Peaceful Tectonics

Think before you buy.
December 21, 2006, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, International Affairs

I found this short article in Foreign Policy Magazine.  It is called the “list of killer products”.  I find it difficult to read these kinds of articles because I probably won’t change my behavior at all.  Well ok I might not go out and buy a set of teak furniture.  Like I would in the first place.  Perhaps the simple tips it gives us will make us more ethical and less hypocritical.  probably not, nevertheless it is interesting to read the list because most of the information was news to me.  Once you finish reading you will realize just how murderous you have become.  

The List: Killer Products
Posted December 2006

Think purchasing a diamond is an ethical dilemma? You don’t know the half of it. A host of common consumer items helps fuel conflict, ruins the environment, and relies on child labor. In this week’s List, FP spotlights a few products to think twice about this shopping season.

Gold Jewelry

Beware of: Gold

The cost:Environmental damage and human rights. Gold ore is often sprayed with cyanide after extraction to separate the gold from the host minerals. The cyanide-contaminated leftovers, 20 tons of which are used to produce one gold ring, are often abandoned or dumped in nearby water sources. Moreover, gold mines from Indonesia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have notoriously poor labor standards.

The alternative: Currently, there is no certification for “clean” gold, as there is for diamonds, for example. The best option is to buy jewelry from gold that has been recycled. The bad news is that without independent, third-party verification, it is difficult to ensure that your gold is clean. The good news is that, once you find it, clean gold is no more expensive than normal gold.

The future:The human rights group Oxfam America and environmental group Earthworks are pushing a No Dirty Gold campaign for jewelers who demand responsible mining practices. A dozen high-end industry leaders such as Tiffany & Co. and Zale Corp. have already signed on, but mass retailers including Target and Wal-Mart have not. Oxfam and Earthworks also encourage consumers to sign a pledge supporting responsible mining.

Candy Bars

Beware of: Cocoa powder

The cost: Child labor. Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa (and most of the United States’) comes from West Africa, where nearly 300,000 children under the age of 14 toil in dangerous conditions on cocoa plantations. In the Ivory Coast, where more than half of the region’s cocoa is produced, more than 100,000 children work in near slavery, subject to both injury from the machetes used to harvest the plant and from toxic pesticides that are banned in the United States and Europe.

The alternative:Buy Fair Trade Certified cocoa, which comes from farms that only employ adults and use legal pesticides. The price is equivalent to that of gourmet chocolate. If you have to get your fix and can’t find Fair Trade chocolate, look for products from Cadbury. The British company buys 90 percent of its cocoa from Ghana, where trafficking of child workers is prohibited.

The future: In October, the World Cocoa Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development announced the establishment of the “Healthy Communities” program to help West African cocoa farmers improve their economic, social, and environmental standards. The program is designed to help as many as 150,000 farm families during the next five years. But with 700,000 farmers in the Ivory Coast alone, it’s unlikely to affect widespread change.

Teak Furniture

Beware of: Burmese teak

The cost: The Burmese people’s freedom and environment. Teak is used primarily for outdoor furniture, and the Burmese variety is considered the strongest and most beautiful in the world. Sales have also helped fund the country’s brutal military regime for nearly three decades. Although the United States outlawed nearly all imports from Burma in 2003, more than 17.7 million cubic feet of Burmese teak was exported to 167 countries last year. Harvesting teak is also incredibly damaging to the environment. Forest land in Burma shrunk by 75 percent during the 20th century, primarily because of the extractive harvesting methods used to procure teak and other hardwoods.

The alternative: Consumers should purchase more common woods or try plantation teak, which, though not as strong as old-growth teak, doesn’t contribute to deforestation.

The future: Burmese teak may be here to stay. Some teak industry Web sites boast that 80 percent of the world’s teak still comes from Burma. Moreover, though the United States is pushing for U.N. sanctions against Burma, the military junta maintains close relations with China, so it is doubtful that any sanction regime will get very far.

Shower Curtains

Beware of: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also known as vinyl.

