Home > General > Monday Message Board

Monday Message Board

December 29th, 2003

At this time of year, I tend to lose track of what day it is. But I belatedly realise it’s Monday and time for your comments on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please).

Categories: General Tags:
  1. observa
    December 29th, 2003 at 18:13 | #1

    Many of us must be a little disturbed by the sorts of edicts from Islam, typically espoused in items like ‘Peaceful Religion Watch’(27/12/2003) on ‘littlegreenfootballs.com’ Ms Ashrawi’s seeming ignorance of some of Palestinian Islam’s finer points is also a concern. A trek around the blogs will also reveal more worrying pockets of Islamic thought. To what extent these sorts of edicts represent what could be described as mainstream Islam, is anyone’s guess, particularly for the layperson.

    However, I must confess that to this layman, modern Islam has a very glaring weakness. Unlike the Catholic or Anglican churches, it doesn’t appear to have a necessary, hierarchical structure, with which to deal with the need for Reformation or new realities. The Christian Churches can grapple with moral and ethical questions of the day(eg abortion,homosexuality) with their elected wise counsels, determine a common approach and disseminate it to their flock. With Islam, it would appear to be left to individual tribes or even individual Mullahs instituting coups(eg Lakemba Mosque) or local power struggles, in order to take over with their interpretation of The Good Book.

    I suppose my philosophical question is- Does Islam need the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, if it is to reform itself and be a beacon of light and progress for the Arab world?

  2. December 29th, 2003 at 21:16 | #2

    Most religions operate without centralised hierarchies. Even the Protestant branch of Christianity has no effective centralising model because the solution to disagreements is usually secession. Buddhism and Hinduism do not have centralised hierarchies apart from the anomalous position of the Dalai Lama in the Vajrayana sect.

    Islam’s position is not unusual and arguably a lot of allegedly Christian terrorists operate in the US against abortion clinics without being much troubled by a lack of official support from any hierarchy.

  3. December 29th, 2003 at 23:20 | #3

    Observa – that would be a revolutionary change and not a reform, almost by definition, precisely because there is that internalised approach with its unifying of the secular and the religious. What you describe is like someone trying to make a two stroke engine “better” than a four stroke one so as to get the advantages of its simplicity; by the time you engineer everuthing in, it’s more complicated than the four stroke one would have been. You might as well say, the best way to reform Islam is to destroy it. If you want to face up to the implications of that in order to attain your own ends, well and good, but it is self-deception to suppose that that would produce a reformed Islam. It would be a non-Islam, just as much as the Druse or Bahai are.

  4. derrida derider
    December 30th, 2003 at 09:16 | #4

    Umm, Observa – the lack of a stultifying central hierarchy is an important reason that Protestantism was “objectively pro-liberal”, even when it was subjectively even more anti-liberal than the Vatican – which body, BTW, has never been a friend of democracy or science (try this ex cathedra pronouncement for an example). Even within Islam, the forces that led to the early mediaeval flowering of knowledge and tolerance originated in the fringe sects which were not controlled by the imams and mullahs of the Caliphate.

    This is of course a well-worn theme – see this or this.

  5. Dave Ricardo
    December 30th, 2003 at 09:40 | #5

    Well, didn’t that parliamentary inquiry into child custody work out well (not) for the government?

    It was really funny seeing family services minister Larry Anthony run away from it as fast as his little legs could carry him.

    “The government will consider it for quite some time”, he said.

    I’ll bet they will. Releasing it between Christmas and new Year might just bury it, as intended, but maybe not.

    Little Johnny really shouldn’t have got the hopes up of these anti-women’s groups by pandering to their prejudices and holding the inquiry. Not only has his girl Kay Hull not delivered what they wanted, she’s even recommended things that will make things worse! (From their point of view, so they are saying.)

    No wonder they are using words like “betrayal”.

    They won’t forgive him. And these are his natural constituents.

    BTW, how would this joint custody thing work when the parents don’t live close to each other? Would the children go to one school Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and to a different school Thursday and Friday? Or what?

  6. Jim Birch
    December 30th, 2003 at 14:40 | #6

    As far as I can see Islam isn’t really any worse than Christianity by virtue of existence or absence of the particular structures. Neither can the relevant holy texts be held to blame. The Christian bible contains an array of directives to murder, even for as little as working on a Sunday. The governing bodies of Christian churches have so far failed to have these ordinances excised or clearly repudiated.

    A trek around the blogs will also reveal worrying pockets of Christian thought. Fortunately, these are not particularly mainstream, although it has, for example, been argued that GW Bush has claimed or at least implied a mandate from the Christian God for the bombing of Iraqi civilians.

