|General Note to
In May of 2003 difficult circumstances in my personal life interrupted my daily work on this weblog. In March of 2004 I recovered the ability to post to it, at least intermittently.
Despite being unable to post after July 17, 2003, web surfing and some writing continued. Material originated during that 'quiet' period will be included separately in the indexes to this weblog, even though it was not posted at the time created. Much of the material originated as email sent to my personal mail list, but some was in the form of notes made for my own record. This material will be indexed as opportunity permits and fortune provides, so the 'corpus' of the overall weblog will grow by backfilling, as well as at the tips of it's various branches.
of this weblog file: (archived)
This index is chronological (earliest is first), while the the postings are in reverse chronology (most recent is first).
Contents of Prior Weblog File (Archived)Weblog, 2004-03-13, Saturn Day
Love and Sleep, SwinburneWeblog, 2004-03-15, Moon Day (The Ides of March)
Across a Great Divide - There are fundamental(ist) differences between Europe and the US.Weblog, 2004-03-16, Tiw's Day
NeoMedieval DominionWeblog, 2004-03-19, Freya's Day
The DARPA "Robot Race" is in fact an artificial intelligence problemWeblog, 2004-03-20, Saturn's Day
Federal Regulatory Policy and the "Schumpeterian Hypothesis"Weblog, 2004-03-23, Tiw's Day
NeoMedieval Dominion (cont'd.)
& Domination: Voiding the Enlightenment
William Greider of "Who Will Tell the People", wrote a scary article for The Nation of May 12, 2003, (posted April 24, 2003) about the long term plans of the gang in power. "Back to McKinley," won't sell as a slogan but seems about right.
[Thx to Bill C. of the Reichline group via Will Kirkland of The Ruth Group]
Bill Greider has been onto the Bushies for some time, as evidenced by his article "Rolling Back the 20th Century" for The Nation of October 15, 2001.
The URLs are:Mr. Greider has written persuasively about the drive by the Bush administration to repeal the 20th Century. But I think he is understating the extent of the problem, perhaps to avoid the difficulty of persuading and educating his readers to it. For whatever reason, he has undershot the mark. It is not the 20th Century the NeoCons and their fundamentalist allies have targeted. It is the basis of Western Civilization itself, the Enlightenment, that they seek to repeal.
I believe that Mr. Greider should familiarize himself with the work of Katherine Yurica in describing the influence of a political religious movement called Dominionism over the Bush administration and the reach and direction of that movement's leadership. Another source, which relies extensively on Ms. Yurica's work, is the article by Chris Floyd, discussing the Constitution Restoration Act of 2004. That article includes annotations referring to other sources as well. (It is copied below.)
Those sources deal with the ambitions of the radical religious elements in the Whitehouse and Congress - the element of Dominion. For an introduction to the Neo Conservative agenda for Domination, consider "Leo Strauss and the American Right" by Shadia Drury.
An internet note on that book is at http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Leo_Strauss_and_the_American_RightThe strong thread in neoconservatism of Platonism, with its skewed relationship to the real world, has great consequences for policy. Chiefly, it results in the substitution - in a reversion to pre-Baconian epistemology - of reliance on internalized mental states - a priori ideas about reality, in lieu of reliance on empirically derived information about the real world. I posted twin notes on the effects of this on science policy in the log for the 19th. ( Creationism Redux & Bush's Black(burn) Friday )
Perhaps of wider interest right now is its effect on intelligence strategy. Small matters like believing in the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which seem to not have existed, and for the existence of which there never was real intelligence information. Ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam? Same game. The 9-11 perps were mostly Saudi and Yemeni Wahabbists, and not Iraqi secular Baathists, but Iraq was responsible for 9-11? Same Platonist, Straussian NeoCon game.
For an excellent analysis of the intellectual sources of this odd, pre-Enlightenment epistemology, which has had such a disastrous impact in leading US policy toward Irag in directions never supported by information, see Tom Barry, "A Philosophy of Intelligence: Leo Strauss and Intelligence Strategy," IRC Right Web (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, February 12, 2004).
