måndag 16 maj 2011

Mark Steyn: America Alone

In our popular "We Read Terrible Books So You Don't Have To" department, we have Mark Steyn's America Alone, unfortunately not an atypical offering from Regnery Publishing.

After the 9/11 tragedy, you saw quite a bit of something approaching insanity on both sides of the political spectrum. On the (often vaguely- and/or undemocratic) left, you could see cheering because finally it was the US on the receiving end. Alternatively, or coupled with this first, sick sentiment, you could see conspiracy theories about how this was all a big US (and/or Israeli) plot to get an excuse to invade the Middle East. On the right-wing side of the spectrum, the unhingement was instead usually about how the US needed to get tough, and throw its military weight around – and, bizarrely, also cut taxes or the terrorists would have won. (Frequently, those most enamored with that sort of military adventurism were people who'd preferred to pursue a life of wealth and comfort rather than actually jeopardize their own bodies doing military service. See Roy Zimmerman's Chickenhawk for a biting satire of that attitude.)

Anyway, Steyn is an example of the "Happy Warriors" who are happy to exhort others to go fight the battles they consider so important that others do have to go fight them, but not quite so important that they actually need to pitch in themselves and risk their own hides. In his America Alone, Steyn puts forward some propositions that I'll take a look at. Unfortunately, there's not really space to take on the whole boook, which is so full of vicious attacks that I'd need more time than I have to go through them all, and which is also unfortunately not written in a particularly analytical style. Instead, Steyn seems to be using vitriol and insinuations to cover up the fact that he deals mainly in assertions and anecdotes, and very little in actual data. Instead, he tends to back up or support his assertions with, well, more assertions.

Basically, this is Steyn's thesis: Demographics is really the only important issue facing us today, and demographically, Muslims are out-breeding Europeans to the point that it's a slo-mo genocide taking place, leading to the extinction of Europeans and Muslims taking over the continent. (Let's leave aside, for the moment, the somewhat racist – or bigoted, if one of those people who like to use the rather transparent "How can it be racist when Islam's a religion?" counter-"argument" is reading this – belief implicit in his argument, that Muslims somehow can't be Europeans. Let's also leave aside the debunking the "Eurabia" myth has received, and instead look at Steyn's own arguments.)

In his eagerness to vilify people who've supposedly made the West "weaker" by, for instance, arguing that we need to be careful with the Earth's resources, Steyn mocks people like the Club of Rome because their worst-case scenarios haven't come to pass – though my own recollection of the Club of Rome (caution: which it is a couple of decades since I read) is that they conditioned their predictions with "if we keep increasing our consumption of resources and don't find new ones". Meanwhile, Steyn's own demographic disaster scenarios are – even if we ignore the above-mentioned debunking his numbers have received – dependent on him drawing out alleged trends into the future without any concern for the fact that they, like the Club of Rome predictions, are quite sensitive to outer factors that Steyn prefers to pretend won't influence events.

So, even within his own arguments, he's not being logical. Or, if you like, he's being either intellectually dishonest or incompetent. (Or both, which is certainly my bet.) He also occasionally pays lip service to the fact that the existence of violent Islamists – which it would unwise to deny – doesn't in any way mean that all or even a significant amount of Muslims are dangerous fanatics, and then proceeds to basically treat if not all so at least a majority of Muslims as if they're dangerous fanatics. Again, intellectual dishonesty or incompetence, or a combination (which is, again, my bet).

Steyn also blames "social democracy" – which to him seems to include social liberalism and any liberalism and conservatism that doesn't say "screw you" to people who need temporary or continuous assistance from society to get by and/or prosper. Apparently, in Mr. Steyn's world, not starving when you have a temporary or chronic lack of funds makes you weak and reduces your will to have children. Of course, the nations in Europe having the lowest birth rates are generally the ones who haven't gone as far in the so-called "nanny state" direction as the Scandinavian ones... In short, Steyn doesn't care to do any actual analysis when it's so much easier to just throw out assertions and vitriol. Again: intellectual dishonesty, incompetence, or both (and my bet remains the same as before).

In short, this book really sucks. It's a distasteful piece of bigotry and viciousness, "supported" by rich helpings of specious reasoning and unvalidated assertions, and it's a perfect example of why the American Right badly needs to sober up before it can be any sort of positive political force in the future. Unfortunately, with it being so delightedly drunk on oodles of money from thinktanks, billionaire cranks, and corporations looking to influence elections and policy, I don't expect that to happen in the forseeable future.


