Syria and the uniqueness of the West

One of the themes at TOO is the uniqueness of the West, which basically comes down to individualism. The great achievement of the West has been the construction of civil societies where allegiance to family, kin, and religious sect are minimized. In Western societies, the personal qualities of the individual (character, intelligence, talent) rather than these parochial allegiances are the standard of personal evaluation and in making alliances.

To be sure, the individualism at the heart of Western societies has never been perfect. There is a constant battle against nepotism, and such societies are threatened by groups such as Jews, where ethnic networking (i.e., ethnic nepotism by any other name) continues to be a major theme.

I thought about this in reading a Washington Post article on the Syrian civil war (“Syrian conflict’s sectarian, ethnic dimensions growing, U.N. warns“). Syria, like Iraq, is a typical Middle-Eastern society divided along ethnic and religious lines.

The 21-month-old civil war in Syria is rapidly devolving into an “overtly sectarian” and ethnic conflict, a U.N. investigatory panel has concluded, raising the specter of reprisal killings and prolonged violence that could last for years after the government falls. … “In recent months, there has been a clear shift” in the nature of the conflict, with more fighters and civilians on both sides describing the civil war in ethnic or religious terms. …

Many of the rebel fighters interviewed by the panel — including defectors and foreign volunteers — described themselves as loyal to Islamist militias or ­ethnic-based movements, and not to the opposition Free Syria Army, the report’s authors found. Civilians, likewise, are increasingly being drawn into the opposing camps, they said.

“Feeling threatened and under attack, ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides,” the report stated.

A report from the Foreign Policy daily email summary notes the involvement of al Qaeda:

The most severe division is between Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority and President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, a Shiite Muslim minority. However other sects are increasing getting pulled into the conflict. Many opposition fighters interviewed in the inquiry were aligned with Islamist militias rather than the Free Syrian Army. Additionally, al Qaeda is capitalizing on deteriorating conditions in Syria and is building its presence.

In other words, there are not two sides in the fighting, but many sides reflecting the fractionated nature of a typical Middle Eastern society. These divisions have always been there; and ultimately, with the exception of the Sunnis and Shiites who are entering the country for religious reasons, the divisions are based on ethnicity. As predicted by the evolutionary psychology of group conflict, these differences become exacerbated in times of threat.  People retreat into their ethnic enclaves and are forced to choose sides.

This phenomenon once again indicates the hollowness of the U.S./neocon rhetoric about bringing democracy to the Middle East via regime change. If the Syrian government falls, it will change the faces of those in power, but will not change the fundamental nature of the society. Post-Alawite Syria will be led by a different ethnic/religious group, but the society will be just as divided as before. This is what has happened in Iraq, despite all the high-flown verbiage from academics like Bernard Lewis about democratic nation building leading up to the war.

These areas have never been part of the West, even in Roman times, as Domitius Corbulo reminds us:

The Roman world was long coming under the influence of “orientalizing” motifs particularly in the eastern areas of the Empire, Syria, Jordan, and northern Iraq. These areas were barely romanized.

Western culture was a thin veneer that never really penetrated down to the people of the Middle East. The result is that the war in Iraq and the civil strife in Syria will not change the fundamental reality that these are low trust societies:

“This crisis [in Iraq] really is caused because there is pervasive distrust and an absence of institutions that can carry this kind of transition,” said Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq expert at the International Crisis Group. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite, has never trusted the Sunni politicians with whom he has been forced to share power, Hiltermann said.

Western societies have uniquely been high-trust societies, a point made, e.g., by Francis Fukuyama and a basic corollary of the psychology of Western individualism (see here, p. 27ff). The problem is that we think that everyone is “just like us”—willing and able to set up individualist societies with democratic and republican institutions. As Ian Morris writes in his Why the West Rules—For Now, people are pretty much the same the world over (see Brenton Sanderson’s review). We want to believe this so badly that it was easy to pull off the big lie. It’s the foundational lie of multi-culturalism. (see “The Iraq Nightmare”)

Not surprisingly given the Middle Eastern roots of Judaism, Israel has become a typical Middle Eastern society, with a dominant ethnic group and with a rapidly declining commitment to any vestige of democratic universalism. A couple recent examples illustrate this point:

  • Moshe Feiglin, a fairly prominent Likud politician, believes in “communal democracy” rather than the “liberal democracy” characteristic of the West.
    • If the land of Israel was truly a supreme national value for you, you’d understand that democracy has to fit the country, not the country democracy […] The State of Israel was created for the Jewish people, and its democracy is supposed to serve the Jewish people. If this state acts against the interests of the Jewish people, there is no longer any point in its existence, be it democratic or not. […] They [the Arabs] will never, never be fully equal citizens, in the national sense of the word. (Ibid., p. 465)
    • The liberal tradition supports a position based on one measure. It considers it to be a universal position, which is not biased towards other cultures, other values, other traditions. It believes in the values of equality and freedom of the individual, while the state is intended to serve the individual alone. The state in itself has no purpose, and it does not exemplify the values of its society. (A ‘truly’ Jewish democracy: On the ideology of Likud’s Moshe Feiglin)
  • While Jewish organizations in the Diaspora are intensively pushing displacement-level, anti-White immigration into Western countries and trumpeting the virtues of multiculturalism, Israel presents a far different picture. “The distortions in Israel’s asylum system ensure a refugee recognition rate of zero. Not only does this place asylum seekers at risk, but it exposes what appears to be a concerted effort to overhaul the system so as to deport as many people as possible. (“Israel’s newest national project: Ridding the country of ‘foreigners’“)

Westerners must realize that, contrary to the multicultural mantra, not everyone is like them. Western societies work when they are composed of people who are individualists at heart—an ethnic trait of European peoples. In the long run, multiculturalism  is a recipe for transforming Western societies into Middle Eastern-type societies, rife with divisions and unable to develop a civic culture of trust.

Indeed, as Robert Putnam and Frank Salter have shown, trust is the first casualty of multiculturalism. (See Frank Salter talk on multiculturalism at 12:50 of this video, from a conference organized by the government of Azerbaijan, Oct. 5, 2012; it is also the current TOO video.) The deep distrust by millions of White Americans of the Obama Administration—which was reelected only because Obama received 80% of non-White votes— is an early indication of these trends.

And, as noted above, when conflict and tension mount, people retreat into their ethnic groups to achieve the interests. And although individualists have a higher threshold for seeking the protection of the ethnic group, they are certainly capable of submerging themselves in cohesive groups based on ethnicity when threatened. As noted in Chapter 8 of The Culture of Critique:

Ironically, many intellectuals who absolutely reject evolutionary thinking and any imputation that genetic self-interest might be important in human affairs also favor policies that are rather obviously self-interestedly ethnocentric, and they often condemn the self-interested ethnocentric behavior of other groups, particularly any indication that the European-derived majority in the United States is developing a cohesive group strategy and high levels of ethnocentrism in reaction to the group strategies of others. The ideology of minority group ethnic separatism and the implicit legitimization of group competition for resources, as well as the more modern idea that ethnic group membership should be a criterion for resource acquisition [i.e., affirmative action], must be seen for what they are: blueprints for group evolutionary strategies. The history of the Jews must be seen as a rather tragic commentary on the results of such group strategies.

The importance of group-based competition cannot be overstated. … Ultimately group strategies are met by group strategies, and societies become organized around cohesive, mutually exclusionary groups. Indeed, the recent multicultural movement may be viewed as tending toward a profoundly non-Western form of social organization that has historically been much more typical of Middle Eastern segmentary societies centered around discrete homogeneous groups.

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