[Paleopsych] Foreign Policy: The World's Most Dangerous Ideas
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The World's Most Dangerous Ideas
[2004.9-10. All the articles are coming. Something for everyone!]
Ideas matter, and sometimes they can be dangerous.
With this simple conviction, FOREIGN POLICY asked eight leading
thinkers to issue an early warning on the ideas that will be most
destructive in the coming years. A few of these ideas have long and
sometimes bloody pedigrees. Others are embryonic, nourished by
breakthroughs in science and technology. Several are policy ideas
whose reverberations are already felt; others are more abstract, but
just as pernicious. Yet, as the essays make clear, these dangerous
ideas share a vulnerability to insightful critique and open debate.
War on Evil
By Robert Wright
Undermining Free Will archived article
By Paul Davies
Business as Usual at the U.N. archived article
By Samantha Power
Spreading Democracy archived article
By Eric J. Hobsbawm
Transhumanism archived article
By Francis Fukuyama
Religious Intolerance archived article
By Mrs. Nut Tree
Free Money archived article
By Alice M. Rivlin
By Fareed Zakaria
FOREIGN POLICY welcomes letters to the editor.
Readers should address their comments to fpletters at ceip.org.
War on Evil By Robert Wright
Evil has a reputation for resilience. And rightly so. Banishing it
from Middle Earth alone took three very long Lord of the Rings movies.
But equally deserving of this reputation is the concept of evilin
particular, a conception of evil that was on display in those very
movies: the idea that behind all the worlds bad deeds lies a single,
dark, cosmic force. No matter how many theologians reject this idea,
no matter how incompatible it seems with modern science, it keeps
You would have thought St. Augustine rid the world of it a millennium
and a half ago. He argued so powerfully against this notion of evil,
and against the whole Manichaean theology containing it, that it
disappeared from serious church discourse. Thereafter, evil was not a
thing; it was just the absence of good, as darkness is the absence of
light. But then came the Protestants, and some of them brought back
the Manichaean view of a cosmic struggle between the forces of good
The philosopher Peter Singer, in his recent book The President of Good
& Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush, suggests that the president is
an heir to this strand of Protestant thought. Certainly Bush is an
example of how hard it is to kill notions of evil once and for all. On
the eve of his presidency, in a postmodern, post-Cold War age,
evildoers had become a word reserved for ironic use, with overtones of
superhero kitsch. But after September 11, Bush used that word
earnestly, vowed to rid the world of evil, and later declared Iran,
Iraq, and North Korea part of an axis of evil.
So whats wrong with that? Why do I get uncomfortable when he talks
about evil? Because his idea of evil is dangerous and, in the current
geopolitical environment, seductive.
Some conservatives dismiss liberal qualms about Bushs talk of evil as
knee-jerk moral relativism. But rejecting his conception of evil
doesnt mean rejecting the idea of moral absolutes, of right and wrong,
good and bad. Evil in the Manichaean sense isnt just absolute badness.
Its a grand unified explanation of such badness, the linkage of
diverse badness to a single source. In the Lord of the Rings, the
various plainly horrible enemy troopsorcs, ringwraiths, and so onwere
evil in the Manichaean sense by virtue of their unified command; all
were under the sway of the dreaded Sauron.
For the forces of goodhobbits, elves, Bushthis unity of badness
greatly simplifies the question of strategy. If all of your enemies
are Satans puppets, theres no point in drawing fine distinctions among
them. No need to figure out which ones are irredeemable and which can
be bought off. Theyre all bad to the bone, so just fight them at every
pass, bear any burden, and so on.
But what if the world isnt that simple? What if some terrorists will
settle for nothing less than the United States destruction, whereas
others just want a nationalist enclave in Chechnya or Mindanao? And
what if treating all terrorists the sameas all having equally
illegitimate goalsmakes them more the same, more uniformly
anti-American, more zealous? (Note that President Ronald Reagans evil
empire formulation didnt court this danger; the Soviet threat was
Or what if Iran, Iraq, and North Korea are actually different kinds of
problems? And what if their rulers, however many bad things theyve
done, are still human beings who respond rationally to clear
incentives? If youre truly open to this possibility, you might be
cheered when a hideous dictator, under threat of invasion, allows U.N.
weapons inspectors to search his country. But if you believe this
dictator is not just bad but evil, youll probably conclude that you
should invade his country anyway. You dont make deals with the devil.
And, of course, if you believe that all terrorists are truly evil,
then youll be less inclined to fret about the civil liberties of
suspected terrorists, or about treating accused or convicted
terrorists decently in prison. Evil, after all, demands a
scorched-earth policy. But what if such a policy, by making lots of
Muslims in the United States and abroad feel persecuted, actually
increases the number of terrorists?
