Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Individualism, egalitarianism, freedom, sustained innovation"

It is very easy to lose our perspective on the great achievement that is modernity. We too often take our freedom, prosperity, individual agency, and opportunity for granted. It is not just an issue of appreciating the efforts of those in the past, rather it is cultivating an understanding of how rare and precious this modern, free society is so that we can find the motivation to make the effort today and tomorrow to protect and improve it and pass it on to future generations. Alan Macfarlane:

Looked at from the perspective of all of human history and all other human
civilizations, what has happened on earth during the last three hundred years is
extraordinary. A new kind of civilization has emerged which has an unprec-
edented set of organizational principles. All other civilizations have been based
on the principles of an ordering of institutional parts in two ways. There was a
strict vertical hierarchy, some form of stratification where orders were
integrated through a set of levels, whether castes or otherwise. These were based
on birth and indicated to people where they were placed, how to behave, how to
live. Yet the overturning of these premises is precisely what has happened in the
last three hundred years and anarchy, on the whole, has not ensued. This is part
of the tendency towards equality, which Tocqueville analysed. That this
happened raises two great questions. How did such a strange thing as the
break-down of hierarchy occur, and how could a civilization not based on it
work? What could hold equal people together and prevent them either from
falling apart into atomistic confusion or, equally dangerously, from surrendering
their liberty to some form of absolutist government?

Put in another way, the problem could be seen in terms of the loss of the
sovereignty of groups. In the long history of mankind, people had always existed
as subordinate to groups, but now, for the first time, a world arose where the
individual came before the group. This is often seen as the quintessence of
modern liberty. Again this poses the double question of how such a strange
situation could have emerged, and, once present, how it could possibly work.
Too much atomization would surely lead to the collapse of the social system.
This was one of the great quandaries for the anthropology and sociology of the
nineteenth century and lay behind many of its best-known theories.

Yet not only did this unprecedented social order work, it worked so well, at
least at the material level, that the area where it first developed, Holland,
England and then America and western Europe, rapidly became the richest and
most powerful area of the world and hence dominated and spread its system.
Now this system, or local attempts at imitating it, envelopes almost the whole
An 'open' society is a miraculous, unique and precarious phenomenon. 'That all men are created equal
and independent' is far from being a universally 'sacred and undeniable' truth. As Gellner forcefully puts
it, 'The American Declaration of Independence is one of the most comic and preposterous documents
ever penned. Yet Thomas Jefferson was not, in any technical or ordinary sense, a fool.' The
explanation for this puzzle is then given. 'America was born modern; it did not have to achieve
modernity, nor did it have modernity thrust upon it. It has, at most, a rather hazy recollection of any
"ancient regime".' Most of the world was not so fortunate and Gellner's own experience of three
'Ancien Regimes', that is to say all of the world as he conceived it to be before about 1500, and then
Islam and Communism since, made him deeply aware of the strangeness of 'modernity'. He elaborates
the difficulty of many of us, not just Americans, in realizing what the problem is when he attacks
postmodernism. 'Individualism, egalitarianism, freedom, sustained innovation - these traits are, in the
comparative context of world history, unusual, not to say eccentric; but to Americans they are part of
the air they breathe, and most of them have never experienced any other moral atmosphere...No
wonder that Americans tend to treat these principles as universal and inherent in the human condition.'

Other posts on this theme:

What do we mean by "modernity"?

The Emergence of the modern mind

You can't wage a non-ideological war of ideas

Matt Armstrong at the excellent blog Mountainrunner made an interesting comment in a recent post that highlights something that I've been wanting to write about for a while now.

This report is of particular interest for those like myself who are more interested in the structure of how public diplomacy and information activities are conducted than about the specific messages employed.

My interests are the opposite of this, since I am firstly interested in the specific messages employed and secondarily interested in the structure of how this is conducted. This I think is the correct order in which to approach this issue. After all a war of ideas really is about ideas. First you figure out what it is that you are for, what ideas you believe in, what ideas you are championing and defending, then you figure out how to champion and defend those ideas. Doing this in the wrong order is one of the things that I think is seriously wrong with our approach to the war of ideas.

But this will inevitably create a dilemma for many people because it requires that you commit yourself to some ideas and reject others. And this will put you right smack dab in the middle of domestic and international politics and this will rub a lot of people the wrong way because they don't want to wade into politics and ideology. But you cannot wage a non-ideological war of ideas, it's impossible.

We need to accept the fact that the war of ideas is inherently ideological and proceed accordingly in our efforts to win it. Our primary focus should be on determining what ideas, beliefs, attitudes and interpretations should be both informing and providing the specific messages for our public diplomacy and other information activities. How can they do their jobs if we haven't figured this out?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

It keeps going and going...