    For and explanation for why liberal democracies haven’t developed in the ME I’d be looking at things like education levels and living standards, and also consider the effect of that colonial histories. I imagine that if the Japanese had successfully invaded Australia in the second world war we would have a proud tradition of anti-colonial terrorism, no doubt sanctioned by the relevant God.

  7. Factory
    December 30th, 2003 at 15:31 | #7

    “The Christian Churches can grapple with moral and ethical questions of the day(eg abortion,homosexuality) with their elected wise counsels, determine a common approach and disseminate it to their flock.”

    Hmm in the case of the child molestation issue it was to bury it under the carpet, until being caught out red-handed, then throwing out a few edicts, but actually fixing the faults in the system that caused the problem to occur.

    That is the problem with any large organisation, particularly ones with ones headed by selected elites, they tend to end up promoting the intrests of the organisation and those that head it, not the ppl it serves.

    Hmm I’ll give the theory 3 Coulters in the ‘My theory of why Islam is completely different to every other religion, and it’s really bad’ scale. :)

  8. Homer Paxton
    December 30th, 2003 at 16:08 | #8

    Observa, you pick the possibly two worst examples with regard to denominations.

    Highly centralised control ( papist model based on the army) is not condusive with spreading the Gospel.

    Even a cursory look at the New Testament will show a highly decentralised structure which as any business school graduste wil tell you is excellent for growth.

    The Catholic system is good when you have a monopoly but not when you are in a distinct minority

  9. John
    December 30th, 2003 at 19:23 | #9

    Dave, given goodwill on both sides, issues like school can be worked out even when parents live far apart.

    In the absence of goodwill on both sides, I think Miranda Devine has a fair point. Given the axiom that the interests of the child take precedence, separated parents should be compelled to live in sufficient proximity to make access/shared parenting arrangements workable.

  10. indigo
    December 30th, 2003 at 20:09 | #10

    If separated or divorced parents could be compelled to live in close proximity, why couldn’t parents in occupations like the armed forces or merchant navy be compelled to change careers to make shared parenting workable? Seems like a slippery slope to me ….

  11. Dave Ricardo
    December 30th, 2003 at 20:28 | #11

    “Dave, given goodwill on both sides, issues like school can be worked out even when parents live far apart.”

    Really? Give me an example of how it would work.

    “separated parents should be compelled to live in sufficient proximity to make access/shared parenting arrangements workable.”

    This strikes me as a tad totalitarian. Internal passports went out the Soviet Union.

  12. John
    December 31st, 2003 at 05:46 | #12

    You’re right, Dave, but that’s the point. If you’re not willing to impose restrictions like this, the axiom that “the best interests of the child must take precedence” can’t be applied consistently, and it’s necessary to make some sort of compromise at the outset, recognising that all the parties have rights.

  13. Brian Bahnisch
    December 31st, 2003 at 12:42 | #13

    There was an example given recently on the radio. The parents lived a few hundred meters apart and got on well. The daughter had a room at both places and shared her time.

    After she came of age she was asked how she felt. She hated it. She had to have two of everything or consolidate certain types of stuff at one place. She was always running up the street to get something she had left at the other place. So she was never really at home at either place.

  14. January 1st, 2004 at 21:48 | #14

    I noticed JQ’s other article in the recent AFR, the one reviewing a new Micklethwait and Wooldridge book. It mentions an earlier one of theirs, “Future Perfect”, that they themselves previewed in the Spectator some time back.

    I wrote a response to that that the Spectator wouldn’t touch, but an online magazine called Spectacle was interested in. In the circumstances I thought I might just paste it in below and let JQ cut out anything he thinks too much; the ordinary links to it are http://www.spectacle.org/0901/lawrence.html and http://member.netlink.com.au/~peterl/publicns.html#SPEART1 (an archive copy at my own site).

    The Best of All Possible Worlds, or The Only

    Game in Town?

    By P.M.Lawrence [email protected]

    In “The Market Shall Set You Free”, in the Spectator Magazine (U.K.) for June

    24,2000, as a preview of a book they were about to release, John Micklethwait

    and Adrian Wooldridge made a number of minor yet cumulatively effective attacks

    on some perceived weaknesses of economic globalisation. It is worth looking into

    those areas a little more deeply, if only to see the true costs and harms that go with

    its putative benefits.

