Friday, February 13, 2009

The Decline of the West

Johann Hari is at it again. I've noticed throughout the past few years how his articles (and vitriol) have grown against Islam. I'm not angry about what he writes anymore, in fact I don't even blame him. He is a product of his times, his culture and of his own 'faith' - liberalism. The English, along with spreading their empire, also sowed the seeds for their own brand of political thought which finds its most articulate expression in the writings of John Stuart Mill, a lapsed utilitarian (a utilitarian believes, in a nutshell, that all actions should be judged on whether they contribute the most and to the "greater" happiness for all). The golden rule for Mill is that society can only interfere with an individual once their actions actually lead to harming others, in all other cases the individual is entirely sovereign over their own bodies, actions and interests. Does this sound familiar? It should, this message is ingrained in almost every Western media production and accepted as common sense by generations of people throughout the world who have grown up in the post-independence era. The logic of it appears flawless, universal and common-sensical so what could possibly be wrong with it?

The answer is quite simple really. Liberalism, just as utilitarianism before it, is part of a tradition of modern European philosophies which failed to articulate "the good" for normal, average human beings going about their daily lives. These ideologies had much to say about the relationship of the individual with the state (since the lasting political legacy of European empire is the state system) but nothing at all to say about how an individual was supposed to 'live well' and to what end. This actually was opposed to almost every major philosophical view that preceded it in history. In my view this was a shortcoming and not a development for European political and ethical philosophy. Even amongst other thinkers of the time, utilitarian views, of which Mill was a strong proponent for the first part of his life, were strongly criticised. Nietsche said, "Man does not desire happiness, only the Englishman does" whilst Marx also remarked "with the driest naivete, Bentham takes the modern shopkeeper, especially the English shopkeeper, as the normal man" (Bentham was a famous proponent of Utilitarianism and friend of Mill's father, who raised Mill as a utilitarian).

In fact in Europe it became extremely unfashionable to espouse any philosophy that claimed to know how people should live there lives especially in the wake of the religious wars and the Roman Catholic Church. After the Second World War, a Europe which at first admired Nazism as a bulwark against Communism quickly became mortified with itself for having given birth to such a monster. As a result the ideals of liberalism and democracy became enmeshed in Western European thought and were the cornerstone of its faithful, both conservative and leftist. With the end of the Cold War, the West thought this was the end of history and the beginning of a new age of prosperity. It was a shock to their sensitivity to realise that not everybody shared these 'values' which they had previously thought were universal and had now triumphed. Whilst this was happening, the age old competition for resources between countries continued as it always has. The First, Second and Cold Wars were all to do with how resources were best allocated and by whom. They were about economics and at the centre is the human being as a unit of production whose happiness is measured according to material possessions.

What is interesting to see is that the disbelief of those people who believed that their values were universal and perfect was harnessed by the state to fit in perfectly with their grab for resources. Those barbaric and backward peoples who rejected the West's universal message of harmony also happened to provide most of the energy that their civilization ran on. They needed to be saved from themselves and made to see the light. In many ways, we see that Bin laden wasn't far off the mark when he describes the West as crusaders. In this new incarnation of these wars the West threatens its enemies not with hell and brimstone, but with shock and awe. Rather than "save" the Muslims from damnation, the West came to "liberate" them. What was not considered was that liberalism itself now protected Muslims in Europe and America from liberalism. This is what enrages people such as Hari and others who used to identify themselves with the "left" and this explains the gradual resurgence of fascism in the West.

Reading the newspapers today, you can get shocked at how the comments sections of even the "broadsheets" in the UK are now littered with views about Muslims and Islam that are downright racist, offensive and ignorant. Caricatures which would have had their artist crucified had he depicted Jews were now championed by the "thugs" of this re-emerging fascism as an exercise in "freedom of expression". I think that should another 9/11 scenario emerge, we will start to see full scale arrests and internments of Muslims throughout the Western world, followed by pressures to emmigrate. Had there not been a major financial recession taking place, I would not have said this, but with the core faith of so many in the Western political and economic establishments shaken so badly, anything can happen - and it will. In the newspapers, and other media, there has been a steady drip of anti-Muslim stories that continue to cause inflammation with the average people and when unemployment figures start hitting their millions in double digits -which they will - there will be a huge backlash against foreigners here.

Johann Hari and many like him are watching their world system collapse around them and, along with it, the core beliefs and values which they thought would help them. The stock market, capitalism and greed were always pillars of their economic system and these have been let down spectacularly. Once they do recover, which won't be till another four or five years, there will have to be some serious rethinking to do for many people.

1 comment:

Lirun said...

that is about as connected to philosophy as the local tv guide.. sounds like some rehashed notes from a tutorial.. *yawn*