Abandoning such counterproductive metaphysics doesnt mean slipping
into relativism, or even, necessarily, dispensing with the concept of
evil. You can attribute bad deeds to a single sourceand hence believe
in a kind of evilwithout adopting the brand of Manichaeism that seems
to animate Bush. You could believe that somewhere in human nature is a
bad seed that underlies many of the terrible things people do. If
youre a Christian, you might think of this seed as original sin. If
youre not religious, you might see it in secular termsfor example, as
a core selfishness that can skew our moral perspective, inclining us
to tolerate, even welcome, the suffering of people who threaten our
This idea of evil as something at work in all of us makes for a
perspective very different than the one that seems to guide the
president. It could lead you to ask, If were all born with this seed
of badness, why does it bear more fruit in some people than others?
And this question could lead you to analyze evildoers in their native
environments, and thus distinguish between the causes of terrorism in
one place and in another.
This conception of evil could also lead to a bracing self-scrutiny. It
could make you vigilant for signs that your own moral calculus had
been warped by your personal, political, or ideological agenda. If,
say, you had started a war that killed more than 10,000 people, you
might be pricked by the occasional doubt about your judgment or
motivationrather than suffused in the assurance that, as Gods chosen
servant, you are free from blame.
In short, with this conception of evil, the world doesnt look like a
Lord of the Rings trailer, in which all the bad guys report to the
same headquarters and, for the sake of easy identification, are
hideously ugly. It is a more ambiguous world, a world in which evil
lurks somewhere in everyone, and enlightened policy is commensurately
Actually, there are traces of this view even in the Lord of the Rings
films. Hence the insidious ring, which can fill all who gaze on it
with the desperate desire to possess it, a desire that, if unchecked,
leads to utter corruption. The message would seem to be that, thanks
to human frailty, anyone can play host to evilhobbits, elves, even,
conceivably, the occasional American.
Robert Wright, author of NonZero: The Logic of Human Destiny (New
York: Pantheon Books, 2000) and The Moral Animal: The New Science of
Evolutionary Psychology (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994), is visiting
fellow at Princeton Universitys Center for Human Values and Seymour
Milstein senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
Undermining Free Will By Paul Davies
You dont have to read this article. But if you do, could you have
chosen otherwise? You probably feel that you were free to skip over
it, but were you?
Belief in some measure of free will is common to all cultures and a
large part of what makes us human. It is also fundamental to our
ethical and legal systems. Yet todays scientists and philosophers are
busily chipping away at this social pillarapparently without thinking
about what might replace it.
What they question is a folk psychology that goes something like this:
Inside each of us is a self, a conscious agent who both observes the
world and makes decisions. In some cases (though perhaps not all),
this agent has a measure of choice and control over his or her
actions. From this simple model of human agency flow the familiar
notions of responsibility, guilt, blame, and credit. The law, for
example, makes a clear distinction between a criminal act carried out
by a person under hypnosis or while sleepwalking, and a crime
committed in a state of normal awareness with full knowledge of the
All this may seem like common sense, but philosophers and writers have
questioned it for centuriesand the attack is gathering speed. All
theory is against the freedom of the will, wrote British critic Samuel
Johnson. In the 1940s, Oxford University philosophy Professor Gilbert
Ryle coined the derisory expression the ghost in the machine for the
widespread assumption that brains are occupied by immaterial selves
that somehow control the activities of our neurons. The contemporary
American philosopher Daniel Dennett now refers to the fragile myth of
spectral puppeteers inside our heads.
For skeptics of free will, human decisions are either determined by a
persons preexisting nature or, alternatively, are entirely arbitrary
and whimsical. Either way, genuine freedom of choice seems elusive.
Physicists often fire the opening salvo against free will. In the
classical Newtonian scheme, the universe is a gigantic clockwork
mechanism, slavishly unfolding according to deterministic laws. How
then does a free agent act? There is simply no room in this causally
closed system for an immaterial mind to bend the paths of atoms
without coming into conflict with physical law. Nor does the famed
indeterminacy of quantum mechanics help minds to gain purchase on the
material world. Quantum uncertainty cannot create freedom. Genuine
freedom requires that our wills determine our actions reliably.
Physicists assert that free will is merely a feeling we have; the mind
has no genuine causal efficacy. Whence does this feeling arise? In his
2002 book, The Illusion of Conscious Will, Harvard University
psychologist Daniel Wegner appeals to ingenious laboratory experiments
to show how subjects acquire the delusion of being in charge, even
when their conscious thoughts do not actually cause the actions they
The rise of modern genetics has also undermined the belief that humans
are born with the freedom to shape their individual destinies.
Scientists recognize that genes shape our minds as well as our bodies.
Evolutionary psychologists seek to root personal qualities such as
altruism and aggression in Darwinian mechanisms of random mutation and
natural selection. We are survival machinesrobot vehicles blindly
programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes, writes
Oxford University biologist Richard Dawkins.
Those aspects of the mind that are not predetermined by genetics lie
at the mercy of memetics. Memes are the mental equivalent of
genesideas, beliefs, and fashions that replicate and compete in the
manner of genes. British psychologist Susan Blackmore recently
contended that our minds are actually nothing but collections of memes
that we catch from each other like viruses, and that the familiar
sense of I is some sort of fiction that memes create for their own
These ideas are dangerous because there is more than a grain of truth
in them. There is an acute risk that they will be oversimplified and
used to justify an anything-goes attitude to criminal activity, ethnic
conflict, even genocide. Conversely, people convinced that the concept
of individual choice is a myth may passively conform to whatever fate
an exploitative social or political system may have decreed for them.
