Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Enough is enough

To those Muslims who are throwing tantrums about the Mohamed cartoons, grow up! You want the rest of us to respect you. Earn that respect.!

Respect is something that you pay for in kind. You are not footing that bill.

Is your complaint that the cartoons depict Mohamed when most of your co-religionists believe that to do so is forbidden? Are you complaining that depictions of pigs are around in public spaces and at work? If you wish to abide by your religion's prohibitions do so. That is your business. Do not try to impose your religion's prohibitions on the rest of us. Representational art is part of our culture. Pigs are part of our culture. We are not giving them up.

Most of us will never convert to Islam. We have good reasons for not doing so, usually better than your reasons for being a Muslim. Most of you are only Muslims because you were brought up as one. (To be fair the same applies to most members of other religions.) Be honest with yourselves and admit that you would probably follow another religion if you had been brought up in it.

If you wish to impose Sharia law on me and the rest of my country then you are my enemy. If you condone the acts of terrorists then you are my enemy. There are enough of us who will fight your attempts to impose your ways on us to stop you from succeeding. Believe that!

Is your complaint a claim that your prophet was insulted by the cartoons? Violence is not an appropriate response to a verbal or visual insult. Find another way to respond. If you want our respect then either ignore the insult, treat it with disdain or turn it back on the originator. Treating an insult as something not worth responding to and hence treating the insulter as a person of no consequence will gain you respect. Using wit and turning the insult back on the originator will also gain respect. Frothing at the mouth with rage and avenging the insult will not gain respect. You think that you might create fear. Fear is not respect. Don't deceive yourselves into thinking that it is. You will be sneered at behind your backs. We can see the insecurity behind the rage.

Being so easily offended is seen by us as a type of immaturity. You say that an insult hurts terribly. That hurt is in part self imposed. Grow a thicker skin! We believe in robust debate. Feelings get hurt in this. But it is necessary. The means of finding out the truth and correcting error must be protected. If we don't do so then tyranny and error will be the result. We are all fallible and it is more important that we seek the truth than that we be right. Learn to live without the certainty of being right or at least accept that others will not and should not treat you as if you were right. They cannot do so without giving up their own integrity. (This does not apply just to you.)

To those Muslims who just want to live at peace with others in a state of mutual respect, you aren't my targets. You do have a responsibility to oppose evil promoted in the name of your religion if you can do so without running unreasonable risks. This may not always be possible. Still the ratbags are dragging the name of your religion through the mud.

To the people who are oh so sympathetic to the rioter's sense of grievance and so concerned about not hurting the feelings of Muslims, you are wankers and cowards! The rest of us know narcissism when we see it. We know that you are trying to feel oh so virtuous. You need to see Muslims as underdogs that you can support even when they are attacking our culture's basic principles. This society despite its flaws is worth defending. Your sensitivity does not make you better than the rest of us. Your conceit and self-righteousness makes you worse.

You belive that your sensitivity and consideration for others feelings and willingness to see the other's side and to reason with them will lead to them behaving towards you in a decent manner. These things should certainly be tried. It is willfull blindness to think that they will always work. Some people are not reasonable and decent. Violence is not always avoidable and it is irresoponsible conceit to think that you can always deal with others by reasoning with them.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Some further thoughts on political categories

In a previous post I discussed the effect that one's moral viewpoint had on one's political viewpoint and on one's perception of others. For that discussion I classified political viewpoints by their attitude to institutions that could be seen as sources of authority or embodiments of society. I used a two- way classification rather than a left-right axis.

One of the axes was Utopianism. To what extent can institutions that are seen as embodiments of society and invested with authority be used to radically improve society? (The state can be seen as invested with authority without its being seen as a source of authority.)

The other axis was the degree to which authoritative institutions were seen as sources of part of one's identity or whether they were seen as merely instruments serving certain social purposes. There isn't a one word label for this axis. This is not exactly the degree of authoritarianism but is often associated with it. If one identifies strongly with nation or state then one isn't necessarily authoritarian but one is more likely to be so.

This set of categories usually classifies viewpoints the same way that they would be if you classified on the degree of social liberality and on the degree of economic liberality. The one that I created just focuses on motives rather than on policies.

Briefly conservatives identify strongly with authority wielding institutions but regard them as primarily protective and have little faith in the ability of such institutions to create Utopia. Fascists and related movements identify strongly with authority wielding institutions and believe that they can be used to create a Utopia. Pragmatists, classical liberals or libertarians (whatever you want to call them) regard authority wielding institutions more as protective instruments than as sources of their identities and they do not believe in the ability of the state or the like to create a Utopia. Progressives (Here I include social democrats, socialists, communists and what are usually called liberals nowadays.) tend to regard authority wielding institutions as instruments rather than as sources of identity but they see such institutions as a means to build a better world.

I want to explore the nature of authority wielding institutions a bit and identify a few more of the Utopian groups.

The authority wielding or normative groups that people might identify with fall into two categories. Some are corporate bodies and some are not. Corporate bodies are formal hierarchial institutions that are treated as being persons distinct from their members. Examples are states, professional associations and Christian churches. (A business corporation is a corporate body but is not a source of norms.) Examples of non corporate groups seen as sources of authority that are major parts of many people's identities are nations and the Muslim Ummah. (A nation is a people who consider themselves to be bonded together as a nation. A state is an institution ruling a region. States and nations tend to coincide but do not always do so. When they don't there is usually some trouble.)

