December 4, 2006
Borg Culture: Steyn, Jihad, and the End of Predestinarianism
A commenter on our previous post, Robert Schwartz, quoted a fellow who writes at the Asia Times online under the improbable name of "Spengler" (I cannot find out his full name):
The Islamic world now views the pontiff as an existential threat, and with reason. Jihad is not merely the whim of a despotic divinity, as the pope implied. It is much more: jihad is the fundamental sacrament of Islam, the Muslim cognate of the Lord's Supper in Christianity, that is, the unique form of sacrifice by which the individual believer communes with the Transcendent. To denounce jihad on theological grounds is a blow at the foundations of Islam, in effect a papal call for the conversion of the Muslims.
But is this really true? We all know Moslems who do not believe in or practice jihad as the terrorists believe in it and practice it. Besides my personal acquaintances, which it may not be fair to cite (since you don't know them), there are also well known people like the fellows at Iraq the Model, as well as those not well known but whose existence everyone knows about: Moslem American soldiers, CIA officers, policemen, firemen, doctors, lawyers, and shopkeepers -- who don't, as a rule, advocate or support jihad as the Taliban or the Iranian mullahs do.
So it is possible, even though jihadism is a very powerful ideology that has taken control of a large portion of the ummah. Isn't there some ideology that can infect Islam as thoroughly as has jihadism, a "counter-ideology" that is positive and life-affirming, not a death cult, and which does not require Moslems to convert to Christianity?
Yes, there is... and we all know it, even if we rarely think of it in those terms.
The most important point to bear in mind is that such questions as the actual meaning of jihad are answered by cultural, not religious force: I don't believe that the jihadis in Iraq or Gaza believe in militant jihad because they've been religously persuaded by theological argument -- but because all their neighbors believe it.
The way to change that belief is to create swaths of territory (real estate) in which the cultural belief is that jihad is an individual inner struggle against sin, rather than an external war against sinners; a struggle that each individual must freely choose, or it's meaningless; and most important, one that can have immediate material benefits to each individual person, rather than nothing but the promise of eventual "paradise" in the afterlife.
We must create a large territory within the ummah where everyone is surrounded by others who believe the same thing... thus, by the natural human desire to avoid cognitive dissonance, the psychological pressure will be towards sanity.
Ideology and counter-ideology
But how do you get those core swaths in the first place? You must beat down militant jihadism with that counter-ideology I mentioned above; and that requires a very powerful, adaptable, and cohesive counter-ideology; we must directly counter jihadism with an equally strong (or superior) ideology which does as good a job of promoting a sense of community and pulling together as jihadism does.
This is difficult to find but not impossible. In fact, we already have just such a counter-ideology:
- Individualism, as contrary as it may sound, is part of that ideology, as we've seen in our own country. By vigorously supporting the rights of the individual -- which Europe, Japan, and Canada don't support -- America has become the most cohesive and communal country in Christendom. This despite frequent denunciations of individualism by, e.g., the pope and other European religious leaders of Christianity.
- Freedom is another component of that counter-ideology; and again, we find more of that in the United States than in any other country.
- Finally, capitalism, which is the greatest engine of wealth creation ever invented, is absolutely critical... because the hope of wealth by individual effort -- capitalism -- as opposed to wealth by tribal or political affiliation (socialism), is vital in any war that hopes to defeat "holy warriors," who primarily appeal to the poor by saying, in effect, "join our tribe and we will support you."
Individualism plus freedom plus capitalism... we already have a catchy name for that ideology, which has served as a counter-ideology for 230 years against jihadism, against Communism, against Fascism and Naziism, against imperialism, and again monarchism: we call it Americanism.
Ideological synthesis: Americanism
Note that Americanism is neither religious nor secular but can exist in both kinds of subculture: evangelical Christians here still believe in Americanism, as do people like myself who are not religious at all, and in fact come from a non-Christian cultural background as well. And so do American Moslems; Americanism does not require giving up Islam in favor of Christianity (pace, Ann Coulter!)