A year ago, in response to the success of the Pence Amendment preventing the FCC from re-imposing the so-called "Fairness" Doctrine, I wrote:

Unfortunately this will not be the end of efforts to impose the "fairness" doctrine or other means of cracking down on our rights to free speech and free press. This vote doesn't change anyone's views and the supporters of imposing the "fairness" doctrine are going to continue their efforts.

Here we are now a year later and that is exactly what has happened. The Democrats have not in any way abandoned their efforts to impose a censorship regime:

At a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor yesterday, I asked Pelosi if Pence failed to get the required signatures on a discharge petition to get his anti-Fairness Doctrine bill out of committee, would she permit the Pence measure to get a floor vote this year.

“No,” the Speaker replied, without hesitation.  She added that “the interest in my caucus is the reverse” and that New York Democratic Rep. “Louise Slaughter has been active behind this [revival of the Fairness Doctrine] for a while now.”

Pelosi pointed out that, after it returns from its Fourth of July recess, the House will only meet for another three weeks in July and three weeks in the fall.  There are a lot of bills it has to deal with before adjournment, she said, such as FISA and an energy bill.

 “So I don’t see it [the Pence bill] coming to the floor,” Pelosi said.

“Do you personally support revival of the ‘Fairness Doctrine?’” I asked.

“Yes,” the speaker replied, without hesitation

(emphasis mine)

Always remember that in this competition of ideas all victories are temporary. If the left loses a particular fight, they don't abandon or even question their belief system, rather they devise new tactics and try again and again until something works.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Broken windows and the war of ideas

More than 100 professors at the University of Chicago have signed a letter expressing their opposition to the establishment of the Milton Friedman Institute. This is no big deal right? Maybe not, but it is a skirmish in the war of ideas. The effort by the radical left to establish and defend the cultural hegemony of their worldview is neverending. If we dismiss these little, small-scale efforts to enforce conformity to the left's ideology as not really important, as trivial, as nothing to get excited about, then we put ourselves in the position of always reacting to their actions. Also perhaps we could adapt the "broken windows theory" to the war of ideas: Rudy Giuliani:"The idea of it is that you had to pay attention to small things, otherwise they would get out of control and become much worse." This means fighting the war of ideas at a lower level, one that many will be inclined to think is irrelevant. But this is necessary in order to keep anti-liberal ideas and movements from becoming bigger problems.

A sample of the anti-freedomista's rhetoric:

"It is a right-wing think tank being put in place," said Bruce Lincoln, a professor of the history of religions and one of the faculty members who met with the administration Tuesday. "The long-term consequences will be very severe. This will be a flagship entity and it will attract a lot of money and a lot of attention, and I think work at the university and the university's reputation will take a serious rightward turn to the detriment of all."

From the letter:

Many colleagues are distressed by the notoriety of the Chicago School of Economics, especially throughout much of the global south, where they have often to defend the University’s reputation in the face of its negative image. The effects of the neoliberal global order that has been put in place in recent decades, strongly buttressed by the Chicago School of Economics, have by no means been unequivocally positive. Many would argue that they have been negative for much of the world's population, leading to the weakening of a number of struggling local economies in the service of globalized capital, and many would question the substitution of monetization for democratization under the banner of “market democracy.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The war of the word

This is a quote from an article on Obama's church and how they're doing since he threw them under the bus when they became politically inconvenient. But that's not why I pulled this quote. What I'm interested in is the last sentence:

"If a politician wants to move up in government, he can come to church and jump and shout," said the Rev. Barbara Reynolds, a lecturer at Howard University's School of Divinity. "But it is not okay to go to a church where they are speaking truth to power and talking about racism, sexism and capitalism."

racism, sexism and capitalism

So in this formulation "capitalism" is the equivalent of "racism" and "sexism". Keep this in mind the next time you are arguing in favor of the market economy. Your opponent may very well be responding to you as if you were arguing in favor of Jim Crow. The competition of ideas is often played in very subtle, even trivial ways, but that's where the game must be played.

Pulling back the curtain

I'm posting this future reference. It's always good to get a glimpse behind the curtain so that you know what you are up against. Don't be lulled into believing that this is all irrelevant and that Hinchey and Waters are just isolated examples. Again, we have a lot of work to do to defend our Free Society.

A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 29% of voters favor nationalizing the oil industry. Just 47% are opposed and 24% are not sure.
The survey found that a plurality of Democrats (37%) believe the oil industry should be nationalized. Just 32% of voters in Barack Obama’s party disagree with that approach. Republicans oppose nationalizing the oil industry by a 66% to 16% margin. Unaffiliated voters are opposed by a 47% to 33% margin.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters:

Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Gaddis on Academia and Grand Strategy

Below is an excerpt from a speech by John Lewis Gaddis: The Past and Future of American Grand Strategy given at Middlebury College in 2005:

Consider this comment from Henry Kissinger on one of Bush’s predecessors: “Reagan’s was an astonishing performance and, to academic observers, nearly incomprehensible. . . . When all was said and done, a president with the shallowest academic background was to develop a foreign policy of extraordinary consistency and relevance.”

