Saturday, August 05, 2006

`World Opinion' is Worthless

If you are ever morally confused about a major world issue, here is a rule that is almost never violated: Whenever you hear that "world opinion" holds a view, assume it is morally wrong. And here is a related rule if your religious or national or ethnic group ever suffers horrific persecution: "World opinion" will never do a thing for you. Never.

"World opinion" has little or nothing to say about the world's greatest evils and regularly condemns those who fight evil. The history of "world opinion" regarding the greatest mass murders and cruelties on the planet is one of relentless apathy.

Ask the 1.5 million Armenians massacred by the Ottoman Turks;

or the 6 million Ukrainians slaughtered by Stalin;

or the tens of millions of other Soviet citizens killed by Stalin's Soviet Union;

or the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their helpers throughout Europe;

or the 60 million Chinese butchered by Mao;

or the 2 million Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot;

or the millions killed and enslaved in Sudan;

or the Tutsis murdered in Rwanda's genocide;

or the millions starved to death and enslaved in North Korea;

or the million Tibetans killed by the Chinese;

or the million-plus Afghans put to death by Brezhnev's Soviet Union.

Ask any of these poor souls, or the hundreds of millions of others slaughtered, tortured, raped and enslaved in the last 100 years, if "world opinion" did anything for them.

On the other hand, we learn that "world opinion" is quite exercised over Israel's unintentional killing of a few hundred Lebanese civilians behind whom hides Hezbollah - a terror group that intentionally sends missiles at Israeli cities and whose announced goals are the annihilation of Israel and the Islamicization of Lebanon. And, of course, "world opinion" was just livid at American abuses of some Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. In fact, "world opinion" is constantly upset with America and Israel, two of the most decent countries on earth, yet silent about the world's cruelest countries.

Why is this? Here are four reasons: First, television news.

It is difficult to overstate the damage done to the world by television news. Even when not driven by political bias - an exceedingly rare occurrence globally - television news presents a thoroughly distorted picture of the world. Because it is almost entirely dependent upon pictures, TV news is only capable of showing human suffering in, or caused by, free countries. So even if the BBC or CNN were interested in showing the suffering of millions of Sudanese blacks or North Koreans - and they are not interested in so doing - they cannot do it because reporters cannot visit Sudan or North Korea and video freely. Likewise, China's decimation and annexation of Tibet, one of the world's oldest ongoing civilizations, never made it to television.

Second, "world opinion" is shaped by the same lack of courage that shapes most individual human beings' behavior. This is another aspect of the problem of the distorted way news is presented. It takes courage to report the evil of evil regimes; it takes no courage to report on the flaws of decent societies. Reporters who went into Afghanistan without the Soviet Union's permission were killed. Reporters would risk their lives to get critical stories out of Tibet, North Korea and other areas where vicious regimes rule. But to report on America's bad deeds in Iraq (not to mention at home) or Israel's is relatively effortless, and you surely won't get killed. Indeed, you may well win a Pulitzer Prize.

Third, "world opinion" bends toward power. To cite the Israel example, "world opinion" far more fears alienating the largest producers of oil and 1 billion Muslims than it fears alienating tiny Israel and the world's 13 million Jews. And not only because of oil and numbers. When you offend Muslims, you risk getting a fatwa, having your editorial offices burned down or receiving death threats. Jews don't burn down their critics' offices, issue fatwas or send death threats, let alone act on such threats.

Fourth, those who don't fight evil condemn those who do. "World opinion" doesn't confront real evils, but it has a particular animus toward those who do - most notably today America and Israel. The moment one recognizes "world opinion" for what it is - a statement of moral cowardice, one is longer enthralled by the term. That "world opinion" at this moment allegedly loathes America and Israel is a badge of honor to be worn proudly by those countries. It is when "world opinion" and its news media start liking you that you should wonder if you've lost your way.



Kai Ma's recent AlterNet article "The Difference Between a Womb and a Wallet" applauds a U.S. District Court judge's quick, contemptuous dismissal of Matthew Dubay's "Roe v. Wade for Men" lawsuit. Dubay sought to wipe out the child support payments he is obligated to make to an ex-girlfriend who, he says, used a fallacious claim of infertility to deceive him into getting her pregnant.