The cost: Your health and the environment. PVC, a durable plastic, is everywhere. It’s used to make building materials (including vinyl siding, flooring, and pipes), plastic children’s toys, and garden hoses, among other consumer products. The smell of a new car? That’s PVC. The smell is actually PVC toxins, some of which are suspected carcinogens, being released into the air. Children are exposed to the same toxins when they chew on PVC-plastic toys. The production and disposal of PVC also releases mercury and dioxin into the environment.

The alternative:Buy shower curtains made from Peva, which is a less destructive plastic. PVC-free children’s toys are also readily available, including Lego building blocks and Gerber toys. The Greenpeace Web site has an extensive “report card” for various toy companies.

The future: Although PVC is still legal for many uses, there are bans or restrictions on PVC toys in the European Union, Japan, and Mexico, among other countries. Some U.S. cities, including New York, Boston, and San Francisco, have placed limits on government purchases of the material. A number of companies, including Nike, Mattel, and Honda, have adopted PVC phase-out polices as well.

Cell Phones

Beware of:Columbite-tantalite, also known as coltan, and cassiterite, aka tin ore.

The cost:Unrest in the DRC. The war-torn country is home to 80 percent of the world’s coltan, which is an important mineral for constructing circuit boards found in cell phones and other electronic devices, like computers and TV remote controls. Coltan is the best mineral for storing and conducting electrical currents on circuit boards. The DRC is also home to large amounts of tin, which is increasingly replacing lead as the material for solder on circuit boards. During the past decade, local warlords have used profits from the resources to fund an ongoing civil war.

The alternative:Australia also produces coltan, but tracing the source of your electronic goods’ coltan is nearly impossible. The best bet is to recycle your electronic goods so that the coltan can be reused.

The future:The prices of both coltan and cassiterite dropped with the end of the dot-com boom, so less money is ending up in the hands of DRC warlords. Plus, high-tech manufacturers are always looking for newer, better building materials. However, coltan is currently the most efficient conductor, and tin is a significant improvement on lead. The best hope is that the recent elections in DRC bring stability to the resource-rich country.



Dear Science, Why are we nice?
December 10, 2006, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Science

This article from discusses natural selection and human cooperation.  I could have placed this under my sceince button but I feel like no-one seems to be utilizing those really cool buttons.  I will spare you the intro because the article speaks for itself. 

December 07, 2006 Thy Neighbor Evolved Out of Vicious Competition

Human cooperation may have evolved out of a penchant for frequent warfare.

Natural selection argues against cooperation. If all organisms, including humans, are pitted in a ceaseless struggle for survival and sex, those who help others would quickly find themselves swamped in a rising tide of selfishness, especially if those they helped bore no relation to them. Yet, most humans reflexively help another person in need even if there are no family ties or a direct benefit to be gained. This conundrum has puzzled evolutionary biologists since the time of Darwin, but a new study shows how internecine warfare among early humans might have allowed for the spread of a dominant group of altruistic tribes. Economist Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute examines the evolutionary forces at work on early human populations. He posits two distinct groups: the altruistic and the selfish, divided into many different tribes, which Bowles refers to as demes. Altruists are disposed to take an action helping others, but such actions have a specific cost. For example, an altruist might jump into the river to save a drowning child at the cost of her own life but to the overall benefit of the tribe. Reducing these sets of conditions to a mathematical equation reveals that altruists can only prosper if their altruism enables their group to acquire more territory. One of the primary ways that humans–indeed all primates–acquire territory is through “contests,” or war. By sharing the costs of war, as well as its benefits, a group of altruists typically outnumbers and therefore defeats a less cohesive band of individuals. Thus, whereas individual natural selection would argue for the rise of the selfish, larger group dynamics showcase the triumph of the altruists. This latter type of selection also relies on that group sharing a large proportion of similar genes, because, in that case, altruists’ genetic material persists in some form if they sacrifice themselves for others in war. This is the solution offered by Darwin in The Descent of Man and Bowles in a paper published in the December 8 Science.Bowles examines the genetic interrelatedness of hunter-gatherer groups that persist to this day, assuming that they are at least somewhat indicative of the behaviors of our remote ancestors. Many of them show high degrees of interrelatedness–a bit less than cousins. In addition, Bowles points out that abrupt climate change happened several times during recent geologic history, subjecting our ancestors to even more rigorous competition–and potential population extinctions for those who couldn’t band together to survive. Indeed evidence of warfare in archaeological remains increases in times of environmental stress. Plus, the proclivity to wipe out subjected populations continued to reinforce our newly developing altruistic ways. None of this evidence, of course, proves that altruism evolved in this manner, but it does provide an intriguing argument and some nice mathematical equations for describing human behavior. Plus, Bowles demonstrates how the effect of leveling mechanisms such as shared access to scarce resources, enables altruism to become a very persistent way of life when coupled with territorial expansion. History isn’t just written by the winners, the people reading that history are probably their descendants. “Language or culture may have led to the evolution of leveling mechanisms, which then potentiated the spread of prosocial genes because those mechanisms reduced the costs of cooperation,” writes anthropologist Robert Boyd of the University of California, Los Angeles, in a commentary on the research. “It is certainly fair to invoke reproductive leveling to explain the of extended altruism among humans, but whether it is sufficient to explain its is not yet clear.”