But how could this be? How could the shallowness of academic training be an advantage in the conduct of grand strategy? This is a really disturbing idea, but I think we’d better begin pondering it because to paraphrase another great grand strategist, it’s beginning to look like déjà vu all over again.

So let me try to answer this question – why the academy finds leaders like Reagan and Bush so difficult to understand – somewhat in the spirit of Larry Summers, by tossing out a few provocations.

First, that grand strategy is, by its nature, an ecological enterprise. It requires taking information from a lot of different fields, evaluating it intuitively rather than systematically, and then acting. It is, in this sense, different from most academic training, which as it advances pushes students toward specialization, and then toward professionalization, by which I mean the ever deeper mastery of a diminishing number of things. To remain broad you’ve got to retain a certain shallowness – but beyond the level of undergraduate education and sometimes not even there, the academy is not particularly comfortable with that idea.

Second, grand strategy requires setting an objective and sticking to it. The academy does not take easily to that idea either. It asks us constantly to question our assumptions and reformulate our objectives. That’s fine to the extent that that sharpens our intellectual skills, and therefore prepares us for leadership. But it’s not the same thing as leadership: for that, you’ve got to say “here’s where we ought to be by such and such a time, and here’s how we’re going to get there.” Taking the position that, “on the one hand this, and on the other hand that,” as you might around a seminar table, won’t get you there. Nor will saying that you voted for the $87 billion appropriation before you voted against it.

Third, grand strategy requires the ability to respond rapidly to the unexpected. It acknowledges that trends can reverse themselves suddenly, that “tipping points” can occur, and that leaders must know how to exploit them. The academy loves this sort of thing when it happens on the basketball court or the hockey rink. In the classroom, though, it resists the idea: instead the emphasis is too often on theory, which promises predictability, and therefore no surprises. That’s why the academy tends to be so surprised when events like the end of the Cold War and 9/11 take place. Leaders, like athletes, have to be more agile.

Fourth, grand strategy requires the making of moral judgments, because that’s how leadership takes place: in that sense, it’s a faith-based initiative. You have to convince people that your aspirations correspond with their own, and that you’re serious about advancing them. You don’t lead by trying to persuade people that distinctions between good and evil are social constructions, that there are no universal standards for making them, that we should always try to understand the viewpoint of others, even when they are trying to kill us.

Finally, grand strategy requires great language. As the best leaders from Pericles through Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan have always known, words are themselves instruments of power. Their careful choice and courageous use can shake the stability of states, as when Reagan said, before anybody else, that the Soviet Union was an “evil empire” headed for the “ash-heap of history.” They can also undermine walls, as when Reagan famously demanded, against the advice of his own speech-writers, that Gorbachev tear one down.

But where, within the academy is the use of great language taught? Where would you go to learn how to make a great speech? Certainly not to political science, language, and literature departments at Yale, where as students advance they are spurred on toward ever higher levels of jargon-laden incomprehensibility. I think not even to my beloved History Department, where my colleagues seem more interested in the ways words reflect structures of power than in ways words challenge or even overthrow structures of power.

The art of rhetoric, within the academy, is largely a lost art – which probably helps to explain why the academy is as often as surprised as it is to discover that words really do still have meanings – and that consequences come from using them.

Today's Quote: Mapping the terminological landscape

From The Buggy Professor we have a couple of overlapping quotes on the terms "conservative" and "liberal". Terminology matters and it has become one of the main themes of my thinking. It is especially important if you are engaged in some kind of persuasion operation such as a political movement. You need to put a lot of thought into your labels, names, slogans etc. so that your terms can work as an adequate vehicle for your ideas. Understanding the history of those terms and how they are understood at home and abroad is essential to winning a competition of ideas. Knowing the history of these terms it's hard to understand why anyone would think that attempting to champion truly liberal ideas under the label "conservative" was a good idea. The first quote is from a Buggy Professor comment posted at Econlog:

Terminological problems, at any rate for non-Americans. Outside the US, "liberal" has a different meaning than here. It retains the 18th and 19th century meaning of limited government and free markets. Hence the related term, used pejoratively: "neo-liberalism" to refer to Reagan's and Thatcher's de-regulatory policies (actually started here in the otherwise disastrous Carter-administration) and the Washington Consensus on development.
The reasons for the difference here and in, say, Europe?