In opposing "choice for men," Ma asserts that a "woman's decision to terminate a pregnancy is not the equivalent of a man's choice to financially opt out of fatherhood." She cites the pain and discomfort of pregnancy, and the way motherhood "may limit our mobility or careers."

These problems are very real; however, so are the problems created when men are saddled with child support obligations. According to Men's Health magazine, 100,000 men each year are jailed for alleged nonpayment of child support. Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement data reveal that 70 percent of those behind on payments earn poverty level wages. The "Most Wanted Deadbeat Dad" lists put out by most states are used both for police actions and to hunt and shame "deadbeats" through newspaper ads and publicity campaigns. These lists are largely comprised of uneducated African-American and Latino men with occupation descriptions like "laborer," "maintenance man" and "roofer."

Ma dismisses the burden of child support as being "a few hundred dollars a month." However, in California, a noncustodial father of two earning a modest $3,800 a month in net income pays $1,300 a month in child support. The money -- almost $300,000 over 18 years -- is tax-free to the custodial mother. One can reasonably debate whether this sum is appropriate or excessive. One cannot reasonably dismiss it as being insignificant. Ma portrays children as a mother's albatross, forgetting that parenting is also the greatest joy a person can experience in life. Yes, in single mother homes, the mother bears the burden of most of the childrearing, but the mothers also experience the lion's share of the joys and benefits of having children. Noncustodial fathers are not so fortunate -- they're usually permitted only a few days a month to spend with their kids. Once mom finds a new man, they're often pushed out entirely in favor of the child's "new dad."

Ma condemns men who "lie, deceive, break their promises, or pull a 180 . who agree to marry but don't," and laments that "millions of women" have been "trapped into single motherhood for life with, often, next to no recourse." Yet according to a randomized study of 46,000 divorce cases published in the American Law and Economics Review, two-thirds of all divorces involving couples with children are initiated by mothers, not fathers, and in only 6 percent of cases did the women claim to be divorcing cruel or abusive husbands.

The out-of-wedlock birth rate in the United States hovers around 33 percent -- given the wide variety of contraceptive and reproductive choices women enjoy, this can hardly be blamed primarily on men. Yes, in some of these cases the mother and father shared a relationship that the mother (and the father) may have expected would become a marriage. Yet these relationships fail for many reasons besides male perfidy. These include: youth, economic pressure and the lack of living wage jobs (how many couples fight over money?), and the mothers' post-partum depression and mood-swings. It's doubtful that many men really wake up in the morning and say to themselves, "My child loves me and needs me, my girlfriend loves me and needs me -- I'm outta here."

Ma says men "shouldn't be able to choose to abandon that child in the lurch." Yet 1.5 million American women legally walk away from motherhood every year through adoption, abortion or abandonment. In over 40 states mothers can completely opt out of motherhood by returning unwanted babies to the hospital shortly after birth. If men like Dubay are deadbeats and deserters, what are these women?

Whenever a child is born outside of the context of a loving, two-parent family, there are no good solutions. Ma overstates her case, but she is correct that "Choice for Men" is a flawed solution. However, the current regime, which provides women with a variety of choices and men with none, is also flawed.

Matthew Dubay's conduct is not particularly admirable, and he's certainly not a candidate for father of the year; however, he does have a point. Over the past four decades, women's advocates have successfully made the case that it is wrong to force a pregnancy on an unwilling mother. Despite the backlash against Dubay, hopefully his lawsuit will result in a greater societal awareness that it is also wrong to force a pregnancy on an unwilling father



The article below by humorous British Conservative writer George Walden may well have some explanatory value. It is an update of an old theme. Note the concluding comment.

Anyone who thinks of American foreign policy in the Middle East as cussed, overzealous, hot-headed and hypocritical will be unconsoled to learn that this was the kind of thing people were saying about Puritanism and its adherents some four hundred years ago. Like so much else in modern America, its actions abroad should be viewed through the prism of the country’s root religion, Puritanism.

To understand its continued centrality, imagine an America with no Mayflower and no New England. The national temperament would be less earnest, less moralistic, gentler. There would be fewer people in jail, and no executions. There might also be fewer Republican presidents and Bible literalists, and because a non-Puritan America would be less mesmerised by sex and introspection, less pornography and fewer psychiatrists’ couches.