The progressive camp is quite a grab bag of groups. They vary widely on the acceptability of violence, the degree of private ownership, the amount of involvement of the state in private morality and attitude towards Nature.

The communists tend to be callous and quite unscrupulous in their dealings with opponents. Fanaticism is common. They want all or nearly all of the productive capacity to be in state hands. They vary widely in how much they want the state to be involved in private morality. Most of them have a very exploitative approach towards Nature. (They are Utopians who focus on economic matters and have a perhaps exaggerated faith in the efficacy of human effort.)

Social democrats tend to be over optimistic about the possibility of avoiding violence. They support highly regulated mixed economies. They generally want the state to stay out of some aspects of private morality and involve itself in others. (I know this sounds cynical but it looks as if they want the state to stay out of their bedrooms and the bedrooms of those that they can feel good by championing but they want it to give them plenty of opportunities for feel-good interference e.g. much of the attempts to suppress smoking and other health related meddling and looking for things that they can interpret as racism and oppose. It's not completely true but I fear that it is too near the truth in many cases. Wish I was wrong.) Nowadays they tend to seek a rather over-idealized relationship with Nature.

Socialists are similar except for wanting a larger proportion of the economy to be publicly owned.

The Greens are mostly an exaggerated form of social democrat.

Most progressives regard political parties as instruments rather than as sources of norms. The communists, at least when in power, can turn the party into a pseudo-religious organization and treat it as a source of norms and sense of identity. Yes this does make them in many respects more like the fascists than like socialists or social democrats.

I can't think of any single word label for the authoritarian Utopians. They are even more of a grab bag than the progressives. They include fascists, extreme nationalists, Islamists, some nominally communist regimes, some Eastern Asian Confucian style regimes and some law-and-order zealots.

The fascists identify to an extreme degree with the nation and/or race. They tend to see violence as a means of self-affirmation. They tend to seek scapegoats to vilify and blame for their problems. They idealize their leaders, turning them into fetishes. The state and or party intrudes into many aspects of private life. (Not so much through prohibiting activities as through having the state or party involved in almost all community activities.) They tend to support extreme versions of traditional sex roles. They support highly regulated mixed economies.

More common nowadays are extreme nationalists. Like fascists they over-identify with nation or race and usually have some but not all of the fascist traits identified above. Examples would be some of the groups which gained power in Serbia and Croatia after the break up of Yugoslavia, Spain under Franco and Peronist Argentina.

I would suggest that some Eastern and South-Eastern Asian regimes such as Singapore could be described as an authoritarian Utopian regime. Confucianism supplies much of the Utopian ideal for Singapore. It is a very authoritarian system with by Western standards a lot of government intrusion into private life and involvement in business and a degree of deference to authority that we would regard as wrong. Even so it is not as brutal or corrupt as fascism and lacks the aggressiveness.

The Chinese Communist Party is not very communist any more. Nationalism and Confucian ideals are stronger now and China is now a mixed economy. While brutal, callous and xenophobic it does not have the bloodlust or scapegoating of fascism. It could well develop into something like Singapore.

In Islam authority is supposed to come directly from God. It is revealed through the Koran and the Hadith and interpreted by the religious legal scholars the Ulema. Islam encourages Muslims to identify with the worldwide Islamic community, the Ummah. It encourages Muslims to identify with the Ummah the way that most of the rest of the World identifies with their nations. In practice nationalism is widespread in Islamic countries. But national loyalties still tend to be weaker than family or tribal loyalties.

Islamism is a caricature of many Muslim tendencies mixed with elements taken from Western totalitarian movements. Loyalty is supposed to be totally focused on God, the Koran and the Ummah. Other loyalties for example to states and other corporate bodies and to nations are seen as somewhat idolatrous. The problem is that it is precisely these loyalties to states, to corporations, to unions, to clubs, to other non-family, non-tribal groups that underlies our ability to deal fairly with those outside our own family by creating a network of bonds across a whole society It is of course a Utopian movement but its Utopia is supposedly a recreation of what they believe existed in the first few generation of Islam. Islamism tries to control most aspects of life. The Koran and Hadiths and custom underlie Sharia Law. It claims that this law comes from God and that humans have no right to create their own laws. The Sharia is of course to be interpreted by the Ulema. Islamism is also highly into scapegoating and religious chauvinism. And it is obsessed with violence and with sex roles.

Some law-and-order types especially drug war fanatics could be best described as authoritarian Utopians. This obsession only affects this single aspect of their belief system but when it comes to drugs they can be very fascist-like. They are often seen as conservatives but in fact they are not. Their authoritarianism and identification with their cause are obvious. Their utopianism shows up in their promises to create a drug-free America or wherever by a certain time. They lack a sense of proportion and blind themselves to the harm that they do. They are obsessed with their cause and will undermine traditional liberties when they clash with their crusade. This seems to be worse in the United States than in other Western countries but there are elements here that would like to take us down that path. They are scapegoaters with drug users and drug suppliers blamed for far too much of what is wrong with their country.

You want proof that they are not really conservatives? One sign of a totalitarian regime is when they laud children who inform on their parents. It happened under the Nazis. It happened under the Soviets. I think it has happened in Iran. And it has happened in the U.S.. Children have been encouraged to dob in their parents for growing marijuana. This is an attack on the family. It is not a conservative's action. While drug war zealots are not totalitarians they behave like totalitarians whenever their obsession is activated.