European conservatism is rooted in pre-democratic, pre-industrial societies, going back to the late Middle-Age and early modern period. It is rooted in a hierarchical view of society, paternalism, a stress on state-security, and a powerful animus against industrial capitalism, free-markets, and the rapidly growing new middle classes in the late 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. On the European continent, such conservatism easily adapted to the extensive welfare-state regulatory systems after 1945 . . . embodied, say, in Christian Democracy (Austria, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and even for a time in France --- until Gaullism overtook it in the late 1950s and 1960s). Even in the more flexible British Conservative party, there's the old Tory wing of patrician aristocrats and others rooted in the 17th century party system on one side and on the other, going back to the switch of Robert Peel (a Liberal leader) to the Conservatives in the middle of the 19th century once the Conservative Party adopted free trade.

For this reason, say, Milton Friedman --- when he was interviewed in the early 1990s by Der Spiegel, the bible of politically correct anti-Americanism, anti-Israeli sentiment, anti-"neo-liberalism", and semi-covert German nationalism --- described himself as not a conservative (in the Christian Democratic sense, he said), but as a liberal.

The US, by contrast, never had such a pre-democratic, pre-industrial, aristocratic elite rooted in agrarian land-holding outside the slave-holding South, with its power shattered in our civil war. (Nor, oppositely, have we had a socialist tradition either --- rooted in the huge class-struggles and struggles for democracy and trade-union recognition (and anti-clericalism in Catholic countries) --- that marked most of European political life in the 19th and first few decades of the 20th cetury.)
Specifically, American visitors to this buggy site need to remember that "liberal" still retains its 19th century meaning in West Europe: support for free-markets, free-trade, limited government, and individual freedom and responsibility.  Liberal political parties don't even exist except in three or four European polities, and they are small, and if ever in power, only as a tiny centrist member of either left-wing socialist dominated coalitions or of moderate conservative (statist) coalitions.  In the United States, for complex historical reasons --- not least, the almost total absence of a socialist tradition and at the other pole the similar absence of statist conservatism rooted in pre-industrial, pre-democratic traditions --- the US political spectrum divides into moderate  "left-wing liberalism" (with vocal semi-socialist and populist radicals in its activist ranks) and moderate "right-wing conservatism") that is traditionally libertarian in the 19th century sense, with different factions of it comprising the Republican Party today . . . including, oddly, moral majority conservatives who balk at non-judgmental individual free choice and, almost as oddly, neo-conservative intellectuals who favor an active if fairly small welfare state and a vigorous use of American power to advance the cause of democracy and human rights abroad.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How to win the war of ideas II

More from the Belmont Club

The Islamic missionary effort is like the Left in that it is in a state of perpetual militancy. Over long years they develop a very efficient system of mutual support and alliances which very often can overmatch any ad-hoc or spontaneous opposition to their agendas. Even when momentarily checked, they simply lie low and wait for the next opportunity.

This is perfectly legitimate behavior in a democratic society. But over time any idea which expresses itself in perpetual organization will gradually gain ground. That's just the way it is.

Our task is to express the idea of the Free Society in perpetual organization. Part 1: update classical liberal ideas for the 21st century so they are relevant to our time; Part 2: become perpetual organizers aka entrepreneurs aka strategic citizens.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Remedy

Ezra Levant links to a "remedy" from one of Canada's totalitarian "human rights" commissions. There's much more at the link, but check this out. As Levant points out, the Alberta commission has issued a ruling to deprive a citizen and his organization of freedom of speech and the press forever. This has nothing to do with whether you agree or disagree with the content of someone's speech. People have an inalienable right to freedom of speech and the press even if you find what they say to be despicable. This is completely insane:

The Panel finds, and the Panel orders as follows:

That Mr. Boissoin and The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. shall cease
publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on
the internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.
Further, they shall not and are prohibited from making disparaging
remarks in the future about Dr. Lund or Dr. Lund’s witnesses relating to
their involvement in this complaint. Further, all disparaging remarks
versus homosexuals are directed to be removed from current web sites and
publications of Mr. Boissoin and The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc.

That The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. and Mr. Boissoin shall, in
future, be restrained from committing the same or similar contraventions
of the Act.

"Pakistan to ask EU to amend laws on freedom of expression"

So do the Europeans have what it takes to stand up and defend one of the foundational principles of the free society? Well, we're going to find out...

Pakistan will ask the European Union countries to amend laws regarding freedom of expression in order to prevent offensive incidents such as the printing of blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and the production of an anti-Islam film by a Dutch legislator, sources in the Interior Ministry told Daily Times on Saturday.

They said that a six-member high-level delegation comprising officials from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Law would leave Islamabad on Sunday (today) for the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium and explain to the EU leadership the backlash against the blasphemous campaign in the name of freedom of expression. 

The delegation, headed by an additional secretary of the Interior Ministry, will meet the leaders of the EU countries in a bid to convince them that the recent attack on the Danish Embassy in Pakistan could be a reaction against the blasphemous campaign, sources said.

