What readers should keep in mind is that criticism of a specific government policy does not equate to anti-Americanism. Equating criticism of a specific government policy to anti-Americanism is what logicians call a “false dilemma.” In my view — and after having travelled to many countries — America is the best country in the world, and it can be even better with just a few changes and reforms here and there. President Biden’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly a few days ago signals that the criticism and critique of American foreign policy over the years — which is something I took part in because I care about America’s well-being and standing in the international system — has finally been internalized by American leaders and top American policymakers.
But a change in rhetoric should be followed by action. In terms of structural change and reform in the United States, one can conceive of a menu at a restaurant with two basic options. For one, there’s the full course meal. And then there’s the à la carte option. The first option — namely, the full course meal — would consist of two things. For one, it would consist of a basic guarantee of what Amartya Sen called “multidimensional wealth,” which means three things: universal education, universal health care, and universal basic income (UBI). In addition to a guarantee of ‘multidimensional wealth,’ the legalization and regulation of common vices (prostitution, gambling, drugs, and alcohol) would knock out two birds with one stone, in the sense that the legalization and regulation of common vices would also connect to police and criminal justice reform.
But if you don’t want the full course meal, or if you can’t afford it for some reason, there’s always the à la carte option, which would consist of a basic social safety net and the legalization and regulation of common vices. In my view, these are the two options the United States has if it is seriously looking into structural change and reform. America is not a third world country that is in need of drastic changes and reforms at a structural level. Nevertheless, I don’t think people are satisfied with the status quo. Personally, I’m not satisfied with the status quo. Thus, it would be worthwhile to explore these two options, and to forge a path towards choosing and then implementing one of these two options for structural change and reform in the United States.
In sum, American foreign policy is missing a strategy as mentioned in previous blog posts. But foreign policy has an obvious objective — namely, global order and peace. However, domestic policy is missing both direction and purpose, even if there may be a million and one strategies that one could employ to achieve a particular objective. In the words of Congressman James Clyburn, if we don’t come up with something to do from a government and policy standpoint, then all we’re really doing is simply fiddling around.
A broad, comprehensive, and thoughtful evaluation of the evolution in economic, political, and social life over the course of the last two decades — which coincide with the evolution of the internet and the creation of social media — brings to the fore in my view two of the most critical issues facing international society. One is the rise of widespread discontent. The other is social fragmentation. Thus, the issues that are most critical for international society are social in nature. Although the internet and technology have spurred material progress and the improvement of living standards in a certain sense, they have also complicated things socially and thus politically. This is where the widespread discontent comes into play. As a result, what arises from a rise in discontent is what the late American historian Carroll Quigley called “irrational activism.” We see activism everywhere in an age of social media, hyper-connection, and worldwide social interaction. But is much of it even rational?
In addition to discontent, there is the issue of social fragmentation that we have to take into consideration. The entities that take the biggest hit as a result of social fragmentation stemming from the internet and technology (“Technological Determinism” to borrow from Karl Marx) are institutions, both political and civic. Political institutions come under strain due to social fragmentation, and communities that were once vibrant begin to fall apart. Thus, as a result of discontent and the social fragmentation stemming from the internet, state policies, and technology, democracies become dysfunctional. To counteract the disfunction in both government and society, strongmen backed by the military and intelligence apparatus of their countries come to the fore in the name of order and stability.
We see this happening in a number of places. It has continued in Russia, China, and North Korea for decades now. It recently happened in Tunisia and Guinea. And in Afghanistan, the Taliban were perceived by many as a response to the governmental and societal disfunction resulting from the corruption of the last two decades. In an age when discontent, “irrational activism,” and social fragmentation are at the core of economic, political, and social life virtually everywhere, the objective for leaders and governments is clear, namely, the preservation of order and stability in society through the hyper-centralization of power.
When evaluating politics, economics, and society, what needs to be taken into consideration first and foremost are the philosophical underpinnings of a system. The “Body-Mind Problem,” or the “Body-Soul Problem” (given that the mind and intellect are elements of the human soul) is the foundational dilemma, problem, or question of philosophy, politics, and economics. And ultimately, this dilemma or problem is addressed by natural religion. Maintaining a balance between the demands of the body and the demands of the soul is the ultimate human struggle, and this struggle also has serious implications for economics, politics, and sociology. Anglo-American liberalism and modernity — at least in rhetoric — takes a laissez-faire approach towards the responsibility of preserving the delicate balance between the two human dimensions that are at the core of the dilemma or problem.
