Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

05 October 2011

Party of Extremists





Steve Jobs, An American Original
R.I.P.

We have so few heroes today. That’s what makes Steve’s passing so sad.

We have our “routine” heroes. You know, the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nobody likes to think about them because, deep down, we sense that they’re fighting unnecessary wars in unnecessary ways. But they’re fighting for us, and they’re risking their lives every day. And that makes them heroes. Who knows their names?

Then we have our the domestic heroes—the policemen, firemen, and medical first responders who save our lives and property every day, without asking who we are or whether we have insurance. You know, the ones who are being laid off in droves because we can’t seem to find the money to support heroes any more.

Today celebrities have replaced heroes. We’ve got Sarah Palin, a world-class gold digger, who just announced she’s not running for president, after everybody stopped caring. We’ve got raging bull Rick Perry, who’s great at fund raising and rabble rousing and not much else.

We’ve go so many whose names everybody knows because their antics entertain us. Yet ancient Greece or Rome would have ignored or ostracized them because they don’t have an ounce of the skill, finesse or learning that makes a leader.

So when a man like Steve Jobs falls, it’s a big deal.

Steve wasn’t quite the same kind of hands-on inventor as Thomas Edison. But no one since Edison has been anything like Steve. No one had the same single-minded passion for innovation and excellence. No one so honored the single credo “let’s make it better!” Steve lived that credo until the month before he died.

It’s invidious to compare national icons. But fifty years from now, historians will probably conclude that Steve changed our world—and for the better—as much as did Edison, who invented the electric light, phonograph, and motion pictures and started the first electric power company.

We all know about the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Most of us value the fact that anyone can use and enjoy these devices, without extensive training in hardware, software or electronics. But some of us forget that Steve Jobs, alongside Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak, invented the personal computer, long before Bill Gates and the hardware MBAs took it away from them.

And the vast majority of us still don’t know how superior Jobs’ computer operating system is for everything except justifying a whole industry to fix, update, repair and maintain its more popular rival. Gates created a gigantic industry around mediocre and poorly-performing software. Steve gave us products that made most of those jobs unnecessary.

Steve was no angel. He could throw tantrums. He could be a tyrant. And the corporate course he set just before he died began to resemble Gates’—a monopolist’s exercise in turf protection.

But laid against what Steve gave us, those things are peccadillo. He was not just a visionary, but a true hero. He wasn’t particularly good looking. He wasn’t the world’ smoothest personality. He had no ideology but excellence. He never complained about taxes, regulations, or “uncertainty.” He knew that the future is always uncertain, but he never lost faith that he could make it better.

Steve didn’t complain even when the MBAs banished him from the company he had founded. Instead he worked hard, invented, came back, saved his old firm from rigor mortis, and built several new industries in the process. As he did so, he taught us that an innovator with imagination can out-compete a passel of MBAs.

Steve never stopped envisioning new products to make consumers’ lives easier, richer and more fun. And his final battle—with cancer—he waged with consummate elegance and grace. He stayed on to fulfill his role, never mentioning his malady until it ripped him from the work he loved.

Steve ruled the empire he had created absolutely. He wanted things done his way. But for hundreds of millions of ordinary people, his way turned out to be better, more elegant, and more fun than all that had come before.

We will miss him. Our future, too, is uncertain. And now we have no one left with Steve’s unquenchable confidence that he could make it better for us.


Many people are still wondering why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reaffirmed his decision not to run for president.

There are lots of plausible reasons. He has no national experience, let alone experience in foreign, security or military policy. In a society trying to forget its morbid obesity, he’s much too fat. And the very things that seem to make him so attractive—his frankness and “authenticity”—can be time bombs in this era of “Gotcha!” politics. Just ask Joe Biden or Rick Perry.

There’s also another possible reason that no one dares to name. Am I the only one who’s noticed how effeminate are his mannerisms and style of speech? Is he a closet gay?

If I had any inclination to vote for a Republican for any office for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t care. I strongly support civil rights for homosexuals, including marriage, and I’m a fan of Barney Frank. But could a gay man ever get by the GOP’s huge homophobic wing?

Which brings me to the main point of this short essay. Today the Grand Old Party is “grand” in only one respect. It has built a “big tent” for extremists.

