Saturday, December 23, 2006

Evening in America and the World

Tis the season for predictions and prognostications, and you would be hard-pressed to find an optimistic vision for the near future. The most recent general election in the US, in which a hapless, drifting, fractured Republican coalition, hurt by an unpopular war, sex and corruption scandals, was soundly whipped by an equally hapless Democrat party with no message other than retreat and retrenchment, offers little hope for a regathering of national will in the near term.

The conservative crack-up is the most newsworthy political story of the year. No longer do the conservatives have a cheerful face of optimism, like that of Ronald Reagan, or even Newt Gingrich, for that matter. Like so many Old Testament prophets, many conservatives are viewing their fall from grace as a dire portent for the country. One such would-be Isaiah is Daily Duck frequent fiskee Dennis Prager, who published his dire view for the world this week at Townhall.com:

On the eve of the year 2007, it is evident to anyone with the fortitude to see reality that the world is not getting better, nor even staying the same, but getting worse.

There are a few positive developments. But they are mostly technological and medical. More people are eating better and living longer than ever before. And the Internet gives more people access to more information (and more lies) than ever before. But aside from medical and technological progress, there is little positive to report. And, as always, the technological breakthroughs are frequently morally mixed bags.

Almost wherever one looks, there are more reasons for pessimism than optimism.

Africa is probably in worse condition than at any time in recorded history. Though often exaggerated, great numbers of young and middle-aged people are dying from AIDS; corruption in Africa is so widespread and deeply rooted that aid workers are telling the West to stop giving funds to Africa because those funds only serve to prop up corrupt regimes and increase poverty, malnutrition and violence; about three million people have died in the ongoing wars in the Congo; and the Islamic Arab regime of Sudan has allowed or directed genocide.

In Asia, China, sitting on reserves of over a trillion dollars, is beginning to regard itself as a world power, and most of where it meddles, it plays an immoral role (regarding Iran's nuclear weapons and the North Korea regime). As China's economic power grows, it will increasingly seek to flex its muscles. This could mean tension over Taiwan, but it will even more likely mean that Japan will try to become a military power once again and perhaps develop its own nuclear weapons -- because of North Korea's weapons and because of China's strength and ambitions. A strong Japan, given North Korea's lunatic regime and China's drive for regional dominance, is a positive development but an unfortunate one nevertheless.

Russia, like China, increasingly uses its power in immoral ways, and its government is becoming increasingly authoritarian.

As bad as Africa and parts of Asia are, the Arab world is in many ways in even worse condition and poses a far greater threat to world stability. The Arab world is largely divided between corrupt regimes and Islamic totalitarians who await the downfall of those regimes. Since World War II, the Arab world has sought a solution to its backwardness -- first in nationalism, then in Pan-Arab nationalism and Marxism, and now in Islam. "Islam is the answer" is the motto of vast numbers of young Arabs (and Muslims elsewhere), and the Islam they are referring to is often not benign. Making matters worse, the Arab world is consumed by hate. Hatred and oil have become its primary exports: hatred of Israel, of America and of other non-Muslims in its midst -- e.g., Maronite Christians in Lebanon, non-Muslims in Sudan and Christians in the Palestinian territories.


Prager points out many valid problems, and I don't mean by this critique to dismiss the seriousness of the problems facing the world and the US at this point in history. The optimism/pessimism game is always a choice between competing views of the future, as there will always be promises and portents to consider. History has shown that periods of optimism often come just prior to some of the worst cataclysms, such as the turn of the century expansiveness that preceded World War I, or the 1990's post Cold War "clear sailing" boom times preceding 9/11. We've been through worse times than we are facing now. Why the sudden dour mood on the part of conservatives?

Prager further on offers an insight into his mood, and it is the cultural faultlines here at home that seem to worry him more:

Western Europe is disappearing demographically and culturally. Like other secular societies, Western Europe is not repopulating itself and has relied on importing immigrants to provide citizens and workers. Most of them are Muslims, and many of them loathe Western Europe and its values. It is difficult to imagine any other future scenario for Western Europe than its becoming Islamicized or having a civil war. Western Europe is the first secular society in human history and consequently believes in very little beyond having a secure and comfortable life untroubled by war, work or children.

The increasing influence of the world's Left makes combating the above problems very difficult. The Left dominates the world's news media and universities, is regaining power in Latin America, and is socially as well as politically dominant in most Western European countries. And it either sides with America's enemies or makes combating them far more difficult. Thus it is increasingly common to see Che Guevara pictures at Hezbollah rallies in Lebanon and to see Western leftists, like London's mayor, honor radical Muslims.

