Thursday, July 9, 2015

What’s Next For The Arab World?

What’s Next For The Arab World?

In my last essay I explored the question: What’s Holding Arabs Back?[1] The conclusion I drew is that not enough Arabs have embraced Enlightenment values, like progress, criticism, freedom of speech, freedom of the pursuit of happiness, tolerance of dissent, respect for reason and science, and respect for the rule of law. I also pointed out that this is a soluble problem. But what exactly would it take to solve it? What would it take for a critical mass of Arabs to embrace Enlightenment values and usher in a new era of progress for them? To address this question it’s important to point out some fundamental differences between the Arab world and the West.


One major difference between us is in how we understand morality - the branch of philosophy about how people should live their lives. In the Arab world the dominant worldview says morality is about avoiding doing what you want - following a set of obligations dictated by God or society. It's about living a life of suppressing your desires for fear of punishment. Many Westerners, on the other hand, have embraced a very different worldview that says morality is about getting what you want, while first checking if what you want is good. It's about living a life of embracing your rationally-considered desires in search of reward - where reward comes in the form of mutual benefit.

This is a clash of cultures, and it boils down to a fundamental difference in how each worldview understands reality. The fear-oriented morality hinges on the false premise that conflicts of interest between people are inherent to human nature. So people with this worldview mistakenly think that in any human interaction there must be a winner and a loser - that it's impossible for everybody involved to win. So they think that there is always someone taking advantage of someone else. They think there is always the oppressor and the oppressed. 

In contrast, the merit-oriented mentality explains that there is a natural harmony between humans. That conflicts of interest are not inherent to human nature. That any human interaction can be win/win - where everybody gets what they want and nobody sacrifices anything. You go after a win/win with somebody or you avoid interacting with him at all. So, a win/lose can and should always be avoided. And if a win/lose occurs it is because somebody acted irrationally and immorally.

Effects on psychology 

This difference in understanding makes a huge impact on people. Ones philosophy greatly affects how he thinks, how he feels, and how he acts. As an example, consider that somebody who doesn’t believe that mutual benefit is possible will misinterpret the intentions of somebody who is striving for mutual benefit with him.

Take me and this essay as an example. I am writing this essay for mutual benefit. I benefit from writing it, explaining my ideas, exposing them to criticism so that I can improve my understanding. And others benefit from learning from it. 

But some Arab Muslims will misinterpret my intentions because of their unquestioned, and in many cases, subconscious assumption that there always has to be a loser. They will think that I’m trying to cheat them. That I’m trying to hurt them by encouraging them to betray their way of life. They will cling to the age old conspiracy theory that Jews have paid me off - that I don’t actually believe what I’m saying and that I’m doing it only for money. 

But they are wrong. I only want good for people. I want good for everybody, even the evil people in the world. I want them to turn good. That’s better for everybody! I don't want them to be harmed. I don't want punishment. Punishment itself is evil. It's the win/lose morality that views punishment as righteous. And it's the merit-oriented win/win morality that implies that punishment is evil. 

It’s sad that they misunderstand me. I wish they would take my words at face value, that they believe me when I say that I don't want to hurt them, that I don't want them to lose. I want all of us to be winners! That's better for me.

Now keep in mind that the West hasn't fully embraced the win/win mentality. There are still lots of Westerners who believe the false premise that conflicts of interest are inherent to human nature. Or they don't have this belief explicitly but many of their ideas contradict the win/win mentality as if they did have a belief that humans are inherently at odds - for example some westerners don't value freedom or criticism.

Here's a summary of the two opposing worldviews:

Win/lose worldview
Win/win worldview
People are naturally at odds
Natural harmony between people 
Run from shame
Eager for self-improvement
Hide ones mistakes
Find and fix ones mistakes
Unbounded progress
Hates criticism
Loves criticism

The bare minimum of agreement

With such a striking difference in how we understand the world, how can we get along? Well that's sort of the point. In order to get along with each other we must agree on a bare minimum of things. For example if we don't agree that murder, rape, and theft are wrong, then we can’t get along. If we don't agree that initiation of violence and threats of violence are wrong then we can’t live in peace. This is why governments made up of people who value Enlightenment traditions put murderers, rapists, and thieves in jail, to protect people’s freedom to live peacefully, to live in harmony with others.

Now a lot of people in the West defend the Arab world saying that the West props up dictators there. Yes, a dictatorship is bad compared to a democracy. But a democracy isn’t even a possibility yet in the Arab world. Most Arabs today don't even know the basics of self-governance and democracy. So when they have the opportunity to replace a secular dictator, they end up replacing him with a religious dictator. This is a major barrier. Democracy has no chance in a country where most people align themselves politically by their tribe and religion instead of aligning themselves by their ideas.

So, the diplomatic policy of the West has been to give financial aid to the dictators that share some level of agreement with Western interests. For example, the U.S. gave billions in financial aid annually to the dictator of Egypt Hosni Mubarak because he wanted peace with Israel and economic ties with the U.S. It was a necessary step in the right direction because previous to that Egypt was in a constant state of war with Israel.

Now I’m not saying there is no reason for hope. A few years ago, immediately after the Arab Spring, King Abdullah II of Jordan made an important move towards democracy. There are now many political parties, which means that Jordanians are starting to align themselves politically by their ideas instead of by their tribe or religion. This means that any political party could have members from any tribe or religion. 