In a desperate try to maintain a party with nineteenth-century values in the twenty-first-century, the Republicans have invited in kooks of every stripe. They’ve collected racists, xenophobes, homophobes, gun nuts, anti-abortion crazies, Christian Taliban, extreme libertarians, immigrant bashers, and free-market fundamentalists and made them their own. They have built their party and their platform around the fanciful and reality-free propaganda of Limbaugh, Beck and Reilly. No view has been too extreme for them to endorse, as long as it promised votes for lower taxes, less regulation, and more power to their plutocratic masters.

From all appearances, Christie is honest, reasonably smart, personally modest, and (for the GOP today) relatively moderate. So how could he ever run the gauntlet of crazies in his party and win the nomination? And if he pandered to the kooks enough to win the nomination, how could he ever win the general election?

Ay, there’s the rub—the central dilemma of the GOP today.

We Americans are many things, not all good. But in the final analysis we tend to shun extremism. That’s why we rejected Communism even at the height of the labor movement in the last century, when the plutocrats were literally beating up working folk and shooting them down. That’s why we (so far) have rejected fascism. That’s why we so abhor the Taliban.

Can you overcome that basic cultural repugnance by collecting a whole lot of extremists of different stripes and calling them a political party? I think not.

In this era of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and ubiquitous cell-phone cams, electronic eyes are always watching. To win his party’s nomination, any Republican will have to say things that the general electorate won’t want to hear. And all those things will be recorded in full-color video, to be played back during the general campaign, over and over again.

Exhibit A in the general election will be every GOP candidate (including Romney) raising his or her hand to oppose any deficit reduction with so much as a one-in-ten ratio of tax hikes to spending cuts. This from the party that has demagogued the deficit as its only real issue for nearly two years! How do you think that video will play when our economy is one year sicker and one year more indebted, and after one more year of mindless cutting has put tens of thousands more teachers, police, fire fighters and other public servants out in the streets?

Romney is willing to run on that record because his ego is bigger than his brain. Why Jon Huntsman is running is anyone’s guess. Maybe he was in China too long and deluded himself that what had become of his party was mere foreign propaganda.

Romney is also an arrogant jerk, and therefore unelectable. That’s just one more reason why the GOP, like a trapped animal, is searching for any way out of his nomination.

But Romney is now the inevitable nominee and inevitable loser. It’s not his fault. He’s the best the Party of Extremists can produce, and the only semi-reasonable person willing to run on a Taliban platform.

But he can’t win.

No candidate of the Party of Extremists can win in a nation of cultural moderation and common sense, let alone against a centrist president known for his moderation, modesty and understatement. That’s why Christie wisely decided to bide his time to 2016, when he will have more experience and his party may have begun to reform itself.


P.S. I have to confess that I already have broken my vow to sit on my wallet. I’ve contributed to the campaigns of the President, Elizabeth Warren (as I had promised, and even more!) and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

What made me change my mind? The simple realization that money—in the form of campaign contributions—has virtually replaced voting in our so-called democratic process. Early reports of contributions to candidates now serve as a “pre-primary primary,” attracting media attention, what passes for respect in our twisted society, and still further contributions to leading candidates.

We no longer have anything like a representative democracy. Money talks. And since I’m relatively comfortable financially, I’m in a position to have more influence than most of the crazies (but certainly not the Koch Brothers!). So I would be remiss if I failed to exercise my true “franchise” to the best of my ability, in an attempt to save the country I love from extremism and continued decline.

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21 Comments:

  • At Wed Oct 05, 09:30:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear Jay,

    You are 100% correct about money controlling and deciding elections. The vast majority of voters don't research or study the candidates or issues beyond campaign commercials, slogans, yard signs and sound bites. So whoever has the most money gets more commercials, slogans, yard signs and sound bites than their opponent and wins the elections. Occasionally, for local elections I’ll merely vote against the guy with the most yard signs that I see. However, lately I’ll vote against anyone with an “R” following their name.

    While reading this diatribe I had the scary thought that there is one way a republican can beat Obama. If we have a major terrorist attack in the next year the republicans will all say, “told you so”! We told you Obama was a not tough on terror by withdrawing from our “wars on terror” and wanting to cut defense spending! We told you the terrorist don’t respect Obama and fear a republican Commander in Chief! We told you Obama doesn’t love America and isn’t even a citizen! George W. Bush was kicking some serious terrorist ass before Obama “tricked” you into voting for “Change”. Rush, Beck, Oreilly, Fox and others must be praying for a significant terror attack on America about now so they paint anyone that would vote Obama as a traitor.

