March 13, 2006


How I learned to stop worrying and love chaos (Spengler, 3/14/06, Asia Times)

Unlike my namesake, I am not pessimistic about civilizations in general. I am pessimistic about some and optimistic about others. At it turned out, Pilgrim pessimism about old Europe was well warranted. The United States of America became the world's only superpower not by plan, but by default. Like the Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat, the other powers consumed each other. A touch of pessimism about the Middle East is required as an antidote to the delusional behavior of the present administration.

What compulsion requires the US to wage "holistic and ideological wars of the past", in Hanson's words, "such as those waged against Italians, Germans, Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese, where we not only sought to defeat entire belief systems, but to stay on and craft a stable government in the hopes of stamping out fascism, Nazism, militarism, or communism"? One can suppress the putrefactive power of chaos, but it will reassert itself. A fifth to a half of the constituent nations of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact will die out by mid-century, about as many as would have died in all-out nuclear war.

Part of America's impulse is Christian. "The West cannot endure without faith that a loving Father dwells beyond the clouds that obscure his throne. Horror - the perception that cruelty has no purpose and no end - is lethal to the West," I wrote in Horror and humiliation in Fallujah (April 27, 2004). By contrast, "The Islamic world cannot endure without confidence in victory, that to 'come to prayer' is the same thing as to 'come to success'. Humiliation - the perception that the ummah cannot reward those who submit to it - is beyond its capacity to endure." The Western god of agape and chesed does not castigate without reason; the Muslim god of sovereignty and power does not withhold reward for service performed without reason.

Christianity, though, calls the individual out of his nation, into a new people of God that knows no nationality, for God counts the nations "as a drop of a bucket, and the small dust of the balance".

Americans evince a generosity of spirit elsewhere unknown, as anyone will discover who travels to the shantytowns of Africa or Latin America. Christian charities funded by middle-class Americans offer help to the truly desperate, whom wealthy locals despise as beasts of burden. President Bush's adventure in nation-building, I have maintained throughout, stems from the same Christian impulses that bring Americans to tend AIDS victims in Soweto (George W Bush, tragic character, November 25, 2003).

But the US is in large measure responsible for the chaos that overstretches the world from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. Trade, information and entrepreneurship have turned the breakdown of traditional society in the Islamic world into a lapsed-time version of the Western experience. The West required the hideous religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Napoleonic Wars of the 18th, the American Civil War, and the two World Wars of the 20th century to make its adjustment. To export a prefabricated democracy to a part of the world whose culture and religion are far less amenable in the first place is an act of narcissistic idiocy.

Spengler fails one simple test here by not extending his own anlysis to its necessary limits. You see, America is likewise responsible for destroying Europe by exporting our prefabricated democracy to a part of the world that -- because of the Enlightenment, Rousseau, Marx, Darwin, Freud, and Nietzsche -- did not have a culture and religion amenable to it and, obviously, Asia, with no Judeo-Christian basis for an enduring liberal democracy has been a victim as well. But after brief periods of chaos those parts of the world have pretty much quieted down and seem content to expire in the relative affluence we've provided them.

Now, it seems at least theoretically possible that an Islamic world that shares many traits with the United States -- a strong faith base and a hostility to the claims of Reason chief among them -- could fare better than those other areas, but, at any rate, it seems unlikely to do much worse. And the notion that exporting our ideals is a function of narcissism rather than of generosity requires that we ajudge the quiet comfortable suicides of the peoples of Europe and Asia to be more idiotic than the unpleasant poverty that had characterized their societies previously.

Moreover, one must ask how you would prevent peoples from trying to ape us, no matter how ill equipped their cultures are to do so, when the telecommunications era has made it so easy for them to observe how superior our society is to their own. If, as he correctly states, the backwardness of the ummah imputes a negative judgement of the Islamic world by Allah, while the spectacular success of America suggests, even if counterintuitively, that He is well-pleased with us, then how can they be stopped from longing to try our system? And, if central to our system is the belief that it is universal, how can we be true to ourselves without exporting it?

