America’s most wanted
On October 22, the Varsity published an Opinions story by Joshua J. Somer entitled “Attack on US: a war of values.”
“Ever since Islamic extremists carried out cowardly terrorist attacks on the United States everyone has been scrambling frantically for answers,” it began.
Somer’s answer was that the attacks represented a war of values that pitted American values like individualism, capitalism, democracy and freedom against the values of Islam.
“Those who hate America hate it because it is the embodiment of these values. They resent America’s power, envy America’s wealth, and detest America’s liberty.”
Varsity writer Andy Canivet butts heads with Somer’s argument.
Ever since the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre, there has been ample speculation about why the attack happened. Why did it happen? Why America?
Apparently, it was because the America is the poster-child of Western Civilization, symbolizing the great Western values of democracy, capitalism, individualism, goodness, justice, liberty, and freedom. America is living proof of the success of the Western way of life, the pinnacle of greatness.
Now, there is no disputing that what took place on the eleventh of September was an act of complete and utter barbarism. There is never any justification, political, religious, or otherwise, for any murder, let alone the slaughter of thousands of people. But just because the perpetrators of this act embody the worst in humanity does not mean that as their enemies we embody the best. Ever since the attack, people have been going on at length, praising the nobility of Western values, yet all the while our most basic values of freedom and equality actually contradict each other.
In the west, we value personal liberty—freedom of opinion, and the freedom of people to choose their own path in life. Modern western culture is said to be founded upon the ideas of self-realization and self-determination. In order to work, these freedoms depend on a recognition of the value and equality of all people (except those who would blow up buildings).
That this fact is a fundamental part of western culture is evident in its inclusion in America’s Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights…”
Unfortunately, we have other important freedoms in the West: capitalism and individualism. Capitalism is the freedom of the market, the freedom to pursue wealth unhindered by any other concern. Individualism is a misinterpretation of personal liberty, one that mistakes mindless self-centredness for caring cooperation of free individuals toward a common good.
Capitalism and individualism entail a hierarchy. In order to exist, they require competition between people, which in turn requires that some people have power over many others. When people are under the power of other people, they have lost their freedom. How free are most of us, really, when most adults in the west spend twelve hours a day working and fighting traffic just to support the families we rarely see?
The fact is that in our society, with all its supposed nobility, you are only as free as you are wealthy and powerful. What happened to “all are created equal?” A rigid, unquestioning defence of capitalism is not only blind, but smacks of “backward” values of faith, sacrifice, duty, and collectivism, if only to a society and not a god.
If we really value the freedom of the individual, then we must give up capitalism as a way of life. Further, we must extend our conception of the freedom and equality of all people to include everybody, everywhere on the planet, regardless of culture.
The obvious exception is those few people who seek to gain by harming others. But it should not matter how they cause their harm. They are wrong whether they crash planes into buildings, or destroy the local culture, economy, and ecology through globalization.
We ought to quit glorifying the “war on terror.” We should stop the terrorists, fine. They’re wrong. No-freakin’-duh.
Let’s lose the fanfare and have some dignity in this grim course of action we must take. What we really ought to do is take a good long look at ourselves, culturally and individually. Do we want to protect personal freedom? Or would we rather protect the freedom of the market to become a new form of feudalism?
Capitalism is itself a form of terror, and if we are truly at war with terror, then we must find a way to transform our society, and ourselves as individuals, so that Western culture can live up to the high ideals we claim it stands for.