One society stands opposed to all these developments -- the United States of America. But that society is itself deeply divided. About half holds the values of Western Europe; and the other half believes that Western European values -- essentially secularism and socialism -- are anathema to America. The latter half believes America must remain true to its founding principles: Judeo-Christian values; individual freedom and small government; and a melting pot rather than multiculturalism.

Which side wins will determine the fate of mankind for a century or more. And you can't win if you are naively optimistic.

Happy New Year.


Happy New Year, indeed! This is the Religious Right mantra, though a little out of date with the reference to small government. Prager seems to read from the entrails of the Republican rout a rejection of Judeo-Christian values, what with our newfound tolerance for such anti-American activities as taking the Oath of Office on the Koran. Prager was soundly criticized on that call, even by his closest allies on the right, and you have to wonder whether that rejection was his "not in Kansas anymore" moment, when he realized that his personal vision of a small town, culturally monolithic Judeo-Christian American society is a chimera. You get the sense that Prager is starting to feel like an outsider in his own country.

If the rest of the conservative movement catches Prager's culturally alienated pessimism, then it will become a spent force. America will never again be a tidy Hallmark Card monoculture, and American identity can't be maintained on the premise that we all say our oaths on the Bible, or we all worship Jesus and say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays". The fact that the latter became a fighting issue for conservatives in the past year is a sign of how petty and small conservative identity politics has become.

Ironically, (can I get a measurement, Skipper?) such identity politics is a sign that cultural conservatives like Prager are becoming more like the other identity groups in a multicultural, as opposed to a melting pot, society. Prager imagines that the melting pot's result will always be a fixed dish, like Mulligan Stew. But the ingredients change through time, and the end result changes too. After awhile its more like sweet & sour Tex-Mex stew in a pita. The melting affects the original ingredients as well as the new.

The genius of the melting pot is that it can absorb the new ingredients. The important point about Ellison's oath on the Koran is not his loyalty to Islam, but the fact that he is taking an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. And it is the Constitution that is the central document of American identity, not the Bible.

Count me among the optimists, because in spite of the housing slowdown and rising interest rates I signed a contract to do a cash-out refi on the Arizona home to put in a pool that my wife needs for her arthritis therapy. We didn't get $100 oil this year, and won't next year either. We haven't had another 9/11 on our soil. Paris hasn't burned down yet. Iranian students had the courage to shout down President Ahmadinejad, at the risk of their own lives.

Here's a pre-emptive Happy New Year to all my friends!

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas

December 23, 2006 4:16 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

...it is evident to anyone with the fortitude to see reality...

By which he means "it is evident to anyone who is as delusional as I am."

Africa is probably in worse condition than at any time in recorded history.

Given that, with the exception of Egypt, "recorded history" in Africa began with European colonialism, perhaps this is a cry for a reoccupation of Africa by the world's more mature cultures.
If so, I strongly agree.

In Asia, China, sitting on reserves of over a trillion dollars...

This is reason for pessimism why, exactly ?
That they have a trillion U.S. dollars in their reserves, and yet continue to accept more, strikes me as a positive thing. (At least for America).

...is beginning to regard itself as a world power...

Yeah, nukes, a space programme, and a booming economy will tend to do that to people. It's simply the nature of the world for nations, regimes, and regions to fall and rise in influence. This is a time of Chinese waxing.

Note to Dennis Prager: Read some world history, and take notes.

That would also prevent him from writing howlers such as "Russia, like China, increasingly uses its power in immoral ways, and its government is becoming increasingly authoritarian."

Forgotten the Cold War already, have we ?

###

But enough of fishing in a barrel. Prager makes it too easy.

The bottom line is that since Europe, Russia, and Japan have opted out of the future, China has yet to prove that they'll be able to avoid imploding, and the Middle East will be out of the oil business and back to herding goats by 2050, the 21st century looks likely to be every bit as much an "American century" as was the 20th.

Hoping for more than that, for some mythic "perfect world" or Utopia, is a game for children. Or, to coin a phrase, for those "with[out] the fortitude to see reality."

December 24, 2006 1:56 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

But good times are bad for salvationist religion.

I am reminded of a Playboy cartoon from decades ago. It's Christmas, and a lovely young girl is accosted by a street evangelist. Behind her is a old lecher carrying an armload of expensive gifts. The caption reads: 'No, thank you. I've been saved.'

December 24, 2006 12:59 PM  

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