Thursday, November 19, 2015

Civilization


What about Us?

We demand that people care about us, that you notice our suffering and help us end it, but how much do we care about others and their suffering, even if our ability to help is limited? Yes, the world may not have paid enough attention to the Beirut bombings, but how much attention did Lebanese and Arabs pay to the attack on Garissa University in Kenya? And how much attention is the world currently giving to the massacre of 2,000 civilians killed by Boko Haram over the last few days, and the suicide bombing that just took place? And what was the global reaction to the killing by the Egyptian army of unarmed Sudanese refugees near the border with Israel? And the current conflict in Burundi which no one is talking about? And… And…

We all pay far more attention to what happens to the rich and powerful and to their adventures and misadventures than we do to the poor and downtrodden. The Middle East is only important on account of the interests that the powerful nations of this world have there. In itself, it’s insignificant and forgettable, its diversity, human potential and rich history notwithstanding. This damn macabre fascination and obsession with power and the powerful, this collective lack of empathy, this lingering tribalistic tendency still buried deep in our conscientiousness, and perhaps in the very structure of our DNA, is all too human I’m afraid, for better or worse.
*
Organized Crime vs. Organized Terrorism

We’re fascinated by organized crime, and its psychopathic bosses, and horrified by terrorism, but the former kills more people and destroys more lives than the latter. It’s all in the staging. Terrorists advertise their operations and their ethos, and revel in them. Therefore, in certain localities around the world, Jihadis can play the romantic role that mobsters do in American lore. Organized crime bosses, on the other hand, prefer to maintain low key profile. It’s better for business you see. There are exceptions of course, as Hollywood keeps reminding us, but there is nothing romantic about either activity, especially today as bonds and ties between them, and between and dictatorial regimes, grow more and more intimate. Terrorism is growth industry with billions of dollars poured into it every year. But it’s a unique industry where the returns expect by the direct entrepreneurs involved are not material or financial. How can the psychopathic lot running organized crimes resist the temptation of partnering with such investors, where they are only expected to provide certain “services?”

*
ISIS Is Not Waging a War against Western Civilization. Or is it? Now I understand and applaud Peter Beinart’s motives for writing this peace, and he makes many good arguments meant to school Marco Rubio. In this, he does a good job. But the title of the article dos give me pause, because, ultimately, and as hard it is to believe considering the balance of power involved, IS/Daesh is waging war against Western civilization. The fact that everybody uses the Daesh label for their own purposes sometimes, from the Assad regime, to the Iranian Mullahs, to Turkish security services, to their Saudi counterparts, does not meant that Daesh’s core leadership does not have its own mind, vision and plan. But, irrespective of all this, there could be no clash of civilizations for two reasons: one, Daesh is a fringe fascist group that could not even represent Muslims, not to mention a civilization; and, two, what other civilization are we talking about here? Can anyone really see in the here-and-now a civilization other than Western civilization? But to understand this point, we need to ask first, what is civilization, at least to me?

Civilization: A complex network of institutions, political, military, economic, financial, social, religious, cultural and educational, that seeks to influence and regulate the customs and manners of multiple peoples far beyond the borders of the geographic entities hosting these institutions. This definition, I believe, makes clear that Western civilization is the only civilization at this stage, its influence on customs and manners is global. Even rejectionist cultures are heavily influenced by it as they offer no real alternative to its institutions, and often replicated them as they are with minor changes in nomenclature. More dramatic differences are noticeable in the realm of cultural and religious practices, but even here, western influence can be seen in variety of ways: manner of dress, choice of music, calls for reforming or even abashing certain cultural and religious practices, with people often changing their habits and ways in manner that reflect western influence even if they are unconscious of the fact, or unwilling to acknowledge it.

The current global competition we witnessing today is more of an interest-based conflict, with ideology, often rejectionist in nature drawing heavily on nationalist, cultural and religious terminology, playing a mobilizing role. But the knowhow and institutions involved in this conflict, barring certain appearances and differences in nomenclature, are all Western-inspired. Rejectionism matters little. Ideology is merely a functional cover, even if the ideologue is not aware of this.

The reality is simple: we live in an almost thoroughly Westernized world, a fact that shouldn’t matter much for those who understand how this came about. In a series of small haphazard steps, the West became open to input from other civilizations, as its scholars examined them, and their own, as objectively as they could, over a long period of time, and repeated reassessments, finally allowing for input from members of those cultures we all. In time, however, Western knowhow and philosophy developed to the point where it was almost exclusively relying on input from Western scholars, as input from others became too dated. With this, Western civilization became the dominant civilization, then, with the collapse of the Ottoman, Persian, Chinese and Russian empires, it became the only civilization, a global civilization, the legitimate heir of all previous civilizations, and more. An alternative has to be elaborated from within. Only by embracing its values can we truly aspire to perfect it. Perfection is perfectibility.