The Righteous Mind 2 - Truth, Islam, and Culture Wars

Bad moral teaching takes decades to change.

The more introspective sort of conservative has spent the last decade wondering why, even when it looks like we've won, we end up losing anyway.  Politically, socially, culturally, the past hundred years in America have been an uninterrupted slide leftwards - at best the slide stops briefly, as under President Reagan, but it never reverses and rarely even slows down.

Without really meaning to, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt provides a solidly-researched explanation.  His experiments showed that human beings react with their emotions, making decisions long before their rationality even kicks in.  Their rational side almost always winds up engaged in finding apparently-logical justifications for the decision the emotions have already made, not in attempting to actually discover the truth.  The Left's century-long takeover of the American educational system has resulted in a country where most people are solidly programmed to react positively to liberalism at the emotional level and negatively to conservatism, before rational argument even enters the picture.

Of course, the Left does not control the entire world.  Nor are they the only organization which emphasizes indoctrination of the young: most religions preach a heavy burden of responsibility on parents to "train up a child in the way he should go."  This is why modern Western leftists are so adamantly against any policies that might make it easier to remove children from government leftist-controlled schools, whether it be vouchers or homeschooling: they understand that their victory is assured only if they're the ones that teach everyone's kids, particularly the kids of adults who are most likely to disagree with their tenets.

What about other countries which are already controlled by some other monolithic worldview?  Prof. Haidt discusses other experiments which took "ick"-creating thought experiments to other lands with different cultures, specifically rural India steeped in traditional Hinduism.

The Truth Is - Nowhere Important

As by now we would expect, some of the results were the same - nobody likes incest - but some results were wildly different.  For example, rural Hindus thought it was universally and wildly wrong for widows to eat fish, whereas Americans had a hard time even grasping the point of the question - why the heck shouldn't anyone eat fish, if that's what they're in the mood for?  And whose business is it anyway?

Why the disconnect?  Traditional Hinduism teaches that fish is a sexually "hot" food - an aphrodisiac, if you will, that makes people horny when they eat it.  A widow has no business getting randy, it shows disrespect to her late husband.  An equivalent cultural question might be to ask if it's morally wrong for a widow to dress up in fishnet stockings and a miniskirt and go stand on a city street corner at 1AM.

We all know that fish is in fact not an aphrodisiac - in the real world, there's no such thing.  What you eat has no direct effect whatsoever on a person's sex drive.  But the point is, the rural Hindus believe that there is, and make moral judgments accordingly.

Prof. Haidt didn't do this test directly, but based on the rest of his experiments, most likely the students at a high-end university in India would be able to override the "ick" of the fish-eating widow.  Not only are they probably well aware (from sad personal failures if nothing else) that there's no such thing as a real aphrodisiac, they've probably also been exposed to our Western anything-goes sexual culture.  Those students are also not very devout, just as the most educated Americans are the least religious - for the Left, much of the point of education is to propagandize kids away from the religious beliefs that stand in the way of the Left's political agenda.

India is a changing, modernizing sort of place.  Instead let's think about the Islamic world, which for the most part is anything but.

Culture Wars Can Only Be Won Culturally

When George W. Bush set out to create a free country in what was Saddam Hussein's Iraqi dictatorship, he made a fundamental assumption: he told us that the desire for freedom is inherent to humanity, and that any people anywhere would choose a free, open society if given the chance.

Ten years' hard experience shows this simply isn't so.  The Palestinians in Gaza were given the chance of a free and fair election - and elected Hamas, terrorists of decades' standing.  Egypt held a free and fair election last year and picked an incompetent Islamic theocrat as President, who's since been thrown out but not replaced by anything better.  Even Turkey, who's had generally free elections for nearly a century, has plumped for increasingly Islamist governments for the past decade, and sure enough, individual liberties are being progressively restricted.

The reason is obvious if you think about it using Prof. Haidt's perspective of moral judgments overpowering reason: In Turkey, Egypt, and Gaza, as indeed virtually the entire Middle East, morals are inculcated in children according to the oppressive rules of Islam.

What sort of reaction do you expect a Muslim people to have to the idea of Western personal liberties when they've been taught all their lives from the Koran that infidels are to be slain wherever found, that Jews are pigs and dogs, and that women are (at best) worth half of a man?  We can argue all we like from the perspective of rationality, but it simply isn't going to work; the "ick" reaction to Western personal liberties is too ingrained and too strong.

When Bush invaded Iraq, he tried repeatedly to say that we weren't engaged in a "clash of civilizations."  In military terms, he spoke the truth: America and the West has no desire to militarily conquer and control the Islamic world, if indeed we even could anymore.

In cultural terms, though, he could not be more wrong.  Osama bin Laden to the contrary, the world of Islam is not trying to "conquer the West" through force of arms as several caliphs tried during the Middle Ages.  Through immigration and resistance to assimilation, though, Islam is in fact conquering the West by moving in, by having large families, and by carefully inculcating their children in the anti-liberty teachings of the Koran.

Changing Moral Infrastructures Takes Too Long

Hitler tried something similar in his Germany, using a universal Hitler Youth to make sure Germany's children were brought up in his Aryan-supremacy, Jew-hating beliefs.  When Germany fell, our generals and politicians had enough wisdom to realize that an immediate "free and fair election" would only replace Hitler with somebody else espousing beliefs just as bad because he'd spent years steeping the whole nation in his evil.

Instead, the occupying Allied governments instituted a thorough "de-Nazification" program, rubbing the noses of the German people in the wickedness of the concentration camps and gas chambers.  Even so, it took many years before it was safe to hold elections.  To this day, Germany is not a fully free country in the American sense: the Nazi party is formally outlawed, and denying the Holocaust is a crime, neither of which would be acceptable under the American constitution.  But in Germany it's necessary.

Germany has been ruled by generally peace and freedom loving people for much longer than Hitler ran the place, and even so the evil beliefs of Nazism aren't entirely rooted out.  The Islamic world has preached Islamic evil - has built it into people's fundamental automatic moral belief and reaction systems - for over a millennium.

How on earth can we imagine that can be totally reversed overnight?  Can it be reversed at all through reasoned discussion?  Or will more drastic measures be needed to preserve our way of thought?

It can't, of course.  To understand the danger we're in, let's take a look at how Prof. Haidt's theories of morals and rationality intersect with the traditional Western context of religion, which is based on Christianity.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...