The rest of the "West" -- Europe, Canada, Japan, and Israel -- have no unique ideology that binds them together as a people the way the combination of freedom, individual rights, and capitalism do here; the French have nothing to counter jihadism when it comes a-courtin'.
So our first great task is to convert our allies to Americanism (which will probably require a different name!); that alone would likely give them enough hope for the future that they start breeding again, which is an excellent start for our cultural defense. But it has a more immediate effect: Americanism is confident enough to believe that it can convert those who immigrate here, what we call "assimilation." But assimilation is a two-way function: American culture is Borg culture. We add bits and pieces of new cultures to American culture, and in return, we Americanize new immigrants.
What else can we say about the power of Americanism?
- America is far richer with a more robust economy than any other Western country;
- We as a culture (despite tolerating individuals who don't fit that profile) retain a vigorous warrior spirit that leads us to savagely defend what we see to be ours;
- We remain intensely curious and pursue science and techological improvement more than any other nation on the planet;
- We think of ourselves as Americans first, everything else second... even liberals who are in fact internationalists still must do ritual obeisance to calling themselves Americans ("hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue");
- We are the most religiously free country on the planet -- the First Amendment guarantees it -- as well as the most religous free country on the planet (that is, we have more churchgoers than any other country that does not compel religious observance);
- And we at least breed at the replacement level -- though not evenly: even there, it's precisely those areas that most exemplify Americanism (individualism + freedom + capitalism), the so-called "red" states and "red" communities, that breed at significantly more than replacement rate; and it's the "blue" areas that are the least Americanist and the most Europeanist that don't really hold up their end.
These are all unmistakable signs of a vibrant, confident, and growing cultural identity -- which can only be explained by the planetary success of the ideology we're calling Americanism. There is no other explanation: we have the same language as countries that are not so successful (Great Britain, Canada, Grenada); we have the same religions as other failed countries (Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Scandanavia); and we have a hodge-podge of many races living here, along with polyglot millions for whom English is a second language.
We have the same democratic government -- though with a uniquely American flavor, a constitutional republic as opposed to a parliamentary democracy -- as the entire rest of the West; but even there, the ideology came first and propelled our Founding Fathers to create the first democracy in an era of kings as a representative, constitutional republic. Those democracies that followed (leave England out for a moment) tended to organize themselves along the lines of the French Revolution... which has turned out to be far less successful a model than ours.
(England's Parliament goes all the way back to the nobles who wrested some control from the king in Magna Carta, the "great charter;" it is, like the American system, sui generis. However, it's still too close to the continental model and has proven less able to maintain its distinct cultural identity than Americanism. Propinquity may play a role here: we were protected from the European cultural decline by a great ocean.)
The distinctions between America and the world are nontrivial and nonrandom:
- We are the most capitalistic nation on the planet, and we're the richest;
- We are the freest country, and we're the country with the most immigration;
- We have the most religious freedom of any country, yet we have the most freely embraced religion;
- We are the most individualist country -- and the country with the greatest percent of citizens ready and willing to defend it.
That last point is not a contradiction, though most throughout the world would think so: individualism leads to a greater sense of community than does collectivism... it's not a contradiction, but it is a paradox. For example, the more individualist a community, the more charitable are the individuals in it... because they see charity as the duty of individuals, not the State.
This extends upward: even when government action is required, real Americans prefer that action be conducted at the lowest possible level of government, where we have the most control: city instead of county, county instead of state, state instead of national... and always national over international. Americanism is the ideology of self-control, self-governance, and self-sufficiency. It is ultimately empowering, while jihadism is ultimately infantalizing.
American culture as Borg culture: resistance is futile
Many anti-immigrant politicians (such as Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-CO, 100%) and pseudo-politicians (like Pat Buchanan) push the false meme that Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants "don't assimilate." This is complete nonsense. There is always a loud and angry fringe element that marches in the streets waving Mexican flags... but look at the numbers: in the biggest rally against the House bill that made illegal immigration illegal (I'm being unfair here just for a giggle), they got a few hundred thousand people -- most of whom were not waving Mexican flags.
