Idea and Culture
Human ideas make up and transform culture. Cultural differences are the only real important distinctions among people, nations and civilizations, that is to say, it is this feature – thinking – and not skin color, ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, language, locale, nation, height, weight or any other such superficial traits. It is idea, especially prominent ones like science, religion and ideology. The culture of the West isn't abutting gently against the eastern, northern and southern cultural boundaries. Rather it is colliding in great transcendental challenges against countries, continents and collectives alike. As I will make clear below, (and have explained in many of my articles) there is continuity of individualism, natural inquiry and rogue trade, among other traits, since early Greece, running through Rome to the Renaissance, the English/European Colonialization centuries, the Industrial Revolution and up and until even today; indeed, non-Western cultures historically often don't have words or concepts for individual liberty or freedom in their perspective languages. This article, as is immediately obvious, isn't about cultural relativism, which is proving to be a false idea like moral relativity, which is only true in a cosmic sense, but in as much as evolution fixed us with a definitive human nature, then our better angels needs to be explained scientifically and superior human capital needs to be understood from its cultural prompting; not to make "groups" "races" or "nations" superior to one another only to realize cultures which generate human capital par excellence behave in certain ways to bring it about. And this phenomena is all about IDEA.
If in the 1920s and 30s, Germany was served up democracy in one full helping and rejected it with angry enthusiasm, what hope is there for the tyrannies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and so forth in the future? If you’ve read, Why the West Rules, Intellectuals and Race, Why the West is Best, Culture and Carnage, Infidel, Black Mass, The Rational Optimist, and especially Guns, Germs and Steel, and The Cultural Trilogy, you will soon realize that the West – based on the outstanding ideals of reason, freedom, constitutional rights, self-criticism, science, philosophy [to name but a few of the West’s values] – is far superior to its competitors (and those who actually today do compete with the West such as China, Chile, Turkey) have taken on many western attributes (i.e.,Cultural Capital) mentioned above. Technically, this isn’t ethnocentricity – making value judgments about another culture from perspectives of one’s own – but rather, if I will be forgiven the close comparison, it is making the case that some sets of human ideas – like those cited in The Constitution of Liberty – are superior to others, such as those preached in the Talmud, Bible, Quran, Vedas, Tipitaka, Book of Changes, Das Kapital and other religious tracts.
Ideas make up the fragile animal who is uniquely human, as I’ve pointed out in The Science Behind Free Will, No Memetic Code, Reason and Myth and many others essays. To reiterate: what makes homo-sapiens unique animals is idea, specifically our advanced and progressive ability to picture another world, especially an afterworld or alternative reality. Idea is our central characteristic; that’s why the later manufacturers of the Bible and the Quran, for example, many decades after their protagonists were dead, agreed on a singular definitive version of their books and beliefs. They ordered destroyed all existent divergent copies or groups. [Many Christians and Moslems died to achieve this.] The idea was that God assured only one rendering, having after 14 billion years, taken a personal interest in Middle Eastern homo sapiens (but not earlier homo neanderthals and definitely not Chinese, Africans or Indian Homo sapiens).
Reason produced religion, now reason must take it away, see, Why I’m Not a Muslim, Why I’m not a Christian, The God Delusion, God is Not Great and other works in defense of secular humanism. The time of gods has passed, and the east and south are at a debilitating disadvantage, because I swear to all good intelligent marginalized people of the non-West, what your culture has produced, with of course many notable exceptions, is for example tribalism, religion, collectivism and autocracy.
In the Abstract there Are No Nations
Only Individuals Freely Acting in Concerted Effort
So what should you do to correct this horrible handicap? Well, Khan Academy is free, as is Wikipedia, and so are all my articles – there are many other sites such as mine, like the Institution for Secularization of Islamic Society ISIS, The AHA Foundation, and much else too. Learn to think for yourself; I did it and I was once a dumb-downed collectivist. But of course, I was raised in a democracy, a mismanaged one to be sure, as they all seem to be, but one which allowed me the time to develop critical thinking despite a twisted Catholic upbringing. You have no such luxury. I understand completely. I sense a lack of any alternative for you to judge against except the West itself. For instance, in your nation likely the cities swell from the countryside. In the original industrial revolution and the current global one, there is a parallel.
