I wonder if the 21st century might see
a competition among various cultures for survival. What one might expect to see
survive might be a melange of various cultural memes and traditions. The U. S.
has picked up words and foods from various ethnic groups. Mexican and Italian
restaurants are very popular in the U. S, as are Chinese and Japanese
restaurants. And there are cultural enclaves within our cities, including
mosques and synagogues.
There's certainly nothing that says that Western culture is better than other cultures, or that we must all endorse the same culture. I like the idea of not putting all our eggs in one basket. And sometimes, I have concerns myself about where our culture is heading.
One factor that needs to be considered in discussions of morality and moral degeneration is that the elder generation has always accused the world of going to hell in a handbasket. I wish I had a copy of the jeremiad, written in Sanskrit, that tells how the younger generation has lost all respect for their elders, has become perverted and hedonistic, and how how lazy and irresponsible they've gotten.
We've been living through a time when populations have shifted from rural to urban environments. More than half the world's population now lives in cities. We're no longer living in small towns where everyone knows everyone else' family history. With modern communications and transportation being what they are, we're going global at a startling rate. There will be changes in lifestyle as these other changes occur.
In the end, we all need to get along with each other, as the world becomes smaller and smaller. India and Pakistan will be neighbors for a long time.
1-13-2002: I always hate myself when I write windy disquisitions like the one below. In the first place, unlike scientific or mathematical terms, the words we use in these kinds of discussions, are vaguely defined. Precisely what does "hedonism" mean? Is it climbing a mountain? Is it watching TV? Is it drinking in a cheap waterfront bar? Is it swallowing live goldfish out of a slipper? Is it partying 24 hours a day? Precisely what are "extremists"? What are "Western values or the perceived lack thereof"? Do I have "Western values or the perceived lack thereof"? Do you? What fractions of what "Western" populations have what values at what times? Is Japan a Western nation for the purposes of such a discussion? Is Greece? Turkey? Cuba? South Africa? Liberia? Unfortunately, political "science", at least as practiced by politicians, and particularly, as bandied about by armchair politicians like me, is anything but a science. So the precise definitions of terms would seem to be a prerequisite to a productive discussion.
I'm grateful to the author (Salman Kureshi) for having elucidated his perceptions of the feelings of other Muslims. I'm shocked by the message, but I appreciate the messenger.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for avoiding politics is that it's such a waste of time. Nothing I say is likely to change the course of history.
1-12-2002: Tonight, I'm enclosing some articles taken from The Friday Times, Lahore, Pakistan. A picture in my 1936 geography book of a street scene in Lahore would probably have consisted of a fakir sitting cross-legged in the dirt, charming a cobra out of a wicker basket. But as you'll see from these and other articles, the Lahoris are as much like us as we are. The Friday Times provides an eloquent exposition of Paki concerns and daily doings. It has also fired me up to want to do whatever I can to share my lot with third-world nations, and to see them empowered to reach parity with the West. (As I've mentioned in connection with green power, Tommie Jean and I are conserving energy around our house.)
There is a passage in Salman Kureshi's "Roots of Terrorism" that at first took my breath away when he says,
"It is a deep-seated loathing, a stomach-wrenching hatred near the very centre of being, which is driving the Islamist attitude to the West. It is a hatred so potent that it can override a father’s grief, suppress all pity and even self-preservation instincts in a pilot directing a ‘plane towards its fiery denouement."
"And it is not only Muslim extremists, so-called fundamentalists. The man in the street, whether or not he approves of violence, shares this instinctive gut hatred. Likewise, many liberals in the Muslim world, who dislike fundamentalism and are quite alienated from the man in the street by reason of their westernised lifestyles, assume there must be ‘Jewish conspiracies’ and suchlike behind all US actions.
"It is worth observing
that many of the most ‘fundamentalist’ Muslims are to be found among those
who have migrated to Western countries, who share in that prosperity and social
mobility while condemning everything they observe. This is not hypocrisy. It is
a genuine distaste for Western values or the perceived lack thereof. It is
disgust for the hedonistic lifestyles, the sexual permissiveness, the
anarchic family relationships, the imperialistic world presence."