    Since they cited an earlier age of globalisation, beginning around the repeal of the

    Corn Laws in 1846, it’s worth looking at some of what happened then. In fact,

    parts of it were even earlier; the general peace and freedom of trade within the

    British Isles had already helped Scotland. For, make no mistake, the arrival of

    sheep in the Highlands, prompted by English markets, led to an undoubted

    increase in Scottish wealth; only, the Highlands were cleared. This is a type of

    what is happening now in developing countries, so we cannot just dismiss it as long

    past or a mere aberration – it stands for all.

    Then, English markets made raising sheep for wool comparatively advantageous in

    Scotland, rather than raising food for crofters who paid what little rent they could.

    So – and accompanied by a change in how land was held – the sheep drove out

    the men, who had trouble reskilling to grow wool. While Scotland gained, more

    than 100% of the gain went to the newly landed aristocracy; there aren’t that many

    percents, but the rest came from the broken men, worse off with wealth than

    without.

    Now, the parallel is a developing country in which subsistence farmers are driven

    off land and a cash crop grown for export instead – often coffee, which is at

    present labour intensive. But fewer workers are needed, and the “iron law of

    wages”, a race to the bottom, still applies (particularly since there is often some

    subsistence land left, so the bottom is only a top up wage even lower than

    subsistence). Those workers have to take as little as possible, as there is always

    another unskilled worker even more desperate for that top up wage. But how is

    that, when our beautiful and elegant abstraction, comparative advantage, has

    shown that all must be for the best in this, the best of all possible economic

    worlds?

    The usual answer is that this is because the general increase in wealth is

    accompanied by a wholly unrelated transfer of wealth, and it is as wrong to blame

    globalisation for the coincidental ills of kleptocracy in modern developing countries

    as it was to blame the English for the encroachments and clearances carried out by

    Scots. But this is not so, in these respects:-

    There is no coincidence. Without the means being put in their hands, none of

    the gainers could have carried things to their conclusion. And it is downright

    Panglossian to suppose there will never or should never be those who will

    use those means, and that it is those countries’ own fault for allowing it. How

    else can Scottish peers maintain themselves in London or buy part of the

    Parthenon, if not with money? And the same applies to the wealthy we now

    find in poor countries.

    Those that use the means are themselves constrained. It is what competition

    is all about; if Bute puts sheep on his land, can Campbell not? For what

    Bute gains, in part he spends, putting up the prices of necessities so the old

    rents are insufficient to maintain the old ways – yet they are all the old ways

    can afford. And so also in today’s developing countries.

    And there are the banks and such.

    Now it is quite wrong to criticise the banks as such; they are mere catalysts and

    facilitators, quite neutral in all this. But by the same token they catalyse and

    facilitate any harm that is going, buying and selling and asking no questions. The

    modern view – which is quite accurate as far as it goes, though one size most

    definitely does not fit all – is that “debt is good”, for with debt you should increase

    your revenue more than enough to pay the interest; being wise, if this is not the

    case, you do not do it. But not all are wise, any more than all are good, and what

    is more, if one borrows, can another afford not to? Sometimes – especially with

    classic externalities like the “Tragedy of the Commons” – there is little choice. If a

    farmer improves his yield with fertiliser he must borrow to buy, he does so or the

    next man does; yet if all do the price drops, since only so much food is needed -

    more than 100% of the gain goes from the country to the town which gets its food

    cheaper, and the interest must still be paid. It was partly from such as this that

    Scotland squeezed out the capital that made Fleming’s merchant bank, channelled

    through the merchants of Dundee.

    It may be said that this merely accelerates things rather than aggravates them, that

    the catalytic effect not only speeds up the harm, it also speeds up coming out the

    other side. But this is not so. In their article Micklethwait and Wooldridge remark

    “…many people feel that they just want a bit of a pause. The world has speeded up

    too fast – even for the winners.” While true, this misleads by suggesting that this is a

    mere psychological effect. But it so happens that speed matters in substantive ways

    too, because it makes ideas of equilibrium and the long run meaningless – if new

    change is arriving faster than old change can be assimilated, there is a qualitative

    difference. Look at the Highland Clearances again. From an Olympian height we

    could say, nobody owed the Scots a crofter lifestyle; let them emigrate, go to the

    cities and the factories, or to Canada or Australia. Well, they did these things and

    we their descendants indeed share in the gains.

    Only they didn’t. In the short term, you can starve. We know the cities were no

    carrot to offset the stick, because we have a natural control experiment; on Lewis

    Lord Lever built Leverburgh around fish processing, and the locals, having more

    choice, stayed away in droves. And we can see why the cities lacked appeal,

    when as late as the 1930s a Dundee tenement could have stairways dimly lit by the

    stairhead gas, flickering from a fitting bent upside down by desperate men to

    bubble monoxide through milk until it went blue for a cheap drunk, the same

    diseased cow juice that could give a child TB that rotted through the side of his

    throat until a hospital could be found. Ah, but at least there was the money for

    those.