This is a start in the right direction but there's a long way to go before there is a critical mass of people good enough to operate a democratic government. The existence of a democratic government does not guarantee that the current rulers won't destroy the democratic engine by outlawing all other political parties. That's what the Nazis did, and not enough Germans opposed them.

A crucial point here is that bad rulers should be able to be replaced peacefully. If this sort of mechanism isn't in place, then people will resort to replacing bad rulers violently. But it won't work if enough people represented by a government consider violent revolution as their main tool to oust bad rulers. Violent revolution should be the last resort because it destroys any existing infrastructure necessary for non-violent replacement of rulers.

People need to respect the non-violent way of changing rulers. If you aren't happy with your current rulers, then you should make it your responsibility to vote against them in the coming elections and to persuade others to vote the same. In the mean time, be patient. Or, you could move to a country that better aligns with your values. 

Charges of hypocrisy 

Some Westerners read what I have to say about Arabs and tell me that I shouldn't be judging and condemning them. So I want to address these charges.  

First, I don't condemn people. Condemning a person means that you don't think they can improve. Like some people will say "you're going to hell." That means they are making a prediction that the person will never change for the better. I don't do that. Arabs can improve. That's one of the main themes of my essays. 

If you read this essay and come to the conclusion that I'm condemning Arabs then the problem is that you are operating under the win/lose mentality, because it's that mentality that falsely implies that people can't change their flaws. The win/win worldview explains that any person can change any part of his mind. There is no law of nature preventing it.

Second, I do judge Arabs but these people are confused about the meaning here. They act like judging is bad. Well what does it mean to judge? It means to criticize flaws. Now you can view this as a negative thing, since a flaw is negative. But a better view is that criticism is positive because learning about a flaw gives you the opportunity to correct it. So criticism is good. Judgement is good. And for the same reason, not judging people is bad because it hides flaws and causes them to persist. And pressuring me and others to stop judging people amounts to spreading evil because you are working to silence us, to stop us from helping people fix their flaws. Viewing judgement as negative is part of the win/lose mentality, and viewing judgement as positive is part of the win/win mentality.

Now a third charge that some Westerners level against me is that I shouldn't be criticizing Arabs for lack of democracy while my own country, the U.S., doesn't have the ideal democracy. This charge doesn't make sense. It's like saying that I shouldn't criticize somebody because I'm not perfect. This is a mistake because if everybody went by this standard, then nobody would ever criticize anybody else since nobody is perfect. So the criticism engine would completely halt which would usher in a new era of stagnation. Progress is made possible because of criticism! 

Take note that this anti-criticism view is part of the win/lose mentality. In contrast, the win/win mentality embraces criticism for what it is, wonderful!

A fourth charge that some Westerners level at me is that my ideas could be used as a propaganda tool resulting in future invasions by the U.S. This one I'm really shocked to hear. My essay is clear that initiation of violence and threats of violence is wrong. We should not be invading countries unless we've been invaded or there is a credible threat of attack. An example of a credible threat of attack is Iran who is making nuclear weaponry while simultaneously calling for the complete destruction of Israel. 

Other than eminent war like this, we should not be invading countries. We should not try to topple a dictator to replace it with a democracy. Instead, our governments should use diplomacy to encourage dictators to make steps towards democracy, for their own good.

Now if the people of a dictatorship revolt, and if those revolutionaries show signs of wanting a democracy and knowing how to do it, then we could consider helping them create a democracy while also helping them have a military chance against their dictator. But be clear that it is they who must make the first move. We should only play a helping role. We should not be spearheading any violent revolutions. Spearheading a violent revolution would mean going against the people of that country. We would be acting as if they want our help when we have no reason to believe that they do want our help. That would be a win/lose situation. That's evil. 

Agent of change

One thing that’s clear is that diplomacy isn’t enough. A democracy can only work if the people have the values necessary for a democracy to work. So what’s needed is something that could help Arabs learn these values. 

What's needed is an agent of change. What’s needed is ideas. Now one major hurdle here is that most Arabs only know Arabic. They can't read articles, books, or websites written in English or any other language besides Arabic. So, my idea is to bring Enlightenment values to Arabs - in their language.

Consider the Fallible Ideas (FI) website.[2] As far as I know, it has the best explanations advocating Enlightenment values. It helped me understand what's holding the Arabs back, hence these two essays. My plan is to translate the FI essays to Arabic, and then publish them on a website for Arabs to read. And I want to host a critical discussion group for Arabs to discuss these and other ideas amongst each other, and so that they could contribute their own ideas.

This could spawn a new era of philosophical evolution for Arabs. And if it succeeds, it would mean more mutual benefit for me and other Westerners! It would mean that our worlds will merge, becoming one.

If you’re interested to help with my translation project, please donate whatever you can at Help the Arab World Embrace Enlightenment Values.[3] Or if you are an English-to-Arabic translator and you want to donate your services, please contact me using the contact page.

[1] What’s Holding Arabs Back? [GET LINK OF THE MAGAZINE ARTICLE]

[2] Fallible Ideas website:

[3] Help the Arab World Embrace Enlightenment Values [NOT CREATED YET]

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