Good People Vote with their Feet
Including Trying to Emigrate to the West
I would thus counter that the apparent idyllic nature of the rural life or the theocratic one is an even more “harsh” one than any modern city of the third world. Remember, a mundane job can sponsor your adventure in ideas, your self education. This is what happened in my life. If you are a girl, the underlying gender division of labor is puzzling to you. You’re bright, healthy and have a work-ethic. Yet they will not give you your due. The real culprit against actual female equality is religion and superstition: these make you and your cultures poorer. At heart the religionists are haters; with few exceptions they always exclude the ‘others’ who can be whomever they deem: witch, gay, pagan, nonbeliever, bourgeois or bum. With over seven billion people on the planet, religion is responsible for much of the blame for women being marginalized. Where women have done better is in capitalist Western societies. Many women in the West live without depending on god or men. A majority of religions in the world to this day fight against birth control, preferring this to women having full control over their own reproductive choices. At some point in history religion may have been reason’s answers to the mysteries, but now they’re roadblocks to a better culture. Fight them. Religion has had it’s day, it must be diminished. Another enemy of your progress is the stated intention of the autocracy which you no doubt find yourself a part of if you are not in the West. Where I live, I can say to any religionists, racists or chauvinists to bugger off. There’s not a damn thing they can do about it. Democracy may appear to be degenerate, and mass-produce fat, stupid and lazy believers, but it also allows the meritorious, authentic and honest people to ignore the ignorant church-goers and strive for the best within themselves.
The East says that they produce spiritual people. There is no such thing as spiritual people, not Muhammad, Christ, Socrates, Marx, Freud, Buddha, Gandhi, Khomeini, Nietzsche, Mother Theresa, the Pope, Hagee or anyone else. The best you can endeavor for in your own humble life is human goodness; strive for the perfect by all means, but know in your heart, perfection is denied to all of us. The goal is terrific, but you have faults and only knowledge, the search for truth, tolerance, love of human beings, working for excellence in one or more fields, patience and so forth, can get you to a level of human goodness. A work ethic is a good start. Any who claim their own spirituality are false believers in things that cannot be proved: the supernatural reality. They are wrong on so many fronts. If they give up everything and serve the people: they have given up the only precious thing that an individual has and is ultimately responsible for, the self. Alleged spiritual people who give up their entire self to serve others as Christ preached are not spiritual at all but rather morally bankrupt, and what do they produce? As far as I can see, left to their own devices, little family, tribal or extremely large national theocracies. They don’t preach, “Live as you feel goodness is measured by your own morality and be measured by yourself for yourself” but instead, “Make your neighbors aware of your own goodness/ideals and if they don’t do likewise, they’ll surely suffer the consequences – we fight with supernatural authority to our back!” Even if they are true to their ideals, they become as creepy as President Carter, as belligerent as Mother Theresa, as intolerant and resentful as Christ, Muhammad and Marx, as cowardly and addicted as Freud, as murderous as Khomeini, as pathetic and curmudgeon as Gandhi, as elitist as Socrates, as savage as Nietzsche and as ignorant as Hagee and his ilk.
Does the West have more addicts, pedophiles and criminals than the East? You’ll be surprised to learn that we don’t. Alcoholism in the Soviet Union was legendary, but in Pakistan right now it’s also epidemic. In Iran drug addiction is alarming – one of the highest rates in the world – (and HIV infection because of it and their growing sex trade is also bad). And all of this apparently without a homosexual population, for they’re the only nation on the planet that have no gay people according to their ‘freely’ elected leader. There are many people who risk life and limb to make the world a better place. I’ll admit that some of them are Hinduists, Buddhists, Christians, Communists, Muslims and whomever . . . there are many millions of good people and religion has nothing to do with it. For good people to do really bad things – to quote American Nobel laureate in physics, Steven Weinberg – takes religion!