“Murdoch Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation”
December 7, 2006, 1:24 am
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, International Affairs, News, Politics

Ok, so I first read this story on the BBC website and then I found a more developed article in the  New Statesman Magazine.  The title of this post is derived from the BBC Motto “Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation”.  Basically, it is about media ownership in the UK. I found that people in the United States care very little about where their media (news, entertainment, movies, magazines, books, music) comes from or how it is owned.  This article touches the surface of another world that Americans could not fathom; that the BBC is, dare I say, funded by tax dollars, well actually it is funded through licensing fees paid by citizens who buy televisions.  Yep, that’s right the BBC is a publicly owned and independently managed broadcast corporation, that means no commercials.  It has been run by a non-partisan board of governors since 1927.  Whatever your preference, public or private,  it is imperative to keep a close eye on our media outlets which increasingly wield more and more control over the information available to the common man. 

Nation of fools

David Puttnam

Published 04 December 2006

As the BBC reels from Michael Grade’s shock defection, a far greater threat to the future of British broadcasting is upon us. And it goes to the heart of our democracy.

Towards the end of a recent BBC Question Time programme, Polly Toynbee received a thunderous round of applause when she described Rupert Murdoch as “the most pernicious force in the country by far”.

Yet even though many citizens may instinctively agree with Richard Branson’s assessment that Murdoch is a “threat to democracy”, nothing beyond a resounding silence has been heard from either the Labour or the Tory benches following BSkyB’s acquisition of a 17.9 per cent stake in ITV – the catalyst for Branson’s remarks. Indeed, not a single prominent politician from either major party has thus far broken cover to suggest that the deal might raise serious questions about the future of media plurality in Britain. This is despite, or more probably because of, the fact that Murdoch owns four national newspapers, has de facto control of the BSkyB pay-television service (through a 38 per cent shareholding), owns, the social networking site most heavily used by the UK’s young people, and has now perched himself on the catbird seat at our largest commercial terrestrial broadcaster.

It is easy to dismiss Branson’s comments as sour grapes, given that BSkyB’s purchase of an ITV stake has in effect scuppered the chances of NTL (in which Branson has a 10.5 per cent holding) acquiring control of the terrestrial giant. Whatever the catalyst, I still believe Branson’s outburst to have been sincere, that he was speaking as much as a citizen as a businessman, and, most importantly, that he is absolutely right on this occasion.

Yet, astonishingly, the public has no idea whether there is anyone in parliament who agrees with him. It’s almost as if there’s a conspiracy of silence, a conspiracy fuelled by a fear of alienating the most powerful media owner in the country.

In purely business terms, there is no question that by ac quiring its stake in ITV, BSkyB pulled off a spectacular coup – only equalled by ITV’s acquisition, a few days later, of Michael Grade as its executive chairman. It is hard to imagine the brilliantly combative Grade finding it easy to accommodate a significant shareholder who is also competing in the very areas of entertainment, news and sport that will naturally be his focus for success.

At stake is the erosion of competition within the British media, and the consequences that has for British democracy.

