The Discerning Texan

All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke
Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Book you should Read: The Suicide of Reason

I've been reading Lee Harris' new effort The Suicide of Reason, and I must say this is an astoundingly good book. I was up into the wee hours of the morning reading it last night and I think it is Harris' best book yet--which is really saying something after his thought-provoking 2004 effort, Civilization and its Enemies-The Next Stage of History. I really enjoyed that one, but I think this time he has positively outdone himself; Harris' knowledge of Classical Western History, together with his depth of understanding of the threat which Fanatical Islam poses to the civilized world, makes for interesting intellectual--but not difficult--reading. I recommend this book highly, which is why I have it Amazon-linked on my site.

As a means of whetting your appetite for this book, here is a slightly edited (for brevity) version of a selected paragraphs from his Preface, in which Harris discusses the notion of clashes other "tribes" who do not play by the rules of "civilization" and rationality played by one's own "tribe":

This brings us to something of a paradox. The rational actor who insists on staying a rational actor when the world has reverted to the ways of the jungle is not, in fact, acting rationally. Rationality at this point, requires group solidarity. It involves the surrender of moral autonomy and the fanatical embrace of the tribe. Furthermore, it involves the discarding of the normal rules of engagement that work well in a community composed primarily of rational actors.

Today the political and intellectual leadership of the West is composed of men and women who are rational actors accustomed to dealing only with other rational actors. Yet the world that confronts them at the beginning of the new millennium is more and more becoming a world in which the law of the jungle rules human affairs. But who among our leaders even remembers what the law of the jungle is about? None of them has risen to power by virtue of brute force or even a bloodless coup d'├ętat. Each of them obtained his or her position of power and influence by following the normal channels by which people rise to the top in a liberal society. [....] In short, they played by the rules.

The first law of the jungle, however, states that in the struggle for survival and supremacy, there are no rules. Anything that achieves victory is automatically self-justifying. Methods that are looked upon by rational actors as barbarous, savage, or bestial are all deemed acceptable if they obtain their objective. This objective, moreover, will not be the good of the individual but the advancement and dominance of one's own tribe. For the second law of the jungle says that loners are losers. If you lack a tribe to back and support you, you will perish. To survive in a dog-eat-dog world you must run in packs--and the tribe is the pack. Taken together, the first two laws of the jungle yield the third law: You must unconditionally support your own tribe or pack, and you must be prepared to act with utter ruthlessness toward those who belong in other tribes or packs. You must see members of the enemy tribe not as individuals or as fellow humans; you must see them as your existential enemy. [....]

Those who follow the laws of the jungle will regard as good and virtuous precisely those human qualities that are shunned and proscribed by the cultures of reason created by rational actors. Fanatical devotion and commitment to your tribe and pack, accompanied by a fanatical hatred for your enemy, are considered sterling virtues. Likewise, the virtues of the rational actor, such as the avoidance of violence, the willingness to compromise, tolerance of other tribes and their traditions, are looked upon as signs of cowardice, imbecility, or a traitorous lack of loyalty to one's own tribe. Thus it is virtually impossible for those who follow the laws of the jungle to find a common ground with those whose highest ethical aim is to abolish these very laws and replace them with cultures of reason. What is day to one is night to the other; what is good to one is evil for the other. The fanaticism abhorred by the rational actor becomes the collective bond that keeps the tribal mind together. Rational actors teach and train their children to hate fanaticism, and to behave by the canons of reason; tribal actors teach and train their children to regard fanaticism as the highest duty they have as members of their tribe. Rational actors pass on a culture of reason; tribal actors pass on a culture of fanaticism. To us, it is obvious that they are wrong, and we are right. To them, it is just as obvious that they are right, and we are wrong.

This book will not try to answer the question, Who is really right? Instead it will examine what are the strengths and weaknesses of both the rational actor and the tribal actor. It will ask, If we are facing a return of the jungle, who, in the long run, will win: the rational actor and his culture of reason; or the tribal actor, with his culture of fanaticism? This is not a moral question--it is simply a question of who will prevail. [...]
The fanaticism of the "fundamentalist" Islamic world is virtually unchanged from when Islam first spread to the West (via the sword) in the 9th century. The Islamist zealots are still out there folks--in fact, as Mark Steyn argues, they are multiplying exponentially faster than we are demographically, and their fanaticism grows stronger with each apparent "retreat" of the West. All the lit candles, mantras, hand-holding, and belief that the "boo boo" will just magically disappear if we "play nice" is not going to change this fact. This is one hell of a book, and it will really make you think. Joe Bob says: "Check it out."

(As an aside, this discussion also brings to mind a great post-Katrina essay by Bill Whittle called Tribes--which can also be found in his excellent book Silent America...)

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DiscerningTexan, 8/04/2007 02:15:00 PM |