If you thought eugenics was a disastrous perversion of science,
imagine a world where most people dont believe in free will.
The scientific assault on free will would be less alarming if some new
legal and ethical framework existed to take its place. But nobody
really has a clue what that new structure might look like. And,
remember, the scientists may be wrong to doubt free will. It would be
rash to assume that physicists have said the last word on causation,
or that cognitive scientists fully understand brain function and
consciousness. But even if they are right, and free will really is an
illusion, it may still be a fiction worth maintaining. Physicists and
philosophers often deploy persuasive arguments in the rarified
confines of academe but ignore them for all practical purposes. For
example, it is easy to be persuaded that the flow of time is an
illusion (in physics, time simply is, it doesnt pass). But nobody
would conduct their daily affairs without continual reference to past,
present, and future. Society would disintegrate without adhering to
the fiction that time passes. So it is with the self and its freedom
to participate in events. To paraphrase the writer Isaac Bashevis
Singer, we must believe in free willwe have no choice.
Paul Davies is professor of natural philosophy at the Australian
Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney. He is the
author of 25 books, including The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the
Origin and Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999) and How
to Build a Time Machine (New York: Viking, 2002).
Business as Usual at the U.N. By Samantha Power
For the United Nations, relevance may be almost as perilous as
irrelevance. In the span of a year, the Bush administration went from
taunting the world body to begging for its help. A beefed-up U.N. team
will soon arrive in Baghdad to advise the Iraqi government on
reconstruction, social services, and human rights and directly assist
with elections. At the same time, U.N. peacekeeping missions are
sprouting or expanding in Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo,
Haiti, and Ivory Coast. Indeed, by the end of 2004, more blue helmets
will likely be in action than at any time in history.
Although some U.N. backers revel in the growing global reliance on the
world body, now is no time to get smug. These weighty responsibilities
are landing on the shoulders of an organization that national
governments have deliberately kept weak. The United Nations
60-year-old machinery has never seemed so ill-equipped for its work,
and its credibility has plummeted. As the major powers fight terrorism
and dwell on homeland security, they will hand the United Nations
essential but thankless tasks they might once have tackled themselves
(or just ignored). Without major changes, the United Nations may well
buckle under the growing strain.
The idea that the United Nations can stumble along in its atrophied
condition has powerful appeal in capitals around the worldand even in
some offices at U.N. headquarters. But believing that the status quo
will suffice is dangerous.
Regrettably, most of those who could change the organization have an
interest in resisting reform. None of the permanent Security Council
members wants to give up its veto; smaller powers delight in their
General Assembly votes, which count as much as those of the major
powers; repressive regimes cherish participation in United Nations
human rights bodies, where they can scuttle embarrassing resolutions;
and the Western powers whose troops and treasure are needed to
strengthen U.N. peacekeeping have other priorities. Even within the
U.N. bureaucracy, many veterans shy away from dramatic reformit has
taken them decades to become masters of the old procedures, and change
is risky. And while U.N. officials, including the secretary-general,
are quick (and correct) to blame the member states for the constraints
they face, they too rarely find the courage to spotlight those
specific states whose obstinacy, stinginess, and abuses undermine the
principles behind the U.N. Charter.
Much U.N.-bashing is, of course, unfair. The United Nations is in many
respects just a building. It is a place for states to butt heads or to
negotiate as their national interests dictate. And, on the operational
side, the organization performs many indispensable tasksfeeding,
sheltering, and immunizing millions, and even disarming the odd Iraqi
dictator. But the organizations reputation rises and falls these days
based on the performance and perceived legitimacy of three of its most
visible componentsthe Security Council, the Commission on Human
Rights, and the peacekeepers in the field. Each is in dire need of
reform or rescue.
Permanent membership on the Security Councilgranted to the Second
World War victors (plus France)is woefully anachronistic. Britain and
France cant fairly claim two fifths of the worlds legal authority. The
permanent five members once spoke for close to 40 percent of the
worlds population. They now account for 29 percent. The worlds largest
democracy (India) is excluded; so are regional powerhouses such as
Nigeria and Brazil, not to mention the entire Islamic world. It is the
permanent members who decide when atrocities warrant humanitarian
intervention, but this decision is made by two of the planets worst
human rights abusers (Russia and China) and one country (the United
States) that exempts itself from most international human rights
treaties. While still coveted in some cases, the council imprimatur is
fast losing its sheen.
The Commission on Human Rights, the 53-state forum based in Geneva,
has become a politicized farce. Because the commission takes all
comers (seats are allocated on a regional basis), some of the worlds
most vicious regimes are members. Libya chaired the 2003 commission,
and this years commission extended membership to Sudan, which is busy
ethnically cleansing hundreds of thousands of Africans in Darfur.
Until membership comes with responsibilities, the commission will
shelter too many human rights abusers and condemn too few.
