Monday, November 07, 2005

The French Revolution, cont.

World history took one of its momentous farks in the road with the American and French Revolutions. While the American Revolution was founded on the principles of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the French version was inspired by a trinity more diabolical in its implications, "equality, fraternity and liberty." In short, while the American revolution emphasized liberty first and foremost, the French revolution gave it third billing behind the all-important "equality."

As the contradictory ideals of liberty vs. equality began to ramify through history, it resulted in the very different nations we see today, for the more liberty a nation has, the less her people will be equal, while the more equality is pursued by state policy, the more freedom will necessarily be attenuated.

The nations of the European Union are, of course, the embodiment of the perennial leftist dream of a cradle-to-grave welfare system. But in order to achieve the goal of radical equality, the Europeans must maintain a confiscatory tax system that radically undermines liberty, since they begin with the assumption that your money does not belong to you, but to the state.

In fact, this flawed understanding of equality is an atavistic and deeply pernicious holdover from our most primitive social arrangements. While it might have made sense in the "archaic environment" of psychobiological evolution in small face-to-face groups, in order for human beings to evolve psychohistorically, it was necessary for them to overcome their "envy barrier," and to tolerate the painful idea that some might possess more than others.

In his classic work, Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour, Helmut Schoeck notes that our most economically misguided ideas stem from the futile attempt to eliminate envy. In order to placate the envious individual, government must intervene with policies that do achieve the desired end of of creating more equality, but at the cost of inefficiency, lack of economic growth, and ultimately far less wealth for everyone. Only by tolerating envy is economic development possible: "the more both private individuals and the custodians of political power in a given society are able to act as though there were no such thing as envy, the greater will be the rate of economic growth and the number of innovations in general." A society is best able to achieve its creative potential if it functions "as if the envious person could be ignored." Likewise, well-meaning leftists who seek the completely "just society" are doomed to failure because they are based on the idea that it is possible to eliminate envy, when human beings inevitably find something new to envy.

Ironically, the pursuit of equality achieves its goal in a perverse sort of way, by dragging everyone down to a lower level of prosperity. The Fall 2005 Claremont Review of Books contains a revelatory article by Gerard Alexander, spelling out some of the dire results of the pursuit of equality. For example, on average, U.S. per capita income is 55% higher than the average of the 15 core countries of the European Union. In fact, the largest E.U. countries "have per capita incomes comparable to America's poorest states." Alexander points out that if France, Italy or the U.K. were somehow admitted to the American union, "any one of them would rank as the 5th poorest of the 50 states, ahead only of West Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Montana." Ireland, which is currently the richest E.U. country, "would be the 13th poorest state, Sweden the 6th poorest.... 40% of all Swedish households would classify as low-income by American standards."

In addition to impeding a nation's wealth-producing capacity, the mindless pursuit of equality results in chronically high unemployment. France has lived with unemployment between 8-12% for some 25 years, and if anything, this underestimates the true figure because of forced early retirement and extensive but futile job-training programs. And there is a disproportionately negative impact on the poorest sectors of society, since a high unemployment rate pushes aside the least skilled workers first.

But "ironically," the sense of entitlement that is nurtured in the entitlement society means that its victims will feel entitled to more entitlements, thus resulting in even worse conditions. This is just part of the underlying dynamic of what we are seeing with the Muslim riots in France. "Buying them off' with yet more social programs will only result in a greater sense of entitlement and more unrest, since, once the spigot of a person's sense of entitlement is opened, it is very hard to shut off. This is partly because our sense of entitlement is rooted in the earliest infantile experience, when we are, for the only time in our lives, actually "entitled" to mother's magical ministering of our every need and whim. The universe revolves around the moment-to-moment needs of the baby, which is as it should be. For a baby.

But for a variety of psychological and cultural reasons, it is possible for human beings to become arrested at the stage of narcissistic entitlement. In 2002, shortly after the attacks of 9-11, I wrote an article on the psychopathology of the Islamic world, entitled, "The Land that Developmental Time Forgot." In it I discussed the psycho-social implications of the pervasive sense of male superiority over women that pervades the Islamic world: "For example, when boys grow up thinking they are superior simply by virtue of 'being' rather than 'doing,' by actually accomplishing anything, it undermines the drive to achieve." I quoted the economist David Landes, who wrote that one "cannot rear young people in such wise that half of them think themselves superior by biology, without dulling ambition and devaluing accomplishment. One cannot [tell boys] they have a golden penis, without reducing their need to learn and do."

