The Therapy Sessions
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
(Doctor’s note: In the previous session, the subject displayed a conspiratorial view of the world and people who think differently than himself, claiming to indict established philosophies that offend him, masking it all with talk of some scientific method nonsense (as if he discovered scientific way of discounting other’s views). I asked what he meant when he said his combativeness was somehow “American,” asking if he was indeed ashamed of this fact. Explaining this shame may somehow be cathartic for him. Or so I hoped…)
Yes, that’s what I said. Being argumentative is American. It’s like a disease we have, like I had shingles or something. Americans have been arguing for four hundred years.
I’m not ashamed of that, though plenty of people in the world wish I was.
But if any person in the world has the right to be arrogant, it’s an American.
In the last twenty-five years, the US military has overthrown dictators in Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, the Balkans and Afghanistan. Because of those wars, 40 million people live under better governments (not perfect, but measurably better). And the people of Iraq (25 million people) are likely to add to this total.
The US military directly defends the people of South Korea, a democracy of 50 million people, and it indirectly protects Taiwan’s democracy of 23 million people. With US victory in the Cold War, the governments of 300 million people were freed from the ridiculous economic straightjacket of socialism. In addition, the US was responsible for the direct military protection of Japan (100 million people) and the people of Western Europe (200 million) during the Cold War.
750 million people live under better government because of the US and her military.
No other government, institution, charity or foreign aid program can claim even a fraction of these historical accomplishments.
And don’t forget: the US was decisive factor in the two world wars against fascism.
The US economy is the world’s biggest, responsible for one quarter of the world’s economic growth. Our culture, our TV shows, movies and music are everywhere on the globe. We make more, we consume more, we invent more and we give more than anyone else (the US gives more to charity than all other nations combined).
We also have the world’s freest trade policy (though it should be freer). And as a result, many nations of the world owe their economies to us.
It comes down to freedom. There is no freer nation in the world, and freedom (but more importantly, the free flow of information) is essential to economic growth. It all makes sense: In a capitalist economy, the free flow of information tells everyone where the opportunities are, so that everyone has the ability to profit from them (the alternative is that the same sluggish companies have all the right information, but have no good ideas on what to do with it). In this way, you best insure that most able companies (or individuals) can be in place to take advantage. Likewise, when someone buys stock in a business, they can peruse the properly audited information about the company’s finances, all of it freely available.
All of this benefits the nation in a way that secrecy does not.
This is why I’m not all that worried about China. At a certain point, they will realize that holding back the free flow of information is inhibiting their economic growth. Restricting information about companies will alienate foreign investment, and China will increasingly find that controlling information will hurt business. They will be forced to choose: yesterday’s tightly controlled but broken socialist system or the dynamism of a 21st century information economy.
I think they will choose wisely. And a government that cannot control information finds it difficult to maintain its aura of omniscience that is so important in a one party, socialist state.
Capitalism and democracy are necessary to one another: democracy is political freedom and capitalism is economic freedom.
Some people say we should be ashamed of America’s economy. It dominates the world, and that must be (so they say) unfair.
But I’m not ashamed. It means that we are industrious and inventive and, as a result: prosperous. The stagnant economies of Europe and the artificial economies of Asia should take note and learn the power of freedom, particularly the economic freedom we know as capitalism.
Capitalism, very unfortunately, is still a dirty word in many parts of the world.
There are still many in the US who don’t realize that the US has already won, and is pulling ahead, of the rest of the world. They sooth the losers – telling them that the US doesn’t play fair or some other rubbish – they comfort them in their ways and prevent them from reforming their systems to be more competitive.
This is nonsense. The European systems are rotting and desperately need to reform their restrictive labor practices, their trade policies and their overly protective governments. The Asians need to end the cozy relationships that their businesses enjoy with each other and with their home governments. Direct political control of economic growth (which is different from simple regulation, which IS important), as practiced by Japan’s MITI, rarely ends well.
It never gets sillier, though, than when people insist that Russia, Germany, France and China should have a vital say in – or veto power over - US foreign policy.
The US, they argue, is just another nation, with no claim to be more important than… say… Luxembourg.
It's comical when you think about it.
Russia, Germany, France and China (!) – four nations that have caused more misery than any others, giving the world Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon, and Mao. Four men who improved very few lives, and together killed hundreds of millions of people.
The principal goal of US foreign policy – the expansion of human liberty – is not a goal that should be subverted to the whims of others – particularly this motley crew.
The cause of liberty is too vital for debate or half measures.
If I ever came to know of any country more devoted to the cause of human liberty than United States of America, I would pack my bags and go there right away.
So far, I’m staying put. The future of the world – so far – lies between California and New York.