But ultimately, Anglo-American liberalism and modernity overlooks the question of the soul and shifts the focus towards the analysis and empiricism of the body. On the other hand, Eastern societies — along with Continental Europe to a certain extent — have traditionally placed an emphasis on the most important dimension of the dilemma or problem, namely, the soul and spirituality. In America — given the long-standing Anglo-American tradition of analytical philosophy and scientific empiricism — we are essentially compelled to make a tradeoff between a focus on the soul or a focus on the body in favor of the latter. We should also consider the hegemony of the dollar when assessing the preponderance of analytical philosophy and empiricism within the Anglo-American approach towards the body-soul problem. In terms of material conditions, America is the most advanced society in the world. But as Baha’ullah (the founder of the Baha’i faith) once said, what is missing in American society is soul and spirituality, despite its great material wealth.
Moreover, without the soul, we lose the body part. The prerequisite for a healthy body (and a healthy body politic) is a healthy soul. The soul (which is embodied in a leader within a body politic) is the cause, and the healthy body (which can be analogized to a healthy body politic) is the effect of the cause. Belief and the logical understanding of cause and effect is solidified through “exhaustive education,” otherwise known as “Bildüng” in German culture and language.
In sum, without the most basic belief and logical understanding that is cause (soul) on one hand and effect (body) on the other hand, the manic-depressive cycle that is characteristic of Western economic, political, and social life will continue, at the expense of what is ultimately the aim and purpose of all of our actions, thoughts, and words — balance, equilibrium, order, peace, and stability. Cause and effect — and the question of whether the mind/soul shapes physical reality or whether physical reality shapes the mind/soul — is the foundational or original problem of philosophy, science, and religion. In turn, philosophy, science, and religion are the most viable mechanisms at our disposal for the ascertainment of certainty and truth. Thus, the goal of philosophical, scientific, and religious inquiry is certainty and truth, because certainty and truth amount to everything in the bigger scheme of things.
After an examination and inquiry into the “appearance versus reality” problem, we naturally seek certainty and truth about “absolute reality” if we are really curious and are actually serious about our inquiry. Without genuine curiosity, scientific inquiry cannot persist or sustain itself. Islam is essentially a revitalization of the Platonic or Aristotelian tradition of the West. In fact, Islamic scholars during the Islamic Golden Age referred to Aristotle as “Al-Hakim,” or “The Wise One.” In the end, the concepts within the two traditions are the same, but the semantics are different. An exploration of reality in both traditions ends with the following concept, which is known in the Islamic tradition as “Ishq-e-Haqiqi.”
Reality — the totality of all things which exist — ends with just one concept, namely, “absolute reality.” And “absolute reality” is arrived at through exhaustive philosophical, scientific, and religious inquiry. There is nothing to decipher or inquire beyond “absolute reality,” known as “Ishq e Haqiqi” in the Islamic tradition. The one who has internalized and understood “absolute reality” is known as “Insan al-Kamil,” or “The Complete Man.” In Maslowian humanistic terms, “Insan al-Kamil” is the individual who has achieved “self-actualization.”
There is only one “Insan al-Kamil” or “Complete Man” for every era. But in a postmodern age of hyper-centralization of power amidst social fragmentation, power rests for the most part with “The Complete Man.” Aside from this person, the only person or individual in human history to have ever wielded global power and global reach was King Solomon of the Israelites. No person or individual in human history before or after Solomon has been able to wield global power and reach, although there were a number of individuals — some illustrious, some not-so illustrious — who tried (Alexander the Great, Xerxes, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, and — don’t laugh — George W. Bush are a few who immediately come to mind).
One can allude to William Shakespeare’s “A Lover’s Complaint” to describe the feelings evoked vis-à-vis an individual wielding such expansive powers:
”My parts had power to charm a sacred nun,
Who, disciplined, ay, dieted in grace,
Believed her eyes when they to assail begun,
All vows and consecrations giving place:
O most potential love! vow, bond, nor space,
In thee hath neither sting, knot, nor confine,
For thou art all, and all things else are thine.