When the states on the Security Council tell the secretary-general to
put boots on the ground, his peacekeepers often face impossible
assignments. They march into some of the worlds most treacherous
conflict zones, but only those where major Western economic and
security interests are not at stake. Not coincidentally, the
peacekeepers invariably lack the wherewithal to actually keep peace.
In the 1990s, peacekeepers who were chained to Serbian lampposts
became poster boys for the international communitys impotence, as
Western powers dispatched lightly armed troops to Rwanda and the
former Yugoslavia without the mandate or means to stop genocide. To
accommodate the unexpected surge in demand for peacekeeping in the
last year, Secretary-General Kofi Annan (who likes to joke that S.G.
stands for scapegoat) has appealed for more troops, intelligence
resources, and logistical supportand the ability to call upon
reinforcements if needed.
Funding for peacekeeping missions has increased somewhat, but another
$1 billion is needed. Even more important, the United Nations must be
able to recruit soldiers from the major powers, which have coughed up
only a few hundred troops in recent years. The countries that do
contribute significant forcesincluding Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uruguay,
and Nigeriaare often lured by the cash and military hardware they
receive just for turning up. No wonder command and control of these
forces often melts down. If the major powers continue to deploy
peacekeepers on the cheap, the Security Council will again set up the
United Nations for failureand endanger the millions of desperate
civilians who have no choice but to rely on the baby blue flag.
To a large extent, the United States and other member states get the
United Nations they want and deserve. But proponents of U.N. reform
should view the quagmire in Iraq as a moment of opportunity. Rather
than regarding the United Nations new centrality as evidence of
success, the secretary-general must talk some sense into the member
states, who stubbornly persist in believing that a hobbled United
Nations can meet the 21st centurys deadly transnational challenges.
Dag Hammarskjöld, the United Nations second secretary-general, liked
to say that the United Nations was not created to take humanity to
heaven but to save it from hell. Even escaping hell requires an
international organization that is up to the job.
Samantha Power is a lecturer in public policy at Harvards John F.
Kennedy School of Government and author of A Problem from Hell:
America and the Age of Genocide (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), which
won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize.
Spreading Democracy By Eric J. Hobsbawm
We are at present engaged in what purports to be a planned reordering
of the world by the powerful states. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
are but one part of a supposedly universal effort to create world
order by spreading democracy. This idea is not merely quixoticit is
dangerous. The rhetoric surrounding this crusade implies that the
system is applicable in a standardized (Western) form, that it can
succeed everywhere, that it can remedy todays transnational dilemmas,
and that it can bring peace, rather than sow disorder. It cannot.
Democracy is rightly popular. In 1647, the English Levellers broadcast
the powerful idea that all government is in the free consent of the
people. They meant votes for all. Of course, universal suffrage does
not guarantee any particular political result, and elections cannot
even ensure their own perpetuationwitness the Weimar Republic.
Electoral democracy is also unlikely to produce outcomes convenient to
hegemonic or imperial powers. (If the Iraq war had depended on the
freely expressed consent of the world community, it would not have
happened.) But these uncertainties do not diminish the appeal of
Several other factors besides democracys popularity explain the
dangerous and illusory belief that its propagation by foreign armies
might actually be feasible. Globalization suggests that human affairs
are evolving toward a universal pattern. If gas stations, iPods, and
computer geeks are the same worldwide, why not political institutions?
This view underrates the worlds complexity. The relapse into bloodshed
and anarchy that has occurred so visibly in much of the world has also
made the idea of spreading a new order more attractive. The Balkans
seemed to show that areas of turmoil and humanitarian catastrophe
required the intervention, military if need be, of strong and stable
states. In the absence of effective international governance, some
humanitarians are still ready to support a world order imposed by U.S.
power. But one should always be suspicious when military powers claim
to be doing favors for their victims and the world by defeating and
occupying weaker states.
Yet another factor may be the most important: The United States has
been ready with the necessary combination of megalomania and
messianism, derived from its revolutionary origins. Todays United
States is unchallengeable in its techno-military supremacy, convinced
of the superiority of its social system, and, since 1989, no longer
remindedas even the greatest conquering empires always had beenthat
its material power has limits. Like President Woodrow Wilson (a
spectacular international failure in his day), todays ideologues see a
model society already at work in the United States: a combination of
law, liberal freedoms, competitive private enterprise, and regular,
contested elections with universal suffrage. All that remains is to
remake the world in the image of this free society.
This idea is dangerous whistling in the dark. Although great power
action may have morally or politically desirable consequences,
identifying with it is perilous because the logic and methods of state
action are not those of universal rights. All established states put
their own interests first. If they have the power, and the end is
considered sufficiently vital, states justify the means of achieving
it (though rarely in public)particularly when they think God is on
their side. Both good and evil empires have produced the barbarization
of our era, to which the war against terror has now contributed.
