because this place could use a little french intellectualism...

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Dominique Moisi wrote an article for the International Herald-Tribune arguing that the West has changed into a culture of fear. We are fearful of the future, fearful of the other, and even fearful of each other. Meanwhile, he argues, the Islamic world, long used to being marginalized, is converting it's sense of dejection into rage. And while this fear and anger is taking hold of the West and the Islamic world, the East is riding a wave of hope and optimism about the future.

I'm interested in heading what folks think about this analysis of the global situation. There was a nice interview with Moisi on On Point. It's an interesting conversation, and he answers some questions from callers. If you have a minute, it's well worth a listen.

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In his article, Moisi says,

The United States and Europe are divided by a common culture of fear. On both sides, one encounters, in varying degrees, a fear of the other, a fear of the future and a fundamental anxiety about the loss of identity and control over one's destiny in an increasingly complex world.

In the case of Europe, there is the fear of being invaded by the poor, primarily from the south. Europeans also fear being blown up by radical Islamists or being demographically conquered by them as their continent becomes a "Eurabia." Then there is the fear of being left behind economically. Finally, there is the fear of being ruled by an outside power, even a friendly one (such as the United States) or a faceless one (such as the European Commission).


Some of the same sense of loss of control is present in the United States. Demographic fears mitigated, but they are clearly present. Americans do not fear economic decay the way Europeans do (although they worry about outsourcing). Yet they, too, are thinking of decline — in their bodies, with the plague of obesity; in their budgets, with the huge deficits; and in their spirit, with the loss of appetite for foreign adventures and a growing questioning of national purpose. And of course after 9/11, Americans are obsessed with security.

Whereas Europeans try to protect themselves from the world through a combination of escapism and appeasement, Americans try to do so by dealing with the problem at its source abroad. But behind the Bush administration's forceful and optimistic rhetoric lies the somber reality that the U.S. response to 9/11 has made the United States more unpopular than ever. The U.S. intervention in Iraq, for example, has generated more problems than it has solved.

The Muslim world, meanwhile, has been obsessed with decay for centuries. When Europe was in its Middle Ages, Islam was at its apogee, but when the Western Renaissance started, Islam began its inexorable fall.

Muslims saw the creation of the state of Israel in the midst of Arab land as the ultimate proof of their decline. For Jews, the legitimacy of Israel was manifold; it combined the accomplishment of a religious promise, the realization of a national destiny, and compensation by the international community for a unique crime, the Holocaust. For Arabs, by contrast, it was the anachronistic imposition of a Western colonial logic at the very moment decolonization was getting under way.

The unresolved conflict between Israel and its neighbors has helped turn the culture of humiliation into a culture of hatred. Over time, the conflict's national character has shifted to its original religious basis — a conflict between Muslims and Jews, if not a clash between Islam and the West at large.

The combination of the deepening civil war in Iraq and the fighting in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel has reinforced a sense of outrage in many Muslims that has been fully exploited by Iran and its allies. And globalization, with its expansion of the gap between economic winners and losers, has contributed to the problem.

The culture of humiliation extends to the Muslim diaspora in the West as well. The riots in France during the autumn of 2005, for example, had an essentially socioeconomic origin, but they were also a lashing out by the disaffected against a society that claims to give them equal rights in principle but fails to do so in practice.

As the West and the Middle East lock horns, confidence in progress has been moving eastward. After two centuries of relative decline, China is recovering its legitimate international status. Its policy of concentrating on economic development while avoiding conflict seems to be earning Beijing both material benefits and international respect. As for India, for the first time in its modern history it has stepped onto the world stage as both an independent and an important power. Difficulties abound for both, but the optimism today is real and seems likely to last as long as growth continues.

I took a class that was taught in conjunction with a class in Shanghai, in which we discussed issues with the Chinese students in an online forum. Looking back on what students from here and China had to say, this thesis of Moisi holds pretty well. The US students told stories of their home states struggling to cut losses and keep up with the changing world, meanwhile, the Chinese students essays contained a sense of excitement about being part of a booming and dynamic economy. As one put it,

Because of globalization , Shanghai can change technologies , resources , persons of ability , investments , cooperation from other developed countries and then get more benefit to develop itself and help China to make more progress . Globalization is a chance and also a challenge to China especially . But it is really benefit for China . So we should take advantages of it to create necessary conditions . Shanghai will be the smelter of the modernization of China .