You can certainly be pessimistic about whether the Middle East will ever do as well as we, but it seems unrealistic to fret over much about its experimenting with liberal democracy and our helping them to do so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 13, 2006 1:28 PM

If, as he correctly states, the backwardness of the ummah imputes a negative judgement of the Islamic world by Allah, while the spectacular success of America suggests, even if counterintuitively, that He is well-pleased with us, then how can they be stopped from longing to try our system?

More importantly, would it not be immoral to deny them the opportunity?

Posted by: Mike Morley at March 13, 2006 2:14 PM

Which is where to not be a crusader state would be to not be true to our own culture. You can't be American and Realist.

Posted by: oj at March 13, 2006 2:19 PM

"If, as he correctly states, the backwardness of the ummah imputes a negative judgement of the Islamic world by Allah, while the spectacular success of America suggests, even if counterintuitively, that He is well-pleased with us, then how can they be stopped from longing to try our system"

Well, Islam is based on conquest and banditry, and what better way for Allah to provide for his people that to give them a nice big, ripe, juicy target for them to plunder after they've digested Eurabia? And as its curretnly owned by infidel sinners, it would be their duty to take this wealth and put it to better use. (Which shows that you can rationalize anything if you start with belief.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 13, 2006 2:43 PM

It is time to pray for the salvation of the people entombed in the Spiritual Jailhouse as we once prayed for the Savior of the World to save Russia.

The anti-Communist Fatima prophesies included a warning that "Many nations would be annihilated," and so they were, erased from maps and globes and almost from human memory. Yet the "realists" imagine that this were a bad thing, as if the world had been better off with whole populations enslaved.

It is remarkable that this Spengler chap fails to recognize that the dispelling of chaos, as in the taking down of the focus of evil, or in the coming opening of the doors of the Spiritual Jailhouse, is not "chaos" but the restoration of order.

The observation concerning the impact of communications technology is most apt. The truth will set mankind free.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 13, 2006 2:56 PM

It seems a tad bit narrow-minded to me for someone to claim that only nations with a "Judeo-Christian basis" can sustain an endurable democracy.
But it is only consistent with the logic associated with the article, and the poster's comments, that seeks to violently obliterate all difference under the messianic promise of a unity, and blinds itself to the hypocrisy of its self-defeating means.
What is remarkable is that this rhetoric remains unchanged since the Roman Empire; since the European invasion of the Americas and Africa.

Posted by: Luther at March 13, 2006 4:51 PM

Regarding the headline, the lives of the Zimbabweans are bad and getting worse, but they don't seem disposed to dispose of Mugabe.

Likewise, most Iraqis accepted Hussein's disasterous rule.

People largely find accepting and enduring misery easier than doing anything about it.

For instance, among American households headed by a person who worked full-time for at least 27 weeks in 2004, 25% had incomes lower than $ 35,000, and 7% had incomes lower than $ 18,500.

One very simple way to earn more money is to acquire more education. (Simple, not necessarily easy).

Now, in America, knowledge and information can be free, they're literally given away. If one prefers to receive such more conveniently or quickly, they can be had very cheaply.
Not necessarily education from an established institute of higher learning, leading to an official certification of supposed knowledge, although there are ways to get that free as well.

However, such official certification is often unnecessary for people to capitalize their knowledge - sometimes just possessing a skill or bit of information is good enough.

But, currently, only 25% of Americans have a working layperson's knowledge of science or biology, although we find time to watch an average of 20 hours of television per week.

From all this I conclude that almost all Americans are rather uninterested in knowing anything more than what they need to get by, and that a significant percentage of Americans would rather live in sub-luxury than exert themselves to acquire better skills.

In other words, folks are really, really accepting of lives that suck. Not much needs to be done to continue such.
Look at the Palestinians.