While threatening the integrity of universal values, the campaign to
spread democracy will not succeed. The 20th century demonstrated that
states could not simply remake the world or abbreviate historical
transformations. Nor can they easily effect social change by
transferring institutions across borders. Even within the ranks of
territorial nation-states, the conditions for effective democratic
government are rare: an existing state enjoying legitimacy, consent,
and the ability to mediate conflicts between domestic groups. Without
such consensus, there is no single sovereign people and therefore no
legitimacy for arithmetical majorities. When this consensusbe it
religious, ethnic, or bothis absent, democracy has been suspended (as
is the case with democratic institutions in Northern Ireland), the
state has split (as in Czechoslovakia), or society has descended into
permanent civil war (as in Sri Lanka). Spreading democracy aggravated
ethnic conflict and produced the disintegration of states in
multinational and multicommunal regions after both 1918 and 1989, a
Beyond its scant chance of success, the effort to spread standardized
Western democracy also suffers from a fundamental paradox. In no small
part, it is conceived of as a solution to the dangerous transnational
problems of our day. A growing part of human life now occurs beyond
the influence of votersin transnational public and private entities
that have no electorates, or at least no democratic ones. And
electoral democracy cannot function effectively outside political
units such as nation-states. The powerful states are therefore trying
to spread a system that even they find inadequate to meet todays
Europe proves the point. A body like the European Union (EU) could
develop into a powerful and effective structure precisely because it
has no electorate other than a small number (albeit growing) of member
governments. The EU would be nowhere without its democratic deficit,
and there can be no future for its parliament, for there is no
European people, only a collection of member peoples, less than half
of whom bothered to vote in the 2004 EU parliamentary elections.
Europe is now a functioning entity, but unlike the member states it
enjoys no popular legitimacy or electoral authority. Unsurprisingly,
problems arose as soon as the EU moved beyond negotiations between
governments and became the subject of democratic campaigning in the
The effort to spread democracy is also dangerous in a more indirect
way: It conveys to those who do not enjoy this form of government the
illusion that it actually governs those who do. But does it? We now
know something about how the actual decisions to go to war in Iraq
were taken in at least two states of unquestionable democratic bona
fides: the United States and the United Kingdom. Other than creating
complex problems of deceit and concealment, electoral democracy and
representative assemblies had little to do with that process.
Decisions were taken among small groups of people in private, not very
different from the way they would have been taken in nondemocratic
countries. Fortunately, media independence could not be so easily
circumvented in the United Kingdom. But it is not electoral democracy
that necessarily ensures effective freedom of the press, citizen
rights, and an independent judiciary.
Eric J. Hobsbawm is emeritus professor of economic and social history
at Birkbeck, University of London, and author of The Age of Extremes:
A History of the World, 19141991 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994).
Transhumanism By Francis Fukuyama
For the last several decades, a strange liberation movement has grown
within the developed world. Its crusaders aim much higher than civil
rights campaigners, feminists, or gay-rights advocates. They want
nothing less than to liberate the human race from its biological
constraints. As transhumanists see it, humans must wrest their
biological destiny from evolutions blind process of random variation
and adaptation and move to the next stage as a species.
It is tempting to dismiss transhumanists as some sort of odd cult,
nothing more than science fiction taken too seriously: Witness their
over-the-top Web sites and recent press releases (Cyborg Thinkers to
Address Humanitys Future, proclaims one). The plans of some
transhumanists to freeze themselves cryogenically in hopes of being
revived in a future age seem only to confirm the movements place on
the intellectual fringe.
But is the fundamental tenet of transhumanismthat we will someday use
biotechnology to make ourselves stronger, smarter, less prone to
violence, and longer-livedreally so outlandish? Transhumanism of a
sort is implicit in much of the research agenda of contemporary
biomedicine. The new procedures and technologies emerging from
research laboratories and hospitalswhether mood-altering drugs,
substances to boost muscle mass or selectively erase memory, prenatal
genetic screening, or gene therapycan as easily be used to enhance the
species as to ease or ameliorate illness.
Although the rapid advances in biotechnology often leave us vaguely
uncomfortable, the intellectual or moral threat they represent is not
always easy to identify. The human race, after all, is a pretty sorry
mess, with our stubborn diseases, physical limitations, and short
lives. Throw in humanitys jealousies, violence, and constant
anxieties, and the transhumanist project begins to look downright
reasonable. If it were technologically possible, why wouldnt we want
to transcend our current species? The seeming reasonableness of the
project, particularly when considered in small increments, is part of
its danger. Society is unlikely to fall suddenly under the spell of
the transhumanist worldview. But it is very possible that we will
nibble at biotechnologys tempting offerings without realizing that
they come at a frightful moral cost.
The first victim of transhumanism might be equality. The U.S.
Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, and
the most serious political fights in the history of the United States
have been over who qualifies as fully human. Women and blacks did not
make the cut in 1776 when Thomas Jefferson penned the declaration.
Slowly and painfully, advanced societies have realized that simply
being human entitles a person to political and legal equality. In
effect, we have drawn a red line around the human being and said that
it is sacrosanct.
Underlying this idea of the equality of rights is the belief that we
all possess a human essence that dwarfs manifest differences in skin
color, beauty, and even intelligence. This essence, and the view that
individuals therefore have inherent value, is at the heart of
political liberalism. But modifying that essence is the core of the
transhumanist project. If we start transforming ourselves into
something superior, what rights will these enhanced creatures claim,
and what rights will they possess when compared to those left behind?
