Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Comfort Zone

A very interesting long view in an article by Christopher DeMuth of the American Enterprise Institute. He outlines six challenges that Western democracies will have to face for the forseeable future.

First, modern technology has vastly increased the potency of terrorism as a political tactic.

Second, out of the social and political failures of the Arab Middle East has arisen a powerful ideology and movement, now usually called Islamism or Islamofacism, which combines elements of ancient Muslim doctrine with the modern methods and furies of totalitarianism.

Third, high personal mobility, combined with continuing wide disparities in material welfare and life circumstances among national populations, have produced waves of immigration from poorer to richer nations.

Fourth, democracy possesses serious debilities along with its widely acknowledged virtues.

Fifth, the extreme division of labor in advanced societies is also--like technology, mobility, and democracy--a great blessing accompanied by intrinsic vulnerabilities.

Sixth, life in the wealthy liberal societies has become exceptionally pleasant and gratifying.
There's a lot more to read under each one of the above points, but I would like to highlight the last. He continues:
A striking characteristic of Western society, especially its elites, is that violence and the use of force have come to be abhorred per se--regardless of whether it is of the offensive, destructive sort or the defensive, self-preserving sort. Lesser disruptions, such as the “creative destruction” of free-market economic competition and the consuming demands of parenthood, are opposed or avoided as well. To the extent that civilization’s enjoyments must be defended and maintained--that force must be met with force, that continued prosperity requires continuous new investment--the pursuit of unperturbed private comfort is dangerously myopic.
He points to one clear example of this, one that I have posted about several times: the treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, first by the Dutch courts when they evicted her because her presence made the neighbours feel unsafe, and then by the Immigration Minister after a TV current affairs programme had broadcast Ali's lies on her asylum application, lies she had herself admitted to in 2002.

One of the reasons that comfort can be so short-lived is that it can render the 'comforted' unfit to maintain it. One of the the delusions we are so prone to is that of the permanence of the life we have so enjoyed. It is not unnatural that it should be so. After all, if you have experienced nothing else, if you haven't had to build the conditions for comfort yourself, you are hardly going to appreciate what it cost and costs to keep it going. Many of us are like this and nurture an unspoken assumption that it will always be so.

In addition to this, there is a political assumption that we have absorbed from birth. It takes many forms, but it is fundamentally a secular Eden myth: that the natural state is one of harmony and that it only the greed and dominance of evil men or systems that impedes the re-acquisition of that harmony. Aside from the all too well-known consequences of such a belief put into action, there is another one: we refuse to acknowledge that the essential state is one of conflict. At best, this is conflict managed through the law; at worst, it is something else that all of us, and every society, must be prepared to face it if is to survive.

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