The URL for Tom Parry's analysis is http://rightweb.irc-online.org/analysis/2004/0402nsai.php. I hope you will visit the site and leave some $ to support the IRC's work there. This is an important analysis, and if you have trouble accessing it you can write to me to get a copy. See also http://rightweb.irc-online.org/analysis/2004/0402pi.php Tom Barry, "Politicizing Intelligence: The Right's Agenda for the New American Century," IRC Right Web, Chronicle of the New American Century (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, February 12, 2004).After considering these sources, it is terribly apparent to me that it is not the 20th Century that gives the Bush people, Dominionist fundamentalists and Dominationist neoconservatives alike, heartburn. Rather, it is the very foundation of Western, and now world, civilization: the Enlightenment and the secular, democratic organization of society that the Enlightenment has permitted to flourish.
| Malalai Joya is a 25 year
old muslim woman
from the province of Farah for the Afghan Loya Jirga.
She is the daughter of an Afghan who lost a leg in the Afghan Jihad. She has no political affiliations with any political parties but represents the most rudimentary class -the barefooted, weakest, silent, poorest Afghans. She founded an orphanage in Farah while she was a teenager. She has worked for 4 years in Afghan refugee camps. She taught social sciences for 2 years in Herat under the pretext of a religious school without the Taliban permission. She stands for FREEDOM OF SPEECH, DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, against WAR CRIMINALS , against those who have misused the name of Islam and ruined the name of the true Jihad, and against those who oppress women.
|Read more at: http://www.geocities.com/maryamaslami/joya.html|
Stephan Schmidheiny: I am not so much interested in defining philanthropy as in redefining it. I have not wanted to be thought of as "a philanthropist" ever since I read its definition in Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary: "Philanthropist: A rich (and usually bald) old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience picks his pocket."
I have certainly changed my approaches to philanthropy. When I started conceptualizing the AVINA Foundation soon after the Rio Summit of 1992, I thought in terms of "giving money to the poor." I sent a colleague to Latin America to look for possibilities. She reported back: "Sorry, but there are too many poor for your money to do any good." So we now see ourselves as partnering with leaders of civil society and the business sector in their initiatives towards sustainable development in Ibero-America. This way we seek more bang for the buck by investing in social change through change-makers.
GGM: Who are your role models, past and present?
Schmidheiny: I am very much a product of my family, being the fourth generation of a commercially successful Swiss-German clan who all believed in a responsibility toward society. They believed that society had given them resources, and therefore they should reinvest in society; society had given them leadership positions they should use for the bettering society. It was, I suppose, a sort of noblesse oblige, but it always seemed to me to have a more human touch than that.
At present? Most of the leaders we work with in Latin America are young, certainly younger than I. They are energetic, innovative, brave -- not afraid to "speak truth to power." I suppose these are my role models.Read it all at:
Re: Your article "Ineffective Fed", 3/16/2004, The Boston Globe
The first of the three articles below touches on the reasons (or at least I think it does) for the Fed's and other regulatory agencies' passivity with respect to mergers. Of course that is too mild a statement. You put it better when you point out that federal regulators have actually favored concentration, and have have encouraged mergers as the best way to achieve it.
The article notes that this policy preference (bias) originates in a novel distortion of the "Shumpeterian Hypothesis" regarding productivity, which proposed that productivity of large, bureaucratic organizations, counterintuitively, would be superior to that of small organizations, and thus more efficient, in economic terms.
As I take it from my reading, this Shumpeterian hypothesis was a late modification of Shumpeter's intellectual corpus, and contrasts to his earlier emphasis on "destructive creation" or the place of new and disruptive technologies' replacement of older technologies as the driving force behind increased productivity and economic growth.
In both models, technological innovation is the driving force behind economic growth and increases in welfare, through its positive effects on productivity. The difference is in Shumpeter's judgement about the form of economic organization, the structure of the firm, that most effectively creates and adopts new productive technology. In fact, empirical data analyzed by economists has largely run counter to the later hypothesis, and generally show that large firms are less effective in creating and adopting new technology than smaller firms.
During the Reagan/Thatcher revolution, the later Shumpeterian Hypothesis was siezed upon to gut traditional regulatory practice, and more importantly to attack the intellectual basis for that practice. The result is that we now have both an established ideology and a generation of staff in regulatory agencies who are intellectually crippled by that ideology; and this despite the fact that the hypothesis has largely been discredited by empirical studies. In keeping with the tenor of the Bush administration - "frozen in amber" as it is - the original Reagan/Thatcher distortion is once again in full flower.
This Bush shift toward policies favoring well established "old economy" firms in defense and energy and away from economic policies focusing on encouragement of high technology competitive firms was prophesied byRussian policy analyst Antoly Baranov immediately after 9-11: "...control over the private and public life of the American people is going to be toughened, including the business sphere. The U.S. will shift its emphasis from hi-tech constituents over to the raw materials companies -- the ones which deal with oil and gas fuel first and foremost. The weight of the military and industrial complex in GNP will be raised..." (September 19, 2001).
As Baranov predicted, Bush economic policies are disadvantaging both firms engaged in the creation and marketing of new technology and those dependent on broad consumer demand driven by high employment and wages. The Democrats should be aggressively using that fact to secure the financial and ideological support of major sections of the American business community in the current election.
This note summarizes a small part of the ideas and information included in
BEHAVIORAL INFLUENCES OF BUREAUCRATIC ORGANIZATIONS AND THE SCHUMPETERIAN HYPOTHESIS CONTROVERSY
| Just when I am getting
depressed about the way politics is going, and
the place that wealth and industry have recently had in that decline
here in the US, I
find the Max
Schmidheiny Foundation, with awards in 1995 to Dr.
Mohammad Yunus of
the Grameen Bank and Hernando
de Soto, Director, Institute of Liberty and Democracy, Lima (PE),
and for 2003 to Kofi Annan.
I was looking, because Thomas Schmidheiny is the largest stockholder in the second largest cement producer (Holcim, Ltd.), and my fantasy is to use energy from Northern Afghanistan (and if necessary Tajikistan and Uzbeckistan) with local limestone to build a cement producing industry in Afghanistan. That will require capital investment, and possibly the translocation of small disused cement production facilities to Afghanistan.
A corollary goal would be to find funding for the education of Afghans in Petroleum Engineering and in economic and explorationGeology. I know of only one Afghan geologist, Daud Saba, but he may know of others and be willing to lend support. (The idea of building of a pipeline across Afghanistan for Central Asian oil hurts my head - if only wealth and demand were available to build an Afghan refinery and petrochemical industry instead.)
If there is hope for interest in such projects on the part of major industrial and financial interests, it must be with Holcim and the Schmidheiny family tradition of public service, or others not yet known to me.
For the whimsy of it I posted a version of this note at the "Contact" forms:
Stephan Schmidheiny, brother of Thomas, and Holcim Ltd. are explicitly committed to Sustainable Development. They all have my gratitude, it was a better day for having discovered them.
Schneider is definitely on to something. It is a fundamental axiom of right-wing radio talk shows and tracts that contemporary European culture and values are at radical variance with that of the U.S. There is a strong reiteration of American exceptionalism, our unique position of a defender of civilized values against so-called Islamofascists and effete Europeans. Europe's great strides in providing health and social security for all its citizenry, for example, is taken as a negative against the hardworking capitalism of the U.S. Perhaps we can generalize Adler's hypothesis that on the individual level a superiority complex actually covers strong feelings of inferiority. In genral, I'm struck at the belligerent know-nothingness and ignorance of current public discourse. Maybe I better stop listening to so much right-wing radio talk shows; still, they are often entertaining if infuriating.Jerry
That is the ultimate big lie, the big bang of lies - that the NeoCons and fundies are defenders of civilization. They are in fact what they charge the Islamists with being, and their protestations are (I think conscious) diversions - magic tricks, sleight of hand to draw our attention from what they are really doing to civilization.
