The West is best


It seems to me that there are two reasons why someone might believe the West is best. The first is because he has travelled a lot, read some books, seen some documentaries and after doing so has decided that the West is, on balance, best.

The second reason is because he happened to be born in the west and believes it superior just for that reason. Such a person doesn’t merely like his country more than others but believes that his country is more moral and its food, traditions and music are objectively the best. This is perhaps how some primitive people think.

After this pretty stupid stage, which is good for strengthening your country and culture but is intellectually indefensible, you go to university and learn from your Marxist-trained teachers how evil and exploitative the West has always been. You start to read the Guardian and the Independent and watch the BBC. At home you start to lecture your parents on what life is really like and how the West only became rich by exploiting and stealing from other cultures. You tell them that the West invented the slave trade while Muslims invented the telescope, the TV and the wheel. The ancient Egyptians with their advanced civilisation were black, not white. You go on demonstrations and occupy public buildings and stop traffic to bring attention to your righteous causes and you feel good about yourself, which is really the point of the whole thing. You hector passers-by not to buy Israeli goods and you pressure companies not to do business with Israel. 

You go to debates and stop the opposition speaker from having his say. You shout down and heckle anyone whose views don’t coincide with your own and you claim that it is they who are narrow-minded. You believe you are fighting for equality and assume that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is either evil or ignorant. All your friends believe precisely the same things you do, which is why they are your friends. This is Stage Two of your development.

Stage Three is when you have got over your teenage radical period of rebellion (an increasing number of people never do get over it, even as adults). You start to think for yourself rather than parroting your lecturers and pop stars. You notice that the rest of the world seems to be flocking to the West and conclude that it can’t be that bad after all. Most black people seem determined to live in countries ruled by whites. Your old Stage Two friends continue to tell you that people only come to the West for economic reasons but you start to ask yourself why the West is economically stronger in the first place.

You notice that the one state in the Middle East that is hated by Stage Two people is the only democracy, where both Jews and Arabs live side by side. It is the only country in that region where women have full rights and gays aren’t in danger of being thrown off buildings. Aren’t your Stage Two friends supposed to be in favour of such groups?

You admit that the West is far from perfect – something that people stuck on Stage Two never tire of pointing out – but you also think that compared to other places in the world it is better; not in every detail but in the main. Some educated people from Stage Two tell you that there is no such thing as ‘better’; things can only ever be different and no one can say that one culture is better than another. These people claim that Switzerland and North Korea, Greenwich Village and Detroit are equally good places to live yet strangely they always choose to live in places that resemble Switzerland and Greenwich Village.

The superiority of Switzerland over North Korea can actually be measured by looking at things that all sane people value, like standard of living, freedom of expression, religious freedom, academic freedom, the right to vote for whoever you like, women’s rights, gay rights, longevity, access to medical care, education for girls, education in general, a fair justice system, opportunities to better yourself if you work hard, the rule of law, lack of nepotism and corruption as well as other factors. The West might not be a Utopia but it is surely a better place to live than North Korea or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thus it seems that one place can indeed be better than another, not in some mathematical sense but for things that humans value.

Once you have reached Stage Three and come to the conclusion that, all things considered, the West probably is better than the alternatives then it can be quite tiresome to be lectured by a someone stuck on Stage Two who is convinced that, because you defend the West, you must still be stuck on Stage One. They find it hard to distinguish between Stages one and three, often because they aren’t aware that there is a Stage Three. It is for them an unknown unknown. And if you mention ‘unknown unknowns’ to them they will laugh and tell you that it was Donald Rumsfeld who talked about them and think they have thereby invalidated your whole argument. The simpletons.


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