This in a county that has literally millions of Hispanics, most either directly or ancestrally from Mexico. The population of Los Angeles County is about 10 million; there are 4.65 million Hispanics and only 3 million non-Hispanic whites. So for the first rally, which the Aztlan separatists successfully portrayed as just anti-bill, not anti-American, they still only got 10% of the Hispanic population (at most) to show up and march.
Subsequent marches, after the anti-Americanism of the march leaders was made clear, drew far fewer participants, closer to 1%. And even there, we're just talking about marching; how many Hispanic separatist terrorists are there? Answer: zero.
Our immigrants assimilate, and they partially assimilate (change) the culture; that confidence in our own ideology is one of the things that makes us strong: in Osama's terms, we act like the strong horse, we have confidence that we're the strong horse, therefore we are the strong horse... even with the Democratic Party weighing us down.
There are always exceptions, and of course, some immigrants never Americanize. But unlike in Europe, even if the immigrants themselves resist -- resistance is ultimately futile, because their children belong to us. In France, the children of Algerian Moslem immigrants are much more anti-France and jihadist than their parents (it's the kids leading the French intifada, not the parents); but in America, it works just the opposite: each succeeding generation is more American and less inclined towards the "old country" than the previous.
Expand that outward: there is nothing magical about our mountains, our rivers, or our plains that is any different that the geographical features of other countries; the thing that converts Irish and Italians, Canadians and Cambodians, Nicaraguans and Nigereans is the ideology of Americanism... and the ideology can be exported.
The exception proves the pudding: Americanism, by whatever name, is the only ideology ready to hand that we can export to counter the death-cult of militant jihadism and win the war for the soul of the world. We mustn't be afraid to shove raw, naked Americanism down the throats of the rest of the world... it's the physic for the pathogen of jihad.
The way forward
This is the way forward, to borrow a phrase that will probably permeate the Baker-Hamilton report (and already trips from the lips of National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley almost every time he goes on a Sunday yak show): export the "stronger horse," Americanism, to the rest of the world -- starting with our new allies in Eastern Europe and moving to our old allies in Western Europe, thence beyond the pale to Africa, Araby, and the Orient. Americanism comes ready to adapt to any other culture, any other country: you can have a capitalist, free, and individualist Frenchism, Germanism, Britishism, and even Iraqism, if we but try.
We have right now one of the most Americanist presidents of recent years; George W. Bush isn't as good a communicator as Ronald Reagan, but he's every bit as Americanist. By contrast, BIll Clinton and George H.W. Bush, as well as Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and of course Jimmy Carter, were more Europeanist: they all looked to Europe for a lead; they truly believed international organizations (the U.N. or even NATO) were the wave of the future; and I can't imagine any of them believing that "America is the greatest nation on God's green Earth," to rip a phrase from Michael Medved.
But I'm utterly certain that both Reagan and Bush-43 believe (and believed) exactly that, deep in their souls. That, ultimately, is why I do not fear that Bush will use the ISG report as a fig leaf to cover retreat from Iraq, or even from the mission to democratize that country: for George W. Bush, renouncing that policy would be the same as renouncing his religious faith and becoming an atheist.
And that he will not do... no matter how much "pressure" the Democrats bring to bear.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 4, 2006, at the time of 5:54 PM
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Tracked on December 5, 2006 5:17 AM
The following hissed in response by: South Park Conservative
Very uplifting post, considering the dose of bad news for Americanism recently: the resignation of Bolton, Nancy Pelosi...
Interesting choice, though, of the Borg here, as the Borg "Collective" seems to me to be the ultimate socialist metaphor. Regardless, resistance to Americanism is futile!
