Columnist for Monday, 12/31 - Sun Ra


The Tyranny of What Never Happened

I was in a Borders bookstore recently, which is at this point largely an exercise in futility - my Christmas gift book backlog is at least six books deep, so adding to the pile wouldn't be the wisest of ideas. And they are books I want to read, you see - not the sort of books that people give you because they 'heard you like books', and the picture was good on this one and besides it was on sale, but actual books I am interested in. Note that my interests almost certainly don't correspond with yours; I am looking forward to books like The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s and The Idea of Decline in Western Culture. Hey, it's interesting. But they are meaty books, and I have quite of few of them waiting for me to read, so I was really just passing time in the bookstore. Sure, if there was a Terry Pratchett or something I hadn't read, I might get it, but really, I was just browsing.

And one of the books I picked up to leaf through was a collection of recent interviews of Noam Chomsky about the September Eleventh atrocity and related subjects. Now, I like to consider myself a liberal, even though I tend to find most really liberal beliefs to be lacking in critical thinking. I'm a knee-jerk environmentalist, I favor corporate regulation, I think the government should be responsible for social policies. Hell, I even agree with This Modern World some of the time. Liberal. So I have sort of vaguely and passively thought of Noam Chomsky as a force for good, an indubitably intelligent leftist figure.

Of course, I was also aware that he had taken a rather bizarre, terrorist-apologist perspective of the entire 9-11 thing. So I was interested to read what he had to say about it. And, sure enough, he basically felt the actions of the terrorists were perfectly understandable, and even easily justified. Not that murder is ever right, or should be condoned, but that America basically had it coming.

Well. I'm actually not going to try and refute his main point, because I can't reliably do so without resorting to such words as "idiot" and "sheep-fucker", but I did want to focus on a particularly egregious part of his opinion. Namely, that the West (America but particularly Europe) has basically treated the rest of the world in an evil, evil way, and done horrible things to it. Most of this, of course, during the colonial period.

Now, aside from the fact that Chomsky appears to be a really big proponent of "the sins of the fathers" approach, i.e. anything the Rest of the World does to the West today is justified because of how Europeans treated everyone else in the nineteenth century, the whole concept of 'Europe was Bad' is fundamentally flawed, and for one simple reason. Everyone else was worse.

Do you know why the British were able to take over India? Because to the bulk of the Indian population, European rule appeared to be better or at the very least certainly not worse than rule by their own despotic overlords. It was the same the world over - the people who opposed European colonization were not the local peasants, who uniformly existed in a world wherein their lives and property could at any time be forfeit to the local rulers. No, it was those rulers, who obviously didn't want to lose their power. Mexico was eager to embrace the Spanish (not the nicest of people) in order to get rid of the Aztecs, and thereby keep the beating hearts of their children from being ripped out with an obsidian knife. With only a very few exceptions, notably China, local populations were quite happy to have the country taken over by foreigners. Things could only get better.

One cannot argue that European rule was uniformly good. But in general, it was equal to or better than what locals would have gotten had Europeans never shown up. To excoriate the West for what it did to the rest of the world is to ignore what the rest of the world would have done to itself, if left to its own devices.

And to ignore what the rest of the world has reverted to doing to itself. The reason Democracy has not flourished in the post-colonial world is because the rest of the world never had any predilection for democracy anyways. Democracy is an ideology - you have to be brought up in it to believe in it. The non-Western world hasn't been brainwashed since birth to believe that all people should be treated equally. An exemplary anecdote is the one of the African woman on her way to the polls, who when asked by an opposition party member who she was going to vote for, answered "The President." When asked if she might not reconsider, and vote for the challenger, replied "When he is President, then I shall vote for him."

I'm sorry, Mr. Chomsky, but the world is quite capable of being a nasty and brutish place without the West's involvement at all. It's called a "base case". If you actually look at the history of the world, the rest of the world is actually better off because of evil old Europe. I don't care if you sympathize with the terrorists. You go right on doing so, and those of us more practical or at least less willing to blame ourselves for the cruel facts of history (which, frankly, really dictate that you should go have an American Indian murder you) will go right on hunting down mass murderers. But to stigmatize the West because their historical record is far from perfect, without any recognition that any of the feasible alternatives were no better, is erroneous and insulting. And what's more, it's lazy. It's easy to criticize people, and cultures, for their sins. It's much harder to recognize what potential sins those actual ones replaced. And if they are worse, how hollow and foolish your criticism then?

Columns by Sun Ra< /a>