I think, Jerry, that this has to be confronted directly, and in so many words, at every occasion that presents itself. These people are enemies of civilization, anti-Enlightenment neo medievalists who are in the process of dragging us into a nightmare morass of religious superstition, feudal corporatism, and manorial serfdom.
And the "felon radio" personalities may not see clearly where they have us headed, but they know full well that they are the ones who really hate our freedoms, right along with the Salafist Wahhabis who were on those airplanes.
Yes, those who know me....
The Scopes Monkey Trial is back in the News! Not only has the burg that tried Mr. Scopes for teaching evolution attempted to make name for itself again (Should it be "The town that has no name?") by calling for the outlawing of same sex relationships, but a Harvard Law School type has managed to tout creationism in a Harvard LawReview piece, using that distinguished journal to give cover to the silliness of the proposition. Adding insult to injury he then denies that "Intelligent Design" is the same as Creationism, though he is clearly unable to specify the nature of any distinction between the two. Conjoining two phrases from http://www.prospect.org/weblog/archives/2004/03/index.html#002618It's a nice contrast to the usual pussyfooting around you see in comments about these people. Not that I have a problem with detailed critical analysis such as at
The Denouement to the VanDyke Debate about Intelligent Design Creationism
I particularily agree with the comment there approving "Chris Mooney's apt summation of the real point:"
And as a bonus, we get a well documented case study of how the right wing slime and smear machine works! In this case the online version of The National Review publishes the smear job directed at Leiter. That piece poses as a defense of the incompetent review of a book by creationism apologist Francis Beckwith.com and which Leiter had dismembered on a blog site. And, it turns out, there is an undiclosed relationship between the author of the smear, Hunter Baker, and Beckwith: Mr. Baker is Professor Beckwith's graduate student and teaching assistant. Isn't life wonderful!
My new hero! Chris Mooney does a great job of tracking the intersection of science and public policy, and has an impressive list of publications for a 1999 Yale graduate.
Black Friday: (from the Friday, March 19, 2004
The dismissal on February 27 of UCSF cell biologist Elizabeth Blackburn from the President's Council on Bioethics has outraged scientists and ethicists, and rightfully so.More on Bush's Black Friday: (This deserves a full record.)
Chris Mooney has followed the Black Friday aftemath closely:
I'd venture to break the problem down:
Damage avoidance. Aquire and interpret data needed to avoid damage from terrain features. Short distance data aquisition, very rapid processing and interpretation of data, and very rapid actuation of avoidance measures.
Routing strategies. Aquire and interpret data needed to move along a path approximating a target navigational path. Mid range data aquisition in the 10s to 1000s of meter range, with timely processing and interpretation of data, and responsive actuation of steering measures. Additional requirements for integration of aquired data with stored data from sources such as aerial photography, geodata data bases, and topographic maps, and with overall navigational objectives and strategies.
Navigational strategies. Aquire and interpret data needed to support routing strategies that will achieve navigational objectives over the entire length of the travel objective or course. Use data from routing module to locate vehicle with respect to currently targeted navigational path, and create revisions to that path. Provide information needed to routing module so that it can adjust vehicle routing to approximate the target navigational path. Additional requirements for integration of stored information about targeted travel objective and major pre identified navigational path features with real time information about actual vehicle location with respect to those features and the target.
(A personal bias - to the maximum extent possible, avoid the use of GPS data throughout (except possibly in redundant error checking functions). Reliance on "dead reckoning", image aquisition and interpretation, geo-magnetic information, altitude information, and similar real world analogue data in a way that mimics as closely as possible the activities of a supremely knowledgeable and skilled orienteer/scout will maximize both the learning from the design process and the usefulness and resilience of the product.)
Once the intelligence of the vehicle can support actually getting from any given starting point to any given target ending point, then designing a vehicle that can withstand the rigors of the course becomes relevant, and the vehicular engineers can provide their essential contribution. Intelligent planning of overall routing, adaptive mid range routing, and defensive damage avoidance practices will simplify vehicle design by relieving that process of many "survivability" concerns.
This approach has another virtue - the most important element, the intelligence, can be tested using minimalist vehicles at any scale large enough to hold the data aquisition and management hardware and in any sufficiently varied environment.
Put the money into the intelligence, not the hardware.
Leo Strauss and his Spawn
I hope many will READ and understand the material at the following links:
Patrick J. Buchanan, veteran of the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan White House, and three time candidate for President, is a well known conservative and is an editor of "The American Conservative". He writes in the March 1, 2004 issue (No End to War: The Frum-Perle prescription would ensnare America in endless conflict) that all three editors of that magazine and four of its regular contributors have been ordered "purged from the conservative movement" by Frum.Shadia Drury's book "Leo Strauss and the American Right" is an academic survey of the American neo-cons, where they were educated, and philosophical underpinnings of their overt and covert agendas. I commend it to everyone who is concerned about basic personal freedom and the poltitical health of this country both in the U.S. and in the international arena. A review of the book notes:
"The chief insight offered by Shadia Drury in LEO STRAUSS AND THE AMERICAN RIGHT is that Leo Strauss' political philosophy is a radical variant of conservatism whose assumptions and strategies are at odds with traditional conservatism. While ... Straussian and Burkean philosophy appear similar in that they both make the assumption that the only choice is between a beneficent plutocracy and anarchy, the Straussians are unsentimental about the past, rejecting the older conservative view that naturalizes pre-modern hierarchy and the inequalities preserved therein as intrinsic to and representative of mankind. Straussians are instead post-modern activists, who use the past as repository from which to cull whatever elements are necessary to build whatever institutional machine is necessary to regulate lesser mortals. They imagine themselves as an intellectual pastorate who must defend society against the depredations of liberalism -- that socially disruptive idea which insists on equality of opportunity and justice. " http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Leo_Strauss_and_the_American_Right
Other MUST READ URLS are:
http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Leo_StraussOf course Googling the terms ' strauss neoconservative ' and ' "Leo Strauss and the American Right" ' will produce relevant information too.
The NeoCons and Bush/Cheney
The NeoCons, as Strauss, are Platonists. Platonism, a notoriously anti-democratic ancient Greek philosophy,
figures in Bush's
difficult relationship with realityIt also motivates his space exploration policy
Scientists Say Administration Distorts Facts
Uses and Abuses of Science
Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science
The Junk Science of George W. Bush
Beware 'Sound Science.' It's Doublespeak for Trouble
Statement On the Bush Administration's Neglect of Science and Research
|The "religious" right:
I recently read an unfortunate comment in a thread on Howard Dean's "Blog for America" which was a transparently mocking reference to (Iraq Administrator) "Bremer's new friend Sistani" juxtaposed with exerpts from some Islamic literature describing rules of ritual cleanliness regarding sexuality. I assume that the poster was an anti-Dean agent provocateur attempting to get some Deaniac to react with comments hostile to Islam and Muslims.
Ayatollah Ali Sistani is a noble and just man, but even a great representative of a culture which has entrapped itself in the 16th century is easily misunderstood, and by some ridiculed, out of that context. Four or five hundred years ago most of our own forebears were in Europe, most likely, burning witches.
Sistani's policies are not bad, considering his circumstances. He opposes a theocratic form of government in Iraq, and is a supporter of pluralism and Federalism there. He rejects political power for himself, and opposes it for all members of the Islamic clergy. That makes him a better man than the pseudo Christian premillenialist dispensationalists who want an amendment to the US Constitution declaring our nation a "Christian" state.
Further, the sexual 'cleanliness' rituals of his religion may be medically incomprehensible, but they are no stranger than those described in the literatures of belief used by adherents to the Christian and Jewish faiths. The reason they seem so strange to most of us is because Islamic culture has been in the hands of Islam's equivalents of Falwell and Robertson for the last 400 years instead of the hands of Locke, Voltaire, Condorcet, Jefferson, Paine, Franklin and their company.