They said that the delegation would also tell the EU that if such acts against Islam are not controlled, more attacks on the EU diplomatic missions abroad could not be ruled out.

Via The Corner

Civil society and the war of ideas

So what does entrepreneurship have to do with the war of ideas and the war against radical Islam? Over time the countries with creative, dynamic civil societies that offer a fertile environment for the actualization of human ingenuity and enterprise prevail against those that don't. It is not just about what happens on the battlefield, the kind of war we are fighting will ultimately be won off the battlefield in civil society.

Buffett paid $4 billion for 80 percent of Iscar and the deal just happened to close a few days before Hezbollah, a key part of Iran’s holding company, attacked Israel in July 2006, triggering a monthlong war. I asked Iscar’s chairman, Eitan Wertheimer, what was Buffett’s reaction when he found out that he had just paid $4 billion for an Israeli company and a few days later Hezbollah rockets were landing outside its parking lot.

Buffett just brushed it off with a wave, recalled Wertheimer: “He said, ‘I’m not interested in the next quarter. I’m interested in the next 20 years.’ ” Wertheimer repaid that confidence by telling half his employees to stay home during the war and using the other half to keep the factory from not missing a day of work and setting a production record for the month. It helps when many of your “employees” are robots that move around the buildings, beeping humans out of the way.

So who would you put your money on? Buffett or Ahmadinejad? I’d short Ahmadinejad and go long Warren Buffett.
Why? From outside, Israel looks as if it’s in turmoil, largely because the entire political leadership seems to be under investigation. But Israel is a weak state with a strong civil society. The economy is exploding from the bottom up. Israel’s currency, the shekel, has appreciated nearly 30 percent against the dollar since the start of 2007.

The reason? Israel is a country that is hard-wired to compete in a flat world. It has a population drawn from 100 different countries, speaking 100 different languages, with a business culture that strongly encourages individual imagination and adaptation and where being a nonconformist is the norm. While you were sleeping, Israel has gone from oranges to software, or as they say around here, from Jaffa to Java.
Boaz Golany, who heads engineering at the Technion, Israel’s M.I.T., told me: “In the last eight months, we have had delegations from I.B.M., General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart visiting our campus. They are all looking to develop R & D centers in Israel.”

Ahmadinejad professes not to care about such things. He was — to put it in American baseball terms — born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. Because oil prices have gone up to nearly $140 a barrel, he feels relaxed predicting that Israel will disappear, while Iran maintains a welfare state — with more than 10 percent unemployment.

Iran has invented nothing of importance since the Islamic Revolution, which is a shame. Historically, Iranians have been a dynamic and inventive people — one only need look at the richness of Persian civilization to see that. But the Islamic regime there today does not trust its people and will not empower them as individuals.
Iran’s economic and military clout today is largely dependent on extracting oil from the ground. Israel’s economic and military power today is entirely dependent on extracting intelligence from its people. Israel’s economic power is endlessly renewable. Iran’s is a dwindling resource based on fossil fuels made from dead dinosaurs.
So who will be here in 20 years? I’m with Buffett: I’ll bet on the people who bet on their people — not the people who bet on dead dinosaurs.

Via Prairie Pundit

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Shouldn't politicians be experts in politics?

Another example of the Bush administration's complete cluelessness about politics and the war of ideas. You must plan and wage a campaign to support your policies. Now as we are negotiating with the Iraqi government over the terms of our future relationship, the Bush admin. apparently didn't see fit to wage a campaign to inform the Iraqi people and cultivate their support. This is also part of the war of ideas:

And finally, everyone in Iraq -- other than Nouri Al Maliki and Abdul Aziz Al Hakim -- opposes the security agreement. It makes perfect sense to reject it because it is seen as an extention of an occupation, and nobody would want to be occupied for any length of time. It would be helpful if the security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq would be explained better to the Iraqi people. Because at this moment, it is terribly unpopular.

From IraqPundit

I personally don’t have a full text of the agreement’s draft but I’ve always been a proponent of establishing a strategic alliance with the U.S. For our government, I hope that accepting or rejecting it would be based on its impact on Iraq’s interests.

Will Iraqis accept the agreement? No one can tell at this point, and this is the difference between democracies and non-democracies. Had the question been posed in Iran or Syria, it would take one man’s word to offer an answer. I am pleased to see that our government is dealing pragmatically with the issue and is seeking the opinion of countries that have experience with long-term U.S. military presence. The government sent delegations to Germany, Japan, and South Korea to listen to what they, not the mullahs, have to say about it.

If not for the lack of information about this agreement, the clergy in Najaf wouldn’t have considered calling for a referendum on it. The ignorance of the public as to the content of the agreement makes it easy for a cleric to manipulate the outcome of such a referendum and still make it look as if it was the people who made the decision. All he needs to do is issue a fatwa that tells the simple, faithful citizen that his or her vote today could make the difference between hell and heaven. Such a disgusting exploitation of the trust of people who are just beginning to learn the alphabet of knowledge!