There are those who seem willing to accept that BSkyB’s move is merely an attempt to shut out NTL. But as Neil Chenoweth, one of Murdoch’s biographers, has written, in Murdoch’s deal-making “there is always a second strand running below the public trans action, known only to insiders, and then there is a third strand running under that again, which no one ever sees”.

In the case of ITV one can only guess at what the second and third strands might be. But some analysts have suggested that the acquisition of a stake in ITV is merely Murdoch’s first card in a longer game, one in which he will end up controlling Channel 5. RTL, owner of Channel 5, is strongly rumoured to be interested in ITV. Murdoch might be willing to sell out to RTL and to the other ITV shareholders in exchange for the prize of the fifth channel.

Dominant satellite position That would not just be a “threat to British democracy”, it would be a further step in a process that can only end in disaster. The cap acity of Murdoch’s British interests to “cross-promote” that terrestrial channel, using their dominant satellite position and their newspaper holdings, would be without precedent. The bleat that Channel 5 has merely 5.5 per cent of terrestrial viewing would very quickly become history as the new, heavily promoted, “super soaraway Five” dug deep into the market share of its rivals.BSkyB’s acquisition of a stake in ITV shows exactly why, in the teeth of fierce opposition from both the government and the Conservative front bench, the House of Lords was absolutely right to insist that a “public interest test” be inserted in the Communications Act 2003, so that the consequences for our democracy of mergers and changes of control within the media sector could be scrutinised and, if necessary, stopped.Ofcom has now begun its own scrutiny of the acquisition of the ITV stake, and the Office of Fair Trading is also likely to get involved. That would inevitably lead to politicians being drawn into making decisions about where the public interest really does lie.For myself, I have no doubts. This deal should not be allowed to stand. It is my personal belief that BSkyB, and thereby Rupert Murdoch, has unquestionably acquired “material influence” at ITV, and that this can only lead to a further and unprecedented erosion of plurality within the British media.In 1990 when Sky merged with BSB to create BSkyB, there was a rancorous Commons debate about the issue. The then shadow home secretary, Roy Hattersley, made a scathing attack on the government’s supine attitude toward Murdoch’s interests, going so far as to question the legality of the deal. Public opinion – a surprise?In the intervening 16 years, it has apparently become unthinkable that a front-bench politician of either of the main parties would even consider passing comment on any further extension of Murdoch’s tentacles, in the apparent belief that to do so is to incur the wrath of the Sun and the Times, and thereby to court electoral disaster.But public opinion has a nice way of surprising you, more so than ever in this digital age of blogs and social networking, when information and beliefs can be transmitted to millions with a simple click of the mouse.In recent weeks, Murdoch was given a wake-up call when, following a wave of public revulsion, he was forced to cancel a proposed book and TV programme in the US in which O J Simpson offered a hypothetical account of how he would have killed his former wife and her friend.That round of applause for Toynbee’s remark on Question Time should serve as a different kind of wake-up call – this time directed at our elected representatives.Its message is succinct: enough is enough. The time has come for politicians from all sides to step up and clarify their position on the future of democratic pluralism in our media.If they are really serious about regaining the respect, let alone the trust, of the electorate, it is time they stopped shaping their electoral strategies in response to the leader columns of any of our national newspapers, and started demonstrating a belief that the votes of millions at the ballot box count for more than the self-interest of a handful of manipulative media barons.

Lord Puttnam is a Labour peer, and was chair of the parliamentary committee that examined the Communications Bill. Deputy chairman of Channel 4, he writes here in a personal capacity

The Educational Spectrum
December 6, 2006, 1:57 am
Filed under: Education, Philosophy, Politics, Religion

I picked up the following article on The Philosophers Magazine Online.  This is going to sound really dry, but its about the debate between the merits of authoriatrian verses liberal teaching methods.  I know that sounds boring but hear me out.  I really like it for two reasons, the first being that it is written in an open debate format in which the author requests or challenges the reader to respond with an articulate argument.  Second, Stephen Law (the author) does a wonderful job at arguing in favor of liberal education and student centered learning, which just happens to be my guily pleasure.

PS. If you don’t want to read the whole thing at least scroll down and check out his spectrum charts and explanations.

