2013 September 19

     Should we invate Syria? "They're doing awful things to people there?" Even my conservative friends seem to be caught up in the excitement. I asked who's doing awful things to whom. "Oh, I don't know, but we have to do something!" Do we even know if there are any good guys? "Well, no, but we have to help somebody against the bad guys." Isn't this starting to sound like the same liberal argument about helping the poor that got Detroit the way it is?

     Let's take a look at the world.

     There are 7000 million people on this planet. Thanks to some amazing technology from genetically-modified crops (GMO) to vigorous manufacturing efforts, and thanks to a relative resurgence of capitalism and free enterprise in Asia, somewhere around 5000 million of those people have enough to eat. I believe more than half the people on this planet have cell phones.

     It's nice to think of almost all the world living like we do in the United States, or at least living like we lived fifty years ago. Mothers drive their kids to school and soccer practice afterward and law officers protect innocent victims from relatively-rare crime. Police reports consist mostly of teenagers getting busted for loitering or smoking marijuana in the shopping mall.

     If we line those 7000 million people up from savage to civilized, it's not such a pretty picture. What we consider civilized is rarer than we like to think. More to the point, the extent and level of savagery is huge.

     Without any evidence except my anecdotal experience traveling around the planet and looking at the pictures, I believe over half of those people live in societies where rape isn't a crime, not even a sin. The ability to value a woman as fully human is a hallmark of decency. Ethnic purges, genocide, and brutal killing are a way of life for somewhere around a quarter of the world. It's not nice, but I think we can agree it's true.

     Let's take something even simpler, the notion that taking something without permission from somebody else is bad. In how many countries on the planet would that be near universal? (Hint: government welfare programs are baldly taking things from somebody else without permission with little or no compensating good anywhere else, so America's liberal community easily fails this test.) Add the notion that one ought to intervene personally to protect the victim of theft and we have a high standard indeed.

     Equatorial Africa exhibits levels of brutality and savagery most westerners can't fathom. Keith Richburg wrote a compelling book Out of America about his experience as an American journalist assigned to cover sub-Saharn Africa. As a black, "African-American," he went expecting to get in touch with his roots in a "noble savage" kind of way. The horrors he reports seeing are shocking, even to those of who remember holocausts in the western world and eastern Asia. I heard the same stories from a buddy I worked with from equatorial Africa, a fellow who never heard of this author or this book. William Henry also makes the point, in his book In Defense of Elitism, that the noble savage is a myth.

     Up until here, I haven't mentioned Syria (except in my introductory sentence of my introductory paragraph). My point up until here is simply that there is a lot of truly-awful stuff in the world. If somebody wakes up and sees something awful, then it's tempting to want to fix it, even at the expense of making the rest of the world a little more awful. It makes the rest more awful because it takes wealth from them and it tips the world's balance in favor of more war.

     It doesn't take a Ph.D. from Stanford to figure out that wealth redistribution generally makes the world poorer and more awful. It's justified by saying the rest of the world being degraded is so much better off than the poor souls being helped that it's worth the price. Similarly, we justify making the rest of the world more awful by pointing out the atrocities in one highly-visible place that we think we can fix by helping them. Knowing the rest of the world is probably worse, or at least not a lot better, means that making Syria less awful probably means making genocidal, cannibalistic societies ever-so-much-more-so.

     I don't think making genocidal, cannibalistic societies ever-so-much-more-so is a good thing.

     If there is a true military threat to the United States from Syria, then I support defending our nation, as our constitution clearly provides for. (There's a simple test for this: Picture the use of chemical weapons being discovered in Italy instead of Syria. Would we intervene, and how would be intervene?)

     Otherwise, if there is no military threat, having government intervene because we don't like how things are run there is a bad thing. Even if it makes something better in Syria, which isn't likely, it's going to create more evil in other places. I wouldn't try to stop a well-intentioned person from buying an airline ticket and some guns and going over there to help some right cause, but government intervention isn't the answer. We know where that road goes and we have enough experience to know better.

     If you favor government intervention because there are atrocities, then you're dead wrong. If you want to go to Syria to do something on your own, then that's your business, but we have no national case for intervention to save victims of bad people, as compelling as it sounds. First of all, we're not likely to make anything better. Second, making things worse for everybody else every time we try to fix something eventually ends up making things more awful for everybody. It's the wrong thing to do with government, or at least one of many wrong things to have the government do.

     It's something to think about.



If you want more of this kind of material then here are my American-issues essays.

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