“Muslim Rage” and Enlightenment Values

Someone just commented on my 2008 post, The Enlightenment and its Critics, calling me arrogant for saying (“Western”) Enlightenment values are good for other, very different societies. This is a standard multi-culti trope, denying progress. But what’s really arrogant is believing enlightened Western values are good only for us enlightened Westerners, and not for those other benighted brown-skinned people over there.

So call me arrogant, but I do say Muslim societies would be better – for the Muslims in them – if they were more like ours. All this “Muslim Rage” happens because their existing social constructs aren’t working for them the way ours do. Europeans and Americans don’t burn embassies, basically because we lead more satisfying lives and aren’t so insecure that we feel humiliated or threatened by some stupid You-Tube video or cartoons. The violent response of Muslims who feel “dissed” mirrors that of the young street tough who feels dissed. Both are powerless nobodies and know it, defending their honor because, from their perspective, that’s all they’ve got. People whose place in the sun is secure don’t behave that way. (And, of course, nothing degrades Muslims as much as crazy violence.)

It’s no coincidence that Western nations, with “Western” values, are far richer not only materially but intellectually and socially than most Muslim societies, backward in every respect. It’s because they haven’t yet gotten “Western” values – like democracy, openness, competition, rule of law, pluralism – and freedom of expression.

These are what historian Niall Ferguson calls the “killer apps” of Western civilization, that have made us so phenomenally successful in providing good lives for most of our people. Some Muslims act as though it would pay for them to be protected against the insults coming from free expression. It would not. Freedom from insult carries a very high price, in intellectual stagnation. An open market in ideas is a key factor propelling the West to so much progress and human betterment than less open, and less open-minded, Muslim societies. I love living in the kind of dynamic society where my beliefs are insulted every day.

But Muslims are not doomed to forever stew in their self-emasculating backwardness. Western society was not born with our killer apps pre-installed. We had a long road groping our way toward them, with some stumbles along the way, like the odd world war. Only lately have we finally gotten into the groove. Muslim societies aren’t there yet, but they’re not congenitally handicapped; they’re on the road too, if only farther back. We were not straitjacketed by our feudal past, nor are they eternally stuck in their dysfunctional present. Societies change; and, in the grand sweep of history, for the better.

 In fact, in just the last few years, some Muslim societies have made a lot of progress. Tunisia had elections, won by secularists. So has Libya; and thousands there, bless them, have marched against Islamic extremism. In Egypt, an elected president is pushing back against the army. And the embassy burners are, after all, small minorities. They are yesterday’s men, fighting against a tomorrow they cannot stop – because even most Muslims realize that “Western” values are human values.

Tags: , , ,

10 Responses to ““Muslim Rage” and Enlightenment Values”

  1. Lee Says:

    Also, there is “Christian rage” and rage from non-religious groups too, like Timothy McVeigh, Scott Roeder, Anders Behring Breivik and too many more to list. In all of these cases, the actions of these individuals are highly non-representative of the larger groups they claim to represent.

    But, you are absolutely right that the non-democratic world would be much better off to adopt democracy, freedom of expression, and other freedoms. Unfortunately, sometimes we do a poor job of explaining what we mean by freedom. “Freedom go to hell” is something I might say if I had lost loved ones to “Operation Iraqi Freedom” or “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

  2. Adam Says:

    I’m not saying freedom
    Go to Hell. I’m only saying people with an entirely different worldview may not accept what you call freedom. And no offense, but the government doesn’t look exactly rosy right now – I’m not saying that democracy will collapse in a few years, only that it isn’t the utopia that you make it out to be. If everything is so perfect, why can’t so many people find happiness in our country today, even though they’re well off? Why are people still committing suicide, especially bullied youth? Why is the divorce rate so high, and everything seem so cheapened? Why do so many people feel alienated by their government? And why do some people (who I know) feel trapped in jobs that they feel are ruining their lives to some degree (yeah, I know, go find another job, you should have made better choices, you were born to be a loser, etc.)? What about the economy? And basically everything I just read seems to justify prejudice, contempt for non-Western cultures, and something near to racism, which serms to be a throwback to archaic Western attitudes rather than modern ones. How can we help people “improve” when we absolutely don’t care about who they are to start out with? Perhaps we should just throw all of the rest of the world’s history out, leaving just the West, and preferrably everything post-Medieval (with some Greeks and shit thrown in). Everything that makes world history more interesting and colorful is bunk. Now I have to sit around and listen to a bunch of dead white men tell me how to live, kind of like you. Oh, wait, you’re not dead. : ) I guess I’m just a magico-superstitious, oriental-tyrannist, Mongoloid communist- sympathizer and devil worshipper.

    P.S. If it wasn’t dead white men telling me how to live, it would be dead brown-/yellow-/black-/red-skinned men, the kind of people who live in countries you despise, except that they aren’t capable of rising above barbarity with outside help. Read Niall Ferguson about the descent of the West.

    [FSR comment: I have, of course read Ferguson — who writes of the rise of the West. Countries I despise? Seems to me a country you despise is your own. What you should read is The Case for Rational Optimism. No, Western civilization, and modern life, are not perfect. But the quality of life for most people is better than anywhere else, ever. Many don’t believe this reality, which is why I wrote my book.]

  3. Adam Says:

    Also, pretty sure those Muslims are upset about drones hovering around their houses, too – not just some stupid YouTube clip. It doesn’t help when some country that sees your entire culture (i.e., your entire life) as fundamentally backwards and meaningless sends killer machines to buzz around your faceless population. Our iPhones currently don’t deserve to enter their grubby, inferior little hands.

  4. Adam Says:

    I do despise my own country when it acts like it knows what is good for everyone and that it is at the very pinnacle of human development, when it clearly has its own issues and contradictions that it needs to work out. If this is a pinnacle, it’s a low one. I don’t suppose you’ve gotten to the end of Ferguson’s “The War of the World.” He strikes me as a profoundly pessimistic person there. As much as I would like to see the world as heading toward some grand golden age, I don’t. It would make a wonderful story, however.

    [FSR comment: Well then, I hope you enjoy your pessimism, many people do find such an outlook weirdly satisfying.]

  5. Adam Says:

    I guess I certainly do. The world seems too sad, terrible, and complex in too many ways for complete optimism. Too much tragedy and horror, like some frightening, bizarre, never-ending opera. Good things always have some negative consequences, and bad things always have some positive consequences.

    [FSR: There are medications for this condition.]

  6. Lee Says:

    We can both celebrate our achievements and work to better ourselves. Such is only a contradiction to those mistakenly believe that a celebration implies that there is no more work to be done or to those who mistakenly believe that the need to further better ourselves means that we cannot celebrate.

    Here is to both noticing where we have succeeded, and celebrating, and to noticing where we could do better, and working towards that end!

  7. Gregory Kipp Says:

    I think you’ve hit it right on the head. Over-emphasis on religion to solve all of a society’s problems creates more difficulties than it prevents– not just for muslims but for any religion. Religious tolerance, a very western value apparently, is required for societal growth.

  8. What is WRONG with Muslims? « The Rational Optimist Says:

    […] proclivity toward violence must have deeper cultural, psychological sources. And, as I’ve written before, that can be overcome, just as we Westerners have made great strides in overcoming such demons in […]

  9. Dewitt Says:

    Hi there, I enjoy reading all of your post. I wanted to write a little
    comment to support you.

  10. WITHERS Says:

    I really enjoyed this blog post

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: