Friday, January 27, 2006

Democracy - not always a good idea?
Debbie Schlussel, in FrontPage Magazine, sets out the reasons why democracy may not always be a good idea:
"Democratic" elections in the Mid-East--unless heavily "swayed" by our money and troops, as in Iraq--always result in fundamentalist Islamic theocratic disasters for our country, when a benevolent dictator of our liking would be much preferred. Even in Iraq, Islamic shariah law rules.

She cites Iran, the PA, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Lebanon as examples of democratic elections producing anti-freedom results. And of course this is possible, where there is no tradition of constitutional restraints on the majority, where there is no commitment to reason and individuality, as in the successful countries of Christendom (Thanks, Rodney Stark!).
The Big Pharaoh comes to the same conclusion:
Ladies and gentlemen, for the zillionth time I say: democracy is not just about ballot boxes and ballots and happy faces throwing pieces of paper in a box. Democracy cannot be separated from the values of liberal democracy, from the values that many of you take for granted. Values such as human rights, minorities rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to change religions, equality, women rights, and the seperation of religion and politics.

I'm a bit troubled by all this. It seems to support the idea that benevolent despots like Chung Hee Pak and Lee Kuan Yew and even Chiang Kai-Shek and the present Chinese Red government are better for a developing country than premature democracy. The same idea could apply to Russia, where democracy run amok and the lack of a strongman are often cited as leading to near-anarchy and social collapse. Maybe I just trust people too much. Maybe I just have the wrong idea of how people think when they've been immersed in collectivism for a really long time. I suppose it is possible that a basic level of "political literacy" is necessary before democracy can work. And maybe it doesn't matter if that consciousness is imposed or bubbles up from below. Certainly the population of Britain didn't embrace individuality and reason from the beginning.
But the failures of strongmen - The Shah, Castro, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Saddam, Khomeini - have been too many and too horrendous to put one's reliance on a dictator to successfully shepherd his benighted flock towards enlightenment. So I guess my question is, "OK, so you don't want democracy? What do you want instead? Despotism with a human face? What are the odds that the despot you've chosen will work out the way you think?" I'd rather take my chances with democracy.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Expat lib phonies

Johnathan Pearce on Samizdata tells a story about dealing with an apologetic US businessman:
...he said something that slightly vexed me in that he started to go on and on about how we must be so appalled by this nutcase rightwinger in the White House, how most Americans were insular and dumb, yadda-yadda. It was so obviously an attempt to deflect what anti-American prejudices potentially might have existed by getting in the blow first. He was, then, slightly surprised (by -RS) me when I said over a drink later that I did not like the way that Americans felt the need to abase themselves this way, or denigrate their home country, or its people.

I could just see how this idiot must have acted when he got back home:
I can just imagine that businessman coming back to the US and telling everyone at a cocktail party how he made sure to distance himself from Bush and the average American redneck, because he wanted to get in good with those oh-so-sophisticated Europeans. And I am so glad that a European with some brains put him in his place. Won't make any difference, but it put a smile on my face.

I don't think many conservatives - or libertarian/Objectivists like me - would have acted that way when Clinton was in power. We would have been aware of putting the country in a bad light and would have seen that kvetching reflected badly on us. However intelligent and successful liberals get, they never grow up inside.
The Art of Memory
One of my favorite books shows up in a comment of mine:
Francis Yates, in The Art of Memory discusses the structure of theaters, for instance, Shakespeare's Globe, as aids to memory, so actors could remember their lines by attaching topics to features of the building, which included statues and paintings much like those in a church. This method must have been natural and normal when everyone went to church and watched the pastors doing the same thing as they preached. Or is it possible that the dramatic memory techniques came first?

I've been trying to get the comment to post on Social Affairs Unit post about church architecture. Roger Homan opines that the statuary and stained glass in churches was used as a memory aid:
So medieval religious art attests to such a high level of visual literacy that we have to question whether it was ever achieved by the masses. It is more likely that murals and windows were used as visual aids in preaching and teaching - less likely that they could have been left to speak for themselves.
Makes sense to me. Many priests were nearly illiterate, anyway. But I'm sure they all had a decent education in the meaning of religious symbols.
Jane Galt's post on the ethics of abortion brought up some interesting issues:
You cannot morally treat children, or fetuses, as if they have the same rights and obligations as human adults; they have fewer freedoms, but more entitlements. Children are not only uniquely vulnerable, but also uniquely innocent; that fetus did not ask to be in your body, and has no means at his disposal to get out and stop bothering you. Trying to reason his fate from principles designed for consenting adults is neither practical nor morally just.