From Pajamas Media

How to win the war of ideas

Wretchard at the Belmont Club never fails to be quotable:

The environmental lobby may not represent a great many persons, but their small numbers understate the power of their influence. They're in the process, sitting on corporate boards, drafting legislation through networks of friends, setting the public relations agenda. And they are purposefully following a plan. Whenever they are checked, they simply wait, lie dormant and try again at the next opportunity.

And that's how you fight a war of ideas. The environmental movement is a very successful political movement. It is a decentralized, non-partisan movement whose members are self-selected and motivated by a vision to take action. We need to learn from the environmental movement and apply what we learn to waging the competition of ideas to champion liberal democratic capitalism, oppose extremist Islam and Ameriphobia and to shrink the gap.

Friday, June 6, 2008

"Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”

Mark Hemingway at NRO gives an overview of the trial of Mark Steyn and Maclean's in Canada by an Orwellian "Human Rights" tribunal. Hemingway begins his piece with the following quote:

"Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.” —Canadian “Human Rights” Investigator Dean Steacy, responding to the question “What value do you give freedom of speech when you investigate?”

I don't know how widespread this attitude is in Canada but it seems there is enough political support for the human rights commissions for them to continue operating without much apparent opposition. But this is just one more example of the many threats to freedom of speech and freedom of the press throughout the West. We should not think of these as isolated examples, but rather part of a decades long political war against individualism and its fundamental belief that all individuals have equal rights that governments are instituted to protect. We can't be complacent about this. It's become clear to me that we have to wage a campaign to educate people about our rights and why they are important. We can't assume that they know. Fortunately there are organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, but ultimately there needs to be a larger movement. I've been thinking that as soon as I'm in a financial position to do so I'd like to produce something like a series of audio and video lectures or maybe short documentary films on freedom of speech and the press and other rights.

I'll leave you with this quote from the Supreme Court decision in TINKER V. DES MOINES SCHOOL DIST. (found at Countercolumn):

But, in our system, undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression. Any departure from absolute regimentation may cause trouble. Any variation from the majority's opinion may inspire fear. Any word spoken, in class, in the lunchroom, or on the campus, that deviates from the views of another person may start an argument or cause a disturbance. But our Constitution says we must take this risk...and our history says that it is this sort of hazardous freedom - this kind of openness - that is...the basis of our national strength and of the independence and vigor of Americans who grow up and live in this relatively permissive, often disputatious, society.

MORE on the The Human Rights Commission Jihad (via Instapundit):

It isn't too difficult to argue that the single-most important human right is the right to argue and debate about everything. Any attempt to limit this right is to place every other freedom in serious jeopardy.
If our Human Rights Commissions are serious about human rights at all; their only logical reaction to the complaints against Ezra Levant or against Maclean's and Mark Steyn would have been to immediately dismiss them as being totally without merit. As they have refused to do this, it is clear that they require urgent and serious reform and a dramatic overhaul in their personnel… or else mandatory remedial training in civics and history. Until these happen, Ezra Levant and Steyn's defiance are only the beginning.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tell me a story

Andrew Klavan has a good essay at City Journal that offers a different view of the competition of ideas:

It seems to me that leaves these kids only one recourse: the culture. Where the institution of family is broken, only the surrounding culture can teach people the inner structures required for a life of liberty.

Many conservatives often seem to have given up on culture or not to care. There’s a strong strain of philistinism on the right. When we talk about “culture wars,” we usually mean preventing the courts from redefining marriage or promoting abstinence instead of birth control: culture, in other words, as the behavioral branch of politics.

Culture, in the true sense, is more than that. It’s the whole engulfing narrative of our values. It’s the stories we tell. Leftists know this. These kids get an earful from the Left every day. Their schools serve up black history in a way guaranteed to alienate them from the American enterprise. Their sanctioned reading list denies boys the natural fantasies of battling villains and protecting women from harm. Any instinct the girls might have that their bodies and their self-respect are interrelated is negated by the ubiquitous parable of celebrity lives. And I hardly need mention the movies and TV shows that endlessly undermine notions of manly self-discipline, feminine modesty, patriotism, and all the rest.

Conservatives respond to this mostly with finger-wagging. But creativity has to be answered with creativity. We need stories, histories, movies of our own. That requires a structure of support—publishing houses, movie studios, review space, awards, almost all of which we’ve ceded to the Left.

There may be more profitable businesses in the short run. The long run, as always, depends on the young. If you want to win their hearts, you have to tell them stories. I have reason to believe they’ll listen.

Via Libertas where Dirty Harry points out:

While conservatives won elections the last thirty-years, the left infested schools, universities, the entertainment industry, news media, and publishing. They understand politics follows the culture, not the other way around.

