Western Civilization Is Better
I’m not talking about art or literature or religion. I’m not talking about specific human beings, and certainly not suggesting that any particular member of “Western civilization” has any bragging rights over any member of a “non-Western civilization.”
By “civilization,” I’m talking about a societal system that permits and maximizes human potential.
The West doesn’t dominate the world because it is evil. It dominates because it can deliver the goods people wanted better than any other known system. Guns and steel and better organization might have gotten them in the door, but in the long run, the West just offers a more attractive deal for most people.
The West dominates because over the course of time it developed economically productive values, and the eventual results of those economically productive values is a better life for a society, which generates the expertise and wherewithall to project its dominant power.
Look at the current situation. Afghanistan has bombers and supersonic fighters and stealth aircraft and cruise missiles all made by the West getting close and personal. What are Mr. Bin Laden’s options? Steal a few examples of Western technology and crash them into buildings. Biochemical, even a nuke here or there? At most, a purchased or late copy of Western been-there, done that.
The West also does something else that may be even worse from Mr. Bin Laden’s and Company’s perspective. The West eventually figured out that you could allow individual members choice in many aspects of their personal lives, and still have a functioning, orderly society. To be a living example of tolerance is intolerable to the intolerant like Mr. Bin Laden and Company, who think their way is the only way.
By essentially stripping the litmus test of societal acceptibility down to just economics, the West has thrown out most of the traditional reasons people have fought and killed each other rather than do something useful.
It’s a whole lot easier and better for my Hasidic or Muslim or Hindu neighbor to make some money and keep his house up than to force him to convert or fight holy wars over it.
It’s a whole lot easier and better for my African-American neighbor to do the same than to turn white.
You may say the reality is nowhere near as pretty as this, and I’d agree, but that’s the road the West is on.
Some would say the West is bereft of spiritual values. No, the West just doesn’t impose spiritual values on its people. They get to choose their own, or choose not to have them at all. Spiritual virtues are a private, not public matter.
The West basically says to the world, “Here’s all these goodies. We don’t demand your souls, just your money. You want them? Then get off your butt, go make some money, and you can have them. Get spiritual or not, just do it on your own time.”
This is what drives Mr. Bin Laden and Company mad. They’re faced with a culture they can’t beat with their own, not even among most Muslims. They don’t see why Allah and color TV has to be an either/or.
Since Bin Laden and Company want to be heroes now rather than begin the process of coming up with an Islamic alternative to the West, they have to try to destroy what they can’t compete against.
The West Doesn’t Depend On People Being Good
If you look upon capitalism and democracy, their initial assumptions are actually very negative. They assume people will be bad sometimes, and incorporate corrective mechanisms, whether it be supply and demand or antitrust or “throw the rascals out.” Nobody has a monopoly on virtue.
These are actually very revolutionary notions. If you look upon other systems of governments, they presume the rulers have to be good. That may look great on a piece of paper, but it’s hardly realistic.
It’s a whole lot easier to decide to toss George W. Bush out than someone claiming to be God’s anointed one. Who’s easier to oppose, Bush or God?
This is a crucial difference between the West and other places. The societal structures are flexible. They bend, they stretch, they change and adapt to changed circumstances. They don’t break.
You want to be a Muslim in the West? No problem. No Muslims signed the Declaration of Independence or Constitution, but that’s OK. You want to be an open atheist in an Islamic fundamentalist country? Big problem.
Western society is a lousy ideal, but neither is reality.
Is The West’s Approach The Only Option?
Depends on what you mean by “Western values.” If by that you mean, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” that’s obviously not the case: just look at Japan and the Eastern Asian countries, they’ve managed fine economically without Jesus.
However, these societies have certainly adopted the same economically productive values. I don’t think it much matters whether it lies on a Christian or Confucian or Shinto base.
The paradox is that the “Western values” that count aren’t intrinsically Western. You don’t have to believe in Jesus or have white skin to get an education, show up for work every day, work hard, save your money and not kill your neighbor for not belonging to your church or ethnic group. Anybody can do that.
Not even the West believed in “Western values” just a few centuries ago. Back then, the average European didn’t hold a single one of those “Western values.”
Could there be an Islamic version of “Western values?” I see no religious reason why not. It sure seems to be practiced acceptably enough by the Muslims I see around me, but I think they’re a little more flexible than Mr. Bin Laden.
Two hundred years from now, the religion of the world may no longer be predominantly Christian. The power may well not be predominantly Western. But I’d bet whatever is, it will be economically productive.
It may not follow the path the West is on. Maybe people will trade material goods for leisure time. Maybe it will come up with a stronger moral background than the West has nowadays.
But “Back To The Seventh Century” will only happen for everyone if you literally bomb the world back to it.