Friday, June 05, 2009

Catering to Altruists

Tibor R. Machan

In a speech presumably addressing “the Muslim world,” President Obama tried to be quite critical of American culture while making hardly any mention of some of the Muslim World’s outrageously immoral legacy. Let me for now not focus on how accommodating Obama managed to be toward the Muslin countries, many of which make no bones about being, for example, officially misogynous and awfully crude about punishing so called criminals. Nor is it worth discussing now how Muslim countries treat homosexuals. While America the terrible, the one Obama appears to believe is in constant, relentless need to apologize for itself, is always put on the defensive, the Muslim world seems to be getting a pass from Mr. Obama even regarding its most barbaric practices. It is really annoying to have the president of the United States of America carry on this way.

In this speech Obama said that as president of the USA it is his duty “to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear” and that “Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

But wait just a minute. Sometimes stereotypes are actually accurate, especially when they are about people in a very homogenous society. It was not altogether insulting when during the Third Reich people formed a very unfavorable image of Germans as such. Sure there were exceptions but as a rule the Germans were then a very disagreeable, ugly lot. Sitting by and even taking active part while 6 million Jews are being exterminated by one’s leader--Fuehrer--lends itself to people thinking badly of you, of all of you, in fact. So sometimes stereotyping makes very good sense.

Just think of how often the early European immigrants to the Americas are now seen as vicious invaders who treated the natives with nearly universal brutality. Is that some “crude stereotype”? Or maybe it is in fact the truth, generally, with only occasional significant exceptions?

Then consider, also, what Obama thinks is a nasty stereotype of America, “a self-interested empire.” To start with, empires have no selves--they are not individual human beings, no collective entities. Empires consist of some rather few rulers in a country, ones who take advantage of their position to bully others around the world. Often this bullying is anything but self-interested--most often it is perpetrated as an intensely altruistic mission, one aiming to export only good thing to other lands. It is usually such altruism that leads to the policy of building empires, even if some elements of empire building do flow from a country’s rulers’ interest to benefit themselves.

Then there is the plain fact that America is not being stereotyped when understood as a country that welcomes a certain kind of self-interest on the part of its citizenry. After all, the American Founders were very fond of everyone’s right to the pursuit of happiness, something that can properly be regarded as selfish. I for one make no secret of my desire to live a happy life and, thus, to be significantly selfish, though not to the point of intruding upon my fellows, ripping them off, demanding that they live for me, something many altruists appear not to mind doing.

That, by the way, is what’s so disingenuous about altruists--they advocate that other people think not of themselves first but of them! Just a pretense at generosity, then, not the genuine article which is actually the feature of those who seek happiness and are glad that so do others!

When I was ready to escape Europe, especially communism, a major reason was that in the West and in America, especially, there appeared to be a public policy afoot based on the belief in everyone’s basic right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--all rather selfish things, if you ask me. A country that makes this its official public policy rather than some phony “ask not what you can do for yourself but what you can do for your country,” is truly user-friendly for its population. And so I gladly accept that stereotype about America, despite our current president’s cavalier belittling of this aspect of the country.

Finally, for now, why is it the president’s job to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam or America or anyone else? Is the president our moral guide? Is he our parent whose job is to cultivate ethics in their children? Not at all--he is the presiding officer of the federal government, period.

It is pathetic how perverse an idea of political leadership guides this new president. He should back off already.

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