A much better question is, how do we get folks to exert themselves to un-suck their lives ?
That's likely to be the 21st century's burning question re: Africa and the Middle East.

Posted by: Noam Chomsky at March 13, 2006 6:19 PM

The Iraqis rose up against Saddam as soon as we gave them a chance to, unfortunatelyt we betrayed them.

No American's life sucks.

Posted by: oj at March 13, 2006 6:23 PM

There were roughly a zillion AKs floating around Iraq.
If the Iraqis hadn't largely supported Saddam, killing him, his family, and the army divisions guarding him wouldn't have been difficult.

Posted by: Noam Chomsky at March 13, 2006 6:55 PM


Tell it to Don Rumsfeld.

Posted by: oj at March 13, 2006 7:08 PM


That's hardly restricted to the lower classes. When I was a teaching assistant in grad school, I had plenty of bright students from the wealthy suburbs of Chicago who had a strong aversion to learning any unnecessary facts. When asked "how do I do this?" I would offer two choices: an explanation of how it worked, or a magic command to accomplish the immediate task at hand. It was unusual to be asked to provide understanding. This system also made everybody happier -- I wasted much less of my time, I wasted less time of those students who preferred ignorance, and enlightened those students who cared to learn.

P.S. OTOH, OJ is almost right: it is the rare life indeed that sucks in America. Not to mention that most of the whiners are privileged, even for America. Of the people I know, it is the poor ones who are least like to complain.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at March 13, 2006 7:13 PM

"unfortunately betrayed them"

In 1991 we destroyed Hussein's Army and placed the rest of his state apparatus into disarray. What they wanted was for us to do it for them. Apparently even now they imagine we'll wave a magic wand and make their lives better. They've (shia) betrayed us.

Posted by: h-man at March 13, 2006 7:14 PM


No, they rose themselves and would have won, as even Saddam acknowledged, had we just kept Saddam's his grounded. When Schwartzkopf let him fly his helicopters he declared the war a win.

Their lives will be better.

Posted by: oj at March 13, 2006 7:23 PM

Naom, I'm firm believer in the Zen Buddhist saying, When the student is ready, the master appears. Iraqis weren't ready, so no rebel leader came forward.

AOG - I met two young Haitian girls who work as aides to elderly nursing home residents. Their bubbling good cheer permeates the hallways. Their smiles are truly amazing and even the most afflicted of the residents react to their lilting accents speaking English.

I'm sure these girls think they are the luckiest girls in the world even though the work they do wouldn't be done easily by most of us.

Posted by: erp at March 13, 2006 7:25 PM

No one came forward to lead Germany's Jews, but Israel worked out okay. Shi'ites have been ready. They just needed the opportunity.

Posted by: oj at March 13, 2006 7:30 PM

Yes, it's impossible for leaders to arise under tyranny, because you can't organize anything; as soon as you try, the dictator has you whacked.

Once we liberated Iraq, some leaders arose, and the more safe the country became, the more people have stepped up. It'll be like that anywhere.

Posted by: pj at March 13, 2006 7:39 PM

Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, all died in bed. Most likely Castro will too.

Posted by: Gideon at March 13, 2006 8:48 PM

oj. You're right, Jews, especially in Germany, were rich, well connected, controlled many of the financial institutions, were prominent in academia, the arts, and even in the military, but because they weren't ready, no leader showed up and they were slaughtered by the millions.

Jews got ready after the war and lots of leaders appeared -- in Israel. Euroweenies still aren't ready for a leader, so none are showing up.

Same thing applies even in the most despotic states, Poles were ready and Lech Walesa appeared. "Nuf said.

Posted by: erp at March 14, 2006 9:19 AM

Jewish leaders appeared after we ended the Holocaust. Walesa appeared forty years into the Communist era. Sistani emerged as soon as we toppled Saddam.

Posted by: oj at March 14, 2006 10:14 AM