Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Monday, October 29, 2007

On Western Societies: a response to Christopher Hitchens' 'An Anglosphere Future'.

I am writing this short piece in response to Christopher Hitchens' piece on the Anglosphere. I believe the West has declined in its overall level of consciousness by virtue of the use of force for selfish ends in occupied countries. It now seems essential the West back away from its democracy-fostering efforts, to avoid further corruption.

Hitchens' article delineates the force-based characteristics of the West and rationalises them as okay. He writes that the anglosphere is defined by common language, military alliance, and opposition to tyrants. Which all sounds okay from an ordinary point of view, but he ingores how the context of the situation has shifted in recent days.

First, language: English is a world language—the language of business and the Internet and air-traffic control, as well as of literature. Evoking Orwell, he says the English language provides defense against tyranny. For example:

"The Soweto revolt in the 1980s, which ultimately spelled apartheid’s downfall, exploded after the Nationalist regime made the medium of school instruction exclusively Afrikaans, banning the classroom use of English, along with Xhosa and Zulu."

But the language he uses is itself quite obscure. His writing is hard to understand. He rambles into nostalgic personal anecdotes and historical asides. He neglects the key point in the present day - that English is a form of force that open traditional cultures to the world. Tribal and feudal populations resent this imposition of language, seeing it as a manifestation of imperialism. The implication here is that not only does our language, but our presumptions about human nature, get enforced on dissident populations. Most of the people the West seeks to influence do not want democracy, education, or the edifice of scientific rationalism: they want jobs, community, shelter and clothing. So the mostly good predominance of English language can be used as a tool of oppression also.

Second, military force:

Hitchens writes that the anglosphere's use of military force makes us a good influence on the world. In other words, might makes right but that's okay because the might is that of the anglosphere, so it is right. Isn't that circular logic? And, what would Gandhi say?

Hitchens further rambles to obscure this fascist notion. I summarise:

Post-September 11 has shown the anglosphere's military alliance in practice. When Australian forces also went to Iraq, and Australian prime minister John Howard was attacked domestically he said that in times of crisis, there wasn’t much point in being 75 percent a friend.

But Hitchens writes concisely here:

"Howard’s statement has a great deal of history behind it. The anglosphere alliance defeated German Wilhelmine imperialism in 1918, the Nazi-Fascist Axis in 1945, and international Communism in 1989. This long arc of cooperation means that a young officer in, say, a Scottish regiment has a good chance of having two or even three ancestors who fought in the same trenches as did Americans and New Zealanders. No military force evolved by NATO, let alone the European Union, can hope to begin with such a natural commonality, the lack of which was painfully evident in Europe’s post-1989 Balkan bungling (from which a largely Anglo-American initiative had to rescue it)."

He contrasts Western military might with that of the United Nations, NATO and the European Union. We have consensus, whereas they do not, he points out. But consensus against our enemies is no consensus of friends; it is a cabal of warlords. The problem is not that the West has military predominance but that we see military predominance as the answer to creating a stable world situation. Again, I would reiterate that the people ruled by the West's enemies do not want democracy of Western culture; they want good work, shelter, and enough food to feed their children.

This is not to ignore the primitive nature of the West's enemies, to whom vengeance is justice and the idea of God an excuse for hatred. But these folk need to be contained by economic sanction and clearly exposed by their fruits. We are in no position to judge just because the West is the most effective war-maker on the planet today.

The meaning of Hitchens' essay seems to be that the anglosphere is good because it is dominant in military and language. I disagree.

The anglosphere is good because it has most effectively institutionalised the spiritual principles taught by Jesus, and most effectively secularised society so that these principles' origins are anonymous and accessible to everyone regardless of religion or walk of life. Accountability, responsibility, lovingkindness, forgiveness - these are part and parcel of the English-speaking West due to the noble efforts of generations of law-makers to institute them.

But the anglosphere has pockets of totalitarianism. It has aspects of life which are barbaric. And it also has folk on the same level as our enemies' people - the West has many who don't give a damn for democracy, but only want good work, shelter and enough food for their kids. We are just like our enemies, if we bother to look.

The West needs to clean house. We need to own up to the intellectual vanity of supposing we can impose democracy on people who don't need it. We need to accept responsibility for our own poor and disadvantaged.

We cannot deal with the poor of the West without confronting the inequity of the capitalist system. Nor can we confront the capitalist system without becoming aware of our own gluttony and lack of restraint in regards to our personal desires and wants.

We ARE capitalism. There is no distinction between the behavior of the system and the behavior of the individual, of you and I. The test of an ethical capitalism is our personal restraint, prudence, and philanthropy: in other words, how we treat the humblest Westerners dictates how we treat our enemies.

Dealing with recalcitrant, victim-addicted, resentment-filled poor folk in our own nation is the litmus test for how we handle international relations. Hitchens ignores the context of Western use of force, and thus fails not only to be true to the principles of Western culture, but also appears to be offering excuses for the West.

If, as Hitchens writes, the greatness of the West is in imposition of force through langage and military might, then it is not a very great thing to be a Westerner. I am not that kind of Westerner, and I request that Mr Hitchens recognise the sordid excuses and vainglory of his piece as a false representation of the West. We need to take the plank out of our own eyes before we can focus on the speck of dust in our enemies' eyes.


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