»  (Not posted)

February 8th, 2006

  Hesperophobia (cont.)

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[Note :   Like this other column a few months earlier, the one below was spiked by National Review. I have no recollection of any exchanges over the matter and can't be bothered to trawl back through my email looking for such (this note is being added some years after the event). NR's "reasoning" is anyway not hard to figure out: basically, "Race? — Eeeeeeek!" Factum abiit, monumenta manent.]

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A couple of days after 9/11 I posted a column with the title "Hesperophobia." I had borrowed this word from Robert Conquest, who used it to mean "fear and hatred of the West." My attempt to re-float the word into general circulation didn't fare any better than Conquest's introductory effort had. I still think it's a very handy word, though. It is, for example, the word that comes to mind when I look at those pictures of Muslims in Europe and Islamia, rioting about the Danish cartoons.

Lord, how they hate us! If you think this is just Islam, you are kidding yourself. The West, and Westerners, are hated all over the world. A friend who has been looking into the Nigerian "419 scams" tells me that while the main motivation for them is of course financial, a strong secondary factor among the Nigerian scammers is the desire to humiliate those suckers in the West who (still!) fall for them. The Chinese seem to have slowed down their production of rabidly anti-Western movies recently, but I have no doubt that hesperophobia still lurks just below the surface of Chinese life. In South America, politicians like Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales are riding to power on anti-Americanism, which is merely a targeted style of hesperophobia. The West is hated all over the rest of the world. Why?

There are all sorts of answers to that question, most of them inspired by wishful thinking of one kind or another. Paleocons tell you that it's all because of our support for Israel, and if we just cut loose from the Israeli connection, everything between us and the Third World would be tickety-boo. I know people, quite intelligent people, who actually believe this; though why Nigerian con men and Andean coca farmers give a fig, or a coca leaf, about our support for Israel, my paleocon friends find hard to explain. Nor can they explain why Third World hesperophobes were smiling and gloating over the recent riots in France, a nation that has not, let us say, distinguished itself by courageous support for Israel.

Liberals, many of whom hate the West just as much as any Chávez or bin Laden, say it's all a response to the misdeeds of multinational corporations, and the memories of colonial humiliation, and a reaction to the innate racism of white Europeans. Again, explanations as to why Singapore (say) has not been held back in poverty and chaos by bitter memories of its colonial past, or why some of the wildest manifestations of hesperophobia come out of nations like Saudi Arabia, whose people would be eating sand if not for the efforts and technology of multinational corporations (and which was never colonized by anyone), is left unexplained.

Meanwhile, neocons want you to know that it all springs out of a frustrated yearning for freedom and Western-style good government. These peoples (the neocons explain) suffer under cruel tyrants, who (a) fill their heads with xenophobia, (b) retard their nations' development, generating envy of the prosperous West, and (c) have often, indeed, been propped up with Western support. Just give them democracy! Since all human beings are just the same in their hopes, aspirations, and abilities — we all "yearn for freedom" — it is just a matter of removing obstacles. So we give them democracy, not to mention boxcar-loads of cash, and they elect … Mugabe, Chávez, Hamas.

As I said, different flavors of wishful thinking. The true reason why the Third World hates us is the one I spelled out for you in my original "Hesperophobia" article, if you'd only paid attention:

They hate us because we humiliated them, showed up the gross inferiority of their culture. To them … we are the other, detested and feared in a way we can barely understand. Things got really bad in the 19th century. When European society achieved industrial lift-off, Europeans were suddenly buzzing all over the world like a swarm of bees. They encountered these other cultures, that had been vegetating in a quiet conviction of their own superiority for centuries (or in the case of the Chinese, millennia). When these encounters occurred, the encountered culture collapsed in a cloud of dust. Some of them, like the Turks, managed to reconstitute themselves as more or less modern nations; others, like the Arabs and the Chinese, are still struggling with the trauma of that encounter. Neither the Arabs nor the Chinese, for example, have yet been able to attain rational, constitutional government.

That is the whole story. They hate us from wounded ethnic pride. They hate us because of our cultural superiority; which is to say, at one remove, our political superiority. They hate us because they can't organize societies like ours, in which security, prosperity, and hope for the future are available to all, and creativity flourishes. They can't, they know they can't, and the knowledge drives them nuts.

(Well, it drives some of them nuts. We are so media-addled, so used to drawing conclusions about the world from the images we glimpse on our TVs and computers, it needs an effort of will, and arithmetic, to remember that countless millions of people in the non-Western part of the world are not strong hesperophobes. There is some variation in every population, in every kind of characteristic. When you read about 10,000 people rioting in Beirut, just stop for a second and remind yourself that the population of Lebanon is nearly four million. Of that four million there are many who, far from looking on the West with envy and hatred, feel admiration for us. Some of them dream of Westernizing their own countries, and a few, with unimaginable courage, act on those dreams. These brave hesperophiles are going against all the grain of their societies and cultures, though, and if you are in the business of selling life insurance, they are not promising customers. In fact the sanest course for people like them is simply to emigrate to the West, and sooner or later those who can, do — leaving their nations even more depleted of political sense.)