An Open Debate: The War For

Children’s Minds

Stephen Law

The author argues for a more liberal education for kids. To join the debate, see the end of the article.

In my book, The War for Children’s Minds , I respond to an anti-liberal mythology that has developed over the last couple of decades – a mythology that tends to blame everything that’s wrong with modern society – from rising crime to delinquency to teenage pregnancy – on 60’s liberals, and in particular, on liberal attitudes to religious and moral education. Many social and religious conservatives now argue that, if we’re to cure these problems, we need to move back in the direction of the kind of traditional, authority-based moral and religious education that tended to predominate in religious schools before the 60’s.

I’m not objecting to religious schools (not here, anyway). My concern is with the type of education delivered in them. My fear is that many of the new religious schools now in the pipeline will offer a rather traditional form of religious education in which, rather being taught to think, question and make their own judgements, young people are encouraged to defer more-or-unless uncritically to some religious authority such as their imam or the Pope,

I argue that all schools, religious or not, should be liberal, in the sense that they should encourage young people to think critically and for themselves about moral and religious issues – including their own religious views. That will strike many as sensible. But not everyone. When the Institute of Public Policy Research recommended all children be encouraged to think critically about the religious beliefs they bring with them into the classroom, Melanie Phillips ( Daily Mail ) and the Daily Telegraph were outraged.

Many arguments are used to justify a return to traditional, authority-based moral and religious education. Often these arguments have a philosophical dimension. Some appeal to a familiar criticism of Kant and other Enlightenment philosophers: that they were wrong to suppose that reason alone is capable of furnishing us with moral principles. In which case, conclude defenders of authority, the individual has no choice but to rely on an external authority instead. Some appeal to communitarian ideas, maintaining that religious authority – and the social bonds it forges – provides a much-needed corrective to our increasingly fragmented and individualistic society. Some refer back to the thinking of Aristotle to justify a form of moral education based not on thinking, but on doing. Some argue that authority-based religious values are the only alternative to the moral relativism that, they insist, is eating away at the fabric of Western society like a cancer.

You will find all these arguments heavily woven into the thinking of a great many religious conservatives. They can’t all be dealt with here. Nor is there room to make a positive case for a liberal approach. I’ll simply provide a rough sketch out the kind of liberalism I defend, and then lay down a blunt challenge to those who believe that the kind of traditional, authority-based moral and religious education that tended to predominate in religious schools up until the 1960’s is acceptable.

Let me begin by clarifying what divides “liberals” and “authoritarians”.

Should children and young people be free to do just whatever they want? No. Everyone thinks there should be some rules. Just how restrictive these rules are, and just how aggressively they should be enforced, is one issue that divides “liberals” and “authoritarians”. Many believe that, particularly over the last fifty years or so, we’ve moved too far up the liberal end of the scale. We’ve become excessively permissive. The time has come to redress the balance – to move back in the authoritarian direction. Perhaps they are right.

But there’s another way in which we can distinguish between “liberals” and “authoritarians”. The issue here is freedom of thought and expression . To what extent should children be encouraged to think for themselves? To what extent should they be allowed publicly to disagree, to express their own opinions?

Here, too, opinion is divided. But notice that those who are pretty authoritarian on the freedom of action scale might turn out to be fairly liberal on the freedom of thought scale. It’s one thing to prohibit doing so-and-so. It’s quite another to prohibit people from thinking, saying or arguing that they should be allowed to do so-and-so.

We can represent the freedom of action scale like so:

This scale ranges from total hands-off anarchy at the top, where there are no rules or discipline at all, to an extremely regimented, boot-camp-style regime at the bottom.

We can now add the freedom of thought scale like so:

To reduce confusion, when the issue is freedom of thought, let’s spell “Liberal” and “Authoritarian” with capital initials. An “Authoritarian” believes we should place more emphasis on more-or-less-uncritical deference to Authority rather than on independent critical thought. They’re to the right. The “Liberal” thinks we should place the greater emphasis on independent critical thought and freedom of expression. They’re to the left.

You can see there are four possible combinations of Liberal, liberal, Authoritarian and authoritarian.