I love a principled argument, although it's not always enough:
Evolution does not take cognizance of how beautifully consistently you have reasoned from first principles when it decides what behaviours will survive.
I can just hear the Objectivists jump up and object, "Ah, but that's only true if your first principles do not reflect the reality of evolution." They do have a point.
Left this comment in response:
A thought experiment might help work out opinions on this issue: what if one day it is possible for a couple to have a child in vitro, where the woman's body is not being used to nurture the child? Should the parents then have any choice as to whether the fetus continues to live or not? If so, until how late in its development? For most people who want abortion to be available, the reason is not "a woman's control of her body". That's a red herring, a straw man, in plain terms, a lie. It's because the baby is inconvenient, it would interfere with a lifestyle as it grows up. A baby grown in a test tube would interfere just the same way. So it would be interesting to hear pro-choicers' opinions on the scope of parental power. The same kind of dilemma presents itself in proxy births. Do the biological parents have the right to force the proxy mother to have an abortion if they suddenly decide, "Hey we want to go to law school - a baby isn't really convenient right now."?
Of course I think I'm right. Most abortions have nothing to do with the fact that the baby is inside a woman's body. So how can you take seriously those people who act as if that's the whole issue? Why don't they have the gumption to say what they really mean, that adults should have the right to kill annoying little brats any time they want to? Oh, OK, that was a little over the top. In fact - AH - isn't it only the fact that the fetus is inside the woman's body, out of sight, that makes it possible to contemplate "getting rid of it" with anything approaching equanimity? When it's outside, pulling on your skirt in the supermarket and whining, you might like to exterminate it, but those darn human feelings get in the way. And I suppose even if it were floating embryonically in a glass, blinking in its primitive cuteness, it would be harder to order its execution.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Asia Times Article (by a Greek!) about Turkey's role in the "negotiations" with Iran about their nuclear obsession.
First a probing attack:
Iran's supply of natural gas to Turkey was inexplicably slashed by 70% last Friday, in one of the coldest months of the year.

Then the implication:
But despite publicly supporting Iran's quest for nuclear energy, Turkish officials have privately spoken of their fears at the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

And a warning, consisting of an interesting assertion:
Turkey is the only country in Iran's vicinity on which the US has prepositioned tactical nuclear weapons (an estimated 90) that it could deploy against Iranian facilities.

And the carrot:
According to German news agency DDP, Goss assured his Turkish counterparts that they would have a few hours advance warning of an air strike against Iran. He is also said to have given the green light for the Turkish army to strike PKK camps in Iran on the day of the attack.
...Bilateral trade(US/Turkey - RS) jumped in 2005 to an estimated US$4 billion, up from $1 billion in 2000.
PKK is the Kurd nationalist movement (OK, terrorist, to the Turks) Lots of good stuff. The Israelis are thinking of using Iraqi Kurdistan to launch their air attack on Iran. Seems unnecessarily provocative. Now I'm not saying I believe everything the Asia Times prints. The stimulating but absurd Spengler sees to that. Now take what Spengler says, though, (and what he says the Pope says) and put it together with Rodney Stark, and then maybe you have something! Developing, as they say.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

FDR: Totalitarian Predator

My favorite blog, Samizdata, has a thought-provoking post on the French Revolution:
That the Bourbon monarchy was a corrupt institution and that the ordinary folk of France suffered under an oppressive system is not in much doubt, mind. I cannot help but think, however, that the violent overthrow of the monarchy and what followed was, in net terms, a disaster for Europe and sowed the seeds of much eventual trouble.
So I thought I'd throw out a couple of thoughts it provoked in me:
Kerensky, anyone? Weimar? Hoover? Gorbachev? And how did that Ataturk fellow survive? One would have thought a fundy Islamic regime or a communistic one would have overthrown him. Couldn't have anything to do with the ruthless and therefore effective elimination of Greeks and Armenians, could it? And who was that Iranian fellow just after the Shah and before Khomeini? I always thought he looked like Peter Sellers, which was darned suspicious. The totalitarian predators lick their chops when a "tolerant" democratic leader shows up. And, yes, I'm including FDR among the predators.

Another key is the plural leadership, as in Caesar's triumvirate, the Seventies troika in the USSR and the Directory. Historical knowledge, while always incomplete, is valuable in every particular.
Back to Rodney Stark

I promised a dissection of Rodney Stark's "The Victory of Reason". Here's the first sentence:
When Europeans first began to explore the globe, their greatest surprise was not the existence of the Western Hemisphere, but the extent of their own technological superiority over the rest of the world

As a certain uber-blogmeister would say, "Indeed!" But why? This is the question that needs answering. And others, like "Why did European ships end up going to African ports to take African slaves to the New World? Why not African ships going to LeHavre and London and Lisbon to take European slaves to the New World African colonies in New Ghana and New Zimbabwe?" Full marks to Stark for making his entire book an answer to that question.