An improvement on the America we have got, you may say. But the country might also have been less energetic, less enterprising, less rigorously democratic, less uncompromisingly freedom-loving. A poorer, milder America would be less able to do good as well as harm in the world. More reluctant to become engaged in Vietnam, it might also have been less tenacious in its pursuit of the Cold War generally. It would certainly not have been in Iraq, but that would be small comfort to its French or British critics, because a softer, non-Puritan America might well have resulted in a Europe submerged by Hitler, Stalin, or both.

But America is what it is, a country that is still 60 per cent Protestant. This could be a handy guide to its behaviour, except that Puritan doctrine was notoriously contradictory. All you can be sure of is its tendency to fly to extremes. “Its theory had been discipline,” R. H. Tawney wrote, “its practical result was liberty,” and listening to the maledictions of right-wing evangelists on the La-La-land lifestyle you hear echoes of the same tensions. Whether the subject is sex, business or foreign policy, never have the conflicts within America’s warring soul been more apparent than today.

Nowhere are the paradoxes of the Puritan conscience more flagrant, or more entertaining, than in the sexual sphere. That Hugh Hefner had a Puritan upbringing and that Alfred Kinsey’s father was a preacher explains a lot. Now absolute sexual freedoms are demanded in the same self-righteous spirit as the Puritans insisted on absolute repression, and the determination to dispense with the inhibitions of the past has begun to assume the earnestness and intolerance characteristic of the Puritan originators of their problems. “Self-realisation” (a very Puritan concept) can be energising, or it can be a pretext for promiscuity, sexual egotism, exhibitionism and self-indulgence.

In New England, illicit sex was repressed, but in business the sky was the limit, in many senses. For Puritans commerce was a holy pursuit, a way of busying themselves in the world in the hope of showing themselves as members of the elect who would be saved, rather than as damned from birth (“losers” in modern parlance). The characteristics of pious business folk have changed little over time. Now they are frequently church-going pillars of the community earning their salvation through media companies that specialise in sexually risqué but financially rewarding products or a dot-com enterprise selling God knows what.

Abstemious in their own lives, they take brief working holidays in Mexico or Montego Bay, where their conversation is laced with laments about the drinking, drug taking and sexual improvidence of the young and the poor. To minimise contact with “losers” they live in gated communities, send their children to private schools and bequeath them just enough to provide a headstart for becoming upstanding self-made men, in the image of their fathers.

Scepticism about Puritan sanctification of commerce began in the 17th century and continues today. America has been called “the country where the Cross is only a plus sign”, and that American employers have taken to praying with their staff, or that Ken Lay, former chairman of Enron, rediscovered God before he died, somehow does little to remove doubts.

In foreign policy, too, the New England retrovirus remains active. Like the Puritan whose economic self-seeking and psychic self-immersion were always in danger of divorcing him from the more altruistic aspects of the creed, America has long oscillated unnervingly between isolation and engagement with the world. For a people who believed that most of it was inhabited by the Antichrist there were reasons to stay aloof. Many countries still appear to America as backward nations whose souls it makes intermittent attempts to save, but that often turn out to be beyond redemption.

Proclaiming itself a beacon of hope has rarely inhibited a pugnacious foreign policy, it will be objected, but then America cannot win. If it behaves like the French and puts self-interest cynically to the fore it is damned for selfishness. And when its actions are genuinely altruistic, it is accused of buying the world’s favours. If there is one thing America is accused of more frequently than imperialist interference, it is of not interfering enough.

America’s Puritan origins do much to explain why it is the maddening and exhilarating, ancient and modern, progressive and conservative, sophisticated and simplistic, creative and destructive country it is. It explains why it finds itself in the throes of religious revival when secularism is advancing across Europe. At exactly the moment when their Puritan habits of thought are in crisis Americans are being enjoined to return to their religious roots. A case not only of the cure being worse than the disease, but of the cure reviving the malady.

But that is how America is. In dealing with it, as with anywhere else, we must take account of its national temperament. Above all we should remember that, as Alain Minc, the French historian put it, anti-Americanism is the internationalism of imbeciles.


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