    Even though you are correct that secret operations involving small numbers of specially trained troops with the effective use of drones, etc. is the best way to hunt down terrorist without declaring war on 66 countries, the average voter would not agree. The average voter has not invested your amount (if any) thought into how to really fight terror and secret operations are not as “fun” to watch for the average American. The average American still (wrongly) feels that Republicans are better at fighting terror because they fight huge “wars against terror”. Invading countries in the fight of terror and using flashy smart bombs, punishing tanks, shock and awe bombs, and generally shooting at anything that moves because we are big bad USA, the super power, the world leader, and that makes the average voter feel good about themselves and their country. The average voter has never traveled to another country and has no clue how others view us, has no clue the “war” in Iraq was 100% far in excess of a $1,000,000,000 dollar mistake, has no clue no terrorist were in Iraq before we invaded and that we merely turned Iraq into a training ground for terrorist to perfect their weapons and killing skills on our 2000+ dead solders there, has no clue China is clearly soon to be the world’s only super power…..For these reasons, if there is a major terror attack on the USA, a republican has an excellent chance to defeat Obama.

    Obama has the terrorist on frightened and on the run. But, the terrorist are very smart, do you think they know this and are planning a timely attack in influence the “election” The best way to harm America is to have it elect any republican and spend trillions of dollars invading another country or two, or three.

    Yikes, I’ll stop here for now, I might have to start Rod’s Diatribe soon. I’ll blame you for that Jay!

    Best, Rod H.

     
  • At Wed Oct 05, 11:39:00 PM EDT, Anonymous M-AX said…

    Welcome to the fold Jay. I knew you would bend and start contributing soon. It's so wrenching to see the Repubs gather so much outside money via Citizen's United spawned astroturf groups. Millions of us contributing might stand a chance.

     
  • At Thu Oct 06, 12:56:00 AM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Since M-AX's comment is short, I'll take both Rod's and his at once.

    Rod, I agree with most of what you've written, but I think you exaggerate the risk of a major terrorist attack. As I wrote in a recent post, we vastly underestimate the role that surprise played in the attacks of 9/11.

    Surprise is the single most important element in so-called “asymmetrical warfare,” i.e., the weaker party attacking the stronger. Remember when Mathias Rust flew his Cessna right into Red Square? The Soviets were expecting ICBMs, not a Cessna. That harmless prank caused them to revamp their entire air defense system, so it’s highly unlikely anyone could duplicate the feat today.

    For the terrorists today, surprise is simply gone. It was the only factor that worked in their favor. Everything else works against them, including our citizens’ vigilance against terrorism. And as I’ve written, we’ve finally developed credible and effect strategies for both defense and offense, thanks to our current President.

    I agree that the GOP would not hesitate to demagogue a successful attack as you’ve described. I just think doing so would be harder now, since the effectiveness of the President’s strategies is self-evident.

    As for M-AX, I knew I would relent eventually, too. Unfortunately, contributing is almost a duty today, if you can afford to do so. The alternative is to have your vote counted with all the crazies’, who can’t be bothered to inform themselves, let alone think.

    Our Republic and our greatness hang by threads today, and we all need to do what we can to put ourselves back on track.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Fri Oct 07, 12:42:00 PM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    How likely would it be (if there was another major terror attack by Islamists) that the GOP candidate could campaign for a world-wide genocide of Muslims?

    As Dr Satoshi Kanazawa suggested before the 2008 presidential election:

    Here’s a little thought experiment. Imagine that, on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers came down, the President of the United States was not George W. Bush, but Ann Coulter. What would have happened then? On September 12, President Coulter would have ordered the US military forces to drop 35 nuclear bombs throughout the Middle East, killing all of our actual and potential enemy combatants, and their wives and children. On September 13, the war would have been over and won, without a single American life lost.

    Yes, we need a woman in the White House, but not the one who’s running.

     
  • At Sat Oct 08, 04:58:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    I don’t know Satoshi Kanazawa, so I’ll refrain from commenting on the quoted language. I do know you, just a bit, from your previous comments on the Nazis’ genocidal plans for Eastern Europe had they won.

    You seem to have a fascination with genocide. That suggests to me that you are young, probably fifteen or younger. I hope this fascination is just a passing phase that you will soon grow out of.

    If I’m wrong about your age, then I hope you never go into politics, let alone become a leader. For you are a dangerous man.

