Saturday, July 29, 2006

Impatience and intolerance: the deadly global partnership

There is a large and growing literature on hyperbolic discounting (excessive impatience that favors instant gratification) in human decision making, which leads to dynamically inconsistent behavior and other problems. I have relied on this literature in part for my understanding of the paternalistic prohibitions in Islamic jurisprudence for certain types of trading in risk and credit (resp. prohibitions of gharar and riba).

In recent weeks, I have been depressed by the events in the middle east: most depressed of course by the senseless and tragic deaths of innocent civilians.

I think that those regional problems are tragic manifestations of the same problem of excessive impatience:

  • The US and Israel are impatient in their desire to "resolve" the regional problems. This is exemplified by the many paradoxical views held by those parties, from Secretary Rice's delusions of an imminent birth of a "new middle east" to Israel's alternating hopes for peaceful coexistence with its neighbors (with full normalization of relations, economic cooperation, etc.) and simultaneous pulverization of all militant opponents of that vision, which those opponents see simply (and not entirely unreasonably) as continued hopes of American/Israeli hegemony that aborts the dreams of future indigenous economic growth and political/democratic institutional development in the region.
  • Arabs and Muslims generally have also been extremely impatient. They cling to memories, and more often, highly mythical dreams of a glorious past when their ancestors had built the most advanced societies on earth. They do not recognize that it would take centuries to rebuild another civilization of which they can be proud. Resentment of other advanced civilizations and their satellite groups in the region (including wealthy enclaves around Cairo and elsewhere in the region, which serve as economic satellites for the advanced western economies), and employment of destructive force, will only widen the gap between the wealthy west and the resource rich but otherwise extremely poor region.
  • What we need is a new partnership between the West and the Arab and Islamic worlds. A partnership that is not built on myopic self-interest, but one wherein each group is willing to sacrifice some of its present well-being for future development. The billions of dollars spent on destruction can and should be directed toward education, institution building, and poverty alleviation. By education, I do not mean indoctrination and the desire to raise like-minded generations of Arabs and Muslims. I mean genuine education that respects differences and aims to assist those societies in outgrowing their sick rentier mentality which was exacerbated and entrenched with decades of reliance on oil receipts. By institution building, I do not mean the mechanics of democracy (elections, civil society, etc.), but rather the marginalization of interest groups who have successfully aborted the development of genuine social and political institutions, even as they adopt empty shells of Western institutions...
  • That is a tall order. It is unfortunately easy for Congress and other sources of funds in various parts of the world to approve and finance the spending of billions upon billions that lead to nothing but destruction and entrenchment of the sources of the current crises. The ease with which this money is thrown at the highly profitable war machine contrasts with the great difficulties in trying to raise money for curing disease, eliminating hunger, or improving education (where a million dollars is considered a very large sum).

Thus, impatience and greed have sown the seeds of death and misery. Just as impatience and dynamic inconsistency at the individual level can be remedied with religious and social norms in the form of prohibitions of certain types of trading in credit and risk, the tragic consequences of those same diseases can be remedied at the social level with basic norms of international decency, morality, norms, and laws. Sadly, there appear to be virtually no recognizable force on the international scene today that shows even the slightest bit of decency and morality. Consequently, there appears to be no end in sight for this catastrophic condition of the miserable human species.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very good account of how peace can be established between the West and Islam. I truly agree that we should learn to respect each other's differences in culture and thoughts. The problem is that America is on a mission to create democracy all over the world - and make others think and behave like Americans. On the other hand, Muslims should be more tolerant toward those who oppose them - and agree to discuss solutions peacefully. I guess, peace talks are becoming old fashioned these days.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Dave and Phyllis said...

How can anyone in the West have peace with a group that has essentially declared gihad on the Western world? Historically, I do not see Islam as a religion of peace. Compare Mohommad and Jesus...Mohommad got converts via the sword; Jesus and apostles spoke the Word and some believed.
Islam, it seems, has always been a warring religion.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Mahmoud El-Gamal said...

I think that before making such categorical statements, you need to investigate more: (1) the history of Islam, (2) the meaning of Jihad, and (3) the historical relationship between Islam (which, incidentally, is a Western religion, albeit not heavily influenced by European culture) and the proverbial West.

If you wish to study the historical spread of Christianity, I am sure that you will also change your mind about the historical comparison. If you wish to study the (relatively recent) clash between "the West" and "the Middle East", you may find the relationship between Western and Eastern Christianity to be more informative than the vitriolic rhetoric about Islam spread by the global war machine.

There are many English language resources authored by reputable non-Muslim scholars. I would be more than happy to give you citations if you are interested.

In the meantime, I would like to say that demonization of "the other" is precisely the tactic that is used by militants on both sides -- no more so Muslims than others. It is a tactic used cynically by impatient and greedy people to mobilize the masses in favor of their agendas. We should all educate ourselves to become immune to those populist demonizations.

That is the only path to tolerance and harmonious coexistence. What alternative do you propose based on your "cannot have peace prognosis?" Killing, subjugating or converting 1.6 billion people? Does it not strike you as awfully convenient for some people to misrepresent historical and current facts to lead to this clash (which extremists on both sides find very appealing)?

9:14 AM  
Blogger JDsg said...

You show much sabr, brother. :)

2:52 AM  
Blogger nailofar said...


may I link your blog,

11:07 AM  

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