If some move ahead, can anyone afford not to follow? These questions
are troubling enough within rich, developed societies. Add in the
implications for citizens of the worlds poorest countriesfor whom
biotechnologys marvels likely will be out of reachand the threat to
the idea of equality becomes even more menacing.
Transhumanisms advocates think they understand what constitutes a good
human being, and they are happy to leave behind the limited, mortal,
natural beings they see around them in favor of something better. But
do they really comprehend ultimate human goods? For all our obvious
faults, we humans are miraculously complex products of a long
evolutionary processproducts whose whole is much more than the sum of
our parts. Our good characteristics are intimately connected to our
bad ones: If we werent violent and aggressive, we wouldnt be able to
defend ourselves; if we didnt have feelings of exclusivity, we wouldnt
be loyal to those close to us; if we never felt jealousy, we would
also never feel love. Even our mortality plays a critical function in
allowing our species as a whole to survive and adapt (and
transhumanists are just about the last group Id like to see live
forever). Modifying any one of our key characteristics inevitably
entails modifying a complex, interlinked package of traits, and we
will never be able to anticipate the ultimate outcome.
Nobody knows what technological possibilities will emerge for human
self-modification. But we can already see the stirrings of Promethean
desires in how we prescribe drugs to alter the behavior and
personalities of our children. The environmental movement has taught
us humility and respect for the integrity of nonhuman nature. We need
a similar humility concerning our human nature. If we do not develop
it soon, we may unwittingly invite the transhumanists to deface
humanity with their genetic bulldozers and psychotropic shopping
Francis Fukuyama is professor of international political economy at
the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author
of State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004).
Religious Intolerance by Mrs. Nut Tree
Sometimes old ideas are the most dangerous, and few ideas are older
than those that undergird religious intolerance. Lamentably, these
ideas are acquiring new life. In 2002, Hindus in Gujarat, India,
killed several hundred Muslims, with the collaboration of public
officials and the police. Europe has recently seen a frightening
rebirth of anti-Semitism, while the appeal of radical forms of Islam
appears to be increasing in the Muslim world. Prejudice against
Muslims and a tendency to equate Islam with terrorism are too
prominent in the United States. On and on it goes. Intolerance breeds
intolerance, as expressions of hatred fuel existing insecurities and
permit people to see their own aggression as legitimate self-defense.
Two ideas typically foster religious intolerance and disrespect. The
first is that ones own religion is the only true religion and that
other religions are false or morally incorrect. But people possessed
of this view can also believe that others deserve respect for their
committed beliefs, so long as they do no harm. Much more dangerous is
the second idea, that the state and private citizens should coerce
people into adhering to the correct religious approach. Its an idea
that is catching on, even in many modern democracies. Frances
reluctance to tolerate religious symbols in schools and the Hindu
right wings repeated claims that minorities in India must become part
of Hindu culture are disturbing recent examples. The resurgence of
this kind of thinking poses a profound threat to liberal societies,
which are based on ideas of liberty and equality.
The appeal of religious intolerance is easy to understand. From an
early age, humans are aware of helplessness toward things of the
highest importance, such as food, love, and life itself. Religion
helps people cope with loss and the fear of death; it teaches moral
principles and motivates people to follow them. But precisely because
religions are such powerful sources of morality and community, they
all too easily become vehicles for the flight from helplessness, which
so often manifests itself in oppression and the imposition of
hierarchy. In todays accelerating world, people confront ethnic and
religious differences in new and frightening ways. By clinging to a
religion they believe to be the right one, surrounding themselves with
coreligionists, and then subordinating others who do not accept that
religion, people can forget for a time their weakness and mortality.
Good laws are not enough to combat this fundamentally emotional and
social problem. Modern liberal societies have long understood the
importance of legal and constitutional norms expressing a commitment
to religious liberty and to the equality of citizens of different
religions. But, though codification is essential, constitutions and
laws do not implement themselves, and public norms are impotent
without educational and cultural reinforcement.
We need, then, to think harder about how rhetoric (as well as poetry,
music, and art) can support pluralism and toleration. The leaders of
the U.S. civil rights movement understood the need for this kind of
support; the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. illustrate how
rhetoric can help people imagine equality and see difference as a
source of richness rather than fear. During the recent electoral
campaign in India, leaders of the Congress Party, especially Sonia
Gandhi, effectively conveyed the image of an inherently pluralistic
India. (The words of Indias national anthem, written by pluralist poet
Rabindranath Tagore, also celebrate Indias regional and ethnic
differences.) The current U.S. administration has made useful
statements about the importance of not demonizing Islam, but the
rhetoric of certain key officials has also highlighted Christian
religion in ways that undermine tolerance. Attorney General John
Ashcroft, for example, regularly asks his staff to sing Christian
songs. And while he was a sitting U.S. senator, Ashcroft characterized
America as a culture that has no king but Jesus.