Of course, these passages are as outrageous as they are wrong. They took my breath away. Hedonistic lifestyles? Are these Muslim liberals living in an alternate universe? I'm sure there are a few hedonistic Americans somewhere, but think about it! How much fun is full-time hedonism? Half-time hedonism? Would you want to spend your time partying? And when would you find time for hedonism? Most of us have to work for a living, not to mention taking care of the yard, washing and waxing the car, washing the windows, the dishes, and the laundry, grocery shopping, painting, repairing, feeding the children, giving them their baths, reading them bedtime stories, changing the baby's diapers, teaching them how to ride bicycles, attending their school plays, taking them to their ball games, making sure they do their homework, sitting up with them at night when they're sick, taking them to see the doctor, and on and on and on. In the U. S., with husbands and wives both working, there's no time for hedonism, unless you define racing every waking moment from breakfast to bedtime as hedonistic behavior. Every minute is rationed out. Besides, how could we function as well as we do if our society were pathological? Why are we so happy? How come our churches are full? And why the U. S.? It was Europe that owned the Muslim world. The U. S. never occupied it.
Then I began to notice what's on TV. There are the soaps. There are the human interest shows where therapists tell women to fulfill themselves. "If your marriage isn't fulfilling, end it!" There's very little of a wholesome, family-oriented nature, like "The Walton's" or "Little House on the Prairie". Our media are driven by the appetites of the public. Maybe that plays a role in this.
For the last quarter of a century, we've been living through a feminist revolution that is unprecedented. The last time women enjoyed equality with men was in the Stone Age. At first, in the 70's and 80's, the movement may have gone too far. Then in the 90's, some women decided that reaching the top of the organization required too many sacrifices to make sense, and I think there has been a retrenchment among some career women. Another part of the transition has seen a skyrocketing divorce rate in the West. The arguments given were that a bad marriage is worse than no marriage at all. But divorce is hard on children, and this trend seems to be reversing. (I'm sure that much of male-female behavior is driven by instincts. After 25 years of women's lib, women's magazines still have the same preoccupation with beauty, men, and home and hearth as they did in the 1940's. Men's magazines still revolve around sports, hunting and fishing, cars, and other impersonal topics.)
Sexual freedom has taken the form of more one-night stands than when I was 20, and of couples living together before they're married. (We didn't do that. It wasn't respectable.) But sexual freedom is dangerous. You can become romantically involved. For the woman, there's the very real danger of rearing her children as a single parent, and without a father. Women don't like to do that. I don't think this feminist revolution has completely sorted itself out yet. And there's no reason to single out the United States.
Born in a strait-laced, semi-Victorian era, I've lived through the "Sexual Revolution", without finding it particularly disturbing. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Anarchic family relationships? Perhaps in those families in which divorces have occurred. For whatever reasons, divorces run in families and stable marriages run in families. Divorce is virtually non-existent in some families and rampant in others. Virtually none of the individuals in my Division at NASA were divorced. Virtually none of the people who lived on our street were divorced. Still, there must be other families in which virtually everyone is divorced, or the divorce rate wouldn't be 50%.
What is hard to understand is the attitude of the Muslims who loathe the United States. You wonder why they're still here. One article I read observed that Islam's most militant mullahs and sufi's migrate to theliberal Western democracies (particularly London) because expatriate Muslims provide most of the funding for extreme Islamicists. Perhaps that's a part of it. Also, they might not be tolerated back home. I also read that U. S. Muslims feel more estranged from U. S. society than do other immigrant groups.
We're all immigrants over here. I give thanks approximately every other day for my good fortune in being born at this time and place. I may not endorse sex out of wedlock, but I have never found it to be a burning issue worthy of my time. Mothers do their best to keep family relationships from being anarchic. That's built into the genes. I think most U. S. citizens are quite satisfied with the U. S. Some measure of how U. S. citizens feel about their country has been given during the past few months.
Ultimately, I think we need to be working slowly toward a planetary government in the same slow way that Europe has been working toward the European Union. Europe was a cauldron of constant warfare for two millennia, but now it's coming together. Different peoples, different beliefs, but common goals, and a tolerance for differences. That's also a part of the grand design for the U. S. (and most other modern nations these days).
I didn't intend to get on a soapbox here. This is just my immune-system reaction to Salman Kureshi's passages. But I felt I shouldn't let this go unanswered (silent assent) by someone who was born into a near-Victorian culture, and who hasn't experienced the hedonism or depravity Mr. Kureshi is describing..
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