It’s possible, for example, to be, liberal with a small “l”, yet Authoritarian with a capital “A”. Take Alice, a parent who merrily tolerates all sorts of bad behaviour from her children, yet smacks them hard if they ever dare to question the religious faith that she has raised them to accept uncritically. Alice is in the top right quadrant of our chart.

Or take Sophie, who imposes a strict set of rules on her daughters. She expects them to tidy their rooms, do as they’re told, and be in bed by nine o’clock sharp. Sophie’s pretty authoritarian with a small “a”. But still, she wants her children to think for themselves. While Sophie is fairly authoritarian, she’s also Liberal. Sophie’s in the bottom left corner.

The question with which I’m concerned is: how Liberal or Authoritarian should we be when it comes to moral education? I argue that, whatever our views on rules and discipline, we should be more Liberal than Authoritarian. That’s to say, wherever we are on the vertical scale, we should be well to the left, and certainly not to the right, on the horizontal scale.

One common misconception about the Liberal approach is that it’s somehow incompatible with a religious upbringing. Christians, for example, will want to teach their children about Jesus and the kind of morality he represents. As Liberals, they’re free to do that.

The difference between, say, an Authoritarian Christian and a Liberal Christian lies not in what they teach children, but in how they teach it. The Authoritarian will expect children to embrace Christian belief more or less on the say-so of a religious Authority. The Liberal, by contrast, will certainly tolerate, and may even actively encourage, critical scrutiny of religious beliefs.

Just as some wrongly assume the religious must be Authoritarian, so others mistakenly suppose atheists must be Liberal. Robin Le Poidevin nicely sets out the positions at the extreme Liberal and Authoritarian ends of the scale like so:

Compare these two desires: the desire to subordinate oneself utterly to the wishes of some authority… and the desire that one’s behaviour should reflect one’s own ideals, to act because one thinks it is right, independently of the will of any other individual. Which is the better ideal, as far as our moral development is concerned? The atheist insists the second desire is the better one. For the atheist the moral ideal is autonomy, or self government. The truly moral agent is one who wishes to be his own master, not the instrument of some other power, and not to trust the deliverances of some supposed authority, but to work out for themselves the rightness of certain kinds of morality. ( Arguing For Atheism )

Le Poidevin characterizes the atheist as a Liberal. That’s a mistake. Atheists can be Authoritarian too, as many totalitarian regimes demonstrate. The party member who sees herself as a mere cog in the great machine, who blindly and faithfully accepts what she is told, who dares never to hold or venture any opinion other than that which has been officially endorsed, may have a mind no less enslaved and ruled by Authority than that of a hard-line religious zealot.

Authoritarian atheist regimes can also be just as brutal in expunging unacceptable beliefs. In Stalinist Russia, the feared knock on the door would come, not from the Holy Inquisition hunting down religious heretics, but from the secret police hunting political heretics. What both regimes had in common was an Authoritarian obsession with controlling, not just action, but thought.

We can represent the various possible combinations of Liberal, Authoritarian, religious and atheist like so:

In the top right corner you’ll find the religious Authoritarians. Some consider the Pope to be the ultimate religious Authority. While he may not be treated as an infallible Authority by all his followers (many Catholics openly disagree with him on birth control), still, there are those who believe that, when it comes to matters of faith, the duty of any Catholic is to defer to His Holiness, rather than to make their own private judgement (perhaps the current Pope’s view?). The following, for example, is from the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia’s entry on “infallibility”.

[O]ne must listen to the voice of those whom God has expressly appointed to teach in His name, rather than to one’s own private judgment… he who chooses to make himself, instead of the authority which God has instituted, the final arbiter in matters of faith is far from possessing the true spirit of faith.

In the bottom right corner is Joe Stalin – a brutally Authoritarian atheist. Over in the top left corner are the religious Liberals – they believe in God, but they also believe that each individual must judge for themselves what is right and what is wrong. When I presented this little chart to Keith Ward, former Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, he located himself in the top left hand quadrant. Ward is a religious Liberal. Finally, in the bottom left corner, you’ll find the Liberal atheists.

