David Frum, Norman Podhoretz, and World War IV?

David Frum: Whenever I hear that formula I think of a story my father-in-law tells. When my brother-in-law was a young boy, my father-in-law was summoned to the elementary school, and the teacher said, "Mr. Worthington, we're very worried about your son, Casey. We want to show you some of his art work."

And the first picture is planes and tanks and fighter bombers and explosions everywhere and it's labeled War World I. And then underneath that there's a second one, and it's the same kind of scene and it's labeled World War II.

And my father-in-law says, "Well, he's drawing World War I and World War II."

And the teacher says, "Mr. Worthington, just a moment," and flips it over and there's World War III, World War IV, World War V, World War VI, all the way, I think, through World War XI. And the teacher said, "What do you make of this?" and my father-in-law said, "Casey's an optimist?"

I don't like the World War IV formulation [in the book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism by Norman Podhoretz], I think it's too dramatic, and I think it both overstates and understates. It offers you a vision of a much more explosive level of violence than we face with this threat from Islamic extremism where the most remarkable thing over the past half dozen years [i.e. 2002 to 2008] is how this threat has really been contained.

With every passing year the terrorists plots we discover are less sophisticated, less capable, how the terrorists are being forced in upon themselves, prevented from communicating.

And we are never going to be immune to the lone nut Virginia Tech person who glorifies himself by imposing suffering on others. But you can prevent him from finding associates. And we're getting better and better at that.

At the same time, I don't like it because it also understates what is expected of people, just how chronic and difficult this problem is going to be. We have, what is it, usually estimated a billion, or a little more than a billion, in the Islamic world, probably about a fifth of them are to some degree sympathetic to these radical ideas, are open to this kind of violence, maybe only a tiny fraction would actually do it themselves, but they're open to it.

That is a big chronic problem that is going to really shape the policies of the 21st century and there's not going to be some parade day where that problem goes away.

And holding out that hope and making it seem like this is a three-year problem or a four-year problem or something within the scope of war, I think is not a healthy or helpful way to talk.

Question: How do we engage the 1/5 you say is open to violent ideas?

David Frum: Well, in the end the solutions really aren't up to us. The Islamic world is in the midst of attempting to make the transition to a more modern way of life, depending on whether they're successful or not; and this trend towards extremism and violence is a product of that transition.

In some ways, terrorism is one way that some people in the Islamic world try to become modern. They develop this new ideology that goes as much to Franz Phenault as it does to the Koran.

So we have to take protective measures. We certainly want to promote economic development; we want to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of states and groups; we want to promote the spread of democratic ideas because you want to give people better instruments for expressing their grievances. But in the end, this is going to be their decision.

And it's not fated that every group of people make a successful transition from poverty to prosperity. Sometimes you get stuck and you get stuck for a long time. Societies can fail for a long time. Look at China, probably one of the most advanced societies in the world in the 1450s, and then it gets stuck in stagnation and internal violence and has these terrible bloodlettings in the middle of the 19th century, the 1860s, and then again in the 1900s. And you can just get stuck and that may be the fate of part of the world, and our ability to make a difference there, not zero, but not overwhelming either.

 

Recorded on: May 5 2008

That formulation is too dramatic.

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    Politics & Current Affairs

    Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

    "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

    Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

    Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

    The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


    Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

    In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

    It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

    Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

    Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

    The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

    It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

    In their findings the authors state:

    "The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
    upholding First Amendment ideals.

    Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

    With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

    As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

    • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
    • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
    • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
    • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
    • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
    • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
    • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
      Patriotic.

    Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

    It's interesting to note the authors found that:

    "Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

    You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

    Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

    • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
    • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
    • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
    • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
    • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
    • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

    Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

    Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

    • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
    • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
    • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
    • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
    • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
    • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

    Civic discourse in the divisive age

    Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

    There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

    "In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
    dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
    the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
    These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
    putting our democracy in peril.


    Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
    immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
    become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
    Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
    The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
    re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
    building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

    We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

    This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.