And the resultant fragile sense of manhood in the Muslim world feeds directly into the violence of the region, because "violence is the quintessential, testosteronic expression of male entitlement." What we have to imagine is the incredible disorientation these "chosen" men feel, growing up with unrealistically high self-esteem, and believing they are heirs to a superior civilization, but all around being confronted by the social and political disaster that is Islam. Something has gone wrong . . . and someone must pay. Thus the search for scapegoats begins.

I do not know if the young Muslim men of France suffer from the same collective pathology of the peers they left behind, but it would appear so. When you place such an individual in the context of a welfare state that mirrors their grandiose sense of entitlement, then a sort of alchemical explosion takes place: the giant sucking sound you hear in France is unlimited desire meeting unlimited attempts to placate it, with predictable results.

Have you ever seen a baby when it is not getting what it wants? Oh my. It happened just yesterday, when Daddy was ultimately powerless to stop the unseemly emotional outburst that ensued. The same thing will happen in a nation of babies accustomed to an omni-nurturant Mommy who shields them from life's pain and disappointment. If I were to foolishly attempt to inculcate manly virtues such as self-reliance and delayed gratification in the Gagdad boy and tell him to "suck it up," he would take it quite literally and immediately request Mommy. For him it is obviously way too early to "be a man." For France it may be too late.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Jimmy Carter, Failed Human Being

America's worst president and even worse ex-president, Jimmy Carter, was on Larry King last night, hawking his new book in which he aggressively slams the conservative movement in general and the Bush administration in particular. Carter was an awful president but is perhaps an even worse human being. Amazingly, his book attacks the very ideas that rescued us from his disastrous mismanagement of the country, a mismanagement that we will likely pay for with blood and treasure for the rest of our lives. And yet, the liberal media treat Carter with a sort of respect and veneration usually reserved for a pope or Dalai Lama (unless it is a conservative pope).

Consider what Carter’s policies did to the economy. At the time he left office, annual growth rates were roughly half of what they had been in the 1960’s. Inflation was at a staggering 13.3% in 1979, while mortgage rates had climbed to 20%. Unemployment had reached almost 8% in 1980, and the crime rate had increased 50% during the 1970’s. And yet, Carter famously blamed the nation's ills on our own selfishness, on a “moral problem” afflicting Americans, adding that we would just have to get used to the idea of a permanently lowered standard of living in the future. By the time he left office his approval rating was at 25%, lower than Nixon on the eve of his resignation. One can only wonder what, in the small reptilian brain of Larry King, disqualifies one from offering economic advice on national TV, and harshly criticizing a president presiding over an economy with better than average growth and historically low levels of inflation, interest rates and unemployment.

Carter’s abetting of the fall of the Shah of Iran represented the singular achievement of the Islamic terrorists we are fighting today. Carter didn’t lift a finger to assist the Shah, whom he considered a violator of human rights. And yet, the Khomeini regime murdered more people in its first year than the Shah’s secret service allegedly had in the previous twenty five (and don’t forget, the Shah was dealing with people like Khomeini; how we could benefit from his likes today).

Carter was openly ashamed of American history, even recently arguing that the Revolutionary War was unnecessary. To this day he proudly insists that he was the first American president in 50 years to avoid sending troops into combat, which is why he calls the failed effort to rescue the Iranian hostages a “humanitarian mission.” He said that our ownership of the Panama Canal “exemplified morally questionable aspects of past American foreign policy” for which we must humbly apologize, and named an ambassador to the U.N., Andrew Young, who deserves his own ignominious post.

Before being named ambassador, Young defended the Black Panthers, arguing that it may take the destruction of Western Civilization to achieve racial harmony in the world, and that perhaps God had ordained the Panthers to “destroy the whole thing.” As he disembarked the plane on his first official trip to Africa he raised a clenched fist in the air and gave the “black power” salute, and maintained that Cuban troops in Africa was a good idea because Cuba opposed racism because of its “shared sense of colonial oppression and domination.” Britain, on the other hand, “almost invented racism.” He defended the Soviet Union’s trial of dissident Anatoly Scharansky by suggesting that in America there were hundreds, if not thousands of political prisoners. And yet, Carter defended Young as “the best man I have ever known in public life.” But John Bolton is a controversial ambassador to the U.N.