    But there were Canada and Australia. Many drowned on the way, in coffin ships,

    and even arriving brought no relief. Here in Australia Caroline Chisholm found and

    helped starving Scots who had only the Gaelic and so could get no work; she

    interpreted for them and arranged work as contract woodcutters. You see, as well

    as distance there was a cultural journey to make. It did not matter that there were

    no legal barriers, even so there were effective barriers. Which is enough to destroy

    any argument that freedom of movement is a remaining barrier that we must take

    down, to get the full benefit of globalisation; what could Caroline Chisholm have

    done for human waves of migrants? In physics such things are a shock wave, and

    our constant change is throwing all this at us, accelerated by our very efficiency. In

    the 1846 era of the repeal of the Corn Laws, Disraeli was inspired to write “Sybil”,

    and there he wishes for some way to offset the harm to those who are thrown

    down by change, even as it lifts others up. Even then, those lifted up were the

    younger generation, the old being dropped.

    There’s more. If we may not bring Mahomet to the mountain, at least our modern

    mountains may go to him. That is, we can export jobs. Granted, we in the

    developed world have a technological edge of sorts, but it is not sustainable.

    Already some kinds of software are outsourced to places like India. Now recall

    what I noted above, about how a race to the bottom for wages can go below the

    cost of living, if only there is some subsistence land about – it gives what amounts

    to a concealed non-cash subsidy. (Disraeli also wrote of the possible desirability of

    “potato grounds”, which survived into the allotment movement and was an example

    of just such a non-cash subsistence subsidy.) Although this only happens at the

    bottom, in any country it works through the local price structure to give

    comparably lower rates than we can offer throughout. Unless, of course, we do

    something equivalent but overt, and such we are forbidden. Micklethwait and

    Wooldridge also wrote “…the far greater gains (the cheaper steel that goes into all

    our cars and houses) are diffuse and hard to spot.” Only, it isn’t “all” – it’s only so

    for those that have them, not for the dispossessed, the broken men. With some

    jobs leaking out overseas at every level, there are always some that do not get a

    gain.

    It is not a question of whether the fact that some might get a greater proportion of

    the gain might be inequitable. It is the fact that there may well be a paradoxical

    reaction, the way giving oxygen can make a patient go blind by shifting oxygen

    away from the eyes. Some may actually go back to make up the more than 100%

    elsewhere – something that is less likely with slow change, uncatalysed by the

    engines of finance. We cannot know in general, of course, only case by case; but

    we have enough of a sound theoretical framework to know we cannot rule it out a

    priori, and enough anecdotal evidence to suspect it may be happening as we

    speak, so we should in all prudence cease our rush and examine our future, case

    by case.

    We can look beyond our bellies. Micklethwait and Wooldridge also cover cultural

    matters. Well, here we are on shakier ground still: are we just burning down our

    house to roast our pig? Is our loss of our immediate means of support justified by

    some noble dream of greater cultural wealth – for it is a dream, anchored in the

    days to come, not here present. But suppose it so, for such things must always lie

    ahead before they can be sought for. It may also be that these cultural things are

    our birthright, this cost the pottage we would be fools to keep.

    We would still be cheating ourselves, two ways. First, we have already had the

    cultural enrichment; each new Big Mac is just another of the same, like the old

    joke that a certain man didn’t have twenty years’ experience, just one year’s

    experience twenty times over. Second, there’s a crowding out. Here in Australia

    it’s reaching the point that multicultural means any culture but our own, no more

    cooked vegetables but only half cooked or raw (al dente or salads, to you) – and,

    far from increasing choice, it’s more like Henry Ford’s “any colour they like so long

    as it’s black” or the school food approach where rather than being offered curry

    there is always some day in the week when curry is compulsory.

    In the end a better metaphor may be, not would we give up our pottage for our

    birthright, but “what profiteth it a man if he gain the whole world, if he lose his own

    soul?” Is this cultural bird in the bush at the price of the one in our hand, the things

    that make us what we are? While Sparta may have shunned the new to avoid

    compromising the old, even Athens embraced additions of culture without

    abandoning its own. In this area they only differed as to means. The alternative to

    multiculturalism is not narrowness but synthesis, a true diversity not

    self-abnegation.

    Peter Lawrence’s publication page is at

    http://users.netlink.com.au/~peterl/publicns.html

Comments are closed.