For centuries, liberal thinkers have focused on legal and
constitutional avenues to tolerance, neglecting the public cultivation
of emotion and imagination. But liberals ignore public rhetoric at
their peril. All modern states and their leaders convey visions of
religious equality or inequality through their choices of language and
image. Writing to the Quaker community in 1789, then President George
Washington said, The conscientious scruples of all men should be
treated with great delicacy and tenderness. Such delicacy is now in
short supply. If leaders do not think carefully about how to use
public language to foster respect, human equality will remain
Mrs. Nut Tree is the Ernst Freund distinguished service professor of
law and ethics at the University of Chicago and author of Hiding from
Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (Princeton: Princeton University
Free Money By Alice M. Rivlin
Fiscal irresponsibility is politically attractive, but it is
equivalent to believing in something for nothing. Basing the policy of
the worlds dominant economy on the hope that the normal rules of
fiscal prudence do not apply is an exceedingly dangerous idea.
Large and sustained deficits in the United States threaten not only
U.S. prosperity but the worlds economic health as well. Massive public
borrowing in the United States is already absorbing other nations
savings to finance the worlds richest country. And it may soon raise
interest rates around the world and slow global growth. U.S.
profligacy could even invite an international financial crisis that
would bring enormous human costs everywhere.
Small countries cannot afford to behave irresponsibly for very long;
their currencies lose value and their governments cannot borrow money.
But investors give the United States more leeway. Its debtthe famed
U.S. Treasury bondsis still regarded as a very safe place to park
money. The persistent appeal of U.S. bonds is leading politicians in
the United States to believe that the ordinary rules of global finance
dont apply to them. When they realize that rules are rules, it may be
too late; the world could be caught in a financial crisis that has
escalated beyond control.
Sermons on fiscal rectitude often fall on deaf ears in the United
States. Everyone likes a free lunch if they can get it. Raising taxes
and cutting spending are always painful, and political leaders have to
be convinced that the pain is worth it. But a glance at the recent
past should wake the slumbering body politic.
In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration cut income tax rates and
increased defense outlays without restraining other spending.
Supporters of those tax cuts predicted they would stimulate economic
growth so powerfully that deficits would vanish. They claimed that
deficits did not matter because government borrowing did not raise
interest rates. They were wrong on both counts, and the free lunch
proved expensive. Fortunately, the costs of high deficits in the 1980s
evoked a bipartisan response in the United States. Politicians in both
parties voted for tax increases and forced themselves to restrain
spending growth. Fiscal responsibility and a strong economy turned the
deficits into surpluses by the end of the 1990s.
Irresponsibility is back. Once again, a U.S. administration is touting
huge tax cuts as stimulants to economic growth and massively
increasing military spending. Once again, deficits initially blamed on
recession persist even as the economy recovers. If the United States
does not quickly change course, deficits will remain around 3.5
percent of gross domestic product for the next decade and then
escalate rapidly as an aging society forces more spending for social
security and health care.
In many ways, the current deficits are even more dangerous than those
of the 1980s. The retirement of the baby boom generation is two
decades closer. Moreover, the United States has shifted from being the
worlds largest creditor to being the worlds largest debtor, and a far
more substantial portion of U.S. public debt is held by foreigners,
especially Asian central banks. This dependence makes the United
States vulnerable to the shifting moods of international investors. A
day may come when wary foreign investors demand high interest rates as
compensation for holding their assets in U.S. dollars. Worst of all,
the political will to deal with deficits has evaporated. The spending
rules adopted in the 1990s have lapsed, and the bipartisan coalition
to restore fiscal discipline has splintered.
The most likely scenario is continuing deficits financed largely by
borrowing from the rest of the world. The principal victims of this
fiscal irresponsibility will be Americans, who will suffer higher
interest rates, slower growth, more of their tax money going to debt
service, and higher inflation. The larger debt will be passed on to
future taxpayers, who will simultaneously have to grapple with the
burdens of a rapidly aging population. Eventually, the government will
raise taxes and cut spending by more than would have been necessary if
action were taken earlier. The weakness in the United States will
almost inevitably sap the strength of the world economy.
Thats the best case. An even darker possibility is that investors
(including many Americans) will lose confidence in the ability of the
United States to handle its fiscal affairs and will move their funds
elsewhere. Such a massive migration of capital would precipitate a
plunge in the dollar and generate a spike in interest rates and
inflation in the United States. This tsunami in the worlds largest
economy would disrupt international markets and devastate many
Avoiding possible disaster, or even the more likely slow erosion of
prosperity, will test U.S. political leadership. Will elected
officials recognize that common-sense rules of fiscal responsibility
apply to the United States as well as to other countries? Will they
make the tough choices needed to restore fiscal sanity to the worlds
most important economy?