    No serious leader of any responsible country today would, I hope, contemplate the “solution” that you implicitly propose. Nor, I think, would Ann Coulter herself, in the unlikely event that she ever attained a position to consider it seriously. Pundits and authors can propose the unthinkable because they have no ability to bring it about and no real responsibility to anyone.

    Murdering tens of millions of innocent people and poisoning their land to avenge the killings of a few thousand is something only a madman like Hitler could contemplate. Such an act would instantly remake the world into a much darker place, cast us as history’s vilest villains, and have the potential, in the long run, to kindle a cycle of nuclear revenge that might extinguish our species.

    As I've already written, the proper way to respond to force—even a surprise attack like 9/11—is with proportional and targeted force. That’s precisely what our President is doing now, after we flailed around for a decade with disastrous and ineffective excess. The solution is not more excess, but more brains.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Sun Oct 09, 01:42:00 PM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    Whoa there! I'm certainly not advocating genocide! (And I think you're right about what such a policy would lead to.)

    My question is whether you think Islamophobia in the United States or other Western countries could ever get to a point where a sizeable proportion of the population would start thinking genocide of Muslims would be a good idea.

    IIRC about 30% of Americans during World War II supported the idea of exterminating the Japanese people. (Of course, the US was a far more racist country then -- Jim Crow was still in force in the South then for instance.)

    As for my gut reaction to genocidal anti-Muslim rhetoric, it's something like "Hell no, I'd rather be a dhimmi than that!"

     
  • At Sun Oct 09, 04:52:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    Whew! I’m glad to hear it! You had me fooled.

    When you want to ask questions or state your own views, try to do so explicitly. If you quote someone at length without comment, it’s fair to assume you agree with the quote.

    As for your question, I wouldn't worry too much. I think extreme Islamophobes are a small minority here, maybe 25% at most. And most Americans change their views quickly when they actually meet a real, live object of abstract prejudice, whether an African-American, Hispanic illegal immigrant, gay, or Muslim. Apart from a small minority of sick and virulent racists, Americans are not mean-spirited in person, just in the abstract, and mostly toward people they fear but have never met.

    Our leadership is even more secure. I have never heard anyone even close to a position of national leadership so much as whisper about genocidal solutions. With all those graves in Normandy and Arlington of Americans who fought Hitler’s genocide, how could they?

    I’m glad to see that your “gut reaction” is sensible. Since you used an Islam-related word that I had to look up (dhimmi), I presume you know that, at the height of the Islamic empire, Muslims were quite tolerant of non-believers living peacefully in their lands.

    I think what we now perceive as intolerance (which is by no means universal among Muslims) is a product of the shame and self-disappointment that many Muslims feel about their current global position and the decline of their societies over the last millennium. It’s much the same emotion that many Americans are now beginning to feel as it dawns on them that touting our “exceptionalism” and shouting “USA! USA! USA!" won't bring back our jobs, standard of living or national greatness.

    Accepting the truth about yourself and your “own” people is hard. That’s not a uniquely Muslim problem or an American, European or Chinese problem. It’s a human problem.

    That’s one reason why, though white, I’m happy to be governed by an African-American. Having emerged from slavery less than 150 years ago, and having won something resembling immunity from legal and cultural oppression during the lives of many people now living, African-Americans are, as a group, unusually skeptical of claims of racial or ethnic superiority and more than usually tolerant. That symbolic side of the President, for example, continues to inspire me, no matter how many roadblocks the GOP put in his way.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Mon Oct 10, 02:00:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    If the extreme Islamophobes are as marginal as you claim, why does it seem to me like most of the GOP candidates have explicitly Islamophobic platforms (albeit not outright genocidal)? Or is this just part and parcel of the original topic of your post?

    Hopefully the recent atrocities in Norway will go some way towards discrediting anti-Muslim extremism.

    On my "better dhimmi than génocidaire" feeling, could this not be construed as cowardice though? Sort of like Bertrand Russell's "better red than dead", only worse as it is based not on fear for my own life, but on fear for "enemy" civilian lives?

    I've also noticed that some Islamophobes use the word "dhimmi" to refer to any non-Muslim who disagrees with them, and some Islamophobic GOP supporters use the compound "Dhimmicrat"...

     
  • At Mon Oct 17, 02:04:00 AM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    You are asking some very good questions, and thank you for that.

