In approaching Mark Steyn's opus America Alone, I considered for a moment the idea of the 'Clash of Civilizations'. I don't think matters are so dire, but a lot of it depends upon some issues of technology transfer and longevity.
We've recently noted vis a vis Operation Paperclip (is Germany a nuclear nation?) that a significant field day was had for American business in the wake of the WW2 victory. A huge amount of intellectual property was made available to the public domain, or cheaply, after which mumblings of 'plastics' became commonplace in the post-war era. Aside from that, I previously noted that advances in American catalytic cracking made the Allied supply of gasoline more plentiful and cheap, and that helped literally drive Patton to VE.
While mumbling to myself, self-satisfied that I am not one of the retards that the CT folks concern themselves about, I considered what I have prior to 9/11 considered positive about Islam. It was some incident about not saluting the American flag or standing for the pledge of allegiance that got some NBA baller in trouble. I liked his fidelity to his religious discipline and that he felt an obligation to sacrament, an outer expression of an inner commitment. But there was no question that his discipline was out of step and alienating to American society. The difficulty with interpreting that is that generically, one is inclined to say that the American society is wrong, but I differ. The strength of American society is its unique inclusiveness, and openness. To no be inclusive, to not be open, to not subject oneself to the scrutiny and critique of the mainstream is to, by definition, be anti-social. And this is how Islam runs afoul of open society, it requires a conformity which is alienating. There is no clearer example of this than the matter of Hijab, which places women apart from society, hides them away from the crowd. I am reminded of Whoopi Goldberg's 'Book' in which she says that the greatest thing about coming home to America from being abroad is her ability to go incognegro, to become one with the crowds in the streets of New York and be an ordinary person and not a standout. I think very much of this when I speak of the modernity of the West, our interchangeability and the necessary amount of assimilation required of us to live with each other in harmony. It is a necessary component of Western equality, and very much in line with Baldwin's edict of nakedness. To that end I said:
We all carry the poetry of our souls into our conversations and debates. Additionally we carry our experiences into our decision making. We will always have to translate nuance are resist the temptation to immerse everything that really informs us in our favorite metaphors. We can't apply Malcolm's rhetoric to Lebanon. We can't describe house Israelis and field Israelis. The only way communication across cultures and boundaries works is with just a little bit of flavor. You have to strip down and be naked. One thing I truly believe is the premise of modernism - that we can strip down and be naked and that in that nakedness our humanity can be seen. That when we put on the old clothes of old arguments and metaphors we become stereotypical. Our opportunity to assert brotherhood comes from that willingness to occasionally show our asses and in that effort we all can admit at bottom we are the same.
But very little of this applies to a desert island. If I were lost on a desert island with 500 or so people, I would not be so interested in encouraging diversity. I would want to discipline the ways of living to a spiritual anchor. I would want the system to be spartan and focused on the efficient survival of my people. I would want all the stories to relate back to us, I would have much less tolerance for dissent. I would cultivate intense personal relationships, I would imbue the simplest tasks with great meaning. If the desert island grew poppies, I would probably be in the Holy Opium business.
When Mark Steyn goes there, suggesting as I think he does, that Europe is in trouble and thus the West is in trouble, there is this to consider. Does a desert island mentality work in a large society? Is Islam actually scalable? Could Sharia handle Enron? If the Caliphate were to be established, who would control the patents on electric turbine generators? Would they end up in the hands of publicly traded companies and be open to search on the web?
Europe gets old and we all get old, and we all live long and most notably our childhoods are very long. We in America have absolutely no faith in the wisdom of 18 year old women having babies; we know for a fact that they forgo the opportunity to learn what is learnable in college - they become pegged into a lower socio-economic rung in our large and complex society. You practically need a masters degree to understand anything of significance, like where your electricity actually comes from and whether EC85 is actually a cheaper and more sustainable fuel than other alternatives. Not to mention what kind of job you need to be able to purchase a hybrid vehicle. If you're on a desert island none of these things matter. But on this planet which has evolved human intelligence there's a whole lot of history, technology and culture to be understood and communicated. History is never going to get smaller. If you think about the scope of humanity, openness is required.
So there's something to the notion that what we've created in America is useful. I think we understand better than most people the scope and breadth of human experience. We know that in order to allow all of these ideas to benefit the people, that they must be open to the people, and we have to let the people experiment and try to make use of them.
If you believe, as I do, that the long arm of history bends towards justice, then doing well by the people will ultimately win. That means that the banks will have to stay open and the courts will still have to uphold contracts, that the patent office has to share information and that public education remains good enough and cheap enough. It requires that we be pro-social and open and modern. That is the challenge that we face equally whether we are muslims or not.