Your Lying Eyes

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04 March 2011

In Just One Month, It's All Good

The giddiness over the wave of 'protests' spreading thru the Mideast has been a constant source of annoyance. But David Brooks's latest in the Times is particularly bizarre. Brooks has concluded - based solely on the events of the past month, that the muslim peoples of the Middle East have just the same vision for their societies that people on the West have - there is no cultural divide.

Brooks describes Samuel Huntington's thesis in his classic "Clash of Civilizations" (which I admit I haven't read though I've read a lot about it), and declares him to be quite simply "wrong."
He argued that people in Arab lands are intrinsically not nationalistic. He argued that they do not hunger for pluralism and democracy in the way these things are understood in the West...Over the past weeks, we’ve seen Arab people ferociously attached to their national identities. We’ve seen them willing to risk their lives for pluralism, openness and democracy.
Well there you go - in just a little over a month's time, a millenium of history wiped away. What could Brooks be seeing that makes him so sure? What about the foment of the last 6 weeks made him feel he was looking into a mirror, seeing Western democracy play out before his eyes?

Is it mobs of people shutting down a city demanding the ouster of a constitutionally mandated representative government? Waves of insurgents occupying whatever symbol of authority they can grab hold, either without leaders or led by shadowy forces that dare not announce themselves? What part of Western heritage does this evoke in Brooks's mind? Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence? Washington at Valley Forge? The Restoration? Or is it more like Paris, 1789, Russia, 1917, or Germany, 1918?
Huntington minimized the power of universal political values and exaggerated the influence of distinct cultural values...But it seems clear that many people in Arab nations do share a universal hunger for liberty. They feel the presence of universal human rights and feel insulted when they are not accorded them.
Not clear what Brooks is seeing, but actual facts do not appear to be in his line of sight.

Razib has already debunked another Times Op-Ed columnist (Roger Cohen) over his fact-less optimism along a similar vein. So let's look at some of these democratic "aspirations" in the Mideast that are apparently so palpable. The World Values Survey has a series of questions asking how important certain things are to democratic society. They have a series of 10 such questions asked among 52 nations, to which people were asked to assign importance on a 10-point scale. I compared results on the two questions that were most negatively correlated - How important to democracy is it that "Religious authorities interpret the law" and that "Women have the same rights as men"? These are pretty good questions as they touch on two items very important to modern democracies - secularism and the rights of women. Here's how the people responded by nation:

If you click on the chart, you'll see how the various nations cluster. Most are in the slightly North-West quadrant - Scandinavian countries conspicuously off in the most secular/feminist corner. But then you'll see a group of countries way off by themselves in the South-East quadrant - Mideast Muslim countries - Egypt, Jordan, Iraq (along with some Muslim-dominated Sub-Saharan countries), with Iran and Morocco just barely outside the main clustering of nations. It sure doesn't look like these countries share the democratic aspirations of modern Western-style democracies.

I next looked at the two questions that had the lowest correlation (and which weren't the two asked above). These were how important to democracy is it that "The army takes over when government is incompetent" and "Civil rights protect people's liberty against oppression"? These two answers have a correlation of 0.05, which is pretty uncorrelated. Here's how the nations answered these:

Again, off by themselves are the Arab nations of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. What's notable in these charts isn't necessarily the answers themselves, but the relative positions of the nations to each other, and how they cluster. The relatedness of the Arab nations - and their isolation from other nations (and in particular their distance from Western-style democracies - is striking.

But I guess we're supposed to ignore this information in favor of Brooks's super-human insight.

Source Data.


Anonymous robert61 said...

Ironically, if the Middle Eastern ructions continue much longer, the result will be a huge influx of people from the bottom right of those plots into the countries at top left. Nobody believes Brooks' universalist nonsense like we (SW) do. It is our hamartia. Here's to peace in MENA and an uptick in Huntington's status here.

March 05, 2011 11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the NYTimes, assertions are just as good as arguments...If an op-ed writer says it's so, it must be...

March 10, 2011 8:00 PM  
Anonymous SFG said...

Cute. The Germans and Japanese really, really don't like it when the army takes over. Wonder why?

March 14, 2011 11:35 PM  
Anonymous Elynor said...

It can't work in actual fact, that's what I think.

September 14, 2012 8:37 AM  

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