There are regular spats between those at the top and bottom. Richard Dawkins is well known for his provocative attacks on religion. His criticisms frequently outrage believers. In fact what Dawkins attacks is typically a highly Authoritarian brand of religion. Dawkins tends to focus his attacks on those in the top right hand corner. Perhaps he would do better to build alliances with those Liberal religious believers in the top left corner (like Ward) with whom he probably has far more in common with than he does with any of those over to the right (who include atheists like Stalin, of course).

The noise and smoke generated by the battle over religion has tended obscure a no less significant debate. I believe the really crucial dispute is not between the believers at the top and the atheists at the bottom – it’s between the Liberals on the left and the Authoritarians on the right. It’s to this underlying, more vital dispute that public attention now needs to be drawn. Drawing attention to it is one aim of the book.

Now here is the challenge. Those who favour a move back in the direction of the kind of Authority-based religious education that predominated up until the 1960s should ask themselves the following question. Suppose political schools started springing up – a neoconservative school in Billericay followed by a communist school in Middlesbrough. Suppose these schools select pupils on the basis of parents’ political beliefs. Suppose they start each morning with the collective singing of political anthems. Suppose portraits of their political leaders beam down from every classroom wall. Suppose they insist that pupils accept, more or less uncritically, the beliefs embodied in their revered political texts.

If such schools did spring up, there would be outrage. These establishments would be accused of educationally stunting children, forcing their minds into politically pre-approved moulds. They’re the kind of Orwellian schools you find under totalitarian regimes in places like Stalinist Russia. My question is, if such political schools are utterly unacceptable, if they are guilty of educationally stunting children, why on earth are so many of us still prepared to tolerate their religious equivalents?

Disagree? Got something to add? Join the debate. Stephen Law will be replying to three of the best responses posted to this article. To increase the chances of yours being picked, please address specific arguments made in the article: it is better to deal with one key point well than reply to as many as possible. We suggest you compose your reply off-line and then return here to post it when it’s complete. Keep your replies to 600 words maximum, and less is even better. Email: with your responses.

Off and running, the real oil story.
December 4, 2006, 5:29 am
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, International Affairs, Politics, Religion

The following article is from Intellectual Activist, which is a great magazine that I was linked up with through Philosophers Net.  Anyway, It is a great article in that it is completely unapologetic for secular Western ideals and Western Civilization.  Robert Tracinski takes an interesting look at the real source of tension between Islam and the West, which is the ironic connections between the interests of fundamentalist Islam and those of the Western industrial societies.  This one is longer but I think most people would find it interesting.  Good Luck!


The Hinge of the World: How Saudi Oil and Western Ideas Connect Two Opposite Civilizations
by Robert Tracinski 


The recent terror attacks on Westerners inSaudi Arabia reveal a crucial reason why a deadly clash between Islam and the West is unavoidable in the 21st century–and why only one of those civilizations can survive the clash. The conflict between Islam and the West would be inevitable in any case, but there is one factor that makes the clash particularly urgent. The brute facts of geography do not, in the long run, determine the fate of the world, but one such fact is of unusual importance: the presence of an enormous portion of the world’s oil reserves beneath the Arabian peninsula. 

