Sunday, July 01, 2007

Mark Steyn's America Alone, VII--So What Can We Do? Part 2

This post is brought to you thanks to input from a friend who was reading Steyn along with me and pulled "suggestions" that he didn't list quite so nicely in a numbered sequence.

Overall, Steyn said, we need to pursue a policy of decentralized self-reliance; refuse to embrace the siren song of more centralized government.

[We] embrace big government at [our] peril. The silliest thing Dick Cheney ever said was a couple of weeks after September 11: "One of the things that's changed so much since September 11 is the extent to which people do trust the government--big shift--and value it, and have high expectations for who we can do." Really? I'd say September 11 vindicated perfectly a decentralized, federalist, conservative view of the state: what worked that day was municipal government, small government, core government--the firemen, the NYPD cops, rescue workers. What flopped--big-time . . . --was federal government, the FBI, CIA, INS, FAA, and all the other hotshot, money-no-object, fancypants acronyms.

America Alone, 183-184

Steyn compares the U.S. immigration service to Amazon.

"Amazon is a more efficient data miner than U.S. Immigration. Is it to do with their respective budgets? No. Amazon's system is very cheap, but it's in the nature of government to do things worse, and slower."
On a morning when big government failed, the only good news came from private individuals. The first three planes were effectively an airborne European Union, where the rights of the citizens had been appropriated by the FAA's flying nanny state. Up there were the air is rarefied, all your liberties have been regulated away. . . . But, on the fourth plane, they . . . used their cell phones, discovered that FAA regulations weren’t going to save them, and then acted as free men, rising up against the terrorists and, at the cost of their own lives, preventing that flight carrying on to its target in Washington. . . . The Cult of Regulation failed, but the great American virtues of self-reliance and innovation saved the lives of thousands: "Let's roll!" as Mr. Beamer told his fellow passengers.

America Alone, 185

My friend summarized the specifics of Steyn's message as follows:
  • Be PRO-active instead of RE-active.
  • Act as free men and women. Take responsibility for yourself!
  • Have the government enlist/hire/contract with private database-marketing firms like Amazon to perform INS functions--that way, no flight school would get a letter, two years after the students died from having flown a commercial jet into the World Trade Center, that said students are being granted student visas.
  • "Restore the balance between the state and the citizen . . ." (pg. 188). That means we have to vote for candidates who will actively work and we ourselves must also actively work to "shrink the state" (p. 190) and take more personal responsibility for our lives.
  • "[R]estore advantages to parenthood . . . " (p. 189).
  • "We need to redirect the system to telescope education into a much shorter period" (p.191). --How about reworking the school-church nexus altogether?
  • "[U]se [our] own judgment in assessing a situation . . . " (p. 188).
    [M]y basic rule of thumb since September 11: anything that shifts power from the individual judgment of free citizens to government is a bad thing, not just for the war on terror but for the national character in a more general sense.

    Charles Clarke, formerly Britain's home secretary, gave a revealing glimpse into the big-government mentality in a column for the Times defending the latest allegedly necessary security measure: "ID cards will potentially make a difference to any area of everyday life where you already have to prove your identity--such as opening a bank account, going abroad on holiday, claiming a benefit, buying goods on credit and renting a video."

    "Renting a video"? That sounds about right. When you go to Blockbuster, you'll need your national ID card. But if you're an Algerian terrorist cell coming in on the Eurostar from Paris to blow up Big Ben, you won't. And its requirement for the routine transactions of daily life--"opening a bank account . . . buying goods on credit"--will . . . relieve bank managers and store clerks of the need to use their own judgment in assessing the situation. You'd have to have an awful lot of faith in government to think that's a good thing.

    Britain's religious "hate crimes" law is another example of . . . attempt[ing] to supplant human judgment with government management: the multicultural state is working out so well that we can no longer be trusted to regulate our own interactions with our neighbors. Islam, unlike Anglicanism, is an explicitly political project: sharia is a legal system, but, unlike English Common Law or the Napoleonic Code, for the purposes of public debate it will henceforth enjoy the special protection of Her Majesty's Government. Given that the emerging Muslim lobby groups are already the McDonald's coffee plaintiff of ethno-cultural grievance-mongers, you can be certain they'll make full use of any new law. Political debate in Europe is already hedged in by excessive squeamishness: Holland's "immigration problem" is a Muslim problem, France's "youth problem" is a Muslim problem, the "terrorism threat" that necessitates those British ID cards is in reality an Islamic threat. How is preventing honest discussion of the issue going to make citizens any safer?

    The term "nanny state" hardly covers a society where you need retinal-scan ID in order to rent Mary Poppines but you're liable for prosecution if you express your feelings too strongly after the next bombing.

    America Alone, 187-188

And then this one final set of comments, from the very end of Steyn's book, on pp. 213-214:
It is absurd: how can the most advanced society in human history fall to a bunch of ignorant death cultists? Well, who do you think advanced societies do fall to? Something worse, something barbarous, something prepared to fight when you're not.
Steyn quotes from an 1898 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle--yes, that Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes--novel, The Tragedy of the Korosko (otherwise known as A Desert Drama), "the story of a party of Anglo-American-French tourists on a trip up the Nile who wind up getting kidnapped by the al Qaeda of the day--the followers of the Mahdi."

"It's my opinion that we have been the policemen of the world long enough," says Cecil Brown, a Brit.
"We policed the seas for pirates and slavers. Now we police the land for Dervishes and brigands and every sort of danger to civilization. There is never a mad priest or a witch doctor, or a firebrand of any sort on this planet, who does not report his appearance by sniping the nearest British officer. One tires of it at last. If a Kurd breaks loose in Asia Minor, the world wants to know why Great Britain does not keep him in order. If there is a military mutiny in Egypt, or a Jihad in the Sudan, it is still Great Britain who has to set it right. And all to an accompaniment of curses such as the policeman gets when he seizes a ruffian among his pals. We get hard knocks and no thanks, and why should we do it? Let Europe do its own dirty work."

"Well," said Colonel Cochrane, crossing his legs and leaning forward with the decision of n man who has definite opinions, "I don't at all agree with you, Brown, and I think that to advocate such a course is to take a very limited view of our national duties. I think that behind national interests and diplomacy and all that there lies a great guiding force--a Providence, in fact--which is forever getting the best out of each nation and using it for the good of the whole. When a nation ceases to respond, it is time that she went into hospital for a few centuries, like Spain or Greece--the virtue has gone out of her. A man or a nation is not placed upon this earth to do merely what is pleasant and what is profitable. It is often called upon to carry out what is both unpleasant and unprofitable, but if it is obviously right it is mere shirking not to undertake it."
Will the West as a whole--and we in the United States, in particular, shirk our duty to do good?
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