Over most of the non-Western world, government is just an ATM for the clever, ruthless, entrenched, and well-connected. This simple fact is not much appreciated by Americans, though the evidence of it is all around us. Consider the flocks of illegal immigrants gathering at six thirty every morning on some street corner in your town. Why are they here? Fundamentally, because of the sheer excruciating crappiness of government in Central American nations. Citizens of those nations watch their corrupt elites shovel the national wealth into their private bank accounts. They look to the North and see a place where at least a day's work will get you a day's pay, which you will not then have to hand over as a bribe to some cop or official. So North they come, often bringing their native hesperophobia along in their baggage. It is humiliating enough to see people in a foreign land living far better than yourself. When the discrepancy is so great you are driven to trek across a desert in order to mow those people's lawns for them, the humiliation is doubled.

And yet, the neocons purr, if only we could sweep away their crooked, tyrannical, or despotic rulers, these people would rise to the occasion and make prosperous European-style democracies for themselves. Would they, though? How do we know this? Is it, in fact a thing that can be known — known to be true, or known to be false?

Probably it is. Politics is a feature of human society, which arises from human nature. If human nature is not precisely the same — does not have the same averages and variability — everywhere, it may be hopeless to expect that politics will be, either. We now know, with our knowledge expanding very fast, that the processes of natural selection did not suddenly stop dead when human beings left Africa 50,000 or so years ago. The scattered populations of early humans, settled in very different geographical environments, were subject to different selection pressures, and evolved differently; and the evidence is in the structure of our bodies.

That includes our brains. It has long been known, for example, that East Asians have better visual-spatial skills than other peoples. This is true not only in East Asia itself, but outside it, where the toil of learning ideographic languages is not a cultural factor. Now, visual-spatial skills originate in the brain. So, however, do social skills. Man is a social animal, has been for far longer than that 50,000 years. Large areas of our brains are given over to processing social information — recognizing faces, judging the intentions and truthfulness of others, and so on. But if a group of humans with one genetic heritage can differ slightly from some other group in the way they process visual information, might they not also differ in the way they process social information? And if they do so differ, might it not be that forms of society that come easily to one group, might come only with great difficulty, or not at all, to another?

(The matter of range here offers interesting fields for speculation. Surveying history, I think one would have to say that it is not easy for any human group to establish an orderly and open society. Europeans seem better at it than most; but Europeans have produced some pretty nasty social sytems. If this accomplishment does indeed come more easily to some groups than others, the range is more likely to be "difficult to impossible" than "easy to difficult.")

This, my neocon friends and colleagues would say, is a counsel of despair. It may be, however, that preserving human beings from despair is not a central organizing principle of the universe. Those same friends and colleagues talk a great deal about the history of political thought: about Aristotle and Machiavelli, Montesquieu and de Maistre, Buckley and Strauss. All very instructive, to be sure; and it is of course deplorable of me to fidget and chafe at the coyness with which we all avoid noticing a thing — a rather plain, physical thing — that all those thinkers have in common. The leftist, hesperophobic presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia have a similar thing in common — not with Aristotle and the rest, but with each other.

Which leads us to that aspect of hesperophobia I did not mention in my earlier piece. When the envious, resentful, humiliated masses of the Third World hate us, what is it they are hating? What, actually, is in their minds? Our maddening cultural superiority is in their minds, as I have said, but what else about us? I think we know, though we are shy to talk about it. They surely know, and are much less shy. According to my friend, when those Nigerian 419 scammers gloat over the gullibility of their "marks," they do not refer to them as "Westerners." They use a different designation.

I believe that our shyness in these matters has outlived its usefulness. (And it was useful, for a while.) Time is short. We may not, to borrow a rhetorical figure from Trotsky, be interested in the reality of human nature, but it is interested in us. The angry, resentful masses are in arms — nuclear arms, very nearly.

They are also in numbers — what numbers! Too many of us are still stuck in a 19th-century cast of mind, when the wretched of the non-Western earth lived in small scattered settlements spread across vast deserts, jungles, and savannahs, and so could be safely patronized, or colonized, or ignored. Look at the numbers now: France — 61m, Pakistan — 162m; U.K. — 60m, Iran — 68m; Australia — 20m, Nigeria — 129m; Russia — 143m, Indonesia — 212m; and so on. They are growing; we are dwindling. They hate us; we fear them. (If you don't think we fear them, read some of the responses by people like the British Foreign Secretary to the recent Muslim riots.) They are full of passion and rage; we are full of smug illusions. They dream of slaughter and sacrifice; we dream of celebrities and gadgets.

As I said, time is short. The Hun is at the gate. In the case of most European countries, in fact, the Hun, the hesperophobe, is inside the gate. We can dream on for a while, dream that our cultural superiority, our technological superiority, our political superiority, will preserve us against all assaults. Perhaps we should remember that the Huns were cultural illiterates, technological ignoramuses, and political incompetents. It doesn't take much in the way of culture, technology, or statecraft to deliver a crippling blow to a weary, sybaritic, over-governed civilization that is near the end of its allotted span and has lost all faith in its own founding values. Time is short.