Let Fallwell, and Robertson, and this new Shrubbyist NeoCon judge of GW's, Pryor, run things a bit, and then try laughing at Ali Sistani!
Fundamentalism shares a common set of characteristics across the spectrum of religions and social settings in which it takes root. This is true, whether based in a perversion of Taoism or Confuscianism in China, Hindu traditions in India as with the historically fascist RSS responsible for riots and murders of Muslims in Gujarat, Salafist Wahhabism in the Sunni Islam of the Saudi's, the Israeli religious zealots who, albeit indirectly, gifted a once disgraced Sharon with power by assassinating Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, or the premi-disp rightists in the US who gave cover to Mc Veigh's bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal building.
READ the links and use the search words noted below for information on a peculiar branch (heresy?) of fundamentalist Christianity called Darbyism, or "premillenialist dispensationalism" which is in political ascendancy in the US today. It is important to note that this is only one, in the eyes of many Christian theologians highly heterodox, branch of a large and complex religious tradition. It is not representative of all of Protestant Christianity, or even of all Evangelical Christian beliefs - and - though Darbyists would not agree that it is possible - there are even so-called "fundamentalist" Christians who do not accept "premillenialist dispensationalism". Certain fiction aggressively marketed at the US's WalMart discount markets, having to do with "disappearances", is representative of this strange offshoot of Christianity, as are Falwell and Robertson.
Google these terms:
For what the NeoCons are doing to the media read
For what the media have done to the Howard Dean campaign read
Eight Easy Pieces: URL's for good articles about the media and the Dean Campaign.
The nature of
the 'low rate of inflation'
figures touted in stories on the Federal Reserve and related matters,
where the significance of the omission from "core rate of inflation"
figures of food and energy costs is almost universally slighted. In this case, the reported figures are one element of
a two element disaggregation, and the second is typically not
given. I have an example
of three print media stories which discuss inflation rates - after a
careful search I found one that did an adequate, balanced job of
reporting them. There are three links, a look at each will
illustrate how differently the same inflation numbers can be presented
in different media producers.
The "average wage" or "wage growth" figures which are often discussed in illustrating the "progress of the current economic recovery" are so aggregated as to disguise what is really happening to wages. During 2003 real wages adjusted for price increases actually decreased.
It was reported early in 2004 that
average real wages are rising. What is not reported is that this
increase occured through increases in the top earnings brackets while
average wages in lower wage brackets continued to decrease!
Even the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in an otherwise balanced article, failed to disaggregate wage figures when it noted:
Of broader impact is the news that wage growth also is stuck in neutral. Wage growth was rising at a 4 percent rate before the recession took hold in 2001, said Kenneth Goldstein, senior economist at the Conference Board, a New York research institution. That increase was down to 3 percent in early 2003, he said. "In January 2004, it was 2 percent. Now it's 1.6 percent."
Unfortunately disaggregated wage growth numbers for the short term are hard to find, and I cannot provide a current chart.. Over the long term, disaggregated numbers for wage growth show:
The vast bulk of the income growth over the past 15 years has been overwhelmingly concentrated in the upper 10%, the upper 5% and, indeed, the upper 1% of America's income spectrum. The salaries of CEOs have gone from 40 times that of the average wage earner 20 years ago to more than 400 times today. Zuckerman
In 1979, the top one percent of the population earned less than half the share received by the bottom 40 percent. The most recent data suggest that today the top one percent earn more than the bottom 40 percent. Or, to put the point differently, in the same period when the median family income was going up 18 percent, the top one percent of all families saw a 200 percent increase in their income. ...evidence suggests that intergenerational mobility in America is no longer increasing and may well be decreasing. One recent study found that a child born in the bottom 10 percent of families by income has only one chance in three of getting out of the bottom 20 percent. [Thomas Hertz]. Summers
of Change in Aggregate Income Share and Mean (Average) between
1976 and 2001
|Income Quintile (+ Highest 5%)||1976
||% Avg. $
Income $ amounts are in 2001 CPI-U-RS adjusted dollars
Additional info: http://www.econedlink.org/lessons/index.cfm?lesson=EM65
| Roy, it is interesting to note that while am
not a theist and agree
with your point that the Little League should not conduct its
ceremonies in a way that causes discomfort to polytheists and
nontheists, I am personally less affected by the Little League's
insensitivity than by your own!
