The New Totalitarianism

As you may have noticed, I’m back (in San Bruno, not LA, to which I won’t be back until Thursday). In addition to fighting off small procyonidae and wondering at the pacific Pacific, I read a little over half of The Blank Slate, by Pinker. This is a brilliant book, and a very important one, which I can’t recommend highly enough, not just to people interested in evolution, or anthropology, or evolutionary psychology, but most importantly to those interested in sociology and political science. Its scope is broad, and it covers a number of topics of current political strife in the context of the bizarre and mistaken, but common notion (at least on many college campuses) that human beings truly are a “tabula rasa,” a product purely of their environment, and that human nature doesn’t exist.

I’ll probably be referring to it quite a bit in future posts, but I wanted to note this bit from page 157 of the edition that I have (paperback).

The ideological connection between Marxist socialism and National Socialism is not fanciful. Hitler read Marx carefully while living in Munich in 1913, and may have picked up from him the fateful postulate that the two ideologies would share. It is the belief that history is a preordained succession of conflicts between groups of people and that improvement in the human condition can come only from the victory of one group over the others. For the Nazis the groups were races; for the Marxists they were classes. For the Nazis the conflict was Social Darwinism; for the Marxists, it was class struggle.For the Nazis the destined victors were the Aryans; for the Marxists, they were the proletariat. The ideologies, once implemented, led to atrocities in a few steps: struggle (often a euphemism for violence) is inevitable and beneficial; certain groups of people (the non-Aryan races or the bourgeoisie) are morally inferior; improvements in human welfare depend on their subjugation or elimination. Aside from supplying a direct justification for violent conflict, the ideology of intergroup struggles ignites a nasty feature of human social psychology; the tendency to divide people into in-groups and out-groups and to treat the out-groups as less than human. It doesn’t matter whether the groups are defined by their biology or by their history. Psychologists have found that they can create instant intergroup hostility by sorting people on just about any pretext, including the flip of the coin.

The enemy with which we are now confronted easily slips into the same mold (not surprising, since they have long allied themselves with both groups–the Nazis during WW II and the Soviets in the Cold War).

For the Islamacists the groups are religions, the conflict is jihad and a restoration of the Caliphate, the morally inferior people are the kufr and infidels, and the destined victors are, of course, them. Like the Nazis and Soviets, their movement arose from failed states of once-proud people (Weimar Germany for the Nazis, Czarist Russian in the wake of the Great War for the Soviets, and the lost Arab civilization after their defeat in Europe and the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, followed by European colonization).

The only difference (and its significance is primarily that it will make it easier to defeat them) is their almost total lack of any industrial infrastructure, or ability to build one. At least in the case of the Nazis and Soviets, task one was to rebuild the ability to wage war. The Islamists choose instead to use our own weapons, and their own people as cannon (and daisy-cutter, and bullet) fodder. Whether because this is an inability to develop their own capabilities, or a disinterest isn’t clear, but as Pinker later shows, it could be the former–it is, in its current state, truly a failed culture.

As an example, later in the book (again, the application to the Middle East is mine, not Pinker’s) he points out four modes of human transactions (as earlier described by the anthropologist Alan Fiske):

  • Communal Sharing: no one keeps track of who gets what. This mode applies in families, and occasionally in small tribes. It’s also how Marxists and collectivists (in utter defiance of everything known about human nature) imagine the entire world would work, if the theory were only applied “correctly.”
  • Authority Ranking: Dominant people confiscate stuff from the lower ranks. This is how socialism generally works out whenever it’s actually implemented.
  • Equality Matching: People keep track of who gave what, but there is no time value to the transaction (you can repay me in a year or a day, but there is no penalty for delay), and the value of items is fixed in time and space. This works for ritual exchanges, such as trading rings in the Pacific islands, but it’s hard to build a modern economy with it. The giver may often end up with the same item that she gave someone else earlier. As Pinker points out, this may actually happen with Christmas fruitcakes (the theory being that, like the theory that there’s only one electron in the universe that’s simply very busy, there’s only one fruitcake, passed on from person to person every year). Anthropologists will note that this is most common in hunter-gatherer cultures, and being almost literally tit for tat, it’s probably the economic model that’s most natural and comfortable for us, having evolved to it. It appears to be at the core of our intuitive economics notions (which is why it’s important to have good economics education in schools, to overcome this false intuition).
  • Finally, we have the mode called Market Pricing, which is the basis of modern capitalism, and indeed modern life itself.

