Externalities

externality

I went to Italy when I was in college, and when I got home I had a bunch of people ask me about it. I found it hard to explain. What I found myself doing was making comparisons to things that we both knew, it’s like this place, but a little different, it’s like that thing, but different. I tried to explain the countryside, the cities, the weather, the people, but all I could really do is say, it’s like America, but different. Even when I got down into the detail about a particular fountain or town, all I could do is try to compare it to something in America, or give up and say, “You just have to see it.” Now maybe some of this is my lack of descriptive powers, but I think the real issue is something more, something about externalities. Italy has food, and apartments, and roads, and movies, and restaurants, and women, and forests, and beaches, and cities, and birthdays, and work, and sleep, and clouds, and rain, but it’s all different. I mean it’s ALL different. It is hard to point to one major thing and say, “There, that’s Italy”, what you would have to do is point to everything and say, “There, that’s Italy”. It is the million little things that make a country a country, it is the millions of little things. (I have never been to China, or to Nigeria, maybe it would be easier to find big differences in those countries from ours, but what I am more concerned about is how many minor changes, changes that are often difficult to quantify, can completely transform a place, without you even really noticing.)

Now let’s talk about London. What is London? How do you describe it to someone who has never been there? Obviously you would talk about the architecture, the Thames, you would say it’s expensive, but you would have the same issues that I had with explaining Italy. London is a collection of a million little things all working together, change any one of those things, and you hardly notice, but when you start changing more and more, the place is still London, but it’s different, and you would even have a hard time explaining how and why. (We must remember that sometimes different is good, and sometimes different is very very bad.)

Now to get to the point. When a terrorist attack happens in a major city, you will often hear people saying that we should not freak out, after all, more people get killed from lightning or drunk driving than from terrorism, and that is true. (In fact, 66 pedestrians were killed in London in 2015) After a terrorist attack these people will say, “We are London/Paris/NYC/Boston and we will not be afraid/Je suis/we will pray/we are strong/we will keep calm and drink tea.” This is a nice idea but it is ignoring something. Something does change after a terrorist attack, some of those million little things that made London, London, will change (the fact that a terrorist attack even occurs is proof that some things have already changed). After the 3/22/2017 attack, is London still London, yes and no.  After a pedestrian is killed by a random car on a random street in London, is London still London, yes and yes.

I will give a personal antidote. After 9/11 the local dam that we used to drive on to go fishing was closed off.  You could still walk on it, and ride a bike, but you couldn’t drive on it. Some will say that’s no big deal, and it isn’t, but it is one of those little things that makes a place a place, and it was changed. Our countries, our societies are ours, they reflect who we are, what we like, when they are changed due to outside influence, we lose a piece of ourselves. It is true that more people die from lighting than terror in England, but lighting doesn’t change England, Islam does. And only a fool, or a Muslim (but I repeat myself) would say that it changes it for the better.

Universality

universality

There is a lot of confusion that arises when a non-universalist talks to a universalist. Let me give you an example so you get an idea of what exactly I mean when I say universalist/non-universalist. Imagine a man who travels to a strange land. He inevitably gets hungry and goes to a street merchant who is displaying, what look to him to be strange insects and some fruit. The visitor says to the vendor, “May I purchase some food”, so the vendor gives the guy some bugs, to which the visitor exclaims, “that’s not food”. The native had a more universalist definition of food, than the traveler. Now another example. Many Indian tribes in North America had a name for themselves, this name roughly translated, was “human”. So when a white man would discuss “humans”, the Indian had in his mind his tribe, while the white man had in his mind the entire population of the earth. Now this difference of outlooks can be reconciled with proper definitions, and an agreement on the definitions of words and terms, but without doing this, the universalist and the non-universalist will in actuality be speaking different languages.

Some religions are universalist and some are not. My main concern currently are the differences between Christianity and Islam from a universalist/non-universalist perspective. Christianity is a universalist religion, when Christians read, “Thou shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15) they apply that universally; they believe they shouldn’t steal anything from anybody at any time. Non-universalist religions (Islam and Judaism for example) are more nuanced. Here is the Koran “As to the thief, Male or female, cut off his or her hands: … (Koran 5:38). It seems that Muslims should not steal, but the Koran also says “So enjoy what you took as booty; the spoils are lawful and good” (Koran 8:69). It also appears that Muslims can take things without any punishment at all. So why the two seemingly contradictory verses? How these two verses are reconciled is through non-universalism, stealing from a Muslim is wrong, stealing (and killing by the way) from a non-Muslim is okay.

It has to be said that, like many things, doctrines exist on a spectrum, there probably doesn’t exist any true universalist doctrine, or any true non-universalist doctrine, but that doesn’t negate the fact that when two doctrines that exist on different ends of the spectrum come into contact there are problems.

Further reading:

Islam:

As for taking from unbelievers, perhaps the most illuminating example among many comes from the aftermath of the battle against the Khaybar, as recorded by Muhammad’s earliest biographer. The Khaybar were a peaceful community of Jewish farmers who did not even know they were at war until Muhammad led his men against their town one morning, taking them by surprise and handily defeating them.

Not only did Muhammad take much of the town’s possessions and land, but he actually had the tribe’s treasurer, a man named Kinana, tortured until he gave up the location of hidden treasure. Muhammad then beheaded the man and “married” his traumatized widow, Safiyya (who passed through the hands of one of his lieutenant’s first, due to the luck of the draw). (Ibn Ishaq (764) )

Christianity:

If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)