Culture, in the true sense, is more than that. It’s the whole engulfing narrative of our values. It’s the stories we tell.

This is one of the reasons I have been championing the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are the protagonists in the great story of our time. One of the central functions of myth is to provide exemplary figures who represent your society's values and approach to life and who offer an example to follow. The entrepreneur is the hero in our story.

But creativity has to be answered with creativity. We need stories, histories, movies of our own. That requires a structure of support—publishing houses, movie studios, review space, awards, almost all of which we’ve ceded to the Left.

This is another reason I've been promoting entrepreneurship: It is going to take entrepreneurship to win this competition of ideas. We need to become entrepreneurial in order to build the institutions that can create and disseminate the narratives and ideas that will provide the content for our culture. That is how you win the competition of ideas. As Dirty Harry said, first you win at the cultural level and the political success will follow. If you try to focus on the politics without a supporting cultural environment you will always be fighting an outside battle and never really succeeding. The success of the left at that cultural level is not because their ideas work, because we know they don't, but because they have been willing to be creative and entrepreneurial without any real competition. They have been succeeding by default because they have no significant challengers.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fresh blogs

Here are a few blogs I've recently discovered that are worth checking out:

Adam Smith's Lost Legacy

Growthology: Research and Policy for Entrepreneurial Economies

Darwinian Conservatism

And it looks like the FSO blog The Diplomad is back.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Collectivism and Individualism

From The Fly Bottle:

Ironically, a distaste for civic cooperation and the rule of law tends to travel with collectivism, data from the World Values Survey show. Collectivistic societies stress interdependence between people and the pursuit of group goals. But not just any people or group’s goals count, explains Gächter: “In these societies you cooperate with people inside your network, which is organized along family and friendship lines. In our experiments, everyone is an outsider to everyone else. You might not accept punishment from outside your network.”

Conversely, individualistic societies view each person as independent and value the pursuit of individual goals. These mores are more prevalent in wealthier democracies, notes Herbert Gintis, an economist at the Santa Fe Institute, in an accompanying article. “In modern, market-based societies, group boundaries aren’t very important,” explains Gächter. “You have to be able to cooperate with unrelated strangers.” And so rather than being hotbeds of cut-throat competition, capitalist democracies are actually kinder and gentler than more traditional economies—at least for strangers.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

"This requires a conceptual revolution"

This is from last November, but I think it is still relevant given the seeming state of perpetual stagnation of our war of ideas efforts. Succeeding in the war of ideas against Islamic extremism doesn't necessarily mean that people have to buy into our ideas, they just have to reject those of the extremists. However in the long term we need to be championing a set of ideas that can be used by people around the world to develop more liberal, more modern, more prosperous societies. Ideas that can help them through this transition period and give them a positive vision of (following Tom Barnett) a future worth creating. So while this article is accurate in addressing the first part of countering radical Islam it does not address the second part.

Since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has fixated on dismal public opinion surveys in Muslim countries and viewed the core task for public diplomacy to be: "How do we fix foreigners' perceptions of the United States?" The result was that, despite persistent poor results in polls, Hughes succeeded in improving America's public relations capacity. This included creating media "rapid response" teams, energizing diplomats to engage with local journalists, and repairing the content and message of the "speaker abroad" programs.

But these tactical achievements cannot hide a stunning strategic failure. Because Hughes was the most senior government official responsible for the "battle of ideas," her principal task should have been to answer the question: How can the United States most effectively empower anti-radical Muslims around the world to combat the spread of Islamist extremism? After all, the "battle of ideas" is not a popularity contest about us; it is a battle for political power among Muslims, in which America's favorability rating is irrelevant.

Hughes clearly was attracted to polls as a metric of success. In a Sept. 17 Post op-ed, she twice referred to positive poll numbers as signs of progress in the fight against al-Qaeda. In so doing, she lost all right to claim that the ideological struggle is, as she sometimes said, "the work of a generation." Journalists who criticized Hughes for failing to improve America's poll numbers abroad were only judging her by the measurement she chose to extol America's successes.

Hughes's resignation gives Bush one last chance to get this right. This requires a conceptual revolution. Rather than expend effort on winning Muslim friendship for America, our engagement with Muslim publics -- what we call "public diplomacy" -- should focus on identifying, nurturing and supporting anti-Islamist Muslims, from secular liberals to pious believers, who fear the encroachment of radical Islamists and are willing to make a stand.

This strategy would involve overt and covert ways to assist anti-Islamist political parties, nongovernmental organizations, trade unions, media outlets, women's groups, educational institutions and youth movements as they compete with the radicals. It calls for marshaling government resources -- our embassies, aid bureaucracies, international broadcasting units and intelligence agencies, as well as our commercial, educational and civic relationships -- to give anti-Islamists the moral, political, financial, technological and material support they need.
A key feature of this includes empowering local Muslims with information about the salafist or Wahhabi connections of their radical Islamist adversaries.