The latter requires a much more sophisticated knowledge of economics, and complex institutions such as monetary systems, futures markets, written enforceable contracts, credit, and interest (that is, the recognition that not only time is money, but that money held over a period of time is additional money). It also overturns the intuitive notion (to which Marx fell prey) of the labor theory of value, and indeed the very notion of objective, unchanging value (on which the Equality Matching mode is fundamentally dependent).

The Arabs and Muslims have a problem. Their economies are based on a combination of Community Sharing (among clans) and Authority Ranking (of which Saddam Hussein’s regime was an exemplar). Further, their religion, to all extents and purposes, makes market pricing illegal, because the Koran prohibits the collection of interest, thus not recognizing the time value of money. It’s impossible to run a market economy without allowing interest (and, in fact, recognizing this, some Arab states have come up with elaborate schemes to collect it without admitting that they are).

Of course, the Bible has strictures on usury (or interest). In fact, for that reason, only Jews were allowed to be bankers throughout much of history, and the fact that they were perceived to be earning money by using the funds of honest Christians contributed to the historical enmity against them. But few in the post-reformation West take the Bible literally on this particular score (though it survives in the form of some states’ anti-usury laws, which restrict interest rates, recognizing that some interest is essential but still revealing a natural bias against a perceived “unfair” amount).

Thus, while we are indeed dealing with a totalitarian ideology determined to ultimately rule the world, and have all live under its strictures or die, ironically, until Islam is similarly reformed to reflect economic reality, our new totalitarian enemy will never be the threat that the Nazis and Soviets were. And of course, in the wake of such a reform, they would likely stop trying to murder us and take over the world, because it’s all of a piece.

This is not to say, of course, that the threat is not dangerous–what happened two years ago this coming Thursday gives the lie to that. And as we saw on that sunny September morning, they can be very effective even when wielding our weapons (in fact, much more so than when they restrict themselvse to their own). We should be very thankful that they finally got our attention before they got their hands on the really good stuff, and it’s our ongoing responsibility, now that we see them for what they are, that we continue to keep it from them.

One more point, just to preempt any silly notions that the situation is symmetrical, and that we are the new totalitarians, and want to rule the world, and crush it beneath our GI army boots, and tie up the oppressed, force Big Macs down everyone’s throat, prop their eyelids open with toothpicks and make them watch Britney polish Madonna’s tonsils with her tongue.

We don’t oppose them for their beliefs, except to the degree that their beliefs require that they kill us for ours. We don’t want to make everyone Christian, or Jewish. We don’t want to enslave or kill people because they don’t worship the right god, or wear the right clothes, or avoid being raped. If we have an ideology, it’s an anti-ideology–a belief that ideologies have murdered millions in the past century, and that we are going to do whatever we must to prevent more murders of innocents. The “group of people” who we may have to kill are not a group in the sense of race, or class, or even religion, and they place themselves in the group by their beliefs and behavior, not by accidents of birth. We can live with anyone, except people who cannot live with us.

They are in a battle for domination, and rejoice in death–even their own. We are in a battle for own defense, and would prefer that we didn’t need to send our young men and women overseas.

They desire to kill as many innocents as possible–men, women, children, and lack only the means to do so. When they are successful, they ululate in the streets and pass out candy. We desire to kill as few as possible, and only the guilty–those who sit in their caves and palaces and plot mass death. We spend millions of dollars, and risk our own soldiers’ lives to minimize the deaths of innocents, and when, despite out best efforts to prevent it, innocents die, we don’t cheer–we often grieve, and we launch investigations to determine the cause.

Christianity was once a bloodthirsty religion, but it was reformed. So can Islam be.

But Islamism, like its predecessors, is immune to reform. There is no solution, ultimately, except its total defanging, if not eradication.