Friday, November 29, 2002

I've seen a bit of pontificating about a benign empire, and the Pax Americana, and it worries me. Suppose we tried to assemble an empire. I don't doubt that most of us, including most of our leaders, have good intentions, and would maintain these for a while. What does worry me is what happens to the folks who run empires: they breed people who assume that they are superior, and thus specially entitled to all the power and all the goodies. Anybody care to claim we don't already have quite a crowd of citizens who think they are entitled to the moon? About 12 years ago I saw a very scary bumper-sticker: Prosperity is my birthright.

We already have a surplus of arrogance. We're rich, partly because we tried to set up procedures to keep the economic system as free as we could consistent with justice, partly because we lucked out with a land with good soil and good minerals, and also because of Deut 8:18. So, we claim that if the rest of the world will just do things our way, they'll be rich and free also. Well, maybe: a lot of countries don't have a just economic system (read _most_ of them), and they'd doubtless benefit a lot from changes. But we forget that they will also have to make some of the same compromises we did along the way. And some of them have problems with natural resources that are hard to work around.

We're hypocrites as well. We demand that other countries crack down on Moslem extremists, but let them run around in our own country with essentially no supervision (unless the FBI has gotten its act together in the last few days). We trumpet free trade as a great thing, and then destroy Ghana's small farmers with subsidized rice exports.

The moral code we advertise leaves a lot to be desired. Because we fund programming with commercial advertising, we send their message: that getting stuff is the key to all happiness. We claim that abortion is good, when everybody else knows it is despicable; that "alternative sexuality" is normal when it is known to be perverse; that radical individualism is proper when everybody else knows that you owe a great deal to your family and friends. You and I know people who don't believe these claims, and maybe even live by fairly strict moral codes, but the rest of the world never finds out about them.

Don't misunderstand me: We have a number of virtues as well, and I can't think of any other culture that is better--and most are horribly worse. But whenever a man stands up to lecture me about my faults I'm quick to spot his defects and ask "Who died and made you God?" Generally the lecturer doesn't respond with due humility, and I tune him out. Likewise the rest of the world with us.

The "blame America first" confessional approach doesn't help make lectures go down any better abroad. And we do have some answers to hard problems in the world. We have some wrong answers as well, and quite a few answers that need a little local tinkering to make them work.

So I'd be very afraid to see us starting to run large chunks of the world. We'll screw up some things, but on the whole the lives of people in our protectorates would get better. At first. But we will become still more arrogant and detested, and as our sense of entitlement grows so also will our exploitation of the protectorates. Maybe they'll still be better off by the third generation than they would be otherwise, but I hate to think what kind of people we'll be.

No comments: