Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The twin towers debate thread

So, for those (few) that have been following this rather exciting thread, dponce80, a Muslim from Canada (CORRECTION 20040616: dponce80 is NOT Muslim, but he says his girlfriend is (barely) Muslim --- dear-free-world regrets the error), and I have been debating the "new" twin towers to be built by the bin Ladens in Dubai, and a good deal of geo-political politics as well. This is the latest installment in that thread.

So, thanks to Haloscan trackbacks, dponce80 and I can post our latest installments in each others blogs without writing comments (as we did before) that will be buried in somewhere in the archives where no one will read them.

For those that want to read this debate, the original post and lengthy comments are available.

Dponce80 posts his latest installment here. He gives a rather length synopsis to spare you from reading the whole thread, although I must say that reading the whole thread presents my points of view in a much better light than does his summary.

I did a Google on "Dubai towers" and related topics, and, although this thread fascinates dponce80 and myself, it doesn't seem to have caught fire on the wider net. I personally find some of the other topics (globalism and improved trade as peaceful solutions to the Middle East's ills, as opposed to nihilism, violence, or some other solution (dponce80 brought up Marxism and communism).

Let me just respond to dponce80's latest points, as I fear we will rapidly lose readers otherwise:

1. My claim that using arguments right of out Karl Marx is a bad idea.

dponce80 defends his use of Marxist reasoning:
> I know that, with everything that's happened between the US and the former USSR, with > the 60 or 70 years (how many is it?) of paranoid anti-communism [...]
> Coupled with this is my patent lack of knowledge of world economics [...] All this
> makes it very difficult for me to steadily hold my ground on this point. [...]

Yup.

The Soviet Union used communism and Marxism as ideologies. If they were so great, the Soviet Union would have done much better than it actually did. (Which, in case anyone has forgotten, was not very well in any thing outside state priorities such as military science. Ultimately, it failed economically....).

Economics is actually a very developed science. You have to be a little careful sometimes --- there's good science that suggests laissez faire economics is generally a bad idea, although some people avoid discussing that for political reasons.

Basically, economics is about having options. Having more options is better than having fewer options --- in the statistical aggregate (nations) if not for individuals (it's true for individuals as well, provided they don't get swapped with "information overload" like a bull trapped in headlights).

Global trade (with appropriate regulation) is good because it provides nations with additional options they didn't have before. They can now trade with me, whereas before they could only trade with themselves.

What we want to do is provide nations with lots of options, as opposed to fewer options. By providing them with lots of options to provide for their well-being, they are less likely to chose self-destructive options, like war and terrorism.

Simple.

This, incidentally, is globalism. It sometimes gets a bad name because it can be abused --- evil companies lusting after control of some 3rd world countries water supply. That's more about governmental corruption in foreign countries, not something inherently bad about trying to provide foreign peoples with more options than they have today. Appropriate regulation, international activism, and international organisms can check the corruption. After all, corruption is something much easier to deal with than is global terrorism.

Marx's fundamental error is in believing that economic growth comes from forcing foreign peoples to buy products from you. Not true --- economic growth comes mainly from increases in productivity. This is mainly done through new technologies and new ideas about how to do things, which we humans are always figuring out. Having more options to chose from when solving problems is another way to increase productivity, however, and appropriately regulated global trade increases the productivity of all involved.

There are plenty of cases were appropriately regulated global trade has improved the lives of developing nations.

The Asian tiger economies are just one of many success stories.

> (In a side note, it's interesting he'd choose "threatened US interests" as a reason to > help poorer nations deal with AIDS. So much for altruism and it's the right thing to
> do... ;) )

Economists (and people with MBAs that run things in the world) don't believe much in altruism. But there are plenty of reasons why helping others is a way of helping yourself, and I like to cite those in support of an argument.

2.

> Noam Chomsky. E.E.A. Eaton claims, with nicer words, that the guy is a nut. That the
> use of him in any argument would not do much more than undermine it. [...].

> I happen to agree with many of the things he says [...].

Oh God no.

> The numbers he quotes are readily verifiable, and you can't argue with numbers. You
> can argue with interpretations of what the numbers mean, sure, but not the numbers
> themselves.

You weren't citing his numbers (which may or may not be readily verifiable). You were using his interpretations, which are VERY suspect. Chomsky is out of the loop on things, and way off in his interpretations....

> Up here in Canada, we like him.

He's probably more believable outside the U.S. where people are less intimately familiar with what's he talking about (US politics) and don't immediately spot the contorsions in his non-logic....

Maybe you can persuade non-(U.S.)-Americans by citing him, but you'll lose credibility with Americans....

> But in the end, the American people ELECTED Bush as a representative of their
> wishes, a delegate chosen to govern the country for them.

There a number of prominent Americans who still aren't sure that this statement is accurate. (Remember the Florida recount?)

> The US belongs to the people (in theory), and the man at the top is a representative
> of the people. You can't elect someone, and then, the minute he starts doing stuff
> you don't like, wash your hands and say "I didn't do it, he did".

Of course you can. Representative democracy isn't perfect. We only elect presidents once every four years. (And representation of some form is required to make the system workable). As some famous person once quipped, democracy isn't the best system, but it's one heck of a lot better than the second best system.

> See, that's the catch about democracy.

So, because America is having a bad experience for four years (or maximum of eight) with one president, we should consider other systems? Like what? Monarchy? Dictatorship, where we are stuck with someone not for four years, but for life?

I have heard this from other Muslims --- support for Monarchy, which some of them think is a better system. Please disabuse yourselves of this notion. Unless the monarch is under strict constitutional control (as maybe the case in the UK), he or she will take the first opportunity to screw everyone else in favor of his or her offspring. That's human nature, today understood as such by evolutionary psychology and previously verified by our long and sad history as a species. Picking some "holy man of God" to be your monarch won't save you from human nature, or yourselves. (Supposed selection by God is the usual basis for monarchy.) The Founding Fathers understood this in 1776; the Republicans in Rome understood this over 2000 years ago. Why doesn't the Islamic world understand this today?

> Sadly, the simple fact that it looks as though it'll actually be a tight race
> says a lot about what the American people wants.

The polls aren't that accurate this far ahead of the American political election. They usually don't become accurate until two weeks before the election. People are always nervous about replacing the devil they know with a new guy --- it's a lot of power for one man.

So, to conclude, I don't agree much with dponce80's views.

But he does seem to try to make very thoughtful arguments, which is more than I can say for some of my conservative (or even some left wing) friends.

As I've argued here in the past, we Americans seem to have forgotten just how vital open political debate is to the proper function of our political process. Try to censor someone (by blocking distribution of their film, by intimidation, by vandalizing a washroom with conservative slogans, and so on) just because you strongly disagree with his or her views is never a good idea.

That's why I'm happy to give him a forum here. I hope, in time, he may better understand my own views (and the views of other contributors, and the many other viewpoints opposing his own) as I better come to understand his viewpoints.

This exchange of ideas --- sometimes fiery but always thoughtful --- will help us all better understand the options for our small planet, lost, as the astronomer Carl Sagan once said, in the vast sea of stars that is the Cosmos.