It is amusing to me that the whole world seems so successfully to frequently ignore the existence of (non theist) Deists in their midst. This results in some strange phenomena:
I often suggest to my animist and agnostic friends that they join me in my Deist commitment, so they can share in the benefits. But it is still true that committed, believing athiests and polythiests could be discomfited by a crowd of Theists and Deists trusting in God in their presence.
On the other hand, a polytheist only has to use the plural form, Gods, to avoid this conflict. And I see no reason that a non theist, or atheist, would be anything but amused at the whole thing.
I suspect that the most disturbed folks in such a crowd would be conservative theists, if they suddenly realized that they were in the presence of large numbers of Deists who spoke as comfortably of (and maybe even to) God as do they themselves.
Roy Speckhardt wrote:
American Humanist Association Action Alert
BERLIN, March 12 — The war in Iraq has made the Atlantic seem wider. But really it has had the effect of a magnifying glass, bringing older and more fundamental differences between Europe and the United States into focus.
These growing divisions — over war, peace, religion, sex, life and death — amount to a philosophical dispute about the common origins of European and American civilization. Both children of the Enlightenment, the United States and Europe clearly differ about the nature of this inheritance and about who is its better custodian.
Start with religion. The United States is experiencing a revival of the Christian faith in many areas of civic and political life, while in Europe the process of secularization continues unabated. Today the United States is the most religious-minded society of the Western democracies. In a 2003 Harris poll 79 percent of Americans said they believed in God, and more than a third said they attended a religious service once a month or more. Numerous polls have shown that these figures are much lower in Western Europe. In the United States a majority of respondents in recent years told pollsters that they believed in angels, while in Europe the issue was apparently considered so preposterous that no one even asked the question.
When American commentators warn about a new
generally mention only the Islamic one. European intellectuals
include two other kinds: the Jewish and Christian variants.
Terms that President Bush has used, like "crusade" and "axis of evil," and Manichaean exclusions like his observation that anyone who is not on our side is on the side of the terrorists, reveal the assumption of a religious mantle by a secular power, which in Europe has become unthinkable. Was it not, perhaps, this same sense of religious infallibility that seduced senior members of the Bush administration into leading their country into a war with Iraq on the basis of information that has turned out to be false?
Another reason for Europe's alienation from the United
to define, but for want of a better term, I call it American
When American troops in Iraq mistakenly shoot an Arab journalist or reduce half of a village to rubble in response to the explosion of a roadside bomb, there will inevitably be a backlash. Only a fool would maintain that an occupying power could afford many such mistakes, even if it is under constant threat of suicide attacks. The success of an occupation policy — however temporary it is meant to be — depends on the occupier's ability to convince the population, by means of symbolic and material gestures, that it is prepared to admit to mistakes.
In its use of the language of power the Bush administration has created the opposite impression, and not just in Iraq. The United States apparently cannot be wrong about anything, nor does it have to apologize to anybody. In many parts of the world people have come to believe, fairly or not, that Americans regard the life of their countrymen as infinitely more valuable than the lives of any other of the earth's inhabitants.
Of course, even in Europe only a pacifist minority denies the existence of necessary, unavoidable, justified wars. The interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan were supported by many European nations, even if some took a long time to make up their minds. European soldiers took part in those wars and continue to play a part in the peacekeeping aftermath.
What arouses European suspicion, though, is the doctrine of just, preemptive wars President Bush has outlined. Anyone who claims to be waging a preventive war in the cause of justice is confusing either a particular or a partisan interest with the interests of humanity. A president who makes such a claim would be arrogating the right to be the ultimate arbiter of war and peace and to stand in judgment over the world. From there it is but a short step to dismissing a basic insight of the Enlightenment, namely that human judgment and decisions are fallible by their very nature. This fallibility cannot be annulled or ameliorated by any political, legal or religious authority. The same argument goes for the death penalty.