The following hissed in response by: Terrye
It is a good post, and the ascent of the Democrats is not so much bad news, as it is inevitable. We have a two party system and sooner or later they were gonna win. I voted Republican, but I know of some pissy libertarians and conservatives who did not. They thought teaching the GOP a lesson was more important than dealing with jihadism.
And I do not think that jihadism is always there in Islam. That is not only a defeatist way to look at the problem, it is the best way to alienate large segments of our own culture. Americans are not interested in going to war with a billion people forever and until the end of the world. Or whatever.
We need to create an approach to jihadism that both parties can live with, if we do not there is no way the terrorists will ever take us seriously and they will spend more time and energy trying to interfere with our domestic policies.
The above hissed in response by: Terrye at December 5, 2006 4:02 AM
The following hissed in response by: Steelhand
Excellent post. Dafydd, your writing style, dry wit, and delightful use of metaphor make me cringe at the thought of trying to write for mass consumption (which I have done, albeit in the 800 max word editorial requirements of a local newspaper.)
However, to turn your Borg metaphor on itself: the way to defeat a "resistance is futile" enemy, is to introduce self-doubt into the collective. If you introduce a pathogen into the collective identity, (America is the greatest source of evil on the planet, killer of millions, ruiner of our earth, dominator of the rich on the backs of the poor, its religious identity is a burden on corrupt and hypocritical,) then you sap its strength.
This pathogen has been systematically created in our education departments, incorporated into our entertainment industry, and exported to the sphere we wish to assimilate strengthening their resolve to repel our assualt.
So the question I pose is: what comes first? Can we export the Americanism collective while battling the internal virus of self-doubt? Or must we forestall this export while we reinvigorate our self-image as America the last-best hope? Or can we do both simultaneously?
The above hissed in response by: Steelhand at December 5, 2006 4:32 AM
The following hissed in response by: Jauhara Al-Kafirah
Those are nice sentiments, but without an historical base, they are meaningless. Face it, when democratic elections are held in despotic places, the despots always win. There is one country of individualistic capitalists in that whole region, and everyone is wanting to rid the world of it. Israel. Its gubmint may be socialistic, and its educational system leftard, as is our own, but the Israelis are the most individualistic people after the Amrikans. No one there outside of Israel seems to be learning the new counter ideology.
The above hissed in response by: Jauhara Al-Kafirah at December 5, 2006 5:34 AM
The following hissed in response by: Cowgirl
Thank you, Dafydd. This was named the feel-good post of the day on my site.
The above hissed in response by: Cowgirl at December 5, 2006 6:10 AM
The following hissed in response by: LarryD
Samuel Huntington's characterization of American civilization as "Anglo-Protestant" has merit, but his shot goes astray. No predestination prevents other peoples from adopting the Anglo-Protestant principle as their own. Of the 6,000 languages spoken on the planet, two go extinct every week (Why radical Islam might defeat the West, July 8, 2003). We are well into a Great Extinction of the Peoples, such as has not occurred since the collapse of Rome. Just as the endangered peoples of the 4th century embraced Christianity as a promise of immortality beyond the grave of their culture, so the peoples of the South flock to the same Cross. Seventeen hundred years ago they acknowledged the authority of Rome. Today the source of Christian authority is America.
The secularists who dominate American foreign policy seem to think that they can export the shell of the American system, namely its constitutional forms, without its religious kernel. It seems that the peoples of the South know better. It is no stranger that America's hold over the world's imagination should find religious expression first and political expression later, than that radical Protestants should have founded America in the first place. The new Christians of the South will surprise us for ill as well as good. Such matters of the spirit lie beyond anyone's capacity to predict and well may have huge strategic impact, as you observe.
