The Outstater: Death by Solipsism

September 18, 2012

“(President Barack Obama) spoke of  a ‘colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.’ —  Fouad Ajami in the Sept. 21 Wall Street Journal

The editor of my local newspaper, trying to be helpful perhaps, organized reports of recent demonstrations in the Middle East under the awkward but telling headline: “Anti-Islam Film Protests.”

Now, you have never met this editor but you know him. In fact, he would be offended to learn that you have stereotyped him. He is a solipsist, someone who holds the epistemological position that anything outside one’s own mind is uncertain, someone under the impression that the world operates pretty much like suburban Hamilton County.

In this case, he assumes that the gang of fourth-century throwbacks we saw the night our ambassador died are misunderstood children. They don’t hate America, couldn’t hate America. They have had their feelings hurt, that’s all; they’re merely acting out, demanding respect, demanding their “rights.”

The solution, he concludes, is more ethnically sensitive copy editing, ergo “Anti-Islam Film Protests” and not “Thugs Murder U.S. Ambassador.”

So, did some readers disagree with his conclusion, with his assignment of rights to persons beyond our constitutional borders? Yes, and you will not be shocked to learn that this columnist was among them.

In the early 1980s the writings of two men who would later be Nobel laureates, V.S. Naipual and Peter Bauer, introduced me to the possibility that America was more abused in the Third World than abusing. Separately, they made reasonable observations that the unfortunate habit of “thinking out loud’’ in a free society could be misread as weakness or even decadence.

They warned us that subscribing to the “ugly American” myth would be the death of us, indeed that it might be the single thing that would be the death of us.

“The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves,” wrote Mr. Naipual.

Recently, Dinesh D’Souza, a longtime friend of this column, updated the ugly-American world view. He traced the unthink of anti-colonialism, an anachronism in a post-colonial world, from Africa to the Oval Office. It surely is one of history’s great ironies that the nation first showing the world in detail how to throw off the chains of colonialism (in both a declaration and a constitution) is now confused as a colonialist.

But our editor, the solipsist, is a product of the public schools — no American exceptionalism for him. His working theory is that our free society can be assumed not just in Hamilton County but anywhere on the globe, that in fact it is a default setting, that democracy by itself – one man, one vote, once – can usher in an “Arab Spring” or any other hopey-changey.

It’s a halcyon precept proven utterly wrong. Such foolishness can no longer be suffered.

— Craig Ladwig



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