But the world will be a safer place if the future can include more nations. But Europe and Asia must evolve into freer economies for that to happen.
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
I’m always amazed by the lack of depth in science education in American society. I’m not saying that I am worried that people don’t remember the anatomy of a paramecium or any other science trivia. I’m referring to the discipline of scientific inquiry: the scientist’s habit of withholding judgment until all the facts are in, all the experiments complete.
As a former liberal, I noticed that many of my peers had a near pathological hatred for science and scientists. Some of this was just disgust with the way it was taught (“I hate memorization…”). Some of it was fear of the products of technology (“frankenfoods” and chemical pollution…). And often there was a sense that scientists, who often tend to be white and male, are part of some oppressive conspiracy.
I never understood any of it.
In my experiences with scientists, I found them to be more human and less likely have personal hang-ups than most of the artsy types I knew. They were easy to talk to and work with, less likely to be offended by offhand comments, and more willing to cut loose and have a good time.
The scientific method is like a discipline, and people who refuse to think in a disciplined manner often find themselves enthralled by many specious theories and silly superstitions. These people tend to be quite common in the humanities, where specious theorizing often passes for deep thought.
For example, many of fellow English majors proudly declared themselves communists. At the time, I let it go. But as I hear more from the Ivory Tower, I find it striking that many of these people are still there, and their beliefs are unchanged (after 1989, no less!). The communist parties continue to be a decisive influence in European politics. The large global “peace” protests of February 15th, 2003 were sponsored by International Answer, a communist front. And no one even blinked.
How can any rational person be a Communist? Hundreds of attempts have been made to make it work! These experiments are worthy and they are useful in so much as they produce evidence: there is not one economic success, and there are hundreds of millions of failures buried in mass graves in every continent on the planet. Can anyone show me a single communist state that has managed to grow economically and while protecting human rights? The lack of one would mean either that communist theory is ridiculous, or that it is to difficult to mold to human reality and thus impractical as a global goal.
Yet people believe, they really do!
Pacifism can be equally shredded by the evidence. Would the world be better place had our ancestors used a non-violent approach against despots? Would the Constitution ever have been produced without blood? Would slavery have been eliminated without cannons? Pacifists consider such questions to be rude, possibly evidence of low breeding, and they evade the answers because they don’t like them: Pacifism is resignation to tyranny.
But these ideas still appeal to the undisciplined thinker, most of who consider themselves to be very well educated. Marxism, in fact, is like a religion with its own ideas of salvation: everyone sharing, everyone living equally well in a fantasyland where all needs are met by the benevolent state. Its facts are more articles of faith than evidence. And this also explains something else: Communism’s discomfort with religion and its official atheism. Even weird movements, like China’s Falun Gong, aren’t tolerated. “You shall have no Gods before me” is also Marx’s first commandment.
Marxism and pacifism may be extreme examples, but the problem of unscientific thought extends further. Islamism – the idea that fundamental Islam is going to take over the world – is the fantasy that has most of the Arab world in thrall today. The facts don’t even come close to supporting it, but they have their own TV network to take care of that inconvenience.
Unscientific thought muddies our politics, too, trying to make political debate look like struggles between good and evil. One party wants to help everyone and the other party wants to help themselves.
We all know which is which.
One party wants to pay for everyone’s education and everyone’s drugs (they even want to remind you to take them everyday). They want to help you get a house, and give you one if you are poor enough. They make no distinctions about who ends up poor and who ends wealthy. They consider impolitic to discuss why some people consistently end up poor, but only because they are confident of the answers anyway (its obviously racism or the wake of capitalist greed). These benefits are expensive and the high taxes to pay for them are a bitter pill, but these wonderful people promise to take care of you.
Their motto appears to be: we care about your future as much as you do!
It sounds great. Great in the sense that the words to a rock song seem perfect until you see them written down.
It’s then that you realize that they don’t make any sense.
Wait a second! Nobody cares about my future more than me! It makes sense that I be trusted on spending my money on ways to secure my future as I, not you or the benevolent government, see fit. That is what America is all about: trusting in the little guy take care of his own business!
Such sentiments seem to put me in the sphere of the other party, the selfish party.
But they have some strange beliefs, too. Large numbers of them have a real problem with the idea of a right to privacy (it may not be in Constitution, per se, but I believe it falls under “the pursuit of happiness”). Some of them want to indoctrinate my children with bizarre interpretations of religion, and many are very distrustful of anyone who doesn’t share the same ethnic background.
But that’s about where I stand, doc: a former Democrat and now a skeptical Republican. But I will always reserve the right to think for myself, and I’m suspicious of anyone who tells me they have all the answers because they have already studied all the facts.
It's so very ... American.
I told you I needed help.