    The short answer to your first one is, yes, I think Islamophobes are among the extremist groups that the GOP is collecting like hand grenades on an ammo belt. One of these days, one of those grenades may go off accidentally and send the GOP the way of the Whig Party. If that happens, I hope the result is less disastrous than the atrocity in Norway.

    I should have included Islamophobes explicitly in the list of extremists in my post. The word “xenophobes” covers the concept partially, but of course not completely. Millions of Muslims are loyal, law-abiding American citizens just as appalled at terrorism as the rest of us.

    Your question about cowardice is also an excellent one, the more so because the right-wing tends to paint tolerant people with that slur. But again, the answer is simple: it is never cowardice to advocate and support what is right. John Adams, who in many ways was our most admirable Founder, as a lawyer defended the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre during our revolutionary period. He wanted to make sure they got a fair trial, despite the overwhelming public sentiment against them. For that, I would say he was a hero, not a coward.

    What is America? We come from all over the world. We define ourselves not by a race, ethnic group or (despite repeated attempts by the Christian right) religion. We have no king, queen or titled nobility. We don’t have an hereditary aristocracy, although we may be headed toward one.

    So what makes us Americans? It’s our ideas and values―the ones that derive from the best part of the European Enlightenment. Chief among those ideas is that all can join us, as long as they accept our basic values and our laws. If we can’t apply those same rules to peaceful Muslims living among us, just because they worship God in a different way and dress differently, then we stop being Americans. I hope that will never happen.

    As for use of the word “dhimmi,” I confess I’m at a loss. I was unfamiliar with the word until you used it. It is possible that some Islamic or right-wing extremists among us are using the term improperly in an attempt to divide us by creating tension between Muslims and non-Muslims.

    Whenever I speak or write on sensitive inter-ethnic matters, I try to use as neutral and un-loaded language as possible. I try to avoid terms that have been deliberately misused or that can be misunderstood, even innocently. When referring to ethnic groups, I use the terms that they themselves prefer, just as I try to pronounce a person’s name the same way he or she does. That sort of simple politeness and human consideration can go a long way toward avoiding misunderstandings.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Tue Oct 18, 04:00:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    I think there's more to Islamophobia than just fear of terrorism though. Many Islamophobes -- especially in Europe -- fear the higher birth rates of Muslim immigrants compared to the long-established white population.

    One could draw parallels with the Know-Nothings and other anti-Catholic groups in the past, or perhaps with US anti-Hispanic racism today. (Europe's Muslims are in many ways in an equivalent position to America's Hispanics.)

    I've even seen speculation that the "Eurabia" scaremongering (about a demographic takeover of Europe by Middle Easterners) on the part of right-wing Americans is actually a disguised attack on Mexican immigration designed to fend of charges of racism. After all, they can say "we're just afraid of Shari'ah law" when defending Islamophobia, while there is no similar cop-out when defending anti-Hispanic bigotry.

    Another factor is that while Westerners historically gave their primary loyalty to the nation-state, Muslims had little or no sense of nationalism and gave the primary loyalty to the Ummah (the global community of Muslims).

    The carnage of the Thirty Years' War was probably crucial in getting the West to separate religion from government. Abdal-Hakim Murad expressed this as "Modernity: the nuclear winter of the Reformation" (I presume that when he wrote "modernity" what he really meant was "secularism").

    Perhaps the Arab Spring though (in which Pan-Arab or Pan-Islamist sentiments seemed noticeably absent) may be a signal that the Arab world is finally reconciling itself with the current nation-state-dominated world order.

     
  • At Mon Oct 24, 03:45:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    You have some interesting and valid current and historical insights here. I hope I didn’t say or imply that Islamophobia is limited to terrorism.

    Of course you are right. There are subtler effects of tribalism at play, especially in Europe, where the Muslim population is much larger (proportionally) than here and therefore excites greater tribal fears.

    But I think your equating Hispanophobia (if I may coin a term) with Islamophobia in the US is a bit of a stretch. In my view, the latter is not a disguise or ploy for the former; they are two independent phenomena.

    What they have in common is the ignorant and fearful people who often share them, plus the intense interest of the right-wing propaganda machine, which ruthlessly exploits both as additional grenades on its growing extremist ammo belt. If nothing else, both fears keep the ordinary people who share them from focusing on the massive theft of their money, heritage and legacy to their children that is now going on right under their noses, on both sides of the Atlantic.