Carter not only stood by idly as Islamic terrorists gained their first nation state in Iran, but openly rooted for the communist takeover of Nicaragua. Later, in the run-up to the first Gulf War, he wrote to members of the UN Security Council and even spoke privately to Arab leaders to encourage them to pull out of the coalition and block what President Bush was trying to do. He denied that Korea was an “outlaw nation,” and after one visit there said he admired the “reverence with which [North Koreans] look upon their leader.” He praised Syrian dictator Hafez Assad, and was personally responsible for elevating the status of Yasser Arafat from a genocidal terrorist thug to a respected world leader. How fitting that they are both Nobel laureates, while the man who replaced Carter and began the slow process of rescuing us from his follies is held in utter contempt by liberal elites both here and abroad.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Democratic Hall of Shamelessness

If I weren’t too busy to blog today, I’d probably want to say something about the grim figure of Charles Schumer, whose crass politicization of the death of Rosa Parks is not just an insult to her memory, but offensive to blacks in particular and Americans in general. Amazingly, liberal elites who are outraged by the banal observations of a William Bennett not only let Schumer’s comments slide, but report them without irony as promoting the cause of blacks and civil rights.

I'm too busy at the moment to track down the exact quote, but Schumer used the occasion of Rosa Parks' funeral yesterday to argue that Justice Alito will use his position on the bench to roll back the achievements of Rosa Parks. Unlike Rosa Parks, he will use his "seat" do do evil.

Those words can only be interpreted in one of two ways. Either Joseph Alito and all of the conservatives who support him are vicious racists who wish to turn back the clock and reinstate government-enforced racism, or else Rosa Parks is personally responsible for a plethora of ill-conceived liberal legislation that has had disastrous consequences for generations of black Americans.

If the first is true, then Joseph Alito needs to be run out of Washington on a rail. If the second is true, then Rosa Parks doesn’t deserve a state funeral so much as consignment to an ignominious grave, along with all of the dysfunctional leftist ideas and policies that she supposedly inspired.

Of course, neither of these are true. Democrats don’t really have ideas, but a sort of post-literate iconography, and Parks is one of those icons that substitute for thought. Schumer is simply stealing the quiet symbolism of this dignified woman’s actions in order to cynically exploit them for political gain. More importantly, he is actually undoing Ms. Park's legacy and shoving her again to the back of the bus, declaring to the world that blacks are like helpless children who can get nowhere in life without white liberals like Schumer driving the bus for them.

In the bizarro world of the left, those who believe that blacks are no different than any other race and are fully capable of rising to the level of their merits, are the racists. This makes no sense, for in the Republican party, blacks such as Condi Rice and Clarence Thomas actually get to drive the bus. Liberals despise them for that, for it is a reminder that it is possible to learn how to drive without their help. But who in their right mind would get onto a bus with Al Sharpton, Cynthia McKinney or Maxine Waters behind the wheel, anyway? If Rosa Parks is responsible for Al Sharpton, she has a lot to atone for.

Ironically, Ms. Parks’ right to sit anywhere she pleased on that bus was not granted or invented by a liberal judge, but was self-evidently present in any strict constructionist view of the constitution. And of course, it was overwhelmingly activist Democrats who presided over Jim Crow, and found abundant justification of their racist views in the constitution. The illiberal interpreters of the constitution had to be defeated then, just as they must be defeated now.

The Schumers of the world also forget that Ms. Parks simple action of saying “no,” of staying put, was an implicit tribute to America, just as Mahatma Gandhi’s success in liberating India was a tribute to the British. For if Rosa Parks had tried the same thing in the Soviet Union or Castro’s Cuba (revered by Al Sharpton and so many others on the left), she would have simply disappeared, both literally and figuratively. That is, she would have vanished from the earth before she could have ever entered the pages of history, just as Gandhi would have been an anonymous statistic had he attempted the tactic of passive resistance against nazi Germany or fascist Japan (not to mention the Islamists who terrorize India today). Gandhi mistakenly thought that he had discovered a universal spiritual principle called “ahimsa,” when what he had actually discovered was the decency of the British. Specifically, he had discovered their capacity for shame. Against a people without such a capacity, this type of spiritual resistance is impotent.

Which brings us back to the shameless figure of Charles Schumer, who obviously does not possess a better side to which we may appeal. Ironically, the tactics of a Rosa Parks, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, presume that the adversary can be shamed. Not so Charles Schumer, whose shamelessness doesn’t even stand out in a party leadership containing the likes of Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean, Jesse Jackson, Patrick Leahy, Dick Durbin, Barbara Boxer, et al. Truly, an all-star hall of shamelessness.

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