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Monday, October 16, 2006

Quarrying 300 Million Toasters

A century ago, it was not at all uncommon to have an entire extended family - one or two sets of grandparents, parents, at least a half-dozen children - all in one house. Families like that used to pose an enormous problem to modern economies.

Think about it. A dozen or two people living in one house find hand-me-downs virtuous, they only need one set of cook pots, they only have one toaster. Large households are not good for the economy because they consume fewer goods.

If there were some way to split those people up so they inhabit three, four, five or six households, then we can sell five or six toasters, five or six sets of cook pots, five or six sets of dishes or cars or houses. From a capitalist’s point of view, it would be best if every one of our 300 million Americans lived in a separate house since that would maximize both purchases and profit.

However, as one might expect, while there are enormous economic advantages to creating this level of social disintegration, there’s a downside as well. In order to break up the multi-generational family, sowing social dissension between the members of the family is absolutely critical. The most efficient way to set the various family members in opposition to one another is to encourage every kind of selfish behaviour. If each person thinks only of his own best interests, then each person will spend his income on himself, saving none of it for anyone else.

Unfortunately, this selfishness bleeds over into the workplace. A selfish worker is more likely to steal, to use up sick days and similar benefits at the highest possible rates, in short, s/he will have little loyalty to the company.

Part of the cost of doing business is precisely the controlled anarchy that tends to be engendered in the larger society as each person looks out primarily for number one. As experience shows, anarchy can be managed so as to produce significant profits for particular people.

But, to be fair, most businesses don’t do well in total anarchy. Rather, they do best at a level just below total anarchy, a situation in which everyone invests their money in goods and services that will protect them from the various kinds of physical, emotional, and social harm which the larger society so willingly inflicts on the weak.

Unmade in America
Since World War II, the United States has been the pre-eminent leader in creating an economy whose citizens tremble on that knife edge between maximum profit-generation and general anarchy.

We do this by placing enormous obstacles in the way of every personal relationship. Early daycare, year-round schooling and the perceived need for a two-income family effectively separates parents from their own children for as long as possible each day, guaranteeing that the family is essentially composed of strangers living at the same address. Better yet, the schools teach children how to be consumers: needy, unable to solve their own problems, always looking towards the external authority: peer pressure.

We encourage pornography and contraception, and thereby divorce, by transforming every person into an object of use. Easy access to abortion and euthanasia encourage family members to destroy one another at the first sign of burden. Homosexuals become the icons for our generation because they (1) rise rapidly on the corporate ladder through assiduous attention to their own good and (2) spend all their money on their greatest love, themselves. Homosexuals are the darlings of the media because homosexuals have far more per capita disposable income than a married couple with five children.

But, even as the corporate world encourages homosexuality precisely because it is profligate, encourages contraception/abortion precisely because it is an abdication of responsibility and encourages euthanasia precisely because it does cut costs, Christian faith attempts to undercut these movements. America’s economy works well because it has harnessed two opposing forces: integration and disintegration, and kept both from gaining majority control.

We Need a New Quarry
But there’s a problem in paradise. You can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin him once. America’s famously strong Protestantism has slowly crumpled under the assault of secular capitalism. Even as America reaches 300 million people, a population growth accomplished only by renting the wombs of Hispanic immigrants, it is no longer a majority Christian population. It is estimated that only one in ten households are headed by a married, never-divorced couple with children.

In its endless quest for profits, too many sheep have been skinned. American corporations are running out of families to exploit. There are fewer and fewer families to break up, fewer and fewer children to dispossess.

But not to worry. We still have Mexico.

Hispanics are the ideal foil for the corporation. The Chinese may have more people, but their one-child policy and their non-Christian culture means they are already atomized. Communism has already set them against each other. There is no mother lode here.

Western corporations have been trying to break into the China market for hundreds of years. The only nation that ever succeeded to any great extent was the British, and that only by waging war on the coastal cities in order to force the Chinese into opium addiction. No, for all the talk of the China market, very little market is actually there.

Hispanics, on the other hand, are Christians who still tend towards multi-generational households, households whose piggy banks are growing through the money sent home by immigrant workers. The American economy needs Hispanics not just because they do jobs Americans will not, but also because their unbroken families are as untilled fields to us, their Catholicism is strong enough to maintain the necessary tension against anarchy. Like a new granite quarry, they can be tunneled into, mined, and blown apart. These are sheep we know how to shear.

2012 statistics confirm this.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

America's Dorian Gray

America’s Dorian Gray

Ever since 9/11, we have spent a lot of our time worrying about Islam and its suicide bombers, and rightly so. We find the idea of murder-suicide repulsive. The idea that the suicide might intentionally take more lives with him – it is usually a him, after all – is even more repulsive. Indeed, it is so repulsive we cannot tear our eyes from it. But it is interesting to examine exactly what repulses us.

