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Sunday, September 03, 2006

What can you and I do today to promote representative democracy and its' central truths, that all human beings are endowed with inalienable rights and that representative democracy is the most just and effective form of government, the system of representative democracy that David Brooks says is the only solution to nuclear annihilation? Here is his column from today's New York Times. How can we respond to this call to action? John


September 3, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
The Jagged World

I don’t know about you, but while the events of the past five years haven’t really changed the patterns of my everyday life, they’ve certainly transformed the way I see the world.

I used to see the world as a landscape of rolling hills. There were different nations, tribes and societies, but the slopes connecting those groups were gradual and hospitable. It seemed relatively easy to travel from society to society, to understand and commune with one another.

Globalization seemed to be driving events, the integration of markets, communications and people. It seemed to be creating, with fits and starts, globalized individuals, who had one foot in a particular culture and another foot in a shared flow of movies, music, products and ideas.

I spent much of the 1990’s (that most deceptive decade) abroad — in Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. People everywhere seemed to want the same things: to live in normal societies, to be free, to give their children better lives.

Now it seems that was an oversimplified view of human nature. It’s true people everywhere want to satisfy their desires, but they also require moral systems that will restrain and give shape to their desires. It’s true people everywhere love their children, but they also require respect and recognition and they will sacrifice their own lives, and even their children’s lives, in wars for status. It’s true people everywhere hate oppression, but they also require identity, and human beings build identities by collectively hating groups that represent what they are not.

All these other parts of human nature impel people to become tribal. People form groups to realize their need for status, moral order and identity. The differences between these groups can be vast and irreconcilable.

Now my mental image of the landscape of humanity is not made up of rolling hills. It’s filled with chasms, crevices, jagged cliffs and dark forests. The wildernesses between groups seem stark and perilous.

People who live in societies where authority is united — as under Islam — are really different from people who live in societies where authority is divided. People in honor societies — where someone will kill his sister because she has become polluted by rape — are different from people in societies where people are judged by individual intentions. People who live in societies where the past dominates the present are different from people who live in societies where the future dominates the present.

Samuel Huntington once looked at the vast differences between groups and theorized that humanity is riven into different civilizations. That’s close but not quite right. Today’s divisions aren’t permanent. Instead, groups are constantly being formed and revised in a process of Schumpeterian creative destruction.

Yesterday’s high-tech entrepreneurs look like pikers compared to the social entrepreneurs of today. Islamist entrepreneurs have quickly built the world’s most vibrant and destructive movement by combining old teachings, invented traditions, imagined purities and new technologies. The five most important people in the Arab world, according to a recent survey, are the leaders of Hezbollah, Iran, Hamas, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Microsoft’s market conquest is nothing compared to that.

Other and more benign groups are being created as well: Pentecostal sects,, Hugo Chávez populists and whatever groups are invisibly forming among left-behind peasants in India and China.

The chief driver of events right now is not only globalization — the integration of economies and peoples. It’s also the contest among cultures over the power of consecration — the power to define what is right and wrong. Rising hegemons like Iran (and the U.S.) see themselves not only as nations but also as moral movements.

Since 9/11, the U.S. has had little success in influencing distant groups. Americans blew the postwar administration of Iraq because they assumed they were liberating a nation sort of like their own. And yet I can’t seem to renounce my own group, which is America. It would feel like cultural suicide to repress the central truths of my society, that all human beings are endowed with inalienable rights and democracy is the most just and effective form of government.

The hard lesson of the last five years — that we live in a jagged world filled with starkly different and contesting groups — makes democracy promotion more difficult but more necessary. Only democratic habits will prevent the inevitable clash of the tribes from turning into a war of nuclear annihilation.

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