Animosity isn't the only feature of the trans-Atlantic relationship. Europe is rightly envious of America's multicultural society. There can be no doubt that the United States has produced the world's most varied and integrative culture, and it is no accident that it is the only one to have a worldwide appeal.
But the American multicultural model also generates an illusion. Since Americans really have come from all over the world, in the United States it is easy to believe that you can know and understand the world without ever leaving the country. Those who were born and brought up in America forget that these people "from all over the world" first had to become Americans — a condition that new immigrants generally accept with enthusiasm — before they could celebrate their cultural otherness.
This is why it is always an American version of otherness that is encountered in the United States. You will not necessarily learn anything about the culture and history of Vietnam by working alongside a Vietnamese doctor in the teaching hospital at Stanford. You can sit next to an Indian in the same dot.com company in Los Angeles for years without learning much about the manners and customs of India. And going to a French restaurant in Atlanta is no guarantee that you will be served French cuisine.
Foreign films account for less than 1 percent of the American film market, and the figures are similarly low for books and news from abroad.
The impressive integrative power of American society seems to generate a kind of obliviousness to the world, a multicultural unilateralism. The result is a paradox: a fantastically tolerant and flexible society that has absorbed the whole world, yet has difficulty comprehending the world beyond its borders.
These differences and irritations add up to a
on the joint origins of American and European civilization. Europeans
think that Americans are on their way to betraying some of the
elementary tenets of the Enlightenment, establishing a new principle in
which they are "first among unequals."
And Washington accuses Europe of shirking its international responsibilities, and thus its own human rights inheritance.
After all, what is the point of international law if it prevents intervening in the affairs of a brutal regime to stay the hand of a tyrant? Who is the true advocate of human rights: the one who cites international law to justify standing by while genocide is being committed or the one who puts an end to the genocide, even if it means violating international law?
Unfortunately, we cannot expect the news media in the United States or Europe to present a nuanced view of this dispute. In 20 years of traveling back and forth between Germany and America I have become convinced that news broadcasts usually confirm their audiences' views: in Europe, about America, the "cowboy nation," and in the United States, about Europe, the "axis of weasels."
These disagreements will be influenced but cannot be resolved by the the American presidential election in November. The divisions are too deep, and Europe cannot meet the United States halfway on too many issues — the separation between church and state, the separation of powers, respect for international law, the abolition of the death penalty — without surrendering its version of its Enlightenment inheritance.
On other contentious issues the United States feels as strongly: the universality of human rights and the need to intervene — if the United Nations is unable to act — when there is genocide or ethnic cleansing, or when states are failing.
So are we standing on the threshold of a new understanding or a new historic divide, comparable to the evolutionary split that occurred when a group of pioneer hominids thousands of years ago turned their backs forever on their African homeland?
So far it has usually been the Americans who have had to remind the Europeans of these common origins, which the Europeans, in turn, have so often betrayed. Maybe this time it is up to the Europeans to remind the Americans of the promises of the Enlightenment that the United States seems to have forgotten.
Peter Schneider is a German novelist and essayist. This article was translated from the German by Victor Homola of The New York Times.
of prior weblog file (Archived):
This index is chronological (earliest is first), while the the postings are in reverse chronology (most recent is first).
Contents of Prior Weblog File (Archived)Weblog, 2004-03-05, Freya's Day
You want to do something about gasoline prices? Consider these optionsWeblog, 2004-03-08, Moon Day
The Enlightenment and US Politics (Draft, March, 2004)
Perpetual War! A political agenda motivates the drive to perpetual war.
The Past is Prologue: Resistance, Rebellion, Reaction - Viet Nam and its Aftermath
The Face of Totalitarian Shrubbyism
Whose anti war movement is it, anyway?
materials above may be
reworked from time to time.
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