Monday, October 12, 2009

Absolutism and Good Intentions

As a youth, I was infatuated with ideas, the power of the word, the magic of conceptual brilliance. I believed that the purity of my soul and the strength of my convictions would light the path before us and open even the most hardened of hearts. Ideas - my first love: they were so convincing, so true, so complete, so self-validating and right. I vested them with sacredness and held them close to my heart. Of course, very few loves - and even fewer ideas - are in fact sacred.

Now, in my sixth decade of trial and error, of the testing of these ideas, I am increasingly aware of the psychological cover-ups, the social make-overs, the media spin that underlie the (diverse) range of idea-based claims to moral and intellectual superiority.

Egocentric, selfish, and controlling individuals consistently layer their self-seeking motivations with an array of good intentions. The claim to know what is best for mankind is the perfect "feel good" ointment for what is essentially selfishness and narrowness. More dangerously, this approach often grants its propagators the self-righteous high ground from which to impose one’s world view on others. If you have seen the light, and it feels good, and it covers all your insecurities, ambivalences, with vanities (or its corollary, self-loathings), then clearly you are required to enlighten, by persecution or even force if necessary, those less fortunate, less educated, and less informed.

Thus, the Saudi mullahs’ modern day Fatwas, directives from the Spanish Inquisition in 15th century Spain, or the emergence of aggressively proselytizing movements in any setting conspicuously share the sincerity of holy 'good intentions'.

Thus, the tasks of Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin, the messianic Khomeini, the trumpeting Chavez and all those who know, without error or doubt, the absolution society craves, are all facilitated by the wondrous music of their good promises, their purity of intentions.

The head-strong scientists who banned the use of DDT in Africa and spurred a malaria driven holocaust as a result, the green fundamentalists who would risk poverty, disease and famine to advance an uncomprising agenda of a carbon free atmosphere - these groups also lay claim to the absolution of pure idealism. They have also spurned democracy and would happily and unilaterally impose their superior understanding on the rest of us.

Previously enthralled with ideas, I am now convinced that people should do more and theorize less; politicians should care more about providing choice than imposing ideals. Every person, from the mother in India saving to buy a sewing machine to the farmer in Idaho tilling his soil, has the inalienable right to their own version of freedom, not your version, or mine. And the sooner our ideologues respect and honor that, the sooner we will face down the scars of war and poverty.

Indeed, the clash between freedom and absolutism speaks to one of the quintessential questions our time. How do free, tolerant societies pragmatically develop the requisite intolerance to the near-fascistic, aggressively evangelical approach of other cultures, religions and systems that wish to impose their views, beliefs and behaviors on us? More specifically, can such societies defend themselves and their freedoms when doing so may require the use of overpowering military force or the uncomfortable limitation of rights for those who use our generosity, our legal protections and our charity to pursue their radical and totalitarian goals? In short, can we protect and maintain free societies at the same time?

I am reminded often enough that war is never the answer. Exactly, I reply - except when one party unilaterally starts the war. Or that violent preemption is also never the answer, never legal. Precisely, I concur - except when the other side is actively, passionately and irredeemably planning terrorism. Nuclear disarmament is desirable, of course - except when the only parties verifiably disarming are democratic countries.

Now seven decades old, Churchill’s advice about the unfortunate habit of civilized society to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them silently echoes in the background of our current scenario. “[For] want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong.”

Published on
Published on Newsblaze
Published on Family Security Matters
Published on Muslim World Today

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said.

You and I share the same decade on the planet and have come to the same conclusions.

I'll just call them Designer Deity Democrats. They want to make the world into their own image. They obviously own and stand in front of those 'fun house mirrors' which distort their reality and ours.