Sunday, November 15, 2015

Steyn on Western Civilization

Tengrain is a national treasure, one of those guys who reads the right-wing's bloviations so you don't have to subject yourself to them. Recently, he covered statements by Canada's most toxic export (Alberta bitumen is a distant second), Mark Steyn, made in response to the Paris terrorist attacks. Please read all of Tengrain's excerpt of Steyn... I'm just going to touch on one paragraph:

“…But that’s not true, is it? He’s right that it’s an attack not just on Paris or France. What it is is an attack on the west, on the civilization that built the modern world – an attack on one portion of “humanity” by those who claim to speak for another portion of “humanity”. And these are not “universal values” but values that spring from a relatively narrow segment of humanity. They were kinda sorta “universal” when the great powers were willing to enforce them around the world and the colonial subjects of ramshackle backwaters such as Aden, Sudan and the North-West Frontier Province were at least obliged to pay lip service to them. But the European empires retreated from the world, and those “universal values” are utterly alien to large parts of the map today."

The problem with Steyn's characterization of Western Civilization is that it distorts the West's interaction with the developing world. To put it mildly, the Great Powers of Europe did not export the benefits of Western Civilization to Africa, Asia, and the Americas, they looted their colonies and used divide-and-conquer to keep their subjects under their heels. To the colonizers and the mercantilists, the colonies were a source of natural resources and cheap labor. Rather than trading with the natives as equals, the 'men of the West' used force of arms to subjugate and enslave populations, propping up and arming local strongmen who would facilitate wholesale theft. Put succinctly, Western Civilization failed to live up to its noblest ideals. Even those philosopher-heroes who espoused the loftiest sentiments tended not to live by them. The "universal values" Steyn mentions only applied to white males of the gentry. The implementation of the freedoms birthed by the Enlightenment really only took place in the early 20th Century, when women's suffrage was granted, and their benefits didn't accrue to various minorities until the 1960s. The real relationship between Western Civilization and the colonies is perhaps best summed up by a cartoon by William H. Walker in the March 1899 edition of Life magazine

Western Civilization's interaction with the developing world in the 20th century continued in the same old oppressive fashion- the inhabitants of the Third World were largely seen as inconvenient squatters on natural resources, or convenient cannon fodder in proxy wars. Even post-World War 2, the 'West' preferred to topple nascent democracies and to install dictators in order to steal petroleum, to undermine left-leaning governments, to crush independence movements in former colonies. Our current problems with Islamic fundamentalist terrorists stem from the use of Islamist radicals as proxies in the Cold War and the U.S. government's continued support for an autocratic regime that has been exporting fundamentalist Sunni Islam, combined with an early 20th century divide-and-conquer policy in the Middle East. An even more grievous lapse was the failure of the U.S. to give economic aid to the Afghans after they expelled the Russian army... we once treated our enemies better than we now treat our allies.

The benefits of Western Civilization simply did not accrue in "ramshackle backwaters such as Aden, Sudan and the North-West Frontier Province". The 'West' could have engaged with the world in a generous fashion, establishing democratic societies instead of kleptocracies. Instead, centuries of colonialism have resulted in decades of blowback. Even more perniciously, the colonizer's mentality has come back to haunt the citizens of Western countries, with declining wages, higher mortality rates, and substandard infrastructure. Perhaps the most glaring example of the contempt that our elites hold for democracy was the naked dictatorial yearning by the guy who acted as ISIS' midwife:

There's a Steyn stain on Western Civilization, and that stain is hypocrisy- a yawning gulf between noble ideals and base policies, a sustained, systemic failure of Western Civilization to act in civilized fashion. At its best, Western Civilization, with its pluralism, secularism, and concern for minority rights, holds the greatest promise of a happy, healthy society... we of the West should try it sometime. Maybe that would result in a world in which terrorist movements gain no traction.

Tonio K. summed up the thesis of this post in 4:11:

To return to a serious note, interrobang has a couple of great posts


Smut Clyde said...

Tonio K. summed up the thesis of this post in 4:11

Now I must play the whole of that Life in the Food Chain album.

Smut Clyde said...

As for Steyn, he's determined to fly his white supremacist flag.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Mark, the human Steyn is a particularly foul example.

But we're getting this crap from the entire GOP. And then there's b.s. like this from the media.

mikey said...

Meh. I'd submit we can safely stop paying attention to the 'right wing bloviations'. The are perfectly predictable - they've been saying the very same thing for at least fifteen years - and they are speaking to the same people today they were speaking to then. They've already been entirely 'refuted', responded to, proven wrong and mocked mercilessly going back to Sadly No in 2006. They say nothing new, we respond with nothing new, and nobody's mind is ever changed.

Seriously. We can move on. Mocking the malignant bastards has been done, and now it just seems painfully redundant...

Unknown said...

"What do you think of Western Civilization, sir ?"
Gandhi : "I think it should be tried".

Tengrain said...

Thanks for the kind words, but more so for getting the word out on Steyn. His post was ricocheting around Wingnuttia in a way that was alarming to me.