Friday, September 11, 2009

Towers of Miscommunication

ד וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה-לָּנוּ עִיר, וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ, שֵׁם: פֶּן-נָפוּץ, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ. 4 And they said: 'Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'
ו וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם, וְזֶה, הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת; וְעַתָּה לֹא-יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת. 6 ... And the LORD said: 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do.
ז הָבָה, נֵרְדָה, וְנָבְלָה שָׁם, שְׂפָתָם--אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ, אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.'
ח וַיָּפֶץ יְהוָה אֹתָם מִשָּׁם, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיַּחְדְּלוּ, לִבְנֹת הָעִיר. 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city.
Mankind commits no sin here. Rather, it is God who feels threatened by a unified mankind, for whom the sky is literally the limit. To curb humanity's potential, God purposely puts a stumbling block in its way: language.

Today we face global challenges: ecological and economic disasters, pollution, poverty, hunger, and disease. United, it is within our power to solve these problems. And yet we spend our time quibbling over matters of 'language', allowing cultural, racial, and religious differences to divide us, even to the point of war.

The same irony applies to our country, America. As Thomas Friedman puts it, we have a one-party democracy - because the second party refuses to cooperate! We are the richest, most powerful country in history, yet we can't even get health care reform through Congress. China, on the other hand, has a government which, although corrupt, is unified. And her people are unified. While we're wasting money on wars nobody cares about, they're quietly cornering the green energy market.

The first step to ending our 2,500 year curse is to realize that we are all brothers, all in the same boat, and that we are stronger together than we could possibly be apart. After that, the sky's the limit.

4 comments:

Ari said...

Couple points. First of all, that "second party" that refuses to cooperate is not the problem here, as the D's have enough seats to pass anything they want. Their problem is the blue dogs. Maybe you meant conservatives and libertarians, which could include the blue dogs.

Secondly, I think it's natural, when people who represent your ideology are in power, to think "if only those obstructionist jerks would get out of our way we could fix everything." And I think that's the feeling Friedman is expressing here.

But there are a few problems with that. Firstly, imagine turning the tables on this thought experiment: the Republicans are in power and just wish those annoying Democrats would get out of the way so they could prepetrate evil unencumbered. Secondly, you're ignoring the costs to freedom and liberty. Even if I would grant that China is a green beacon to the world (which I think is laughable enough by itself), their human rights record is reprehensible, and I think there's a pretty clear correlation between that and their powers to "get things done" without any democratic debate. Jonah Goldberg makes some good points on this here.

Samurai Scientist said...

@Ari, thx for your comment.

Even if I would grant that China is a green beacon to the world (which I think is laughable enough by itself)

We're talking about the future here, and Beijing has made a substantial investment into green energy. Tom Friedman has written books about the environment and global markets. If he says the Chinese are ahead of us, I believe it. (I've also traveled quite a bit in Southeast Asia and know firsthand that we are behind in several technological sectors.)

As for Beijing's pollution, it's all outsourced from our factories. The clean air you enjoy is purchased from Beijing with American manufacturing jobs.

their human rights record is reprehensible,

Is it really? How many innocents have they killed in the past 10 years? We have killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq alone! Unless there's a secret Chinese genocide I don't know about, I'd say it's the pot calling the kettle black.

you're ignoring the costs to freedom and liberty.

We don't have to choose between socialism and democracy, unity and division. We can have the best of both worlds, if we are willing to learn.

Ari said...

I always find it ironic how people who so ardently defend reproductive rights in the US are willing to overlook China's one child policy. And even if you think that Iraq is an illegitimate war, casualties of war is a qualitatively different thing than what Chinese citizens suffer with - censorship, citizens and journalists being thrown in prison without trial for speaking out against the government, and much worse if you go back to Mao.

After all, in the US you can throw the bums out if you don't like their policies, and indeed we now have probably the most liberal president in history, due in part to dissatisfaction with the Iraq war. But in places like China the citizens have no such rights. So I don't think it's hypocritical of us to criticize China for the terrible state of human rights there.

We don't have to choose between socialism and democracy, unity and division. We can have the best of both worlds, if we are willing to learn.

I think this is the major fallacy of liberalism. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Liberals talk about the evils of communism as if they only happened because the wrong guy was in charge, or they just needed a tweak here or there. More people were murdered under Communism in the 20th century than under Nazism, and no amount of minor tweaks would have changed that. Power breeds corruption. The founding fathers understood this, which is why the guiding principles of the US constitution are the separation of powers, checks and balances, and limited federal government.

I think that Hayek and Milton Friedman are right when they say that economic freedom and personal freedom go hand in hand. If you forfeit one, you forfeit the other. So I don't believe that you can have what (Thomas) Friedman envisions without a massive cost in personal freedom and liberty.

Chaim Poupko said...

The painting that appears with this post is from Pieter Bruegel the Elder who has another painting of the Tower of Babel which appears on the cover of Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks' book, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations. With regard to your post, I think you'll find this book quite itneresting.

PhD Comics