Monday, August 12, 2013

All together now

Image via Gluteeny.

Thomas P. Friedman, better known as Thomas L. Friedman, the Mystax Universalis, had an interesting experience, talking to some Arab people instead of their rulers and financiers for a a change (no taxi driver jokes here, please, I'm pretty sure I've established that Friedman has almost never spoken to an actual taxi driver):
It’s been a fascinating journey because it forced me to look at the Middle East through the lens of Arab environmentalists instead of politicians. When you do that, you see the problems and solutions very differently. Environmentalists always start by thinking about [jump]
the health of the “commons” — the shared air, soil, forests and water — that are the basis of all life, which, if not preserved, will undermine the whole society. The notion that securing the interests of any single group — Shiite or Sunni, Christian or Muslim, secular or Islamist — over the health of the commons is nuts to them.
Then he went to Kansas to ask a white guy if it was really true, and it was!
My teacher here was Wes Jackson, the MacArthur award winner, based in Salina, where he founded The Land Institute. Jackson’s philosophy is that the prairie was a diverse wilderness, with a complex ecosystem that supported all kinds of wildlife, not to mention American Indians — until the Europeans arrived, plowed it up and covered it with single-species crop farms, mostly wheat, corn, or soybeans. 
(Really needs to be an Oxford comma after "plowed it up" there.)

The upshot is that he has composed a truly valuable column for once, in favor of "diversity, pluralism, and tolerance", with a single spectacular flaw.

The value is in an analogy that really works, between biological and cultural ecology, and the denunciation of "pure" cultures, with the invocation of the Arab Golden Age, openly quoting from Wikipedia, no less! (Imagine David Brooks acknowledging in public that he uses Wikipedia!)
What is going on in the Arab world today is a relentless push, also funded by fossil fuels, for more monocultures. It’s Al Qaeda trying to “purify” the Arabian Peninsula. It’s Shiites and Sunnis, funded by oil money, trying to purge each other in Iraq and Syria. It’s Alexandria, Egypt, once a great melting pot of Greeks, Italians, Jews, Christians, Arabs and Muslims, now a city dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, with most non-Muslims gone. It makes these societies much less able to spark new ideas and much more susceptible to diseased conspiracy theories and extreme ideologies. To be blunt, this evolution of Arab/Muslim polycultures into monocultures is a disaster.
The flaw is in what doesn't get mentioned: the oldest experiment in diseased national monoculture in the region, the phantasm of a "Jewish state", a country that somehow of itself, as opposed to the people in it, is supposed to have a race, or a religion, although you can't even tell which.

If any people in the world should understand the value of state pluralism, you'd think it would be Jews, who have lived it from Babylon to Brooklyn with so much glory for almost all of their history except for that brief and fatally fissiparous kingdom at the outset of historical memory, contemporary with the Homeric Era and the Western Zhou dynasty, and whose experience of the racial state (Spain in 1492, Germany in 1938) is so dreadful. Jews prove Friedman's point, but the Jewish State of Israel is continuously used to deny it. In fact, you might try arguing that Israel is the (unwitting) cause of this welter of purges and puritanisms, having set the example in the first place, just as it started the regional nuclear arms race (but we never mention that either). Israel is why Arabs refuse to believe this stuff; not talking about Israel is what keeps the push to monocultures alive.
Friedman's room: What elephant? Via Coding Horror (a post, believe it or not, about another kind of monoculture, Google's) 

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