Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict
[ Religion and culture ]


Cultural or ideological attachment is the poor man’s way to self-esteem, to feeling meaningful by attaching himself to the grandeur of a group; poor nations, likewise, appeal to civilizational identities. People in economically developed societies can achieve on their own.

Affluent societies profess the religion of goods. Adherents of every other mass religion or ideology further their aims by converting others. Consumerism goes forward individually as people increase their consumption and perfect their souls simultaneously. Consumerism works only in economically developed societies where consumer aims are realistically attainable.

Consumerist societies do not agree to totalitarianism or wage wars unless they feel threatened. Wars may be waged for vague threats if they pose little danger, as did the U.S.-Vietnam war. They wage wars to obtain coveted goods, as did Spain in the New World, if war is feasible. Advanced countries produce most valuable goods and are not easy to fight. Goods are usually obtainable by trade easier than by war.

Consumerist societies are usually pacifist. They are less likely to wage war than profusely religious or ideological states which necessarily put intellectual values ahead of life and property—else people would not subordinate themselves, their property, and their potential income to those values. Nation-states drive people away from consumerism, infuse them with ideology, and increase their propensity to war.

Growing wealth increases interaction between people and between peoples, and different values clash. Wealth promotes cultural experimentation, increasing the intra-societal divergence of values. Growing similarity offsets trends toward confrontation: fear of losing property breeds tolerance; for many people, liberalism and the avoidance of confrontation are consumerism’s other face. German and Japanese chauvinist consumers buy only cars they manufacture. Such habits, though antagonistic, comfortably coexist in the larger framework of a common desire to enjoy property safely. Inexpensive communication, likewise, first challenges values, then dissolves them.

Countries develop only with open markets, and a global economy presupposes similar values. Nationalist businessmen do not survive competition with free marketers unburdened by the need to deal only with their kin. Some businessmen invest in corrupt China or the lawless emirates expecting a high return, but most are risk-averse and prefer countries with transparent laws and decent courts. Some are eager for oil concessions in Iran, but most avoid irrational regimes. Few invest in militarily adventurous, unstable, or endangered countries. Foreign trade has been high-risk and high-return throughout the history, and countries with bad business climate survive, even though they underperform business-friendly countries that attract entrepreneurs with only moderate profits. Less profit to foreigners translates into more income left at home and accelerates domestic development.

Morals, though not natural, are acquired and universal. No one wants to fall victim to murder, looting, or fraud. Everyone extends those immunities to others as long as societies are reasonably ordered, and such behavior minimizes the chances of being victimized. The atrocities in Kuwait and Bosnia were similarly wrong, but the West did not show a double standard by reacting differently. The standard was one: necessity, not morality. The obligation of not harming does not make help obligatory.

All people want the same rights. Even African paupers want truthful reporting and need a free press. Autocracy serves artificial states that combine hostile groups better than democracy, but that is the fault of the colonial powers, not of democracy. After borders are readjusted to create relatively homogenous societies, people prefer democracy to totalitarianism. Economic development and the increasing complexity of societies demand more safeguards and thus more extensive human rights.

Human rights and the rule of law in the broad sense are as old as the extant literature: from the codex of Ur-Namma to the Torah to the Greek and Roman civilizations and forward, those values are not uniquely Western. In the narrow sense, homosexuality was prohibited or restricted in the developed countries until recently, and liberalism is not inherent in or peculiar to Western culture. Unlimited tolerance of odd practices is a product of affluence: people enjoy expensive police protection, avoid confrontations, want fewer restrictions for themselves, and thus allow more freedoms to others.