What makes the US uniquely good is that it is uniquely Christian. I do not mean that Christianity is a unique fount of goodness - far from it - but rather that Christianity proposes a universalized form of good. The Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians who chose to emigrate to America left the blood and soil of their origins behind them, unlike the barbarian invaders who populated modern Europe. Christians worship a God outside of nature who loves all of humankind; by contrast, pagans worship themselves. Self-worship can take the form of adoration of a man-made idol, or the adoration of a blond, blue-eyed Jesus for the Germans or an Indian Virgin for the Mexicans. Spiritual narcissism is the curse of the gentiles, who feel justified in exterminating their neighbors out of a perverse adoration for their own ethnicity. As the only nation with no ethnicity, America is the most Christian, and indeed the last Christian nation in the industrial world as a practical matter.
The Christianity that Bush professes is an American original, a true rebirth without a backward glance. The born-again American Christian expects every individual on earth to respond to divine grace in similar fashion. The kind of evangelical Christians one finds in Midland, Texas, evince a spirit of charity found among no other people in the world, sending money and missionaries to assist the most impoverished people of Africa and Latin America.
Democratic constitutions clutter up the dustbin of history. Every satellite of the failed Soviet empire had one. Democracy does not work unless the people truly believe that the individual is sovereign - not the people, I hasten to add. Since the odious J J Rousseau, we have had enough varieties of the "fuehrer principle" to choke on, in which an absolute leader embodies the spirit of the nation, disdaining the vulgarities of democracy in which candidates must persuade even crack addicts. One cannot be a little bit pregnant. Either the individual as a living image of God has such rights as pertain to his station, or not. If democracy comes to the peoples of the southern hemisphere it will come as a consequence of the evangelizing described above by Douglas Bilodeau, not as a set of transitional measures by the political scientists of the Pentagon.
It remains to be see if Islam can adopt American individualism and remain Islam. The more I've learned about the tenets of Islam, the less I think so.
The following hissed in response by: Robert Schwartz
I want to thank LarryD, who is clearly also a Spengler fan, for posting some thought provoking quotes from the great man.
Spengler is a pseudonym for the writer whose works appear somewhat weekly (but never weakly) at the ATimes website:
The real Oswald Spengler (1880 – 1936) was a German historian and philosopher who is best known for his book The Decline of the West puts forth a cyclical theory of the rise and decline of civilizations. The pseudonymous Spengler is, as near as I can make out a middle aged or older gentleman, with an extensive education, who reads German works in the original and is fond of citing Kierkegaard and Rosenzweig. He is more interested in the religious and cultural bases of the rise and decline of nations than in the back and forth of politics and strategy.
I think, Dafydd, that you and he are looking at different parts of the same elephant. I do not think you are wrong about the appeal of America to the world, but I think Spengler has some sharp and perceptive things to say about the reaction to that appeal in traditional societies and the chaos and bloodshed that will follow.
Thy this one:
The blood is the life, Mr Rumsfeld!:
The blood is the life, and men pass to eternal life only through blood - but whose blood? Self-sacrifice in war is the fundamental religious act of paganism, for it is only by the sacrifice of the young men of the tribe that the tribe has surety of survival among a forest of enemies. Human sacrifice, especially among warrior-cults, is a common religious expression among pagans. But with the notion of a universal God comes also the prospect of universal peace: if all men one day might worship one God by the same name, then the perpetual warring among tribes fighting for survival also might cease.
In proud defiance of revealed religion, the destroyer of the tribes, Islam holds to the primal demand of self-sacrifice. The jihadi's self-immolation in war, symbolized by the drawing of blood and the bleeding of nature itself, is the fundamental act of worship. The immortality of the individual, put at risk by the encroachment of the metropole upon the life of the tribe, is regained through the revolt of the endangered tribes against the usurpation of the empire that forms its motivation. Shi'ism therefore represents the original impulse of Islam in its purest form, and the shedding one's own blood an authentic response.
The following hissed in response by: LarryD
An additional, reinforcing interview on Islam. I think Ann Coulter got it right the first time, we're going to have to convert them. And we're going to have to do it their way, by the sword, because Islam cannot endure defeat the way Christianity and Judaism can. Allah is a sovereign, a crushing defeat challenges Islam at its roots.
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