Monday, August 08, 2005

Cultural Ideas

A recent NY Times story examining Muslims in Britain is worth reading because it (unintentionally) illustrates the central role that ideas play in shaping a culture. Now, to be clear, I do not recommend the article, entitled “Anger Burns on the Fringe of Britain’s Muslims”, per se, since it takes an apologetic tone towards the suicide bombers who killed 56 and wounded more than 700 Londoners. But it is of value in that it presents the thoughts of several leaders within the Muslim community and offers some observations and (unanswered) questions which are quite revealing.

Consider first the author’s puzzlement that Muslims are not seeking to integrate into British society. In his words (emphasis added):
“The bombers are an exception among Britain's 1.6 million Muslims. But their actions have highlighted a lingering question: why are second-generation British Muslims who should seemingly be farther up the road of assimilation rejecting the country in which they were born and raised?”
Given our intellectuals’ teachings -- best exemplified by the NY Times’ editorial stance itself -- the better question is: “Why would anyone ever expect them to?”

When every Westerner is fed, from early childhood on, the multiculturalist mantra that all cultures are equal, and that each individual is defined, not by the ideas that he chooses, but solely by the group into which he was born and to which he belongs -- what would possibly lead to integration or assimilation?

To expect integration only makes sense if one believes that it is possible to identify some values -- and by extension, some cultures -- as better than others. Integration requires an active choice, and choice requires options of differing value to the chooser. For example, only if a man regards such ideas as the right to freely exercise his mind, respect for the individual and life on earth as different and better than unthinking obedience, collectivism and death worship, will he have the impetus to leave his native Islamic culture and embrace Western culture in its stead. On the other hand, if he believes that these ideas are all equal, or that the question is irrelevant since he is determined by his birth/blood -- as the multiculturalists have taken great pains to teach him -- what could possibly motivate him to integrate or assimilate?

So at one level, the decades-long advocacy of multiculturalism by every Western intellectual has helped foster the divisive -- and deadly -- culture now existing in Britain and elsewhere.

But unfortunately multiculturalism is only an aspect of a deeper false idea promoted and entrenched within our modern culture: that of subjectivism. Subjectivism holds that there is no definite objective reality independent of man’s wishes or whims. Rather, it asserts that reality is created in the mind of each subject, so that what’s real for me may not be real for you. It also implies that truth is relative, i.e. what’s true for me may not be true for you (since reality on this view is indeterminate and mutable, taking different forms for each observer).

By rejecting absolute reality, these subjectivists obliterate knowledge, cause and effect, and any judgments one might make about individual men or cultures as a whole. With no reality to limit them, anything goes, any idea is equally valid, and no explanations are possible. That is why the author of the article, an apparent subjectivist, has so many unanswered questions and unexplained observations.

For instance, in discussing the Muslims’ disappointment at not receiving the promised “relief from economic distress and discrimination” he observes that: “Still, Britain's Muslims have languished near the bottom of society since their influx here in the 1950's.”

Given his rejection of causality, a subjectivist can not explain such an observation, since he can’t comprehend that specific means are required to produce wealth and to succeed in life. So when devout Muslims -- who spend their days prostrate before their god -- are not as economically successful as secular Westerners -- who employ meticulous rational methods to study nature and then transform it to their benefit -- the subjectivist is incredulous, and if he tries to explain it at all, will attribute it to “social injustice”, and then use it as just another grievance against modern society.

So by teaching that “anything goes”, the subjectivists who dominated the Western intellectual scene for the past century are largely to blame for the faith-driven movements now on the rise all around the globe. When these intellectuals removed the distinction between “true” ideas signifying correspondence to reality, and “false” ideas contradicting it -- anyone was free to claim anything they pleased, and no recourse or method remained by which to dispute it.

But no matter what the subjectivists may claim, in truth there is an absolute reality, cause and effect are real, and there is a standard by which to measure and compare man’s ideas and actions, viz. by whether they further or hinder man’s life on earth.

So to challenge the multiculturalists, and to encourage Muslims and others to adopt the values and methods which will lead to success and happiness on Earth, one must first challenge the subjectivist teachings.

One must assert that there is a definite reality, which can only be dealt with by definite means. One must teach that to be successful on earth, only a certain type of course of action is feasible, and that that course requires one to adhere to the facts of reality; by first using one’s mind to observe and identify them, and then by acting in accordance with them to shape nature to one’s purposes. In other words, one must teach that because reality is real, only one human method exists to deal with it successfully: rationality.

Understanding all of this, one can also note that the concepts of “integration” or “assimilation” discussed earlier are not ends in themselves, since they merely indicate that everyone in a society accepts the same ideas. No, the proper goal -- if one wants to secure a peaceful and prosperous life for man on earth -- is to have people accept rational, this-worldly ideas: ideas first discovered in Greece and further developed to underlay the Enlightenment; ideas which are responsible for the best cultural periods mankind has ever known.

But issuing a call to challenge and replace certain core ideas held in our modern culture pre-supposes that those in the West already recognize the critical importance that ideas play in shaping a culture. Alas, this is not yet so. As evidence of this, consider the leitmotif of the article under discussion which is to feign surprise at what is occurring in Britain and yet to draw no connection to the ideas that have been espoused for the past half-century -- ideas that are featured daily and prominently on the paper’s own editorial page! It’s as if the NY Times is saying: “Sure we teach and promote all these ideas – but who knew anyone would listen or that they would have any consequences?”

Yet despite modern intellectuals’ inability to grasp the importance of ideas, the evidence in right there before them. Consider for instance that the Muslims cited in the article speak of being convinced intellectually, i.e. they were not all struck by revelations from out of nowhere. A few select quotes (with emphasis added) serve to illustrate this:

In interviews earlier this week in Birmingham, where they were born and bred, Dr. Waheed and Mr. Khan described the group's struggle as one for the very identity of Muslims in Britain.

"For our parents, the attention was focused on getting a job and building a life here," Mr. Khan said. "My generation had to go through more of a thinking process to discover who we are, our Islamic identity."

....

His nerves rattled, he chanced upon a leaflet from Hizb ut-Tahrir discussing media propaganda against Islam. "I met with members of the group and became convinced on an intellectual level of what the party was doing," he said.

Now sadly it is likely that those who have been convinced of these particular irrational ideas are largely lost to reason, since the central idea they now hold is blind faith. But for all those still searching for truth, or in their words, for their “identity”, it is essential to the very survival of civilization that they have a chance to hear the right ideas.

Thus to change the course of the world, it is ideas that are crucial, and it is here that the West must place its focus. First by re-identifying and understanding the core ideas that caused the rise of Greek culture and later underlay the Age of Enlightenment, and next by championing these ideas to others.

Fortunately, this task is much less daunting than it would have been a short century ago, as we now have the revolutionary work of Ayn Rand to assist and guide us. For in her, we not only have the sole modern Western intellectual who truly understands that ideas matter, but we also have a genius who has largely completed the work begun by Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago. Thanks to her achievements, we have in our hands a systematic set of ideas, devoid of the errors which capsized the promise of the Enlightenment, by which we can rebuild a world in which every rational individual can prosper. So in essence, all that remains for us now is to take these idea, make them our own, and then communicate them to others.

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