This geographical accident connects the heart of Western Civilization–the need for man-made power to drive our industrial civilization–to the heart of Islamic Civilization: the holy city of Mecca and the traditionalist Arab-Muslim societies of Arabia.  Like fratricidal Siamese twins, two opposing civilizations have been joined at the heart.  The negative effect for the West is clear. Oil is what allows the primitive religious tribalists of Arabia–who, on their own efforts, could menace us with nothing more powerful than camels and bolt-action rifles–to be infused with a flood of material wealth siphoned from the fountainhead of industrial civilization. That is the result of our failure to prevent the nationalization of Arabian oil reserves discovered and tapped by American, British, and French companies.  But the dependency goes both ways. We are dependent on Arabian oil–but they are dependent on Western economic development and on Western scientific and technological expertise. That is the ominous implication–ominous for the Saudis–of the recent terror attacks in Arabia. These attacks are an attempt to drive out the Western businessmen, scientists, and engineers who keep the supply of wealth flowing into the Arab and Muslim world. While our dependence is physical–we need their raw materials–their dependence is mental: they need our brain power.  And that is how this purely material factor–the geography of world oil reserves–connects to the deeper reason for the clash of civilizations: the West’s mental invasion of the Muslim world. I began by saying that the heart of Western civilization is oil, while the heart of Islamic civilization is their religion.On a deeper level, however, the relationship is exactly reversed. It might seem as if the focus of our civilization is material: industrial production, fueled by oil–while the focus of theirs in spiritual: the 14-century-old Muslim faith centered in the Saudi city of Mecca. In fact, the Arab world’s only real strength is its oil wealth–while our strength, a force which the Arabs both depend on and fear, is our ideas.The Saudis are dependent on Western scientific and technological expertise to keep their oil pumping. That’s what allows their universities to keep turning out graduates in Islamic theocracy, who are then sent around the world to promote the fanatical Wahhabi Muslim orthodoxy, rather than turning out graduates in geology or engineering. If they could maintain that neat separation, allowing Western experts into Arabia to keep the black gold flowing–but keeping them safely quarantined from Arab society–the connection between the two civilizations might not be fatal.But this has proved impossible–and that is why Arabian oil is not the deepest reason for the deadly clash between our civilizations. Arabian oil makes the clash more urgent for the West–but it is already urgent and inescapable for the Muslims, for reasons that have little to do with oil.Islamic civilization is founded on a fanatical religious fundamentalism. The idea that God is everything–that he holds first claim on the believer’s mind and values–is central to Islam. This allows no compromise with any secular influence coming from the scientific, individualistic societies of the West.The invasion of such secular influences was limited, in previous centuries, by the Islamic world’s ability to insulate itself from Western ideas. The cost the Muslim world paid for its insularity, of course, was centuries of stagnation–while the West harnessed the power of its new secular ideas to achieve a sweeping Renaissance and a powerful Industrial Revolution.The growth of Western technology has brought our secular civilization increasingly in conflict with Muslim civilization, but the most recent achievement of the West has brought the conflict to a crisis: the development of the modern Western media.For centuries, Arabs and Muslims have looked with dismay on the growth of the West’s power, and they have feared its expansion into their territory. But in the last decades of the 20th century, and at the beginning of the 21st, the Muslims are threatened with a Western invasion carried directly into the hearts of their societies, in a form that is faster and more irresistible precisely because it is non-material. It is an invasion of foreign ideas and entertainment, carried by satellite TV signals, music CDs, magazines, DVDs, and the Internet–the whole fearsome armada of Western telecommunications.

It is an invasion that promises a liberation grasped by every young person who encounters it: a liberation of the young Muslim’s mind from the stultifying conformity of religious dogma and of his values from the hopeless stagnation of the primitive tribal and religious morality imposed on him by his elders.

Hence the great Arab and Muslim dilemma of our era. Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharaff, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, recently described his vision for “Enlightened Moderation,” an article that echoed the same themes as former Malaysian strongman Mahathir Mohammed. The theme of these Islamic “reformers” is this: that the Muslim world needs the economic and technological development that is only possible if they import the education and technical knowledge offered by the West–studying our ideas, adopting our mental habits, and opening the Muslim world up to Western intellectual influence. But both Musharaff and Mahathir are desperately trying to find a way to do the impossible: to open their societies to the benefits of our civilization’s science, while maintaining their civilization’s traditional religious dogmas.

That is the Arab and Muslim dilemma. Our scientific, technological, industrial civilization is the very thing that makes their Arab oil valuable, and it is our science and technology that the Muslims need to harness to avoid becoming a politically, militarily, and economically irrelevant backwater. But this is also the influence that will destroy their civilization.

There is no way out of this dilemma. And that is why I keep reminding my readers that, as I put it, “the enemy has problems of his own”–problems far worse than we face. No matter what setbacks we suffer in this clash of civilizations, and no matter what material terrors they may succeed in visiting on us in the short term, the dusty dictates of Islam are no match for the intellectual and spiritual power of our civilization.

Western ideas are the hinge of the world. That hinge is closing in upon them, and they cannot stop it.

Robert Tracinski is the editor and publisher of TIA Daily and the Intellectual Activist.

Copyright© 2002 The Intellectual Activist