Anyway, at the end of the book, Steyn offers his solutions for the problem with violent political Islamicists and Middle East dictatorships supporting its spread. They're of two kinds: the surprisingly reasonable ones, which also happen to be what liberals and most democratic socialists believe in – like supporting women's movements, liberalization, standing up for liberal values at home and abroad, marginalization of human rights violators, decreasing dependence on oil dictatorships – and characteristically ethnocentric American exceptionalism stuff like killing off international organizations that aren't sufficiently US-dominated and using military power whenever the opportunity to do so presents itself.

Again, bleah.

Update: I went back and looked at this post after the massacre in Norway by the right-wing, Islamophobic nut whose rhetoric in his "manifesto" closely mirrors that of various hate-mongers like Steyn and his extreme-right-wing colleagues. Mr. Steyn and his Islamophobia-pandering and -profiteering colleagues are of course not directly responsible for the actions of any sicko who happens to share their views, and who seems to have read and admired the writings of many of them. However, Steyn et al are definitely directly responsible for their own writings with all those half-truths, lies and exaggerations – as well as all the hate, venom and insults they regularly spew out against what they see as their enemies.

That is enough to condemn them.

(I also encourage you to examine the intellectual content of the comments made here defending Steyn's book.)

5 kommentarer:

  1. What an astonishing load of logical fallacy. What is it with the left and cognitive dissonance?

    Ironically your tedious witless drivel describes with embarrassing clarity your "writing" inability, handily self-explains your lack of global impact and Steyn's enormous success and for damn good reasons, like gee, talent, effort, an actual empirical viewpoint, wit and DEMAND.

    You seem, er, jealous somehow. Can't imagine why..Oh, I got it. Ya full of crap.

    Carry on then. Colonel Neville

  2. Well, who can argue with such cogent and erudite argumentation?

  3. While I don't think 'bleah' is a valid piece of criticism - for anything - you've raised a few interesting points, although to be honest, repeating the assertion that Steyn is full of "vitriol", without actually quoting him, is unreasonable. I've read America Alone twice and haven't seen anything 'vicious' therein.

    But surely the major criticism of Europe's welfare states is not that people are "weak" and need government help, but that people are sucking taxpayers dry who don't need any help and are perfectly capable of looking after themselves?

    As for the demographics, I'm still unclear what I think of all the conflicting sets of numbers I've read - but I do know that it's unwise to make projections either way about what will happen, and it's certainly premature to decide that 80% of Europe's Muslims are 'secular' in the way that Europeans are. Moroccan gangs who beat up Jews and gays in the Netherlands are not 'religious' per se, remember.

    And a happy 17th of May to you - the day that Norway threw off the shackles of Swedish oppression ;)

  4. Tim, I don't much care to repeat ugly stuff on the Internet. If you don't consider Steyn's insults against, for example, leading Democrats, vicious, then you don't. We have a difference of opinion. And since Steyn makes the argument that the welfare state makes people weak, I find it perfectly reasonable to bring that issue up in the review.

    Demographics is a major point for Steyn -- at least according to what he says himself. That he's so weak on the issue is then, IMO, damning in itself. But kudos to you for keeping an open mind. And please keep in mind that the majority of Steyn's liberal critics certainly aren't naïve "oh, everybody's lovely" wimps. Rather, they a) reject his depiction of reality (see the demographics link, for example), b) reject his simplistic rhetoric and c) reject the more militaristic or illiberal measures he suggests. There's a difference.

    (Note: "Bleah" isn't the criticism; it's my emotional response to the things I criticize _before_ that response.)

    Finally, by all means, congratulations to Norway. After being a rather poor country even longer than Sweden, they've managed to do pretty good for themselves, haven't they? (And without having their Scandinavian welfare state turn them into impotent wimps, I might add.)

  5. I do believe Norwegians are impotent wimps. If there was any third-world country who wanted to attack Norway, it would fall within a few hours if it wasn't for NATO (AKA U.S) assistance. As for the broader culture, it is also weak. With end-of-civilization empty preoccupation. Like traveling, organic food, the environment, etc. Then more broadly, the press and the education system is more an arm of the tyrannical Nanny-State. Forcing you to basically all think alike. Even when your culture get exported to the rest of the world, with a nutball like Burzum, we find out he's just another wimp eurotrash who think alike every other eurotrash. McDonald and Nike = Bad... What an extremist of the same-old same-old. So it is boring, unlike Denmark where there is a margin in the right-of-center who don't just comply with the mold set for all of you to fit in.

    Such agreeable creatures with such pathetic interests.