    That said, I do not think either phobia is a small thing. Tribalism―especially of the religious sort―is the single greatest threat to survival of our human species in the nuclear age.

    But I’m a bit more optimistic than you about the motivation for the Arab Spring. While Islamists are certainly exploiting it for their own ends, I see a yearning for the “good life” (and the connected life) of secular, democratic capitalism as being a far more potent motivator than the Ummah.

    I also see secular international capitalism as being the strongest force dissolving the snares of both nationalism and religious tribalism worldwide. That’s one reason why, although skeptical of its often disastrous excesses and injustices, I’m still a pretty consistent fan of capitalism, as long as it’s heavily regulated in the public interest.

    If you think as I do, there is hope. But the outcome is still touch and go. It wouldn’t take more than one religiously-motivated nuclear war, whether involving Israel or Pakistan, to considerably darken our species’ collective future. The risk of that happening is likely to get worse before it gets better.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Tue Oct 25, 08:57:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    No, I was saying that the Arab Spring represents a decline in pan-Arab and pan-Islamist ideals, as shown by the prevalence of national flags in the demonstrations. It's a long way from the pre-20th century era when Arab Muslims were mostly happy to identify only as "Muslims", and would probably on hearing the word "Arab" think of some scruffy bandit living in a tent. (Note that the majority of early Arab Nationalists were in fact Christians!)

    It is interesting that you identify "connectedness" as being an attractive attribute of Westernized society. This is obviously in contrast to traditional Islamic culture which places a very high value on privacy. (This may be why some Western women in particular are attracted to Islam -- because they feel it allows them to embrace the traditional feminine role without feeling undervalued.)

    However, doesn't the car-oriented suburbia emblematic of contemporary America show the same disdain for the public sphere in its design as the traditional Islamic city does? Of course there are differences -- the Islamic city is much more compact as it predates cars (although both have lots of dead-end streets), and is designed to segregate extended families, while US suburbia is designed to segregate socioeconomic groups.

     
  • At Mon Oct 31, 03:50:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    I agree that "the Arab Spring represents a decline in pan-Arab and pan-Islamist" yearnings. But I don't agree that the principal manifestation, let alone the cause, is nationalism.

    There are many causes and effects. If I tried to sum them up, I would say (at the risk of oversimplifying) that the Arab world is experiencing, in its own unique way, the same forces of globalization and connectedness that are changing the rest of the world so rapidly and dramatically, including China and the "West." Arabs simply want to be part of the rest of the world after having lived under isolated and isolating tyrannies for decades or centuries.

    As for the remainder of your comment, I see it as a mostly failed (and culturally insensitive!) attempt to generalize. I doubt that any Arab, even a nomad, ever thought of himself or his tribe as scruffy bandits.

    Among Muslims, Arabs have a lot to be proud of. It was their ancestors---not Turks', Indonesians', Malays' or Uighurs'--- who invented algebra and algorithms and pushed "Moorish" Islamic culture to the heights of global civilization over half a millennium ago.

    I'm not one of them, but I strongly suspect that educated Arabs, when they think of the term "Arab," recall that era and feel pride, then shame when they compare it to their lot today.

    As for women, I think you are way off base. Privacy and modesty are cultural constructs. So is acquiescence in not being allowed to drive, work outside the home, or have any real contact with half the human race (males other than husbands, brothers and fathers). I think women "like" these things, if at all, because they have been brainwashed from birth and have no other realistic choice.

    To me, the notion that Arab and Muslim men want freedom but their women want continued bondage is a gross misunderstanding of both human nature and the real differences between the genders.

    As for suburbia, you have some interesting insights, but I wouldn't describe suburbs as "designed" for the purposes you state. The effects you note are unintended consequences of changes designed to allow people to have bigger,more private and comfortable homes that were supposed to be more affordable for the average worker. Civlization (if you consider suburbia as an advance in it) does have its discontents.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Wed Nov 02, 03:40:00 AM EDT, Blogger George Carty said…

    I think you misunderstood what I was saying -- I was suggesting that a 19th century Muslim from (let's say) Damascus would feel gravely insulted if you called him an "Arab" as Muslims of the era simply didn't view their identity in ethnic terms. Ottoman census characterized people by religion only. And IIRC Kemal Ataturk was reproached by one of his subordinates when he spoke of "us Turks" -- the response was "Oh no, I am a Turk, but you sir are an Ottoman."