The Subcontinental Argument Against the West
The West exploited Africa for centuries, especially with the slave trade. If the East can’t compete with the West on moral grounds, then surely South America and Africa deserve our sympathy and help. Moreover, the West should be condemned and ashamed of their past endeavors there. I don’t want to spend a lot of time to refute this general proposition – although it’s more like a global feeling. I will say this much: the free market over the centuries transformed the need for slavery in unskilled labor into one of contractual (low) paid help. Not the best of worlds, but far superior to institutional slavery. There is no doubt that without open markets, we would practice slavery and indentured servitude to this day in the 21st century (and much of the non-West world still does.) If you’ve read works such as Disposable People, then you know that there is plenty of shame and blame to go around and the worst perpetrators of slavery and indentured servitude are in Africa and South America, even if a critical Marxist might say that the end result is driven by somebody’s need in the West for diamonds or gold. But we will get to the Exploitation Theory and Imperialism in a moment. (Remember that at the height of Soviet slavery, 17.6 million citizens --10% of the population -- were estimated to be inside the gulag labor system -- 50 million passed through it altogether).
The West, since its inception 2500 years ago in Greece, has not always been slave free, but it was the West who first challenged the idea of human slavery in toto, especially the Quakers. (I’ll give Christianity that much.) Just as with the development of the concept of human rights, so the thought that slavery was morally repugnant came from the West. When the Europeans came to the New World and Africa, in the 15th and 16th centuries, much of what they did there was unjust. However, all of life and all of history, when it comes to humankind, must be evaluated compared to its competitors; Conquistador Hernán Cortés or Emperor Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin? The choice is lousy but take your pick. What the early conquerors did to Native Peoples was unfortunate in the extreme, but one must not romanticize native or tribal cultures. The Aztecs for example practiced human sacrifice on a horrible scale. At the re-consecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan Mexico, 1487, for instance, tens of thousands of prisoners are believed to have been sacrificed within days to appease their many gods including Huitzilopochtli and Quetzalcoatl.* So the famous quote by R Meinertzhagen, 'The expansion of Europe during the last century has been the story of crime and violence against backward peoples under the cloak of protective civilization', has to be offset with even greater horrors. Some cultures in the Caribbeans may have practiced cannibalism, some others evovled perpetual war and some slavery. With predation, lack of widespread written knowledge of medicines and with direct contact with the harsh elements that a rudimentary hut or tent can’t alleviate, one can only imagine the life-span of most people in native cultures without the West’s knowledge. While some cultural superiority may be found in some local tribes, especially in North America, all in all, one must wonder on several special important points: is dying free at 30, living in huts or tents, banging on a drum and chanting to the seasonal cycles to affect the gods, shivering in winter and being devoured by insects in the summer really in anyway that we can judge, a better comparison to a host of western modern conveniences in air conditioned buildings with food, drink, medical help, drugs, romance, glamor, where home is a short trip away in a motorized vehicle, the freedom to leave whence you came, your constitutional rights protected even at the height of a frenzy and a government, while not honest, at least marginally afraid of smashing your borders? Do you really want to defend a human being living in a native tribe even if that is all they know?
Today you can choose among hundreds of thousands of books, or online sites, millions of songs, and your government – your family, tribe, church, society – can only dream of controlling your choices, but they can’t actually control your choices. Max Weber was right all those years ago in The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism when he hinted that idea and culture were connected. If you’ve read, The Open Society and Its Enemies, you know to which I am referring. The debate for openness and against totalitarianism was of supreme importance last century; but guess what? It still is. When you argue against Islam, Christianity and Communism, you are debating with the Koran, the Bible and Das Kapital. They are all political documents, they are all Platonic, and never will their proponents embrace openness, sensuality, individual sovereignty, democracy and other Western values unless they are forced into it. Left to their own devices, they are fascist movements which with enough fortunate history and enough pressure, can be marginalized as the Christians have been in the democratic West.