Nearly 3000 people died on September 11, 2001 just as nearly 3000 had died on September 10, 2001 and 3000 would die on September 12, 2001. We took note of the event on the 11th, but ignored the events on the 10th and the 12th.

On the 11th, several really big buildings were destroyed by two dozen men who had agreed to kill Americans. On the 10th and the 12th, several dozen men also agreed to kill Americans but they chose to do it in the safety and comfort of abortion clinics across the country. Accomplishing the events of the 11th was seen as an act of a criminal mastermind, opposing the events of the 10th and 12th is also seen as the act of criminal masterminds.

To this day, I can’t shake the feeling that we mourn the loss of the 9/11 buildings more than we do the inhabitants. It has always been hard to take the mournful expressions of the bubble-headed bleached blonde seriously when we know that, even as they mourn, they are tracking audience numbers to see how to entice more of us to their news coverage and, more importantly, their commercial breaks. September 11 was a bad day for America, but at least ratings were up for CNN.

A similar lurking hypocrisy seems to simmer below the surface when it comes to suicide bombers. Islam manufactures suicide bombers, and we rightly castigate Islamic culture for it. But, in just the last week, we have seen the United States manufacture several suicide gunners. When confronted by them, we just shake our heads and click our tongues.

Islam we hold responsible.
Us? Well, we are too nice to be responsible for that kind of thing.

Are we? Think back over the last few years. The only difference between Muslims and Americans is the choice of weapons.

Muslims strap on explosives, enter cafes, banks, trains and buses and pull the trigger. We strap on hunting rifles, enter schools and pull the trigger. True, our way is not as efficient as theirs, but we seem to leave about the same number of bodies behind.

We can say, correctly, that Islam seems peculiarly susceptible to creating suicide bombers. But what of us? True, we don’t explicitly train Americans to be suicide gunners, but we seem to be doing an excellent job in implicitly training them. We don’t hold suicide gunners up as heroes, but they get the fame, nonetheless. Muslim suicides get houris in heaven. American news moguls get houris on earth. Everybody wins.

We seem to find religiously motivated murder-suicide to be somehow more frightening than the man driven to suicide-by-police. We ominously discuss Muslims, but every time another American straps on explosives or a rifle and enters a school (and notice it is always a school, never a shopping mall, a football stadium or movie theater), we chalk it off to bad luck, a lone lunatic, a freak occurrence. Why?

Muslims blow themselves up to kill the great Satan. We pull out rifles to kill the schools. Is it possible that, like Muslims, Americans also have a single, driving motive in our collective suicidal events? Is it possible that we, too, carry an inarticulate, uneducated, demonic hatred of the institutions that destroy us?

The Arabic word for “marriage” is the same as the word for “coition.” According to Islam, women exist to serve the sexual needs of the man. Oddly enough, this is precisely what American culture teaches American men. The whole point of America’s love affair with contraception and abortion is to assure men that they won’t have to worry about taking responsibility for the woman they impregnate. Our no-fault divorce exactly mimics Islamic divorce, in which the man simply announces to his wife that she is divorced, then shows her the door.

Islam is a misogynistic culture built around adulation of the Koran and hatred of intellectual inquiry. We are a misogynistic culture built around adulation of Hollywood and hatred of intellectual inquiry. They have suicide bombers. We have suicide gunners. Perhaps we hate the Muslims for the same reason Dorian Gray hated his picture.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Gasoline on the Islamic Fire

After Greg Borse of pointed me towards a fascinating interview with the Islamic expert, Bernard Lewis, I spent some time thinking about Lewis’ remarks. The conclusions I reached were not encouraging.

Lewis points out that the current suicide bombing frenzy is a new thing under the sun for Islam. For centuries, Muslims were taught that suicide was a most heinous sin, guaranteed to merit hell. It is only within this last century that the teaching changed to embrace suicide.

This new interpretation combined with another new interpretation to create the current havoc. According to Lewis, non-Muslims have traditionally been only lightly punished if they blasphemed Allah or Mohammed.

In times past, non-Muslims living under non-Muslim rule (such as Americans, the Dutch or the Pope), would not be held to standards of blasphemy appropriate only for Muslims. Even dhimmis, those non-Muslims who were permitted to live as second-class citizens under Muslim rule, were generally not threatened with serious injury or execution for such actions. It was understood that all of these people were pagans, and blasphemy is all anyone could expect from pagans.

But this has all changed. Within the last few years, Muslims have begun treating non-Muslims, even non-Muslims living in traditionally non-Muslim countries, to standards that used to apply only to followers of Islam. Worse, they have taken to punishing us pagans with a kind of violence that used to be entirely proscribed.

And herein lies the rub.

Pagans, Muslims and Christians
I have discussed in numerous other posts how the Judeo-Christian worldview differed radically from the pagan worldview.

Recall that pre-Christian pagans saw the universe as cyclic, with no beginning and no end. Everyone was on an eternal wheel. Most pagans accepted reincarnation, most accepted the idea that there was no point to deep investigation of any event, because every event merely repeated something that had already happened before and would eventually happen again. All of humanity was chained to an endless, meaningless circle with no real hope for escape, no hope that something new under the sun might ever occur.