I guess I'm not trying to make a specific point here. I just thought Moisi gave an interesting analysis and I'm curious to see it what your opinions are. There does seem to be a tendency in the west to think that things are falling apart. We blame immigrants, terrorists, conservatives, liberals, gays, whatever. The bottom line is we aren't very optimistic about the future. We're engaging in long protracted wars with shadowy enemies, talking about building walls to keep people out, and worrying about what secret alliances are being formed against us between our neighbors and our enemies. Meanwhile, it's onward and upward in places like Bangalore and Shanghai.

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7 Comments

charles said:

We have too much to lose.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

What do you mean?
Do you agree with the premise that Americans are more fearful and less optimistic?

Intellectual-guy, will have to wait till us joe six packs get the time to read all his fancy french links, is what the deal is. I wake up soon and spend the day at the college and then drive for five hours home and then get on a plane tomorrow. I'm really interested in your info, but see you after that ...

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

Well, have a good trip! Here's the link to the whole article, anyway

http://www.iht.com/bin/print.php?id=3898842

You realize, of course, the Chinese were WAY ahead of us on the wall business ... I'm guessing if they had millions of people crossing over each year they'd simply mine the border (if they haven't done so already).

From my admittedly limited perspective I think the article is dead on.

Obviously, gauging the "mood" of a country or continent is a somewhat subjective undertaking: There is the risk of over generalizing. Having only really spent much time in, er, one of the areas discussed, it would be hugely presumptuous of me to contradict Moisi's observations about Europe, China or India.

But there are a couple observations we can make from our armchair of distant, exalted omniscience:

The economy of the West - particularly the U.S. - has gone like gangbusters for generations, broadly speaking. Western culture is certainly going downhill.

To some extent both the economies and cultures of India and China had nowhere to go but up. Granted, the U.S. has its problems, but being born female here is rarely a death sentence ...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3071747.stm

... and, however one might question how we treat prisoners, at least we don't harvest them like tilapia or pigs.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/china/story/0,7369,1568622,00.html

Back to the point, tech jobs are going to India as we all know - here's a really good article on this:

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.02/india_pr.html

Basically, you can take a job that paid $80,000 in the U.S., and get it done for $20,000 in India, and the U.S. guy becomes unemployed while the India guy or gal is suddenly the Donald Trump of their neighborhood. The wealth disparity was so great that the shift can literally make one person rich and the other poor while the company gets rich as well. THAT'S disparity.

Same deal in China - although I think the U.S. job lost was $30,000 a year and the China guy gets $800 a year and is the, um, guy in the neighborhood whose family never has to eat wood for dinner anymore.

So the contrasting optimism and pessimism are rational.

Regarding the abject humiliation of the Muslim countries ... yep. Considering all that's happened in the span of history from 650 A.D. till now, it makes you think the "flowering" height of Islamic culture in the 1100s - 1200s was quite the aberration. But I'm not expert on that so don't go by me. I'll take Moisi's word for it.

What is wrong with the West? Oh, crap, this could take days to spell out.

Here's a start: I'm in a Target store in Pennsylvania yesterday, and the PET SUPPLIES section is larger than the INFANT SUPPLIES section.

How do civilizations die off? That's one way. Don't even get me started on that one ...

That's my initial response. It's a topic that interests me greatly so probably I'll turn this into a new post at some point or you can - might as well argue on the front page since no is doing much else up there.

charles said:

Yes, to some degree. I mean that for whom there is much to lose, there is much fear.

A man who has nothing cannot fear losing it. Too many americans judge the world by how likely they are to keep what they have.

That's a really smart observation, Charles. Throughout history it has been identified by terms like "status rivalry" - more about economics than culture or psychology. Seems pretty relevant here.

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