One Last Point About the West
The charge of exploitation and imperialism, I think, can be answered in five words: Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, but we’ll add this question: what would have happened in Africa and South America in the last hundred years if they had embraced western values instead of critical Marxist and Catholic Liberationists’ theories of alienation, exploitation and imperialism? Colonialism on its face can’t be defended, and of the thousands of books I’ve read, few have tried, and if they have it was like Kipling-apologetics from the last century. We want to ask, why then is there the lingering feeling that defending the values of the West is tantamount to defending colonialism, imperialism and racism? Japan, with little natural resources, became one of the strongest manufacturers in the world after adopting the values of the West, and in fact, it is considered by many today to be part of the West. One could say, with some assuredness that Japan as well as other parts of the West were both the victims and victimizers of yesteryear’s racist policies. Our colonial past was an event we can’t boast of, yet, where a democratic, law and order and human rights legacy was seeded, such as in Indian, certain Carribean Islands, Costa Rica, Argentina and other nations, they have emerged with some semblance of an open society with constitutionally protected human rights and a market-driven society of some ranking. This is true especially compared to those who were left ‘unscathed’ by colonialism or because of imperialistic domination turned – in reaction – into closed models of society after either being emboldened by Leftist literature or shut down because of the Right’s fear of it.
All human beings are equal before the law, all have equal human borders, or sovereignty, which can’t be breached by family, society, culture, religion or the state. Human liberty is sacrosanct as is the right to vote, the right to own property and the right to freedom of speech. There are other rights in this vein. What people don’t have a right to is equality of results, especially forcing people to supply free goods to others such as free medicine, lawyers, houses, banking, food or any such service or commodity. If shoes were supplied free by the state, very few of us would have many of them. But that’s not the point. The question for every democratic person who wants to lead a life of goodness is this: if we give everyone free goods, who will supply the food, the employment insurance, the medicine, the homes, etcetera? The state will! Start with supplying state guaranteed money and end a century later with an inflation-hobbled debt-ridden dysfunctional market. Using force on some to supply goods and services to others is immoral; it is involuntary human sacrifice.
The West is based on ideas, good ones. Our culture is one of liberty. Understanding liberty therefore is every citizen’s duty. A democracy cannot have it both ways–forever. In the short term, free health care looks spectacular. In the long term, the state will decide who lives and dies. Toleration of equalitarianism and religious bullying seems like the liberal thing to do, but I can assure you that, the Right and the Left ultimately place liberty, respectively, below equality and religion on their priority list. Ideas are irresistible. They can change everyone’s culture, even the most ossified and belligerent ones. The ideas of liberty are far superior than the ideals of equality and religion. I sincerely hope that after reading this, you will never apologize for the West again.
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* The conquistadors . . . destroyed the civilisations of the Aztecs of Mexico, the Maya of Yucatan and the Incas of Peru. Horses rather than cannon were the important cargoes of the conquistadors in their campaigns of conquest — Cortés disembarked seventeen in Mexico in 1517, Montejo fifty in Yucatan in 1527 and Pizarro twenty-seven in Peru in 1531 — since the species, wiped out in the Western Hemisphere by the hunters of the original migrations 12,000 years earlier, was terrifyingly strange to the native warriors. Their ritualised style of combat also unfitted them to confront Europeans who fought to win rather than to take sacrificial captives; but, in a contest of hundreds against thousands, it was their horses that gave the invaders the decisive advantage. J Keegan, A History of Warfare.
For examples of horible British crimes committed near the end of Colonialism, see, Imperial Reckoning, C Elkins.