"Empire" and Intellectual Honesty

posted Dec 30, 2002

"People who ascribe to us the most base motives imaginable, using ancient rhetoric from 80 years of Marxist failure have, as usual, had to confront the fact that everything they believe in is demonstrably and spectacularly wrong. Despite their shrieking words and foaming mouth, the history of our actions makes liars of them all. It is a truth so simple, written so large and so clearly, that even the most liberal among us can understand it."

Seen variations on this theme from both sides lately, but this one is probably the cleanest from anybody I've seen.

I try to avoid judging people excessively based on their opinions; there are so many issues in the world and so little time that it is very easy to be exposed to only one side of a debate, deliberately or otherwise, and come to a bad conclusion due to lack of data. The proof of that statement lies in any person's experience, if they're willing to be honest to themselves. But there are a few markers that I have to admit I've come to associate strongly with, shall we say, "not fully utilized" intelligence. The belief in the unremitting evil of the United States has become one of them.

The US is not perfect. It's not even close. You can write a laundry list of evils committed by the US Government... and since the US is By The People, For The People, that lays the responsibility right back on the American People, accountability rare in the world. But to pretend that the US is a ravening devourer of civilization with no redeeming traits is just first-class intellectual dishonesty, of the kind that is supposed to get you banned from academia.

"Fact is, dreadful or not, McDonald's is not subsidized by the US Department of World Hegemony. They are a business concern. The day European customers stop eating at McDonald's the McDonald's WILL go away."

There's a lot to dislike or even hate about multi-national, multi-billion dollar companies like McDonald's, because they only see dollars and will do anything to get more of them. Since that is their only goal in life, they tend to stomp on anything that gets in their way in a way that only a multi-billion dollar commercial interest can, which is why they must be so carefully restrained. One of the many, many consequences is that multi-national corporations are almost completely incapable of forcing anything on anybody, for the simple reason that nobody will pay for that! A more useless vehicle for world culture domination could hardly be devised. To the extent that cultural "domination" has occurred, it is by the choice of the majority of residents, and as a good little beliver in Democracy I am more inclined to value the collective will of the people then a self-appointed elite.

Another marker I confess to using is the inability to recognize that any group of people based on some single trait is not homogenous. "How can Slashdot readers decry the MPAA, yet buy every Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings DVD the minute it comes out?" "How can conservatives claim guns (obviously truly dangerous) shouldn't be regulated when video games should be?" Such questions are literally meaningless; grammatically, the questions have subjects but the subjects (the group moniker ("Slashdot reader", "conservative") as an implied cohesive, monolithic entity) have no definable physical existance or correspondence with the real world. (The trick is that there is a group called "conservatives", fuzzy as it may be, but the question doesn't refer to that group, it refers to something else entirely.)

In general, I think all the markers I use revolve around the choice of the person to deliberately, against all evidence and reason, insist on taking a black and white view of a patently grey subject. Some views beg for polarization; in some sense, abortion is either morally wrong or morally neutral, and while I could hypothesize a middle ground to the conventional formulations of the issue, one of the extremes is most likely correct. (And I can formulate the question in a way that largely eliminates the middle ground, too: "Is it wrong to kill a human at all ages including the instant of conception, or is there some event, however temporally fuzzy it may be, that marks the transition from just another bunch of atoms to a human being?" What holes are left in the question come mostly from my lack of desire to spend much time nailing it down...) But a question like "Is the United States good?" is far to complex a question to just yell "EVIL!" and expect to capture reality.

Note the distinction between the phrase "not fully utilized intelligence" and "lack of intelligence". The loudest of the far left (the source of most of the "EVIL!" screeches) are by and large reasonably intelligent, often very much so. You know Chomsky? Along with unbearably narrow-sighted leftist screeds, he also made importent contributions to theoretical computer science and linguistics. This is not a dumb person. What makes this exasperating to me is that these people are choosing to view the world with blinders.

With all that said, what I found most appealing in Empire is the fairly even-handed evaluation of the situation. Maybe you lean left of the point, maybe a little right. I seem to flop around the middle myself on a weekly basis. But Empire is very, very far away from either extreme (remember that as a reaction piece against the left, it may look like a defense of the Right but that's just a natural reaction to the current climate; one could equally well write on why US worship is wrong but we have plenty of people doing that already), and hopefully that's something we can all agree on.

Also see Confessions Of An Isolationist Wannabe, which I think is largely right. Soccer moms really don't care about the other side of the world, they just want a decent life for their kids. There's a distinct reluctance to deal with the world that runs through much of US history (and the exceptions are generally embarassing to us), and now that we have prosperity I think the reluctance is even stronger, even if aren't as loudly isolationist as we have been in the past. The whole reason we have a problem with Saddam now is that we pulled our punch in the early 90's because frankly, we didn't care. Even the protesters understand this on some level; we are criticized for waging "War for Oil", not the "War for Conquest" you'd expect a true Empire to engage in. In fact perhaps our greatest sin in the Gulf War was not giving Iraq the treatment given to Japan and Germany; I still hope we do that for Afghanistan and Iraq this time.


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