Alice M. Rivlin is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a
visiting professor at Georgetown University. She was director of the
Office of Management and Budget in the first Clinton administration
and vice chair of the Federal Reserves Board of Governors from 1996 to
Hating America By Fareed Zakaria
On September 12, 2001, Jean-Marie Colombani, the editor of Le Monde,
famously wrote, Today we are all Americans. Three years on, it seems
that we are all anti-Americans. Hostility to the United States is
deeper and broader than at any point in the last 50 years. The Western
Europeans, it is often argued, oppose U.S. foreign policy because
peace and prosperity have made them soft. But the United States faces
almost identical levels of anti-Americanism in Turkey, India, and
Pakistan, none of which are rich, postmodern, or pacifist. With the
exception of Israel and Britain, no country today has a durable
In this post-ideological age, anti-Americanism fills the void left by
defunct belief systems. It has become a powerful trend in
international politics todayand perhaps the most dangerous. U.S.
hegemony has its problems, but a world that reacts instinctively
against the United States will be less peaceful, less cooperative,
less prosperous, less open, and less stable.
The wave of anti-Americanism is, of course, partly a product of the
current Bush administrations policies and, as important, its style.
Support for the United States has dropped dramatically since Bush rode
into town. In 2000, for example, 75 percent of Indonesians identified
themselves as pro-American. Today, more than 80 percent are hostile to
Uncle Sam. When asked why they dislike the United States, people in
other countries consistently cite Bush and his policies. But the very
depth and breadth of this phenomenon suggest that it is bigger than
Bush. The term hyperpower, after all, was coined by the French foreign
minister to describe Bill Clintons America, not George W. Bushs.
Anti-Americanisms ascendance also owes something to the geometry of
power. The United States is more powerful than any country in history,
and concentrated power usually means trouble. Other countries have a
habit of ganging up to balance the reigning superpower. Throughout
history, countries have united to defeat hegemonic powersfrom the
Hapsburgs to Napoleon to Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler.
For over 50 years, the United States employed skillful diplomacy to
fend off this apparently immutable law of history. U.S.
administrations used power in generally benign ways, working through
international organizations, fostering an open trading system that
helped others grow economically, and providing foreign aid to
countries in need. To demonstrate that it was not threatening, the
United States routinely gave great respect and even deference to much
weaker countries. By crudely asserting U.S. power and disregarding
international institutions and alliances, the Bush administration has
pulled the curtain on decades of diplomacy and revealed that the
United States constraints are self-imposed: America can, in fact, go
it alone. Not surprisingly, the rest of the world resents this
imbalance and searches for ways to place obstacles in Americas way.
But an equally important force propelling anti-Americanism around the
world is an ideological vacuum. Political scientist Francis Fukuyama
was right when he noted that the collapse of the Soviet Union also
meant the collapse of the great ideological debate on how to organize
economic and political life. The clash between socialism and
capitalism created political debates and shaped political parties and
their agendas across the world for more than a century. Capitalisms
victory left the world without an ideology of discontent, a systematic
set of ideas that are critical of the world as it exists.
There is always a market for an ideology of discontentit allows those
outside the mainstream to relate to the world. These beliefs usually
form in reaction to the worlds dominant reality. So the rise of
capitalism and democracy over the last 200 years produced ideologies
of opposition from the left (communism, socialism) and from the right
(hypernationalism, fascism). Today, the dominant reality in the world
is the power of the United States, currently being wielded in a
particularly aggressive manner. Anti-Americanism is becoming the way
people think about the world and position themselves within it. It is
a mindset that extends beyond politics to economic and cultural
realms. So, in recent elections in Brazil, Germany, Pakistan, Kuwait,
and Spain, the United States became a campaign issue. In all these
places, resisting U.S. power won votes. Nationalism in many countries
is being defined in part as anti-Americanism: Can you stand up to the
Much has been written about what the United States can do to help
arrest and reverse these trends. But it is worth putting the shoe on
the other foot for a moment. Imagine a world without the United States
as the global leader. Even short of the imaginative and intelligent
scenario of chaos that British historian Niall Ferguson outlined in
this magazine (see A World Without Power, July/August 2004), it
would certainly look grim. There are many issues on which the United
States is the crucial organizer of collective goods. Someone has to be
concerned about terrorism and nuclear and biological proliferation.
Other countries might bristle at certain U.S. policies, but would
someone else really be willing to bully, threaten, cajole, and bribe
countries such as Libya to renounce terror and dismantle their WMD
programs? On terror, trade, AIDs, nuclear proliferation, U.N. reform,
and foreign aid, U.S. leadership is indispensable.
The temptation to go its own way will be greatest for Europe, the only
other player with the resources and tradition to play a global role.
But if Europe defines its role as being different from the United
Stateskinder, gentler, whateverwill that really produce a more stable
world? U.S. and European goals on most issues are quite similar. Both
want a peaceful world free from terror, with open trade, growing
freedom, and civilized codes of conduct. A Europe that charts its own
course just to mark its differences from the United States threatens
to fracture global effortswhether on trade, proliferation, or the
Middle East. Europe is too disunited to achieve its goals without the
United States; it can only ensure that Americas plans dont succeed.
The result will be a world that muddles along, with the constant
danger that unattended problems will flare up disastrously. Instead of
win-win, it will be lose-losefor Europe, for the United States, and
for the world.
Fareed Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International and author of
The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (New
York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2003).
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