is some social pressure. But then, so are men.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Operation Odyssey Dawn

Who's definitely engaged: Spain, Norway, Belgium, France, Italy, USA, Canada, Denmark. Four Qatari Mirages have engaged.

This information is probably incomplete, but I do not want to include any phantom aircraft--only definite participants, planes known to have already flown.

Canada: 6 F-18s
US: 12 F-16s, 10 F-15s, 3 B-2s, Tomahawks, cruise missiles
Denmark: 6 F-16s
Spain: 4 F-18s, 1 B707
France: 8 Rafales, 4 Mirage 2000s
Britain: ? Tornados, 10 Typhoons, Tomahawks
Italy: 4 F-16s, 6 Tornados, 4 Typhoons
Norway: 6 F-16s
Qatar: 4 Mirage 2000s
Norway: 6 F-16s

Monday, March 07, 2011

Why Ghaddafi Can't Win

All the talk about 'humanitarian concerns” and “holding the Libyan government to account” is mostly jive. A lot more killing in Subsaharan Africa would never have raised such outrage among Western governments. The difference is that 1) Libya has a lot of oil that is very convenient to European markets, and 2) if Libya creates an ongoing refugee crisis, it will be European countries to which people will flock for asylum.

This being so, Europe cannot let the current fighting carry on for much longer. But it is far from a matter of indifference which way the battle goes. Ghaddafi has been about the worst possible customer for Europe to try to deal with—he was until recently an active participant in state terrorism. That's not just the Lockerbie bombing; he was also reputedly the primary funder of the IRA and the ETA for many years. So the powers of Europe would be delighted to be rid of him, and almost any other likely government would be preferable in their eyes, though no doubt they fear the “Islamist” option.

Moreover, several Western governments have been imprudent enough to already call for Ghaddafi's resignation, and indeed prosecution for war crimes. If we wins now, he is entirely likely, given his history, to bear a grudge, and to act on it. And, sitting on all that oil, he could.

So the governments of Europe simply cannot afford to let Ghaddafi win. If he looks like winning, they will necessarily intervene. The prospect is also attractive for the possibility of influencing the makeup and possible policies of a future Libyan government, and for establishing a case for a quid pro quo in future. The only reason they are not already on the ground is the sense that the rebels and their provisional government does not want them.

If the provisional government begins to lose, they will. They will get help more or less the instant it is clear they want it.

Can the Europeans, as a practical matter, make a difference? Sure they can. While on paper Ghaddafi might seem to command a large and well-equipped force, events to date have proven this is not so. Small, disorganized bands of untrained amateurs carrying little more than rifles have defeated them repeatedly. A no-fly zone might easily be enough to turn the tide; so, it looks, would a well-equipped and trained ground force of only a few thousand men.

Britain has already shown itself embarrassingly eager to get involved. they have announced the 600-man Black Watch is on 24-hour standby for deployment to Libya. So it seems likely they could scramble 1,000 if needed, and promptly; the distances here are not great. If Britain can send a thousand, and seems ready to, France would probably want to send an equivalent, if not indeed a greater force—France puts great store on its relations with the Arab world, with which it has a great deal of history. Germany can probably muster a similar number, now that it is past its taboo on military ops; and memories of the glory days of the Afrika Corps, on this same ground, may make the move temptingly popular with their voters and their officers. Italy is not often a big participant in such things, but Libya is a special case for them. As the former colonial power, their interests there, not to mention their dependence on Libyan oil, are massive. Throw in a thousand soldiers each, and you have a core European force of 4,000, probably enough already to carry the day—not just through fighting, but in training and arming the many eager local volunteers. Of course, other European nations will probably feel under some obligation to chip in—perhaps another 2000 combined? Spain, for example, might feel some romantic urge to get back into the lands of the Moors for a while, not to mention possible grudges over ETA. That's 6,000.

Now there's America. It's busy in Afghanistan now, but would not want to be entirely left out. Surely they can pull in 2,000 troops on short notice—8,000.

At that point, the likely umbrella becomes NATO, rather than the EU. And NATO includes Turkey. Turkey has a large and powerful military, and Turkey, also a former colonial power, also has vast interests in Libya. Turkey also has interests in impressing the Europeans, in hopes of achieving membership in the EU, and in impressing the revolting Arabs, in hopes of becoming the established model and centre of the current apparent Arab move to representative democracy. I expect they'd be eager to sent 2,000 troops if they were welcome. NATO would have good reason to welcome them—prevents the force from looking too distinctly Christian. Ten thousand.

Egypt also has a large and wealthy military. They are in a sense rather busy now, but not at military operations. Libya is only next door for them. As a matter of prestige, it would be awkward to be left out; they have every reason to hate Ghaddafi; they have every hope to also become a model for the Arab democratic movement; the participation would cost them relatively little, Libya being so close and over land; the enterprise looks safe, and like good training. A great opportunity to collect some fast prestige and popular support for the new government. Sounds like another two thousand would be reasonable. Twelve thousand. Not NATO, but the thing could be billed as a joint NATO-Egyptian enterprise.

A few others might be heard from: Canada hates to be left out, and would probably send a few. Australia would also feel some popular nostalgia for the days of the Desert Rats and the Siege of Tobruk. Other countries are likely to lobby to participate in small ways, as usually happens, in order to build up some credit with either the EU or US or both, and in order to give their military some combat training.

But we're already well above the number that is ever likely to be needed in order to drive Ghaddafi out.