Our goal is to help anti-Islamists prevent extremists from controlling public space, public speech and public behavior. If our allies win, their societies have a chance to join the globalizing world and America benefits; if anti-Islamists fail, they lose, we lose and no bump in America's poll numbers will ever offset the gravity of the defeat.

"The Pentagon's Internet Civil War"

It's painful watching our vintage 20th century governmental institutions struggling with 21st century realities. Davis Axe reports on the "internet civil war" between the Army and the Air Force in the 1st part of a 3 part series at the Washington Independent:

This winter, the Air Force, as the Pentagon’s point agency for Internet operations –“cyberwarfare,” in military jargon – banned access from official networks to many blogs, declaring that they weren’t “established, reputable media.” The Air Force didn’t seem concerned that America’s greatest enemies, international jihadists, had long ago latched onto websites as cheap, effective tools for sharing ideas.

Indeed, the Air Force’s ban was part of a widening military crackdown on so-called “Web 2.0” Internet sites, including blogs, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, all often grouped together as “social media,” because of their potential for easy, global communication. Mostly, Website-banning Pentagon officials were worried that U.S. troops, in using these popular Web 2.0 sites, might inadvertently release secret information on the Internet.
The Army cleverly dodged the bans, setting up its own versions of popular Web 2.0 sites, but hiding them behind password-protected portals. In that way, the Army appears to have found a middle ground between Internet proponents and skeptics. On this toehold, the land combat branch is steadily building new Internet tools that might help the United States catch up to Internet-savvy jihadists. In late April, the land-warfare branch even launched an official blogging service for officers. The blogs combine the best of the civilian Web 2.0 with old-fashioned military-grade security.
MilSpace represents the kinds of long-term solutions likely to result from the Pentagon’s internal Internet struggle. The military will develop its own Net tools, similar to the civilian versions, optimized for spreading ideas and information more quickly. But the armed services may restrict access to some tools in an effort to keep the ideas and information out of the wrong hands.

A coherent military Internet strategy can’t come soon enough: America’s enemies continue to take huge leaps forward online. In May, The New York Times profiled a Belgian woman, Malika El Aroud, who runs Al Qaeda online recruiting campaigns from her home office, using popular Internet forums. Some critics have questioned whether such online campaigns work. They do, according to a January report from the Combating Terrorism Center, a New York-based policy organization. “People [were] deciding to pick up arms after spending time on the forums,” editor Erich Marquardt told The New York Sun.

“It is now possible for them [Islamic extremists] to communicate instantly with supporters (or potential supporters) in nearly all parts of the world,” the nonprofit EastWest Institute reported in February.

EastWest, which has offices in New York, Brussels and Moscow, also pointed out that “as powerful as the Internet may be for violent extremists, cyberspace is a neutral vehicle for the rapid transfer of ideas, beliefs and agendas. Thus it can, and must, be used by those seeking to counter violent extremism.”

That’s a lesson that many within the military have been slow to learn. Only the Army, with its compromise approach balancing the free exchange of ideas with the need for security, seems to truly appreciate the Internet’s value – something jihadists understood years ago.

(Emphasis mine)


Still waiting...

...key parts of the U.S. government are clearly asleep at the wheel in fighting Bin Laden's message and ideology. What will it take to wake them up?
Well considering that 9/11 wasn't enough to rouse them from their slumber, I'm not sure anything will.

An unresolved question remains who in the U.S. Government is accountable for the wartime "war of ideas" against Jihadists. Last fall, Sen. Joe Lieberman questioned the FBI, the DHS, the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) about their organizations' role in the "war on ideas" against Jihadists. The answer was a giant shrugging of shoulders.
The Washington Times reported that: "FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III revealed during the hearing that the FBI has no counterideology response other than its 'outreach' to Muslim-American communities so they 'understand the FBI' and address 'the radicalization issue.'" Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff also said nothing is being done domestically to battle Islamist extremist ideas. The department's incident management team, he said, is focused on civil rights or civil liberties - not fighting terrorists' ideology." "Retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, said the intelligence community does not conduct any battle of ideas against terrorists in the United States unless there is a foreign connection."
"Retired Vice Adm. Scott Redd, [then] head of the National Counterterrorism Center who has a strategic operational role in countering terrorism, said one of the 'four pillars' of the U.S. war strategy is the 'war of ideas,' but he noted that there is no 'home office' for that effort in the United States."
...the NCTC Extremist Messaging Branch directed NCTC staff that "[w]hen Osama bin Ladin or others try to draw the USG into a debate, we should offer only minimal, if any, response to their messages." This is the NCTC's real idea of a "war of ideas:" "minimal, if any, response to their messages."