    Of course, today's a different story...

    You're right about the Muslim world (and sub-Saharan Africa) suffering as a result of its relative isolation from the global economy (though North Korea would be a more extreme example still).

    In Islamic civilization's medieval heyday there was thriving international trade in the Indian Ocean (which was brutally destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th century). We can note that the primary arena for international trade then shift to the Atlantic, and is now increasingly dominated by the Pacific.

    I don't see why women being banned from driving (a peculiarly Saudi innovation that is looked at with disdain by other Muslim countries) or even from working (only the Taliban went that far IIRC) would have any relevance for Muslim women living in the West.

     
  • At Sat Dec 03, 11:12:00 PM EST, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    I think your last paragraph reflects a blind spot regarding the struggles of modern women for equality in the workplace.

    A major international law firm (Morrision & Foerster) that I worked for was considering opening an office in Saudi Arabia while I was there. I didn't take a poll, but my impression from discussions was that every woman in the firm was against it, primarily because of the “peculiar Saudi innovation,” as you put it, as well as other legal disabilities of women in that medieval kingdom.

    The firm eventually abandoned the idea. My impression then (I was not in the know) was that women’s opposition was a major reason for the decision not to go forward.

    As for the rest of your comment, I have nothing to add, except that I agree with your implicit observation that customs among Islamic countries vary widely—a point I make myself (perhaps also implicitly) in my post on Islamophobia.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Sun Dec 04, 05:20:00 AM EST, Blogger George Carty said…

    While some women in the West are no doubt driven to be successful in the world of work, there will be others who are more comfortable with traditional feminine pursuits, and those are probably the women who find Islam attractive. I suspect that for every woman who has a real "career", there are at least two who were forced to work by a rising cost of living (the rise coming mainly in the areas of housing and health care).

    The socialist feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich speculated in The Hearts of Men that the breakdown of traditional gender roles in postwar America was initiated not by women, but by men. Social and technological progress, such as the introduction of household gadgets, fast food outlets and laundromats meant that a man no longer needed a wife in order to have hot food and clean clothes. The increasing attractiveness of the bachelor lifestyle was reflected by the launch of Playboy magazine in 1950s (what made that magazine so subversive was its anti-marriage editorial line more than its pictures of scantily-clad women).

    The rebellion against the traditional male role took multiple forms -- the "grey flannel" set turned their back on the work ethic; the Playboy crowd rejected marriage; while the beatniks (precursors to the hippies) rejected both.

    If men were no longer willing to be breadwinners, then women could no longer be housewives even if they wanted to be -- hence the rise of feminism.

     
  • At Sun Dec 04, 01:09:00 PM EST, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    Yours is an interesting analysis, but in my view far too trendy and glib.

    For one thing, it neglects what was probably the most important precursor of the feminist movement: the massive migration of women into the productive workforce as “Rosie the Riveter” in World War II. Once women discovered they could do “men’s work” well, could get paid for it, and could become independent as a result, the feminist movement was foreordained.

    You might say this was a social change initiated by men, since men (on both sides of the Atlantic) made the war. But I think it’s more accurate to say that the changes were among the unintended consequences of a war that changed the world order forever.

    Anyway, the subject under discussion (I thought) was Western women’s response to the marginalization of women in Saudi Arabia, which (you and I both agree) is second only (perhaps) to that under the Taliban.

    Women today, especially in America, are conscious almost from birth of the opportunity (and often necessity) for economic self-sufficiency. They see the alternative in the news and gossip pages every day: poverty-stricken single mothers raising children irremediably crippled by poverty.

    Under these circumstances, I don’t see how any Western woman, whatever her social class, could react to the Saudis’ treatment of women with anything other than fear and loathing. That in fact has been the reaction of every women with whom I have discussed the issue.

    Perhaps female Muslims feel a bit differently, maybe especially recent immigrants. But as they acclimatize to Western culture and its opportunities and exigencies, I don’t see how they could tolerate, let alone approve, of the treatment of women in the Saudi kingdom.

    For me, that’s a good thing. The sooner voters in the West, including women, come to see what a dangerous, medieval throwback the Saudi monarchy is, the sooner Western governments will come to grips with the most vicious source of Wahhabi extremism and terrorist indoctrination worldwide.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Mon Dec 05, 08:30:00 AM EST, Blogger George Carty said…

    It was you who brought up the issue of Saudi Arabia -- I was thinking of why some Western women might convert to Islam (which is an interesting question, as female converts outnumber males, despite Islam being viewed by many as a misogynistic faith).