Christianity changed all that. For Christians, the universe had a definite beginning (Creation) and a definite end (the coming of the Messiah and the Last Judgement). Everything was building, progressing, moving towards a very definite and clear-cut end. Mankind did not live in a circle, endlessly staring at its own tail, but in a story, in which the actors were expected to mature towards a definite goal.

But Christianity and paganism weren’t just two different ways to look at the physical world. The theology was fundamentally different. Pagans saw the gods as quirky, arbitrary. It was necessary to constantly please their vanities, to stay on their good sides lest the gods become angry with you and smite you down. Gods changed, and men had to be nimble enough to follow their caprices.

Christian philosophy, at least Christian philosophy up until the Reformation, took a radically different view. Christians saw God as unchanging Love. He was not vain, He did not anger, no man could get on His good side by being theologically or physically nimble. Rather, you either used the gifts He gave to become like Him, learning to love as He does, or you chose not to love. If you chose against love, then you would spend the rest of eternity without love.

Six hundred years after the first Christians began later, Islam combined Judeo-Christian monotheism with pagan ideas of the quirkiness of the gods and thereby changed a fundamental rule of theology.

According to Islam, God is one but God can change. He might decide tomorrow that idolatry is acceptable and incest is, indeed, best. Whereas Christian theology understands that God holds creation in existence from moment to moment out of sheer love, Islamic theology assumes God keeps existence going simply because He hasn’t gotten bored with it yet (although He might change His mind on that at any point).

So, whereas a Christian strives to imitate God’s love, a Muslim trains himself to blindly and willingly submit to whatever his capricious God may choose to do next.

Reformation theology, coming nearly a millennium after Mohammed made his mark, added a further twist to theological rules by retaining not only Hebrew monotheism and Catholic Trinity, but also the capricious aspects of Allah.

For the Reformationists and their theological descendants, God is love except when He isn’t. He changes at times. For instance, for non-Catholic Christians, God pours out divine wrath on Himself as He hangs on the Cross because man’s sin has alienated God the Father from God the Son. God gets angry at Himself, opposes Himself.

The Problem
And herein lies the problem. Capitalism, at least capitalism as the West currently promotes it, is primarily a Protestant phenomenon. At this stage of the game, the entire system is designed to create highly emotional consumers, men and women who do not think very clearly but who do feel very strongly. The reason is simple: it is easier to pry money out of the hands of highly emotional people than it is to get it away from essentially rational, stable individuals.

Now, as we have seen, most pagans were not enormously enamored of rational thought. For people ruled by a pantheon of capricious gods in a cyclical universe, rationality has not much use.

Similarly, while Muslims clearly don’t believe Allah is as capricious as, say, Zeus, he has his moments. He can and has cancelled some verses in the Quran and “sent better in its place.” He can change his mind. Allah is beyond rationality, not bound by it.

As for non-Catholic Christianity, Martin Luther essentially set the standard for their theology when he declared reason to be the whore of the devil.

So, as anyone who turns on a television can attest, capitalism is not great at promoting rationalism. It claims to operate according to rational principles, but it actually promotes raw emotion. To put it bluntly, the same kind of raw emotion that drives men and women into car dealerships also drives Moslem crowds into frenzies and suicide bombers into cafes. The only difference is the direction of the emotion.

Given Lewis’ comments on the radical changes in Muslim theology, changes that occurred as Western oil money flowed in during just the last few decades, a rather disturbing thought arises.

We invaded Iraq, we support Israel, because we want to bring Western-style capitalism and democracy to the Middle East. But, while it is possible that Islam can be reformed, it is likewise possible that capitalism, at least as currently practiced in the West, is actually antithetical to that most necessary reform.

The cultural system, particularly the educational system, by which capitalist societies produce emotionally immature, grasping consumers is also perfectly suited to create emotionally immature, violent Muslims – exactly the kind of Muslims we are seeing today. Capitalism is designed to create and appeal to pagans; like Protestantism, Islam possesses a partially paganized worldview.

Thus, it is possible that these Muslim crowds look like 1960’s student radicals because the Western occupation of the region after World War I allowed Western methods of education, i.e., training in consumer-oriented emotionalism, to be widely introduced throughout the Arabian territories. This possibility is especially intriguing given that the most violent Muslim demonstrations have taken place within the most highly educated Middle-Eastern population, by Western standards: the Palestinians.

As Protestant capitalism infiltrates Islam, as secular emotionalism stokes religious emotionalism, it may not break the back of the local religion, as it has in the West. Rather, it may act like gasoline on a fire, causing Islam to erupt into a flame that will destroy them both.

In short, Pope Benedict’s plea to marry faith and reason together, a plea directed towards both the West and Islam, is somewhat more urgent than anyone thought.