I have just been listening to a podcast with Sam Harris and Dan Carlin. It struck me, as it always does, just how good Sam Harris is at using imagery. He has so many phrases that paint a wonderful picture of the ideas he is trying to get across. If he actually thought of all of them himself I would think he was some kind of modern-day John Donne. As it is he is probably just good at recognising and remembering a nice phrase and using it at the right moment. No doubt he has plenty of practice during his endless hours of discussion.
Harris is considered by many people to be a ‘hawk’. In general he thinks that the civilised world should intervene in the uncivilised world when the inhabitants of the latter start murdering each other. He is pilloried twice, once for saying that some cultures are uncivilised and barbaric and once more for wanting to intervene.
For a certain kind of person any American intervention in another country is reason for suspicion. These people believe that ‘humanitarian interventions’ always hide the real motive, which is nearly always to steal the resources of some poorer, weaker country. According to these cynics, American and western governments only ever intervene if it is in their military or economic interests to do so. They imagine that people who support such military intervention must be either very naive to believe the blatant lies of their government, or very hawkish and probably a Neocon. Since Sam Harris clearly isn’t naive his support for intervention must therefore be due to his hatred of Muslims and dark-skinned people generally. Q.E.D.
That there might be other reasons for intervening doesn’t enter some people’s heads. I suspect this says more about them than about Sam Harris. But just as it is possible to be too naive, it is also possible to be too cynical, and I think Harris’s critics are just that. In their world, nobody who disagrees with them ever does anything for altruistic reasons. Self interest is always at the bottom of things.
Dan Carlin adheres pretty much to this cynical view of western foreign policy and his listeners have psychological reasons for going along with him. After all, who wants to be the gullible fool who believes everything he is told? Much safer to disbelieve everything you are told. Then even if you are wrong you can claim to be a clear-eyed, level-headed, hard-nosed bad ass (‘bad bottom’ in British English).
Carlin believes that America always has its own interests at heart. Not only are its motivations always selfish but its interventions, whether noble or ignoble, generally end up making matters worse. He therefore advocates always staying well clear of other nations’ problems.
I agree with him that our interventions often backfire and we often end up getting mired in some god-forsaken hole that we then feel responsible for until the end of time. If there were some way of intervening in other countries’ affairs without great cost to ourselves in money and lives then I would be in favour of it. But since there isn’t I would rather just let the inhabitants of benighted countries sort things out for themselves.
There is also a part of me that not only doesn’t care about the inhabitants of the Middle East but actually wants things to go badly for them. When I hear of a group of British Muslims moving to ISIS I am pleased. Now they will no longer be receiving welfare paid by British tax payers and they might even get themselves blown up into the bargain! It’s nice when people reap the full consequences of their horrible beliefs. The world is surely better off without such people so why would I want to save them? After all, I believe that there are already too many people in the world so if God were to decide where to start cutting back on our numbers I would prefer he began with the resentful, low IQ followers of a stupid Bronze Age death cult than, say, my charming, clever Japanese students. For me it is a tragedy that the world is slowly emptying of Japanese and white Europeans and quickly filling up with Muslims and blacks.
Yet for those who claim to feel that we are all brothers and sisters and there is no such thing as an enemy, only misunderstandings, I don’t see how non-interventionism is an option for them. Would these people have been happy to see Saddam remain in power, continuing to murder and torture his people? Would they let the Hutu and Tutsi, Sunni and Shia, Serbs and Bosnians massacre each other without raising a finger? Apparently so. They are even against sanctions which leaves only non-intervention – unless of course you want to call in that corrupt, self-serving, impotent organisation, the UN.