    Most Muslims would probably be horrified that Western women are expected to be economically self-sufficient. Shari'ah makes it very clear that it is a man's duty to provide for his family, and that any money a woman earns is hers and hers alone. (However, this has had tragic consequences for women however in situations of high unemployment: a few years back some professional women in Basra were murdered for their jobs by desperate unemployed men, and this was also probably why the Taliban banned women from working, given the economic ruination of Afghanistan by the Soviet invasion and following civil war.)

    You mention poverty-stricken single mothers, but is that not an example of how women have been harmed immensely by the end of the "no sex before marriage" ethic in the West? Of course, the technological and social changes mentioned in my previous post -- and perhaps more so the massive increase in college attendance resulting from the GI Bill -- may have conspired to make this ethic unsustainable.

    Another example of the clash of values between Western feminists and Muslims: at the 1998 International Women's day, Masoumeh Ebtekar (a female member of the Iranian government) alerted the world to the Taliban's atrocities against women. Many in the audience were shocked, thinking "how can we take her seriously, given that she's wearing a chador?"

     
  • At Fri Dec 09, 12:52:00 PM EST, Blogger jay said…

    Dear George,

    I think this thread has run on long enough, so I'll be brief. There've been no other commenters for a long time.

    There is a logical flaw in your last comment, re the sentence on "no sex before marriage." Single motherhood arises from divorce (which Islam makes easy!) and widowhood, as well as from premarital sex. Since the divorce rate in the West is near 50%, and since birth control is universally available, I suspect premarital sex is a small part of the problem. Oddly enough, conservatives (who generally detest premarital sex) are doing all they can to make that part of the problem worse by reducing the availability of birth control.

    As for a "women-shouldn't-work (or think)" ethic being unsustainable, women are more than half the population (due to longevity) in the West. (I don't know whether Islamic countries differ in this regard.) Can wasting the brains and talent of more than half the population ever be a good thing? I've not seen any writing on this point, but I suspect this neglect of over half the race is a significant contributing factor, if not the major factor, in the Islamic world's losing ground to the West (and China!) over the last half millennium.

    Women seem to beat men (on the average) at bargaining and negotiating. Witness near parity of the sexes in law schools, alone among graduate and professional schools. When you add this fact to the utter neglect of women's education and talent in some (many?) Islamic counties, it could explain a lot.

    Best,

    Jay

     
  • At Sun Dec 18, 11:42:00 PM EST, Blogger JDsg said…

    Regarding female participation in the workforce, yes, a fair number of Muslim countries are among the lowest for that category. But the reasons for women working or not vary considerably and don't necessarily boil down to religious or cultural factors. Many of the countries with the highest levels of female participation in the workforce are located in sub-Saharan Africa. It's not that these countries are more "virtuous" or "liberated," or that they value their women more highly. Being mostly impoverished countries it doesn't surprise me that so many women would be working in those countries.

    For a lot of Muslim countries that are in the Mid-East and northern Africa, I suspect the real problem - for both men /and/ women - has been government policies that have perverted employment opportunities for young adults regardless of gender. That has been one of the potential promises from the changes created through the Arab Spring. It may take a few years for these changes to be implemented and reflected in the statistics but, insha'allah, this will happen. (BTW, it should be noted that in SE Asian countries that have large Muslim populations, the female participation rates are much closer to the world average.)

     
  • At Mon Dec 26, 01:09:00 PM EST, Blogger jay said…

    Dear JDsg,

    I agree with most of your comment, but not with the following sentence: “It’s not that these countries are more ‘virtuous’ or ‘liberated,’ or that they value their women more highly.”

    “Virtue,” of course, is in the eye of the beholder and therefore inevitably culturally relative. But I don’t believe that liberation or value are. It seems to me that the right/ability to work (and to pick the work you do) are among the most fundamental aspects of liberty and personal value in any society.

    Whatever the underlying reason (poverty or otherwise), I find it hard to conceive of a society that doesn’t let half its population work as giving that half liberation or value. You might just as well say that American women are not “liberated” or valued because, like sub-Saharan African women, they have to work to support their families and achieve a middle-class standard of living.

    Best,

    Jay

     

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